Number Fifteen: Memories of Sicily

Hoisting our swollen bags into the back of the waiting cab, I looked up and down the inky streets to where the anemic auras of the sparsely spaced streetlights labored feebly against the obsidian dark of the early morning. These narrow corridors, that only a few hour ago were alive with revelers, now sighed restfully as they awaited the dawn, still hours away. 

This was number fifteen, my fifteenth trip to Italy, and this one was especially personal for me, as it took me back to my ancestral homeland, and the place where I first arrived in Italy when I visited with Dad so many years ago.

As I have gathered my possessions for the trip home, I have also gathered a few of my thoughts, both my perspective and some random photos and considerations that otherwise haven’t been fit to blog. 

I have frequently said that the Italian South is, in many respects, a developing nation, and I stand by this. In a certain, larger sense, however, it doesn’t fall into that category any more than some of America’s cities do. Yes there are areas where garbage is deposited randomly at curbsides, but the infrastructure in other areas, such as the autostrada, which sweeps gracefully across the rolling hills, is so overbuilt as to be lavish.

I’m glad that I finally had the chance to walk the time-worn streets of Palermo, with her deep shadows, hidden piazze, and bountiful wrought iron balconies from which drying laundry hangs down like bunting. But Sicily is a land of extremes, and the age and wear that Palermo carries is countered dramatically by the dreamily fantastical alleyways of Ortigia. 

Eating in Palermo is all about street food: the pane ca’ meusa, the sfincione, the pane panelle, the crochette, and the arancini. When we went to restaurants there it was honestly a challenge to identify a great deal of other specifically local fare, with the exception of the spiedini I had on my first night. And, of course, dessert. 

The water in Sicily is hard. If you don’t understand what hard water is, just go there. You could cut diamonds with it.

The landscape over much of the island is hardscrabble, evocative of the lava fields of Hawaii. It certainly wouldn’t have been easy on the early settlers who first had to break the unyielding virgin ground and work the soil to lay the first seeds.

If you don’t eat fish, as D doesn’t, dining in Sicily can be a daunting task. The challenge isn’t as acute as it was in Japan, where the locals indiscriminately add fish to everything, but many of the restaurants in the coastal towns of Sicily offer only seafood.

Sicily has ever lain at the intersection of peoples and nations, and that remains true today, as immigrants from Northern Africa make stops here before heading further north into the wealthier parts of Europe. As the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, and Spaniards before, these new immigrants will mark their passage on the island with bits and pieces of culture and cuisine, if they stay long enough.

For my case, I am the product of emigrants, my father’s grandparents having left Sicily for America at the turn of the last century. But they took their traditions, and more importantly their values and cuisine, with them, so I haven’t needed a long visit to feel the mark that Sicily leaves on me. The impressions of that touch have been with me for my entire life.

For now, my friends, I wish you a fond farewell. Butterblogger is headed home. But fear not, for I will return soon with another adventure on the road.

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