Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

Sicily: one island, many cultures

February 18, 2008

“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.

Can you say francobollo?

January 16, 2008

When traveling in another country, it’s often the everyday differences that stay with us. That’s why I love going into grocery stores, hardware stores, etc. Everything is a little (or a lot) different, from the signs on the walls, to the packaging, to the checkout lines. It can be humbling, too, when you have to ask for help while doing a basic task. That’s one of the reasons I feel compassion toward foreign travelers in the US.

In Italy a few months ago, I had a couple instances of “now what do I do?”

At the post office in Padova I couldn’t for the life of me remember the Italian word for stamp. (That would be francobollo.) My phrase book was useless and I didn’t have my postcards to wave about in universal sign language. I couldn’t just walk up to the counter because there were 15 of them, each with a flashing number. There had to be some system here, but what was it? I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. Diane is puzzled by the number dispenserFinally, I went to the one clerk who wasn’t waiting on someone and kept saying, “stamps?, stamps?” and she knew what I meant. She took me back to the entrance and pointed to a bright yellow machine I’d totally overlooked, a complex multi-category “take-a-number” dispenser. She pushed the correct button, handed me my number, and led me to the correct line. I never would have figured out that one on my own.

Then, at the grocery store, also in friendly Padova, I was happy to find drinkable yogurt, olive crackers (yum!), and bananas. When I went to check out, the cashier held up my one lone banana, shaking her head, and said something to me. But what? “Scusi, non parlo Italiano,” I answered. Instead of chastising me and putting the banana aside, she said, “I show you. Come.” She led me back to the fruit section, placed the banana on the electronic scale and pushed the little banana picture to get a price label. “Grazie, grazie,“ I said with a wide smile. I was so grateful for her kindness, though I’m not sure the people behind me in line felt the same way.

Mama mia, there’s a bassotto!

December 5, 2007

Padova petI photographed this “bassotto,” the Italian word for wiener dog, in November. I’m guessing it translates to something like “low rider” and that a female would be a bassotta. You Italian speakers can let me know. I was stall-shopping at the Wednesday morning market in the historic center of Padova, a university town about a half hour west of Venice by train. I wasn’t sure if the woman would let me take her picture. I tried to catch her eye to “ask” in body language, but she never even looked at me, so I took that as a yes.

The black-and-tan standard dachshund, who I tried to engage in niceties, wasn’t the least bit interested, as he was too busy sniffing for snacks. I was amused that virtually every breed of dog I saw that day, and there were many, was decked out in a coat. I guess that’s amore!