Sunday, May 28, 2006

Siracusa, Birthdays and Trojan Women 5.25.06

Thursday, May 25, was my birthday. Happy Birthday to me!! It truly was one. Bob got tickets to see Trojan Women at the ancient Greek theatre in Siracusa, for the night of my birthday. (At the insistent urgings of our daughter, Jessica, who is a stage manager and had worked on productions of this play in Milwaukee) Not that it was a surprise, I had been expecting to go and looking forward to it very much. Siracusa is one of our favorite cities here in southeastern Sicily. It's a gorgeous city on the sea with a lovely harbor, one of our favorite baroque churches, built on the site of an earlier Greek temple and still retaining the Doric columns inside and the charming island of Ortigia with its Fonte Aretusa, a freshwater spring planted with papyrus, surrounded by blooming bougainvillea at this time of year! If you want to read more about this city, you can check out our archives in the past, when we attended the festival of Santa Lucia and survived a hurricane!

The weather on Thursday could not have been better. Not a drop of rain or cloud in sight, warm and sunny with some breezes now and then to make it a bit more perfect! We left Marina early in the day and, having picked up our car the day before (yeaah!!) enjoyed the drive, slowed a bit by heavy traffic here and there and arrived in Siracusa around 10 in the morning. My intention was to do a little shopping there. We are attending a wedding in Germany this summer and I am hoping to have my outfit all ready before I leave Sicily, not wanting to wait until we get to Verona to do this. As a slight digression from the story of the Trojan Women, my only tragedy is the fact that I have put on a few pounds (which have landed directly on my mid-section) making it a bit of a challenge to find stylish clothes that actually fit me! It seems I am too fat for the really fashionable, hip stores (not that I am all that hip anyway - hippy maybe, but definitely not hip) and not chubby enough for the chubby girl shops! I do not like the sizes in Italy in that I am up the 40s here and I really don't enjoy those high numbers at all!! I bought a slinky tomato-red dress in Ragusa but I wasn't sure at all that I look good enough in it to wear it. But as I am not finding anything I like any better, I've decided to try to shed a few pounds before the wedding and went ahead and bought a cute little pair of shoes to go with it. So I guess I am committed now. I still need to find accessories. What I really need is a girlfriend to shop with. Bob hates shopping and just wants to get it over with.

Jessica and Nick are coming to stay with us for a week at the end of June and then we will be driving together to Cologne to attend Andrea's wedding in Bonn and visit friends in Cologne (Koln). We are so excited and looking forward to it and as soon as I know I have everything I need I will be able to just relax about it.

Back to Siracusa and the Play

When we arrived in Siracusa we decided to park close to the theatre and just take the bus over to Ortigia to sightsee and do some shopping. This turned out to be a good idea as it was easy to get around and Bob didn't have to hassle navigating through the traffic or finding places to park. We went to the little aquarium near the Fonte Aretusa and I sat and did some watercolor studies of the papyrus in the pond. We walked along the harbor, enjoying the boats and the lovely turquoise color of the water where the rocks are at the edge of Ortigia.

Once the shops closed for riposo we stopped for lunch and enjoyed some antipasti and grilled swordfish. Skipping desert, we decided to just wander around Ortigia, then catch the bus back over to the theatre to pick up our tickets and get ready for the play.

The theatre was packed! It must have been students' day and we worried that they would be unruly but once the play began they were mostly well-behaved. The stage backdrop (my daughter will excuse my lack of the correct technical terms for these things!) consisted of the extremely dramatic, blackened walls of the city of Troy, complete with little "fires" burning in some of the open places. The design of it was reminiscent of the last walls standing at the Twin Towers and the production design incorporated elements of modern things, like the rusted and battered oil drums scattered on the sand in front of the very minimal stage, dominated by the black hulks of the walls. The costumes were lush shades of deep purples, browns, reds, blue, somber colors, sumptuous layers of rich cloth, striking against the white sand. We were surprised when Poseidon and Athena, the gods who had meddled in the lives of these mortals entered the stage wearing modern clothing: Poseidon first, in his elegant black overcoat and fedora, with a creamy white scarf tossed casually over his shoulder. Athena was gorgeous and terrifying in her tight-fitting black suit and stiletto heals, both of them laughing manically, at the "mischief" they had wrought upon these people who, they felt, had slighted them in some way or another.

Jessica, wanting to ensure that we understood the play and had a bit of background, sent us the script to read which helped immensely, as the version we watched was obviously presented in Italian. It helped knowing the story and also knowing enough of the language to keep up with the action. The actors did an amazing job of enunciating and the anguish and despair of these women was palpable. We were pleased at how much we understood. The message of the play, the horrors of war and its devastating effects, not only on the soldiers who die, but also on those who remain behind, was not lost on us at this time in our history. That those who are in charge play with people's lives as if they were irrelevant, causing suffering and pain for political gain and puffed up pride, is something I will never comprehend. We had hoped the lessons of war would have been learned by now and are extremely saddened to know they have not.

At the conclusion, we decided to spend the night in Siracusa and then go to Palermo the following day. The "Magnolia," where we have stayed before luckily had a room. We checked in and walked down the street to a local trattoria, sat outside in the garden, under a night sky filled with stars. We shared a small pitcher of wine along with a nice fresh pasta, followed up with a refreshing piece of pineapple presented cut in the delightful shape of a swan!

In the morning we took our breakfast on the terrace and were on the road by 9am. We have enjoyed this drive across the center of the island of Sicily as we think the interior is incredibly gorgeous, with its mountains and farms. The fields that were so deeply green earlier in the year have now turned golden but are by no means appear "inhospitable and barren" as they are described in the guidebook. Everywhere there were sheep and cows crazing, fields planted and being harvested with big round hay bales everywhere. It is a land in use and useful, as far as we can see. Not to mention absolutely breathtaking.


Palermo was as Palermo has been. Chaotic traffic, crumbly buildings, street corner vendors selling fruits and vegetables, gorgeous theatres and churches, ancient trees, ancient city, classy, decadent, schizophrenic. We had a frustrating time trying to find the Modern Art museum, which was not where the guidebook said it was, on the top floor of the Teatro Politeama. We were told it was in the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia but when we arrived there, were told it was not! It turned out to be NEAR the Teatro Politeama, but by the time we figured that out, it was closed. So we were not able to see the modern art of the Sicilian painters and for this I am sorry. I really wanted to see especially the Renato Guttuso paintings and should have done so before now. Oh well. Another reason to return to Sicily. As if we need one! We had also wanted to see the Antonello da Messina’s 15th century painting "The Annunciation" only to find that it was out on loan to an exhibit in Rome! Another Oh well. We did enjoy seeing Francesco Laurana's sculpture of Elenora of Aragon; the powerful “The Triumph of Death,” a fine medieval fresco by an unknown artist from the mid-15th century; and the beautiful Catalan Gothic Palazzo Abatellis itself, which dates from this same period. I was glad to take another last look at the city anyway, eat a piece of cassata cake (my birthday cake!), and walk through the Orto Botanico and past the ships in the harbor.

We did enjoy an outdoor exhibit entitled “Earth from Above” with gorgeous aerial photographs taken from a helicopter, by the French press photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. The 120 photographs are large, measuring about 6 ft by 4 ft accompanied by text on sustainable development. Stuff that really makes you think about what we are doing to our planet and how important it is to protect our precious earth. You can read more about this at these websites:

The exhibition took up the entire area in front of Palermo’s Teatro Politeama and was extremely powerful. We understand that from Palermo it goes next to Rome and has been exhibited all over the world. Hopefully it can help make a difference.

It was late in the day when we got on the road and we did not arrive home in Marina di Ragusa until around 10pm. Our days are definitely numbered here now and we will spend them packing our things and trying to spend as much time on the beach as possible. I know we will also want to take one more walk through Ragusa Ibla and maybe even drive to Modica for a cannoli, one more for old time’s sake, to savor on the tongue and melt into the memory, sweet ricotta cheese and tiny chocolate pieces, crushed pistachios at either end, crispy outside, creamy within...How will I ever leave this place??

Con affeto,
Rosemary e Robert

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