From now on I decided to write a short NUTSHELL post first, for those of you who are not necessarily interested in the details. Scroll down for pictures and the rest of the story if you are interested. 🙂
A friend from California told me that my “Sicily trip needed an explanation”…so here you have it. DC to Sicily, via Moscow… with cheap airfare on Aeroflot Airlines, Russia’s premier carrier. (Only $610 round trip! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! New fleet of Airbus/great service, decent food, free wine and 150 free movies!)
I came to Sicily to find my roots. (half of them, that is! Scotland will see me someday) Volunteer on farms along the way for two months, food and accommodation in exchange for 4-5 hrs of work per day, via http://www.WorkAway.info. One month in Sicily, one month mainland Italy, near Rome, mostly with horses again. A good way to escape the NE winter I figure. I’ll arrive back on Cape Cod June 4th to start earning $$.
So far Sicily has been a great experience, working in the garden weeding garlic beds and moving firewood with my host, Angelo and another couple from England, Jo and Mat, who were here and are now gone. Today I spent time cleaning the house and patio. Tomorrow for Easter, I was invited to go with Angelo to his family’s gathering with 25 or so relatives! Then I will leave for my next destination on Tuesday, a small farm in Messina with a mare and foal. From there I will tour Taormina, a must see destination.
THE REST OF THE STORY:
I sit here in my new home, listening to the sounds in the kitchen, of Angelo my host and his girlfriend Lucia preparing tonight’s meal. The melodic sound of the glorious Italian language, chopping of vegetables, slicing of Italian bread. I imagine their hands are flying in expression. The propane heater warming my chilled bones.
The trip here was a bit grueling, 24 hrs of travel time in all….but at least it was interesting, and cheap. Hmmm…never thought I would find myself in Russia! It was a short layover but exciting to be in a new land, on a new continent. I saw some interesting people, Hassidic Jews and one man with a small wooden block attached to his forehead, swaying and reading from his prayer book, with black leather straps coiled around his forearm, in the waiting area at my gate. I was hoping this wasn’t a strange omen for my flight. Perhaps he was blessing our trip?
Finally, I was on my way and slept part of the trip, having only had one or two hours on my red-eye flight to Russia. It was going to be one of those days. I woke up just in time to see the west coast of Italy below with the Apennine mountain range running the length of the country, entirely snow covered. Gorgeous!
We landed in Rome. The last time I came to Italy, in 2009, I remember feeling so at home as soon as I hit the ground….like my soul belonged here. MY PEOPLE! I was so excited to be back and had that upwelling feeling of joy come over me, a giggle bubbling up inside. I love hearing the Italian language around me. I checked in at Ryan Air….(CHEAP way to travel around Europe! One way Rome to Sicily….only $80, including my bag fee). I found my gate, only to find that the flight was delayed by two hours. Boarded…Another quick nap on my way to Sicily and woke in time to see the island below and Mount Etna. At the southern base was my new home for the next week or so, with Angelo Grassi and his German Shepherd, Asia.
We landed in Catania on the Eastern side of Sicily and I marveled at the fact that I was finally here….it took me years to manifest this dream. I looked around and saw familiar features on the faces around me. Not many spoke English but I kept trying, “Scuse, parli Inglese?” I spent time in Catania buying a local SIM card for my phone so I could text Angelo and let him know my ETA. Finally with bits and pieces of Italian, sign language and gestures, I found my way onto the bus to Nicolosi, about an hour ride down the road. Angelo showed up minutes after my arrival in the square, in his little Fiat. A robustly healthy man of 40 with a smile and bright eyes, salt and pepper hair. A handshake, hug and European style-two-cheek-kiss-greeting and off we went, up the hill to his house. From the pictures on-line I thought the house would be more in the country, but in fact, it is in a hillside neighborhood of stucco style houses, all fortified with huge, heavy metal gates and surrounding walls. Maybe a throwback from the medieval days? A need to protect. The village seemed small and remote enough to go without but this is their way.
This was Angelo’s family summer home which he inherited and is now restoring and making more of a year round home, with the help of volunteers like myself. His hope is to someday host yoga retreats and the like.
The yard consists of a small grape vineyard, intermixed with beds of garlic, a fruit tree orchard and rows of lettuce and onions, an olive tree here and there. My room is a basic room with a single bed, large wooden doors with wood louvered outer doors.
Jo and Mat, the couple from England, are in their late 30’s. They decided to sell their home and did an around the world trip for 12 months and after doing so, decided to travel and volunteer indefinitely, until their money runs out. Make more $ and travel again. It’s good to meet others and share stories of this unusual traveling lifestyle, who, like me, are asked the questions by family and friends, “how and why?” It becomes a passion, a way of life, an exploration of self and the world. Curiosity, quest, need? Not sure. All of the above? One life to live…no regrets at the end of the road. I want to see and experience as much as I can before I die.
There are so many others out there on the road. The volunteering network connects us.
Angelo, a vegan Italian, made a nice simple meal of bean soup and salad, and we sat in the small kitchen eating, accompanied by Lucia, and drank his homemade red wine.
It was early to bed for me and Angelo offered for me to take it easy in the morning because of jet lag. I slept in till 9:30 and awoke to a crisp, clear, sunny Sicilian morning. I told Angelo my grandfather was born in Priolo and from the veranda Angelo pointed south and showed me the peninsula where my grandfather had lived! How profound to be here, so close to where my Biondi family made their home, until they left for American in 1909.
Breakfast… then 4 hours of weeding the garlic patch among rows of grape vines. Angelo explained that he would be working in the afternoon in a jam factory for extra money, as an aside from his work as a geologist. The economy in Italy is struggling and work is scare. He explained how so many immigrants from Libya are coming in droves to the shores of Sicily, in small boats, sent off by the Libyan government. Sicily is the closest landmass to their home. Recently, 100 people perished enroute in high seas. Sicily is overwhelmed by the surge of newcomers and is required to accept them, to “save them from the sea”, as directed by international law. I noticed many Africans in the streets of Catania and wondered about their origin. This explained it. The jam factory owners hire some of them as cheap labor. They hire their friend Angelo sometimes, when needed, at a slightly higher rate.
Angelo dropped me off in the town of Acireale to wander and explore while he worked. I didn’t know how long I would be there, but he gave me suggestions of what to see.
The park, the overlook, the walkway to the village below by the sea, the piazza duomo. “Take via Romeo after the second church, to the sea, Romeo, like Romeo and Juliet”. I wandered in my dress, sandals, and pack back, sticking out like a sore thumb among tight jeans and boots. People stared and glanced at my summer shoes as I passed. Smiles from men, mutual double takes. Handsome Italian men.
A flower stand, bakeries, gelato shops, pizzerias, fashion clothing shops. All were mostly closed, as it was afternoon. The Italians are smart. They close up shop and go home to rest between 1 and 5 pm then open again for more business, with late dinners and socializing into the night.
I found my way to via Romeo after a stop for conversation and photos at the corner flower shop. I took the opportunity to inquire with the shopkeeper and his friend and asked for a photo. I saw something I had never seen before. I pointed and said, “Chocolate?” “No, no, no” and he said the word for wax and showed me a candle to explain. White roses dipped in yellow wax, drizzled with brown wax to look like chocolate! Interesting.
I was on my way down via Romeo to the Ionian Sea, blue waters visible ahead down a narrow alley of a street. My shoes were ridiculously flimsy for this lava paved walkway and sidewalks. The path was steep and I decided to forgo the hike to the shoreline and instead sat on the wall, pulled out my pastel set and paper and proceeded to paint my FIRST painting in TWO YEARS! I was thrilled. It took Italy to inspire this out of me. I had wondered when “it” would hit me again. Now was the time. I sat, studying the values which lay out before me….distant hills, muted and barely visible in the haze, dotted peninsulas in varying shades of muted greens and browns. Were those chalk cliffs or houses? Houses. All with terra cotta tiled roofs. Blue water but muted with afternoon sun glare…but I’ll make it more blue just the same. Houses are difficult for me…I do my best. I sat for however long it took. 1.5 hrs? I got lost in time and space, which was good. I was serenaded by the sounds of two girls singing in Italian to a tune played on a ukelele, above me. People passed by, families with children. A couple slowed to peer and see my painting and smiled. Young men, mostly passing, one stopping to ask if he could look. I asked him to take my photo while painting..an important memory for me. When I was satisfied with my work I washed my hands and packed up and made my way uphill, passing a group of young adults, the singing girls now there with them, hanging out. One girl asked to see my painting. Ok…I unpacked and showed them. They seemed to like it and I thanked the girls for serenading me while I painted. It was strange. While painting, I had a vision of all these people hanging out here, as artists. It was mostly true. These 10 kids were all studying at a local arts academy. Painters and musicians. One young man asked if he could trade me something for a piece of my sanded pastel paper, because he couldn’t find it here. He tore a drawing of a faceless woman from his sketchpad and offered it to me in trade for the paper. My paper was precious to me, as I only brought a few pieces, but I offered it to this aspiring and inspired young man just the same.
We chatted and laughed and they got me to say some words and phrases in Italian. Only one girl spoke enough English to have a conversation. I asked how to say “May I use the bathroom?” and when we all walked back to town together to the piazza duomo (plaza where the churches are) I practiced my question many times before heading across the street to inquire in the local “bar”, which is really a cafe/pastry shop, not a bar as we know it. My Italian phrase sufficed and the clerk pointed me upstairs.
Then more hanging out in the piazza, a look inside the opened church, still pinching myself that I was actually in Sicily, surrounded by such beautiful old architecture and people who possibly shared my bloodlines.
Angelo called and was on his way, at 8:30 pm. I was getting cold and hungry by then but was filled with the warmth of my incredibly inspired first day in Sicily. I ate salad and went to bed, thankful for the day.
The next day was spent working in the garlic beds then a walk to the closest village, Pedara, with Mat and Jo and we meandered in and out of what shops were open, had gelato and found the typical cute old Italian men hanging out and kids playing soccer in the square. I figured the polite way to ask for a photo was if I were in it too! They seemed to like that idea!
I found a bottle of wine…the label was Chiaramonte, (clear mountain) my grandmother’s family name! I had to buy it and shared it with everyone at dinner last night. Angelo and Lucia made dinner for us all and we celebrated Mat and Jo’s last meal here at Angelo’s place. They were off in the morning for home.