Potpourri & The Last Three Weeks in Sicily

The last, indeed…. 20, 21, 22. When did they pass? I do not know… How was it? WONDERFUL! And painful at the same time. I was saying those were my holiday weeks and I would be traveling through Sicily and meeting my friends because I had to have the best of  my last days there, look them in the eye, smile, dance, go out to the sea, have ice cream – things that can`t be done on the Internet or telephone.

I invited you last time to follow me through Sicily, through the places that I had not had time to visit – they were spectacular: the Aeolian Islands and Stromboli Volcano, Alcantara Gorge, Palermo, Syracuse and some of cities that had seen but I loved visiting again: Catania, Taormina, Milazzo, Cefalu.

So, here we are, back at 5 in the morning and even 4 a few times ….lest I shouldn`t have missed the coach or the boat… with first destination the Aeolian Islands – the island of Stromboli volcano. We went in the ship that circumnavigates all the other Aeolian Islands, to have a glimpse of them at least: Volcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea. There are still two smaller islands Alicudi and Filicudi, but haven`t seen them because they weren`t on our way to Stromboli. The islands are incredibly beautiful, with breathtaking, indescribable scenery rising amidst the Tyrrhenian Sea at sunset. Three and a half hour journey and every minute were worth it. No wonder the archipelago, an extraordinary natural complex, composed of 7 islands made up of a series of craters, is today counted among sites declared World Heritage by UNESCO. Stromboli volcano is still active and many people say it is more beautiful than Etna (unfortunately, I have not got there, yet). The island is a large volcanic cone always smoldering and unique urban architecture, with narrow streets, white and blue houses, and blooming agro tourism. Everywhere you go you can see restaurants, shops, boutiques, souvenir stalls and offers of… entertainment. To go to Stromboli and enjoy the natural performances you have to stay at least one night .Which I did and I don`t regret it: I chose to go by motor boat at night and surrounded half the volcano to reach Sciara del Fuoco a wide and steep wall between two rocky rises, where the volcanic matter cascades into the sea. We stayed in the boat for about half an hour to see the volcanic eruptions and were fortunate enough to see 12 of them that night. It was splendid, something I couldn`t have seen in Etna then. Locals talk about the volcano with respect and call it Idu. They greet it and thank it every time they go offshore, because thanks to it tourism goes well and people can earn their living. I was delighted with what I saw though I would have also liked the other option that is climbing the mountain on the edge of the crater, with a guide and suitable equipment – it would have been a 6-hour journey from 6 in the evening till 12 at night, a pretty difficult climb on very hot weather. On top of that, I was already tired … but this option is worth considering next time … that’s why I said you need two nights to have time to do everything. I walked far and wide on the island, among houses, streets, flowers, people, water, beach, boats. There are some things, my dear, which have to be lived so you can feel them, maybe my words are not eloquent enough and everything I write looks like simple sentences. Breathing the clean air, waking up in the morning and beholding on the terrace the sea view combined with the greatness of the volcano like a solitary whole in the midst of water, this is something I do not know if I can put into words. Anyway, it is a place where I hope to go back one day, in order to reach the top…

Destination number two: Alcantara Gorge. Near Taormina, a tongue of lava thrown from one of Etna`s younger crater made ​​its way to the sea and solidified in contact with water. Then, over the millennia, a stream cut into the lava tongue until it formed the bed of a river. In the end, the river encountered more friable rocks in the way, in which the water was able to form a canyon with extraordinary shapes. This is the story of Alcantara Gorge, known as the Grand Canyon in Sicily, which stretches over 14 km, of which there are about 600 meters designed for tourists, who can walk along the gorge, in the most spectacular zone. The entertainment offer is great here too, you can do trekking and rafting, obviously with a guide, you can taste, as I did, traditional products, you can get a suntan and swim, if the water isn`t very cold (which is rather difficult…since it`s always ice-cold, in my opinion) or you can rent special equipment (very high boots) to walk through the water along the keys when the water is not very deep. Anyway, great location and nature because everything is made of black volcanic rock, and the area was declared Regional River Park (there are also other points of interest that make all this natural park).

Palermo, Queen of Sicily. The city on the Tyrrhenian coast has a geographical position and an enviable landscape. Not to mention how rich in important artistic and historical evidence it is. I literally ran a whole day for the city is huge and I wanted to see as much as possible. I started with the Arab and Norman town, the farthest from the center. I knew that there are at least two things to be seen: Capuchin Monastery, impressive for its catacombs where the bodies of rich Palermitano people were laid​​ between 1600 and late 1800. There are more than 8,000 bodies, some mummified, in their best clothes, arranged by gender and social class. Obviously, the monastery does not house all 8000 bodies, but I can tell you what I saw and what I smelled was enough to impress me. It’s a place where you meditate deeply on life and death … From here I hurried to the Norman Palace, with a history that combines Roman, Byzantine and Arab traces. Originally built by the Arabs, the Norman kings turned the castle later in a royal palace. Inside, the Palatine Chapel, a basilica decorated with mosaics on golden background, hides splendid decoration of the entire Byzantine art. It is a Must See! There are still some beautiful old palaces and churches in the area, but I didn`t manage to see them all … I ran to the heart of the city then, the central area of the baroque zone, where there is the market I Quatro Canti or „streets cross” that divides the city into four districts and is surrounded by palaces which overlap the Doric and Corinthian ionic styles. I also visited here the Dome or Cathedral, as impressive as the Norman Palace, Pretoria Square with two spectacular churches – Santa Caterina and San Giuseppe, the Senatorial Palace, Pretoria Fountain (called „the fountain of shame” because of the nude statues that caused scandal), Bellini Square, Maqueda street with palaces and baroque churches, and many more. The last area I visited were Kalsa and Loggia, two of the four quarters of the Old City where the main monuments in the Aragonese period, at the crossing of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, are also found. Square Marina, perhaps the most romantic corner of Palermo, where one can see the exotic Garibaldi garden and many palaces, San Lorenzo Oratories and Santa Cita hiding works of Caravaggio, Abatellis Palace which today houses the Sicilian Regional Gallery, the largest collection of paintings and sculptures in the region and many other churches, sublime architectural testimonials.

It’s true I didn`t manage to see everything leisurely in a single day, but I did manage to tick on my travel list some important points and the overall atmosphere of the city. I keep telling myself that I will return some day to finish what I started…

The last new destination which I did not tell you about so far is Syracuse. I told you about the others when I first visited them, so there is no point returning to them again. This is just a subtle way to make you read, or re-read, older articles to refresh your reading. Therefore, as I said, the fascination of Syracuse is about the classical world, Archimedes, Theocritus, Epicarm, and the imposing monuments demonstrating civil and military power. The city, like all the others, is divided into the old town, extended towards the sea to create two safe harbors separated by Ortigia Island, and the modern city that preserves important vestiges of the ancient world. The older urban core is in Ortigia Island, where the vestiges of the first Greek period buildings are kept and where I visited Maniace Castle, an effective military stronghold and example of military architecture right on the water front, the temple of Apollo, the Dome and Dome Square, Archimedes Square with the fountain of Artemis in the middle, Maestranza street which leads us to the medieval district, Bellomo Palace and many other churches, palaces and stately buildings which rise of the islet`s small, very clean and cozy streets. As they say, strong essences are kept in small bottles. Which is the case of Ortigia, where everything is concentrated on a small area but to taste the beauty of the place you need time, patience and desire to know everything. And since all I miss is time, I had to give up the pleasure of walking in silence through Ortigia so I can get in the modern city which, in turn, houses many treasures: Neapolis Archaeological Park, the most representative zone of the ancient Greek city joining the Greek Theatre, the Roman Amphitheatre and the Shrine of St. Jerome, Paradiso Latomia with the Ear of Dionysus. I do not know where to begin to describe, so I say it simply: it must be seen, especially by those who are interested in architecture and archeology, or else all that can you find is a lot of boulders … The other point of interest that I managed to see in the modern city was Capuccini Latomia, the oldest and most beautiful of Syracuse latomias which is today reopened to the public with limited visiting hours. Now you can understand why I ran from one side to the other of the city … Anyway, I can tell you latomias are spectacular, the word means „cut rock” in Greek, and they are former quarries, enormous blocks of stacked stones, true roofs supported by natural pillars, caves, all demonstrating that their shape is derived from a technique of digging in search of the best rock vein. Many of the caves served as jails for prisoners, where conversations could easily be heard as whispers were amplified due to the special shape of the career, as is the case of the Ear of Dionysus.

And that’s all about Syracuse, very briefly, to give you an idea of ​​”my diary board” through Sicily. It was an important part of my holiday but not the most important. I cannot say that my walks were not accompanied by the “before departure lump in the throat”. This is the reason why I alternated walks, outing with friends, milonga (tango) evenings in Messina and Villa, organized by my friends, Valerio, Antonio and Domenica, tango lessons with Valerio, sunbathing and baths at Peloro Cape, so that I could feel the summer.

The last day was dedicated to farewells. Morning began with visits, meetings with friends, phone calls for those I could not see or messages on facebook. The meeting with colleagues from CESV was beautiful and painful at the same time, and I could not help shedding a few tears. We all had lunch at the headquarters for the last time, and I received ​​a gift to remind me of them and the whole time we worked and lived together. Obviously, promises were made to pay visits and to continue to work together on projects. I could see no other way … thank you, my dear, for all the warm welcome! And I hope to see you soon!

Maria Angela, Pepe, Maria and Laura who have completed their academic year and went to their parents in Corsica, Valerio, Salvo, Rosario, Nini and Franca, Dino, Angela, Nella …. with each I had a cup of coffee, a granita, ice cream, chats, hugs, visible or less visible regrets, lowered eyes, optimistic words, promises, contacts exchanged… well, you know what breakups are like, extremely difficult. But I had to do it and I knew this day would come…


Now I’m home, I wrote the last article … and then I go on. Even if the Journal Follow me in Sicily ended its live broadcast, we have work to do on this stage`s products, work which I have begun with Maria Angela since I was in Messina, and I hope God will help us to finish. And then will come other ideas to put into practice … friendships, relationships, projects, all maintained in order to remain alive.

So now, finally, after I have taken you throughout this journey, hoping you will live with me, personally and professionally, after you have seen the changes in style, tone and attitude in my articles, which, I`m warning you, I have no intention to change in any way, I`m sending you an invitation you can take as advice: follow Potpourri, wherever it may be!

Wherever it is, Potpourri will carry you with it … in the whole wide world and back…

A più tardi!

Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member