Friday, December 12, 2014

Street renaming - I object Your honourables!

Via del Duomo Antico no more

A trumpet tune brought me to my balcony this morning. This scene greeted me: a little gathering of Milazzo notables (male) including the mayor and his driver, a few lawyer types, and one distinguished-looking lady, most of them around the 60s mark. A priest, all dressed up in festive gowns officiated at the ceremony, reading from a book that definitely was not the Bible.

I strained to hear what they were saying but cars hooting at the photographers capturing the scene (from the middle of a dangerous intersection) impaired my hearing.

A sect? I thought to myself. Ever since I lived in Arezzo and discovered Propaganda Due head Licio Gelli was one of my neighbours, I've been on the lookout for masonic activities; apparently Italy is full of them (and you thought Dan Brown made it all up? Ha!)

But no, they were simply renaming the street Via Colonello del Bosco - some random Bourbon guy whose army the Garibaldini defeated in Milazzo in July 1960, thus ending the reign of the Bourbons in Sicily.

It would have been nice to know that Pachamama's address has changed, especially since the council also decided to change the street numbers a few months back causing much confusion (I woke up one day to a number 20 stuck on my pillar).

For me, the road will always be Via del Duomo Antico, which, apart from sounding so beautiful, is much more fitting. After all, this road in the historic quarter leads to the Old Cathedral in the Castle Fort.

You can read here what Francesco Atanasio says so well on the subject (basically that Colonello del Bosco was a loser and Milazzo's real hero is Luigi Rizzo who won WW1 for the Italians. Milazzo has a few dodgy street names and competent people need to be employed in offices of such cultural import).


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Oh no ... sirocco again

Oh no ... it's sirocco again... 

Sirocco, if you haven’t experienced it, is like spending an entire day on the London Underground. You feel irritable, headachy, sweaty and dirty, have a stuffy nose and dusty clothes.

I was at the fruttivendolo this morning, popping veg from the outdoor stalls into my bag. "I hate sirocco," the grocer said. "And you're Sicilian!" I said. "In Ireland we don't get this wind. It drives me CRAZY." He said, "It's bad news for my vegetables. I can't leave them untended outside because they get covered in black, dusty sand." He stopped, as I hesitated, my hand hovering over some luscious green beans. 

That's it: sirocco gets EVERYWHERE. You can't hang your washing outside, unless you want dusty dried clothes. I left a window open by mistake last time and found my piano - my most prized possession - with little piles of sooty sand in the corners. And you need to be careful how you clean it off because sirocco dust scratches. 

Soon, it will rain, and we'll all be driving sand-smeared cars and wondering whether it is safe to clean the sand-streaked windows at home. Because the other thing about sirocco is that it lasts for days. Bringing with it the chemical stink from the refinery across Milazzo bay. Insidious, deadly, foul.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Snake on the steps

Snake on the steps, poo in the piazza... Another thing that always strikes me when I return is the state of the streets.

Steps lead from this beautiful fifteenth century Spanish church to the school below where my son attends pre-school. On my way to pick him up last week I almost stepped on a snake that was slithering off into the overgrown bushes flanking the steps. I know there are snakes in Sicily, but I just don't expect to see them practically on my doorstep.

Also last week my son and I were playing ball in the piazza while bambina snoozed in the stroller. But we had to give up because the ball kept rolling into dog poo...

Dear Mr Mayor, could you kindly clean up the crap (or fine the losers who let their dogs do their business in the piazza), and cut the grass? And while you are at it, resurface our street, the potholes have ruined my car's suspension and the stroller wheels get stuck in them...

I love Sicily, I do ...

Back with a blast

Milazz's beautiful castle stencilled against the industrial zone

I returned to Milazzo mid-September after a long summer in Ireland - time enough to give birth to our bambina in the wonderful mid-wife led facilities in the north of Ireland - a far cry from local birthing options.

What awaited me upon our return? Extravagant heat - still in the 30s in the shade, exhausting sirocco wind, mosquitoes and cockroaches galore and ...

... a HUGE FIRE at the oil refinery, located a mere five kilometres from the town centre. A westerly wind was blowing the night the massive refinery caught fire, sending huge plumes of smoke spiralling towards mountain towns behind. The people of Pace del Mela and Santa Lucia packed their cars and fled in droves as the flames illuminated Milazzo's Manhattan skyline.

No one was hurt, and refinery workers managed to contain the fire so as to limit damage. But for several days after, mushroom clouds spread in the direction of prevailing winds, so that nowhere was unaffected by the fallout.

What have we been breathing since then? All the invisible, noxious particles that make their way into our lungs... What if there had been a sirocco wind that night? We'd have had to pack up and flee for Montalbano with our five week old and four year old.

We've been thinking lately: do we really want to stay here, inhaling unknown quantities of pollution? I say it every time I come back from Ireland: the first thing you notice about Milazzo is the poor air quality.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Away with those Evil Eyes!

I'm in Ireland for the summer, escaping the ferocious Sicilian summer heat. Mio marito came over to visit last week, just before the high season began. He had hardly been here two days when he got bad news from the restaurant: our main waiter had had a bad accident with his motorbike and was in intensive care.

While we're all still very worried about him, he'll recover. He's young and strong, but it will take time, poor guy. This week mio marito tells me our barman has hurt his leg and can't work for a few nights - now that it is high season... It is very difficult to find good replacements at this stage because everyone has found work for the summer locally or on the Aeolian islands.

"You've got the Evil Eye," I tell him, more Sicilian than the Sicilians. "You've got to get rid of it before more disasters happen this summer!" Luckily, a friend's mother can perform this healing ritual. She pours out the oil, salt and water in a bowl, and it turns out there's not just one, but MANY Evil Eyes afflicting my husband (most likely his competitors in the Borgo. Not that there's much to worry about, it's been a fairly quiet summer so far).

With composure and confidence, the lady chants her incantations and frees mio marito from those bad boys.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Good customers, bad customers

On Friday and on Saturday night two tables left without paying. On Friday it was about 21.15h when a couple sitting at a table upstairs asked if they could pay at the till and the waiter said, Yes of course. But he forgot that there was no staff member downstairs – the barman hadn’t arrived yet, mio marito was still at home and there was only one other waiter who was also upstairs. So they just walked out. This, despite the fact that we’re always telling waiters that someone needs to be at the door to meet and greet at all times. On Saturday night it was busy and a table of four young people in the side room took advantage of the chaos to walk out without paying. €20 in cocktails. Not much, but that’s not the point, is it?

Just when mio marito was feeling down about it all, a nice English couple dined at the restaurant during the week. They had the seafood starter, pasta with prawns and artichokes and fresh tuna steak in pistachio crust, and raved about it all. They came back the next night and the man admitted he was a cook in a very busy London restaurant serving 200 people in a sitting. They’d read about us on Trip adviser and would be leaving a very happy comment. They wanted to know how much would this place cost. The girl whistled when she heard the value, said in London it would be worth a million pounds! The man said it was his dream to open a restaurant and he’d want to do it just like this.

Some people make the hard slog worth it for mio marito

Friday, May 16, 2014

Southward bound

In my favourite shop yesterday, called Sud Est ( I must find out why it is called that – makes me think of the Sirocco wind which comes from the South west). It sells the most beautiful clothes and jewellry, all of an elegant ethnic style, or boho-chic I suppose you would call it, and they have beautiful clothes for summer and seaside living. It is where I go directly when I want to buy a gift for someone.

The owner recognised me and asked me if I liked living in Milazzo. I said I did, and she seemed curious. “Imagine, who would have thought it? Love brought you here.” Locals adore these romantic notions though I always point out that my husband and I met in Tuscany and coming here was actually a compromise! “From northern Europe to the very South,” she continued musing, nonplussed.

I thought about that later. I never think it strange that I live here. I don’t say “ended up” because I’m not so sure our travelling days are over, my husband still has itchy feet, especially when things aren’t good here, like when the skips overflow with rubbish, or he considers our son’s education. He frequently tells visitors that I am the happiest one here. And in that sense, as much as the smelly skips bother me, I do think I was destined for the South. It started with my love affair with Spain (unquenchable, ongoing), continued with my wanderings in South America, and finally brought me to the Sicilian who would take me South from Tuscany.

I remember a classmate at university making fun of me in a Spanish seminar once. He wrote in Spanish on my page, “I am a daughter of the Mediterranean, and I will live in a little house by the sea, surrounded by lemon trees and olive groves.” Not far wrong…

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Aeolian Island - Salina

Escaping it all ... on the beautiful island of Salina, just an hour and a half away by hydrofoil.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Poached dishwasher

We’re sitting outside a café in the centre of town. This is supposed to be a quality family moment after picking our son up from school (no rush hour, no traffic, just ice cream and coffee in the sun. Ah, Sicily…) Our three year old has his nose stuck in his father’s phone playing video games and my husband is meeting and greeting in restaurateur capacity, (the same suppliers, loafers and wise boys frequent this café by day as our restaurant by night) reducing me to arm candy.

One guy greets my husband with two kisses on the cheek. After all this time it still reminds me of The Godfather, still gives me the chills. I don't know this guy. He talks most deferentially to my husband seeking his advice on an array of matters related to restaurant management and in particular the question of suolo publico or pavement space for the all-important chairs and tables outside. I could give the guy loads of advice but he isn't seeking mine. Pay the council rates for it, organise it in good time because bureaucratic issues take forever, and save a little of your takings for the Fines of May. Yes, in this business in Sicily, May is the month when all fine collectors - from Health and Safety Inspectors to Tax Collectors to Finance Police - dust off winter cobwebs, shine up the brass buttons on their uniforms and hit the bars and restaurants to rake it in on long spring evenings.

Who was that guy? I ask my husband when he finally leaves us alone. He's the guy, says my husband under his breath, who swiped our dishwasher. Aha, the one who is opening a mediterranean restaurant just forty metres from our place. No wonder he was so obsequious. A: he'll be close competition, B: he'll need our wisdom constantly and C: he's just swiped one of our main men.

I understand our dishwasher’s reason for going, they've promised him shorter hours because it is not a bar so it should close earlier. But still we were sorry to see him go. He knew the ropes and we'd been through a lot together: Casualty, the time he put the stem of a wine glass through the palm of his hand, broken crockery and glasses (crateloads at the beginning), and despite his tendency to be absent when we needed him most (at weekends), he was part of the team. And most importantly he had been trained to do a little extra; he was the chef's right hand man - or left hand, as our kitchen layout would have it.

When, in a month or two, our poached dishwasher comes looking for his old job back because A: the new boss is not as understanding as my husband when he messes up, can't work weekends etc, B: doesn't pay him on time, and when he does it’s cash in hand and no benefits, and C: he realises he has to work the same hours anyway… When he comes back tail between legs, I think I know what my husband will say....

Sunday, March 30, 2014

La Festa di San Giuseppe – Fathers’ Day, Italy

I was walking past the castle this morning and admiring the sea, still as glass, when church bells struck the air. It can be hard to tell the difference between joyful and sorrowful church bells in Milazzo, as the tone of the campane can be quite sombre. Wondering if there was a wedding or a funeral, I looked in the direction of the ringing, and saw the church, perched on a hill, festooned with streamers. Then I remembered: it was Saint Joseph’s feast day, which is Fathers’ Day in Italy. I decided to go and see what was going on. The parish priest was outside meeting and greeting in the sunshine. A couple of youths were selling raffle tickets at a table. Churchgoers arrived and stayed outside chatting, enjoying the beautiful morning. Inside was no less sociable. Most people approached a statue of Saint Joseph with his son to touch the statue and say a few prayers before taking a seat. Both the statue and the altar to the left were bedecked in yellow roses and white lilies, brightening the sixteenth century church with its gloomy frescoes. It wasn’t big, just ten pews left and right, but this gave a cosy feel to the atmosphere as the faithful came in. Some, regulars, had their favourite pew, like one glamorous elderly lady who stepped out of her pew on the right because it was occupied. She and her less glamorous friend chose a pew a few rows back on the left, but kept their eye on the old favourite pew, and moved across as soon as it became free. I was thus able to admire her camel coat, stockinged feet and elegant black high heels, her black designer glasses, freshly dyed and groomed dark hair and pearl earrings. She stood out among the more humble beige top coats, tracksuits and grey heads of the rest of the congregation. Not all of them were there for the mass and, once they’d said their prayers and saluted the statue, they made their way down the aisle, greeting friends along the way. One old man came back for the beanie hat he’d left on the pew in front of mine, and told the old fellow sitting there, “Gianni Patané is on his way!” Great excitement. A grandfather came in carrying his grandchild, who was brought up to meet the saint for a blessing. A pleasant murmur from the priest greeting his flock came in from outside. Enzo, an old hunchback who never misses a feast day, appeared at the front, by the sacristy door, ready to tug on the bell cord to announce the beginning of mass. “Not yet,” whispered the priest, seeing how eager Enzo was to get going. The organ struck a few tentative chords. Enzo pulled his jumper down over his pot belly, tense with importance. The two church bells, an unsettling semi-tone apart, struck the air with increasing ferocity. The best moment: as I left I glanced up at the campanile. To my surprise, there was a man in each bell-tower, striking the bell for all he was worth! It wasn’t very high, so I could clearly see the concentration on each man’s face, and the swift movement of their arms. How much elbow-grease did that take?