"Ammoninni in Sicila!"

Trip Start Jan 12, 2008
Trip End Jun 18, 2008

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Flag of Italy  ,
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Ammoninni in Sicilia!" is pronounced "ah-MO-ni-ni  een  sea-SHEEL-ee-ah", and is Sicilian dialect for "Andiamo in Sicilia" or "Let's Go to Sicily!" Before getting to the island, I was very worried that all my semesters of studying the Italian language would be wasted there, because they all speak Sicilian (a 'dialect', which is unintelligible to a standard Italian speaker, so is pretty much it's own language). But thankfully, this was not true. Although we were excited to overhear old ladies walking down the street or young friends in the bar, or old men trading in the outdoor market, speaking authentic Sicilian (it's fun to try and understand anything that's being said - every once in a while you'll catch a 'si' or 'io sono', but that's about it!), everyone who spoke to us spoke perfect standard Italian - phew!

And speaking of people speaking to us, the Sicilians are SO friendly! So many people were willing to talk to us, especially after learning that we were American. The owners of a small cafe in Catania we visited even sat down at our table, told us about their 40 year marriage ("Sono con lei da 40 anni - sono santo!" - "I've been with her 40 years - I must be a saint!"), told us how beautiful they thought New York was, gave us free pastries and cookies, and offered us everything from cigarettes to a date with their son Salvatore, the bus boy. It was great to practice our Italian and learn some new things about Sicilians.

But anyway, let's start from the beginning: At the time, we thought that a 7AM flight to Palermo was a great idea, so after waking up at 4, getting to the train station by 4:45, taking the bus to Malpensa at 5, making it to the airport by 6, and finally boarding at 7, we made it to Italy's largest island by 8:45 am (phew!). Immediately after walking out of the airport and getting the shuttle to the city center, we got to see the Mediterranean (Palermo is on a harbor in North Sicily), huge mountains, orange and lemon trees, and palm trees. It was beautiful!

The city of Palermo itself is an interesting place. I wouldn't call it pretty by any means, in fact. Many parts of the city look like they were bombed last week instead of last century, or before. It's very old, and while run-down in many places, it has a very well preserved history, and a lot of heart. Sicily is an interesting place because of it's history - it has been conquered by so many peoples in the past, who have all left distinct traces behind, on everything from the food, to the language, to the architecture. Because of it's location in the middle of the Mediterranean, it was thought to be a strategic trading location, so it was widely sought after by various powers. There are traces of the Romans, Greeks, French, Spanish, Arabs, Lombards, Normans, and Byzantines, just to name a few. Sicily was even its own kingdom for a while. The Palazzo, for example, (which is still used as the main government building in Palermo) has so many different styles all in the same building: One room is completely Byzantine mosaics, the next looks like something out of Marie-Antoinette's castle (in fact, her sister was married to one of Sicily's kings), another room is completely Oriental, and another looks like a Muslim mosque. Except all with modern technological equipment, because the local government still uses it today! It's really interesting to see!

Otherwise in Palermo, we saw the beautiful Cathedral, the Archaeological Museum, and the Teatro Massimo, the largest theater in Italy (exterior-wise, not capacity - La Scala in Milan has the largest seating capacity). It's also where they shot the opera scene in the Godfather III (in the Royal Box, as well as the steps outside), and is said to be haunted by an old Nun, because a church was destroyed in order to build the theater!

After one night in Palermo, we got on a bus (there's not too many railroads in Sicily because of the hilly terrain) to Siracusa, a little city on the opposite side of the island. The ride was about 3 hours, but I really enjoyed it because I got to see the whole countryside - complete with miles of orange/lemon trees, sheep, horses, hills and valleys, and beautiful shorelines. It was really gorgeous.

Now, Siracusa (Syracuse) is really a beautiful city. In fact, Cicero described it as the greatest and most beautiful of all Ancient Greek cities (agreed!). When we arrived at the bus station, the couple who rented us the room (Delia and Carlo - SO cute!) even picked us up, and brought us to our room, telling us all about Siracusa on the way. It was so nice to stay in a guest house rather than a hostel for once, and it was on a cute little street right on the ocean. Then Delia and Carlo were even so kind to drive us to the Archaeological park on the outskirts of town. They were SO nice, we even bought them a bottle of wine! The Archaeological Park is home to both a Greek and a Roman amphitheater, as well as the tomb of Archimedes (the famous ancient Greek mathematician who was killed there in a battle), and the "Ear of Dionysius", a huge limestone cave that, because of it's shape, has great acoustics. Legend says that Dionysius, a tyrant ruler in ancient Sicily, would imprison people here, and then eavesdrop on their plans, because you can hear even the quietest whisper.

Then, we walked to the nearby huge church dedicated to the Santa Maria delle Lacrime. Apparently, in 1953, a mass-produced plaster sculpture given to a couple for their wedding wept for three days in Siracusa. Various people who touched the tears were healed of all kinds of ailments, and the tears were scientifically tested and proved to be real human tears. It was officially declared a miracle, and in the 1990s, a huge basilica was built to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims who come to see it. (Of course, it doesn't cry any more, but you can still come see it) The church is surprisingly modern looking, and it the tallest building in Syracuse, by a LOT!

But seriously, let's get down to the good stuff: This is why I LOVED Sicily - THE FOOD. Not only was every single thing I eat delicious, but it's so much cheaper than Northern Italy, that I could have more courses! From the extra thin pizza (Sicilian style includes capers, anchovies, and basil - mm mm), the local dish "Maccheroni alla Norma" (Red sauce with eggplant chunks topped in Ricotta cheese - mmmmm), to, obviously, the CANNOLI! I think I eat 6 cannolis in 3 days, but it was SO worth it. Even the gelato was the best I've had so far!

In conclusion, much love to all from Sicily: the land where old men still sit at outdoor tables drinking jugs of wine, where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, drives a moped and smokes cigarettes (often at the same time), where you can eat a cannoli with every meal and not feel one bit bad, and where three tall American girls get an awful lot of attention. 

Baci e Abbracci-
Ciao Ciao
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