Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Car Accident 4.23.06

Sunday was a gorgeous day here in Marina di Ragusa. With my family scheduled to arrive in the late afternoon I was excited and got up early. With Bob still asleep I threw some clothes on, bought a cappuccino "per portare via (to take away)" from Salvatore downstairs at "The Summer" coffee bar and walked along the beach, out to the rocks and sat and stared out at the sea, writing in my journal and enjoying the weather. After a good hour or so, Bob came down wearing his swimsuit! Since it was such a beautiful morning he thought I must have done the same and so decided he would join me and we could go swimming. I quickly ran back upstairs and changed, dropping off my journal and other things, while he found a spot he liked and spread out his things. The water was completely calm, if quite cold, but we waded in and played around. He was brave enough to swim. I found it a bit too cold for complete immersion but loved it anyway. Small children and teenagers were the only ones actually in the water although, as the morning wore on more and more people arrived for a day at the beach.

Around 1pm we began to feel hungry and came back upstairs for some lunch. I threw together a little pasta with fresh tomatoes and garlic and we sat out on the terrace - one of the best parts of living in this apartment on the sea. Bob then decided he would go out to see if the little wine shop or the Alis grocery store were open as we had forgotten to pick up extra bottles of wine for my family. I volunteered to do the dishes and clean up while he went off to run this errand. While I was clearing the table, minutes after Bob left, the phone rang and it was my cousin Andy, letting us know that they had arrived in Catania and would be getting on the road in a few minutes. As we were saying goodbye, I heard Bob's voice calling me from the street and ringing the doorbell. I couldn't imagine what he had forgotten or what he needed to tell me so urgently but I quickly said goodbye to Andy, excited knowing I would see them soon.

Going out onto the patio, still happy and laughing from the conversation I had had with my cousin to find Bob very serious and white as a ghost asking me to call Elio to come and help because he had just had a car accident. That shocked me into a less jovial mood and I immediately telephoned our friend and told him what happened. We owe so much to this wonderful man who did not hesitate to say he would be right there and I went down to find our cute little Toyota Yaris out in the middle of the intersection with its entire front completely crushed and demolished, liquid of some sort running down the street like blood at the scene of a murder. Bob was visibly shaken. He had been leaving Piazza Malta, heading for the grocery store when this woman came screaming across the side street and they collided in the intersection. He had the right of way and she should have stopped but she didn't. As it was a Sunday, and with the lovely weather, there were many people in Marina di Ragusa. None however were actually outside when the accident happened since it was during pranzo and everyone was inside having lunch, as we had been doing so serenely only moments before. But of course the big crash brought everyone out and we met all the people who have homes here and visit them on Sundays. There is a sweet young family just below us with two beautiful daughters, a nice man from next door who stayed with us the whole time, a family around the corner who really wanted to give us a glass of wine or a cup of coffee or a nice piece of cake, so sorry for us, so sympathetic and kind. There also was a man who seemed very interested in making friends with either Bob or the other woman, playing both sides it seemed and it turned out he was a lawyer (we tried to explain the term "ambulance chaser" to Elio but I don't think it translated). It turned out the woman who hit our car is also a lawyer and this is not, we are sure, a positive thing.

Someone called the police. Someone else thought we should move the car. Bob insisted not to until the police came. Everyone seemed to be an authority on some part of this or at least had an opinion. The other driver wanted to just share information. Bob again insisted to wait until Elio arrived as this was one of those moments when you are very aware of being a foreigner with not enough language skills, putting yourself at a distinct disadvantage. Elio arrived no more than 30 minutes after we called him, which meant he had dropped whatever he was doing and jumped in his car. The police had not yet arrived. Suddenly a young man pulled up in his car and after much conversation here and there we learned that he seemed to be saying that he had seen it all and that Bob was at fault. Shocking, since he was nowhere in sight until well after the accident occurred. The police finally arrived. We scrambled to produce all of the documents they requested. Thank god for Elio. Lines were drawn around our tires, measurements made of the angle of the car in the intersection, statements were taken from the participants: car A – Bob and car B – the other driver, as well as the late-arriving mystery witness.

No sooner had all of this taken place than my family called to say they were getting close to Marina and Elio volunteered to drive us to the point where we had arranged to meet them and escort them back here. I had wanted Elio to meet my family, we joked, but not in this way! With many hugs and kisses and sympathetic words about our situation, Bob and I piled into their giant 9-passenger van (like a small bus really!) said goodbye and many thanks to Elio we drove with them back to Marina to pick up the keys to the apartment they had rented here and begin their 3 week visit to Sicily. We had found a nice house with a beautiful view on the other side of the town for them and were keeping our fingers crossed that they would like it and it would be comfortable for them to spend some time there. (you will remember my sleepless night, worrying about how it would all turn out!) They seemed happy with the place and we breathed a sigh of relief.

Car Accident update: 4.30.06

Monday was a holiday here (similar to our 4th of July) and the body shop was closed. But on Tuesday morning the shop recommended by Elio came and towed the car to their garage in Ragusa and provided us with a loaner. Not a great car, nor one we would feel comfortable driving long distances with, but at least it is a means of transportation for the necessities and was also provided at no cost to us. We are very appreciative.

On Wednesday we went to the police headquarters to pick up the report of our accident. They were very kind and ushered us into another room where we sat on two chairs in front of the desk of the officer who produced it. He brought out this little booklet with papers stapled into it from the statements taken at the scene. We asked if we could have a copy of the whole thing and he gladly made one for us. As with all the other documenti we have received here in Italy, it contained a generous amount of rubber stamps and signatures, most unreadable. We asked if the report indicated who had been at fault and he turned to the last paragraph on one of the pages where it clearly stated that the other driver had been wrong. She should have stopped. Bob had the right of way! We breathed a visible sigh of relief, thanked the officer and went off for a celebratory cup of cappuccino! We were very worried that if they said he was at fault that we would have to pay to fix her car. In spite of our having insurance. We weren't sure how it would really work. Or that if they found that we were both at fault that insurance would not pay at all and we would have to pay ourselves to have our car fixed. We weren't sure why she seemed to prefer this arrangement but now it is just a moot point.

Once again Elio helped us by taking Bob to an insurance counseling office, recommended by his insurance agent, that provides advice and assistance to people dealing with insurance companies explaining how to file the paperwork etc. This service is provided free of charge by the insurance companies. We were impressed to hear that Elio himself has never had an accident, which is amazing considering the traffic in Sicily! It was a huge relief to have help with this process. We are very aware that without Elio this would have been much, much more difficult.

Bob faxed a copy of the report to our insurance company in Perugia and subsequently received a call from the body shop to come and sign some papers, indicating that everything was proceeding smoothly. The insurance company will pay the body shop directly and we will pick up our car when it is ready, hopefully before the end of May when we are scheduled to leave Sicily. When we stopped there to sign the papers we saw our car outside the shop with its hood already removed indicating to us that work had already begun. A very good sign.

One month from tomorrow we hope to be on our way to Verona. One more precious month walking on the beach here and enjoying the beautiful province of Ragusa. As with Perugia, we have fallen in love with this area and it will be just as hard to leave. There are still so many places we would like to explore further; so many places we have not seen. But we know also that we have made friends here that we will want to keep forever and hope some day they will come to the states to see us and we can return at least a fraction of the favors and friendship they have extended to us in these past months. I do know that we will be forever grateful.

Buona giornata,
Rosemary e Roberto

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Enna, Sicilia. Good Friday photos

A view from Enna of the town of Calascibetta

Two little girls dressed as nuns on Good Friday

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Enna, Good Friday

Good Friday in Enna 4.14.06

Today is actually the 21st of April and I am still trying to get caught up on my writing. I have not yet written about our day in Enna and wanted to tell you about Good Friday. Bob and I decided to go early in the day to this city that is right in the center of Sicily and its highest point, Mt. Etna not withstanding. We have passed by Enna several times on our way to Palermo but it never fit in our plans to stop. We always enjoy the drive through this region because it is absolutely beautiful with farms and cultivated fields with a backdrop of the mountains and terraced hills that occupy this part of Italy. Throughout the winter season it was completely green and the vastness of this place keenly felt. There are many tiny towns and villages that cling to hill and mountain top, visible from the heights of Enna, over 3,000 ft., as we climbed to the highest point in this highest place, the Castello di Lombardia, quite an impressive sight built by Frederick II on a previous Arab fortification. It's a fascinating complex and still retains six of the original twenty towers. Not to mention the fantastic views of the surrounding countryside from this lofty place.

Never completely sure what to expect from these events, we wandered around the city, finally finding the information office and picking up some brochures with the program of events for the week's processions. Interestingly, each one seemed to have a slightly different explanation of what would take place, when and where and we felt still a bit confused about where to position ourselves for the best view point. We missed the first procession of the day - our information said it began at noon when really it started earlier and by the time we found the place, it was over! We decided to stop for lunch and just happened onto a very nice local restaurant where I enjoyed a delicious risotto with shrimp and Bob, the ravioli with mushrooms. The waiter was very helpful and friendly and the strangest thing was that the music they were playing sounded very much like country western from the states, similar to a CD we have called "Asleep at the Wheel" and we had to ask what it was that they were listening to. Turned out to be a band called "the Notting Hillbillies" which struck us so funny! An odd combination of American music, British city name and town in the center of Sicily on Good Friday!

We read that each church in the city has a "confraternity" or club that departs from their particular church, convening in the center, at the Duomo. These people wear different colored robes and white hoods over their heads with just holes cut for their eyes - a bit disconcerting at first because of the resemblance to those of the Ku Klux Klan. There is no connection however, and it was explained to us that they wear these hoods because they are acting as "penititi" - penitents, like so many souls wandering, seeking forgiveness, if I understand this correctly. It is described as a very solemn event and the procession takes place very slowly over the course of several hours, the culmination of which is the meeting in the Duomo where the statues carried by the different confraternities come together, with the statue of the Madonna, meeting her crucified Son, and then process through the city with the cemetery as their destination, after which they all return to their own churches once again. I must admit that those in the procession do seem very solemn with a surprising number of young boys also taking part. The number of "brothers" is said to be in the thousands. The only female presence, with the exception of the grieving Madonna, are very little girls - 5 or 6 years old, dressed as nuns in white, black or brown habits with rosary beads etc., walking with their hands pressed together in a prayerful pose. They are really adorable to see, even if it seems a bit strange. Some of these tiny kids really know how to look appropriately solemn! It's also very dramatic the way the men carry the sepulcher of the dead Christ or the Madonna, swaying from side to side in unison as a band plays somber funereal music, following them around the city. Pippo and Salvatore, Elio's brothers who met us in Enna later in the day, told us that this is a great honor for these men who wait their turns from year to year to carry the Madonna or Jesus on their backs.

I have to say we noticed a genuine absence of solemnity among many of the observers, however, as they jockeyed for the best viewing place, stepped in front of other people to take photos, including walking in front of and around the "brothers," talked loudly among themselves and in general didn't seem to be exactly "saying their penance and standing in spiritual silence" as described in our brochures but perhaps we were just not in the right spot.

We also know why everyone thinks we are German. The city was filled with German tourists and at one point, earlier in the day, German was the dominant language spoken by the crowd around us!

Once the procession passed us by and we met up with Elio's brothers and their wives, Marinella and Rosalba, we visited a few of the churches which were open and were even, due to Rosalba's request of the caretaker, permitted to enter one of the churches that surely would have been closed to us. This was the church of San Salvatore, ancient, lovely with plaster-carved statues of the apostles decorating the interior and an elaborately carved, wooden ceiling. The gentleman who let us in also allowed us in into an inner room to see the ancient crucifix and the vestments in the drawer of an intricately painted cabinet.

After thanking this generous man for his time we stopped and bought some sandwiches and ate them while walking through the medieval streets, lit by torchlight. Since we had arrived before noon that day we had a pretty good parking place close to centro. Unfortunately they had a longer walk in the opposite direction so we said our goodbyes and made our way to our vehicles for the 2 or so hour's drive back to Ragusa. At this hour of the night there was not much traffic. But by the time we got home, we were completely exhausted and decided that Saturday would be a day of rest for us!

Buona giornata,
Rosemary & Bob

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

More photos from Sicily

Kite surfer, Marina di Ragusa

Some of the guys of Marina di Ragusa - Angelo (left) and Giovanni
The town of Scicli at sunset (what we call "God-light")

I spoke with this woman Palm Sunday in Scicli after admiring her flowers

One view of Ragusa Ibla


A bunch of Sicilian kids at the beach

Palm Sunday Procession, Scicli

The Church in Scicli where the procession began

The young boy selling his palm creations

The blessing of the palms

The Palm Sunday Procession in Scicli

Close up of the statues in the procession

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter Week 4.17.06

I realize as I write this date that it has been over 10 days since I have written here. It was about a week after Jessica went home and we were simply relaxing here at the beach and taking some trips around the countryside close to home. Now it is around 4am and I am having another of those sleepless nights. Partly due to the allergy medication I took last night, which is not supposed to make me sleepy, but seems to have that effect during the day. This is the first time I have taken it before going to sleep and even though it has that effect in the daytime, which I don't want, the opposite seems to be true in the night! I slept for a few hours but then began to wake up and now I cannot sleep! Tomorrow I will go to the farmacia to see if I can get some Claritin, which I was told yesterday that they carry here. Everything is in bloom here now. It is incredible all the wildflowers we have seen and the blooming trees! While I love this sight - and it reminds me of the wildflower garden I had in our house in Phoenix - my allergies do not like it and I have been suffering for the past few weeks. I knew it was just a matter of time. For most of the past year I have had very little trouble with my allergies. But recently, it has been a different story. The wildflowers, plus the fields that are being harvested in the countryside all around us and rolled into these big round bundles are doing their bit to get me sneezing and wheezing and blowing my nose. It's something I have lived with my whole life, so I am used to it but it gets annoying anyway!

Sunday was Easter. For those of you who celebrate this holiday, you know that the week before is called Holy Week. In Sicily this is a very big deal and all over the island there are celebrations and processions. Starting with Palm Sunday. We went to Scicli in the morning to see what was going on there and found this little city close to Marina di Ragusa, all decorated with lights strung across the streets and everywhere an air of anticipation, and everywhere in centro vendors were selling palm fronds that had been woven into different designs, much fancier than the simple palm leaves we used to be handed on our way out of Mass on Palm Sunday, when I was growing up in Brooklyn. These are little works of art and I, of course had to check out all my options before paying my 3 euros to the young boy who said he made them all himself. When I was a girl we would come home on Palm Sunday with our palms and make little crosses and simple flower shapes with the pale brown strips that passed as palms. Only on moving to Arizona did I really see what fresh palm fronds look like and it was a delightful change!

Palm Sunday in Scicli

Scicli is one of my favorite cities and I have talked about how some of the streets there, where the houses are virtually built into the mountain, tucked down into a valley and rising up almost vertically to the mountain side. It's a city of contrasts too, as one area seems very poor and simple and yet, a few blocks away there are grand palazzi and beautiful baroque churches, and a very elegant and well-to-do air about it. There was a simple procession into the church and then later, accompanied by a band, the statue of the Madonna with the crucified Christ lying at her side, with two other saintly women (the other two Mary's? - I am trying to remember my gospel stories and failing badly at remembering the details). As I watched this procession it struck me that this was the wrong day for this somber display and that it seemed much more like one you would see on Good Friday and not Palm Sunday that to my mind should have been a more joyous celebration. But, this is what they did in Scicli and I must admit it was fascinating to watch them as they made their way throughout this small city, stopping at each of the churches for a prayer and a break from carrying this extremely heavy looking sculpture display. We did not go the entire route with them, but I believe they climbed up to one of the churches that sits high above the city and I marveled at the ability of many of the older parishioners to keep up and make the climb along with them.

The Market

On Tuesday morning I decided to take my sketchbook and paints and go to the market. In Marina di Ragusa, Tuesday is market day and I like this little market very much. It's a miniature version of what the bigger cities like Ragusa and Vittoria have but for me it is just right. There is only one street occupied with vendors, but on either side you can find things like clothes, kitchen and household items, fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses and all the dried nuts, fruits and beans you could want! I love to see the way they are all so beautifully displayed and for me, it's easier to shop here than in the larger markets, which sometimes overwhelm me with their choices. I buy a little of this and a little of that and I can easily walk back to our apartment with my goodies and don't have to involve Bob who doesn't really enjoy these things as much as I do. As if admiring fruits and vegetables is not a terrific form of entertainment and a fun way to spend the morning! Besides, I wanted to record in my watercolor journal some of those colors and as I stood there sketching oranges and apples, I guess I was a bit of a curiosity for the locals who kept peeking over my shoulder to see what in the heck I was doing. A few spoke to me and some offered me a very sweet "complimenti!" which is always nice to hear. I find that when I do sketch out in public (and it takes me a while to get brave enough to take out my kit and get to work, but once I do, I can really get lost in it) that people are so kind and appreciative. It's a very rewarding experience for me and to be honest, makes it really fun for me and also a bit of a pressure to try to make it as good as I can, because people are watching.

When I finished my painting - which I had to do quickly as all the oranges were disappearing - I was treated very kindly by the man whose fruit I painted and I am certain that he gave me a very good price for the things I bought and even was more selective than usual about which pieces of fruit I bought and throwing in an extra couple of things to boot. Today is Tuesday again and I hope to go back and buy more fruit and draw some vegetables. I really like the way they display them in the boxes, it's very graphic to me and I want to at least do some zucchini and maybe, if they don't get sold too quickly, try some artichokes!

Swimming in the Mediterranean

In the afternoon, we went swimming! It was a gorgeous day and we took some towels and stuff so we could lie out in the sun and we played in the surf. It was a bit of a rough sea, with good waves for jumping in and we just played like a couple of kids until we were tired and then relaxed in the sun, eating oranges and pistachio nuts, until it was late and we were tired and made the short trip across the piazza, up the stairs to our apartment to shower and fix some dinner.

Easter at Elio & Giovanna's

We enjoyed a lovely Easter dinner with Elio and Giovanna's family on Sunday. It was so very kind of them to include us in their family gathering and it was nice to see their two sons, Gianni and Mario again and to meet Gianni's girlfriend Arantxa pronounced like the Italian word for orange –"arancia" – and Giovanna's mother. The meal started with a delicious soup that consisted of rice, in a broth made from lamb with a spicy, light tomato flavor. It was kind of a soupy risotto that was very delicious with hints of pepperoncino. The main course was a sort of tart filled with succulent pieces of lamb and they explained that during the Easter weekend, they eat only lamb. Bob was in heaven! This was accompanied by a fresh green salad and followed with fresh fruits and of course, cake! Giovanna had a beautiful torta with almonds all around the sides and dollops of cream on top. We were pleased also with the one we brought that had crushed pistachios around the sides and was topped with tiny strawberries, as everyone seemed to enjoy it as well and it just looked so pretty too.

After coffee we looked at some photos of the Aeoli Island vacation Elio and Giovanna had taken a few years ago when they were younger. Elio is trying to convince us that we need to spend several days there, more than the one we have planned because, he says, there is too much to see for one day! We tried to explain that we only have a few weeks left really and that perhaps we will have to come back to Sicily for our true Aeoli Island experience another time. We are finding that there are still so many places we would like to see but know that we will not be able to do everything before we leave Sicily and have to be content with that. It's funny. We have come to spend these 6 months in Sicily, these two years in Italy, because we said, a two or three week vacation is not enough time to see all the things we want to see. Now we find that 6 months is not enough time! A year would not be enough time!

We looked at baby pictures of their children and even a movie of Gianni's First Communion party, recognizing other friends of theirs we have met and Elio's brothers and their wives, from over 10 years ago. We feel so fortunate to have been invited into this lovely group of people. We can see and appreciate the beauty of spending one's life in the city where you grew up and the continuity of friendships that last a lifetime, where generation upon generation has grown up and nurtured each other. Perhaps this is why I try so hard to maintain my friendships, even though we may not be near each other, it is important to me to know that there are people in my life with whom I have shared special moments in my life and to know that we will remain friends though we are miles apart.

Elio also enticed us with a DVD of images of Sicily by his favorite photographer here in Ragusa, Giuseppe Leone, whose black and white photographs he introduced us to earlier. It brought tears to my eyes to think of all the beautiful places we have seen and more that we haven't, knowing that soon I will say "arrivederci" to Siciia and it won't be easy to leave.

Sketching Ragusa Ibla

We are so aware now of the short amount of time we have left here - about six weeks now - and I was determined to do a drawing of the view of Ragusa Ibla that we love, from across the road. We got up early another day and I positioned myself on a large flat stone in the parking lot of the hospital where the view is simply spectacular and I went to work. Bob went off to shoot in Ibla and I spent the next couple of hours lost in this view. It's one of those sketches that will take a few days to complete and yesterday morning we went back so that I could work on it some more. I can only focus for about 2 hours before my eyes go bleary, concentrating on the lines and the angles and trying to capture the layered effect of this city. It's a challenge for me really but I want very much to have this down on paper. I can't wait to get to the watercolor part. I have taken many photos of the panorama of this city to work from in the future, should my time run out or the weather not cooperate! Yesterday as I was sitting on my stone I was suddenly surrounded by ants!! That put a quick end to my sketching day and we went off to find a cappuccino and a cornetto since the little bar at the hospital was closed.

We had arranged to meet Elio and Giovanna for an outing with some of their friends and I was working on a little painting when they arrived, which I quickly wrapped up and off we went on a little expedition. We left our car in the parking lot in Ibla and all of us piled into two cars for a day in the country. All of us meant Elio and Giovanna, Giovanna's mother, their friends Paolo & Pina with their son Dario and Pippo (who went on the hunt for the wild asparagus) and Elio's brother Pippo and of course Bob and I. Parking the car, we walked down a rocky road, along a river, up a hillside covered with pine trees, in fields of wildflowers and even explored an old farmhouse. We asked Giovanna to take our photo in front of our "nuova casa" and climbed up the stairs to explore further. At one point we frightened the young cows that were eating peacefully in the barn and realized that this was still a working operation. The man who owned all the property we were standing on turned out to be an old friend of theirs and they chatted with him for while, before we headed back to the car. All throughout the day they were also gathering wild asparagus, in places we could not see any but with their trained eyes, discovered easily! They filled a shopping bag with their bounty and we finally turned back to our cars and decided it was time we had some lunch.

Yesterday was Easter Monday and a holiday here. Everything was closed, including many of the restaurants. And the ones that weren't closed were packed! We finally drove back to Ibla and found one of their favorites was open and could accommodate us and we ate a scrumptious meal of spaghetti con scampi in a lovely sauce of olive oil, garlic and cherry tomatoes, followed by a platter of roasted artichokes, so juicy and tender, I couldn't help licking my fingers and gladly ate the last one in the plate when it was offered to me! The white wine was crisp and light and the espresso at the end, the perfect touch.

We knew they had plans for later in the afternoon and fully expected to go home by ourselves at this point but Giovanna was having none of that and urged us to come along with them to Comiso to meet their other friends there. We weren't sure what the rest of the day would entail and didn't want them to feel that they had to include us. We tried to say, "We don't want to intrude" but had no idea how to say this in Italian! Both Giovanna and Elio, and their friends assured us that they wanted us to join them and we gladly allowed ourselves to be included in whatever the rest of the afternoon would bring.

These friends have known each other for years and it's fun to watch the interaction as they kid and joke with each other, a lifetime of shorthand, mixed with a bit of banter in Sicilian, but while they clearly were a close-knit group, they never made us feel that we were intruders in any way. The opposite really, they made us feel so welcome and in fact at the end of the day made it clear that they hoped they would see us again before we left Sicily and we promised we would.

After an entire day out in the countryside, we were pretty exhausted by the time we arrived back in Marina di Ragusa. The crowds here had thinned already - Easter Monday is another big day for the locals here at the beach - and we even skipped dinner. I took a shower and went to bed early. The allergy meds I had taken in the morning had completely worn off by late afternoon and I was quite a mess last night with the sneezing & etc. So now, here I am, having come full circle on my story and about at the end of what I had to say for now. Today is Tuesday. It's now almost 6am and maybe I'll try to catch another couple of hours sleep before going off to the market. I'm afraid if I do fall asleep that I'll get up too late and miss my market morning so I guess I'll set my alarm. On Sunday my brother Fred, his wife Elaine, my cousins Andrew & Marnie and Jim & Evie will arrive for their three weeks in Sicily and when I spoke with them this weekend, they sounded so excited! It will be fun to be able to show them around and hang out. I don't know yet if my friend Elizabeth is coming so we'll see about that. On the 31st we will leave our little apartment on the beach! Too soon. Too soon!

A presto,
Rosemary e Robert

(We also went to Enna for the Holy Friday procession and I'll be writing about that and posting photos too, so if you are interested, check back later.)

Scenes of the area we love.

View of Ragusa from Ragusa Ibla

Marina di Ragusa at night

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Wheat Fields down to the Sea

The Spring harvest has begun.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Photo essay of Jessica & Michelle’s visit

The following series of photos represent the week Jessica’s friend Michelle joined her here in Sicily. They were posted in descending order, so the last places we visited are on top. The journal entry follows the photos.

Thanks for following along with us!
Rosemary & Bob

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Looking across the Straits of Messina to the mainland & Reggio Calabria

Colorful boats and the Ferry coming into the harbor at Messina
Gothic Church of Sant'Agostino, Piazza IX Aprile, Taormina

A Street with fancy shops in Taormina

One of the Chiesas in Forza d'Agro, north of Taormina

Late Afternoon, the gardens at Villa Bellini, Catania

Gazebo in the gardens at Villa Bellini, Catania
Greek Theatre in preparation for the Summer Season, Siracusa

5 Balconi B&B, Catania

Antiques Market (Flea Market?) Catania

Jessica at the Odeon a small theatre in the larger Roman Theatre complex, Catania

Mt. Etna from the Greek Theatre, Taormina
Morgantina - arch in the forno

Ruins of Morgantina

"Charlie's Angels"???

Shepherd and his sheep. (Rosemary's good timing as she shot from the car)
View of Piazza Armerina

This is a part of Jessica's adventure.
A view of Ragusa Ibla

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Michelle & Jessica in Sicily (written 4.5.06)

The Monday after the feast of San Giuseppe, we took Jessica to Buscemi, called a "rural museum" or a "museum of the country people." Buscemi, as I have written about before, is a small village on the Iblean Plateau, spread across the top of a hillside, with records indicating it has been there since Arab times. It's another of the towns in this area devastated by that earthquake in the 1600s and had to be completely rebuilt. The town also has many buildings built in the 1950s, not a stellar time for housing in Sicily and much of it, on close examination, is not very pretty. From a distance, the view is charming however and the cool part of it is the sites they preserved, where people from the countryside actually worked. Several weeks ago we went on this private tour around the town visiting places such as the carpenter's shop, tinker's, shoemaker's, wine-press, oil-press, the farm manager's house and a house of the contadini (day laborers). Jessica found all of this fascinating as we had before and was as surprised as we were to learn that this house, primitive as it was, was lived in as late as the 1960s. Our tour guide explained how poor living conditions were for these people and it made it very clear to us why our great-grandparents left and went in search of a better life.

Palazzolo Acreide, founded in 664 BC on a high hill, is near to Buscemi and contains a large archeological site with a well-preserved Hellenistic theatre, Roman silos and mills and the remains of quarries and Byzantine tombs. It was fascinating to explore. We were able to see the eroded reliefs representing the goddess Cybele, now protected with plexiglass and a sort of shade structure. We love the area around Buscemi and Palazzolo Acreide also, with its green rolling hills and terraces and with everything in bloom it is even more gorgeous now!

On Tuesday we drove to Caltagirone where Jessica and I had fun going in all the little shops and even buying some ceramics. I finally decided on a large platter I had fallen in love with and Jessica found a really pretty flowerpot and some little gifts for her friends. I especially like the work in a shop called "Alessi" and had a hard time decided what I wanted because I like so many things there!

Michelle arrived on Wednesday, later than expected. Her flight from Milan was scheduled to land at 11am but when we got to the airport we were disappointed to learn that it had been cancelled. We waited at the terminal until we were able to ascertain what flight they had her on and when she would be here, thanks to a very helpful young man at the Alitalia check-in desk. Since we had a few hours to kill, we decided to go back to Aci Trezza for lunch and to enjoy the views from the harbor there of the big rocks called "the Ciclopi."

We were all so very happy to see her pretty face walk out of the gate but sorry to hear that her luggage did not arrive with her. With promises that it would be delivered the next day at our apartment in Marina di Ragusa we headed home. Michelle decided that she could wear most of Jessica's things in the meantime, with one exception. This is a funny part of the story as we drove the car to the nearest town we could exit on the freeway, Lentini. It was getting late, we were afraid shops would be closed by the time we arrived in Ragusa and so we made a wild search through the streets for a shop that would sell "unmentionables" - normally a very easy task in Italy since there seems to be one underwear shop for every 10 women! The shop we found appeared to be closing and we dashed out of the car, with a desperate cry of "aperto??" (are you open??) to which the woman replied "certo!!" and ushered the three of us (me, for language; Jessica for moral support I guess and Michelle, well, you know.) What this woman thought of the three of us seemingly desperate for a pair of panties I did not know but I was able to explain to her that our friend had just arrived here from America but that her bags did not and as it was getting late we were afraid we would not find any shops open and were happy that she was! Imagine, that I can say all of that in Italian!! Of course, I think I sound a bit like a Tarzan and Jane movie script - "me Jane, you Tarzan" but I got the point across and she was very understanding.

We drove to Ragusa for Michelle to see the beautiful city of Ragusa Superiore and Ragusa Ibla, the wonderful panorama that we have grown to love so much, spread across, and tumbling down from the crest of the hills. We stopped in Ibla for a late dinner at Nino and Titos, delighted to be together again. Michelle and Jessica have been friends for years and since our daughter moved to Milwaukee, every visit to Phoenix brought a gathering with Michelle, sometimes with their husbands included, most usually just the two girlfriends and Bob and I. We have many happy memories of those times. This was a new and novel extension of it!

The next day allowed for a sleep in and rest up, leisurely breakfast and phone calls to the airline to see what was going on with the luggage. Still saying that the luggage would be delivered some time that day, I volunteered to remain at home while they went out and explored. Bob drove them to Modica to sightsee, not wanting to spoil the one week they had together. I stayed home and rested (not altogether a bad thing after two weeks of non-stop touring with our non-stop daughter!). I took a nap, read my book, made a pot of chicken soup and did some writing. They returned home for dinner and we all drove to Donnalucata for some of the best gelato in the area, not only a feast for the tummy, but a visual delight as the flavors are all piled high and decorated with whatever the particular ingredient might be (lemon slices, bits of fruit, cookies, etc.) Unfortunately, the luggage still had not arrived.

It was decided that in the morning Bob would drive them to Ibla for sightseeing and come home. When the bag arrived, which we were now crossing our fingers about, we would get back in the car, pick up the girls and drive to Siracusa. Best laid plans and all that, needless to say, the bag had not arrived by noon and I insisted they go on without me. Had we thought about it, we probably could have asked Elio to have the bag delivered to his office (as he told me later he would have been glad to do) but we never thought it would take so long to arrive and then didn't want to confuse the issue by changing delivery places. They had a wonderful time in Siracusa and as these two young women hadn't seen each other for over a year (when we left Phoenix) it was good that they had time alone together and so from that perspective really I didn't mind all that much. I do enjoy Siracusa very much though and I was glad they were able to see it. I made myself a lovely little dish of pasta from a recipe in the book "Everyday Italian" my sister-in-law Elaine sent me when we were in Perugia and it was delightful. Finally around 9pm the bag arrived, unharmed, all in one piece! Yeah!! No more waiting!

Our next outing was to be Piazza Armerina and Morgantina. Bob and I visited Piazza Armerina, the Roman villa that was buried for centuries under mud, and its incredibly well preserved mosaic floors, several weeks ago (you can find photos and story in our archives) but had not been to Morgantina. Since Bob had not rested as I had, and since he was the one doing all the driving, he decided to take a little nap in the car while we three "girls" went exploring. Morgantina was a lovely surprise for me. I really did not know what to expect and found this archeological site fascinating. It was a town, founded around 1000 BC and then occupied by the Greeks, followed of course by the Romans and the site is quite extensive and still undergoing archeological excavation. In its day, it was a strategic trade center between north and south Sicily and I imagine quite prosperous. We had a good feel for what the city must have been like, where the shops were, the town bakery, the gymnasium, the sanctuary where they worshipped the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, the city walls, the road leading into the town, and of course, for Jessica, the most special place - the theatre.

The following day was the last one in Marina di Ragusa for our intrepid travelers. They needed time to pack up all their souvenirs, and get their things together as we would be leaving in the morning to spend two days in Catania before their flights on Tuesday morning. We took a drive along the coast, ending up in Capo delle Correnti, the southernmost tip of Sicily. It was a windy, cold day and we wanted them to also see Marzamemi with its pretty little harbor and charming stone buildings but by the time we got there it was getting dark and seemed kind of deserted, not at all like the last time we were there, so we were a bit disappointed that they had not seen it in its best light. We headed home and went to Bacciamolemani, a nice restaurant here in Marina for dinner. It was very quiet when we arrived and we have enjoyed their food in the past but no sooner had we settled in than a large party arrived with several small children who proceeded to run around the restaurant as if they were in a playground. One of the nice things we've seen and appreciated here in Sicily, and even in Perugia, is that children are part of every event. They do not seem to be left behind with babysitters but take part in whatever the adults are doing. This is the way it was when I was growing up and we kids just played around the grownups. During this, our last dinner in Marina, however, I did not appreciate it and wished their parents had corralled them a bit more and not permitted them to run wild among the other diners, who were not part of the family event. I don't think this bothered anyone but me however and it just seemed a very natural thing that they be included and allowed to just be kids.

On to Catania! We had found a B&B in Catania through the Internet called "5 balconi" (Cinque Balconi - It looked very charming and well located and I enjoyed a nice dialog with the owners, Rob, who is British and his lovely wife Cristina, who was born in Palermo. They bought this large apartment on the 3rd floor of a large palazzo near the Castello Ursino and lovingly restored it. They live in the upper part and created four comfortable guest rooms, that surround a living area, complete with charming breakfast corner. We all thought it was adorable when Rob, after waving at us from one of the balconies, helped us with our luggage up the stairs with the caution in his British "accent": "watch out for the steps, they're a bit rustic and a bit dodgy." The rooms are not "ensuite" (meaning the bathrooms are not in the rooms). The two bathrooms are shared by the guests and as I didn't feel comfortable with that, asked if I had understood correctly that this was the situation. Rob and Cristina suggested that if we wanted to stay with them, that they would not accept any other guests for the two nights that we were there, that we could have the place all to ourselves and we happily agreed. We were so glad we did! We could not have asked for nicer, more friendly, helpful and knowledgeable hosts. They suggested restaurants, told us about the antique market and recommended a little town to visit north of Taormina - that I'll tell you about in a minute. Cristina is also a wonderful photographer and her gorgeous and powerful (and award-winning) black and white photographs of Holy Week in Enna adorning the walls in the kitchen area were a delight to see. She had Bob had a few things to talk about there in terms of photography. Plus they gave us information about this event, which we hope to be able to attend coming up soon.

Jessica's guidebook was not kind to the city of Catania and the way it described the crumbly parts of it would have scared away a less adventurous bunch. But we had been to Catania during the festival of Sant'Agata and knew that the center was very pretty with its baroque churches and palazzi lining the main streets of the city and the beautiful Villa Bellini, the park at one end. With a view of Mt Etna and lovely shops and outdoor cafes, we knew there was more to it than what the guidebooks were saying. It is true, that there are many parts of the city in desperate need of restoration and from what we gathered, there is still a mafia influence that does not seem to be working for the good of the city and building and restoration projects must be challenging to accomplish, although there seem to be many in the process. But Rob spoke lovingly about how much they enjoyed living in the city of Catania and the arts and culture they have found there, plus the way they have been accepted by their neighbors and looked out for as one of their own, once it was obvious they wanted to make improvements and be a part of the community and demonstrated that they were there to stay. We are honored to have met them and hope our paths will cross again. Jessica enjoyed talking with Rob also because prior to opening this B&B he had worked as a location manager for films in Great Britain, and had the entertainment field in common.

We spent the morning wandering around the antiques market and just generally seeing the city, crumbly bits and gorgeous palazzi and everything in between. Lunch was spent sitting in one of the outdoor cafés in the main piazza. The food was nothing special but we sat overlooking the baroque cathedral dedicated to Sant'Agata, and the Fontana dell'Elefante, so it was worth it. Dating from 1736, the fountain contains an elephant sculpted out of lava and topped with an Egyptian obelisk that is the symbol of the city. We went in search of the Roman theatre, surprisingly surrounded by buildings, some of which seemed as crumbly as the theatre, badly damaged during WWII, currently undergoing some restorations. The little museum was interesting and contained architectural and sculptural bits and pieces.

We took their suggestion for dinner at a restaurant called "Camelot" (it's right next to the Norman castle!) and I thoroughly enjoyed just filling my plate with an assortment of antipasti as my main course (grilled zucchini, eggplant, stuffed tomatoes, hardboiled eggs, roasted peppers, & more). I love trying a little of this and a little of that.

The next day was spent in Taormina, visiting the last of the archeological sites for Jessica, the Greco/Roman theatre, and exploring this charming resort city. Rob and Cristina told us also about a tiny town 15 minutes north of Taormina called Forza d'Agrò where there was a fantastic restaurant and a church where they had filmed a scene for one of the Godfather movies. Food and film history plus a fantastic view! What more could we ask? We did enjoy Taormina (more souvenirs for the girls) a delightful walk through the town and the wonderful views at the Theatre overlooking the sea and Mt. Etna and we were off.

Forza d'Agrò is a medieval village with a 16th century castle at the top. It's tiny, tiny, but very authentic and original. We were starving by the time we arrived and the little restaurant, as Rob had explained was indeed the first thing we saw as we reached the top of the mountain. So kind, he had called to let the owner know we were coming (and, I'm sure to be certain they were open so that they could call and advise us if they weren't) so they were expecting us. The weather was gorgeous and warm and we opted to sit outside in what feels like someone's backyard, the atmosphere is very informal and simple. Someone's backyard if they happen to look out over the Mediterranean with a view of Calabria across the Straits of Messina in front of you! It was spectacular. But what was really spectacular was the food! Cristina told us that the husband was Sicilian but the wife was from Tuscany so the food would be a mix of both of these cultures and exceptional. We ordered the antipasti, a pitcher of wine and a bottle of water to start. What we did not expect was that the antipasti just kept coming! Everything we tasted was divine! Bob started singing "Heaven, I'm in Heaven..." which is totally not at all like Bob to break into a show tune sung my Fred Astaire! But that is the effect this food had on us. Maybe we were just hungry. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe the view and the weather and the fact that we were all here together in this charming little spot but everything, absolutely everything we ate tasted like it was the most perfect representation of that particular dish. There were bruschette with fresh tomatoes and garlic, a couple of different eggplant dishes, mushrooms, roasted red peppers like I have never tasted in my life, prosciutto and salamis with cheeses, and more and more. I wish I could tell you all of the other things we ate but my memory now escapes me, I'm sorry to say! And the funny thing was that it seemed to just keep coming. Every time we thought we were done, she would bring out another dish to try. We were so stuffed, we felt there was no room for a first course but we did agree to try the pumpkin stuffed ravioli and were not disappointed. We shouldn't have, but we reluctantly tried the desserts, a moussier version of tiramisu than I have had and a panna cotta that was light and delicious. After all that Bob and I decided we'd better finish it off with a coffee or we'd want a nap for sure.

We tried to find the church from the Godfather but none of us could remember what that looked like in any of the films and so I bet both Jessica and Michelle will be watching the trilogy to see if they can recognize something. We had fun taking photos and wandering around a bit before descending the mountain and driving along the coast again. We ended up driving all the way to Messina, just so we could see the Straits and walk along the harbor. Not enough time to really explore the city but just a quick taste so they could say they had been there. Bob wanted to get on the road and head back to Catania before dark since driving in these cities is challenging enough in the daylight and he was getting tired. We all were, but we didn't want to see the day come to and end. They were leaving in the morning.

Back in Catania we went to a funky restaurant Rob and Cristina has suggested that is underground, in a lava cave complete with a little stream running through it. It was very unusual and very cool! I don't think any of us were really all that hungry after our lunch extravaganza and we ate lightly and drank some more wine before tumbling back to our rooms so they could do their final packing for the flight home.

Jessica's flight left first, and after tearful hugs and kisses we waited with Michelle to be sure she got safely on her plane, only to learn later that she missed her connection in Rome and ended up spending the night in a hotel! Poor thing, her travel experiences were less than stellar on this first trip to Italy but we hope what happened in between makes up for it and she has good memories of Sicily. We know that we enjoyed having them here, even if it did take a week for us to recover from the experience!!

Now we are alone again for a while. My brother and sister-in-law and my cousins and their wives will be here in a few short weeks. There are things we hope to do before they get here. I want to finish up some paintings and go a few other places we may not get to see afterwards. We are looking forward to Holy Week and all the festivities leading up to Easter. We may also have a week's visit from my friend Elizabeth who is trying now to work it all out. I cannot believe it, but when they all leave, we will only have a couple of weeks before we must leave and I can't think about that now.

Buona giornata,
Rosemary & Bob

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Photos of San Giuseppe feast day

“Cena” (dinner) Tables spread with the most incredible feast

The Holy Family arrives, and after washing their hands in wine and water, sits and eats a simple pasta dish, at the “Cena” in front of them

That night, the statue of San Giuseppe was taken in candlelight procession through the streets of Marina di Ragusa

The Festival of San Giuseppe 3.19.06

Sunday, March 19th, was the Festival of St. Joseph (San Giuseppe in Italian), the patriarch of the Holy Family. It's a big deal in this part of the world. As we had just returned from our week of traveling (I already posted the story of our trip) to Palermo and the west coast of Sicily, we decided to see what our little town of Marina di Ragusa was doing and not to travel any further from home. Around 8am we were awakened by what sounded like fireworks and of course I had to run down to see what was going on. Bob and Jessica opted to stay in bed and sleep and were not quite as curious as I was at the goings on down in the "centro" of our town. I threw on some clothes and walked along the Lungomare to Piazza Duca degli Abruzzi where all the streets surrounding the square had decorations strung across them, much like the Christmas and Carnevale celebrations. As there didn't seem to be much going on, except for all the people going into Mass, I decided to join them and at least get a peak at the inside of the church and then just stayed through the Mass, something I haven't done in a very, very, long time. I found it to be a very meditative and relaxing way to spend the next half hour and then walked around the corner to our paneficio to buy some bread. Maria Rita, the very friendly young woman who works there showed me the traditional bread that is made just for San Giuseppe day, one in the shape of a fish, the other a cross, elaborately decorated bread and I bought one of each. She asked me if I had seen the "cena" and told me where to go to see this very particular part of the San Giuseppe festival. I just sort of wandered around until I noticed that some people were going into a building across from the church where the "cena" was set up. The "cena," are tables decorated with flowers, bread and other foods that create the most amazing feast. Bread is crafted into all sorts of fantastic shapes like fish, baskets and huge bunches of grapes, decorated with little pieces of bread and baked. Every sort of Sicilian delicacy (but no meat, which is supposed to represent the poverty of the Holy Family) was displayed there. The bounty was unbelievable (not sure how this plays into the whole "poverty" theme) and there were huge bowls of fruits and vegetables and bouquets of flowers everywhere. Decanters of deep red wine stood on the tables, each with a great big orange placed on top as a decoration. There were beautiful pastries, cannoli, arancini (those rice balls that are deep fried) cookies, towers of honey balls with sprinkles, ricotta pies and other treats I cannot even name.

Then I saw a band enter the town and begin to play, marching all around through the streets like pied pipers and I could not help but follow to see what would happen next! They basically did a spin all around the center of the town and back to the church again, where I recognized our landlord Elio's brother Salvatore at the entrance to the church. They also own an apartment in Marina di Ragusa and were there attending Mass with his wife Marinella's aunt. Salvatore invited me to join them and explained what would happen next. Some of the town's people were dressed as the Holy Family and would go around and visit homes throughout the town where other "cena" tables were set for them. I was delighted, because I really didn't know what to expect from this festival or how it all worked. What I thought was that there would be food booths in the center where I could buy some typical Sicilian food. But I was mistaken.

The way it works is this. People follow the band around, stopping at the different houses who are presenting their own version of the "cena' (dinner, in Italian). I understood him to say that these are people who have something to be grateful to St. Joseph for and so they put on this feast. Many people help in the making of this feast and a lot of hands take part in the cooking and preparing. The first home we reached had lights up on the balcony and a huge number of people crowded into their home. I imagine this house was very large because a lot of people fit before they cut it off. Salvatore and Marinella explained that we would have to find another to see if we could get in and luckily met a friend of theirs and I believe, learned that one of their other friends was hosting a "cena" and off we went to their house!

We were welcomed so warmly into this home and Salvatore explained that I was an American, renting his brother's house and that I also wrote a blog and would like to take photos of the event so that I could post them there. The spread on the table in this home was even grander than the one I had seen earlier and I only hope that my photos do it justice! I saw that at one end of the table three chairs had been set and in front of these three chairs there was a large round loaf of bread and on top of this a little assortment of everything that was on the table and these were gifts for each member of the "Holy Family" to take with them later.

The excitement was building and the woman whose family was hosting, explained what would happen next. My, albeit limited, knowledge of Italian really came in handy as I understood most of what she said. When the Holy Family arrived at the house, they knocked three times. The elderly matriarch of the family was at the door waiting. After the third knock, she asked "Chi è?" (who is it?) to which "St. Joseph" replied "We are Joseph, Mary and Jesus. May we come in and eat?" The door was opened and they solemnly entered. Everyone stepped aside for them to enter. Water and red wine were poured into a waiting basin where they washed their hands and then took their seats at the table. They were then served a steaming bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and I learned that they would do this three times in this one day, at each of the houses they would visit! Some of the people in this room, including Salvatore and Marinella told me this was the first time they had actually taken part like this in a "cena" and it was all very exciting.

After the Holy Family ate, Salvatore excused us and we departed. He explained to me that the eating of the food on the table was only for the immediate members of the family. I was a bit disappointed at this as I had been salivating over trying some of these delicacies! But, I just had to satisfy myself that I was extremely lucky to have been able to witness this event first hand as I am certain that I would not have been permitted into this house had they not known who I was. So I extend thanks to Salvatore and Marinella for allowing me to accompany them.

They went off to their own lunches (pranzo) and I went home and see if my sleeping family had awakened yet to find them lounging around in their pajamas. The day was rainy and chilly and we just hung out and had a late breakfast. I told them all about my morning and we planned to go out again later to see what else was going on.

According to the posters all around town, there was to be a "cena" in the center at 3pm but when Jessica and I walked down there all we saw was an auction of what I think were the foods that had been prepared earlier, that I had seen in the room across from the Church and other donated food items. There were even some live rabbits being auctioned off! Not really sure what to do, we decided to have some gelato and go back home. Later that evening we walked back downtown for the procession of the statue of San Giuseppe, had dinner at one of the restaurants in centro, a pizzeria/restorante called, surprisingly "The Imperial," and then watched a little fireworks display before walking back down the Lungomare and home. I was very happy that Jessica got to see at least some of this festival and was equally happy that it was taking place right in the little city where we lived, to see it all dressed up and get to meet some of the people who live here and witness this special day in a very personal way.

Her friend Michelle from Phoenix is with us now and as you may have read already, we are still waiting for her bags to arrive. Yesterday I stayed at home and waited while they went off to Modica and today, still waiting, I am stuck again. Alitalia assured us it would definitely be delivered by noon but as it hadn't arrived yet (it's now after 1pm) and they would do nothing further than tell us it was on the delivery truck, I have no choice but to wait here for the bag to show up. They are on their way to Siracusa now and I am feeling sorry for myself because I really like Siracusa and wanted to spend this day with them. Oh well. Nothing really do be done but grin and bear it and at least catch up on my journal writing.

Tomorrow we are scheduled for a day in Piazza Armerina and Morgantina so I hope I get to join them!

Wish us luck!
Rosemary & Bob

Views of Selinunte, then Scicli & San Giuseppe

This was our view from the beach at Marinella where we spent the night

After our day in Selinunte we met Elio & his brother Pippo in Scicli for the Cavalcata of horses, decorated for the feast San Giuseppe.

The ancient Greek ruins in Segesta