Monday, December 28, 2009

Being tourists: Nebrodi mountains 16/09/09

Today on way back from the Nebrodi mountains we stopped at a salumeria to get typical deli stuff. We were there about an hour as mio marito sampled and listened to the non stop talking man. Sicilians don’t market themselves as well as Tuscans, he said. He made us smell the oil he has freshly pressed. But I like the Tuscan oil better, the green spicy fragrance. ‘Oh, you just like Tuscan oil but experts say that that isn’t even the way good oil should smell!’ said my husband. Honestly I can’t say anything at all. Hmmm, but Tuscan oil must surely have something, as it is the most prized and exported in Italy. And he was thinking the same thing I’ll bet. There was a brochure about the local wheat festival with a guy driving an old Sicilian style horse and cart, the big yellow gypsy wheels and the old style dress, stripy shirt, waistcoat, neckerchief. In the inside page there was a rugged man, head leant back while he guzzled some wine.

Things hadn’t changed much in that town, San Fratello, because we stopped in a bar on the way, having noted there were no women in any of the bars nor on the street. It was 3pm or so. The bar we stopped in had a circle of little men talking loudly, not playing cards or smoking as we had seen the others do. The oldest man was in traditional old man gear, the checked shirt and braces holding up the old chords, the coppola (Sicilian old man’s hat). I asked the barman after eating the very good cheese sandwich, why there were no women and he said he had had to put a sign on the bathroom door and lock it for women because men kept trying to go in on the women when they were in the bathroom! That desperate! It seemed so. They all had a good stare at me. I wondered what it would have been like had I gone there alone.

It was nice to go to the Nebrodis and get fresh mountain air. Lovely view of Etna from our mountain perch on the first day’s walk up a path. At the crossroads there was a man in a caravan selling salumi and formaggi and takeaway panini. He said he had been there 25 years. Quite a strategic spot. We had a nice walk to the lakes, a brief picnic and then it looked like rain. Wild horses, wild black pigs galore (being fattened up for pork), goats, and sheep that looked to me like goats but which mio marito said were Sicilian sheep. Cows and enormous staring bulls. All with tinkling bells around their necks.

The second night we ate in the ghostly Villa Miraglia, full of wooden pictures of medieval soldiers and white washed gritty stone walls inside. Horns from some animal protruding from the wall, and some stuffed animals, of course. Our man Vito (have always wanted to meet a Vito in Sicily) had just returned from being abroad. Funny moment when mio marito said the same and Maurizio said how do you feel about returning. Mio marito was about to launch into the usual lament of nothing has changed and nothing works and how backward it is, but Vito got there first with his joy at being back in his native land and with la famiglia. Now he was having this experience, alone in the woods in that ghostly old building with its smelly dark old rooms they had shown us quite proudly too.

The first night we had met Danilo and Gordon, Sicilian and Yorkshireman. Danilo talked non stop showing off his knowledge of the world to poor dumbstruck Gordon. We wondered about the relationship. They gave little away but were sharing a room because he said Gordon had woken early and he hadn’t been able to sleep for the cold. ‘Go on ask for some heating and blankets,’ he urged me, ‘I can’t be the only one to ask for everything!’ He told Gordon, his not so eager listener, about food and music he had sampled around the world, his travels in Belem and the Amazon and the ‘sex tourists’ there. Oh really? said Gordon, in his Yorkshire accent. But we wondered what Danilo was up to over there as he didn’t say who he was with. He also was most annoyed he had deleted a picture of a beautiful Brazilian girl who played piano and sang in a bar round the corner from where he lived in London. A hotel foyer where no one listened to her, but he always popped in and clapped he said. He was kind about Sicily though and our plight. Give it a chance he said, give it a go, because it isn’t that great in Ireland or UK right now, with the bad weather and who knows if you’d get a job now. And Brazil so far away with all the mosquitoes and other developing world inconveniences. Grass is always greener, he said. At least here you have your own comfortable house. You could never get a mortgage in a good place in Dublin or UK and then you’d be tied down to that.

Now that the heat is gone and I can think more clearly, I think we have done a good job in setting up this place. But as soon as we get home the phone rings: mio marito’s boss from his previous job with a development organisation, calling to congratulate him on the approval and EU funding for the last projects he wrote for Brazil before leaving. Hmmm, it was a shortlived peace …

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