Jul 312015

Monday July 27, 2015 , ,


The reunited Barra family from the right: Giuseppa, Matilda, and Vincenzo Barra, Bob Hokanson and Alicia Barra Hokanson

By Francine Brevetti

Why would I want to go to Sicily? My family’s from Northern Italy. Three reasons:

My education in college and graduate school exposed me to the histories of ancient Greece, and Rome, their drama and their mythologies. I’m crazy about antiquities.
Then this past spring I attended two lectures on Italian history by Dr. Douglas Kenning at the Museo Italo-Americano in San Francisco. He explained in greater detail than I had ever heard before the colonization of Sicily by the Greeks – in fact it was called Magna Graecia – Great Greece.

Only under his lectureship did it click in my head that the tragedies of Sophocles and Aeschylus, the great myths of Zeus, Hera and Demeter played out on Sicilian soil.
I’m a sucker for mythology. So I signed up for the tour of Sicily that he does regularly.

I met him and the other four members of the tour in Siracusa – our first hotel looked over the Ionian Sea and I imagined I could see the Greek ships of 3500 years ago sailing my way. The rest of the ten-day venture was devoted to Agrigento, Erice, Taormina and so many other places, all enriched by Douglas’s encyclopedic knowledge of history and mythology.

Oh yes there was another reason I went to Sicily as well. I had heard the best cannoli in the world can be found there. This was true.

But it wasn’t until another tour member announced that she wanted to trace her family in Sicily that I became personally involved in this island of volcanoes and pastry.

Tour member and Colorado resident Alicia Barra treasured her Sicilian family and heritage. Trouble was, she’d never been to the old country.

So when a door opened and wizened woman, not 5 feet high, sturdily built with piercing black eyes greeted us on the main street of Partinico, Sicily, Alicia was astounded and speechless. This 75-year-old packet of dynamite was beckoning us in.

When Alicia and her husband Bob Hokanson had signed up with Sicily Tour (www.Sicily-tour.com) for a historical and archaeological exploration of the Italian island as I had, she had it in her mind to trace her parentage. Some years earlier she had accompanied Bob to track down his roots in Norway. Now he was supporting his wife in her search.

But how could she do this? Her family had long lost contact with her grandfather’s relatives, the Barra family, in the town of Partinico, 20 miles from Palermo.
“I kept wishing I could share this trip with my Dad,” said Alicia, thinking of her father in hospital in Long Island, NY.

Fortunately, the three leaders of Sicily Tour, Douglas and his partners, Lucia and Steve Davies, were long-time residents of Siracusa and knew their way around public records and Sicilian phonebooks.

It was Lucia who identified Alicia’s relatives in Partinico and their contact information. While we were exploring the island and heading towards Palermo, Lucia called Giuseppa Barra to ask if Alicia could visit. There was an enthusiastic yes on the other side of the line.

“It is one of my happiest jobs – bringing family together!” Lucia said later.

We were to spend two days in Palermo, the first for sightseeing and the second for free time. But that second day Doug agreed to drive Alicia and Bob to find la signora Barra. I came along to support Doug in translation since Alicia did not speak Italian.

As we came over the mountain from Palermo, Alicia remarked feelingly, “These are the same mountains my grandfather saw and the same roads he traveled on.” Alicia had been devoted to her grandfather Ignazio who lived with her and her family through her adolescence.

We twisted our way through the streets of the village – were all the streets one-way? Finally Doug was able to point the car in the proper direction toward the Barras’ front door. Looming over the main street we could spy a small figure on the balcony of the second level of a three-story building that dominated the street. A woman was leaning out scanning the street with intensity.

The brass plaque next to the main door read: Vincenzo Barra, Architetto. Alicia was thrilled to see her family name displayed with such dignity.

The door opened and Giuseppa Barra, a 75-year-old packet of dynamite, was beckoning us in.

There were no embraces or kisses. Alicia and her relative were still unclear on how they were related to each other.

We followed Giuseppa up the stairs to her quarters, entering a room from the 19th century, crowded with heavy dark furniture, festooned in doilies and lace curtains. Imposing photographs and yellowing portraits covered each inch of wall space.

She motioned to the four of us – Alicia and Bob, Doug and myself, to be seated. Many excited words were exchanged to clarify who was related to whom and how. Alicia’s grandfather, Ignazio, was the brother of Salvatore, Giuseppa’s deceased husband. Ignazio left the US when he was 17 and spent his majority on Long Island, NY. He returned for a single visit in his 60s. His son and Alicia’s father Vincenzo never ventured to the old country.

Giuseppa was prepared. On the table in front of Alicia was a stack of photographs, decades old. The older woman had been collecting these photos that Ignazio had sent home to his brother over the years. Most of the people in the photographs could have meant little or nothing to our hostess. Yet she had preserved them.

partenico 1

Alicia was astounded to discover images of all the relatives she knew throughout her childhood and adolescence. The image of her father with her little black dog was especially endearing to her. A picture of her at age 12 lined up with her whole family in front of the house her father had built was also meaningful.

The Colorado traveler was particularly taken with two photographs, side-by-side high up on the wall. They represented a young woman in shorts and a light top smiling with all of the sensuality she could express in that era – 50 or 60 years ago. They turned out to be photos of the young Giuseppa.

“She was so beautiful,” Alicia said to the uncomprehending Giuseppa.

“Molto (very) sexy,” I quipped. Everyone laughed except Giuseppa who looked away with a smile. Yes people in Italy understand the word sexy.

Alicia and Bob photographed the photos, “So I can bring them back to my Dad,” she said. Her dad is 86 and in poor health so she felt there was no likelihood he would come himself.

The elder Barra’s son Vincenzo, the architect whose plaque glinted on the building façade, had just come from Palermo to meet his newly found cousin. He brought his seven-year-old daughter Matilda and gave us a tour of his own quarters in the building. He had modernized his rooms with skill and they stood in stark contrast to his mother’s outdated though cherished furnishings.

Their home was an imposing three-story building on the main road and overlooked the town square and the church. Giuseppa and the Barras were well known. When we ventured out to the gelateria across the street, the couple dozen older men sitting outside the building kept trying to engage her. They must have wondered who these foreigners were but Giuseppa had little time for them. She wanted to keep us all for herself.

Library dedicated to Salvatore Barra

Library dedicated to Salvatore Barra

With our gelato joyfully indulged in, Vincenzo guided us to another treasure – a private library dedicated to his father. It must have been named recently for the sign outside was a flimsy placard that said “La Biblioteca Salvatore Barra. “ Salvatore was being remembered for his passionate work as an antifascist. Materials in the library were of that nature, including the works of Karl Marx and portraits of Che Guevara, among others.

When we sadly took our leave of mother and son, Alicia vowed, “I will definitely see that my children come. And I will come back too.” She swore to learn Italian when she returned to Conifer.

The embraces and kisses that were absent when we first met them were bountifully exchanged at this point.

We were all deeply grateful for the successful reunion of two generations.

Zeus and Hera notwithstanding, this was one of the high points of my trip to Sicily – something I could never have foreseen.

Francine Brevetti is an author and ghostwriter who resides in her hometown of San Francisco, California. Her work can be seen at www.FrancineBrevetti.com and www.Amazon.com. She specializes in nonfiction work, especially memoirs and business books.


 Posted by at 9:57 pm
Jul 202015

Do you have a problem like this?

A client of mine desires to write a book, a book he’s been working on for over three years.
But he can’t get past his conviction that he cannot write, that he cannot structure the book and
that he cannot go forward. And it’s a really good book.


Ever feel like that? It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

But you don’t have to struggle. Allow me to coach you through your book. I can help you launch
your message, the book you are burning to write but need help with. We can work together until you feel
you can proceed on your own.

First, in a preliminary consultation, only $100, we will clarify what your blocks are and how we can work together.

The world deserves to hear and read you.

For more information, call 415-397-7830 or email FrancineCBrevetti@Gmail.com

 Posted by at 12:05 am
Jul 062015

Thursday July 09, 2015 – Contra Costa Times – NEWS

Workers work to remove wood taken from a dilapidated dock that was taken down at the Big Break Marina in Oakley, Calif., on Wednesday, June 4, 2015. The

Workers work to remove wood taken from a dilapidated dock that was taken down at the Big Break Marina in Oakley, Calif., on Wednesday, June 4, 2015. The marina was foreclosed in February and there is a new group of investors doing new improvements. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group) ( DAN ROSENSTRAUCH )

OAKLEY — A neglected marina that once hosted pro bass fishing tournaments and formerly served as a busy hive of entertainment and sport is waiting for a second wind under new owners.

San Rafael-based Sequoia Mortgage Co. assumed ownership of the Big Break Marina in February after its previous owner, David Biron, filed for bankruptcy two years ago and then lost the property in foreclosure.

The 32-acre facility adjacent to the Big Break Regional Shoreline is undergoing a complete face-lift under the mortgage company, which hopes to revive it to its previous glory, Sequoia CEO Jason Freskos said.

A newly rebuilt boating dock at the Big Break Marina in Oakley is seen to the left as a fisherman fishes in Oakley, Calif., on Wednesday, June 4, 2015. The

A newly rebuilt boating dock at the Big Break Marina in Oakley is seen to the left as a fisherman fishes in Oakley, Calif., on Wednesday, June 4, 2015. The marina was foreclosed in February and there is a new group of investors doing new improvements. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group) ( DAN ROSENSTRAUCH )

The marina is one of far East County’s few public gateways to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and is home port to pleasure craft, restaurants, bait shops and residences. It once even served as a backdrop in an episode of the “Mythbusters” television show.

Freskos is optimistic about bringing new business and revitalizing what was once considered Oakley’s “gem.” He looks forward to the return of bass fishing derbies and other activities that were common before the marina’s decline.

“We want to rent to tenants who will bring in viable businesses. The most happening bar and restaurant in Oakley used to be at this marina. It’s not there anymore. Neither is a clubhouse that once was here,” he said.

Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery is enthusiastic about the new plans for Big Break Marina. He said the facility under the previous ownership had fewer connections to the river whereas the new owners plan to provide more access to the shoreline.

This facility “used to be such a gem,” Montgomery said. “But it was not as much of an amenity as we wish it had been for the last 10 years.” He said he looks forward to greater opportunities for boat owners to launch from the marina.

Under state law, the city is prohibited from funding private businesses. But Montgomery endorsed the new project and said that from time to time should the marina sponsor public events, “we would be supportive.”

Freskos was not ready to speculate on when new construction would begin or what a new facility might look like. He is also leaving the door open for new opportunities for ownership or redevelopment, including a possible new subdivision.

Over the past decade, the marina has fallen into disrepair. Today, visitors will see derelict buildings, rotting docks and dilapidated residences awaiting salvage and renovation. A Dumpster is currently on the site removing tons of garbage, according to the marina’s new general manager, Sean Ferguson.

Freskos describes the facility as being “in an incredible state of disrepair. We took over the property on Feb. 23 and on May 1 we got a citation from the city that one of the buildings was a public nuisance.” Freskos says the facility’s problems are almost overwhelming, but the new management is attending to them.

“We are currently plugging up holes in a sinking ship. Once we do that, there will be more method to our reconstruction,” he said.

Both Freskos and Ferguson bemoaned the state of docks that are falling down and dangerous.

“Some launches are sinking,” Freskos said. “One of the major covered sheds for boats is under such bad repair that some of the boats have broken loose and are floating away. We’re going to dismantle it.”

Even the residential buildings are falling apart. Freskos said tenants have had to plug up their broken windows with duct tape and say they received no response from their previous landlord to their appeals for any other repairs.

When Sequoia Mortgage took over the property this winter, they retained Biron as its interim manager for the three weeks it took to find a replacement. Freskos says Biron continued to bill tenants under his previous management through the last week of May.

Calls to Biron for comment were not returned.

Freskos acknowledged that some of the marina’s tenants had complained about past issues, and that his company is trying to make it up to them by offering reduced rent for several months.

In the meantime, Sequoia Mortgage created a new corporate name, Big Break Marina LLC, to manage the operation and to distinguish it from its former owner.

They intend to haul away derelict vessels and buildings. Freskos reported that 15 trailer loads of yard waste have been taken away so far. Several commercial buildings need to be renovated and one of them has been red-tagged for removal.

But firm plans to sell are on hold until the cost of revitalizing the property and the prospects for selling it become clear.

“We are trying to determine the highest and best use for this property,” Freskos said. “Our immediate goal is to stabilize the income while exploring the feasibility and cost of creating a large-scale subdivision. Firm plans to sell are temporarily on hold while we make these determinations.”

 Posted by at 9:07 pm
Jul 022015

My dear peeps, you recently received my email asking you why we do not go forward on our much held visions, in this case, writing a book.

Now I’m going to ask you for your advice.

You receive my announcements because you have expressed interest in such an activity, a project that could express what you want to say to the world. A project that will make you an author.

So give me a clue. Why would you not respond to an offer of a consultation – a fabulous service that goes a long way to helping you realize your dream – at a fair cost?

Really, I’m asking your input. Give me a jingle or email me and let me know.

You’ll be helping me!

Cheers, Francine Brevetti – who doesn’t take herself very seriously but does take your dreams seriously.
 “What’s holding you back is the thought that something is holding you back.”
– Motivational speaker Ralph Marston

 Posted by at 10:04 pm
Jul 012015

What keeps us from writing the book that has been in our heart/brain/gut for years?

Fear and lack of self-confidence transform into a variety of self-justifications:

  • I can’t do this. I can’t write.
  • My story or idea wouldn’t be interesting to anyone else.
  • What will other people say when they read it? Will they think less of me?
  • I don’t have the time. I have to wait till my daughter’s out of school.
  • Till work quiets down.
  • Till my mom feels better.
  • I want to write but I don’t know what to write about. Nah, I can’t do this now.

And eventually this becomes NEVER.

I hear this a lot from folks who have given up on their vision for a book.  And with the increasing availability of tools for self-publishing, their excuses take on a more desperate tone – because they really don’t need a traditional publisher anymore. They just need to start.

Let’s face it, dear readers. There is NO right time. There is only NOW.

If you think you want to write a book but don’t know how to start, how to discipline and schedule yourself, how to find the content, how to keep at it till you finish, call me. Don’t be afraid.

I’ll lead you by the hand.  You’ll like it once you jump in. I guarantee it.

Imagine yourself with your book in hand and your name on it.
Sounds good, doesn’t it, Author?

In a preliminary consultation, we focus on your vision, identify the content and way to go forward.What do you want to feel when you finish and see your book in your hand?
I record this discussion and send you back the link so you can  listen again at your leisure.
C’mon. It’s not like going to the dentist

 Posted by at 9:14 pm