Head over heel -Seduced by Southern Italy by Chris Harrison

August6

Perhaps like you, I read non-fiction about residing in Europe and traveling there, to live vicariously through the lives of the authors and to anticipate sojourns that I may (or may not) ever get the chance to take.  Rarely do I come across a story about a little known destination that I have visited and loved tremendously, but this is one.  Here is an excerpt in writer Chris  Harrison’s words, illustrated by my photographs of an area in Sicily.

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Guidaloca was shaped like a slice of melon and its water looked just as refreshing.  After dumping towels on the beach, Daniela and Francesco ran for the blue water

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while I scaled the headland on my way to a World War II watchtower.  Built from the stone of the headland, it was perfectly camouflaged, the attraction, no doubt, for the teenage lovers I surprised inside.  Despite their vantage point they had failed to see me coming. It’s little wonder the allied invasion of Sicily was a cakewalk.  …

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Daniela and I swam in the caves while Francesco trapped crabs, ripped them apart and ate them raw.  Both in Sicily and in Puglia I enjoyed paddling in the placid sea, but have to admit I found unruffled water rather dull after a time.  Having grown up surfing the Bondy breakers, I associate going to the beach with wipe-outs rather than relaxation.  In Australia I took a surfboard.  In Italy I took a book.

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As in Andrano, the second half of the day began around five, when Daniela assumed the role of tour guide and whisked me off to places of interest near Alcamo.

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First up was the ancient city of Erice.  Perched on a mountaintop overlooking the sea, according to legend it was founded over 3000 years ago by the son of Venus and Neptune.

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I should have photographed the town’s eighth-century walls,

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the twelfth-century castle

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the twelfth-century castle and the cobblestone lanes so narrow they must be walked single-file.  But I didn’t.  I had intended to.  I had even bought a guidebook.

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But next to the bookstore I found a pasticceria which sold fruit made from marzipan, a sugary Sicilian specialty.  So I sat on a bench scoffing miniature bananas, an orange, a mandarin and a peach, while watching the sun set on the seaport of Trapini over 700 meters below.

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Next stop was the ancient treasures of Segesta.  Erected in 420 BC, the 36-column Doric temple was billed in my guidebook as “the best preserved Greek architecture site to be found anywhere”. Quite a claim, but one archeologists dispute less than whether or not the Greeks intended to put a roof on the building.

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Another topless attraction was Segesta’s amphitheatre, a primitive arena carved from a rock atop Mount Barbarian,

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venue for summer performances of Greek tragedies other than the Olympic Games.

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Other excursions took in the monument to Garibaldi at Calatafimi, which commemorates a famous victory of his Red Shirts over the Bourbons, an as much of Palermo as the heat and our resultant late starts would allow.  We would return to the hill at sundown, to be greeted on the driveway by the scents of dinner, which I must confess, enticed me more than the treats in my guidebook.

Every evening Valeria laid a table in her garden for twenty, to which neighbours would bring food for forty.  A typical feats began with Zia Tina’s antipasti, which include prosciutto with sugar melon, pizza slices, burschette, fried eggplant, zucchini and peppers in olive oil. That alone would have done me.  But Luisa’s primo piatto as net, a daring but delicious mix of baked potato and mussels.  Then Nona Lina’s horsemeat pieces in tomato sauce.  ‘Eat quickly,’ said Antonio.  ‘It was a racehorse.’  The meat was springy, yet surprisingly tasty although I couldn’t heal thinking that I may have been eating something more intelligent than me.  Valeria usually prepared the terzo piatto: kebabs of liver and other animal sundries the origin of which I preferred not to ask.  Fruit followed for those whose arms could still reach further than their stomachs: watermelon, apricots, peaches and figs.  And then came the coup de grace, an onslaught of calories called cannoli siciliani-a sweet comprised of flour, sugar, chocolate and white wine, fried into a wafer in the shaped of a hollow bow tie filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate.  Stuffed, both dinner and desert.

Reading Chris Harrison’s account of this and his time in Puglia brought the agony and ecstasy of Italian ways to life, love it or leave it.  I would like to get a chance to love it please.

Kath’s quote: “They eat the dainty food of famous chefs with the same pleasure with which they devour gross peasant dishes, mostly composed of garlic and tomatoes, or fisherman’s octopus and shrimps, fried in heavily scented olive oil on a little deserted beach.” –Luigi Barzini, ‘The Italians’ (1964)

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Stones collected on Guidaloca.

Love-that is all.


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