I Don’t Know What It Is, But of Course I’ll Eat It!

Monday started with my trip to the airport and flight to Palermo to visit with the cousins. I have scheduled just over 48 hours in Sicily – I knew they would complain, asking why I am only coming for one day (which they did!), but I really don’t like to impose on people. They are some of the world’s nicest people and go out of their way to welcome me to a point at which I feel distinctly self-conscious. An example would be them asking me what I typically eat for breakfast, so they can offer something similar. Breakfast for me is small and simple – the least impressive meal of the day. Almost anything will do.

I was greeted at the airport by P, N, and R. We stopped briefly by their Carini summer-home, which apparently was designed and built by P. There is a beautiful lemon tree in the center of the driveway, and there are orange trees, an olive tree, and a lovely fig tree. My siblings would just love this!

From here, we returned to Palermo, to the apartment that they share. They live on the 7th floor, with a view of Monte Pellegrino and hundreds of other apartment buildings that spread as far as the horizon. In America I don’t think we understand the size and density of the population in the great cities of Europe. Few cities in our own country can approach this characteristic (at the moment only one such American city comes to mind).

They fed me, of course. There were antipasti of salmon, olives, mushrooms, and cheese. And bread, of course.

Then they presented me with a huge dish of spaghetti with gamberetti (small shrimp). I told them the first dish was too large, so they brought me more. At home I would avoid such a dish. The flavors would nauseate me. Here the consistency of the shrimp is perfect, and the flavors meld perfectly with the light sauce that reminds me of one of Mrs A’s curries. I love Italian seafood in Italy. Shellfish in America are so often disappointing. I find the dishes with them to be unbalanced, fishy, and out of harmony with the other elements on the plate. At home the shrimp would be far too large and lost in a dense red sauce or a heavy cream sauce. And of course the shrimp aren’t nearly so fresh as they are here Perhaps I have developed an unfair bias, but so far it has worked for me.

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We also had fried calamari, which were light, tender, and delicious. The picture speaks for itself.

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After a ripasso, E arrived and we go to visit Monreale, which sits on a mountain above Palermo, the city stretching out below it to the harbor. Monreale is dense with people and just as completely vibrant. Unfortunately, the cathedral, the interior of which is famed for its beauty, is closed so we are unable to enter.

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Back in the center of Palermo, we see the main cathedral, which is famed for the beauty of its exterior, the interior being unimpressive. Throughout town we see the fingerprints left by Sicily’s many rulers, in particular the Arabs and Normans, both of which were obvious here.

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Our travels eventually take us to the alluring beach town of Mondello, whose wiles glitter on the shore of the sea. It is here we have come to partake of traditional Sicilian fare. Pane e panelle (panelle sandwich), fried potato croquettes, arancini,and a meat sandwich (I didn’t catch the name).

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The last confuses me … It is a sandwich of boiled meat of some sort and a squirt of lemon juice … It is almost certainly beef, but I can’t quite place it. There are times in our lives when we must simply trust our friends and family to feed us things that aren’t going to kill us, and this is one of them. Still, I try to discretely inspect the meat without wanting to look obvious and make anybody uncomfortable. It’s darker than beef usually would be, and I’m not certain I can see muscle fibers. I inspect further, and something looks vascular. I ask whether it is beef, and am told it is, but am still not certain this is entirely accurate. The Italian word for beef is “manzo,” but thats not quite the word that was used. It may be an issue of the Sicilian language vs the Italian language, but on some level I suspect organ meat is involved. In the end I simply enjoy the sandwich, suspecting that perhaps I will never know what I have eaten.

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Tomorrow we go to a “barbecue” to celebrate the Italian equivalent of labor day.

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