Scopello

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After the swimming in crystalline and fresh water, I feel my tummy’s rumbling. We go to Scopello to a nice dining place hidden in mountains. It looks like an old monastery with a courtyard, where some nice tables with big umbrellas have been arranged for guests. A waiter appears soon and starts an unbelievable discussion about food. “What do you have today?”, “Oh well, we have fresh sardines from the open sea caught between Eolian Islands and Sardinia this morning, so you can try them as antipasto <<Sardines a beccafico>> and <<buccatini con le sarde>> for the first dish, we have the best <<focaccia>> as usual, and <<focaccia riempita>> as well. For the second you can choose between different grilled meat or a plate of sea food fresh boiled with lemon: today we have big shrimps, squids and octopuses. For wine I recommend white dry with the saffron aroma, that arrived this morning”. As it seems, there is no need to look into the menu. It could be even a bad move to search something there, better ask the waiter…

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There are other guys, friends of Angelo and Mauro that have joined in, so there is 8 of us now. Listening as they order everything that the waiter recommended, I realized I didn’t want to eat so much, I didn’t even believe I was able to, one plate of pasta would be quite enough for me. But evidently they could eat without an end in Sicily, three, four courses, and it would still be OK.

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Sarde a beccafico are delicious. It is a type of snack, fresh fish filled with mixture of herbs, grated cheese, pine nuts and bread crumbs are baked in the oven rolled up and fixed with a wooden stick. They are served cold, which could be surprising. One sardine and a plate of unforgettable pasta con le sarde, and I am absolutely full. I watch with consternation as our Sicilian fellows ask for desserts after their second meal. They seem absolutely fine eating for 2-3 hours and they still comment every single plate as it was helping them to consume.

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When it comes to paying, a surprise brings me to the ground… well, the bill has arrived, and they just split it in equal parts for everyone, as it appears to be their local custom. Wow! You can eat one piece of fish and pay for three courses others have taken…

So weird and risky it is to go eating out with Sicilians !!!

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Zingaro

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It is a sunny morning. We are on a way to Zingaro Nature Reserve, with one of the most beautiful sea sides in Sicily. We stop at the front of a supermarket to buy some breakfast. Exactly: breakfast ready to eat. It is a common custom to buy bread, cheese and mortadella in a grocery store, supermarket or simply on the market, and ask the shop assistant to prepare a sandwich of them. And of course you don’t pay for the sandwich like in a restaurant but only for the products used to make it.
Fresh bread with Italian mortadella is something really tasty. I don’t really know why only the Italian mortadella is so good. I have never liked it in any other place of the world. But that one here is actually better that ham.
While we eat our huge sandwiches, Mauro drives his Punto completely packed. Angelo sits in the front seat and Silvio in the back between me and Freya. He hugs us with his arms spread widely like a true macho, il Padrino (the Godfather).

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Zingaro, one of the Sicilian natural parks is located on the rugged and rocky coastline close to Castellammare del Golfo. There is a lot of caves and natural grottoes made by the sea water in the hard limestone cliffs there. The park stretches between lovely seaside Scopello to the east and San Vito lo Capo to the west. The mountains of 1000m rise over transparent turquoise water with the bottom covered with small white pebbles. The humid microclimate allows many of particularly rare species of plants to rise there, and most of them are protected.

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Mr. Hyde

 

 

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Zdzisław Beksiński, EZ, oil on board, 73 x 87 cm

 

Back to the house on the beach, we lock our room with a key found on the floor. We are completely, absolutely closed now. There are two windows, both shut and with their blinds lowered, perhaps automatically. I always sleep with my window open, even during winter, so it’s difficult to accept that they always close all the windows in Sicily, even in the late summer or early autumn, even in the night. Well, especially in the summer (to prevent the warm air entering), but this way there is no fresh circulating air at all! All this is terribly claustrophobic now and it doesn’t let me feel comfortable. I close my eyes lying on the bed aside Freya who just felt asleep as a child.
I see a stranger, his face looks like a dog’s muzzle. I hear some voice saying “I love you”.
– Wha? I don’t believe you – I answer immediately – I don’t even know you, who are you?
Then I turn back, and there is the Old Indian face. But his eyes are no longer there, only dense eyebrows that cover their place, instead.
I try to touch him, and he is plastic, like made of a gum. My finger sinks in his face and I feel an electric current that shocks me up to the tip of my foot. Then the skin on his face splits in half, and I can see there is someone hidden inside.
– Hi, my name is Edward Hyde..

 

The old Indian

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There is a guy sitting on a canvas chair at the front of the bar. Such chairs are used by fishermen or film directors on movie sets. The guy looks like being Chinese but asked about origins he says:
– I’m an old Indian from the Hopi tribe. I will show you time, if you wish.

And then he does. I see all my paths and all whom I ever loved, all my choices and all my decisions that had guided me here, to this bar, right at the front of his foot. I can see stars that fill his iris and I am satiated by them. I close my eyes slowly, and the stars are still there, like in a magic world. I know that I will never forget this gaze… it’s like a stamp on my soul. And somehow I feel calm, I feel peace and inner harmony, and acceptance of everything that life will bring me.

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The false mirror, 1928 – Rene Magritte

Casatella

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We are now on our way back to town, sitting in our wet swimsuits wrapped with towels, and I can feel like the drops of water are running down my thighs to finally soak into the upholstery of the sofa of the car. Mauro drives wearing the dressing-gown and with his hood on. It’s completely dark and the road is rough but it is no surprise to me anymore.
–         You need to try casatella! – After we reach some suburbs or something it looks like, Mauro stops his car at the front of a bar, which, what a surprise, is still open and full of people!
–         But you realize it’s 2 in the night, do you?
Mauro steps out of the car still hooded in his blue dressing-gown and slippers laughing out at my ridiculous comment. He doesn’t say anything but he goes directly into the bar without even looking at us. I’m trying to pull my shorts on my wet swimsuit, how horrible… But I can see that nobody is paying attention to his “evening outfit”, nobody is staring.
After we finally reach the bar, Angelo gives us half round cookies covered with white sugar. They are pieces of shortbread filled with sweet ricotta cheese and raisins. It’s still warm, not too sweet, not like other Sicilian sweets that are cloying to a point of being inedible. This is really good. Something that you will always come back for here. Casatella.
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Trapani boss

– Please, don’t worry. Since the last round-out on mafia in the 90’s, when the two biggest bosses from Corleone were arrested and imprisoned, there is only one Cosa Nostra godfather still not being captured – Silvio tries to calm us down and to gain our trust – he is missing for 20 years though, and since nobody had reported during those years to having seen him, we can’t be sure how he looks like now. It is possible of course that he passed a series of plastic surgery and doesn’t remind the young guy he was before.

Matteo Messina Denaro is a boss from Trapani and is now considered the most dangerous criminal in the world. You can sometimes hear the rumors that he has been seen here and there, that he was among the audience of the football match or horse racing, but nobody can ever be sure, and nobody wants to even talk about him. Ask a man on the street of Trapani province or in the local shop about Messina Denaro, and you will find what does the word “omerta”* mean. Hearing this name pronounced loudly people faces pale and become motionless. You can easily feel all that fear and the stubbornness in taking life and reality. Like in the most famous words from the masterpiece of Sicilian literature “The Leopard” by prince Tommasi di Lampedusa: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”. And then nothing really changes.

The property lands and residences of the last boss are being continuously monitored from the satellite and his cars are followed. This seems to give no effect at all. But what is quite sure: he is in Sicily, he lives in Sicily.

– So, Silvio…how can I be sure it’s not you?
– Oh well…you can‘t of course…but…I am…younger – and he bursts into a spontaneous laugh

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* conspiracy of silence

Il Padrino

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picture by Krzysztof Bartkowiak, oil on cardboard, mixed technique

Suspense builds up when we see a hooded guy with a short black beard. He looks almost identically like Al Pacino in the “Godfather” movie. I’m scared to death being immersed in the pool of hot water, and breathing its sulfuric vapors, when he emerges from the dark bushes, soon after the sounds of shooting.

He turns out to be Silvio from Corleone, a friend of Angelo and Mauro. He is a very prominent and rich local, who has recently inherited a room full of money after his uncle, priest in Alcamo, had died some time ago.

The story of padre Dimentichi was on everybody’s lips since he has been found dead half buried in Euro coins, that were filling up to 1m of one of the rooms in his house standing in the front of the famous Alcamo butcher shop. It was found out that the priest was collecting all the coins from the donations made during the masses by his parishioners. He stored them all in the one single room of his house (the priests in Sicily live sometimes in their family houses, not in the special vicarages like in many other catholic countries). After his death and the discovery, people started telling stories about bathing in the gold he was supposed to enjoy every morning…

Anyways, Silvio is rich now, he bought a big piece of land between Alcamo and the sea with the purpose to breed horses for meat. Furthermore, he has two big apartment houses in Corleone, his home town.

 

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Terme – Sicilian Natural Hot Springs

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Sicilian natural hot waters are phenomena related to the volcanic activity. There are 60 natural places with sources of hot sulfuric water, each one with ancient Greek or Roman origins. Arabs used hot waters too, after conquering Sicilily in VIII Ceuntry. In fact, Sicily is one of the biggest centres of natural hot springs in Europe, with only 9 of them still functioning and being in use (mainly because of insufficient infrastructure around the rest of them). Some of these, like the Segestian Hot Waters close to Alcamo, are natural places, hidden in the wild landscape of the Natural Reserve. Others have only underground sources, like that one in Ali Terme close to Taormina. There is a whole infrastructure built around such places, with pools, installation of running water and sewerage system.
In the 1950’s, when the Italian government introduced the law which allowed to use the restricted “Terme” name by all the cities and country sides having a natural hot source, we could find them in the whole Italy, as it was all about exploiting their natural treasure.

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Porrettta Terme – Bologna

Caramanico Terme – Abruzzo

Telese Terme – Campania

Lamezia Terme – Calabria

Castel San Pietro Terme, Castrocaro Terme – Emilia Romagna

Santa Cesarea Terme – Puglia

Abano Terme – Veneto

Arta Terme – Friuli

Acquasanta Terme – Marche

Acqui Terme – Piemonte

Chianciano Terme – Toscana

The hot waters in Segesta close to Alcamo called by Arabs “Kalat al-Phini” were almost the witness of the battle between Garibaldi and the Bourbon forces on 15 of May 1860. It was in Calatafimi, close to this place, where Garibaldi uttered his famous “Qui si fa l’Italia o si muore”*[IT]
It was also precisely here, where Garibaldi, supported with Sicilian volunteers in red skirts, won the first battle on Sicilian island.

 


*”Here you can make Italy or die”

Terme Romane

terme-segestaAs we are now after this fanciful dish, I’m starting to feel very sleepy with my stomach filled with food after the last night and the evening full of surprises and excitements. But Mauro suddenly gets up from the table asking us to take our towels and swimsuits and prepare to go to take a bath. It’s midnight, but we are in a house at the beach, so ok, let it be.

Whilst we leave the house with our swimsuits on and ready, I see that Mauro is packing his car. Oh…wait a minute… we were supposed to go to the beach, didn’t we?

– We go to a special place, ancient and full of sacred mythology. So be ready, because it will not be just a bath! – Mauro smiles mysteriously

They speak Sicilian in the car, sitting in the front seats, the car crosses some wild bushes jumping on the rough road. I’s completely dark, I have no idea where are we going, and I don’t even know the direction. I can only see the mountains closer and closer with every single minute.

I really don’t like it. It was supposed to just be one guy with us, and suddenly there are two, why??

– Vet inte ? *[SV] – Freya responds to my thoughts in Swedish…

We are in two so they are in two, is that a coincidence?

– Jag vill inte veta varför…**[SV]

And they talk in Sicilian presumably to prevent us understanding them…

 Suddenly Angelo asks:

– Hey, so do you have your swimsuits?

But Mauro bursts in laugh:

– Si unnannu li custumi ancora megghiu ***[SIC]
– Hey! C’mmon, I did understand that! – I’m pretty angry now…- You should know, that I understand Sicilian! – it’s not quite true, but sounds better, I feel safer now…
– But we don’t understand Swedish, it’s not fair! – Mauro laugh again
– This is exactly why we are learning foreign languages, isn’t it? – my response is such educational, I’m proud of me…
– Ama essiri attenti, idda capisci tuttu ****[SIC] – Angelo as always likes to play the bad guy role, I don’t know, but the theory of his uncle in mafia is not completely unreasonable… I ‘m scared of him.

Ok, so we are already in the mountains. That surface our car is moving on could hardly be called a road. There are wild bushes all around and there is no light, except one from the stars and the shape of the moon. We step out of the car and cross the river hot like hell. The water could have about 70 degrees, unbelievable. There is a smell of sulfur in the air. I can see the shape of a small pool with the burning candles all around the edges. There are 5 strangers standing around it covered by dressing-gown, I can’t see their faces they are covered under the hoods. The place is completely silent, nobody talks, however I can hear a kind of a whisper, like the mumble of monks’ prayers.

Suddenly I hear the sounds of shoots somewhere close in the dark.

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*I don’t know…?[EN]
**I don’t want to know why…[EN]
***If they don’t have swimsuits it’s even better.[EN]
****We have to be careful, she understands everything [EN]