Showing posts with label Scopello. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scopello. Show all posts

Monday, July 18, 2011

Four Days in Sicily

Ann has been visiting her best friend in Palermo, Sicily, for nearly 40 years now. Through her eyes, I felt as if I had experienced Sicily although I was there once, but only for a day in Messina while on a cruise of the Mediterranean. This year was different. She would be visiting as usual, for three weeks, but I would join her for the last four days to attend her best friend’s sons’ wedding. We’ve known David since he was born – in fact he was born in the US as his parents wanted him to have dual citizenship.

In my younger years, I thought little about a four day international trip, so in retrospect perhaps I should have gone on a more leisurely pace. I paid for my mistake by contracting a chest infection from flying so many hours, in such a short period of time, culminating in a flight from hell on my return. There are no direct flights between Palermo and Miami.

But before Ann left, while I was doing some preliminary packing for the trip, I had to debate with my wife about what I was to wear to the wedding. She wanted me to get a new suit, my best formal suit being some twenty-five years old, along with my wing tip shoes of the same vintage. I was admonished that the wedding guests would consist of many sartorially splendid young professionals, as well as an older crowd of men in beautifully crafted Italian suits and I would look like a relic from a pre-iPad stone age. But I am a relic I complained, and the suit is in great shape -- the one I now wear mostly to funerals but occasional weddings as well. And, from a vanity perspective, the suit still fits me perfectly in every way since I’ve gained no weight in all those succeeding years. I have it (and it looks good so I thought) so why not flaunt it?

I won that battle, packed the suit and the old wing tips and was set to go. But there is a strange coincidence regarding the suit, the occasion, my recovery from recent, very serious surgery, and being surrounded by the beauty of Sicily and the Mediterranean during this four day whirlwind trip.

Indeed I discovered that the last time I wore the suit was to a funeral of a friend who had died in October 2007. (Has it been that long since I needed the suit?) Surviving the dry cleaning was a card that was given to each of us at the funeral. I found it in my inside pocket as we were waiting at the reception for the festivities to begin. It was a passage from Marlena de Blasi's A Thousand Days in Tuscany. It gave me chills reading it once again, as if a bridge had been formed from the funeral in the US four years earlier, to this beautiful occasion in Palermo, Sicily: Maybe the only thing that matters is to make our lives last as long as we do. You know, to make life last until it ends, to make all the parts come out even, like when you rub the last piece of bread in the last drop of oil on your plate and eat it with the last sip of wine in your glass.

Day 1

I arrived in Palermo in the late morning after making the connection from Rome after an all night flight. Little sleep was to be had on the flight so I was sort of a somnambulist, collecting my luggage (which miraculously arrived without my intervention in Rome), and seeing the groom’s parents, Beny and Maria, standing peering over others’ heads at international arrivals. I was warmly greeted by our old friends and Ann of course who was relieved to see that I looked so well after 14 hours of travel. I was whisked off to their Swim Club in Mondello for lunch, just a 15 minute ride from their apartment in Palermo. This was the day before the wedding and I thought it was very considerate of them to squeeze me into what would be a day of some anxiety. The wedding was going to be large and elaborate and the parents of the bride (Marianna) and groom (David) participated in the careful planning of the event.

The Club CanottierReggere di Lauria is right on the Mediterranean, the seas and the beautiful day demanding careful attention. We sat outside of course and had, what else, fresh seafood, along with the obligatory pasta. It was to be the first of several extraordinary meals over the next several days.

Ann as always had been staying with our friends before my arrival, but now the time had come to check into our hotel, the Garibaldi in the heart of Palermo, highly recommended. By the late afternoon, my head had caught up with the time change and lack of sleep so Ann and I went for an early dinner at a local restaurant where we had, again, fish. I loved the fresh fish in Sicily, not to mention their bread.

Day 2

The next day was the wedding and with the help of an Ambien the evening before, I got a full night’s sleep and we prepared for the wedding in the afternoon. The hotel serves a delightful breakfast for its guests, a little like a cross between a hotel and a B&B.

Several vans were sent to collect us, including several other guests from the Hotel, and in one of those was Maria’s family from the States, her two brothers, Jerry and Peter, with Peter’s wife (also Maria) and their twin boys and two girls. We were to be with the family during the ensuing celebration, a place of honor, and where we wanted to be as we’ve known Maria’s brothers since they were youngsters, Ann having first met Maria when she was 17.

The trip to the church was eventful, reminding me a little of traveling in Japan where even the locals have difficulty locating their destinations. Our van driver arrived at a church, and while it fit the bill of an old 16th century antique church, it was not ours! But we were in the vicinity of the right church, we were assured. After a few frantic cell phone calls, a couple of U turns and some conferencing between van drivers, we arrived at a small road adjacent to the first church and luckily arrived at the wedding only fifteen minutes before the ceremony.

The church was regal in its simplicity with catacombs under the floor, the crypts being marked by various images including the skull and crossbones at our very feet. While I did not understand one word of the priest or the participants, the wedding had the feel of other Catholic weddings we had attended, and the priest obviously knew Marianna and David and his warmth towards them shone through. It was touching and to see David married, knowing him since he was an infant, a special moment for us.
From there we returned to Beny and Maria’s home to relax along with the bride’s parents, Nancy and Vito, enjoying a cool drink and sitting out on the terrace while waiting for the wedding reception which was to begin around 7 in the evening, some 45 minutes outside of Palermo. The bride’s parents finally left to pick up their friends and we drove with Beny and Maria to Torre Ciachea, a private, castle-like Villa which is available only one day a month for special occasions. Its outer court yards with its fountains and landscaping are ideally suited for guest’s arrival and serving appetizers and drinks while the inner courtyard was set up with beautiful tables prepared for dinner.

The gardens surrounding this Villa high above the Mediterranean made a perfect setting, the presentation of the food a work of art and from appetizers to the main course, fish, fish, fish, all freshly caught. We sat with Maria’s family, and her sister-in-law, another Maria who is a professional singer, an interpreter of the Great American Songbook, happens to be one of the best I have ever heard and finally she was entreated to join the band, singing several songs. If it were not for the fact that the band was not totally familiar with much of her music, she would not have been allowed to leave the stage. Her voice and interpretation of those songs are as beautiful as she.

It would be a late night. Much later than my jet lagged body would be able to endure. Luckily at around midnight, our friends found us a ride back to our hotel with a woman she used to work with at the British Embassy when Maria went to Sicily some 40 years ago. The festivities went on well into the night.

Day 3

The next day we slept late but found a wonderful double-decker bus tour of Palermo right outside of our Hotel. The one in the morning took us through the old part of the city and in the afternoon, after another wonderful al fresco lunch, we were driven around the more modern part of Palermo. Ann said that in spite of having visited Palermo for so many years, she had never done this. What immediately must strike any visitor to this country are the outstanding influences of so many conquering civilizations throughout history. Everyone in fact seems to have invaded Sicily at one time or another, the Romans, the Byzantine, Greeks, Islamic, and the Catalan to name but a few. Riding through the streets of Palermo also reminded me of George Patton’s drive into those same streets in August of 1943 so wonderfully portrayed by George C. Scott in the movie, “Patton”, even though the shots of Sicily were recreated and filmed in southern Spain. Between tours we had a wonderful local lunch (fish). After the last tour we went back to the restaurant from our first night, a sidewalk cafĂ©, a perfect evening, pasta, the local bread and wine, and of course, more fish!

Day 4

Our last full day was to be a special one, a visit to the town of Maria’s birth, the fishing village of Castellammare del Golfo, “castle (on the) sea) of the Gulf” which indeed has a medieval fortress of castle proportions, and a harbor where fisherman practice their craft as they have done since time immemorial. As this was two days removed from the wedding, we were fortunate that Beny and Maria felt up to acting as tour guides. Ann has been there many times of course, but as it was my first visit, they wanted to make it something very special. One only has to be there, taking in the natural beauty to make it so. For me it was particularly moving as I love the sea, have heard about the town for so long, and after surviving my health issues, I was fortunate to just BE.

Naturally, a day by the sea would not be complete without lunch by the sea and for that we travelled to nearby Scopello overlooking the Mediterranean. If it were not for the fact that the narrow little streets hardly accommodated our car for parking, it would have been a perfect afternoon. Poor Beny had to maneuver his vehicle in tight spots on steep grades.

We returned to Palermo, Ann and I bidding our friends adieu for the evening, having dinner at a nearby restaurant – Sicilian pizza for our last night – then packing and getting to bed for a very early morning flight to Rome but with different flights back to Miami, mine arriving four hours earlier, waiting for her as I had left my car at the airport. Luckily I found a quiet place between terminals at the airport where I could close my eyes after a nightmare flight on Alitalia. Ann’s plane (from Barcelona after a connection from Rome) arrived a half hour early so I was grateful to see her sooner than expected at International arrivals. We found our car and returned home, she after weeks in Sicily with her dearest friend and me after four wonderful whirlwind days.