Wednesday, May 03, 2006

La Mia Famiglia in Sicilia 4.30.06

This morning we wished "Buon Viaggio" to my brother and cousins as they headed out for a week "in giro" all around Sicily. We have had fun this week with them! After the car accident Elio drove us out to meet them and escort them here to Marina. It was so great to see their smiling faces as they approached in their gigantic nine-passenger van. Especially after making a fool of myself waving and wildly gesticulating at another vehicle earlier that was not theirs! We did a lot of kissing, hugging and laughing and then all piled into the van for the short trip to Marina di Ragusa, where they would stay for the next week.

We stopped to pick up the keys from Antonio at Ragusana Viaggi, the travel agency we used to find their apartment and got them all settled in. They seemed happy with the place, decided who would sleep where and, since they were all starving, walked down the Lungomare to Serafina, one of the restaurants along the beach for dinner. It was so nice to all be together again like this. They were very tired from their long journey and after dinner we walked them back to the apartment and said Buona Notte.

The following day they decided to simply relax, sleep in, walk around Marina, shop for some groceries and get over the jet lag. The apartment had a few quirks, mainly electrical. The overall wattage is low, which meant they couldn't have the electric stove on while the hair dryer was going or wash dishes with hot water while the washing machine was going and that sort of thing. So for the first day or so, until they got the hang of dealing with it, the power kept going out and my brother running up and down the stairs to flip switches. They were really good sports about it but which was, I'm sure, kind of frustrating. Not at all like what they are used to in the states where every electrical appliance known to man can be used simultaneously even if the meter is spinning like a top. Energy consumption in the states is so effortless and free flowing but here, we are reminded that it is a precious commodity to be used judiciously. They learned to adapt and figured out how to manage it all and were otherwise happy with the place, much to my relief. The apartment is open and airy with lots of windows and a most incredible view of the sea. It has a gorgeous corner window next to the very spacious terrace with doors that open on to it from the kitchen and living room, providing a very indoor/outdoor feeling. The furnishings are a mix of antiques and comfy chairs and sofas.

They did a good job of alternating the week with quiet days mostly spent in Marina with afternoon jaunts to nearby cities, to longer drives that took all day and left them exhausted by nightfall! We went to see the Greek temples at Agrigento one day, to buy ceramics in Caltagirone another. We spent an entire day in Siracusa and its island of Ortigia, and wandered around visiting the Duomo, one of my favorites in Sicily, and the archeological museum. Just as we were leaving the museum we got soaked in a torrential downpour, laughing as we ran for the car! Evie and Jim had earlier taken a little carriage ride tour around Ortigia and declared it entertaining and informative. We had lunch at a little local place where the antipasti were delicious and everyone enjoyed the wine and the food.

Another day we drove over to Donnalucata for some fresh fish and had a literal feast with everything we bought and cooked in their kitchen. We had swordfish, tuna, sardines, and another white fish Evie remembered from her childhood. Everything was fresh and delicious. Andy & Marnie and my sister-in-law Elaine are all fantastic gourmet cooks so we ate very well! In addition to the seafood they made a fresh pasta sauce and served it over spaghetti. We had salads and tomatoes and cheeses and breads to die for.

We took them to the little wine shop where they filled empty water bottles with local wines that cost 1.5 euros a liter and enjoyed all the varieties we tried.

We introduced them to our favorite chocolate cookie called "Pan di Stelle," a packaged cookie that is my absolute favorite. We sampled those incredible cannoli at Buonaiuto's in Modica. We showed them where to buy fresh bread and all the meats and cheese and olives etc that we knew they would love. Of course we took them to our favorite gelato shops here in Marina di Ragusa and in Donnalucata, where the display of flavors is a work of art in itself. We each ordered a pizza at one of the best pizzerias here and Evie had a favorite of hers, pizza with sauce and onions and Elaine raved over the 4 Stagione with fresh vegetables representing the four seasons. Half of them had the classic Margarita and most of us finished with a lemon sorbetto that was like a granita and provided the finishing touch.

My brother Fred, it turns out, is a fantastic driver and navigated the crazy traffic with aplomb. Even if he was amazed and astounded at the insane way they drive here. Bob felt quite vindicated as I am always telling him he should not let it get to him. It's just the way they drive here and there's no sense making yourself crazy over it! But Fred said all the same things Bob says while he is driving, a fact that Bob did not hesitate to point out to me!

Last night we had a fun experience. We took them to a place called La Masseria, which translated, means "big farm." This is one of those places here in Ragusa, where you can eat fresh cheeses and typical Ragusana food fresh from the farm where they make it. They have a set menu and you pay 16.50 euros per person for this huge meal, including water, wine and dessert. It's amazing! First antipasti of bruschetta, different kinds of focaccia and cheese, followed by chickpeas (ceci); a bowl of freshly made Ricotta Calda (warm ricotta cheese, freshly made right there) served with local Ragusana bread, a pasta dish (cavati with a pork flavored sauce), followed by sausages and slices of beef. The finishing touch was the fried ravioli filled with ricotta and dusted with sugar.

The best part of the meal however was the conversation with Elio and Giovanna who we had invited to join us. My cousins Andy and Jim, much to my surprise, spoke Sicilian! They had grown up with their mother's parents who spoke Sicilian and still remembered many words and phrases. All the while they were growing up and I guess speaking to other Italians they were corrected and criticized as not using the right words. It was not Italian they were told and they insisted that what they knew was indeed Italian. It turns out, and I don't think they realized it, that they were speaking Sicilian, which is a language in itself and not a dialect, as some people think. It is older than the Italian language and there are different "accents" from one part of Sicily to another that vary in pronunciation. Sicilians can tell where you come from by the way you pronounce the words, just as we can tell if someone is from Boston or New York or Texas.

They were so excited to be able to talk with Giovanna and Elio and felt validated after all the years of teasing. I must admit that before I came to Sicily I did not know much about it. I knew that my grandparents had been born here, that they were peasants; that life was hard for them and so they left. I did not know the richness of its history or how varied and beautiful its landscape. Growing up I felt that it must somehow be inferior to the other places like Rome and Venice and all the more well-known northern cities because of the way it was described - mostly by non-Sicilians. I know now that this is not true. The history of Sicily is ancient, preceding the Romans. The Greeks knew how special it was. Many different people conquered it and left their mark. I've learned about the Normans and the Arabs, the French and the Spanish, the unification, the Mafia, whose negative influence has left its mark and which the people are still struggling to overcome and eradicate. It's a fascinating place with a fascinating story to tell and so many beautiful and interesting places to visit.

And now my family is off on their "giro." They will visit Etna and Taormina, Messina and Reggio Calabria, Cefalú, Palermo, Trápani and Erice. Evie and Jim will fly out of Palermo on Sunday and Fred & Elaine, Andy & Marnie will come back here for a few more days with us. We know they will have an amazing experience and go home with a new appreciation for the land of our forefathers. As for us, we'll be hanging out at the beach, hoping the sun shines on us and just taking it easy.

We wish them Buon Viaggio!
Rosemary & Bob

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