Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Un Soggiorno a Taormina, in Sicilia

First, I would like to thank Welshcakes Limoncello for asking me, JMB, to be a guest poster on her blog while she travels. I am delighted to count this gracious lady amongst the blog friends I have made during this year.
Looking from Taormina, across the Bay of Naxos
Mount Etna in the mist on the upper right

Quite early in my blogging career, I came across a very intriguing blog called Sicily Scene. Now you might ask why would I be interested in someone writing about her life in Sicily. Well this lady wrote about living in a place that was very special for me. As a longtime italophile and having made quite a few trips to Italy over many years, in 2000 I made my favourite Italian trip to Taormina, Sicily, where I spent two weeks taking an Italian course at the local language school and there I fell in love with Sicily.

The Greek Theatre

This was the second of three trips I have made to Italy to study at language school and to make a homestay with an Italian family. This time my "family" was a little old Italian widow, who was at least 10 years older and I was 65 at the time. She lived in an apartment on the second floor of a building just four doors from the school, Babilonia, so I didn't have far to travel each morning. My room was very spartan, tiled floor, with a single bed, a wardrobe and a small desk. We shared a bathroom and ate breakfast and dinner together at a tiny table in the kitchen. She did have a large combined living-dining room with a huge TV but we only sat in there to watch the odd soccer match for she was una tifosa del calcio, a true soccer fan and sometimes invited me to watch with her. Usually after dinner I had homework to do, so we mainly socialized over dinner.

I think she was quite delighted that I was an older person because usually the students from the school were young girls with whom she had nothing in common. During my first meal in her home she waited on me, but I invited her to eat with me and from then on we always sat together at meals. She was a good cook and we ate well. Lots of fish, often pesce spada or swordfish, a favourite of mine and it was so fresh there. We also had some delightful and interesting conversations in her kitchen.

She herself was not Sicilian, but came from the central region of Italy. There she met her Sicilian husband who was the chef at a large hotel in her hometown and she herself was a member of the hotel staff. He was a widower, older than her and with grown children, while she was in her thirties. They married and moved back to Taormina where he became the chef at a very exclusive hotel and she stayed home and raised her two children. One thing I found very intriguing was that she spoke the dialect of her region to him and he spoke his Sicilian dialect to her, but they never spoke the same language. Somehow, it worked for them. Fortunately she spoke Italian to me, as I do not know the Sicilian dialect at all and those with whom I came into contact in the small town always spoke Italian with me, thank goodness. She had a grown daughter who came to inspect me and I think approved of the fact that her mother had a "student" more her own age for a change.

Bougainvillea and oleanders tucked against the wall of the Greek Theatre

Taormina is one of the most beautiful spots in the world, to my mind. Since the early Greeks discovered it as a holiday destination, it has been the favourite spot of many famous people. In 1787 J.W.Goethe discovered the beauties of Sicily and, in particular, of Taormina. He described the beauties of this land and its people and pronounced Taormina a "patch of paradise". The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw many artists, writers and intellectuals spend time in Taormina, including D H Lawrence.

Perched on the side of Mount Tauro, it has a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea with the Bay of Naxos below and the nearby, often smouldering volcano of Mount Etna can be seen from anywhere in Taormina. In fact Mount Etna erupted the day before I arrived and the gritty ash was around for quite a while. I was there in June so it was not yet crowded although it was still quite hot. The streets were narrow and hilly but it was easy to walk around, while dodging the cars and crazy traffic jams.

Language classes were from 9 am to 1 pm and we quickly found favourite spots at outdoor cafes for lunch or to take a cooling granita, in the middle of the afternoon. We often made side trips in the afternoon, one being to Etna although we could not get very near because it was so active at the time. We visited the rocky beach below which you reached via a funicular or cable car and took a boat tour on the surrounding waters. We spent time at the open-aired Greek Theatre which was remodelled by the Romans and explored the stores along the Corso Umberto. The public library, formerly the Church of St Augustine, was a favourite spot for us for it was very cool inside and sometimes we sat in the shade of the trees in the Botanical Garden. One afternoon we climbed the path to the sanctuary of the Madonna della Rocca at Castelmola, a small town higher up Mount Tauro, with even more splendid views of the surrounding area.

The facade of a house, decorated with ceramics and frescoes and a lovely painted door

So why did I like Sicily so much? The bright light and the blue of the Mediterranean Sea around Taormina were beautiful. There were flowers everywhere, especially the bougainvillea and the oleanders which reminded me so much of Australia that I was drawn to it immediately. In other parts of Sicily where I travelled later, I found eucalypts had been planted, rather disasterously in fact since they sucked up the precious underground water, but this further reminded me of Australia. As always the Italian people were friendly and welcoming and I just felt very comfortable in Sicily and hopefully I'll return there some day.

Sadly my stay in Taormina was before I had a digital camera so my photos are limited. If you have an interest, a very wonderful photographer, Galen Frysinger, has posted many of his photos of Taormina here. These will show you why you should visit this beautiful town should you find yourself in Sicily, where Welshcakes Limoncello has made her home in Modica, just a few hours from this very special place.

Crossposted at Sicily Scene and Nobody Important.


lady macleod said...

umm, this sounds familiar... :-)

Ellee said...

What a wonderful story, and fascinating that you took up Italian in your 60s. I'm very impressed/ Sicily looks stunning, I would very much love to visit.

Carver said...

That sounds like a wonderful trip and such an interesting post. The photographs that you do have are great and very evocative. I agree with Ellee that it's impressive for you to take up Italian in your 60s. I recall that your daughter teaches French. I envy people that are good at learning languages. My daughter speaks and reads quite a few different languages but she didn't get that ability from me. However, you may inspire me to realize it's not to late to learn.

CityUnslicker said...

taormina is a most wonderful place. I had a lovely holiday there a few years ago.

Sarabeth said...

I enjoyed reading this.

Vic Grace said...

Your posts are always so interesting and revive my interest to travel again.

I have tagged you at my place for You have been tagged with your pants down meme.

If you do not want to do it that is fine, these things can be a bit of a nuisance.

ipanema said...

sounds like a beautiful place to visit! :)

Lord Higham-Johnson said...

Lovely take on Sicily, JMB.

Janice Thomson said...

I certainly enjoyed the tour Jmb - and the bougainvillea.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to live a year in every country of the world? Imagine the insight, knowledge and memories one would have!
An informative and delightful read as always Jmb.

Ellee said...

I wonder how Welshcakes is today, hope she enjoys her trip.

Lee said...

Sorry, jmb...I thought I had commented on this post...but obviously I haven't...until now. :)

Great post and so very interesting. I love the photos, too.

Tai said...

I LOVE Italy. But I've never been further south than Rome.
Next time I'm going to Sicily, you've described it so lovingly and beautifully I can't help but want to experience that.

jmb said...

Hi Lady Mac,
Indeed it does. Did you read it twice?

Hi Ellee,
Actually Ellee I've been studying Italian since 1979 but it is not easy in this part of the world. Sicily is stunning, go there!

Hi Carver,
I have been studying Italian for years but have never really mastered it. I do just fine in Italy however.

Hi Cityunslicker,
How fortunate to spend a vacation there. Many people do and they couldn't find a better spot to my mine.

Hi Sarabeth,
I'm glad you enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing it because it brought back some very good memories.

Hi Vic Grace,
Travel is fun but it's easy to get lazy about it which it seems I am at the moment.

Hi ipanema,
Lovely place indeed, a favourite for me.

Hi Lord Jim,
A lovely place to visit and I did enjoy it.

Hi Janice,
I think you have a great idea. I think a year is a very good length of time to get accustomed to a place and appreciate its bounties.

Hi again Ellee,
I hope she enjoys her trip too. I also hope you get to speak to her, as I'm sure she's sorry she won't meet you.

Hi Tai,
I know it's a bit more difficult to get to Sicily (I flew from Rome) but it is a very special place with many different facets.

Chrysalis Angel said...

How beautiful those photos are and I love the way you described the area. You have a way of making the reader feel like they are there with you.

Sienna said...

So beautiful, it always amazes me the different feel and ambience different places give..or it may be the perception we have of them, either way I guess it doesn't matter.

Italy is one delight after another.


Lord Higham-Johnson said...

...bougainvillea and the oleanders...

My mother was a great fan of these.

jmb said...

Hi CA,
I'm glad you enjoyed my visit to Taormina with me. I wish I had more photos but the photos of the link were amazing.

Hi Pam,
Italy is one delight after another as you say and I found some wonderful places there and hope to go again soon

Hi James,
Actually I'm not really so fond of bougainvillea (so thorny and bright cerise, not my favourite colour) but it does always remind me of Australia.

regards to you all

Teresa Duncan said...

Those pics make me want to pack a bag and go! Very nice post - I really enjoyed it.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, jmb, for posting so beautifully on my blog.