Sunday, October 28, 2012

Stories behind battered doors

The beautiful Gole di Alcantara have something of the Giant's Causeway about them. Why do battered doors and terracotta rooftops have such a fascination for me? I don't know, must be because I feel they hold stories ... These ones are from Castiglione di Sicilia, a hill-top town which is twinned with Killarney, interestingly ...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

South America in Sicily

I went to the next town this morning to see the owners of a language school. They would like me to work for them but I don't know if I can spare the time - I need to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to marketing my book (Water Will Find its Way), now that I have published it. You can check it out here - it's already available as an ebook and will soon be out in paperback. I also am thinking about the next book, which will be set in Sicily. Inspiration was everywhere as I walked the streets of Barcellona (not to be confused with the one in Catalonia!). It felt like I was in South America, and I mean this in a good way. Old men gathered on benches in shady piazzas, palm trees scratching the pale pink paint off an old Art Nouveau villa on one of the main streets, 19th century houses barely standing next to ugly 1960s constructions ... And to complete the tableau, a police car screeched past me at a corner, siren blaring. I investigated the park (with bambino) and an old man came in with red, wild, unhealthy looking eyes and a black binbag held swag-like over his shoulder. He started shouting at the first man he saw. Unfortunately I couldn't understand his toothless dialect. There is always a crazy man on the loose in these places. Another old man, who appeared to be nodding off outside the butcher's, greeted me with 'Madonna, what beautiful eyes your child has, signora'! The huge battered door of a decrepit stone building had two notes of bereavement on it. One said, 'For my brother', the other 'For my brother-in-law'. Both yellowing at the edges, who knows how long they had been there. But there was post jutting out from under the door. There is a note like this on a door on my street 'For my wife'. It has been there for twenty years.

A summons

Mio marito and the owner of the bar-next-door both received a summons from the carabinieri to attend an interview. They worked out it was regarding one of our customers. This guy appears to be innocent at all times, but if there is ever any trouble, he is there at the heart of it at 4am - 'breaking up the fight'. Yes, he is our coked up peace-maker. His car was burnt out last week and the carabinieri are trying to get to the bottom of it. When asked what nocturnal habits he had, he gave the name of our locale as a good establishment, hoping to make a good impression on the carabinieri... At the interview mio marito and the next-door-bar-owner were asked the same questions, separately. Did they know any people from X (mafia-ridden town 10km down the road)? Did they know any people from Y (Dodgy mountain village) ... And then they had to examine some photos of dodgy men. The policeman asked if they were ever asked for a pizzo - bribe -money - since his theory was that the guy's car was burned out because of a refusal to pay bribe money, as if he was our protector ... Luckily, they were able to answer in the negative to everything. My husband didn't know whether to be amused or disgusted at having to partake in such an interview ...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Italy loves children ? (Part 2)

So on to the second piece of interesting information. My bambino was playing with another bambino who is 9mths older than him. His mother told me - told me! - that my bambino needed to go to the crèche. She actually got very heated on the subject. You're going to have to send him some time, she insisted. This time next year, definitely, she said. My bambino will be two at the end of the month. So this time next year, he will be three. The difference between a child of two and one of three, is huge. They grow and develop so much! I pointed out. She also thought it was a legal obligation to send one's child to school at three, but in Italy, it is 5years old. She obviously did not know what she was talking about. In September I did take him to a crèche where his other Italo-Irish friend goes, but he didn't like it, and neither did I. He was bored. There were about 7 children to every adult. The young girl who was assigned to settle my bambino in (daughter of the owner, no formal childcare experience or qualification) was never going to convince him to stay because at any one time she had two kids who were fighting, one who was crying, one whose nappy needed changed, one who had fallen ... She half-heartedly tried to interest him in some toys (mostly broken, no battery-powered toys had batteries) ... I looked around me and saw a small, cramped, dark space. It was very noisy because the pre-schoolers 3years+ were in the next room, all 15 with one teacher. They were all nice people, but I could totally understand why my bambino didn't want to be there. He hung over the stairgate pointing to the door, calling 'Outside, outside', over and over on each of the occasions that we went there. What most annoyed was the woman's arrogance in assuming she knew what was best for my child. She got so excited about it, I wondered was she just trying to justify the fact that she sends her kid to the crèche - she is not working at the moment. Sicily is clearly not ready for attachment parenting ideas of those presented by Steve Biddulph in his Raising Happy Children books ... that children are best off with one primary caregiver (one or both parents) until the age of three. I thought that was a universally acknowledged truth ...

Italy loves children ? (Part 1)

And you thought they were mad about children in Italy? Last night, during an aperitivo at Pachamama, I was given two interesting pieces of information on the subject. Let's start with the one I preferred. A writer/thinker/teacher told me he was in Ireland in the summer. The thing he liked best, he said, was the number of large families on the beach. Couples have three or four kids, he said, compared to Italy, where the average is one child. He said it reminded him of his childhood. It is true. Most of my Irish/English friends have two or three children. Most of my Italian friends have none ... In Sicily, there are on average two children per family. And as soon as they can, they farm them out to the crèche. There is a very high amount of crèches in this town, which is surprising - I thought the grandparents raised the kids in Italy. And it is not just bacause both parents are working. There is a lot of unemployment in Sicily. But they find the money for the crèche.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sailors from home

Last week I was delighted to hear my own accent in Pachamama. At first I thought the couple talking was American, making the mistake that many make about me. This couple opened one of the first restaurants in my home town thirty years ago. They ran it for fifteen years and then sold it at a good time. Wanting to escape the confines of the restaurant business they invested in a sailing boat and have wintered in the Mediterannean since then. They were coming back from Malta (where they got Kerrygold butter - if only I had known they were coming!!) and did a little tour of Sicily before heading back to their winter port. Lots of stories about chaotic souks in Syria, and the UN and Israeli interrogations they underwent before being allowed to moor in Haifa (even asked their children's names and why they had chosen to stay in Haifa at 5am ... scary). Plus some restaurant lore. All in the mother tongue. Great. Mio marito, who has just acquired his sailing licence, is most encouraged and sees us travelling by sailboat in the future. If only I didn't get so seasick ...

Pachamama online

Here is Pachamama's website

Pachamama on Trip Advisor

Being on Trip Advisor has definitely made a difference this summer. So nice to get good feedback from customers, both local and foreign. At the weekend I got talking to an Israeli couple who were delighted when I was able to talk a little with them in Hebrew (essential for travel in South America apart from the Spanish I already spoke). I hope they got on well on their travels, I recommended some good places on Panarea and Stromboli islands. There were also Australians, German, Dutch and Polish customers in with us during the last week. Great to feel connected internationally at last.

pesce fresco

Out and about with the bambino this morning. Shopping in various places. He breaks a little bottle of Bach Flower Remedies in the health food shop. We park in Vaccarella, along the fishing port. I bump into an old jalopy of an ape (three wheel mini-pickup truck) as I reverse into a tight spot in the shade. All the fishermen looking on chorus their dismay. One of them must have been the owner. It was only the lightest of taps. To further irk them, my two year old stands on the long nets they are straightening while I get my bag. We duke into a bar to escape their dirty looks. There we are greeted by a fisher friend who tells me he stinks of fish. Just in case I don't believe him he sticks his fingers under my nose. Yes, pesce fresco indeed! By the time I get home, mio marito knows exactly where we have been... His suppliers (who do the rounds of the bars in the morning) have spotted me on the road...