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To the outsider, Sicily, the largest region in Italy and with a population of roughly 5 million, could thrive on tourism alone as its major source of income -- it boasts endless beaches and monuments are scattered just about everywhere. It is also one of the major exporters of olive oil, wine, and fish to the rest of the world which should also be a note of pride. Sicilian hospitality is according to native standards, where "the guest is sacred," and they love to pride themselves on cordiality. The love of food and slow living is renowned. Yet, despite its membership along with the rest of Italy in the European Union, Sicily still presents the complexities and idiosyncrasies left by the consequences of its history: Where it can be burgeoning miraculously in some areas, it can be woefully neglected in others. The bridge to the mainland that never was (and quite possibly never will be) is one such example -- the link connecting Messina to Reggio Calabria has been in the works since time immemorial. Another such sour note is Sicily's airports -- why one fully-outfitted, ready-for-use airport at Ragusa still remains closed, while local politicos argue for the necessity to build one in Agrigento, is a mystery.

When it comes to education, Sicily presents an alarmingly diachronic reality: While the level of high school drop-outs is considered one of the highest in the nation, teens who continue their studies, particularly at classical studies or science at high school, have a syllabus that in theory is one of the best in Europe -- the 5 years of ancient Greek or Latin studied at Classical institutions is superior to Greece itself. Despite this, education reforms in Italy have led to a decline in the quality of studies, and Sicily has not been spared.

In stark contrast to what macho stereotyping would lead the visitor to believe, women have come a long way from the male-dominated Sicilian society portrayed in postwar films. No longer kept under lock and key to protect their honor, they are on a par with men in all fields of education and employment, including the armed forces -- although grown men are still considered mama's boys. Even the traditional southern Italian family has become a thing of the past: Divorce rates are high, second marriages or couples living together is not uncommon, and offspring are never more than two, often entrusted to foreign-born nannies while the mothers work outside the home. In postwar years it was not unusual for families to have no less than eight children; nowadays the birthrate in Sicily is augmented by the immigrants who come here, naively, in search of a better life: Coming from northern Africa, eastern Europe, and even as far away as China, they are, ironically, recreating the melting pot that Sicily was a millennium ago.

In some ways, you would never think that Sicily is a world away from the mainland -- it has all the latest gadgets and baubles -- yet unemployment is a big problem. More often than not, the only way to find a job here is through clientelismo: It's not what you know, but who you know. It is estimated that some 1 million people left Sicily over a 20-year period beginning in 1951, (the current population is about 5 million), and many young people still flee today's staggering unemployment levels in search of jobs elsewhere. Paradoxically, immigrants are repopulating the island. There are those who are still willing to reinvest in their territory, such as vintners and hoteliers, but the number is still minimal. Talk about making tourism the number one source of the island's income hasn't yielded results. Maybe Sicily, and Sicilians, could use a bit of the spirit their forebears had nearly 800 years ago, when the rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers led to change.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.