(Essay 6) blackbird and a pear tree by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum

A family story told in art, names, places, denied cultures,

black and sensual madonnas,  diversity of beliefs,

visionary and healing Santa Lucia of Sicily

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

After a week on the top coast of Sicily, Adam and Josie had to go back to school; their mother Sabrina had to go back to her job caring for an East Bay town as city manager, their father Peter had to go back to his job, caring for the earth as an environmental lawyer.  Their kids, my great grandkids, had to go back to school.  One of their genetic branches is Celt.  Josie, who looks like a little French school girl, kept a journal while on the trip.  Adam, whose middle name is Murphy, said very seriously, “Sicily is very historic!”  Marc and Nancy  went off to France where they honeymooned in Paris in the 1970s . . .  this time as  parents of Matt , Nicolas and Nicki,  and grandparents of new baby,  Charlotte  Kimura Birnbaum Bald.

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(Essay 5) blackbird and a pear tree by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum

A family story told in art, names, places, denied cultures,

black and sensual madonnas,  diversity of beliefs,

visionary and healing Santa Lucia of Sicily

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

During the second week of our journey we came to the African coast of south Sicily memorialized in the blockbuster film series, Il Commissario, which may be the best social history of this coast of the contemporary African Mediterranean.  With  2014 eyes I looked incredulously at the region where my father and  his family left for America in 1912—fleeing   miseria,  a misery connoting  poverty and the humiliations of living in the poor south of Italy.

Changed spectacularly since Wally and I were there in 2010, the stretch of Sicily fronting Africa has become a north Italian and international summer spa of northerners seeking the sun and sea. In August, 60,000 tourists come to the marinas of Ragusa Ibla, Scicli, Modica, and Noto.  We arrived a few days after the end of high season when most of the tourists had gone . . . leaving high end hotels, restaurants, shops and white sandy beaches with a baroque backdrop. The mixture of ancient echoes, high technology, contemporary rock music, and the sun and the sea sent my senses reeling.

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(Essay 4) blackbird and a pear tree by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum

A family story told in art, names, places, denied cultures,

black and sensual madonnas,  diversity of beliefs,

visionary and healing Santa Lucia of Sicily

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

An earthquake and an ancestral and contemporary story of grandmothers, mothers and fathers, kids, sisters and brothers, cousins, and 100 kinds of pizza 

 

The earthquake in late August 2014 in Napa shook Californians and others.  After eldest son Naury mopped water from a broken tank, he continued researching and planning the September family trip to Sicily gifted by their eldest son Josh.  His wife Barbara researched hotels, restaurants, and wine festivals.

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(Essay 3) blackbird and a pear tree by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum

A family story told in art, names, places, denied cultures,

black and sensual madonnas,  diversity of beliefs,

visionary and healing Santa Lucia of Sicily

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

O

Subsequently, my study of black madonnas and other submerged beliefs of Sicily has converged with my need to understand the patron saint of Sicily—Lucia—whose name I carry.

Lucia was born before the common epoch, in the Greek capitol of Sicily, Syracuse.  After she went on healing pilgrimage with her sick mother to the tomb of Agate of Catania, Romans killed her in 304 CE, branding her as a heretic.

Veneration of Lucia sprung up on a site earlier devoted to Canaanite Astarte, then to Greek love goddess Aphrodite, then to Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva.

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(Essay 2) blackbird and a pear tree by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum

A family story told in art, names, places, denied cultures,

black and sensual madonnas,  diversity of beliefs,

visionary and healing Santa Lucia of Sicily

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all share the same ultimate religious beliefs—except that Muslims insist that their prophet Mohammed be honored along with Jewish and Christian prophets, Abraham and Jesus.   This tension over prophets catches fire in the Middle East (west Asia) where the immediate pain is being killed and killing.

In the 7th and 8th centuries CE, Berbers, who had earlier come to Sicily, came again, this time with the large African Muslim migration from Africa.  Berbers, now Muslims,  may have kept their earlier  African beliefs in the equality of all believers and in the political premise that leaders of  Islamic  communities  be selected from among those most authentically pious,  regardless of ethnic identity  (see my preface to Remi Omodele’s book on Ulli Beier).

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(Essay 1) blackbird and a pear tree by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum

A family story told in art, names, places, denied cultures,

black and sensual madonnas,  diversity of beliefs,

visionary and healing Santa Lucia of Sicily

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

blackbird and a pear tree book cover (c) 2014, Trent Nahas

A note on style: the text in this essay reflects the author’s preference for downcasing, a decision based on her dislike for capitalization, which, as a cultural historian, she views as a custom that perpetuates the hierarchy of nation states and dominant cultures in the modern era. In that regard, typically proper nouns are capitalized and words that are used as adjectives are written in lower case.

Preface

My eldest grandson Josh gifted our Birnbaum family with a September 2014 trip to Sicily in the African Mediterranean.

As a feminist cultural historian, I have spent the latter part of my life exploring Sicily—ancestrally part of the mother continent Africa embracing Asia and Europe (see all my books, especially my Future Has an Ancient Heart. Legacy of sharing, healing, and vision from the primordial African Mediterranean to occupy everywhere. iUniverse 2012. Rev. ed., 2013).

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(Meet Mago Contributor) Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum

Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum_PhotoLucia Chiavola Birnbaum, Ph.D., is a feminist cultural historian and a Professor Emerita of Philosophy and Religion in the Women’s Spirituality program of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco; she lives in Berkeley close to her family. Lucia’s latest book is the future has an ancient heart. african legacy of caring, sharing, and healing, and vision from the primordial African Mediterranean to Occupy Everywhere (Bloomington, Indiana, iUniverse, 2012; Revised edition with subtitle, A love story, a vision, and a prophecy (iUniverse, 2013). Earlier books include,  Liberazione della donna: Feminism in Italy (Middletown, CT., Wesleyan University Press, 1986, American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, 1987); Black Madonnas: Feminism, religion and politics in Italy (Boston, MA., Northeastern University Press, 1993); italian edition, Black Madonnas: Femminismo, religione e politica in Italia (Bari, Italia, Palomar Editrice, 1997); Premio Internazionale di Saggistica (Salerno, Italia, 1998).   Dark mother: African origins and godmothers (New York, Chicago, Lincoln and Shanghai, iUniverse, 2001); Enheduanna Award for Excellence in Woman-Centered Literature, 2002; French/European/African/Caribbean edition, La mere noire (Paris and Comeroun, Menaibuc Editions, March 2007). Among other publications she gathered the essays for volume one, She is Everywhere! Writings in womanist/feminist spirituality ( iUniverse, 2005) and, with Annette Williams and Karen Villanueva, gathered essays for volume two, She is Everywhere! (Loc. Cit., iUniverse, 2008).

(Review) The Future Has an Ancient Heart by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum reviewed by Mary Saracino

The Future Has an Ancient Heart: Legacy of caring, sharing, healing, and vision from the primordial African Mediterranean to occupy everywhere (iUniverse 2103) by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum.

A book review by Mary Saracino

FAHThe preface to the 2013 revised edition of Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum’s ground-breaking work, The Future Has an Ancient Heart is, by itself, worth the price of the book, as it offers a treasure trove of insights and an encapsulation of Birnbaum’s visionary work. But, I urge you to read this extraordinary work from cover to cover.

After the passing of her spouse/life-partner, Wally Birnbaum in September 2012, Lucia began to reflect upon the many ways that her body of work was and has always been imbued with Wally’s presence and essence. In doing so, she was inspired to add several chapters to this latest edition of The Future Has an Ancient Heart to acknowledge Wally’s contributions as logistician for her research and study tours, a formatter and photographer for all of her books, and a critical thinker and insight-sharer as a “peaceful nuclear physicist” who supported her work as a feminist cultural historian throughout their long and happy egalitarian marriage.

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