Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Being tourists: San Marco d'Alunzio 4/06/09

We at last had a day off yesterday after the bank holiday. The 2nd June is the festa della Republica, commemorating the constitutional referendum of 1946 when the Italians voted in favour of a republic after the fall of fascism at the end of the second world war.
We went to San Marco d’Alunzio, an amazing historic city perched on the top of a mountain in the Nebrodi mountains, 600m above sea level. Every hairpin bend brought incredible views of the green rocky mountains next to us and BELOW us, and very clear views of the islands, in particular Alicudi, Filicudi, the twin volcano peaks of Salina and Vulcano’s rough silouette. You could even see the perfect cone of Stromboli behind one of them. Clear mountain air. The Greeks reached ancient Aluntium in the fourth century AD but they reckon it existed even before they got there. It was so hard to get you it made you wonder why people continued to live there. It must be freezing in winter.
The first place we stopped was the Tela di Penelope, Penelope’s Tapestry shop. Two women were chattering away in musical and soft accents. They had the old weaving machine and two other ladies were sitting embroidering. One asked the other if she was doing it right and I recognized the US accent so I asked her was she having lessons etc. She was an English teacher at university and also teaches embroidery and quilting in her free time, but this, she said, was so much more complex. They use their hands in a different way here she said, and also the needle. She was compiling material for a book, the lady whispered to me, very impressed (the jovial owner). The American came looking for her grandparents’ origins and combined the trip with the course in weaving. She looked so content. Bet she is divorced! Reminded me of the lady who did the Under the Tuscan Sun book. Plenty of stories in San Marco no doubt. We got chatting to the bar owner next door since the American embroiderer sent us there to check out the embroidered curtains. They remind me of the stuff I saw in Bolivia and Ecuador, the use of colours, deep greys and browns and yellows. The owner said the tour of the town was good but you had to pay the tourist office because all the churches and museums were closed! He kept rubbing his fingers together and winking – for money opens many doors he said. Yes, I noticed that immediately here, I said.
We wandered the old cobbled streets then and saw an old granny outside her house with her plants, sitting kitting a colourful scarf. We met a couple of other older people, in fact the average age must have been 70, all speaking a strong dialect. All very proud of the town. I went in to the Biblioteca communal and they were delighted to show me around. We all have our origins here and those who go away to study often come back or at least keep the house here, we have a strong sense of identity, said the librarian... But you get no sense of that in Milazzo. No one loves Milazzo. The heart went out of it with the oil refinery. What a cock up by the government. Really, I hear these fond stories of how everyone used to go to the beaches on the levante (east) side which now faces the refinery. There were lidos and restaurants there and wild flowers, in fact the drive along that coast is beautiful. But there is a sense of abandon in Milazzo, that no one really wants to be here.
We sat at the very top of the town in the square by the ruins of the Norman church, enjoying the sun and the exceptional views. We mused over the fact that some of our clientele was most undesirable and that a short time ago we were both dealing with experts in our chosen fields (languages, and international cooperation), where there is always a mutual respect and interest. Here we have rude customers and waiters obsessed with sunbeds using the job to bolster their ego, breaking many glasses and messing up orders (eg. Last night one of them sent a plate of tapas worth €30 to the wrong table who proceeded to eat them anyway thinking it was part of their antipasta. My husband told him in desperation, that is more than half of what you get paid; not that we would take it off his wages.

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