Thursday, December 29, 2005

Folk Art from the artist Vindigni, Monterosso Almo

We thought these were absoultely fantastic but he wouldn't sell. The craftsmanship was amazing and the details beautiful.

Photos from Presepe Vivente, Monterosso Almo, Sicilia

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A few new watercolors from Sicily

Artichokes or "Carciofi" in Italiano

A little seascape with palm tree

Duomo in Caltagirone, Sicily

"Pietra Secca" - low walls of white rock

The Duomo in Comiso, Sicilia

Comiso, with decorations per Natale

12.26.05 Presepe Vivente, Monterosso Almo, Sicilia

Yesterday, the day after Christmas, after our usual walk on the beach, we decided to take a drive. Elio had told us about this little town in the mountains about an hour's drive north of Ragusa, who put on what is called "Presepe Vivente," a live nativity scene, and that in his opinion it was the best place to go to see this. Many of the cities in Sicily do this and we had heard about Modica's and another nearby city, Scicli, but we respect Elio's opinion and it seemed easy enough to find, so we headed in that direction in the early afternoon. Since the festivities would not begin until after dark, we took the long way there, on smaller roads, stopping in Comiso, another beautiful city not far from Ragusa. All of these cities are decked out in lights all throughout the center of the town and even in the daylight it is charming to see the stars and streaming lights, strung every few feet from one side of the street to the other and the result is so festive and delightful. We are so thrilled to be here at this time of year to be able to witness it. Comiso is very pretty and we promised to return and spend more time there than just a quick stop to take some photos.

Our one-hour's drive turned into a few more because the scenery along the way was so breathtaking we had to keep stopping the car! The sky was darkening and we thought for sure it would rain (it didn't) and it made for the most dramatic backdrop for these green hills, mountains really, sculpted with terraced gardens and fields separated by with low walls made from the white rocks that are found here. The sky was a deep dark blue, with indigo and grey-colored clouds and the sun streaking through lit the fields of green in colors that were too incredible to be believed. The photos are not retouched. These were the colors we saw and you can imagine, we were giddy with excitement.

Coming to Sicily for the first time, we did not know what to expect. It is an island. A very, very, large island for sure, but an island. But when you drive through the countryside and see the expansive vistas, it is so vast, it seems an entire continent is before your eyes and the changing scenery from one area to another is nothing short of magical. At this point, we have only seen a very small corner of this island, but it is working its way into our hearts in a very big way. We are beginning to understand why everyone said "Ahhh, bella Sicilia!!" and got that wistful look on their faces, when we told them we were coming here to spend this time.

Around 4:30 we arrived in the little town of Monterosso Almo and were completely enchanted! The area surrounding the little piazza was strung with lights and booths were being set up to sell various things to eat. Signs read "Ravioli, Ricotta Calda (hot ricotta, which was to die for, spread on bread!), Salsicce (sausages on the grill, served with onions or patatine fritte), cannoli (yummm) and other goodies we only admired and did not taste. I found a bench to sit on a did a sketch of the chiesa as the sun was going down and finished up before my hands froze solid (it was much colder here than along the sea, since it is higher in the mountains) and it became too dark for me to see. At this point, the Christmas lights came on and the entire scene was just too charming to believe! This sweet little square with all its lights lit and the festive atmosphere was filled with anticipation for the events about to unfold, which we could only guess at.

Since we had time earlier, we also visited an art exhibition that was mostly by local artists and nothing that really blew us away, mostly amateur in nature but proudly displayed and appreciated. However, we really enjoyed the collection of art pieces, true folk art, and so completely creative and innovative by an artist who also makes and sells finely crafted wood furniture. But the pieces that impressed us the most were made using metal cans and boxes, like coffee, cookie and candy tins that have sumptuous designs and rich colors on them and incorporating them into other existing vehicles, such as old victrolas (that played large 78mm records), clocks, and lamps. He takes the metal edges and slices and twists and turns them into curlicue shapes, uses old pieces of jewelry and fabric borders etc. Our explanation does not do this justice and we will include a photo so that you can see for yourselves and hopefully understand what we mean. Wanting to buy one, we asked how much he wanted and he only laughed and said they were not for sale! We understood him to say that they are just his collection and that he likes them too much to sell them! We were so disappointed but understood how that feels when you create something and don't want to give it away, for any price. Not exactly a way to earn a living but we suspect he does just fine with his furniture and that this is his hobby and his love. Incredible!

I may have talked about these Presepe before but I'll recount now. In the states most people who are religious (or who have religious roots like me and like the tradition) set our their manger scene - the little stable with Joseph and Mary and the Baby Jesus, and of course, the three Wise Men and the shepherds, guarding their flock by night and the angel on top. In some places you might see a whole little village. My Aunt Celeste had such a collection, with all the little houses that might have been in Bethlehem, creating a little town. In Sicily, this is an art form. In Caltagirone, as in many of these cities, there were a number of them, large and small. Even school children assemble these, as we did gingerbread houses (my daughter Jessica might remember her brownie troop in our kitchen making their little town which was then donated to the Phoenix Art Museum who displayed all the gingerbread villages that had been created and would be auctioned off as a fund raiser.) But I digress. That is a very secular event, while this is definitely a depiction of a religious event. Some as we expected in Monterosso Almo are done using actual people and real animals and are quite a major production.

At around 6:45, amid some fanfare, into the town walked Joseph, leading the donkey on which Mary sat, followed by townspeople, dressed in period clothing and the Three Kings, and disappearing down the road that led to the viewing area.

We had bought tickets when we arrived and were number 449 and 450 to view the Presepe. We thought it would take hours to get to our number, but by 7:45 they were announcing the 400s and we took our place in line. What we saw was so much more than simply the Holy Family in the stable. Monterosso Almo is built onto the crest of a hill and follows its contours and is the northernmost city in the province of Ragusa. Its origins date back to prehistoric times and archeologists studying this area have unearthed remains of these early civilizations.

We were led down a flight of stairs to a street scene that might have been in the middle ages, people in period clothing cooking in the outdoors, the tiny street transformed into a scene out of history. Two adorable little girls offered bites of donut holes that had been cooked in oil and sprinkled with sugar, reminding me of the sfingas we ate at St. Fortunata's Feast in Brooklyn, except that these had granulated sugar and not the powdered kind that gets your all over your face and fingers! It just got better and better and for more than an hour we wandered these ancient streets, lit only by candle light and oil lamps, peeking into doorways to watch artisans performing their crafts: lace makers, pasta makers, ladies forming dough into fanciful shapes and baking bread; the shoemaker, rope makers, grain sifters, chair makers, potters, cheese makers, carpenters, blacksmiths, toy makers, basket weavers, and even a tavern scene with its patrons laughing, drinking and dancing; and others I cannot remember now! But the final viewing, in a cave cut from the rock on which this city is built, was the nativity. Mary and Joseph, who had passed us earlier now with the baby Jesus and the Wise Men, shepherds and townspeople and even some live sheep! And after all of that we passed another room where these two guys were singing what we are sure were old Italian folksongs we did not understand but the appreciative crowd surely did and laughed at all the appropriate places.

By 10pm we were on the way home and took the main road back. It was quite dark and we stopped only once, ostensibly to look at the stars, with no city lights to obscure them, the sky was filled to brimming.

We send a "grazie" to Elio for suggesting we go to Monterosso Almo and to Mother Nature for holding back the rain, but giving us a terrific sky to photograph.

Today it is stormy and will probably rain. The sea is rough. We took our walk earlier and are now snuggled safely in our cozy apartment. Some boys are playing basketball in the square below and an occasional truck ambles by. I'm going to make a stew for dinner, so I probably better get started.

Thanks again for reading and keeping up with our adventures. We hope you are all having a happy holiday season and wish you all good things for the new year.

With affection,
Rosemary & Bob

Nature Reserve, where the river meets the sea

Macchia Foresta del fiume Irminio

Bob's Birthday Celebration

This is possibly my best birthday present, ever. Walking in the "Mar Mediterraneo" along the beach in the city where we live, Marina di Ragusa, in Sicilia. I don't thnk it gets any better than this!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hi Virginia!

Your daughter Chrissy told us that you read everything we write and we were so happy to know that you are enjoying it that we decided to send you this message.

25 December 2005

Today is Christmas Day. We have no tree, no lights, no decorations of any kind. Yet we had the most wonderful day. We slept until around 11am! Very late for us. That was because we didn't return home last night until around 2am! Also very late for us, with good reason. Our very kind and generous landlords, Giovanna and Elio invited us to spend Christmas Eve with them and their family and we were happy to accept. We arrived around 8:30 and visited with them and their sons, Gianni and Mario, who are in college, and home for the holidays. Elio's brother Salvatore and his wife and their two grown children joined in, as well as Giovanna's mother. The love they share was so evident in the way they treated one another and the affection they so openly displayed. I was reminded of my younger years, at 343 Grant Avenue, where I grew up, surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins with enough hugs and kisses to go around. I always felt loved and cared for by a large number of people and hold those days as precious in my memory.

Our Christmas Eve dinner started off with an amazing salmon dish, marinated in orange juice and served on a bed of radicchio and orange slices that melted in our mouths. This was followed by an incredible fresh pasta with asparagus and shrimp that I must ask Elio how to make. Afterwards they served an assortment of focaccias stuffed with different types of seafood and a delicious flaky pie with ricotta and I think crab (I wasn't certain what it was, but I am certain that it was delicious!). By this time everyone was saying "Basta!" (enough!) and getting full. A light white wine was the perfect accompaniment to this meal. Dessert consisted of the most incredible spongy yellow cake, impossible to describe, with a creamy filling and a liquor flavor, decorated with chocolate frosting and dried fruits. Yummm. Our contribution was a basket of chocolates from Antica Dolceria Bonaiuto, the oldest chocolate shop in Modica, that we had picked up the other day during our visit to this beautiful city to see the Christmas lights.

At midnight champagne was poured and we wished each other Buon Natale, and auguri (wishes) with kisses on both cheeks. We were so surprised, when they began opening presents, to find that they had included Bob and I on their shopping list. It was so sweet of them to do that and I love the red scarf they chose for me and Bob now has a very handsome key ring! Their gift giving was simple and well thought out, with everyone getting something they liked and seemed to have wanted, or at least appreciated receiving. Kisses and hugs were given freely along with sincere expressions of thanks. We feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet these lovely people and been welcomed into their home to share in their holiday celebration.

Around 1am the young folks began to head out to wherever it is young folks go, to meet up with friends and party the night away. The rest of us (especially me!) began yawning and getting sleepy. After a small glass of cinnamon liquor we said our goodnights and headed home. Marina di Ragusa is only about a 20 minute drive from Ragusa where they live, but even still, it was around 2am before we arrived at home and fell into bed exhausted.

Yesterday was also Bob's birthday and it started with a phone call at 8am, shortly after we woke, from our daughter Jessica, wishing him a happy birthday. He was thrilled that she called and we talked for a while, hearing all about the plans she and her husband Nick had for spending Christmas together. After a leisurely breakfast on the terrace we headed down for our walk on the beach where we got a phone call from our son Chris wishing his dad a happy birthday as well! Needless to say, Bob's head was in the clouds as both of his children called to say Happy Birthday. That, plus being able to spend his birthday walking barefoot on the beach, jeans rolled up, wading in the water, made him a very happy man.

This morning we had a very late breakfast and a walk on the beach. (do you see a habit forming here?) The day was gorgeous with blue skies and puffy white clouds and so warm I had to take my sweater off (anyone who knows me knows I was wearing more than one). We had decided earlier to drive the car down the road a little way to the "Macchia Foresta del fiume Irminio Nature Reserve, part of the Irminio Estuary, and walk along the paths there. As it was such a beautiful day I brought along my watercolors just in case. This area is a natural habitat for the Mediterranean maquis, vegetation typical to this region and sand-dunes hundreds of years old. The scenery is incredible, especially where the Irminio River meets the sea and we had fun taking photos and doing some sketching. As I sat on a log painting, the most amazing bird sat at the other end of the log on a branch that extended upwards. It was about 6 inches tall I would guess, and rather stocky I would say, turquoise in color with a bright orange breast and long, pointed beak. I probably could have been catching flies as I watched him eat a tiny fish, just feet from me, my mouth agape, wanting very much to take a photo but not wanting to move a muscle and frighten him away. I have often thought that I would enjoy bird-watching one day and this little encounter made me think that day might have come! I have no idea what it was, but I hope to have more of this type of experience on future trips here to this beautiful and serene place.

Back near our apartment we shared a slice of pizza that we ate sitting on the rocks at the beach and then joined the passeggiata, or evening stroll. Many more people were in Marina di Ragusa for the Christmas holiday and the streets were crowded with holiday visitors. I fixed a simple dinner (breaded chicken cutlets, oven roasted potatoes and broccoli) and we spent a lot of time on the phone with various family members and friends, sharing holiday greetings.

On TV tonight there was a terrific musical adaptation of the children's story Pinocchio, an Italian folktale that was quite well done with great sets and costumes and a really memorable score. All in Italian of course, but we enjoyed watching it.

Now it's about midnight and I wanted to just jot down these few words. It's definitely colder tonight than it was earlier in the day and the heat is on as I write, wearing a warm sweater. Bob just came in to tell me that it was raining, quite a surprise, since the day had been so beautiful. I'm ready to call it a night and will end by saying Buon Natale, Tanti Auguri and Felice 2006!

A domaini,
Rosemary & Bob

A Visit to Castello Eurialo, Siracusa

Colors of Santa Lucia Day

Fireworks on Santa Lucia's Feast Day

Santa Lucia in Procession

Close-up of Santa Lucia

Barefoot Processor on Santa Lucia's Feast Day

12.20.05 Santa Lucia Returns

This is the sequel to Santa Lucia and the Hurricane, if you have been paying attention and following our adventures of late. If you haven’t, I will give you a brief recap. On the 13th of December we went to Siracusa for the feast of Santa Lucia but it was rained out due to hurricane activity in the area. We ended up spending the night there because all the roads were closed but we made plans to go back on the 20th when, if the rain stopped some time in the meantime, they would have marched Santa Lucia from the Duomo where she normally resides, to the church named for her. This procession took place on the 17th and, we are told, come hell or high water, they return the Saint to the Duomo on the 20th with much fanfare and flourish. This we very much wanted to see and we weren’t disappointed.

We checked into our B&B (The Magnolia) about noon, deposited our overnight stuff and headed out to explore the city. Unlike the week before, this day was gorgeous. The sky was blue and clear with no rain in sight. The sea was calm as could be and the reflections in the little harbor made good subjects for picture taking. We had lunch at one of the restaurants by the bridge that connects the island of Ortigia to Siracusa and took our time savoring the meal. (this time Bob had the seafood risotto and I had a lovely pasta with a swordfish ragu) At around 3:30 we walked over to the church to find that a market was set up along the streets that lead to the church selling all sorts of candies and nuts and totally unrelated stuff, colorful and fun to look at nonetheless. The procession was scheduled to begin at 4, but it seems non of these things ever start on time and it was closer to 5 when a helicopter flew overhead and dropped fireworks to signal the start of the event. This was accompanied by the tolling of the church bells, so it was a very dramatic beginning. We had noticed earlier all these (mostly women) people barefoot, carrying these enormous (about 3 ft) candles. When I asked one of them why they were barefoot, she replied that this was an expression of empathy for the pain the Saint had suffered (she was beheaded for refusing to give up her faith and is also said to have plucked our her own eyes and thrown them at her persecutors, so she surely suffered a lot) and that they would walk the path of the procession that way, at the end of which, we are certain, they themselves would be in a lot of pain, walking on these rough stone streets.

At the right moment, out of the church came Santa Lucia, an incredibly elaborate statue all in silver with gold accents that sits atop a beautifully ornate base of the same material, borne on the shoulders of the men of the town, quite a good distance through the streets of Ortigia, over the bridge and back to the Duomo in Siracusa. The entire procession lasted for several hours.

By the time they reached the bridge, it was almost 9pm. Bob and I did not follow the route with them, but came back to the bridge area and walked around for a while, sitting on the benches nearby and watching the motion of the birds in the air as they performed their nightly ballet. This is really something incredible to watch. We have never seen anything like this in our lives and thousands and thousands of birds literally create these amazing patterns in the sky that are like ribbons being twisted and turned, in constant motion, as if choreographed. It is simply astonishing.

When Santa Lucia reached the bridge area, they stopped and put her down and began the most dazzling fireworks display imaginable. Bob and I have seen our fair share of really great fireworks shows (if you know me you know I love this stuff!). This rivals the best of them for the top spot. Everyone in the audience was spellbound and instead of the usual “oohs and ahhs” we heard lots of “bravos” and “bellissimis” and even the occasional “mamma mia” – absolutely fabulous and worth the wait!

Tired and foot weary by this time we decided to try to find a quiet place for a late supper and were delighted that the one we chose was right along the route to the Duomo! ( called The “Ottocento” beautifully decorated with really excellent food, right near the Fontana Diana) After we had ordered our dinner we noticed the waitress rush to the window and then call to the chef who came out from the kitchen and the few of us in the restaurant followed them to watch as the procession passed just below the balcony where we were standing! That was just too cool.

Our little B&B was comfortable and just down the street from these entire goings on. In the morning we had breakfast at a little coffee bar, and then decided to check out the Castello Eurialo built at the beginning of the 4th century by Dionysius. According to my guidebook the castle was originally formed from a single block in the shape of a ship’s prow. The castle ruins cover one and a half hectares (what’s a hectare??) and at the time of their construction, the design was considered quite innovative. The best thing – besides getting to touch and see a lot of old stuff – are the spectacular views, as it sits on a high point above the city, with a commanding view of the harbor and Mt. Etna in the distance. We had fun climbing all over the crumbling ruins and going down into the lower parts of the castle, which reminded us of going down into the Rocca Paolina, although this is much, much older that the fortress in Perugia.

By early afternoon we were on our way back to our little town with a promise to return to Siracusa to see the art museum and the other Greek ruins, some of the finest in Sicily. Another day. We have many more before our time here is done.

Buona notte,
Rosemary e Robert

Saturday, December 17, 2005

12.17.05 Hero for Hire

This is my opportunity to brag about my husband. Today it is raining. Really pouring. Yesterday was gorgeous. This seems to be a pattern, one gorgeous sunny day where we walk on the beach, put our feet in the water, ride our bikes along the shore and pick up seashells. The next day the clouds move in and it becomes cold and rainy. I suppose this is what we can expect from winter in Sicily, or at least in our little corner of it. We aren't complaining, by any means. We know that those warm days are there and that winter won't last for long. We are perfectly content on these wet days to snuggle in our cozy apartment and read a book, or as I am doing now, to catch up on my writing.

But I digress. My hero. Around noon I decided I would make some soup. As the day was chilly and I had a bunch of left over this and that in the fridge that would provide the makings for a pretty good vegetable soup, I went at it. I started with a little chicken broth, added some carrots and some peas, some onions and garlic, threw in some of Elaine's slow roasted tomatoes and a bit of leftover meat sauce I had made earlier in the week. I tossed in some cannelloni beans and little stars pasta, some more seasonings and voila! Vegetable soup! What I didn't have was bread. So Bob volunteered to go down to the bakery (I really must tell you about the bread) to buy some. On his way to the bakery he noticed a wallet lying on the ground by the automatic teller machine outside the bank. Picking it up, he went into the bakery to see if they knew who might have lost it. At this, the man in the bakery went running to the door and shouted to someone out in the piazza. An elderly gentleman came running to the bakery and with tears in his eyes, was thrilled to see that his lost wallet had been found and returned! Much of the conversation went over his head but Bob could see that everyone thought he did a pretty good thing. Someone said "bravo" and offering thanks, and he blushed (I am sure, although I did not see it myself) because to him, this was just doing the right thing and he wouldn't have, couldn't have, done anything but try to find the rightful owner. Like when he was a firefighter and people overused the word "hero" he would say that he was just doing his job.

At any rate, he hopes that these guys recognize him now when they see him on the street and that he has made a good impression. They smile and say "buon giorno" or "buona sera" to us as we pass them on the street but now we think, they have a little story to tell about this American who has chosen to live among them.

I am really proud of this honest, good man I have chosen to spend my life with and I just wanted to share that with you.


Antique Sicilian Cart

Bridge knocked down

Enjoying the Hurricane

Mold for Bronze Mask

Pithos from 950 B.C.

12.13.05 Santa Lucia and the Hurricane

Sounds like the title of a children's book! It is actually what we experienced on Tuesday (December 13th) the feast day of Santa Lucia when we went to Siracusa for the saint's feast day. We had read about the procession where they take the statue of Santa Lucia (this is very fancy and silver) from the Duomo (built in the 7th century on the ancient Doric temple of Athena) on the island of Ortigia, where she resides, to the church of Santa Lucia, on the mainland part of Siracusa. It was just beginning to rain when we got in our car in the early morning and the rain got heavier and the wind stronger as we drove along the coast. When we arrived in Siracusa and managed to find the Information office, we learned that if it was still raining in the afternoon they would postpone the procession to the next good-weather day. The tradition is that 8 days later, on the 20th, they repeat this procession, returning the Saint to the Duomo and on that night, they have a terrific fireworks show.

Since it was still early in the day (we arrived around 10:30) and raining heavily, we opted for a visit to the Museo Archeologico Regionale "Palo Orsi." Paolo Orsi was a famous Italian archeologist who worked in Sicily between 1888 and 1934 who excavated untold treasures that are housed in this impressive museum. According to the Lonely Planet guidebook, this museum is "one of Europe's largest archeological museums, with an area of more than 9,000 square meters and over 18,000 exhibits." It covers Sicily from prehistoric and proto-historic times through paleo-Christian times. Not really being students of archeology, we don't completely understand those terms, but we really enjoyed looking at all this old stuff! It is truly remarkable that the tools and artifacts of ancient civilizations can appear so similar. We were reminded of the Native American artifacts we enjoyed at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona when we saw all the pottery and clay objects. Clearly, however, the early Sicilians created very unique and wonderful pieces of art for their everyday use. Since it was a holiday, the museum was only open until 1pm so we promised to return again and explore further its wonderful collection.

As we left the museum, our cell phone rang and it was Elio, calling to ask us how things were in Marina since he had heard from a friend that there was a hurricane reported in one of the neighboring cities (Pozzallo), not far from our apartment! We were not entirely surprised to hear this because the winds had been pretty strong on our drive to Siracusa earlier in the day. We promised to let him know if things were OK when we returned home later.

The most fun part of the day was when we stopped along the sea and watched the huge waves pound the shore, whipped by the wind as we walked across the fortress that looks out to the sea. Nervously laughing and giggling, getting soaked and wind-blasted we watched with amazement as a small bridge, that moments before tempted us to walk on it, went crashing into the sea separating itself from it's rocky perch. Incredibly, we met a young woman from Virginia, studying in Italy, who took our photo to document our having been here at this moment in time.

The rain did not subside, and after we had lunch in a local restaurant (I had an amazing seafood risotto to die for and Bob had swordfish) we decided we had better head for home. As we approached the road going towards Marina di Ragusa, we were forced to come to a complete stop along with a whole line of cars and wondered if there had been an accident. I got out to take a closer look and to ask the police officers what was happening. I was told that the roads were closed because there was so much water, that there was water ON the bridge. We tried several other routes, to no avail. There was no road open that would take us to Marina di Ragusa that day. Certainly there were smaller roads, perhaps through the mountains, that we might have tried, but not being familiar with these roads and not knowing what we might find on them, we chose to look for a place to spend the night in Siracusa.

Earlier in the day, as we drove around Ortigia, we had noticed a sign for a B&B, right on the water, and we decided to try to find it again. No easy task, I might add, but find it we did, only to find that it was also closed! Back to square one and driving around in the pouring rain, we saw signs for several hotels and B&B's including one for "Magnolia" and a phone number. I called the number and got some directions (impossible to follow since we didn't know where we WERE!) and did finally locate this small B&B, as well as a place to park the car and moved into one of their comfortable rooms. The woman behind the desk thought that the procession was still on (despite what we had heard earlier), rain notwithstanding, and we decided to grab our umbrellas and see what we could see. The rain had not slowed one bit and as we approached the procession route we asked a man in one of the newspaper stands who told us that there was no procession today and that it would most likely be Thursday before they took Santa Lucia out for a spin.

We did a little window shopping (& picking up toothbrushes & toothpaste!) and by the time we made our way back to the B&B the water was running down the street 4 inches deep and our feet and clothes were soaked through! Fortunately this room had a great heater and we stripped off our wet things and hung them around the room to dry. We decided not to go out again in the pouring rain to find dinner and went to bed hungry. Not so hungry though because we had had a late lunch and it was very satisfying.

In the morning, the rain had slowed almost to stopping and we had a cappuccino and a cornetto at a very nice bar in Piazza Archimede, where there is a beautiful fountain of Diana and her sea nymphs. Then, as we walked to our car we saw a truck filled with loaves of the most wonderful-looking bread - crusty and covered with sesame seeds -- that I had to ask the driver "Possiamo comprare delle pane?" (can we buy some bread?) and he motioned for us to follow him, around the truck and a short way down the street to the forno where they were baking the stuff! We bought a few loaves, ate one immediately and saved the rest for later.

Hoping to kill a little time before getting on the road, we wandered around a bit more, looking in some of the shops. This way, we thought, the water will have more of a chance to dry up a bit and hopefully we would find the roads open by now. Fortunately this was the case and apart from having to drive slowly through some pretty wet roads we encountered no further roadblocks. We stopped along the road at a sign that said "UOVA" (eggs) and bought some fresh eggs (the chickens were actually in the back - all I could think of was the movie "Chicken Run"!) and some oranges and tangerines as well as some fresh broccoli and fennel.

We arrived safely home in Marina di Ragusa to find very little, if any, proof that a hurricane had passed this way, with the exception of the little sandwich shop downstairs, whose signs were wrecked in the winds. Our terrace looked none the worse for wear, except for needing a good sweeping. The beaches were cleaned too, as some debris that had been there earlier was either blown away or swept out to sea. But the sun was shining and we walked along the shore, happy to be back in our little town, safe and sound.

We made reservations to stay in this same B&B on the night of the 20th when we will return to Siracusa for the procession that will bring Santa Lucia back to the Duomo and to see the fireworks. Senza (without) a hurricane this time, we hope!

Buona giornata,
Rosemary e Robert

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Caltagirone dressed for Natale

Caltagirone countryside from Villa Tasca

Drying off at Villa Tasca

Il nostro nuovo amico Elio

Presepe (Nativity Scene) in Caltagirone

Raining in Caltagirone

12.15.05 Caltagirone, Sicilia

Last Sunday, we were invited to go to the city of Caltagirone, west of Ragusa, with Elio, our landlord and some of his friends and relatives. Some of these guys work for a bank that organizes these day trips around Sicily and sometimes they all go on a bus and sometimes they take their own cars in a sort of caravan. The city of Caltagirone is particularly famous for its flight of 142 steps that are decorated in enameled ceramic tiles. It is as famous in Sicily for its ceramica as Deruta is in Umbria. It has been a center for ceramica since the Arabs were in charge here in the 9th to the 11th centuries and still carries on the tradition. We met Elio at his home at 8:30 Sunday morning and with him drove to another meeting point, where his brothers and their wives and several carloads of friends were to gather. We were so delighted to be included in this outing and to have the opportunity to meet Elio and Giovanna’s friends and family. (Giovanna could not join us because she is in school and had to study for an exam that was being given the next day) Everyone greeted us warmly and Elio, Bob and I piled into yet another car for the drive to Caltagirone. The Sicilian countryside we drove through is absolutely gorgeous with vineyards and rolling hills, very different from the Tuscan or Umbrian countryside, interspersed with prickly pear cactus and orange and lemon trees. The farms, with their rustic old houses, are separated by low stone walls, very reminiscent of the Irish countryside, which surprised both Bob and I. The sky had turned grey and rainy as we left our apartment, after our gorgeous Saturday of sunshine but we were prepared with war coats and umbrellas, a benefit, as the weather became quite cold and wet.

The historic center of Caltagirone is laid out on three hills. It is mainly Baroque but also has buildings from the Renaissance, along with some Art Deco references. It is really charming to see the use of ceramics to decorate many of the buildings and architectural details, in particular the bell towers and the bridge of St. Francis. Also during the Christmas season, these towns in Sicily go all out on what they call Presepe – creating little villages around the birth of Jesus, with the manger and Mary and Joseph just the beginning. They can be made up of an entire village scene and are quite elaborate. Some of them have live animals. Some are animated. It’s quite something to see and Sicilians travel around to their neighboring cities to see and appreciate this artistry. Caltagirone is no exception and we saw a few of these along our little guided tour.

Unfortunately, the rain did not stop all day. We walked around with the guide explaining what we were seeing, taking refuge in the churches and a museum but getting completely soaked in the torrential downpour that accompanied us on our tour of the city! Water was running down the streets and pouring from the drainpipes; waterfalls were everywhere! Eventually, we had to throw in the towel and everyone admitted that they had had enough and we called it quits earlier than planned. I definitely want to return to this city when it isn’t pouring rain, to visit some of the ceramics factories and see and appreciate the stairs lined with ceramics and the holiday lights decorating all the pretty streets.

Before heading home to Ragusa, we stopped at the beautiful Villa Tasca for lunch. They prepared a room upstairs for this big crowd of at least 40 people, including several kids and we ate a meal that was like a holiday feast! On every table they placed several pitchers of red wine and bottles of water, plus several baskets of bread (remind me to tell you about the bread in Sicily!!). There were two radiators in the room and all the ladies with soaked clothing were trying to dry off as we waited for the food to be served. There were at least 3 servings of appetizers and I will try to remember all of them. There were cheeses, tomatoes stuffed with breadcrumbs, fried zucchini and eggplant, olives, green and black, grilled eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, bruschette with diced tomatoes and garlic, toasted bread with olive oil and garlic and more I just can’t think of at the moment! The first course followed – a crepe stuffed with fresh ricotta and spinach and a pasta with tomato sauce. Secondi piatti was sliced pork with roasted potatoes. Desert was a lovely fruit bowl and a bowl of lemon sorbet. Then whoever wanted coffee was invited to go downstairs to the bar to order what you wanted. We had so much fun, speaking Italian and getting to know these people a little bit. Elio speaks very good English and as I have said before, he can bounce back and forth between English and Italian and we find it easier to speak Italian when we know we can find a way to communicate one way or another!

The rain subsided while we ate and the views out the windows of this villa were breathtaking, with the sun breaking through the clouds for a little while. Growing all around the countryside were olive trees and prickly pear cactus, heavy with fruit.

We drove back to Ragusa and said “ci vediamo” and “arrivederci” to Elio’s friends and family, picked up our car at Elio’s house and drove the 20 minute drive to Marina di Ragusa and home to our apartment. Our feet were soaked, our coats were wet, but we had a good warm feeling inside about this island of Sicily and the people we find ourselves surrounded with. It is a nice feeling.

Buona notte,
Rosemary e Robert

Monday, December 12, 2005

Coming into Catania by ferry, towed by a pilot boat

Mount Etna & Catania

10.12.05 Our first week in Sicily

On the previous blog I talked about how we spent Monday in Marina di Ragusa wandering around and walking on the beach and on Tuesday, going to try to get our address changed officially. On Wednesday we simply enjoyed Marina di Ragusa again. The weather was lovely; I took off my shoes and socks and waded in the sea. We watched the sunset on the beach and bought some groceries. I cooked dinner in our kitchen and we ate outside every meal. We did some more unpacking and settling in.

On Thursday Elio gave us a signed letter stating that he had rented us this apartment and included photocopies of his identity card. He had phoned the Municipio and determined that this should be sufficient enough for us to obtain our official change of address and indeed it was. The stern woman behind the desk warmed up to us and input all of our information into the computer and even joking about the fact that we were born in New York, a city she would love to be in and wondering why in the world we wanted to live in Sicily! We laughed about the fact that Americans want to go to Italy and Italians want to go to America! It seems that our identity card is good until 2010, regardless of our address but we still aren't sure about the whole thing, since the card has our Perugia address on it. She told us that someone from the city would be visiting us at our apartment (as they had done in Perugia) to verify our address and that pretty much was that. We aren't completely sure if we will receive a new identity card with the new address or not so we are just going to wait and see what happens. For now we are happy as clams to just keep living here in Marina di Ragusa. Residents of Italy. Pensionati. Beach bums.

Friday we drove to a little town called Portopalo, for a celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8). On the way we visited a little fishing village called Marzamemi, very charming with boats in the harbor and old stone buildings, where we stopped for lunch. This must be a tourist attraction for the Sicilians because the lunch, while it was very tasty, was pretty expensive. We mostly liked sitting in this old piazza and looking at the beautiful old architecture. Our destination for the day, Portopalo, is a small town and they carried the statue of the Virgin Mary (well actually it was rolled down the street) accompanied by a band. It was a modest celebration I suppose but really interesting to see all the townspeople out walking through their town proudly following this statue of Mary that I am sure means so much to them. We followed along for a while but quit when we got tired and it started to get dark. Christmas lights are strung across the main street and looked so pretty and festive. We managed to find our way home again without too much difficulty.

On Saturday after a leisurely morning of walking around Marina di Ragusa and along the beach (this is sure to be a daily ritual), we decided to try to find Isola delle Correnti - not an island, but more of a promontory, connected to the mainland by a narrow neck of land which we have read is usually submerged - the furthest point south in Europe, further south than Tunis or Algiers. The beaches here are lined with dunes and we watched the sunset from on top of the rocks, as a fisherman cast his line into the sea and a man in his car listened to what seemed to us to be old Italian songs (from a tape? A CD?) in his car. As the sun went down, the air got colder and we decided to head back home.

Since we had been in this general direction the day before, we chose a different route home, more inland, with the intention of driving through Modica, which lies about halfway between Ragusa and Marina di Ragusa. I really wanted to see the town lit up at night and had read about the incredible baroque church of San Giorgio and wanted to see it at night. Like Ragusa, this city is in two parts, the upper and the lower and San Giorgio sits in a very dramatic position, from our viewpoint, it seems to be the center of both. The lighting is so dramatic; it stands out like a fairytale castle, at the top of a picturesque flight of stairs that is circled with lights. The city itself, and its main streets were lined with shops and we promised ourselves we would return when we could spend the entire day wandering its streets.

We had a bit of an exciting (or terrifying!) few moments here, as we drove into the old part of Modica, and found ourselves driving along roads really too narrow for our car (we have some scrapes to prove it). I thought we were going to have to call for a crane to come and lift us out! Bob stopped the car and got out and walked further down the street to see what was ahead and if he thought he could maneuver the car the rest of the way out of this part of the city. He saw a man and his son going into one of the houses and bravely knocked on the door to ask for help. They then returned with him to our car and said it would be just fine, if we went slowly (piano, piano) and carefully and proceeded to guide Bob through the narrowest parts. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we came to a wider street and were able to drive out of Modica, offering handshakes and gratitude!

And that was the end of our first week in Sicily. We cannot believe how gorgeous this island is and we can't wait to do further exploring. We are thrilled with our new apartment and its location on the Mediterranean, and delighted to be able to share our stories with all of you still interested in reading about our adventures.

Buona serata,
Rosemary & Bob

Leaving Naples & Arriving in Sicily: Photos

Sicilia at sunrise

Sicilia at sunrise
Originally uploaded by livecheapmakeart.
This is what we saw when we woke in the morning after our stormy crossing.

Stormy Napoli

Stormy Napoli
Originally uploaded by livecheapmakeart.
We had someone take this photo of us in Naples. It was so windy they could not hold the camera steady! We really like the effect though.

Leaving Napoli

Leaving Napoli
Originally uploaded by livecheapmakeart.
That's the traghetto (ferry) in the lower right portion of the photo. We drove our car onto it and had a sleeping cabin.

Pizza in Napoli

Pizza in Napoli
Originally uploaded by livecheapmakeart.
These are the pizze we ate in Napoli. They were as good as they look.

Castle Uova, Napoli

Castle Uova, Napoli
Originally uploaded by livecheapmakeart.
You can see a rain drop on the lens of this photo taken as we walked along the bay. This is Castle Uova (castle egg, there are two or three stories about why it has this name). This is the Castle we were in when we called Fred and Elaine while we were a little drunk after having a great pizza for lunch, plus a bit of vino.

Bay of Naples

Bay of Naples
Originally uploaded by livecheapmakeart.
As we took this photo a storm was blowing in as we truned to walk along the bay the rain started and lasted well into the night.