Sicily: Ready, Set, Go
I’m not a seasoned traveler. I fret for weeks in advance of a trip. Then I over-pack and still take the wrong things. My daughter says, “Why do you buy a new travel purse for each trip? Why not go with one you’ve already broken in?” I know that seems logical, but I’m still in search of the perfect travel bag. Some have too many compartments and I forget where I stores things Others are big and deep and require a lot of bottom fishing. On this family trip to Sicily, I heroically determine to squeeze into my new down-sized purse and a carry-on bag suitable for international travel. They each bulge a bit.
As I nestle into my airline seat, it’s like having my own technology “cove in the cloud.” I have a panel for adjusting my seat, a remote control, and headset to manage. The haggard flight attendant pointing out the features of the aircraft bemoans the rise of technology. “It was a lot more relaxed when we had fewer gadgets,” he says and I quickly agree.
As it turns out, the travel gods bless me with a techy kid as a seat mate. In our crowded domain, I try not to intrude into his space or spill my beverages on him, though at one point I carelessly send a bowl of mixed nuts flying off the tray in his direction. The flight attendant assures me that such accidents occur a lot.
On the screen, I opt for a comedy: The Boss with Melissa McCarthy. It’s not one of her better scripts, but it helps pass the 8 hours from Chicago to Rome.
First Sight of Mount Etna
Landing in Catania, Sicily, I am astonished by the dominance of Mount Etna with its smoke-ringed peak looming nearly 11,000 feet over over the city. It’s an active, spewing volcano, that erupts with destructive force from time to time. According to the ancient Greeks, a monster is trapped under the mountain, which I suppose accounts for its occasional grumble and spewing of ash that has reached as far as Rome. Virgil, the Roman poet, witnessed one of it’s eruptions and wrote, “Etna’s throat, with roar of frightful ruin, thunders nigh in its globes of flames with monster tongues that lick the stars.” Don’t wanta to see that.
The volcano’s most destructive eruption was several hundred years ago when it destroyed ten villages. It’s most recently hiccup was in 2012. But usually Etna’s five craters ooze quietly, making it possible for tourists to go up its slopes by foot, cable car, or Jeep.
The Village and Vino of Veneto
My daughter, Robin, and I hire a taxi for the drive to the village of Veneto (near Messina) in northeast Sicily, which is about 38 tunnels away. Counting them helps pass the time during the nearly two hour drive across the hilly countryside. Our driver speaks only Italian so Robin has to stumble along using Span-talian. It’s amazing how many words are similar in the two languages, at least, enough to be eventually understood.
Our grocery stop is like a visit to a wine, cheese and bread museum. While searching for sandwich spreads, I concluded that mustard is not a favorite condiment. There is one variety on the shelf: French’s yellow. It appears that pesto is preferred here.
Meet Don Peppito
Upon our farm arrival, we meet the overseer Don Peppito. He’s a jovial guy, who keeps a stubby cigarillo hanging from his lips, but that doesn’t impede a big smile or his animated speaking style. Neither he nor his family speak much English, so once again we get by with hand signs and Robin’s language medley. I learn quickly the value of such words as “grazie,” (thank you); “arrivederci” (goodbye); and “ciao,” a very useful greeting that means both hello and goodbye.
The rooms in the old house are spacious, it’s walls lined with saintly icons, scenic lithographs and ancient memorabilia. Peppito says the place is 300 years old. Like homes of it’s era, there are no closets, only large wardrobes, though bathrooms have been added as a concession to tourists. Colorful ceramics are everywhere—on the floors, walls, pavements, bathrooms and bedrooms.
When I inquire about having a rustic meal cooked for us some evening, Peppito says that his wife Natalina is a very good cook and produces a written list of her specialties. From the beginning, I was impressed with Mrs. Peppito. Upon our arrival, she had looked sternly at the trunk of our car loaded with luggage and plastic grocery bags. I cautiously hoisted one of the sacks, that was packed twice as heavy as they would be at Schnucks. But Natalina slung three such bags over each forearm and trotted off to the kitchen. My arms would have been permanently dented or at least bruised from the pressure, but she handled the weight like a pro.
We have just settled in when a fierce rain storm hits the area. Robin and I are alone; Tom and his family have not yet arrived. We quickly discover where the old house leaks and the sounds made when the shutters slap in the wind. When the lights go out, we make do with our cell phone flashlights until Don Peppito reappears and restores the electricity. Besides his good humor, he brings along a jug of vino to wash away any frustration.
“Made by my neighbor,” he says in Italian, “and very good.” We have a drink. It was good. Either that, or we were too bone weary to make a judgment. Happily, a later, more relaxed tasting proved he was right.
Next: We meet restaurant owner Pietro in the village and spend some time in his kitchen and take a hydrofoil to the Aeolian Islands for a day before heading south for the fine foods and shops of Syracuse.