Good Life: A Mediterranean and Calabrian Perspective

“Well, bread and salt will soothe a rumbling belly. Why so?  /  The greatest pleasure’s not in costly flavours, it resides  /  in you yourself.”

[Horace, Saturae, Liber Alter, 2.2]



Mediterranean life style is not simply well nutrition. Mediterranean way of life begins with what people do of the leftovers, here alluding to the traditional admonition that leftover have to be gathered.

It is startling to be told, in a culture as wasteful as ours that Mediterranean way of life begins with what we do with our leftovers. Just observe a typical school lunch program to see the mounds of garbage. “Do not waste” means little to children brought up to believe that if something does not meet your taste or adhere to the current fashion, you can waste it.

Instead, in Mediterranean cuisine all is re-utilized. No need to add that, in the field of personal relatioships, Mediterranean people devolve a great attention to family relationships and to everyone value, no matter if too much young or aged; everybody pays special attention to moral consideration and appreciation of every person.

In this context a familiar statistic begins to ring true: The industrialized countries, with only one-fifth of the world’s population, consume two-thirds of the world’s resources and generate 75 percent of all the pollution and waste products. The disparities between human beings who live in squalor and those who have everything money can buy are glaring in a very interconnected world. This great disparity denies social justice, leads to ecological tragedy, and most of all creates a misperception of what good life really is, which ultimately makes excessive consumption a cultural question.

What and how much we consume manifests our conception, about who we are and why we exist. The spiritual and cultural impoverishment that are the natural by-products of consumerism are evident everywhere. Money talks, but “it has such a squeaky voice and has so little to say.” How can Mediterranean life style helps us to find a more satisfying life for ourselves and at the same time make us more socially responsible in achieving it?

Mediterranean culture suggest three ways: the cultivation of the natural virtue of temperance; the admonitions about the dangers of over-consumption and the fundamental requirement of love of neighbor; and, finally, the teachings based upon the order of nature and the higher demands of spiritual living.


More and more ethical theorists give credence to the role virtues play in building character. Virtues are being seen and appreciated anew because their cultivation can provide the inner strength needed to live happily and successfully. Without these well-established habits we are under the influence of external stimuli, and we become victims of our own disordered needs and passions. To be creative and generous contributing members of society we need a structure that allows us to use our gifts in a sustainable way; the virtues provide such a structure. They are a wisdom for living that was recognized as far back as the ancient Greeks and beyond.

Those virtues are honored in the Mediterranean culture as part of a household code of living on earth.

Among our “cardinal virtues” that humans find essential, there is the virtue of sobriety and temperance, both in the behavior, in the cuisine and the way of life; it is regarded as one of the hinges of a happy life.

Herein, the rich meaning of Mediterranean sobriety is not captured by the concept of moderation. Moderation is only a small part of temperance, the negative part. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, temperance gives order and balance to our life. It arises from a serenity of spirit within oneself. The reasonable norm allows us to walk gently upon the earth. Temperance teaches us to cherish and enjoy the good things of life while respecting their natural limits. Temperance in fact does not diminish but actually heightens the pleasure we take in living, by freeing us from a joyless compulsiveness and dependence. Temperance therefore means a lot more than the so-called “temperance movement” regarding the consumption of alcohol!

Calabrian and Mediterranean way of life contrasts the consumerist way of life which multiplies human wants with the simple life whose aim is to achieve maximum well-being with the minimum use of the earth’s resources.

The “logic of production” that demands more and more grown in consumption is a formula for disaster, it can be argued.


Mediterranean and Calabrian people want to be in the vanguard in favoring ways of life that decisively break with the frenzy of consumerism, exhausting the joyless. It is not a question of slowing down progress, for there is no human progress when everything conspires to give full reign to the instincts of self-interest and power. We must find a simple way of living.

Consumer choices and consumer demands are moral and cultural expression of how we conceive of life. Is life all about working and spending in order to have more to worn and spend? Could not it rather all be about contemplation, what can be called a “disinterested, unselfish and aesthetic attitude” that is born of wonder in the presence of being and of the beauty which enable one to see in visible things the message of the invisible God who created them”.


For readiness to create a greater and more equitable solidarity between people is the first condition of peace. Mediterranean people has such a tradition of spiritual generosity, industry, simplicity and sacrifice that you cannot fail to heed this call today for a new enthusiasm and a fresh determination. It is in the joyful simplicity of a life inspired to Calabrian people by the Gospel and the Gospel’s spirit of fraternal sharing that you will find the best remedy for sour criticism, paralyzing doubt and the temptation to make money the principle means and indeed the very measure of human advancement.

It is because in Calabria and in many Mediterranean countries the poor ones have only their family and friends to look to for their help; thus they are able to recognize the radical human dependency that is the condition of every creature. Wealth, on the other hand, creates the illusion of independence and self-sufficiency, a dangerous posture.

Our tradition demands detachment from wealth and prescribes the just use of monetary resources. This tradition asks that our preferential love go particularly to the poor. Included today with the poor and the exploited must be the whole natural world.

According to Mediterranean style of life, you are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have abrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only the rich.

In Calabria, the bread we clutch in our hands belongs to the starving, the cloak we keep locked in our closet belongs to the naked, the shoes we are not using belong to the barefooted.


The question of defining more accurately what the good life is has become especially acute. Households go into debt to buy products they do not need and then work longer than they want in order to keep up with the payments. Shopping is the chief cultural activity in the Western world.

Calabrian people loves their families, while it is common in the Western world see a loss of frequent, significant contact among family members, less and less unstructured time, mounting clutter in the home and constant flux in daily activity. Regarding the ever-increasing amounts of clutter, the typical Western family owns more than most Egyptian pharaohs in their heyday. The world has never seen consumption like this on such a scale.

The good life should allow people to work at things that are personally satisfying and expressive of themselves.

The good life should include also a certain leisure for leisure is the basis of human culture. There should be opportunities to contribute to the common good as well as to pursue personal happiness. There should be time for family and friends, for worship and prayer. There also should be a certain asceticism to include a rediscovery of the benefits of fasting.

You can find in Calabrian sobriety many of these styles.

(This post is freely inspired by a real speech of Monsignor Charles Murphy about the style of life of Catholics)

The swordfish of Scilla



Many devotees of San Francesco di Paola, patron saint of Calabria and seafarers, meet, as usual, every year in Scilla, where they celebrate from Thursday 12 April to Sunday 15 a festival, in the picturesque neighborhood around the church of the Holy Spirit, on the seafront at the foot of the Castle.

The procession begins, every year, with the translation of the venerated statue of St. Francis to the beach and the delivery of a laurel wreath to the sea in memory of all those who fell into the sea.

The procession continues through the districts of Chianalea and Marina Grande.

It is in memory of an extraordinary history: the prodigy around the 1500 of crossing the Strait of Messina “on the mantle”. St. Francis had come with his companions in Catona, a village in the province of Reggio, five kilometers from Villa San Giovanni, which stands opposite the lighthouse of Messina, and is the nearest point for embarking from the continent to Sicily. On that beach there was a small port, from which daily transport boats departed, and Francesco hoped that he and his friars, not having money, in charity of a local seafarer. Instead, he did not help them, therefore St. Francis prayed God and his mantel became a supernatural ship, provoking the immediate conversion of the seafarer and of all surrounding people.

…This is a short introduction to the culture of the sea in Scilla, the faith and the devotion that you can find inside such beautiful place, the town of Scilla, a village of seafarers, and inside its cuisine.

In the apparent desert of the rocks, immersed in a violet sea, of the lonely castle, the beach, the small economy of the village, instead, you can find the same faith of St. Francis that the sea will be crossed by the crafts of the fishermen,…and will give its treasures: the swordfish.



Scilla is strictly associated to the hunting of the swordfish.

The hunting begins in the summer, when the fish is in love, passes from the Strait in its migration to the south, shaving the Costa Viola in the stretch between Bagnara and Scilla. When it goes up again, from mid-July, it will pass instead of the coast of Ganzirri, and it is there that the swords will beat in search of their booty. The hunting technique is more than two thousand years old, and it is virtually unchanged  since when it was described by historian Polibius in 2nd Century B.C.

Morning light, during the summer hunting, is spectacular in Scilla. In fact, the town is an important tourist resort of the Violet Coast, so-called because of the color that water reflects at particular times of the day. The colors are not yet completely defined, but the day is clear, only the Aeolian can not be seen, but the promontory of Sant’Elia stands out to the north, and then behind Capo Vaticano. Scilla enchants visitors with its Castle overlooking the sea, the colorful houses leaning on each other, the views of the Strait of Messina and Sicily.

As mentioned above, this tradition about the swordfish is very ancient, its cuisine is rooted in the Greek  and Roman culture.

Notwithstanding the myth narrated in the Odyssey (the town’s name seems to derive from the mythological figure of Scylla, a young nymph who refused Glauco’s love), Scilla’toponym is still uncertain: according to the historian Polybius would date back to the times of the Trojan War, but the first fortification is probably from the 5th century B.C. In late Greek age it was a fortress known as the “Oppidum Scyllaeum”, subsequently strengthened in Roman times.  Anyway, history blends with mystery, recalling the myths and legends of Ulysses fighting against Scylla and Charybdis, told by Homer and Dante Alighieri.

This explains why the fishermen of Scilla conserve any old rituals linked to the Greek fishing of the swordfish; in ancient times there were propitiatory songs “strictly” in Greek.



The Mediterranean gastronomy of Scilla is based on the swordfish.

The body of Swordfish and its flesh are delicate, rosy and very nutritious. This fish lives in the deep waters in the south of the Tyrrhenian Sea and re-emerges in spring, when the adult specimens approach the coast in search of the female.

Swordfish is a fast fish that can reach 100 km per hour and adult specimens can reach 3 meters in length and reach a weight of 150 kilos.

It is equipped with a sword that makes up almost a third of its body.

Local cuisine knows the swordfish roasted, in fillets, in countless seasonings for delicious first courses.

A very particular form, anyway, is that of the roulade, a typical recipe of this pretty village overlooking the Strait of Messina. Indeed, a culinary ritual is that of the swordfish cooked in rolls, so called “of Messina”, which require expertise and wisdom, as well as a cut of the particular fish, to obtain small and tasty morsels.

Further, there is the famous swordfish sandwich that you can taste everywhere in Scilla, a pride of local cuisine. Probably the most popular gastronomic two versions of the sandwich are that with tomatoes, olives blacks and capers, or that one with caramelised Tropea onion or rocket and flakes of grain.

In both case, it is a delicacy to enjoy, while watching the changing blue of the coast from the top of the village. Or walking through Chianalea, the charming fishing village that offers, among the houses on the water, of real windows on the sea as in a painting of an author.

The best companion for the sandwich or the rolls is an aromatic glass of Cirò red wine.



The main economic activities in the area of Scilla are tourism, agriculture and fishing. Farm products include olives, figs, vegetables and selected citrus fruits.

The variety of the Violet Coast lands provides for the ingredients of traditional sea and delicacies from the Pre-Aspromonte hills: cheeses, cold cuts, mushrooms and vegetables in olive oil, grilled aubergines and dried tomatoes, olives in oil, fried courgette flowers, ragoût and goat and pork meat sauces for home-made pasta, the “maccarrùni i casa”.

The main fish dishes are based on local products including, of course, swordfish, but also silver scabbardfish, garfish, sunfish, sauries, various shellfish and octopuses.

Traditional scabbardfish-based recipes (spatola alla “scigghitàna”), with specific doses of vinegar and mixed herbs growing among terraced grapevine rows, confirm that the main activities of the town are agriculture and fishing.

Traditional cookies are produced during the feast periods, and include “mustacciòli”o “‘nzuddhi”, “piparèlle”, “susumèlle”, “petrali” made with honey, almonds and flavored dried figs. Custards, desserts and lemon, orange and bergamot liqueurs always come at the end of the meal.