Sicily: one island, many cultures

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Feb. 17, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: I loved how Lisa and Mary Ellen’s fellow students, mostly young Germans, hit the beach every day while the older Americans took in much of Sicily, seeing the sights and eating the most amazing dishes. I was glad I wasn’t hungry when I did the interview. The meal descriptions were mouth-watering. 

WHO: Lisa Bryant, 70, of Lexington, Mass., and Mary Ellen Kiddle, 68, of Arlington Mass.

WHERE: Sicily.

WHEN: Two weeks in September and October.

WHY: “I went to language school there last year and wanted to go back. I mentioned it at bridge group and Mary Ellen wanted to go,” Bryant said. “I was a Spanish professor at Boston College, and since I retired I’ve wanted to study Italian,” Kiddle said. “I figured with the location, I couldn’t go wrong.” The school, Solemar Sicilia, is in Cefalù, a historic resort town on the island’s northern coast and 30 miles east of Palermo.

Mary Ellen Kiddle & Lisa Bryant enjoying terrace life at Villa CaterinaBETWEEN A ROCK . . . : “The school offers students a wide range of accommodations,” Bryant said. “We stayed in Villa Caterina, in a spacious three-terrace, two-bedroom apartment.” From the front terrace they saw the Tyrrhenian Sea and from the back, the villa’s gardens and La Rocca, or the rock, an enormous limestone formation.

BACK IN TIME: Their classes, which met in the morning, were small and informal. “There were a lot of German students, and every day after class they’d go to the beach,” Kiddle said. “For us, the beach is not a big deal; it seemed counterproductive.” “We’re history buffs as well as language buffs,” Bryant said. “Sicily has a past of five or six different Lisa Bryant & Mary Ellen Kiddle at Greek theater in Taormina, Sicilycultures – Greeks, Romans, Normans, French, Arabs, Spaniards – that have influenced dialect, culture, geography.” After class they would either go to Cefalù’s medieval historic district or on short trips by train and bus. In town, “the duomo [cathedral] dominates the historic district,” Bryant said. “It has both Arab and Norman influences, then the Spaniards came in later and did a little Rococo. Medieval fishermen’s quarters line the ocean and turn ochre” at sunset.

DOWNHILL COURSES: One outing was to Castelbuono, a village in the hills above Cefalù, to have lunch at Nangalarruni, run by a star chef. “The first two courses were magnificent, but it trailed off after that,” Kiddle said. “The pasta dish was filled with too much sauce and meat.” Before leaving, they visited the town’s Norman castle, which had been used in the filming of “Cinema Paradiso.”

WATER WITH DINNER: Their favorite restaurant, in Cefalù, was Villa dei Melograni, named after the pomegranate trees around it. “We ate there three times, and the food was better than at the high falutin’ place,” Bryant said. “We always ate outdoors and looked down over the city. Sometimes we ate by the water. At one, such a big wave crashed that it drenched the people at the table next to us and they had to leave.”

Lisa Bryant & Mary Ellen Kiddle in Villa Comunale in Taormina, SicilyCHANGING TIMES: Another special meal at the home of a local family was organized by the school. “Almost everything the senora fixed us was picked by herself: fried eggplant, zucchini, bruschetta with ripe tomatoes, olives she had cured from her farm, sausage,” Kiddle said. “We learned that people from her generation – she was in her 50s – are lamenting a changing Sicily. The rural way of life is rapidly eroding. Because of the global economy, Sicily no longer produces oranges. They all come from Spain now.”

ANOTHER TIME: They are ready to go back. “The wonderful serenity, the cultural stimulation, the visual beauty, I don’t know when I’ve gone to another place that gives you all that,” Bryant said.

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