Buongiorno from Sicily!

Buongiorno! We’ve just returned from a beautiful and fun-filled week in Sicily. We started the trip by lounging around the hotel, which was even better than it looked in the photos. The weather was fantastic and the sea was still warm enough for swimming. If you venture out into the water and turn to face the shore, your view includes Mt. Etna, evidence of its continuous eruptions visible in the photo at left; the beachfront of Giardini-Naxos, its private beaches divided from one another by boulders made of volcanic rock; and off in the distance, the city of Calabria perched on the toe of Italy’s mainland. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Next we explored the hilltop city of Taormina, where we visited an ancient Greek ampitheatre in which concerts are still held. We saw some photos of the theatre lit up for an evening concert, with Mt. Etna spewing lava in the background. One can just imagine that the effect of adding an orchestra to that scene would be nothing short of spectacular.

Taormina had other virtues, such as unique churches (one featuring skulls and crossbones you could almost hear whispering “vanitas” over the heads of the newlyweds posing below them), quiet courtyards adorned with fountains and some truly phenomenal shopping. Johann and my father chose to sit out the shopping, though, and spent their afternoon drinking Italian beer at a café and listening to street musicians play “Volare” and the music from The Godfather.

Meanwhile, my mother and I stocked up on pottery, artwork, wine, coffee, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto with pistachios (a local specialty) and capers preserved in sea salt. When we returned to the café, we found that Johann and my dad had accumulated a considerable number of beer bottle tops (Johann’s sister collects them) and had become experts on what happens when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie.

Speaking of pizza, if you’re ever in Sicily, don’t pass up a chance to go to Il Covo, where you can order your pizza diavola extra spicy and by the meter. The two thin teenagers at the table next to us ordered a meter of pizza, half of it topped with french fries! And yes, they finished it. I don’t know how, but they did. I suspect next year’s tourists will be writing home about the two fat teenagers seated at the next table.

The following day took us to the tiny villages of Forza D’Agro and Savoca, where scenes from The Godfather were filmed. It’s easy to see why these two locations were chosen, as both villages seem untouched by time. Certainly, nothing has changed since 1972, when it was filmed.

Wednesday found us on a boat with a couple from Luxembourg, a Russian man named Vincent and our captain, Peppe. When Peppe wasn’t singing Italian love songs and banging his tambourine, he showed us the caves and islands along Sicily’s coastline, including one cave that the boat actually fit into. The walls were lined with dark pink coral and the water was such a brilliant blue that it looked as if it were lit from below with spotlights. Then he pulled the S. Pietro into a quiet cove where we could take a swim in water so calm and clear that you could see the bottom, fifteen meters down. He carved into a large yellow melon while we swam and served up slices with cups of sweet almond wine when we were all back on board.

The last order of business was a trip to the foot of Mt. Etna for a wine tasting at Azienda Agricola, a vineyard in Linguaglossa owned by the (no kidding) Gambino family. The unique climate and soil conditions found at the foot of the volcano give the wine a unique taste. According to their brochcure, the soil is nearly two times richer in potassium than non-volcanic soil, which provides an equlibrium between acids and alcohol and regulates the sugar content of the grapes. (See for yourself at their site: www.agricolagambino.it)

All I know for sure is that the wines were exquisite and our hosts were charming, not at all gangster-y. With the white wines they served slices of thick Sicilian bread, sun-dried tomat
oes, eggplant and mushrooms in olive oil; all produced there on the vineyard. With the reds, a plate of sausage and cubes of fresh parmesean cheese with black peppercorns was produced. That’s just more hospitality than one expects from the Mafia, right? I did notice, though, that in the “storage” section of each wine’s organoleptic characteristics we were instructed to keep the wine “away from light sources and noises.” Really? How can a wine made at the foot of Europe’s most active volcano, which erupts in some fashion nearly every day, be sensitive to noise? I couldn’t help but picture a hit man arriving at someone’s door and being told, “not here, you’ll disturb the wine.”

If you want to see more of our vacation in Sicily, please check out the photos on the right.

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