On Thursday morning we took a drive to the little town of Acate, one of the cities in Ragusa province, just inland from the coast and north of Comiso. We like the road that takes us through Comiso and Vittoria. On this day, we passed a field of carob trees with chartreuse colored wildflowers carpeting the ground below them and saw fields of white and yellow wildflowers also. In Acate we wanted to visit the Castle of the Princes of Biscari, originally built in the 15th century. The old part of the city surrounds the castle and the cathedral, just across the piazza, a simple baroque church, dedicated to San Vincenzo, an early Christian martyr, where his remains lie.
From our readings, this little town has a bit of a tumultuous history with a series of feuds between the various noble families as ownership passed back and forth between them. The guidebook talks about a "conjugal jealousy in the prince's family on which popular imagination has embroidered legendary connotations" hmmm...I'd like to know more about that!
One of the coolest things about our morning in Acate was the castle, which looks like it has recently undergone restoration. There was no scaffolding in sight but it looks in wonderful condition. Arriving in the town, we parked across the street and since the doors were open we ventured inside. The light on the tower was glowing golden against the deep blue sky and of course both Bob and I took out our cameras and started to shoot! A rather burly guy with a scruffy beard appeared on the landing above the entrance and wagged his finger at us, telling us that we were not to take photos (No fotos!) and that the castle was definitely closed (`E chiuso!). We apologized rather meekly and explained to him that we had seen the doors open and thought it was OK for us to come in and look around at which point he came down and we started to have a little conversation. We explained that we were Americans, living nearby in Marina di Ragusa, that my grandparents had been born in Sicily and asking him where he was from (he was born in Acate but had lived in Germany for 30 years and only in the last 5 years had returned home). Bob asked if it was OK for him to take a photo of me with him and he smiled and posed. We started to leave, asking when the Castle would be open for guided tours and if there was perhaps a brochure. Surprisingly, he decided to let us have a look around and began to show us into some of the rooms. There is no furniture but the rooms were spacious with the most wonderful wood beamed ceilings. He allowed us to wander around on our own and even showed us the stairway to the tower, telling us we could get a good photo of the city from there, and we eagerly climbed for a bird's eye view of the town.
We thanked him most graciously for allowing us to see the castle and went about exploring and looking around the outside. I started a little sketch of a window detail and Bob took his camera in another direction. The guy from the castle passed me on his motorcycle and saw that I was drawing, stopped and told me that the window I was looking at was part of the prison and asked if I would like to see it! I called to Bob and we went inside, where this man proudly showed us these rooms and all the artifacts lying about. There were large, contemporary oil paintings on the walls by a local artist and we saw some of the cells where they would keep the more incorrigible bad guys - not places you would want to have to spend any time! This man seemed absolutely delighted that we were interested and had turned 180° in attitude from the first time he spotted us in the courtyard! It was so much fun.
He then left on his cycle and I finished my window sketch while Bob found some interesting details to photograph. Then we got in the car and headed out, finding a few more things of interest and I did another painting of a deep red building detail.
On the way home, we stopped for a pizza at the Caffè Bristol (go figure this crazy name!) in Vittoria. This place makes the most delicious Margherita pizza and must be a favorite among the locals too because it was packed. As usual, I was the only woman there. It's just a little pizza/tavola calda and there are a few tables inside and out. The square was filled with the old guys hanging out and we just ate our pizza and left.
Elio had called us earlier to tell us that the repair guy was coming in the afternoon to fix our intercom/telephone that connects to the doorbell downstairs, which has not been working, and we wanted to be sure to get home before he arrived. This has been a bit of an inconvenience since we are on the third floor and if someone tries to reach us, you can hear the bell ring down there, but it doesn't ring in our apartment. We only found this out when someone tried to deliver a package to us a few weeks ago and we were in the apartment at the time and didn't hear the bell! Elio is wonderful about taking care of things right away but the guy who knows how to repair this thing had apparently gotten married and was on his honeymoon at the time so we had to wait for him to return before getting our bell fixed. We cannot say enough good things about Elio and all the help he has given us since we have been in Marina di Ragusa.
On Friday we went to Catania for the Feast of St. Agatha. If you want to hear about that, check out the next blog entry!
Rosemary & Robert