Earlier this year I had my first European trip. I went to Sicily and fell in love. Swallows described their joy in the Spring sky. Wildflowers bloomed lavishly in fields, beside roads and in any available spot. No self-indulgent romance this. I fell in love with the natural beauty, the baroque towns, heritage, culture – food to live for – and the wonderful people.
I went with my best friend C and her octogenarian (young at heart) mother, to see my late father’s homeland. I went with C because, besides being a great person, she’s superbly, utterly fluently bi-lingual. I’ve only ever had a smattering of Italian. (We spoke English at home.)
C and her mother were going to visit extended family, which I don’t really have in Sicily. My uncles and aunts emigrated. My grandparents are long dead. BUT, I couldn’t have begged, prayed or hoped for a better experience of Sicily. C’s extended family embraced me and treated me as their own. As did friends of her family. Such warmth, kindness, generosity!
We were taken to so many beautiful towns – Ibla – the old part of Ragusa, Modica, Scicli, Noto, Caltogirone – all part of the UNESCO World Heritage listed circle of Baroque towns. All are lovely and each has its own particular baroque character and qualities and its arts and crafts. We went to Syracusa and the Santa Lucia church, where you can see original pillars from the temple of Diana! The history and heritage is amazing.
Sicilians love their country and want to share that love of heritage and culture – without arrogance, but with enthusiasm. And then there’s the FOOD. From the simplest – absolutely the BEST ricotta you will ever taste – through the luscious regional specialties – delicious seafood in coastal towns, special pasta sauces, dolce, to the resfreshing, reviving spremuta of blood orange. Feeling a bit tired from all the walking and looking at historic sites? Have a freshly squeezed blood orange juice and be reinvigrated. Family meals were a particluar delight.
And yes, I had to speak Italian. I wanted to learn and I did, although C often had to translate for me. But because I tried to speak Italian, even haltingly, Sicilians were appreciative and supportive. By the end of the fortnight I was speaking Italian, I would say, like a four year old Sicilian – una ragazza. Although intelligent four year olds were more fluent and had a larger vocabulary. I’m still studying and learning.
We also went to where they film that great Inspector Montalbano series. We saw the Commissario’s house and other locations. Sicilians love Montalbano – justifiably. Some years ago, I found Montalbano via the films on SBS (Australia) then went in search of the novels by Andrea Camilleri superbly translated by Stephen Sartarelli.
I returned home, with a great love of things Sicilian and of the wonderful people. I’m so grateful to my best friend and her family and friends. I’m a member of the newly formed Sicilian Association of Australia. The love affair continues.
I prepare and present a radio programme – Best Medicine – on Southern FM Melbourne. After returning from Sicily I had the opportunity to interview Stephen Sartarelli (who was visiting Australia). If you want you can hear that interview. It’s available as a podcast.
Go to www.southernfm.com.au then go to podcasts and go to Best Medicine and select the Sartarelli podcast