WE LEFT

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





Taormina

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. 

A BRIEF HISTORY
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 GREEK-ROMAN THEATRE
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.

PATRON SAINT
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
MYTHOLOGY
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.




L'ultimo Giorno


I am currently sitting outside of our hotel, looking out at the beautiful landscape, trying to take everything in before we leave tomorrow. I have been reminiscing on all of the places we’ve seen, the incredible food we have had and all of the information that we have absorbed within the past week. The saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is applicable to this trip. I feel as if we got off the plane yesterday. I am not ready to leave this beautiful place, I don’t think any of us really are. The memories that I have made here in Sicily will always be with me. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to travel with professors and classmates to a culturally and historically rich island. Today was our leisure day so we were able to sleep in a little bit longer. Jaymie, Michaella, Evelyn and I ended up going out for lunch and by lunch I mean gelato and granitas. Yes, we had gelato and granitas for lunch. They were delicious as expected. Though I am sad we are leaving, I know the memories from this trip will last a life time!

I also wanted to share some of my favorite photos from our trip: 


Jaymie in Cefalù
Island of Ortigia

Me and Michaella in Cefalù

Me, Michaella and Jaymie on Mt. Etna

Through My Camera Lens


My camera lens has been focused on the landscape and vegetation of Sicily over the past week. Though I expected the island to be beautiful, I am still surprised every time I look out the hotel window or go on an excursion with the group.  As my family and I rarely venture out of New England, it's been an incredible experience to live in such a different environment, even for a short period of time.  My complete awe at Sicily's landscape and vegetation has been documented in the many photos I've taken.

Palm tree in front of the Cathedral of Palermo

View of Palermo from Monreale


Overlooking the coast of Cefalù


Waves crashing against the rocks at Cefalù

Overlooking the coast of Agrigento

I never thought I would see a real lemon tree, climb an active volcano, or window-shop in a small Italian town such as Taormina, and doing so has given me a greater understanding of some of the elements of Italian culture I've studied in the many Italian courses I've taken at Mount Holyoke.

Sicilian Poems

During my time in Sicily, I've fallen in love with its rich landscape and cultural history. Everytime I look out my window on the bus, I feel like the velvet blues and purples of the landscape have crawled into my heart.

Because I have been so inspired by the local scenery, I have written several poems based on the sights and sounds of Sicily. Though I will probably end up revising them, I thought it would be nice to post them to this blog for feedback and for you all to (hopefully) enjoy.

UNTITLED SEA POEM:

She throws the coral
back into the sea,
where it is snagged
in the waves' net.

Tangled wires hold
it back from returning
to the shore,
perpetually trapped in place
for a sailor that will never come.

BUSINESS PARTNER:

The night comes on the mountain
and Rosalia is awake,
she watches as the sky slowly sheds
off its dress revealing dark, lumpy flesh
broken out in a million stars.

She watches as the sky stretches
until its back until it becomes taut,
its muscles squeezing down on the earth.
Its warm sweat dripping like nebula light
down its calves.

She wonders if she will ever feel as comfortable
in her skin as the sky does.


AMERICANS IN SICILY: PORTRAITS

Piazza Armerina, Mount Etna, Taormina, Catania. Just two days and yet, thanks to our organized guide Tita and driver Carmelo, we were able to enjoy places that are so different from each other and, only a few weeks ago in the confined space of our Clapp classroom, so remote and exotic. The Roman mosaics in Piazza Armerina; the beautiful, almost unreachable town of Taormina, perched up a steep hill [thank you, Carmelo, for taking those curves ever so slowly today]; the mysterious, dangerous but (as we learned) much beloved Mount Etna; Catania’s Baroque churches and monasteries and a final, unexpected, treat, Aci Castello and Aci Trezza, where we admired the ‘very’ house that inspired Verga’s Malavoglia, the set for Luchino Visconti’s La terra trema and the ‘very’ rocks that Polyphemus threw at Ulysses.

Today, Ulrich and I took our morning jog to a new level (literally) when we decided to run up the hill to the ruins of the Moorish castle. The view, needless to say, was even more breathtaking than the already amazing view from Taormina: Etna on the right and the Calabrian coast on the left. There were no cars, no noise, no people, just us and a few birds.

In a few minutes, we’ll head downstairs to enjoy Jazzy’s oral presentation. Yesterday it was Michaella’s turn, about Mount Etna, and we ended up with a Geology discussion. Maybe we should do the whole semester in Sicily…

Mimi in Piazza Armerina

Jazzy in Piazza Armerina

Alberta in Piazza Armerina

Anne Gabrielle in Piazza Armerina

Luckily, Michaella did not fall inside Etna, as she had an oral presentation later that day

Daring photographer Briana on Etna

Jaymie and Michaella in Taormina

Nancy Drew is not auditioning for a Wes Anderson movie, she is just stylish...

Happi in a rare moment of rest, and in between granitas
not quite at the castle yet, but already declaring victory...

Taormina from the castle with mainland Italy in the background

Swordfish at the Catania market

group picture in Catania. Left to right: Mark, Paula, Emma, Priscilla, Briana, Jazzy, Michaella,  Ombretta, Anne Gabrielle, Evelyn, Tita (our guide), Jaymie, Lauren, Maddie

The Malavoglia house in Aci Trezza

Polyphemus' rocks

Mighty Mt. Etna


There is a powerful monster buried beneath Mt. Etna. 

He is the son of Gaia (earth) and Tartarus (Stormy pit prison of the Titans), and one of the giants who revolted against the gods. As punishment for his wrongdoings, Zeus (or according to some, Athena) captured him and crushed him under the weight of the mountain. Great wings sprout from his back, coils of vipers wrap around his legs and wind up to his head, and his eyes glow bright with fire.

Zeus battling Typhon

Yesterday, we visited this terrible creature--or at least the mountain on top of him--and walked around one of the volcano's dormant small craters. The visit began cool and foggy with a light rain, but after lunch the sun began to peek through the clouds.

                
Mt. Etna is a complex stratovolcano with 4 main craters and over 300 small craters. It has the longest recorded eruptive history in the world and has been visited by and written about and visited by famous historical figures such as Emperor Hadrian, Virgil, Pindar, and Homer.

  Needless to say, our visit was pretty incredible. 
 

My new obsession

So I know I should be writing about the history and beautiful landscape but the thing I have loved the most is the food! It's amazing how much pride Sicilians take in their cooking. Today our tour guide was going on about cooking and teaching others how to cook. It is an important part of their  culture and I'm throughly enjoying it.

Mosaics in Villa Romana del Casale

Today we visited the ancient Roman Villa where we saw various mosaic designs and patterns almost perfectly preserved. I took a few notes on how grande, detailed these mosaics are in narratives, colors and design patterns.
A scene depicting the transportation of captured animals: soldiers travel on horses, servants on foot and bulls pull rectangular carts on wheels (below).


 
The intertwined ring pattern is a common pattern in ancient Roman art, symbolizing  positivity, luck and good wishes (above).


The symbols on the forehead of the children originates from Western Asia, symbolizing liberty and freedom.

A mosaic in which the man is holding a golden vase, symbolic of marriage.


The griffon, which is familiar to Mount Holyoke students, is depicted on the right, lured by a bait of a human in cage. The tiger is tricked to look into a mirror of himself.

The ancient Sicilians are giving a three-eyes cyclos enough wine so he would fall into sleep.

Depiction of animals
           

    The Basilica, with impressive marble floor, is a common place for meeting in ancient time.