Monday, January 30, 2006

Villa Arezzo and its neighbor

Villa Arezzo

Second Entrance with Almond Trees

Villa Arezzo

Neighboring Dairy Farm

Views of the Ragusa Countryside

Wall field and sky

Someone's Gate

White field blue sky

White wall blue sky

The Villa Arezzo, Ragusa province, 1.29.06

This morning as I write you, the sun is shining but it is windier than I have seen. Bob bought me a small, red geranium, which I found had blown over when I opened up the terrace this morning. Yesterday was gorgeous after a rainy couple of days but we cannot complain when we look at the weather in the north. Milan had 14 inches of snow! We are very happy with our decision to come south! It's amazing how much warmer it can be in Marina di Ragusa, than even in Ragusa, only about a 20-minute drive inland. We had fun yesterday taking one of the secondary roads from Ragusa, where we had gone to buy a GPS system for our travels - FINALLY - I think this will save us a lot of grief and hopefully keep us from getting lost and being frustrated which usually causes a lot of "friction" between myself and my husband. So I think of this as a savior of our marriage! (I learned recently that the word for Savior is Salvatore, which I did not realize and find interesting, just as an aside!) Elio, our landlord, came with us to purchase it and made sure we had everything we needed including the little gadget that allows us to attach the phone to the dashboard. (The GPS works with "Bluetooth" through our Nokia phone - the same phone that connects us to the Internet on our laptop.) Now the little beauty is charging up and we will take it for a spin later today to see how it works.

The little country road we drove yesterday took us through the rolling countryside around Ragusa where there are all these low, white stone walls we have absolutely fallen in love with. All these stone farmhouses are sprinkled around, with fields of white and yellow flowers (I believe these are wild, and not a crop of some sort, they are growing so thickly there but I do not know for certain!). We found what looked like an abandoned villa and we imagined ourselves buying it and becoming the sort of "Georgia O'Keefe and Alfred Steiglitz" of Sicily, it has the feel of their studio/ranch in Santa Fe, the way it sits on the property. It has a high wall around and a central building of two floors with a balcony on one side and three or four low buildings that could serve as workshops and studios we dreamed! With enough work, it could become a bed and breakfast. Perhaps we could get our friends and family to come out and help with the restoration in exchange for the opportunity to stay here with us, we pipe-dreamed...In the walled in area, there looks to be a courtyard with palm trees. The path leading to the house (on two sides there were gated entries) is lined with almond trees just beginning to bud. There is a plaque on one of the gates with the name "Arezzo" in colorful ceramic tiles but no other markings or signs of life. The paths leading to the house are overgrown with weeds and flowers and it does not appear as if someone lives there. Still dreaming, we left a note asking if the house was for sale and leaving our phone number! It is now obvious there is no way we could ever afford such a place or the restoration that would surely be entailed. But the feeling of peace and tranquility it gives us to be in this area cannot be measured and besides, we can dream can't we?

Our plans for the coming week are to go to Agrigento, to the Valley of the Temples and the "Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore," the festival of almond trees in bloom that takes place there along with an International Folk Festival. We are researching this now. This we have found to be the most challenging experience. We always seem to have some difficulty finding all the details of these events, like what time do they take place (usually in the evening, we have learned), what exactly is the program of events and what exactly can we expect to see. We eventually manage to acquire the necessary information but sometimes we find out about events only after they have taken place! It's not as if all these little towns have functioning websites, but often they do! We have found that some of these so-called "webmasters" are anything but and just when we think we have found something, the page "cannot be found" when we click our mouse.

No matter, we are enjoying ourselves immensely and grateful for all the experiences we have had. Just being here every day, looking out over the Mediterranean, walking on the beach is enough of an experience. Whatever else we can add to it is gravy.

In the month of February, we also hope to track down festivities for Carnivale and have read that the one in Acireale is outstanding. We'll let you know what we find.

Buon domenica,
Rosemary e Robert

Friday, January 27, 2006

Marina di Ragusa

View from la nostra terrazza

La nostra terrazza

Brick Mason

Brick Mason

Observations on a Rainy Day 1.27.06

Today it is rainy and stormy. The sky has been dark and, as a contrast, the sea, turquoise. It seems that whenever the sky is dark, the sea is not. Some effect of light and shadow and atmospheric mumbo jumbo that I don’t quite understand, it is true, the water seems almost translucent and shimmers like green glass. Along the horizon there is a band that is dark, almost indigo. Occasional streaks of light green shoot across the surface as the sun cuts through the clouds. There is a famous artist from this area whose work we recently saw (I believe I wrote about him) whose name is Piero Guccione. His paintings describe this phenomenon perfectly. At any rate, the view is different each and every day and we never tire of looking at it.

The work in the Piazza is finally finished. When we arrived in December they had just started this project, which consisting of digging up an area of the sidewalk next to the beach in order to lay some pipe and then putting everything all back together again. They had this area fenced off with that orange plastic netting they are fond of here in Italy. With enough imagination and distance this bright color can be mistaken for a field of red poppies. But close-up, it just looks like bright orange plastic netting! I must admit it was interesting to watch the progression of this project, as they laid down the brick pavers and replaced the marble curb-edges. About two weeks ago one of the guys told us it would be done on Friday. I guess they did not account for a few days of rain in between and the job was not completed until at least a week after that. But now it’s all done! Bob took a fair share of photos as the work progressed and we made bets as to how long it would really take to finish. This project gave all the old guys, especially our friend in the souped up wheelchair, a lot to look at for these past few months. Now that it’s all finished, you would never know it had been torn up. Winter is the time for this city (and other summer places I am sure) to do all these types of projects and it interesting to see the progress being made all over the town.

We have also noticed that there is a lot of building going on everywhere in Italy. In all the places we have been, the ancient buildings are being restored and there are new homes going up everywhere. The sight of scaffolding can really be a disappointment but we try to appreciate the fact that these cities are being cared for and restored for future generations to enjoy. We will just have to come back in years to come to see the ones that were obscured from our view! There are so many others that have already undergone this process that we are not lacking for beautiful sights to see.

So anyway, it’s raining today and feels cold. Just the other day with the sun shining and the sky a deep clear blue I was sure that summer was just around the corner. Today I am reminded that maybe it has a way to go yet. So for now we have to be content that sprinkled in between the rainy cold days there are the those gorgeous blue sky days when I can leave my coat behind and put my toes in the water.

Piove, piove, vai via!
Rosemary & Bob

Villa Romana del Casale mosaics

Bedroom of the Dominus (Emperor))

Trapezoidal Vestibule

Female Gymnasts in Bikinis

Views of Villa Romana del Casale, Piazza Armerina

Villa Romama del Casale

Corridor of the Hunt

Loading Exotic Animals

It's over there

Hunt detail

Piazza Armerina, Villa Romana del Casale 1.26.06

Just outside the town of Piazza Armerina is a Roman villa built in the early part of the 4th century as a luxury hunting lodge for a Roman aristocrat, or possibly even for the Emperor himself. Consisting of a complex of around 40 rooms, its main attractions are the incredible mosaics that grace the floors of almost every room and hall and nook and cranny, including the toilets! Piazza Armerina is about a two hour drive from Marina di Ragusa and we set out yesterday bright and early (not so bright, but early, around 7am) so that we could enjoy the site in the morning hours, have a light lunch and return home by dark.

The route we took confirms our earlier discovery that the area west of Marina di Ragusa along the coast is not particularly attractive and in parts quite industrial and unappealing. It started out great as we approached Comiso from the top of a hill and looked down on that city from an eagle’s perch but after that we were unimpressed. We will try to avoid using this route in the future, as there are prettier roads to travel. Once we turned north, getting past Gela and on towards Piazza Armerina, it became much more beautiful, breathtaking really, as the mountains are covered in shades of green with fields and farms, olive trees and deep green forests.

As we are enamored of Roman mosaics and have seen quite a few now, we were anxious to see the ones in this Villa, that were described as being the most extensive and beautiful of surviving Roman mosaics anywhere in the world. The villa itself was occupied from the 4th century to the 12th, initially by the Romans, followed by the Byzantines, the Arabs and ultimately the Normans, after which it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. A major landslide sometime in the 12th century buried the villa and its mosaics in mud until being partially uncovered by archeologists in 1881 and more extensively in the 1920s and 30s by Paolo Orsi (of Siracusa fame) with the majority of the excavations being carried out in the 1950s and 60s. The existence of the villa was documented in writings that date back to the 1600s. The layer of mud that covered it is responsible for the preservation of these priceless treasures. Even today, more excavations are being undertaken to unearth other parts of this vast estate that still remain buried. But amazingly, although the roof and upper parts of the walls are no longer there, the entire villa seems intact.

In order to protect the mosaics and what remain of the walls and the fresco remnants, they have erected plexiglass structures that keep out the rain and weather. Visitors can view the mosaics from extremely close vantage points, from walkways in the rooms throughout the villa. The style of the mosaics resembles those found in northern Africa and experts agree that it must have been the work of African masters. The mosaics cover a floor area of about 3500 square meters. (38,115 sq. feet if our calculations are correct) According to the guidebook we bought at the site, as many as 37 different colors were used, including 21 natural colors and 16 made of glass. One of most amazing, if only for the sheer size of it, is the Corridor of the Hunt, a passageway that seems to run the width of the villa, at about 200 feet long, a virtual explosion of scenes of the hunt, with wild animals being hunted and captured by men with horses who are loading them on ships. There is every mode of transport and details of nature surrounded by geometric patterns and details on every square inch of the floors throughout the villa. Absolutely every room was decorated in the most lavish style. The apartment of the woman of the house is decorated with laurel wreaths and all kinds of fruits and flowers. One of the images on the floor of the rooms of the owner of the villa show a couple engaged in a “romantic” encounter. Even the servants’ quarters are decorated with mosaics in complex geometric patterns. There is no shortage of animals, fruit, flowers, wreaths, cupids, fish, mythological creatures and groups of people doing every day things, like hunting, fishing, cooking and eating. It is a virtual storyboard of life in the 4th century! There is also the fun room that has the female gymnasts that is called the Hall of the Female Gymnasts in Bikinis because that is what it looks like they are wearing as they take part in sporting activities.

The villa had a spa area, complete with Frigidarium (cold bath), Tepidarium (warm) and Calidarium (sauna), which still has the supports of the raised thermae floor. The villa had what they called a “Basilica,” which we learned is not a church, but the place where they conducted the business of the villa, whose floor was covered not in mosaics, but high quality marble in every color and pattern they could find I think!

We stopped in a nice little trattoria in the town of Piazza Armerina for lunch where Bob enjoyed a penne with ragu, and I had their special with was a fresh tomato sauce with eggplant. The fresh penne was a lovely twisted shape stuffed with ricotta. The bread was yummy and doughy with a crispy crust just the way we like it.

We did a very short spin around the city since it was starting to rain and getting quite cold. We could see our breath! The color of the stones used in building this city are very warm and golden and the city had a more medieval feeling than here in Ragusa province and we attributed it to the fact that it must not have been affected by the earthquake of 1693 and did not have to be completely rebuilt at that time. We know that Jessica will want to see the Villa when she comes in March so we will be returning to this part of Sicily and look forward to it.

We took the “prettier” route home that goes past Caltagirone, south to Ragusa and enjoyed that ride. It was pouring rain as we arrived in Marina di Ragusa and I fixed us a dinner of sausages with peppers, onions and potatoes. We took a walk on the “Lungomare,” the road that runs parallel to the sea, all bundled up against the cold, but the rain had stopped by then and there was nothing but the night and the sea, with the lights of our little city twinkling around us.

A presto,
Rosemary e Roberto

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tracing Roots in Polizzi Generosa

We went to Polizzi Generosa, near Palermo, in the Madonie Mountains, to search for the birth records of my maternal grandfather, who was born there. We learned also that Martin Scorsese, the American film director, can trace his origins to this city. As can Vincent Schiavelli, the actor, author and cook who died recently at the age of 57, and who wrote one of my favorite "memory" cookbooks, "Bruculinu, America"... a collection of personal stories and recipes handed down to him from his grandfather, Papa Andrea, who was born in Polizzi Generosa. Anyway, my family isn't famous like these guys, but they are from Polizzi Generosa!

Update on Polizzi Generosa and the search for ancestors 1.24.06

After the devastating loss (theft) of my watercolor journals over a week ago now, I decided I was ready to do a little more writing. Thank you to those of you who read about what happened and wrote to offer me your condolences. I use that word because truly I felt as if someone I loved had died and my grief was profound. I’m trying to get over it and move on. I know that many people have lost things far more precious and even though I don’t want to negate my feelings (in the words of my friend Elizabeth) it is nevertheless true and I know I have to move on and get over it.

On Tuesday we decided we should return to Polizzi Generosa to try to locate my grandfather, Gandolfo Lore’s birth records and were delighted at how easy they were to find, since I knew the date of his birth and the names of his parents. We entered the office of the Comune in the city of Polizzi Generosa and a lovely young woman named Theresa was enlisted to search through the ancient ledger books, for the year and month of my grandfather’s birth. Sure enough, there he was, entry # 37 of that year, with the names of his parents clearly spelled out. These old ledgers are really something to see, as I have described before, all hand written in the most lovely formal script, like a wedding invitation. Some are harder to read than others and this is partly due to the different way that the letters are formed and some due to the fact that, as now, some people just have more legible handwriting! The only thing that sort of stumped me was the date of his birth. I had in my records, that his birthday was the 22 of February 1900. In the ledger, it was recorded as the 16th. I have asked my sister to do a bit of research on her end to see what she could find, but there seemed to be no mistaking the records that I found are the birth records of Gandolfo, my mother’s father!

We also learned, and I think I mentioned this before, that St. Gandolfo is the patron saint of Polizzi Generosa and that many, many baby boys are given this name! That and the fact that Lo Re (spelled that way, with the capital “R”) is a name that is recognized as being one that is common in this particular city. We are finding that this is the case with Italian last names, that certain names are common in certain cities and that you can be pretty sure that if someone’s name is Lore, that they came from this particular city. Interesting.

We learned the names of my great great grandparents also and if you are interested, here they are:

My grandfather’s name was Gandolfo Lore.
(somewhere along the line he changed it from the Lo Re spelling)

His parents were Margarita (Maria) Di Martino, born 12 December 1866 and Stefano Lo Re, born 31 December 1860.

Margarita’s parents were Giuseppe Di Martino and Salvadora David (another common name in Polizzi)

Stefano’s parents were Vincenzo Lo Re and Rosa Giocomarra

These are not names I have ever heard mentioned in my family and it thrills me to know that I now know who they were. Unfortunately, this is as far I can take this with the city, because their records do not go any further back. I’m delighted to know that this is the area they came from and that their families always lived in this city, in this area and knowing that I can trace them to this place is wonderful to me.

I know that this city has origins, which date from the 4th century BC. I know that some of my ancestors could have been Byzantines, Arabs or Normans. I know that the surrounding countryside is rich with natural beauty, tall mountains, green pastures, abundant wildlife. That traditions handed down through the ages, were surely handed down in my own family from Salvadora to Margarita (Maria) who passed them to my grandmother Clothilde who married Gandolfo and from Clothilde to my mother Mary and from her to me. A continuous line that spreads throughout the centuries in this Sicilian village across the ocean and back again. I felt this connection so vividly, standing in this city, seeing the names of these great-great grandparents written in ink, laid down in this book and now I do the same, I write down these names and pass them on, to my children, to their children, to protect and preserve and to feel proud knowing that this is the place of their “origine” as they say in Italian and it is a wonderful feeling to know where I came from and to know that this is the place, this is the land, these are the people.

If you care to learn more about this city, visit their website at


Just a few images from Ragusa, Sicily

We spent some time this week wandering around Ragusa and Bob shot these photos.

A view of the city of Ragusa, with the new buildings at the left and the old, ancient city at the right.

Baroque detail on a palazzo in Ragusa

Fruit vendor's truck with peppers and other vegetables

Saving Faces (we found these wonderful baroque face details protected, we suspect, from the birds, by means of a screened box)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Searching for Places in Northern Italy 1.14.06

We just thought we would throw this out there. We are hard at work trying to find an apartment in the north of Italy. We are looking preferably for a quiet, 2-bedroom, completely furnished place with facilities for cooking and a place for the car. We would not complain if the area around it was pretty and the city, charming! The area we are targeting is the Veneto, either in the Veneto Plain or the Dolomites. We are looking at cities like Verona, Padua, Treviso, Vicenza or even Asiago, Montagnana, Cittadella or some of the smaller cities in that area. Venice is too expensive for us and with it being summer (we plan to leave Sicily at the end of May) this might prove challenging! There are so many possibilities, we are also considering the cities in the Dolomites, like Belluno, Longarone, Feltre, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Vittorio Veneto and cities that might be more winter resorts, but also have accommodations we could rent for the summer at perhaps more affordable rates.

If anyone has any suggestions or a place they know of somewhere in this region that they would love to rent to two reliable, clean, honest, trustworthy retirees, by all means let us know!

In the meantime we'll keep searching and hoping that we get lucky one more time in finding great landlords, a comfortable apartment, beautiful and interesting scenery to look at and more adventures to tell you about.

A presto,
Rosemary & Robert

Photos from the last week

A detail of the abandoned property at Pino d'Aleppo Natura Riserva

A view of the property at Pino d'Aleppo Natura Riserva

A rusty detail on the abandoned building at "Pino d'Aleppo"

The main piazza in the town of Vittoria

Sunset at Punta Secca

Very sad (heartbroken really) in Sicily 1.15.06

I am so heartbroken this morning it is hard for me to write. But as this is my journal and the place where I record all the things we are living through I felt I had to share the good and the bad.

Last weekend, as I have written, we went to Palermo to begin the process of locating ancestors’ records. We returned home on Saturday and spent the rest of the next week here in Marina di Ragusa, with short trips on a few of the afternoons to some of the places nearby. It rained a few days and I finally opened up my easel and did a few paintings. One day I did several and had fun getting one area of the living room set up as a place for impromptu painting. It’s right in a corner, next to the glass double doors that lead to the terrace so I can see outside and the light is nice and I have the view of the palm trees and the sea. There is a “sideboard,” one of Elio and Giovanna’s antique pieces of Sicilian furniture that is painted in a dark blue “wash” and inset with dark blue glass panels that are decorated with bits of colored glass. It matches another piece of furniture in their home and is very lovely. I was careful to put a piece of plastic on the top of it so as not to damage it, but it makes a good surface to hold some of my tools.

On Monday we received notice in our mailbox of an attempted delivery at 1pm of two packages we were sure must be expected Christmas gifts from our kids. We were surprised to see such a notice since we were here in the apartment all the time. On further investigation, we discovered that the bell was not ringing in the apartment and called Elio to let him know. We tried to contact the company by phone and that was a challenge, finding someone who spoke English and was willing to take the time to try to understand our limited Italian. The woman Bob finally spoke with told him the package should be delivered around the same time the next day so we expected to see the guy around 1. In the meantime we wrote a note and tacked it to the mailbox letting the courier know that the bell did not work “campanello non funzione” and asked them to “suona il clacson” (honk their horn) and we would come down. The next afternoon around 3 we decided we should go downstairs and wait since we had not heard any honking, only to find another note in the box that they had come at 10 and ignored our note and had not honked because we were out on the terrace and would have seen them. We repeated this the next day, going down earlier and still missed him. At this point we decided we had better enlist the aid of Elio, our landlord, and called him and explained the situation. As it turned out, the same delivery service that was trying to bring our package was one they used at his place of work and he was able to reach them and ask them to deliver the package to him there and then he would bring it to us. He also promised to come the next evening and see what was up with the bell. On Thursday we received yet another notice of a package not able to be delivered and he arranged to get that one too, but not before Monday. No problem.

Armed with our presents like Santa Claus, Elio arrived on Friday evening and inspected the malfunctioning electronic stuff to find that the bell downstairs seemed to be functioning just fine and that the culprit was the itercom phone upstairs that was not receiving the signal. He promised to have someone come by on Monday to fix or replace it. We shared a glass of wine with him and his brother Pippo and discussed the poem plaque on the seafront that has the name of Salvatore Burrafato (they have a brother by this name) who was with the Lyons Club of Ragusa and responsible for planting a tree there dedicated to September 11, 2001 and the twin towers. When they left Bob went down to show it to them and it turned out to be a cousin of theirs but they had had no previous knowledge of the tree or the plaque.

Our travels earlier in the week entailed driving west from here and trying to find the Natura Reserva Pino d’Aleppo (which I thought was someone’s name until I translated it to “Aleppo Pine”). This was a lovely nature reserve, high on a hill with stands of Aleppo pine and a little stonewalled path winding through it. We found some abandoned buildings, and we imagined fixing them up and living out on this hilltop with a view of the sea and all the vegetation around. We also found some animal skulls and I played around with doing my own version of Georgia O’Keefe but decided against it! Bob had fun taking photos of some of the crusty, rusty things left lying around and I of course sketched some of the plant life. The carob trees are absolutely gorgeous and I was happy with the sketch I did in my little journal, along with one of the dry, brown thistles that grew above deep, green underbrush.

We started to get hungry and headed back to our car at the start of the trail and drove to the town of Vittoria, nearby. Many of the cities we have visited, at first approach, seem to be a cluster of newer apartment buildings and a jumble of shops and houses and have a non-descript, post-war and unattractive appearance, as it was with Vittoria. But often, as you drive deeper into the centro, the heart of the old cities comes to light and you see the historic center, the ancient churches, the old piazzas and palazzi and you get a better appreciation of what the city is or was all about. Many are in the process of restoration. Some are difficult to discern if they are falling down or being fixed up. There is a lot of new housing being built in some of the cities and at least one palazzo or chiesa is almost every town is under restoration. Some just look decrepit and this was the case in several of the smaller towns along the coast west of and around Vittoria. This area was not one of our favorites as there are shabby towns, and industrial areas inland, not particularly attractive. Often too, we found along some beautiful stretches of scenery, a place where garbage has been tossed, Now and then, near the big garbage cans left for this purpose, sometimes just along the road. At times, in view of the most gorgeous stretch of sea imaginable and I wonder how this can be, but it is.

But I digress! After driving through the periferia of Vittoria, which my guidebook describes as one of the “newer” cities, having only been founded in 1603, we arrived in “centro”. Unfortunately, just as they were getting started building this city, in 1693, that terrible earthquake hit and destroyed it all. They rebuilt however and in the center we found several secondary piazzas and churches and an interesting, if modern looking memorial to the “caduti”, the war dead (or “fallen”). A sad old guy, who clearly was mentally deficient and so curious about who we were and what we were doing there, stopped us the moment we got out of the car. Between the tobacco juice on his chin and the single tooth in his mouth, plus the fact that he was speaking Sicilian, we did not understand much of what he said but we respectfully told him “Non capito." Another man nearby, who heard this encounter told him (in Italian, and I understood everything he said) “why are you talking with them, don’t you know they are Germans and they won’t understand Sicilian!” to which I replied (in Italian) “Excuse me, but we are Americans and I do understand some Italian.” He was so surprised he didn’t know what to say! This happens often, that we are mistaken for Germans. I think it is partly because Bob looks like one, partly because of the way we are dressed and partly because they don’t see many Americans in this part of Sicily.

We did have an amazing pizza in a little place on the main piazza, unexplainably called “Caffè Bristol”. We went in and asked if they had pizza and he showed us the “tavola calda” stuff they had – some pasta, some meat, some potatoes, the usual, already prepared stuff, but that he could also make a pizza fresh which of course is what we wanted. Ten minutes later he brought out the most wonderful Margherita pizza and we thanked him profusely and told him how good it was. He beamed with pride and said that was really what it was about, making good food that you find pleasing to eat.

We ended the day by driving to Punta Secca, one of our favorite little places, a bay with a lighthouse where you can watch the sunset and see all the little fishing boats coming in for the night. There is always a small gathering of men waiting and watching I guess to see who caught what, as we sit on the steps and I either sketch (I did one of the lighthouse against the stormy looking sky) and Bob climbs all around shooting the sunset and the boats at every possible angle! We strolled back to our car once it was clear the sun was down and the sky show was over.

Yesterday we went to a town called “Noto”, one of the other baroque cities, near Siracusa. Noto is one of those cities that was a showpiece of the Baroque in the 1700s when it was completely rebuilt after (you fill in the blank “the earthquake of 1693”) the terrible earthquake. It is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites and quite a beautifully laid out city, with broad avenues, off which appear to be a medieval tangle of little streets just crying to be explored. This being our first visit to Noto, we concentrated on just looking around and getting a lay of the land. In 1996, the cupola of the Cattedrale collapsed. We suspect there must have been a tremor that instigated it but the guidebook says it was from neglect. All of Noto was built from the soft stone of the surrounding area and is clearly very crumbly in many, many places. You can still appreciate what a splendid city it must have been and the citizens seem to treasure it, as there is much restoration on a good many of the churches and palazzi. The cupola of the cattedrale is being completely rebuilt, with the entire structure of the church under scaffolding. It is a city we would like to return to in a few years, when the restoration is complete (or last least a larger part of it!) so that we can finally appreciate its splendor. The main street is wide and long; it’s palazzi with fanciful wrought iron balconies and incredible baroque details are fascinating. Some of the best architects of the age had a hand in the design of this city, names like Rosario Gagliardi, Vincenzo Sinatra and Antonio Mazza, who must have been quite busy designing churches and palazzi in the area devastated by the earthquake. They must have been beside themselves with excitement at the opportunity to work with a clean slate and recreate these cities in such a grand fashion. The 1700s in southeastern Sicily must have been like Florence and the cities of Tuscany during the Renaissance, with all the building projects going on at once!

(Now for the sad part, sorry for the delay, which allowed me to take my mind off it for a bit while I talked about other stuff)

On the way home we decided to stop at another of the Nature Reserves, we have previously enjoyed a few of the others so we were interested to see this one. We were actually looking for Vendicari Beach, on a nature reserve with a tower and a wetland where we hoped to see flamingoes. We had heard and read about how beautiful this beach is and since we were heading in the general direction back to Marina di Ragusa, we decided to try to find it. Very off the beaten path, we followed signs to Vendicari and turned off the road where we saw the sign for the Natura Riserva and drove down the path, leaving our car at the entrance (since there was a gate preventing you from driving down and presumably frightening the birds). They did allow for walking in, since there was a little set of stairs to the right of the barricade for pedestrians. Locking up the car, we headed down the path when we noticed these little open structures, with slits for viewing the wildlife without them seeing you and we were mesmerized by what we saw! Amid tall reeds, out there in the wetlands were scores of birds! At one side we saw the flamingoes, white against the silver waters and at first we did not realize what we were seeing. Bob got very excited and decided to run back to get his tripod out of the trunk and I asked him to retrieve my backpack with my journal and painting supplies.

He was not gone a moment when my phone rang and it was Bob, telling me that in that very brief time, that some guys had been trying to break into the car and that seeing him approach, they drove away. But not before they tried to pry open the driver’s side door, damaging it and breaking the rear side window, from which they stole my backpack! To say that I am devastated is an understatement. In the backpack I had not one but two of my watercolor journals. One of the handmade paper ones I like to paint in so much, that included work done in the past 6 or 7 months, in Perugia, in Paris and in these first few weeks in Sicily. The other is the little black book I have been keeping as a nature journal and had all the flowers and memories of my time in the Giardino dell’Usignolo in Perugia as well as little nature scenes I have been doing since arriving here in Marina di Ragusa. Just that day I had added a date palm tree with it’s bright orange fruit hanging like baskets from the tree. I like to have more than one choice when I go out for the day, depending on what I see and what I feel like painting. I also had my little watercolor travel kit that I enjoyed so much and one of the little tubes in which I carry a paintbrush, some pens and pencils. Nothing of any value to a couple of thieves. In fact I am certain that they tossed it aside when they saw there was no money, no cameras, no identification or things of value. I can only imagine my sweet little journals rotting somewhere in a forgotten corner of this huge nature reserve, impossible to ever look for or find. I have been crying my eyes out.

I can’t believe this has happened. I suppose you could say we should not have gone to a place so secluded. But we always like that sort of place, where we can be alone with nature and in fact love to find places like this where there are no other humans interfering with our serenity. A few weeks ago we walked through the other reserva near Marina without a sole but ourselves around. It is one of the loveliest things I can think of to do, finding a place all to ourselves. I suppose you could say I should never have left such precious possessions out of my sight and why didn’t I take it with me? I suppose you could say we should have been more careful and not gone to a place so clearly deserted.

The police were wonderful. They patiently tried to help Bob on the phone, when it was obvious we had been robbed and that he didn’t speak much Italian. I was too devastated to even try to talk. They sent a car out immediately who understood that what was lost was irreplaceable to me and stayed behind to do a spin around the area to see what they could find. They told us where to go back in Noto to report the crime and I wrote down everything I had in the backpack like they would send out an all points bulletin complete with search dogs, sniffing through the underbrush as if a child was missing. I know better. My mother always said, “Nothing is that bad that it couldn’t be worse.” And I know that that is true. They could have stolen the car and left us in that remote place. They could have hurt Bob when they saw him return and hurt me as well. We are fortunate that these things did not happen. We are grateful for the police for coming out immediately and for being so kind and understanding.

Now we hope Elio will be able to suggest a place to get the window and the door fixed and wonder what that will cost. Fortunately, we have a locked garage to keep it in the meantime.

In the books I had written my name and address and phone number. My some miracle, someone may find them and call but this is not something I would expect to happen in a million years. I know I just have to get over it and go on and keep painting. But what is lost was 6 or 7 months worth of work. Work I loved doing, work I loved showing to people. Work and the tangible memories of these last months. It breaks my heart to have lost them; they meant so much to me. I don’t know what else to say. That was always something I realized and in the back of my mind worried about, that having so much work in the book, if it was lost, would mean the loss of many paintings not just one or two I could carry with me and perhaps I will rethink what I bring with me and how I capture these memories. I don’t know. For now I guess I will sit at home and lick my wounds and just try to get over it. There isn’t anything else I can do but keep painting.

Rosemary & Bob

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cefalù, Baucina and Polizzi Generosa

View on the road to Baucina

St. Fortunata's Church

Near Baucina

Two views of Cefalu

On the road to Polizzi Generosa

View of Polizzi Generosa

This was not taken with a red filter!

The landscape near Polizzi Generosa

Cefalu, Baucina and Polizzi Generosa 1.9.06


On Friday, we had planned to go to Polizzi Generosa to research my grandfather, Gandolfo Lore and to try to find a record of his birth or baptism there in 1900. In 1906 he immigrated with his family to New York, where a few years later, he met, fell in love with and married my grandmother Clothilde (from the Chianchetella Fabrizio family). My mother was born in 1920 and in about 1926 my grandfather became a naturalized citizen. We know this because my sister has his Naturalization Certificate with all of this info. It is our understanding, that if your grandparent was born in Italy and became a naturalized citizen after the birth of your parent and your parent did not ever give up their Italian citizenship, that you can apply for Italian citizenship yourself. The catch is finding all the documents necessary, like their birth certificates (which are sometimes impossible to locate with the effects of the war and the age of the documents), marriage licenses and the tricky one I think, the document that says that my mother never renounced citizenship. I can assure you that my mother did not even realize that she had it, let alone took the trouble to renounce it! So, we think it's worth exploring and trying to achieve that since it would mean I would also have EU citizenship and could travel and stay in other EU countries without a visa. Also, I just think it would be cool to locate the names of my ancestors and to perhaps search further back into the history of this family. It's just fun for me to do this and I hope my family will enjoy whatever I uncover.

At any rate, we made the mistake of not realizing that Friday, January 6 was a religious holiday - the Feast of the Epiphany. We knew about the holy day but didn't realize that all the government offices would also be closed! So we decided to wait until Saturday to go to Polizzi (little did we realize that the offices were also closed on this particular Saturday!) and to explore Cefalu instead. I think Cefalu is the north coast's answer to Taormina on the east. A lovely little town, less than one-hour's drive from Palermo, with the former fishermen's quarter along the seaside, the little boats nestled there and a lovely stretch of sandy beach, we enjoyed wandering all through its charming medieval streets. Cefalu dates from around 400 BC. Roger II and the Normans built its cathedral that dominates the main piazza, in the 12th century. We only spent a few hours there, but we liked it very much and would like to return, to spend more time there and explore it further.


We took a little detour on the way back to Palermo, driving through the most spectacular scenery, south of Bagheria, to the little town of Baucina, where the Bivetto family originated. This is the family of my father. His mother, Fortunata Locascio was born there in 1906 and together with her family came to the U.S.A. at the age of 9. It is a well-known fact that there are many Locascios in Baucina. Bivetto is a tougher nut to crack. We have found through the years that there are virtually no other Bivettos known to exist. At least in the U.S., with the exception of someone called "Phillip (no one in our family is named Phillip) Bivetto" that our cousin unearthed doing some research into our family roots. He died years ago and apparently had no other living relatives, or none that we could find. The story of my grandfather goes like this: he was an orphan, adopted at birth; perhaps his father was a rich man and his mother a serving girl...; he was an orphan and just made up the name. It has always been a great mystery to me where this name came from since it does seem to be so unique.

Upon entering Baucina we found the town square lively with its old guys walking back and forth across the main piazza and a little bar called "Bar Locascio" (the husband "Locascio" was not available so we do not know if we were related). The city offices were closed but we did get to see a very lovely Presepe in one of the buildings that was of the miniature village type and really charming. We asked where we could find the parish priest, hoping perhaps he would be able to help as Don Costantino in Chianchetella had done. It being The Feast of the Epiphany, however, the priest was really busy getting ready and asked if we could just leave him the information and a place to send it and he would try to help when he had the time. I wrote it all down and gave it to the man who answered the door, hoping for the best. The city is incredibly steep but built in sort of a grid, with each street higher, much higher, than the preceding. Some of these streets are steep staircases, others are roads for cars. Lombard Street and San Francisco came to mind as we walked through the town. I would not say it was a particular charming city but quite lively with a good many young people and families, and a sense of community, as they prepared for the Presepe Vivente that would be taking place that night. We stopped a few of the old guys and asked if they had ever heard of the name "Bivetto" and they all scratched their heads and tried to think hard but no one could remember anyone with that name in that town. We'll see what the priest comes up with and we will go back another day to check at the city office. Perhaps there is some record somewhere way back in 1886 or 87, when he was born that sheds some light. I doubt it to tell you the truth but I'm going to try.

We did not stay for the evening festivities as we weren't really sure of the road back to Palermo and didn't want to get lost driving in the dark. It was really fun to be there though knowing that our family roots dig into this hillside. The area surrounding these little villages is incredibly gorgeous and we couldn't help but stop and take photos. Hopefully they speak more clearly of this beautiful place than my words and you will agree.

Polizzi Generosa:

On Saturday we got up early, checked out of our hotel and drove to Polizzi Generosa, on the road that would take us back to Marina di Ragusa. This is a more charming city than Baucina, on the western slopes of the Madonie Mountains. From this base, hikers, cyclists and skiers access the nature reserve, the Parco Regionale delle Madonie, with its footpaths and biking trails in the summer and ski runs during the winter. There was ice on the roads as we reached the city, in its high position there in the mountains. The highest of these peaks reaches about 6000 feet and there was snow visible at the higher elevations. The four seasons were represented in the terrain around us. There was the snow, some trees just turning fall colors of orange and golden, with wildflowers and green fields below! They have an archeological museum that houses the treasures from a Hellenistic necropolis unearthed when they were building a school there in the year 2000! It's a wonderful collection of pottery and household objects that date from the 4th century BC. Like Palermo, the town traces its history through Byzantine, Arab and Norman influences. In fact, in 1082, Roger I gave the Polizzi territory to his niece Adelasia, who greatly influenced the development of the town. It is said that the people of Polizzi were always welcoming and kind to all the noble and royal families who passed through and was nicknamed "Generosa" (kindness) by King Frederick II of Swabia in 1232 (this information comes right from the brochure the town uses to promote itself). It was also quite progressive, as in 1901 it was the first Sicilian town to have electric lighting!

The name "Gandolfo" (my grandfather's name) is well known in this town and many of the man have the same name. St. Gandolfo is the patron saint of the village, which may explain this fact.

The very kind woman in the archeological museum explained to us that the city office was closed but that we should return to do our research during the week. Her name was Maria and she said she had an aunt who was a "Lore." I showed her my cookbook, which I had brought along as a visual aid in my search for information since it contained photos and my family tree (as much as I know of it) and she enjoyed looking through it.

Another kind woman in one of the ceramica shops tried to help also by calling someone who she hoped might come out and open the city office for us (we tried to explain that it was not necessary and we didn't want to bother anyone on a holiday but she was having none of it!). Whoever she called however, was not as interested in dropping everything to run to our aid! It's fine though. It's less than 3 hours away and we want to go back to the area anyway. Another day. It was enough just to see it and know that it was in such a breathtaking place in the mountains. I will be thrilled to find a record there of my grandfather's family and obtain a copy of his birth certificate, if one exists!

We asked another kind woman on the street if she could tell us where to have a "buon pranzo" (a good lunch) and she directed us to a place called "Ristorante Itria." The woman who greeted us asked if we could wait a few minutes since they were still getting set up. Italians seem to have lunch around 1-1:30 but Bob and I are always ready around noon for some reason! It was around 12:45 so we only had to wait a bit to be seated at a table for 2. It is amazing to us how with the little bit we say (and we think we are using all the right words) that they know right away that we don't really speak Italian! She apologized that they didn't have an English menu but we said it was OK. We are accustomed to reading an Italian menu, even though in truth we still don't know what everything is! We had decided in this case to ask if they could just bring us a typical Sicilian meal from this region and her eyes lit up and she said "Certo!" (certainly).

The chef even came out and chatted with us about who we were and where we were from and proceeded to tell me that he would fix a meal like my great-grandmother might have made many years ago. We couldn't wait to see what he would come up with! We started off with a nice local red wine and some crispy bread. She warned us not to eat too much of it (good luck) so as not to fill up before the meal. We told her we were not big eaters so hopefully the portions wouldn't be too huge! We then were served a plate of appetizers: a fried vegetable (cardume fritte: a zucchini flower?), cheeses, fresh ricotta (yumm), salami, funghi (mushrooms) something called "Stiglioli" (some little concoction that contained intestines but was actually pretty tasty if you didn't think about what it was!) and another "Sfincione," (a kind of pizza, a traditional Sicilian flatbread covered with onions, tomatoes, anchovies, caciocavallo cheese, oregano, oil and breadcrumbs. I think that was our favorite!) Then came a zuppa di ceci, (a soup with a sort of bean) and the piece de resistance (not) Trippa! (tripe: yikes! This had a tomato sauce, which was tasty but the texture was hard to get down). The prima piatti was a pasta fagiole, nice, and the secondo, sausages (the thin Sicilian kind I remember as a kid) and a roasted veal chop served with roasted potatoes (delizioso) . Dessert was a dryish cookie-like thing called Buccellato that was so-so. Or maybe we were just stuffed to the gills by this time! At any rate, it was a lot of fun to just be surprised by what they served and to try all these different things.

On the road again by around 3 we arrived home by 6, stopping for some photo ops along the way, as the road permitted. It was wonderful to reach the point, on the road south where the Mediterranean Sea becomes visible, like a mirage, in front of you and we were happy to be back in our little seaside village of Marina di Ragusa once again. Since it was Saturday night, and the last weekend of the Christmas holiday, there were many people walking around and we dumped our stuff off and joined in the evening passeggiata, happy to be once again "al mare."

Now it's Monday afternoon, as I finish up my journal entry about these past few days. We went into Ragusa to have my stitches removed and the elbow is doing nicely. Bob is in taking a nap as I write and it has been a rainy day. Good for catching up on my writing and staying in. There has been some drilling in the apartment next to ours which I hope doesn't last long and the road crew below has started putting the pavers back where they tore them up to fix the pipes under the street in December. Quiet work, but I'll be happy when they finish up and take down the orange barricade that rings that little area. Tonight we are planning to go and buy some fresh fish for dinner and hopefully take a stroll on the beach, if it's not too wet and cold. We think the next couple of days will be quiet and we expect to not take any long drives for a while.

We hope all of you are doing well and have recovered from the holiday rush. We think of you all and love hearing from you as well, so drop us a note when you can and say hi!

Con affetto,
Rosmeri (when I give my name, like for a dinner reservation, without spelling it, this is the way they write it, based on Italian pronunciation!) e Roberto

Mercato Ballarò in Palermo

Palermo sights

12th century church, San Cataldo

Christmas Lights

Puppet Theatre

12 century Cattedrale, built on the site of an early Christian basilica.