Friday, March 31, 2006

Images from Jessica's visit

The Greek Theatre in Siracusa, preparing the stage for a performance

Arabesque window in Siracusa

Dionysius’s Ear, a cave in the stone quarries, an archeological site in Siracusa

Sunset in the harbor at Siracusa

Modica panorama

Jessica's trip to Sicily I 3.24.06

As I am sitting here, left behind on the day to Siracusa with Jessica, Michelle and Bob due to the situation with Michelle's bags not yet arriving, I thought I'd start writing about Jessica's trip here and all the things we've done. If you haven't been following along, Jessica has been here since the 8th of March and her friend Michelle arrived on the 22 only to find that her suitcase did not make it all the way to Catania. Alitalia has finally located it but we are still waiting for its arrival here in Marina di Ragusa. So I am the logical one to stay behind and wait. I'm not particularly overjoyed with Alitalia at the moment and think they've been giving us a pretty good run around but at the moment we are at their mercy. Hopefully the bag arrives by the end of the day.

Jessica arrived over two weeks ago and, not one to waste a minute; we stopped in Aci Trezza to see the "Riviera dei Ciclopi," the big rocks that jut up above the water, just north of Catania. The water was a beautiful turquoise blue and the sky so clear that she was able to see Mt. Etna with its snow-covered peak clear as a bell when we left the airport around noon. We found a nice restaurant with a view of the harbor and enjoyed our first meal together in Sicily. The trip to Sicily is obviously longer than the one to Umbria had been when she came in October and she was getting tired so we drove straight-away to Marina di Ragusa where we walked along the Lungomare with her, showing off our little town. We spent the next few days showing her around Ragusa, Ragusa Ibla, Modica (during the Chocolate Festival which was fun!), Scicli and the area around Ragusa. We took a day-trip to Siracusa to show her that city and the Greek theatre there. Since our daughter works in theater as a stage manager and has always loved anything related to the theater as well as, in her words, "touching old stuff," you can imagine that she really enjoyed Siracusa. And Sicily, in general, I would have to say with all its ancient ruins and Greek and Roman theatres that date back to pre-Christian times.

On our way to Palermo and our week in the west of Sicily, we made a stop in Polizzi Generosa, where my grandfather was born. It was cool still in Marina when we left but that didn't prepare us for the snow and icy roads in Polizzi! She had seen a little yarn shop as we drove through the town (she has taken up knitting and even made me a beautiful scarf which I wore the whole time!) and we scurried, freezing from the car, into the tiny shop filled to brimming with row on row of yarns and threads. The storeowner didn't mind moving everything out of the way so he could get to the yarns in the window that had caught her attention and she purchased a big bag of different types of wools. It is so sweet to me that my daughter, who learned to knit using my mother's knitting needles, will now make something beautiful using wool she bought in her great-grandfather's birthplace!

We spent two nights in Palermo, staying at the very comfortable and friendly Hotel del Centro near Quattro Canti. We visited the Norman Castle, which was miraculously open, and got to see the beautiful Capella Palatina founded in 1132 by Roger II and its incredible mosaics and wood ceiling, built by Arab artisans under Norman rule. We went to the Ballaro and Vucciria markets and of course introduced her to "pane panelle crochè," the tasty treat we first enjoyed on our last trip to Palermo. We visited the Orto Botanico and saw more types of aloe in bloom than we had ever seen (and coming from Phoenix this is saying something!) and the startlingly incredible Ficus Magnolioides, the giant ancient trees that send their roots down from the branches above, and they take root and become thicker and fatter until they seem like many trees, all meshed together and take up a huge area, under an enormous canopy of green. They are like some strange alien being and we wondered how large they could grow and what their life span might be, having already lived one hundred and fifty years! The little villa-like building has been recently renovated where you enter the garden and was not open for tourists yet. But we did enjoy an exhibit on palms by an Italian botanist and his botanical studies were works of art in themselves that I really enjoyed seeing, with one large page devoted to each species of palm and the way he pinned them on and wrote his descriptions, including all the seed pods and various parts of the plant was like a living botanical illustration.

Teatro Politeama Garibaldi and the Teatro Massimo, both having recently been renovated were stunning as the lights came on and day turned into night. We saw Palermo with new eyes and are glad to say that we gained a new appreciation for this city in spite of its more crumbly bits. We introduced her to cassata cake, and she was instantly hooked on this very Sicilian delight. We drove inland to Monreale and were awed again by the amazing elaborate ceiling and dazzling mosaics.

The creepiest thing we did was to go to the Catacombi di Cappuccini, the catacombs that originally were only for the Capuchin monks but became a burial place for the well to do in Palermo. We had seen photos in our guidebooks but nothing quite prepared us for the sight we encountered upon entering. Row after row, from floor to very high ceiling were hanging, on hooks, like some bizarre display, dead people, some mummified, some skeletons, all dressed in their finest Sunday best, some still with dried skin sagging off their faces, mouths agape. Some appeared to be leaning towards each other as if in conversation. There were entire families hanging there together. This practice began in 1599, with the first monk's interment and continued until 1881. The families of the dead, we had read, used to come in once a year and change the clothes of their dearly departed if you can imagine such a thing! The next creepiest thing was the family who were also touring the catacombs with their little baby in a stroller and a 4 year old who kept singing a song and saying "guarda mi!" (look at me). It was like some weird scene from a horror movie and we were not unhappy to leave the place and go out into the fresh air again!

Leaving Palermo we headed west, stopping in the little fishing village of Castellamare del Golfo. We were astounded to read in Jessica's guidebook that in the past, the mafia activity was so great here that one in 3 men was said to have killed someone! Hard to imagine in what seemed like such a sleepy little place. We decided to continue on towards Trapani, where we would spend the next few days.

(to be continued. See Trapani and the West of Sicily)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Catching our Breath in Sicily 3.30.06

I just wanted to let you all know I have so much to tell you about our time with our lovely daughter Jessica and her friend Michelle who joined us on the last of Jessica's three week trip to Sicily. They both went home on Tuesday and we were so sad to see them go. We must admit however to being totally exhausted from the non-stop sightseeing and have been recuperating for the past couple of days! We've been reading, walking on the beach, taking naps and just vegging. I plan to spend some time this weekend catching up on my writing and we'll be posting new photos as well.

So I hope you will check back with us again and see what we've been up to!

Tired in Sicily, (Siamo stanchi in Sicilia)
Rosemary & Bob

p.s. Michelle's luggage finally arrived on Wednesday in case you were worrying but she had more problems with the airlines I'll tell you about later!

Update on the Permesso di Soggiorno 3.23.06

I have a few minutes today so I thought I'd catch up on some writing. Jessica is now into her third week with us and it has been so wonderful to have her with us in Sicily and to show her the land of her ancestors. Yesterday her friend Michelle arrived from the states to spend this week with us. On Tuesday they will both return home. Her flight was supposed to land at 11:45am yesterday but the last leg of it was cancelled from Milan to Catania and she didn't end up getting here until around 6pm last evening. To make matters worse, her luggage did not arrive with her and we were worried that it had been lost. Still not sure, we have been told that it is in Milan but should be here with the next two days. Michelle is so good-natured that she has taken all of this in stride and is out sightseeing with Jessica and Bob. I volunteered to stay behind in case the airline miraculously finds the bag and decides to bring it straightaway to us in Marina di Ragusa. Probably an unlikely scenario but I am trying to think positive. This also gives me a few minutes to myself, which is not altogether a bad thing.

But about the Permesso:

Jessica arrived here on the 8th of March and on the 9th we stopped in at the Comune here in Marina to find that our paperwork from Perugia had finally arrived! This meant we were able to get our Certifcato di Residenza that says we are now residents of Marina di Ragusa and could now apply for renewal of our Permessi di Soggiorno. Overjoyed, we called Elio who had a friend in the Questura who we hoped would be able to assist us in the process and he was able to arrange for us to go to the office that day. We thought we had absolutely everything we needed to apply but, goofballs that we can be sometimes, we forgot about the Marca da Bollo (the tax stamp you purchase at a Tabacchi that is the fee for filing the form) and did not have it with us. We were told to return on Monday morning with our little passport photos, the tax stamp, the previous original Permesso di Soggiorno, the Certificate of Residency, proof of income and copies of our passports. We were kicking ourselves, because we would have been all done had we thought about the tax stamp but were delighted that it seemed so easy and are once again grateful to Elio for coming to our aid.

On Monday morning bright and early we showed up back at the Questura where we learned that we also needed to be fingerprinted (I guess the ones from the FBI were not good enough now) and Elio's friend helped us through the process and even had the letter that declared that Bob has agreed to share his pension with me translated. We were given a date of May 4th to return for the final permesso and we were all set! All we need to do now is go pick it up.

The other detail to be taken care of was to change our address finally (we've only been here since December and honestly thought this would not have taken so long!) so that we can update our Carta di Identita and our car insurance information. Had we moved to one place permanently, this all would be a much simpler process but because we have decided to live in different areas, we will have to do this change of address thing every time we move and must just be patient and hope it all goes smoothly each time. Two down, two more to go!

So all my sleeplessness and worry seemed for nothing (as is often the case!) and all is well. So thanks to all of you who expressed concern and sent words of support. So far so good on this great adventure of ours.

Now I just got a call from the gang who has been sightseeing in Modica that they are on their way back here. I have a pot of chicken soup cooking, which I must go and attend to. So I'll say ciao for now and write more soon about all the adventures we've had with Jessica and now Michelle in the last few weeks.

A presto!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Monday, March 06, 2006

Jessica's coming! 3.06.06

We just wanted to write and tell you that our beautiful, smart, funny, adorable, helpful, brave and cheerful daughter (ok, now she sounds like a boy scout!) Jessica is coming to visit us for three weeks. She arrives on Wednesday. That's the day after tomorrow! We are so excited!! We have not seen her since October when she and our son Christopher came to see us in Perugia. We had so much fun with them then and look forward to this time with her as well. In the third week of her stay, her friend Michelle will join us and that will be a lot of fun too. Michelle has always been just like one of the family and we look forward to seeing her again too. The last time we saw her was in February before we left Phoenix. It will be great catching up.

But what I wanted to write was that we may not have much time for writing and posting during this time so I hope you will check back with us again at the end of March or beginning of April to see what we did during that time and we should have a bunch of new photos to show you by then.

That's it for now.

Take care, buon marzo!
Rosemary & Bob

Chillin with our feet in the sea!

Chillin' out 3.6.06

To everyone who wrote and told me to chill out (after my crazed late night paranoic ramblings!) I thank you. You're right! What am I worrying about? Sicily is incredible. Marina di Ragusa is delightful. Everyone will love it! How could they not? Yesterday was the most gorgeous, warm sunny day here! We had our feet in the water! We took off our sweaters were just out in our shirtsleeves! We sat in our beach chairs and read books! The sky was blue, the water turquoise, the air soft and warm!! It doesn't get any better than this!

Siamo contenti in Sicilia,
Rosamaria e Roberto

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sicilian Face

Carnevale in Acireale 2006

We had an amazing time in Acireale for Carnivale but unfortunately I did not write anything about it! I just thought I would post a photo or two for you to see a bit of what we saw - so here is just a photo essay!

Baroque Decoration in Acireale

Renewing our Permesso (and biting our fingernails!) 3.05.06

It’s the same sleepless night I wrote about earlier and one of the other things I’m worrying about is our Permessi di Soggiorno. When we arrived in Italy almost a year ago in April, the first thing we did was to apply for our Permesso di Soggiorno, our permit of stay. We had our long-stay Visa from the Italian Consulate in Los Angeles, which allowed us to stay in the country for a year. But we had to also have a permit of stay and you must apply for this within the first 8 days of arriving in Italy. We wrote extensively about this process in the early days, so I won’t bore you now with those details. (If you are interested, you can go back to our Archives of April and May of 2005 to read about this process.) We also applied for and received our Codice Fiscale, a tax number that allows us to make large purchases like buying a car or a house, and finally the Carta d’Identita, the Italian identity card that all Italian residents must have. Read “Big Sigh of Relief” because we had accomplished all of this and felt very proud of ourselves. If we had stayed permanently in Perugia, the rest would have been relatively simple. But we didn’t. We moved to Sicily. Our plan is to live 6 months in each area of the country to experience life in the various parts of Italy, to gain a more rounded view of the place and its people.

So, once arriving in Sicily, it was necessary to officially change our address, since all of our documents have the Perugia address on them. We applied for an official change of address when we arrived in Marina di Ragusa and filed all the necessary paperwork. We were told that, like in Perugia, someone from the Police Dept or the city would be visiting us at our apartment, to verify that we actually lived there. Unfortunately, the first time he came to visit us he couldn’t find the number for our building, or was looking at the wrong building and so did not find our name and concluded that we did not live there. After a few weeks not hearing anything, we went back to Ragusa to the Anagrafe office to see what was going on. When we discovered what had happened we were able to explain to the officer exactly where we lived and he said he would come back again to check us out. The other complication at this time was that our doorbell was not working (It’s all fixed now.) Anyway, he finally came, found us, and submitted the proper paperwork, telling us that they would have to receive confirmation from Perugia to make this change of address official and that we should hear back from them by the first of March. We haven’t.

It’s now the 5th of March (albeit Sunday) and we still do not have our Certificate of Residency for this city. We’re starting to panic really because our Permessi expire on the 1st of April, now only a few weeks away. The woman in the city office here in Marina di Ragusa seemed calm about it and told us not to worry. Easy for her to say! We tried to call Perugia to see what the hold up was but were not able to reach anyone on Saturday morning. They gave us another number to call on Monday and we will try to do that. Elio, bless his heart, told us he will help us if he can. Bob hates to impose on people and doesn’t want Elio to think we are a big pain in the butt, always needing his help. Truth is, we probably will need it, especially if the people in Perugia only speak Italian and we are not able to understand what they tell us. But we’ll try.

Once we receive this Certificato di Residenza, we will have to apply for a renewal of our Permessi di Soggiorno and of course I am panicked about what happens if they refuse us for some reason (like we move too much!). We have been told that you receive a permit for a year but that the renewal is for two years, after that I think 5 and so on. But this is from people who have purchased homes and established themselves in one place. I am a bit anxious about how this process is going to go and worried that they will turn us down and we will have to leave. This would be a bad thing, with my family coming here to visit at the end of April. We have promised Andrea, our “German daughter” that we will come to her wedding in July. We have rented an apartment in Verona for the summer complete with a 500-euro deposit. My sister and the girls want to come and visit us there in July. We plan to visit friends, like Helena in Switzerland, this summer. Friends from Phoenix are coming to Italy and we were hoping to get together with all of them. I know I am getting completely ahead of myself and that everything will probably work out fine. But for the moment I am biting my fingernails and losing sleep.

It’s 6am now and the revelers down below are finally going home. The aftermath doesn’t look as bad as I had expected. The sun is coming up and the sky is pinkish purple, the sea silver blue below. Little streaks of indigo clouds are visible. It’s quiet now as the last of the cars drives away. Birds are chirping and a slight breeze is stirring the palm fronds. The streetlights are still on but the peace and tranquility has returned at last. I wonder if they will be able to sleep when they get home?

Still writing,

Middle of the Night Anxiety in Sicily 3.5.06

It’s 4 in the morning. I can’t sleep so I decided to just get up and come down the hallway into the front room and catch up on my writing and maybe just put down on “paper” my thoughts and perhaps be able to let go of them. Since it is Saturday night, all the young people – 20- and 30-somethings I suppose, although I can see a few older people too – are hanging out. I don’t really hear this most weekend nights because our bedroom is in the back and it’s pretty quiet except for the occasional noisy bunch going down the side street behind our building. So this is kind of a big surprise to me that at 4 in the morning they are still out partying. There are definitely lifestyle differences here that may exist in the states but that I as an “old” person am simply not aware of. Like hanging out with your friends, drinking, eating and talking as if it were the middle of the afternoon, until the very wee hours in the morning. There’s a term for this time of day that we studied in our class in Perugia and I cannot now remember how to say it that means I stayed up really late last night. (Do any of my readers know what I am talking about? Can you remind me how to say that?) It’s after 4 now with no signs of anyone heading home yet. Then what do they do? Sleep until noon? Two? Four?

What really bugs me, and makes me aware of these late night Saturday night soirees is th litter the next morning. The piazza will be littered with trash, which then the cleaning crew for the city will come around and pick up and by 9 or so you would never know this had occurred. Mostly. That these young people will just leave their trash out for someone else to clean up is something that used to drive me nuts in Perugia and I never enjoyed being out very late at night because that beautiful piazza where the lovely Fontana sits beside the Cattedrale would be littered with trash that, again, in the morning, the city workers would come by and pick up after. I guess it’s a sort of symbiotic relationship and job security for the street sweepers but it seems to me that the cities could save money by making these young slobs clean up after themselves and not treat these cities like a big garbage dump. It really shocks me that this is permitted and it’s one of the things I don’t like about being in Italy. It makes me cringe to see some people – and not just kids – simply drop their candy and food wrappers, tissues or empty cigarette boxes on the street as if it were nothing at all, often with a trash can a few feet away. I have mentioned this before, but sometimes I take a plastic trash bag out and pick up some of the debris that makes its way onto the beach. It makes me feel better not to have to look at it and I feel I am doing my little bit for the environment.

That’s the other thing I’m worrying about. What will my family think? Will they notice the litter on our beautiful sandy beach? Will I have to defend it by saying that we imagine in the summer months they have a clean-up crew, for surely they must with all those people here, but that in the winter they must not feel it is enough to bother about. And so I can’t sleep.

Our little town of Marina di Ragusa, during the week, during this time of the year, is very, very quiet. Tranquil. This town is really a summer place. People who live in Ragusa and the surrounding area have summer homes here. There is a year-round population of around 4,000 people that we are told swells to 40,000 in the summer, July and August mostly. And it’s understandable really. It’s a lovely place. There are many coffee bars, gelaterie and restaurants, many open only in the summer and the beach is a long and sandy stretch. It’s a perfect place to spend the hot summer months, basking in the sun and cooling off in the sea. There is a bar right below our building but during the week it’s pretty quiet. Elio tells us that during the summer months it’s like this every day and night. We’re glad we won’t be here then.

That’s one of the things I’m thinking about tonight, when my daughter comes – and she arrives on Wednesday (yeah!!) I hope it doesn’t disturb her sleep on the weekend nights. The bedrooms are in the back and I normally don’t hear it so I hope she won’t either. Of course that is also one of the things I am thinking about, the guests who will be coming soon. Jessica arrives on Wednesday and two weeks later, her friend Michelle, will join her here for a week. Then in April my brother Fred, his wife Elaine and my cousins, Jim & Evie and Andy & Marnie, have rented a house along the beach on the other side of the town (where it is more quiet).

That’s the other thing I’m worried about. Have I planned well? Will they think this place is as nice as we do? Will they wish they had spent their whole vacation in Taormina or Trapani or Palermo? Will they like Modica as much as we do, and Ragusa Ibla? Will they find Caltagirone charming and what will they think of Scicli? Will they enjoy the little stone walls and countryside as we do and enjoy this quiet little city with its tiny central piazza and the little shops that surround it? It’s not glitzy like Taormina, which we saw this past week. We are right on the sea, so we don’t have the breathtaking views from above to it like it does there. There is no Greco-Roman theatre in our little town or major monuments. Mostly it’s just a sweet little quiet place where we have enjoyed spending our time and hope they will too. Of course, there are many, many interesting places we will want to go. Our days will be full of showing them as much of this island as we can. We have found it fascinating and beautiful. Even as we have felt very much like outsiders. Partly that is just because we don’t work here. We don’t own a home. We don’t have reason to interact with the local people, except for the shopkeepers and some of them talk with us, like Salvatore in the coffee bar and the old guys in the piazzas. But we are very much an oddity we think to these people who sometimes think we are Germans on vacation and I’m sure if they have noticed us, they wonder why we are still here. Partly it’s a language thing. Although we can get by with the things we need to do, we still struggle with the language, with comprehension. Watching the news, we only catch part of what is said and only understand a bit.

It’s almost 5 now and the party shows no signs of abating. Unbelievable. It’s just a different use of time. Like the whole schedule of eating. Italians, as far as we can tell, have their “breakfast” (espresso or cappuccino and a cornetto – a cream, chocolate or marmade filled croissant – or some variation of this) in the morning when they get up. They don’t seem to linger over this, it’s just a have it and be done. But then it seems later in the morning there is another coffee, perhaps another brioche or even one of the filled piadini (similar to a calzone I guess, but not as doughy) or a slice of pizza to tide them over until lunch. There is no such thing as the “all you can eat breakfast.” Restaurants are not open all day except for the coffee bars with the ready-made sandwiches and pieces of pizza. Which reminds me of a strange thing we have seen here in Sicily: pizza with French fries on top! I am not kidding. I have no idea where this came from, but they do it. We haven’t had the heart to try it. We have seen on a menu, the Pizza Simpson so we suspect that this has something to do with Bart Simpson, but we don’t know this for sure. If you want to have lunch at a sit-down restaurant you may not be able to do this until 12:30 or 1pm and then they will close by 2:30 or so. If you are hungry at 4pm, you better just have a snack at a bar. Dinner will not be served, restaurants will not be open until 7:30 at the earliest and Italians will only be arriving well after that. When we go to eat at that hour, we are usually the only ones in the place! But we have noticed that around 5pm (at least here in Marina) people are all snacking. They are stopping by the gelato place, everyone’s eating an ice cream cone or cookies or some sort of snack. So of course they aren’t hungry for dinner at 6! They do seem to have a habit of little snacks all day long. I went down to Salvatore’s yesterday morning early around 8 because Bob was sleeping still and I didn’t want to make a pot for myself. I sat outside, ate a cornetto con marmelata and just wrote in my journal and lingered over the cappuccino, savoring the frothy top and slowly sipping, stretching out the experience. Three men came into the bar. They ordered espresso. Salvatore placed three cups in front of them. They socked it down, paid their money and left! This is the way we have seen Italians drink their coffee! It’s not a leisurely experience, unless it comes at the end of a meal. Then they will sit and relax and take their time. But the middle of the day jolt just cracks me up. We’ve seen everyone from business men in suits, workers on break or police officers (not unlike the cliché of the American cop and the donut shop) all of them, just go in, slam down a coffee and leave.

Which reminds me of a story we read in the paper recently. We try to read the Italian paper sometimes, to practice our understanding of the language and to try to see what is happening in the world around us. There was an article about Italians and insomnia. It talked about the large percentage (around 40%) of Italians who complain of insomnia, partly putting the blame on their noisy neighbors. They toss and turn; they drink teas that are supposed to make you sleepy; they watch TV etc. etc.; doing all the things people who can’t sleep anywhere do to try to fall asleep. Bob and I looked at each other and thought, well, if they didn’t drink so much coffee (and coke too, which is very popular) or eat so much gelato or chocolate, which they seem to love, or eat such late dinners (followed by a coffee!), maybe they’d be able to sleep at night! It didn’t seem to take a rocket scientist to come up with this conclusion but I guess it isn’t for us foreigners to tell them they should change their lifestyles! But it does make you think I guess.

Anyway, maybe that’s why they are still out in the piazza at 5:30 in the morning. They can’t sleep. And now neither can I. Maybe I should try some herbal tea.

Sleepless in Sicily,

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More photos from Palermo

Sicilian Cart Makers Shop

Ape (a small three wheel truck) painted like a Sicilian Cart

Dressing Terracotta Nativity Figures (Presepe)

Eating Pane Panelle Crocché

San Giovanni degli Eremiti

Neon Gesù (an odd religious display?)

Remember Tom Hanks in the movie BIG?

Christpantocrator in the Duomo at Monreale near Palermo