Yesterday was a gorgeous day. We wanted to do a little exploring away from Marina di Ragusa (although it was hard to tear ourselves away from the sea on such a beautiful day!). There were clouds forming in the sky however and we suspected we might get some rain sooner than later, so we went for a drive to see the Castello Donnafugata. We drove along a smaller, secondary road, passing bucolic scenes of cows grazing in fields of white flowers, seeing the meandering white stonewalls, so typical, we are learning, of this part of Sicily around Ragusa, which we are falling in love with. It’s hard to describe the serene feeling of seeing these green fields, rising up the hillsides and separated by these beautiful low walls. The patterns that are created are truly wonderful and at times even seem fanciful, as we have seen swirls of stone and piles set aside for future building. Even trees surrounded by walls in a decorative-looking way.
The little street that leads to the castle is lined with houses and shops on either side, most appearing closed when we arrived except for the restaurant on the corner. The rain started coming down heavily as we ran for cover within the castle entrance. The Castello Donnafugata (www.ragusa-sicilia.it/english/castello_di_donnafugata.htm) dates from the 12th century with definite Normal/Arab architectural details including an ancient tower. It was purchased by the Arrezzo family in the 1600s restored it for their own use. The front of the castle has a Venetian Gothic “loggia” and repeating decorative motif that dates from the early 1900s. In 2002, after about 5 years restoration work, they opened it t the public. There was no guided tour, just a simple brochure and little signs in each of the rooms to indicated the name of the room, which we followed on the brochure, trying to translate as we went along. It is mostly in good condition, with some of the furnishings quite gorgeous, others seemingly out of place and perhaps too modern. The walls of some of the rooms were decorated with painted scenes of Palermo and other places in Sicily and others had fancy fabric walls. A collection of very fancy glass chandeliers from Murano adorned all the ceilings. We have seen many of these now in Sicily and some are quite elaborate and colorful. I am constantly reminded of my Aunt Celeste, and certain she would absolutely love them!
Before we left, it rained and hailed but stopped just in time for a bride and groom and their friends and family to enter the castle for their wedding celebration.
The gardens, according to our friend Elio, are under restoration, although looking out the windows of the castello they look absolutely gorgeous. The presence of palm trees and gigantic Ficus magnolioides gives it a very tropical, exotic feeling.
We had lunch at the little restaurant on the corner and had a nice conversation (in Italian) with the proprietor, who asked us if we would trade places with him, and he could be a “pensionato” like Bob and not have to work any more! Bob was feeling very proud of himself after telling our story in Italian to this man and understanding what was said back to him!
We then decided to go to the town of Chiaramonte Gulfi, not far from the castello, along another smaller road and passed the most amazing landscape! I was looking at the map when Bob stopped the car and insisted I open the door and look down. There on the side of the road were growing wild iris! Everywhere we looked there were little patches of purple alongside another plant that resembled an aloe in shape, but was not an aloe. It had green leaves and tall shoots of flowers coming from the center that were white and pink. The ground all around was green. The hills were green, dotted with carob and olive trees, those wonderful stone walls, and a small house stood on the top of the farthest hill. With the voluminous white clouds, It was so beautiful I had to take out my paints and Bob his various lenses, and for about the next hour I sat on a rock and he wandered around and we just enjoyed this perfect little spot until I became uncomfortable and we were ready to leave.
Chiaramonte Gulfi has a high position, with a wonderful view. The area around it is composed of vegetable gardens, almond and olive trees. The centro of the town is quite charming but from the road, all you see are the newer homes, many apartment buildings with balconies surrounding the older part of town and completely obscuring it from below. But once you drive up the winding road you come upon the center of the city and this is where we were headed. There are lots of shops along the streets around the main square and I bought some chamomile for tea and a couple of bags of oatmeal (so far impossible to find here in Sicily). The woman was very kind and friendly. I enjoyed talking with her. One of the other ladies in the store was so curious; she asked if I was “English” a common question for us from the Sicilians. They either think we are German (“Tedeschi “ – the Italian word for Germans) or English. And they seem to be quite impressed that we are Americans and that we even speak some Italian. It’s very fun. The really seem to get a kick out of us being here.
We arrived just before dark, so the holiday lights were not yet on and it was definitely colder here, being higher in the mountains, than down in Marina di Ragusa, a fact we are quite happy with, living there! We went into a bar for a cup of tea and found that it was completely occupied by men. This is not an unusual occurrence actually. We have noticed that in the piazzas and in the bars, that there are primarily men. The women must be home cooking or cleaning, or watching their soap operas in peace while the men go out into the center of town to hang with their buddies and talk about the old days. I am mostly talking about the older men who, in warmer days are sitting on benches in the squares, but there are also younger men in their midst. In the smaller towns there are groups of 4 or 5 or 6 perhaps, but in the larger cities, we have encountered large groups of men and a very noticeable absence of women. It’s like the outdoor version of the men’s smoking room, where in olden days they would retire to talk politics and smoke their cigars. Here they go out into the piazzas!
The little city center was completely strung with Christmas lights as well as the streets that radiate from it. We know it will only be another couple of days before all the lights come down so we am making the most of it and enjoying seeing them wherever we go. We walked around a bit more but were getting cold and headed on home, stopping at Elio and Giovanna’s to pay the rent. They told us about an exhibition in Modica about to close of a famous Sicilian artist, Piero Guccione and we decided we would have to go and see it the very next day, which was today! But that’s the stuff of another blog entry.
By the time we got home it was raining. A nice ending to a wonderful day.
Rosemary e Roberto