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