While we covered a great deal of ground on our trip and saw an amazing number of things during our 12 days on Sicily, whenever one returns from a trip one begins to think about things one missed seeing or doing, or places where one could would have liked to have spent more time. The following are among those that have already found a place on that list.
1. Small Towns in the Interior. Although we saw many of the major tourist attractions on the island, we did not have much of a chance on our tour to meet and get to know the island’s inhabitants or to visit some of the more out of the way places, particularly in the more rural interior of the island. After we returned I read “The Stone Boudoir: Travels Through the Hidden Villages of Sicily” by Teresa Maggio (who also wrote “Mattanza” about the annual tuna harvest off the west coast of Sicily).
Maggio visited a number of small villages around the island, including (a) a number in the Belice river valley (Valle del Belice), several of which were heavily damaged during a large earthquake in January 1968, (b) Polizzi Generosa and others in the Madonie Mountains south of Cefalù, and (c) several on the slopes of Mt. Etna. I found it a most enjoyable read and would love to spend a few days in some of those towns.
2. Antica Tindari. I first heard of Tindari when we were having dinner earlier this year at Ristorante Mezzo Mezzo in San Rafael and Giovanni de la Renta suggested we try a bottle of Syrah wine produced by the Antica Tindari winery located near the town of Patti on the north coast of the island.
The wine was excellent. Giovanni explained that the winery was owned by a woman named Pina Martino who had visited the Bay Area in October 2007 and had cooked and presented a dinner at Mezzo Mezzo featuring several of Antica Tindari’s wines, which are imported into the US by Nobel Grape Wines – see the following menu and labels:
In addition to the winery, Antica Tindari is also an agroturismo offering both lodging and cooking classes. It is located just to the west of Tindari, a headland high above the sea and the site of an early Greek settlement on Sicily. There are ruins of a Greek theater in Tindari (still used for summer performances by the Teatro dei Due Mari) as well as the Santuario della Madona Nera (Sanctuary of the Black Madonna). In addition, Tindari is the subject of a poem by the Italian Nobel Prize winning poet Quasimodo entitled Vento a Tindari/The Wind at Tindari, as well as included in the title of one of Andrea Camilleri’s Commissario Montalbano books “La gita a Tindari/ The Excursion to Tindari”).
I had hoped that we might be able to visit Antica Tindari on our trip but our schedule did not allow it and the closest we got was a view of the Santuario perched on a hill above the autostrada.
When I returned from our trip Giovanni suggested that I contact Pina Martino. I did so and had a very nice email exchange with her. I would love to spend some time cooking with her at Antica Tindari someday.
3. Festivals. Like all of Italy, there are several religious and other festivals around Sicily throughout the year. Unfortunately we did have a chance to see any of them, and it would certainly be great to see one or two, especially some of the religious festivals when the churches come to life.
Teresa Maggio has a wonderful chapter in The Stone Boudoir describing one of the largest of Sicily’s festivals, the feast of Sant’Agata, the patron saint of Catania, which is celebrated in Catania in early February. Maggio describes various highlights of the festa (which continues for a few days), including a dawn mass (la Messa dell'Aurora) when the effigy of Sant'Agata is brought out of the Duomo and placed on the fercolo ("a 40,000 pound silver carriage pulled by 5,000 men"), the candelore towers of the city’s guilds which are carried around the city, massive candles which are also carried along resulting in a dangerous wax coating over the city’s streets, and the general frenzy of the crowd. The most common call (with respect to which there is apparently a good deal of competition to see who can yell it the loudest) is "cittadini, cittadini, siamo tutti devoti tutti?" ("citizens, citizens, are we all devoted, all of us") - to which the reply is "certo, certo" ("certainly, certainly")).
Several interesting clips of the festa are available on YouTube:
~ A good overview (with some incredible fireworks);
~ La Messa dell'Aurora at the Duomo (the scene starts shot from the inside of the Duomo as the doors are opened to let the crowd in);
~ The pulling of the fercolo up the steep San Giuliano hill, obviously quite dangerous even without all the wax on the streets; and
~ A song sung to Sant'Agata by the Benedictine nuns of Via Crociferi.