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  • Writer's pictureSusan Russo Anderson

A Tour of Oltramari

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

My outspoken character, Serafina, midwife and sleuth, takes you on a tour of her hometown.

The Serafina Florio mysteries take place in and around Oltramari, Sicily.

My author says that Oltramari is an imaginary town on the northern coast of Sicily near Palermo. Imaginary? Don’t listen to her.

My ancestors settled here centuries ago. Some of them took part in the a fight against those nasty French rulers in 1282 called The Sicilian Vespers. Others fought in the uprisings of 1848. Most loved, worked hard, raised their families, suffered and died.

I was born here in 1837, married here seventeen years later. Giorgio and I raised our seven children here. So I know a lot about Oltramari and I’m going to take you on a tour.

At first, I’ll do the talking. You can ask questions later. Whatever you do, don’t click. Sit down if you’re tired. That’s right, on those stone benches over there, flanking the public gardens. No room? Well, ask those tattered soldiers to sit up. Snoring and lounging about, they think they can sleep away the centuries with their rusted Garibaldi rifles and faded red shirts. And Don Tigro’s thugs, they’re worse. Up to no good. Ignore them and sit.

So. We’re in the center of town. This is our biggest square, the Piazza del Duomo. On weekdays, vendor’s carts fill the center of the piazza where we're standing, but today it’s quiet. See that plume of smoke in the distance? Close to dinner time and someone’s cooking. I smell roast pork.

To your right is our cathedral with its baroque façade and copper doors and bell tower. Designed by somebody or other. If Giorgio were alive, he’d tell you the architect’s name, but I was too busy birthing babies and ferreting out the truth to pay much attention to painters or priests.

The fountain in the center was built by those gorgeous Romans. Resplendent, our world, when sunlight falls on its cascading sprays, no? And this hollow-eyed statue here, he’s the suppliant St. Dominic. He lost one of his hands during Garibaldi’s campaign.

All around this piazza are Oltramari’s finest shops—the embalmer next to the Duomo, my family’s apothecary shop on the other side, the shoemaker here, the baker over there, the butcher, the dry goods store, the sweet shop and Boffo’s Café.

Directly across from the Duomo is the Municipal Building. It houses the local sub-prefect and commissioner, the archives, the police, the carabinieri, our know-nothing inspector, the local courts, lawyers, judges. In the basement is the jail, a despicable keep built by those nasty Bourbons. Not worth a visit—no one comes out alive.

Before we migrated to Paris and then to Brooklyn, my family lived in that villa in back of the public gardens. It was built by my more affluent ancestors. See it? The one with the light rose ochre façade peeking through the palms, the viridian shutters, wrought iron gates, bougainvillea climbing the wall, chestnut tree in front. Lovely, the gardens, especially when Carmela tended them. Our stable’s in the back where we keep the mules, the family carriage, and the trap I use for visiting. Of course, now that I’m immortal, I flit here and there whenever I want.

Down the road from the Municipal Building are the straw market, the black smith, the public stables. Above us is the promenade. From its height when the light is clear, we can see all the way to Mt. Etna or peer down to the fishing village below.

Directly behind the Duomo is Via Serpentina. It winds down to the sea through rough neighborhoods with windowless hovels and narrow alleyways that shoot this way and that, crossing and double-crossing, ending abruptly in dusty piazzas with dry fountains. A perfect place for intrigue.

You’re getting tired, I can tell. I was going to show you the arena and Rosa’s villa, wind up at Boffo’s for a caffè, but that’s enough for today. Questions?

The Serafina Florio Mystery books are available on Amazon.

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