Babilonia in Taormina, Sicily
Saturday morning four women from the school and I set out on an excursion to visit Mt. Enta, possibly Siracusa and Catania. Although I have already been to Mt. Etna, I thought that it would be a fun way to spend the day and practice Italian. We are from five different countries: US, Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany. Our ages are just as diverse, ranging from early twenties up to maybe 50. Laura from Paris likes to think she is 22. We all speak OK Italian and most of the conversation is in Italian, although Laura likes to speak French and the young woman from Germany, Fanny, whose Italian is the weakest, speaks some German with the young woman from Italy, Sabrina. Sabrina comes from the German speaking part of Italy, a small region in the very north of the country, and speaks quite good Italian.
The two youngest, Fanny and Sabrina, rented the car and did the driving and navigating, It’s not easy driving here. The roads can be very narrow with directions not always clearly posted, but the young women handle the situation well and make it to Mt. Etna without much difficulty. It is colder today and as everyone starts to bundle up in their thick jackets and scarves, I realize how little I have with me, a long-sleeve shirt to protect me from the sun and the sweater I was wearing the night before that is still damp. It really isn’t that cold, but it is windy, which actually works in my favor and dries my sweater in no time. The air is clear having been washed by the storm that soaked my sweater, but the
clouds are still low and block the views of the mountain peaks and surrounding countryside. My mission here is quite clear. I wanted a better picture of a lady bug for Jean Pierre. As we walk along the same path as the week before, there are plenty to choose from. The problem is trying to get that perfect shot and knowing when to stop.
Back in the parking lot they are selling the famous Mt. Etna honey. While they have the classic honey made from different types of flowers, they also have honey infused with various fruit essence such that the lemon honey really tastes like lemon, and the mandarin honey tastes like mandarin and so forth. They also have nut varieties that are a sort of sweet nut pesto and honey combination. I buy a jar of the pistachio and the lemon to take back to the house.
The next destination is unclear. Our guides are looking for a quaint if not typical small town in which to have lunch. We end up semi-lost winding through a seemingly endless maze of one way streets only wide enough for one car, hoping we are going in the right direction. Finally we hit the main road again and it is then decided that we will go to Paterno. As we approach the castello and cathedral, there is a line of cars waiting to enter the parking lot. We notice straight away that the cars are decorated with flowers and the people inside are elegantly dressed, obviously not tourists, but a wedding party. Sabrina and I walk up to the cathedral past the line of cars to find three couples having their wedding pictures taken in the lawn in front of the church. By the time we walk back down, the line of cars is gone along with all the people. A bride and groom or two and few photographers linger finishing up the pictures, but the parking lot is empty. There really isn’t much to see here, a modest castle perched on a hill, but no restaurants. Hungry we decide it is time to go to Catania.
Driving into Catania is easy as it is siesta hour and the traffic light. We find parking on the street not far from one of the main shopping streets and we spend the afternoon exploring the market and city streets, chatting in Italian. The pairings change frequently, first talking with Laura about her visit to the States this spring, comparing Parisian and New York restaurants and then discussing laundry mats with Anita. Just why can’t you find a laundry mat in Switzerland? Because everyone has their own washer and dryer. The next time I’m in that part of Switzerland, she says I should come to her house and she’ll wash our clothes for free!
The market is crowded first with stalls of clothing and accessories which changes over to fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Anita buys some sun dried tomatoes for a friend, Laura a bottle of wine, Sabrina a woven beaded bracelet and Fannie a pair of shoes. As it starts to get dark the markets winds down and we head for the shopping street to look for a place to eat or at least to have a drink. We find a quiet side street lined with restaurants and decide we are hungry enough to eat. Three of us order a pizza, and the waiter asks if we want an anitpasto. Three of us would like to try the antipasto and I’m thinking we are ordering an anipasto plate for three, but somehow we get three plates of antipasto, each big enough to be dinner itself. When the pizzas come they are big enough for at least two if not three people, plus the salad I have ordered. Fanny and Sabrina get a kick out of the wurst (sausage links) on my pizza and ask me if that is what I typically order. No, I don’t know why I ordered this particular pizza. I was curious about the salsicce, (sausage) not knowing I’d get links! Laura and I split a bottle of wine. The drivers being good and not drinking. By the time everyone got what they ordered, there is more food than can fit on the table. The food was pretty good, not great, probably more touristy, but the weather is perfect with a warm soft breeze and the conversation lively.
Leaving Catania at 10:30PM there is much more traffic than when we arrived, people streaming in on this Saturday night. At midnight we stop just outside of Taormina along the coastal road to wish Anita Happy Birthday and sing to her in few different languages.
Back in Taormina the only thing left to do is to return the car. Unfortunately, the car agency is on road that turns into a one-way street going in the wrong direction. Fanny turns the car around and backs the car up the street, inching her way toward the car agency and waiting for cars coming in the proper direction to pass. Luckily it is past midnight and there is not much traffic. She finally makes it to the agency safely and parks the car.
We sort out our purchases and other stuff, say our goodbyes and head off to our Italian families.