Nonno di Ustica

September 23, 2011 / Local Interest
Ustica, Sicily

“A blood relative or not, he’s my relative. Pasquale is everybody’s relative: he’s “il nonno di Ustica.” Nonno Pasquale’s blue eyes – the same color as Ustica’s sea – twinkle at friend Gaetano’s affectionate words. A smile spreads ear-to-ear across his gentle face, pink cheeks still smooth with only a suggestion of wrinkles. Pasquale Palmisano will be a hundred next May. “Just over a thousand of us live on the island and I’m now the oldest”, he told me proudly.

We can’t imagine a Sicilian vacation without a few days on the volcanic island of Ustica, north of Palermo and I can’t imagine a stay on Ustica without hearing Nonno Pasquale Palmisano’s stories. What a relief to know he is still here. On this visit, though, I didn’t find him out on the Palmisano farm land, sitting on a rickety wooden stool like last time, whittling the reeds for the baskets he made, shaded by his huge, wide-brimmed straw hat.

He lives in the village now – “I have to take care of my wife who can no longer walk” – and was sitting in Ustica’s main piazza with his card-playing cronies, shaded now by the leafy gnarled arms of the centuries-old ficus trees. Nonno Pasquale spends the days with his bed-ridden wife and only goes out to the piazza and his friends at 5 pm when a caregiver comes in to watch over his wife… and so he continues to face serenely the hardships life has delivered. Maybe one of the reasons he is nearly a hundred?

As we were catching up, Gaetano interjected, “…and he doesn’t even need glasses, and what a memory!” Pasquale protested, “But I don’t remember this signora americana who’s here to visit me again.” One of the card-players chuckled, “O, Pasqua’, I wouldn’t even remember a woman I’d met yesterday!” All the men laughed.

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

21 Responses to “Nonno di Ustica”

  1. frank bettinelli

    As a “Son Of Sicily, I was conceived their and transported to America
    in my mother’s womb 83 yrs ago this month, I take great pleasure in
    reading of the people of Sicily or of others of the same heritage.

    Pasquale reminds me of a brother inlaw, Frank, that died 3 yrs ago at
    the age of 91. He also always had a smile and twinkling eyes. Frank
    was born in Augusta and migrating to America as a young man.

    Enjoy reading the Italian Notebook.

  2. Jack Litewka

    A lovely and poignant sketch. I hope that when I start forgetting who I met yesterday, I also forgot the awful worldwide news that I follow daily.

  3. Rosa Russo Ruffini

    “Nonno di Ustica”

    What a heart warming story. Never lose your beautiful smile.


  4. Janice Battiste

    I knew this was written by you right away Anne. You always find the most valuable people and experiences wherever you go. Maybe one of these summers I’ll meet you in Ustica, and with any luck I’ll meet Nonno Pasquale.

  5. What a heartfelt description with depth enough to cleanse my eyes with happy tears. I wish I knew Nonno Pasquale.

  6. umberto levrini

    i too am from italian(part sicilian and part alti-italia)and it does my heart good to see another happy old face like mine at 88 yrs old,smooth skin and an eye for the beautiful ladies-the only difference between me and nonno pasquale is that i never forget the beautiful people i meet-i wish to see u anne(god willing )someday to thank u for all the wonderful stories u bring to the italian notebook

  7. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    Mio caro signor Levrini
    Possa tu vedere migliaia di migliaia di giorni di felicità

  8. Linda Gasbarro

    Nonno Pasquale sounds like a very interesting man. That’s so cute the way he cares for his wife during the day and then plays cards in the evening with his cronies under the ficus trees. Sounds wonderful.

  9. Both my parents were born in the Province of Lucca, Tuscany. I love all the articles you e=mail to me. I’ve been to Italy twice and loved every mintue of it. Can’t imagine anyone NOT wanting to live there. It is BEAUTIFUL. My Nonno Pietro only lived to be 81 yrs old.

  10. Nonno Pasquale, I wish I knew you. May you live a long & wonderful life.
    Glad Italian Note Book is back is process.
    I love everything Italian!!


  11. Anita Fiorini

    All the articles are good but this is so heart warming. You can’t
    but love Nonno Pasquale. I would love to meet him.

  12. Nonno Pasquale, you are a beautiful soul. Your sweet and moving face so full of humanity. The best of Italy. Thanks Anne for sharing a moment in time with a noble generation that is slipping away.
    This story should be introduced to school children that will never be touched by a Nonno Pasquale as a role model.

  13. Gina Foglia

    Thank you for this glimpse into life on the island and its people. You said much more than just about Nonno! Who has taken up the basket weaving task?

  14. Sandra Guidi

    Anne,thank you for sharing this heartwarming and delightful story with us! What a treasure Nonno Pasquale is. Continue to enjoy your wonder travels!

  15. Lucile Stachowiak

    What a wonderful story. He is a walking history book. I would so love to meet him and have him tell me of all his wonderful life experiences. My father turned 97 this year (Dominic Pasquarella), his mind is so sharp, he remembers everything, it’s just amazing, even though the body slows down, his memory is fantastic.

    Lucile Stachowiak

  16. Anne Robichaud

    Thanks to each of you for your warm comments. Yes, Nonno Pasquale is a national treasure. I hope to be back in Sicily next summer…and will spend a couple days on Ustica. May we find Nonno Pasquale in buona forma.

  17. Nancy Mazza

    What a terrific story—so touching. I hope you see “Il Nonno di Ustica” soon after his 100th next year!


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