Looking back

Tita, our guide and protectress!
Not even two months have passed since we returned from Sicily, but it seems much longer. I thought I would post a few images to remind us of our adventure. How about that first day?

It was a marathon, but at a sprint. We toured a large part of Palermo and visited the cathedral in Monreale, with our guide Tita leading the way.

First stop, the Norman Palace and
its stunning chapel.

Cappella Palatina, Palace of Normans, Palermo

The inner courtyard of the palace, where we arrived just in time to gain admittance to the diminutive chapel ahead of a busload of children. 

The intricatively carved  ceilings of the chapel  clearly signal the work of craftsmen from North Africa.

Before strolling down to the Quattro Canti, where the four neighborhoods of old Palermo meet, we needed to stop for a quick tutorial. (You can see that Happi still hasn't given up on the 'whispers'! )

One of the four corners of Quattro Canti, and (below) the Pretoria Fountain, which Goethe so detested, but we rather enjoyed. 

La Martorana, Palermo

At the fountain we discovered that La Martorana, around the corner from the fountain, and long closed for restoration, had finally reopened, so we paid a visit to King Roger II (the first Norman king of Sicily). In this famous mosaic, he is being crowned by Christ, not the Pope. A close up reveals an odd blend of Latin with Greek letters (Ρογέρος Ρηξ).

Then it was off to Monreale and the cathedral dedicated to Mary of the Assumption, built by King William II to compete with Palermo's cathedral, the seat of power of the bishop Gualtiero Offamiglia ("Walter of the Mill").

The North African elements on the outside of the apse of the cathedral are hard to miss.


Noah figures large in the golden mosaics of Monreale, as in this depiction of his covenant with God.

At the top,  God is separating the waters, earth, and heavens.
Adjacent to the cathedral are cloisters, almost lovely enough to draw you to the monastic life—almost! 

Each column in the cloister is topped by a unique carving.

That was just our first (jet-lagged) day. We certainly earned a rest that evening. 


We left today. Leaving beautiful Taormina behind. Time really flies when one is having fun. On our last evening together, we discussed one of our textbooks on Sicily, Mary Taylor Simeti’s On Persephone’s Island. Mary, an American expat who moved to Sicily in the 1960s, describes her life in Sicily and her amazing transformation into a Sicilian in her original book, part journal, part autobiography, part history book.  At the center of the narration is the estate her husband Tonino inherited from his family, aptly named Bosco.

At a time, the 1970s and early 1980s when Italian women were leaving the home and demonstrating in the streets (often led by public figures such as our recent guest Dacia Maraini), Taylor Simeti describes her very traditional life between Palermo and nearby Bosco.  Hers is a tale of privilege,  an upper middle class life made of houses, land, travels, private schools. And yet, she manages to describe Sicilian life at the time accurately, with not a single hint of stereotype. She observes, but does not judge.

I write this as I fly to my next destination, already speaking another language and thinking about the other half of my family.  As we fly, I miss Sicily already,  as our trip has already become one of the highlights of a Summer that has yet to start.

Perhaps, if or, rather, when we do this again, we should stop at Bosco.

The group standing in line for check in at Catania Fontanarossa airport this morning


I have thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Sicily, and have particularly liked staying in Taormina for a few days. It is a beautiful little coastal town, high up on a hill overlooking the turquoise sea. It is defnitely a tourist town, with little shops and cafes lining the main street selling postcards, ceramics, and other various souvenir items. Now a popular tourist destination, Taormina has an interesting history, and is full of fun little facts. 

Margaret Guido, author of Sicily: An Archeological Guide, tells us that the native inhabitants of Sicily, called the Sikels, settled on Monte Tauro, and called their new town Tauromenion, derived from "tauros," meaning bull in Greek. Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, tried unsuccessfully to take the town for many years, and finally succeeded in 392 BC; he turned out the Sikels and replaced them with Greeks. In 358 BC Andromachus, the new leader of the town, refounded it as a Greek city. When a man named Timoleon came from Greece to rid Sicily of tyrants and restore democracy, Andromachus sided with him, and Tauromenion became the operational base of Timoleon. In the third century BC, Hieron II of Syracuse used the town as a naval base against the Mammertines. The Romans invaded before long, and in 211 BC Tauromenion became a Roman Province.

The most well-known site in Taormina is its ancient Theatre. As I was researching, it seemed that for the longest time there was debate over whether the theatre is of Greek or Roman origin. I found a comment from Joesph Woods in his book Letters of an Architect from 1828, where he mentioned that the theatre looked more Roman than Greek. Even as late as 1996 I found an article by Frank Sear titled "The Theatre at Taormina -- A New Chronology," in which he mentioned that there was not much research done concerning the theatre. So he did his own research. Sear determined that the theater was built in four phases. The first was construction by the Greeks in the third century BC. The second was reconstruction in the first century AD, in which the side wings, or basilica, were added, and the front of the theatre, left open by the Greeks so they could appreciate the fantastic view of Mount Etna, was built up into a two storey structure. The next phase was during the third century, when the Romans converted the theatre into an arena where people were entertained by gladiator and animal fights. The fouth stage involved enlarging the basement under the arena. Elsewhere on the internet I found that the theatre is the second largest in Sicily, after the theatre in Syracuse, and held 5,400 spectators. Today, the theatre is host to an important Italian cinematography award, the "David di Donatello" award, and also hosts the summer-long "Taormina Arte" festival.

The scaenae frons, or backdrop of the theatre, overlooking the land in the distance.

At the beginning of our trip Emma gave a presentation on the patron saint of Palermo, so I looked into the patron saint to Taormina. Saint Pancras, or Pancrazio, who was born in Antioch and traveled to Jerusalem with his family. They were apparently aquainted with the apostle Peter, and when Pancras went to live as a hermit, Peter came across him and told him to journey to Sicily to become a bishop. Thus, Pancras become the first bishop of Taormina, and was instramental in helping spread Christianity in Sicily, but unfortunately was not loved by all. He was stoned to death by pagans, and died a martyr, thus making him a Saint.

The Church of Saint Pancras
Another interesting tale of Taormina includes that they once had an Olympic champion. My favorite tidbit, however, is Taormina's connection to mythology. Book XII of the Odyssey talks about the Oxen of the Sun, the cattle of Helios. The epic, the particular version I looked at translated by Ian Johnston, mentions "Thrinacia," referring to the three-sided island of Sicily, "where Helios' many cattel graze." It is thought that Taormina is the location of the cattle, due (as you will remember) to the city name being derived from the Greek "tauros" meaning bull, built atop of Monte Tauro.

I think I have gone on about the history for long enough, but Taormina is truly a beautiful city full of character. I have enjoyed my stay here, and have appreciated spending a longer period of time at this place. It has allowed me to explore the town, and I have not missed and inch! Taormina is wonderful, and I wish I could stay. But alas, tomorrow we fly home, and can tell family and friends the wonderful tales of our adventures.

The group walking the streets of Taormina.

A Fishy Business

As the daughter of a chef, I have always loved exploring new food and recipes. And in Sicily, I found plenty of unique and new culinary traditions and styles. The most notable tradition, in my opinion, was how restaurants displayed Their fish for customers. In the United States most mainstream food markets or restaurants, the fish have Their skin and organs removed. So When the customer orders Their meal or picks out a filet at the local market, they see only the flesh of the fish. When a customer orders Their meal or picks out a filet in Sicily, they get to meet Their prize in Its entirety.

The Sicilians keep the eyes and skin intact when serving their seafood. I began to wonder why the Sicilians choose to keep the skin on their fish. Was it because they were fresh from the sea? Was it because the owners Their customers want to see the quality of their meal before eating it? Or are the Sicilians just morbid? As a result, I asked our Frau Professor why she thinks Sicilians keep the whole fish and she told me that most European countries keep the skin on their fish.

So now the question is why are Americans so sheepish about our meat?

Relaxing by the pool

I've greatly enjoyed my time in Sicily and will be sorry to leave this stunning island. I feel that the island's natural landscape possesses such a revitalizing atmosphere that I found even the local birds stopped flying once and while to take a dip in the pool.