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

Potpourri & The Nineteenth Week in Sicily

The last week of internship at CESV signaled the closure of many activities: the heads of CESV were chosen, the non-formal English course ended well and we also approached the final stages of our common editorial projects. Even so, we didn`t neglect our daily responsibilities and we offered consultancy in the EVS domain (European Voluntary Service), organizing or supporting events and … there was, of course, the customary bureaucratic paperwork that must be done… Otherwise, in the meantime I enjoyed the company of my friends, tango dancing, going out for ice cream, chatting, taking leave of some of them… maybe for the last time.

Yes, breakups are tough, and when things come to an end you feel torn up inside, especially if you have formed a special attachment to those persons. Yeah, I still have two weeks here, you would say, but I finished work at CESV because I have a little more than two weeks of vacation at the end, as we set the agenda first. So this week was marked by farewell to many activities and people and I am glad that the outcome of what we have developed here has been positive. After three important and difficult general assemblies, CESV finally chose a new president, vice presidents and a managing committee. It was a tough time for everyone with a lot of work, but the result is good and I am happy that I was here to participate in this final stage.

This was also the last meeting for the Internet course and the English in the European context course I held. I met great people among students and we all hugged at the end, a lump in our throats, and we made ​​eye contact … with them, for the last time. I’m proud of each and everyone of them! They made progress and the motivation to go on was the most important for me. I hope to succeed, together with Maria Angela, in supporting all of those who, convinced of the benefits, expressed their intentions to participate in European mobility. Let us hope for even more! As it seems, there will be more, because we had several meetings with young people who came for advice regarding volunteering opportunities abroad, especially EVS but also CESV member associations wishing to be accredited as organizations which send and receive EVS volunteers. So it`s ok, the news is spreading and more and more people are beginning to understand what the benefits of European mobility and volunteering are and, more specifically, to apply for them. And I feel proud for this as well!

As to the editorial projects that I work on with Maria Angela and about which I have already told you, without revealing too much at the time, I can tell you that they aren’t finished yet. They will be when I get back to Romania, both as results and methods of dissemination of this internship period as a Grundtvig assistant. And anyway, we still have to work on them because they must be correct. You know what they say, things have to be done well from the very beginning. That means I`m still not going to tell you more, I want to make sure that these will see the light of day before making gratuitous statements.

I`m not going to bore you with other details about paperwork even if for potential candidates for assistantship it is important to know that at the end you need a certificate of participation, Europass mobility documents that demonstrate your presence and your work time spent in the host organization. However, they will find out about all this in detail if they decide to apply for such a European grant.

And now a little bit of culture … I admit and publicly declare: I love Argentine tango! As you already know, last week I was with friends at an Argentine tango party… and I got sick. This week the illness worsened because I went out again with Domenica, Antonio and Valerio at a restaurant in the city Villa in Calabria this time, for another tango evening. Actually, they were the organizers of this “milonga”, and so I had the surprise to get to a great spot on the hilltop where you can see the whole of Messina from the other side of the strait and all the lights, and the port … An exceptional evening where I “stole” tango steps from my friends … and the disease became even worse. So I got down to business. When you’re friends with dance instructors, you feel compelled to study Argentine tango. At the last minute I started classes with Valerio, and Antonio and Domenica joined in to teach me in a week what others learn in two years. I had a good excuse for this, I was going to leave them soon and I wanted to learn as much as possible. They are perfect instructors and know how to explain the technique and they can also make you understand and love this exquisite style of dancing and feeling at the same time. I had been fond of Argentine tango for a long time, but I had had neither the context nor the right people to teach me until last. And now another dream of mine has come true … a dream that must go on somehow, it is too good to end so quickly … Thank you Domenica, Valerio and Antonio, you are truly professionals!

I haven`t said goodbye to my coworkers yet, because we`ll see each other in the coming weeks for a pizza and a “granita”, or to some of the friends with whom I will still have the chance to meet later on. I am going to spend two weeks or so traveling and discovering other beautiful places in Sicily which I haven`t got the chance to see and which I`ll tell you about in a final article that will cover the last two and a half weeks until I set foot again on Romanian soil. In the meantime and also in the days when I won`t be traveling, I’ll see friends I have enormously grown fond of and that have became my family. We`ll met for sure here, in Sicily, or in Romania, we`ll look for each other and we`ll get together since the bonds that have been created are so strong. With some of them I will continue to collaborate on the joint projects started here or other ideas that we may come up with. I will certainly engage in new activities with Maria Angela and CESV also! This end is a new beginning for me, with new perspectives, attitudes, priorities, with an in-depth spiritual and professional knowledge and a huge desire to share them with everybody in Romania and beyond.

So, my dear, see you in about three weeks. And now…. follow me … through Sicily !

 Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member

Potpourri & The Eighteenth Week in Sicily

Why is it that all things become even more beautiful when they are about to come to an end? Is it a rule of life, a philosophical question which, unfortunately, is rhetorical at the same time? A matter of personal perspective? In my case, the answer is a combination of all these, unless somehow it is just 18, my lucky number, … because this week, the eighteenth, was indeed full of wonderful things: English courses, new recruits for Grundtvig workshops and EVS, Argentine tango dance evenings, outings with friends on the seafront, all the good and beautiful things that relished my soul and saddened me at the same time, for the departure time was nearing…

All the hard work at CESV is starting to pay off. That’s because this week I had an important preparation meeting with the president of LUTE Association from Milazzo, Claudio Grazziano, who will host a Grundtvig Assistant next year. Both CESV and Milazzo Association will receive Gundtvig Assistants next November, as it happened in my case, and who will continue my experience, bringing their professional and cultural contribution. I am glad that I supported the candidacies of two girls who will spend the next 6 respectively 8 months in Sicily, and that, together with Claudio, I decided on the major lines of conduct and work, starting with all legal and administrative aspects that proved to be a major headache to Maria Angela and me when I came to Messina. I only regret that I will not be here to work with them, as it is already clear that the two future assistants show great promise and I would have liked to know them.

I am pleased, however, that my experience and Maria Angela`s power of persuasion have had additional benefits and now, at the last minute (for me) we support and coordinate volunteers or senior members of other associations applying for Grundtvig Workshops. This means that the idea of ​​European mobility is slowly taking broader shape and it also proves the usefulness of the “living example” who speaks of the benefits that such European experience gives you a hundredfold.

Even at the English club there seem to be potential recruits for the European Voluntary Service (EVS), the opportunity for young people to shape a beautiful, harmonious personality, to learn the most important values of life ​​in multicultural contexts, in another country, at the same time bringing their volunteer contribution for the benefit of the civil society, of the community to which they belong, of people in general. At the three meetings we had this week we discussed, in English of course, about the benefits of volunteering and of the European experiences, such as EVS or Youth Exchange, from the Youth in Action program, but also about the importance of knowing and assimilating the European values, starting from a common vocabulary that promotes European cultural heritage attributes. I am also pleased with the way the meetings were conducted and the results, not to mention the pleasant and relaxed atmosphere and the company of the people, young and old, whom I will have the pleasure to meet next week, when the course officially ends.

As a counterbalance, the cultural part diversifies day by day and this because of the new friends I  met that night with the Argentine tango flash mob I told you about: Antonio, the dance instructor, and recently, Valerio, also an Argentine tango instructor who is  Antonio`s cheerful half. A phone message asked me to come to Vittorio Emanuele Theatre where was a show organized by Messina Dance Centre that lasted three hours! I didn`t stay to watch it all since it ended at midnight, but I stayed long enough to see children, young people and adults exhibiting their knowledge and skills in ballet, hip hop, tango, modern dance –  a range of ages, colors and energy that met with loud applause from the room overflowing with parents, grandparents, friends. That was for me, who I am so passionate about dance and music, an unexpected and extremely enjoyable event, especially since the focus was Antonio’s dance number, who participated with three Argentine tango dances that I also filmed – I`ll attach only one, if you don`t mind.

And while I was saying to myself that the week was almost over and I should spend the weekend at home, organizing myself a little for the final administrative details, I received another message: “We`re going dancing tonight”. Where? At a private tennis club, on the Messina Riviera, on a terrace where you could see all the nocturnal lights of the Calabrian coast, where tango lovers gather weekly to relax dancing in the sea breeze. Who with? Obviously, Antonio and Valerio, and Suzy and Domenica, two beautiful dancers that I admired all evening for their elegance. I, a photographer at first (because I hadn`t danced Argentine tango before), became then an amateur dancer, willy-nilly, as the boys insisted that I could do it. I have no idea what happened during the dance, I just know that I didn`t step too many times on my partner`s shoes, but otherwise I remember that … I was floating, that my feet were moving and it was like a beautiful dream which I wanted to last forever. The Argentine tango is a gorgeous dance, danced with the heart and your eyes closed, consisting of suites of 4 tangos, 3 milonga and 4 waltzes (I hope I remember the theory that the guys explained to me) but whose elegance and naturalness make it very different from standard Latin American dances. However, all the senses are multiplied by the refined atmosphere and the place itself where dance club members meet and I confess that now, as I`m  writing these lines, I keep thinking about that splendid evening ….that I hope I`ll live it again!

However, the plans for the last week before my vacation sound very promising and I hope they will come through, even if it is going to be a busy week with a lot of administrative work for the final stage. It seems like now, more than ever, I want to take full advantage of everything around me, I fill my eyes with as much as I can take back home to remind me of these places and these wonderful people that I met here, in another corner of the world …

Tango with Antonio and Ilaria Di Bernardo on the stage of Vittorio Emanuele Theatre:


 Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member

Potpourri & The Seventeenth Week in Sicily

It came and went by. I mean …week 17, which seemed to me short but busy with various activities. We initiated a new course, an English one this time, but in a more complex formula, we got through the elections that change the entire CESV leadership, and I also found the church of the Sri Lanka community, where I attended the service.

The closer we are to the end of the internship, the more we work, and this is how I got to initiate, together with Maria Angela, an intensive English conversation course in a form different from the classical pattern. In other words, a non-formal course designed to improve English communication skills in a European context, in order to promote intercultural education, volunteering and European mobility. Specifically, we combine communication in English with the required information about what volunteering means, its benefits, the volunteering European opportunities and other European mobility types based on my experience as Grundtvig Assistant.

The course is open to adult participants (it fits the Adult Education line) and the group that was formed is predominantly „student” but among them are representatives of CESV member associations experienced in international volunteer projects. We meet 3 times a week at the headquarters of CESV and in the most relaxed atmosphere we work with the concepts of „learning, sharing, citizenship, volunteering, mobility, motivation, mindset, etc.”, we offer examples from our own experiences and at the same time we practice communication in English, in terms which are being targeted in this European and intercultural context.

The course unfolds as expected and both Maria Angela and I are proud that after only two meetings the interest in the European issues discussed has significantly increased and the participants remain after the course to ask more questions. We hope the results will be the ones we desire, at least we can see that the course is heading in the right direction, but we can`t tell you this until the very end, when they themselves will express their views both on the course and on the method and „trainers”. Mind you, if they aren`t positive, I won`t let you know….

Concerning the elections that I attended on Saturday … what a stressful job! There was a lot of hard work and responsibility, a lot of paperwork to do, and long working hours, but in the end we had the satisfaction that we had done our job well and conscientiously. This was the most important of the three meetings that I attended while there, for the fact that the same day were elected the president, the vice president, the board of directors and other verification committees. In a word, the whole structure of the CESV. There were debates, deliberations and voting (and I hope I have used all the representative verbs), and that besides the preceding phase when we had to register the presence of all CESV member associations who took part (and there weren`t many, believe me, only about 150 or more!) and you had to pay special attention to papers, to guide the delegations and more than that, to make conversation. So there was no chance for us to get bored till night fell, I even ran to and fro the halls to take pictures, and my colleagues did the same in order to fulfill various administrative and organizational responsibilities. However, even if such moments are exhausting and demanding, we still found time to joke around and laugh, to make fun of it and to relax a little and take things easier. In fact, we all enjoyed it since it was the last…

Although I arrived home at around 5 p.m., my head was spinning so I decided to go for a walk. Moreover, in front of my building I saw a group of Sri Lanka children with their music teacher, playing traditional wooden instruments (some huge drums) and, since wherever there is something new going on I am also present, I went to find out more about the reason for their rehearsal. This is how, on the same day, I got at Sri Lanka Community Church, where there was a service held to welcome the new priest. I was the only white person there, which is why I stood at the entrance, discreetly, not to bother anyone, and not to attract too much attention while taking photos and listening to the service a little (this was just to gain some cultural experience, not that I understood something of their language). Anyway, it was interesting to see and hear something different, a little Eastern oasis trying to keep their traditions and identity in the Western “sea” that surrounds them, and me, here in Sicily.

My dear ones, the end of my internship is slowly approaching, I have two more weeks of training, followed by a two-three week holiday, before I return home. Don`t worry though, I’ll tell you everything, all the way, because every story has a beginning and an end. I also hope I`ll travel a little bit in undiscovered places in Sicily and then you`ll travel with me, to say goodbye to these lands blessed by God with a simple but unforgettable beauty.

Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member

Potpourri & The Sixteenth Week in Sicily

The alarm clock rang this week too, but fortunately, not at 5 a.m. The trips were few, but didn`t lack beauty and a little bit of crazy stuff, as some would say. My first destination was Vittoria, an unexpected experience with … our coach from Focsani. Then came Tindari, the lagoon that inspired Quasimodo and lastly, when less expected, in the cool evening, going for a walk in the port I came across a flash mob – a lot of people were dancing Argentinian tango in the street.

As I was saying, this week I went around Sicily by a Romanian coach, Robin Group from Focsani – this is the company from where I bought the plane tickets and whose coach comes in Italy weekly, passing through Messina, Catania and Vittoria. I asked the drivers, Florentiu and Catalin, to take me with them, this being an opportunity for me to admire the views and the towns, especially Vittoria, which lies on the other side of Sicily, in the south-west. The scenery was indeed magnificent along the coast up to Catania, but from there to Vittoria, crossing Sicily, there wasn`t much to see; only plains that look very much like ours, but greener, maybe. We made a short halt at Catania to take some people, but I didn`t have time to visit the town – I had already seen it, anyway. In Vittoria I had two hours only to see the town, which I did in the biggest hurry ever, since I walked from the coach station to the center. I was disappointed in the end, and my extreme thirst for touristic wealth wasn`t really quenched as I hoped it would. Even if on the map the town is marked as being rather big, Vittoria is much simpler and poorer than everything I had seen till then. The town was founded by countess Vittoria Colonna in 1607 so its architecture is old and quite poor, but this is what makes it beautiful if you have an eye for the old. Finally, I reached the main points of interest and I photographed some imposing and interesting cathedrals: Madonna delle Grazie, 1754, the Town Theatre, neoclassic buildings and  Madre Church also called San Giovanni Battista – patron saint of the town. I breathed in the provincial air of the town with the same narrow streets that characterize the whole of Sicily and then I rushed to catch the coach lest it shouldn`t have left without me. Although I didn`t see as much as I had expected, it was a very pleasant experience, the first of the sort, and I had a good time in the company of my friends from Focsani chatting about all kind of Romanian trifles that somehow mellowed my homesickness. Anyway, you won`t find many people travelling around Sicily like crazy, as I did …

As a counterbalance, I evaded at Tindari, a historical locality in Patti bay, an hour journey by coach from Messina. Named Tyndaris to honour Tindari, the king of Sparta, the locality is less known by tourists and the main attraction points are up on the rock with a view over the bay and the lagoon-shaped beach.

The Shrine of Madonna Nera in Tindary is an imposing building right on the edge of the rock, overlooking the whole village underneath. It houses Madonna`s (Saint Mary`s) miracle maker statue, an antique cedar wood sculpture that attracts millions of pilgrims asking for Madonna`s help. Behind this shrine, there is another one, small and old, offering a beautiful panorama of the beach and the bay. There are important archeological vestiges of the old town of Tyndaris that can still be seen today: the defense wall of the city, the Greek theater, the basilica, the baths, and several houses with precious mosaics. I managed to “steal” only a few photos of the archaeological site because the time spent in Tindari was limited (1 hour and a half) and I also wanted to see the other beautiful things I had read about. So I ran to see the famous beach, the beautiful lagoon that inspired writer Salvatore Quasimodo apparently due to its shape, with its small portions of inland water that change shape according to the movement the of sand caused by the tide. Known as Marinello or the dry sea, the beach has its legend according to which it seems to have formed on the place where a child fell from the terrace of the shrine but miraculously escaped alive. From the terrace of a restaurant I had the best view of the entire beach, whose sand is very fine and which I would have liked to feel under my bare feet. But time was too short, it was too hot outside and there were too many means of transport that I had to change to get down that far. Nevertheless, I can say that I am pleased that I got there and finally, let`s admit it, you can`t see it all during a lifetime.

Or … this is exactly what happens when you least expect it. Having strolled through the port one  evening (as I do every day because it’s chilly outside at this time of the day and you can`t really stay in anymore), I was on the point of heading home, when I saw a group of about 30 people installing a laptop and speakers and beginning to dance Argentine tango.  How could I possibly have missed such a thing? I approached and asked for permission to film and the one I suspected to be the dance instructor explained the reason for the flash mob: solidarity with Turkish and Greek dancers who had danced in the streets with gas masks over their faces to protest against the current political situation. The young and less young people who danced in the harbor were dancers from various schools of Argentine tango in Messina, but the event was repeated in Catania and other cities of Sicily and, apparently, as Antonio, the dance instructor, told me, at the Romanian National Library as well. I will ask again for confirmation, maybe I’m wrong and I did not understand Italian well … Anyway, I watched them for about an hour and I admired the beauty with which they treat one of the most beautiful types of tango in such a picturesque place as this. And of course, I attach the film made with my phone – that’s to apologize beforehand for the quality of the film uploaded on You Tube and the Potpourri website.

So, my dearest, as you can see, every week I get something new and beautiful and the days that follow will not be outdone, as announced, even if we have much work to do at CESV where there will be important elections at management level. But, as we all know, the more pleasant the atmosphere, the less tiring or stressful the work.

And now I`ll let you enjoy tangooooo monsieur!


 Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member

Potpourri & the Fifteenth Week in Sicily

Whenever I make a promise I like to keep it, and since last week I said I was going to present you the last two concerts at Sant Antonio Basilica, here I go now. I would like to persuade you that classical, sacred and symphonic music are attributes that fully characterize the Italian people, so I will add the whole religious, cultural and popular context that enabled me to enjoy so many street concerts and demonstrations organized on the occasion of The White Night (Notte Bianca) and in honor of Pope John Paul II `s first visit in Messina, 25 years ago.

Summer time brings along an atmosphere of joy and party, outdoors activities and ample traditional, cultural demonstrations involving all kinds of artists. I`ll start by telling you a few words about the fourth concert at Sant Antonio Basilica, memorable due to a special person seated in the first row of the church.

As I have already told you before, these concerts are dedicated to the new Pope Francesco. This week`s concert had as a special guest in the person of Stanislaw Dziwisz, cardinal of Krakow and Pope John Paul II`s personal secretary. Ersu Choir and the Sicilian Lyric Choir gave an exemplary interpretation (despite being overcome with emotions due to the cardinal`s presence) of Mozart`s Requiem Kv 626 in order to celebrate 25 years since the Pope`s visit to Messina. The concert for soloists, choir and piano for two filled the church fast. I am not surprised anymore about the quality of the concerts because I got used to the conductor`s style, Francesco Costa, who is extremely young but talented at the same time, and well known and appreciated in the Sicilian musical world. He is also responsible for the last interpretation, as impressive as the first, which ended the second edition of the Festival for Orchestra and Choir and was dedicated to Verdi, in celebration of 200 years since the great Italian composer was born. Which leads me up to a subject I have already mentioned, The White Night (Notte Bianca), a big festival that took place on the 15th of June. From 8 a.m. till 3 in the morning the town center was full of people, hustle and bustle, street artists, flower art, stalls with handmade goods, sweets, wine and cheesetasting and outdoor concerts in the little squares around Sant Antonio Basilica.

The week`s most remarkable events also took place in the basilica, of course, that is five concerts in a row that kept me almost still in the church for five hours! That`s what I call a musical present at the end of the week! You already know one of the five concerts, the one with music by Verdi, and then three more concerts, piano for two and violin, music by Brahms, Rossini, Bellini, Moskovsky and Gershwin, with sopranos and tenors that filled the basilica with their voices. I was very much impressed by an Immigrants` Choir that sang at the opening of the musical evening – I hadn`t listened live to this kind of music before: African rhythms, specific instruments, colorful costumes, and an extremely warm and joyful repertoire which got the whole audience singing. I`m sure you are familiar with The Lion Sleeps Tonight, a melody that was taken over by famous groups…

Between two concerts I crept outside, in the crowd, to get to see a little bit of the other demonstrations. There were artists walking on high stilts, mime artists and comedians who enlivened groups of onlookers, rousing applauses from parents and smiles from children. On the stages located in the neighboring squares there were dance and music shows for children and the young, also choir, gospel and jazz concerts with international stars, all unfolding at once. Suspense, people -their mouths agape in excitement – watching trapeze artists, acrobats, fire-eaters, juggleries, magic. As for the rest, there were musical impromptus, painting exhibitions, puppet shows, vintage car parades, guided tours in the church museums, open shops and boutiques, with cotton candy, dry fruits, sweets, ice cream and the customary… popcorn.

I stopped at the tasting stalls and was offered a slice of bread with ricotta which I accompanied with some red wine and a Sicilian muffin, to enjoy a complete menu. I couldn`t miss any of the other stalls, I tried different types of cheese, made of goat milk, with pepper, mozzarella, olives, bread. I skipped the meat part, since I`m not a fan of, but there was a wide variety of prosciutto, ham, salami and the sort, but in Sicilian way here.

So, I enjoyed a delicious dinner and a special atmosphere on Saturday night and, although there was one more concert at midnight, tiredness had a say in this (not to mention old age …) and I retired for a good sleep, leaving the noise behind but unable to ignore it completely since it was all happening right under my window.

On Sunday, after other street processions dedicated to Saint Antonio from Padova (with music pouring from the megaphones along the main boulevards) Maria, Laura and I feasted our eyes with the fireworks that officially put an end to a week full of laic and religious demonstrations.

This seems to be only the beginning, because the Sicilian summer abounds in activities, one more interesting than the other – speaking for myself, as a person who is interested in getting to see and know as much as possible about the surrounding world.

Goodbye until next week, my dearest, we will see where my next trip is going to take me, but remember… you are always with me.

Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member

Potpourri & The Fourteenth Week in Sicily

What a pleasure to walk the streets and around the harbor at night, when the perfume of lime trees, glycine, jasmine and orange flowers is even more powerful than during the day… This was a week with important holidays in Messina, with a lot of people running for CESV or for the Town Hall elections. I didn`t take any trips at the weekend, but I attended a christening ceremony for the first time in Italy, in my friends Rosario and Iris` family where I lived extraordinary moments of emotional warmth and didn`t miss the chance to make new friends.

Words simply fail me when I want to describe what I feel when I walk the streets in the evening, the multitude of delightful smells and wonderful colors that keep me company to and from the harbor and in the Dom`s Square where two important processions were held this week: Vascelluzzo and Madonna della Lettera.

One of the main catholic religious demonstrations is Corpus Domini, which is celebrated in Italy in the second week after the Whitsuntide and evokes The Last Supper`s mass from Holy Thursday.

On this occasion Vascelluzzo procession starts from the Dom`s Square in Messina. Vascelluzzo is a three-mast ship, about three meters long, with wooden interior coated in a light handmade silver covering. The procession is connected with the tradition of this ship which reached hunger-stricken Messina during Charles the 1st of Anjou`s siege (May-September 1282). The inhabitants asked for Madonna della Lettera`s (i.e. Virgin Mary`s) help, worshipped as the town`s spiritual patron saint. The ship filled with food is thought of as a miracle put on Lady Mary. The tradition says that the ship managed to reach the town untouched by the royal naval blockade thus saving the people of Messina.

The second procession, dedicated to Madonna della Lettera, who blessed the town and its dwellers, is celebrated on the 3rd of June, in Messina only. The procession starts from the Dom Cathedral with Mary`s silver statue being carried around town. There are a lot of associations and brotherhoods that participate in both processions. The members wear representative outfits with specific signs on and accompany the two statuettes, singing along with the priests and the other people taking part, and finally returning to the Cathedral.

As I`m not into politics, I won`t say much about the elections, I just want to point out that the streets teemed with demonstrations, speeches and such events, which I have not studied closely but I simply could not avoid noticing. And since CESV is soon having their own elections, we busied ourselves with the candidacies of the aspirants to the posts of president, vice president and committee director, and we also filled in and forwarded the forms called 5×1000, cinque per mille (5%, which is the Romanian equivalent of the 2% form) that the associations deposit for the benefit of CESV.

This week I replaced the trips I used to go on with family events, but I have no regrets because I participated in another christening ceremony, that of a beautiful 2-year old boy this time, Antonio, with Italian and Cuban “roots”. His father, Rosario, is Italian and his mother, Iris, is Cuban and they also have two daughters: Yaris, 11 years, who has a wonderful voice and is a member of both her school and the national choir, and Elida, a talkative little girl, with four front teeth missing, who took to me from the very first moment. I met Rosario by chance, about two months ago, in the confectionery where he works, and there I was, taking part in such an important event with their whole family. At 11 a.m. I attended the christening ceremony in the church, and then I spent all day with friends having lunch, and then dinner and the cake up until around midnight. The atmosphere was extremely warm and friendly, I found acceptance with them very easily and I felt like home… The delicious food was cooked by the three mothers and one of Rosario`s fellow workers. I ate cozze, a kind of fried oysters, which was a first for me, anelli di calamari, and other traditional Sicilian and Cuban dainties, caponata (eggplants with sweet-sour tomato sauce and a little sugar), cheese muffins with sunflower seeds, mini hamburgers, prosciutto and cheese balls, fish and oregano pasta and strawberry cake with Bavarese cream. But I`d better stop here, for your sake ….

As a conclusion, I had a lot to do this week too, I enjoyed every minute of it, every new experience, trip, family reunion, friends and beautiful surprises. Next time I am going to talk to you about the last two concerts at Sant Antonio Basilica and whatever I may find, to keep you posted and…. out of breath, I hope.

See you next week, my dearest!

Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member

Potpourri & The Thirteenth Week in Sicily

The 13th week was packed with administrative and editorial activities at CESV, cultural and intercultural activities around Sicily`s gorgeous towns and of course, family reunions and dinner in Molochio, where the team grew bigger with little Giulia. And, to keep the promise I made you last week, I attached the You Tube links for the wonderful concert at Sant Antonio Basilica, together with other cultural activities I participated in, and a short recording of the Sunday religious service in Maria dello Spirito Santo, the church where I go every day. I hope you will enjoy all of these, an attempt of mine to share with you everything I experience here.

So, as one can see, I keep on writing articles every week and I am working on an editorial project on a larger scale, but I have decided not to tell you more about it at this stage. I do hope it will be something big, useful and new, with intercultural marks and a lot of soul in each and every page, and…. that`s it, I won`t let you in on it anymore. As to the administrative part, well, the third important meeting is going to take place at the end of June and there are preceding activities galore. Endless letters, e-mails, phone calls… and we are not even close to the 29th.

I take the most of my free time visiting as many places recommended by my friends as I can. You already know the meaning of 5 o`clock, and I don`t mean the 5 o`clock tea, I`m talking about my cell phone ringing at the break of dawn to get me going to Cefalu this time. I travelled by train and I didn`t regret it, since I had the chance to admire the most beautiful landscapes on the sea shore. And this because the train, by comparison to the bus that takes the highway (far from the sea shore), crosses all small villages you get thus the chance to see and obviously, lining the shore, where you can admire the rocks and the Aeolian Islands that can be easily distinguished in the distance. After two hours of travelling and taking lots of pictures through the train window, I got off at one of the most attractive areas in Sicily and one of the best touristic towns on the island, with Greek, Roman, Arabian and Norman origins visible in the numerous vestiges and buildings. The old, historical part of the town looks like a compact mass of houses on a gentle slope climbing to the immense cathedral (The Dome) that towers the landscape. In the background lies Rocca (270 m), a steep slant that I climbed to reach the mediaeval Castle and the ruins of some megalithic structures and the Byzantine wall on top of the rocks; the panorama it offers is almost incredible – not only can you see the town and the quay, but also the whole coast on both sides of the mountain. I roamed the town far and wide, then I climbed down to the harbor and the beach, where I enjoyed a spinach and ricotta pie and a pizza Marguerita – the traditional pizza with cheese and tomatoes, absolutely delicious, both of them (do not take it the wrong way, I didn`t mean to whet your appetite…). In the evening, I got on the train, exhausted and with a mind to get some rest, but to no avail. The sea shore and the Aeolian Islands were lit by a splendid sunset, with incredible colors, and this woke me up completely. I managed to steal some pictures, an eloquent reminder of this divine travel that still lingers in my mind now, when I am writing these lines.

If you think that was it for this week, you couldn`t be more mistaken. The next day I left for Molochio, in Calabria, where Maria, Laura and newly-born Giulia were waiting for me. I had lunch with Rosalba (the eldest sister and Giulia`s mom) and her family, with Marie Jean, the sisters’ mother, who had come from Corsica especially for the event. According to the Italian custom, we visited all the relatives and partied for two more days, with 10-12 people sitting at a table relishing the tastiest dishes, not to mention the famous Italian ice cream – or the kilos piling up…

And since all good things must come to an end, we returned home only to find yet another holiday waiting for me –but this can wait until next week.

Now let me share with you the links I promised, but, mind you, the material (except for the first, the Sunday concert, Misa Criolla, at Sant Antonio Basilica) is recorded with my cell phone, so the quality might not be what you expect… I advise you to listen even if is not comparable with the live version, all the more you have pictures from the concert.

Next is a part of the Sunday service at Maria dello Spirito Santo, then Ritmo live Group in an open air concert in People’ Square, Messina, and the last, a guitar concert I grasp in a pub while walking one evening in Dom Square, Messina.





Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member

Potpourri & The Twelfth Week in Sicily

Do you know that there is Heaven on Earth too? If you do, then you are blessed, if you don`t, I`m telling you there is. This week I experienced Heaven in two ways here: first, culturally, with Spanish guitar sounds, live rhythm, sopranos and tenors and then, naturally, among the panoramas that join the land and the sea, on exotic little islands, amid rocks and colorful boats.

Do you remember the concerts I told you about last weeks, those held in Sant Antonio Basilica? This weekend they played the third concert out of the five of this season and this one has been the most spectacular so far. I literally felt chills down on my spine … The show was made of several exceptional interpretations, combining classical music, Spanish guitar, live rhythms, choir and percussion. Ersu Choir and Orchestra in collaboration with the Sicilian Lyric Choir and Ritmo live Multiethnic Orchestra, all conducted by Francesco Costa, filled the church with people, with Argentinian, Brazilian, classical and exotic rhythms of sacred music, force and energy.

The special guests were soprano Giovanna Collica and guitarist Agatino Scuderi and a young tenor, Dave Monaco, who interpreted Misa Criolla, an exquisite synthesis of folk, popular and sacred music (the formula which combines Hispano-American musical themes and tradition with those of the religious mass is simply unique!), composed by the Argentinian Ariel Ramirez for soloists, choir and orchestra – an expression of a purely folk musical form characterized by the presence of typical  Latino-American instruments and rhythms.

I`m telling you in earnest that I had never before listened to such mixture, it is absolutely   fantastic and the interpretation was exemplary, but everybody knows that the Italian are widely known as great musicians, to say the least…. And surprise! For those who haven`t heard yet, guitarist Agatino Scuderi also played in Romania with various orchestras from Craiova, Bacau, Ploiesti, Targu  Mures.

And obviously, since I am a little nosy I managed to talk to them eventually and I hope I will soon have the recording of the concert to post it on “You tube” for you to have the opportunity to enjoy the same experience as I did – even if the acoustics is rather different live….

I had a second divine revelation when I visited Giardini –Naxos and Bella Island, two touristic resorts near Messina. I guess you remember my old saying “and I woke up at 5 a.m., again”, which has been my habit of late each and every Saturday. Well, at dawn I left for (Giardini-) Naxos, the oldest Greek colony, made of sedimentary lava, where today can be seen the remains of the antique settlement. It was too early for a visit in the archaeological park so I walked on the quay and reached Taormina Cape, a high terrace from where one can admire the whole resort, and then climbed down on the other side of the mountain toward Bella Island, a beautiful oasis turned into a natural reserve and which is also known as the Mediterranean Pearl. I traveled the whole distance between the resorts on foot, but it was worth every minute of it. I crossed the cold water to see the Island, with two panorama spots arranged for tourists to admire the boat bay and the Taormina Cape, and I walked alongside dozens of other tourists, through the stone galleries and luxuriant vegetation which clad the little oasis.

So, I`m now going to let you enjoy these beautiful pictures, which I chose among the hundreds I took and which I would like to show them to you one day, hoping that next week I will be able to show you more dream-like places from wonderful Sicily.

Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member

Potpourri & The Eleventh Week in Sicily

This was a week full of joy and… fishermen`s stuff… Joyful because I spent it together with “the red noses” from Messina VIP Association, a group of clowns who do volunteer work in hospitals and who are supervised by my colleague and friend from CESV, Mari Angela. And with fishermen`s stuff because I visited Scylla, a fishermen`s town in Calabria where I enjoyed a lot of moments of relaxation on the sea shore.

Messina VIP Association (Viviamo in Positivo – Let`s live in a positive way) is another CESV volunteer association whose president is Mari Angela Filocamo, my friend and colleague at CESV. It was set up in 2004 and is part of VIP Italy, a federation that brings together and coordinates 53 VIP volunteer associations from Italy and San Marino Republic.

VIP Messina is made up of volunteers of all ages, missionaries of happiness clad in funny clown costumes, who want to bring a smile on the faces of those hospitalized at the pediatric, hematology and plastic surgery wards in Messina Papardo Hospital and other hospitals, centers, old people`s homes and even in other countries where people with different social, physical or psychological problems are taken care of. “The Red Noses” – as the members of the association are called – enter the hospital every Sunday to bring joy into the hurt souls of both children and adults; they use a method called “clown therapy”, a therapy of love that uses tricks, magic games, improvisation. The Red Noses also organize meetings with students in order to raise awareness regarding the importance and benefits of volunteering and social involvement.

This Sunday, on the 19th of May, VIP organizations celebrated Red Noses National Day, the ninth edition. The volunteer clowns met their supporters in the main squares all over Italy and promoted positive thinking, clown therapy and volunteer work. We put up our tents and “ammunition” in the central square in Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto.

I would like to tell you from the very beginning that it was a very long but beautiful day: I woke up at 5 a.m. to get there in time and be able to have everything ready before the start of the activity, and I got home only at 11 p.m. It was a day full of play, laughter and good mood, but at the same time, for the clowns and for me (I took lots of pictures in an attempt to catch the most representative images and moments) that meant work, dedication, responsibility and implication. Twenty volunteer clowns from Messina VIP prepared the event in the smallest detail, helped by their families and friends – who understand and respect their mission and, most important, have been supporting them for more than ten years. They make their own costumes and the props they need for the activities themselves, also the publicity materials and the prizes they offer to the children. Everything is handmade since most of the clowns are talented (they help with decorating, tailoring, etc.) and Dali, the painter, adjusts where needed. More than that, everything is offered with great love, thing that can be seen in minute detail.

Being a volunteer clown is no easy matter – as some might think. There are strict rules here and training sessions are needed in order to be ready to wear the clown`s costume. I understood this on Sunday, during the activity, watching the clowns at work and seeing how the public appreciated them and how successful they were. Many of the people who came during the morning joined us in the afternoon and in the evening too but what impressed me the most was that there were present many former patients whom the clowns had brought so much joy in their suffering days and who now came to look for their saviors and salute their work once again.

We let the show begin at 10 a.m., after two hours of preparations, and the square filled at once with children, parents and grandparents who were glad to put on a red nose and play alongside us and the children. I am mentioning this to emphasize the different mentality of the Italian people, but I am not doing it a critical or malicious manner; I just know that, back in Romania, adults would not be so receptive in this case. On the other hand, this was precisely what made that Sunday unforgettable: the young and the old playing together and having fun. In order to enter the clowns` magic world, you were given a clown card and a red nose which enabled you to join in five games: “darts” with balls, caresses chair, wishing well, face painting, circles throwing, the cube games and more than that, you could sing, dance, have fun at the puppets theatre and choose a souvenir made by the clowns. There was not a moment`s break until 9.30 a.m., when the red noses day officially ended with the launching of VIP paper lamps – which rose into the air despite the wind, to everyone`s delight.

The conclusion of this day lies in the kids `exuberance and their parents `enthusiasm as well as in the clowns `work: a roaring success! Flawless, professional organization, without any incident, no technical glitches, no tiredness, just sheer joy, coming from the heart.

A big round of applause for VIP Messina and sweet kisses for all the volunteer clowns I was honored (to say the least…) to meet and support. And if you too want to know them better, here is where you can find them:




As to the fishermen side of the week, this is called Scylla, a touristic resort locality in Calabria, on the other side of Messina Straits, the traditional site of the sea monster Scylla in Greek mythology. They say it is one of the most beautiful towns characteristic of Italy, stretching along the “Violet Coast” (this being the color of the sea at certain times during the day). It is a dream place, situated on a headland that separates the locality in two (actually three) parts: on one side, there is the resort with the beach, umbrellas and restaurants, on the other side, not visible from the beach, is the fishermen`s village and the harbor, where the houses are older, with narrow streets, water smell and a lot of little colorful boats “parked” between the houses. The third part actually stretches on the slope on the entire cape that sticks out into the sea, with Ruffo Castle, the central element on the edge of the rock, dominating the whole panorama. Having wandered for about four hours and taken 250 photos, I finally made my abode on the beach to enjoy a lemon granita and wind down in a chaise longue, admiring the special color of the sea and the light house on the other side of Messina Straits.

I have known what travel tastes like for a long time, but Sicily fascinates me a great deal because there are treasures in every corner of the island, thing that is normal for the people living there but for a foreigner like me, they are natural wonders which man seasoned with an architecture that never ceases to amaze you and which makes you want to see more and more…

 Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member