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.
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!
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.)