“Life has no reason. You are either here or you are in the Cemetery.”
Giovanni Corsello (June 2015)
Jon Snow Lives — Winter is Coming.
TODAY FROM ITALY:
POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SICILY:
A. Sicily Agonistes.
The morning sun lighting up Mt. Pellegrino and the Port of Palermo.
I got up early and watched our arrival into Palermo from the deck of the ferry.
After disembarking, we left Palermo to drive across the island to Agrigento. Being spring, the countryside was still green and bright.
Since it was still early by the time we arrived in Agrigento, we decided to visit the Valley of the Temples. Actually, valley is a misnomer. The temples are sited on a two-mile long ridge atop a cliff facing the sea that formed the fundamental defensive structure for the city. The ancient Greek City of Akragas itself sat in a long flat valley between the ridge and the heights on which the modern city is built. The temples, made of sandstone and originally covered with plaster and painted bright colors, run the gamut from the almost complete Temple of Concorde through various stages of ruin.
Temple of Concord Temple of Giove
Having been there before, I knew the site would be hot. I had hoped out morning visit would shield us from the worst of it. It did not. Approaching the end and unhappily contemplating returning, this time uphill, I flung myself on a bench in the direct sun, too tired to search for one in the shade. I was still sick, exhausted, old, thirsty and despondent because I had not taken my happy pills for three days. I felt like an aging tiger licking his wounds in the shadow of a rock, contemplating his rising urge to slay and destroy everything in sight, buildings, people trees — all of it.
Jason, noticing my distress, helped me into the shade of a small park where I could rest. The park, noted by Camilleri in one of his novels, is the attempted restoration of the area where the ancient Greeks used to fish and recreate among the olive trees. Like most operations of this kind, its hopes did not match its funding or staffing levels. Staring at the trunks of 2000-year-old olive trees soon bored me so Jason walked me to a little cafe where I sat quasi-conscious while he trudged the two miles back to the car and then get lost, as one must before he could return and pick me up.
B. Paradiso Siciliana.
We drove to Canicatti. I tried to remember the way to Antonio’s BnB but could not and after a contretemps with Jason and a comedy with the locals over the name of the street, Antonio arrived and led us to his house.
There we were restored by a lunch of a spectacular caponata and sun dried tomatoes, Pesto Siciliana, local sheep cheese and sausage. I went to sleep until 9 pm when it was time to meet the neighbors.
The neighbors, in this case, being those renting out the two other rooms in Antonio’s house. They were two youngish couples, one French from Montpellier and the other Belgian from Brussels. After a round of introductions and a few pleasantries, we sat down to dinner.
The dinner began with Eggplant Parmigiana made with local tomatoes that look like large chili peppers and have a stronger more piquant taste than regular tomatoes. This was followed by arancini, (Sicilian fried rice balls, rice packed with cheese [mozzarella] and a meat sauce). After this came a plate of mussels cooked in a heavenly sauce that I will not even try to describe. After sopping up the dregs of the sauce with local bread, Antonio presented us with a pasta with clams, mussels and swordfish and some vegetables. All this was accompanied by four wines, three of which were supplied by Antonio, a Grillo and two varieties of local Criso di Campobello. The fourth bottle was a surprise brought by one of the couples, a red from Nimes.
All this was followed by an orange salad, (large pieces of orange covered in well-cooked onions and lightly dusted with black pepper). Then we were served Sicilian cassata, accompanied by a Sicilian Limoncello. And, of course, fruit freshly picked from Antonio’s garden.
Antonio is a local pediatrician and a leading member of Sicily and Italy’s Slow Food movement. The house has been the family home for at least three generations. It sits on a little less than an acre of land at the edge of Canicatti. There is a small industrial park on one side and a roadway on the other, yet sitting here one feels far away from urban life. On this tiny bit of land, Antonio grows most of the fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, and some of the nuts with which he serves his guests — and of course, the flowers. When I sit at the outside table at which we eat, I see the following:
The yard has a litter of kittens, the mother of which has disappeared. They romp through the gardens and in and out of the house catching mice and one another’s tails. Now and then one will take a swipe at your big toe should you wiggle it under the table as you eat.
I ought to mention the recipe for polpette that Antonio made for Jason and I one evening as we were taking a break from the relatives —take very (hard) stale bread, soak in water for about three hours, squeeze out the water; add meat (half pork and half beef), coriander, three eggs, capers, pecorino cheese, garlic, mint, Italian parsley, salt and pepper and nutmeg. Knead, roll into balls and cook in hot sunflower oil.
At that same meal, we enjoyed a pasta with shrimp and prawns and a meat dish made like braciole.
Pookie digs in
Later in the week, after the two couples left, we were joined by a German couple. They were here to attend the wedding of a friend. The wife, an ex-bartender, was seven months pregnant. The husband was director of business planning for Siemens wind power subsidiary. We had a number of interesting conversations. They both spoke English well having lived in England and India where the husband worked as a medical systems consultant.
Jason eats a Cannoli Venerdi and Jason
Toward the end of the week, the figs ripened on Antonio’s trees so we pigged out on them as we watched him turn some of them into preserves and other delicacies.
C. Meet the relatives and eat a lot.
View of Canicatti
Visiting relatives one has not seen for a while is always a mixture of stress and joy — everyone straining to make each other comfortable for the brief time they have together yet wishing for the easy communication of an ongoing relationship.
Anyway, my eighty-year-old cousin Giovanni arrived with his son to take us to his farmhouse on the top of a hill overlooking Canicatti, the town in Sicily where my mother was born and where I lived for a short while over forty years ago. Giovanni likes to sneak away from home most afternoons to drink wine and nod off to sleep free from his wife’s observation. While he enjoys his pleasures, his son putters around the property. A few days later, we spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at the farm with Giovanni and his entire family.
Jason, Giovanni, and his son.
On another day we had lunch with an additional group of cousins, Guglielmo, his wife Giovanna and their two sons, his sister Elina and their mother Giuseppina. Giuseppina, Giovanni’s sister, still lives in the same building Jason and I lived in so long ago. Guglielmo is a banker and committed marathon runner. His wife, Giovanna runs half marathons. His sister Elina teaches school in Catania. We had an excellent meal as always.
Guglielmo and Family The view of Canicatti from Giuseppina’s window.
Alas, the next day we had planned a tour of the area with Guglielmo and Elina but unfortunately, he took sick and we had to cancel. That was a disappointment as we looked forward to spending the day with them.
Jason, the good guest that he is, ate everything placed in front of him at the various lunches and dinners. I on the other hand, with varying degrees of success, tried to beg off food offerings before they were served, blaming my all too true intestinal maladies.
Giovanni and his son, his two daughters Teresa and Maria and their children.
One day, while being driven around the city and its environs, we passed Piezzu Giumeddru (I think it is spelled this way), a large outcropping on the outskirts of the city. It dominates the landscape and it appears to have been split apart by a great force. According to the relatives, it is here the Paladin Orlando, in the great Italian epic “Orlando Furioso,” feigning madness over the woman he loved choosing to bed his best friend, sliced the rock in two with his sword.
We also visited the beach (it was too windy and cold to swim), and the wonderful Spanish Baroque City of Naro, seat of the Chiaramonte Family, tragically mistakenly bombed by the allies in WWII — but mostly we ate and talked.
D. Our evening with GiGi.
One night we visited my friend GiGI and his wife. Unfortunately, GiGI suffers from Parkinson’s and has a great difficulty getting around. We spent some time looking at photographs of his illustrious automobile racing career and later we went downstairs into his garage to look at the cars he used to race and where Jason was able to view for the first time in over 40 years the tiny three-wheeled Trojan motorcar that he and I travelled in across Europe from England to Sicily when he was only two and one-half years old.
E. Departure and return to Sabina.
Eventually, our time in Sicily was at an end and with great regret, we set off for Palermo and the ferry to take us back to Sabina. We spent several hours in Palermo, before boarding the ferry to Naples, getting lost, viewing a few historical sites and shopping.
Pookie in front of Palermo Cathedral
Our last view of Sicily
The next morning we drove back to Sabina stopping along the way at Nemi in the Castelli Romani and enjoyed a fine lunch overlooking the lake.
A. Quigley on Top:
“So I told them about the USA — really very hair-raising when it is all laid out in sequence: . . . .1. cosmic hierarchy; 2. energy; 3. agriculture; 4. food; 5. health and medical services; 6. education; 7. income flows and the worship of GROWTH; 8. inflation. . .showing how we are violating every aspect of life by turning everything into a ripoff because we. . .have adopted the view that insatiable individualistic greed must run the world.”
“Although our cognitive system has made our civilization the richest and mightiest in the world, its continued use without cognitive sophistication is leading us to disaster. Lynn White, Jr., pointed this out in his article, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” in Science for March 10, 1967.”
“Professor White’s thesis is that when the Judeo-Christian faith established the view that there is no spirit in nature other than the human, the world was reduced to a created object to be exploited by humans, and the way was thus opened to the destruction of nature and to the total pollution of the world — a consequence that may have become inevitable with the rejection, in the latter thirteenth century, of the message of St. Francis to treat all nature as sacred.”
“The cognitive techniques derived from our underlying outlook have included ( a) using analysis rather than synthesis in seeking answers to problems; (b) isolating problems and studying them in a vacuum instead of using an ecological approach; ( c) using techniques based on quantification rather than on qualification study done in a contextual situation; (d) proceeding on the assumption of single-factor causation rather than pluralistic, ecological causation; and (e) basing decisions and actions on needs of the individual rather than needs of the group.”
B. Trenz Pruca’s Observations:
“When all is said and done, it is not how many toys you die with, but how many stories.”
C. Today’s Poem:
Who invited him in? What was he doing here,
That insolent little ruffian, that crapulous lout?
When he quitted a sofa, he left behind him a smear.
My wife says he even tried to paw her about.
If that is what his friends thought of him, what of his enemies?
Norman Cameron on the visit to his home by the famed poet, Dylan Thomas.
D. Emotions people feel but cannot explain — from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.
(Thanks to Denise Mina — may she soon write another novel.)
Sonder. The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.