Passopomo – the Beauty and the Beast

We arrive in Passopomo during a torrential downpour on the morning of December 20th. There is a whole group of people waiting for the weather to clear so we can go horse riding, but it doesn’t let up, so we share lunch in the rain and then people disperse. Towards the evening, the clouds lift and we begin to see what a beautiful place we have arrived in: to the north, we see Mount Etna, quietly smoking (apparently we just missed a fairly spectacular eruption) and to the South, the land gives away, with spectacular views all the way down to the sea. The stables lie in the centre of a large estate with vineyards, olive, orange and mandarin groves. We have taken residence in the car park, which is covered in black volcanic grit that dries out as soon as the rains stop.

What strikes us when we open the door on the first morning is the amount of rubbish that is lying around just outside out doors. So as per usual, we take some time to clear our temporary ‘garden’ (little do we know just how long we will be encamped here…). What is it that people in Sicily don’t seem to see how ugly all this plastic is, let alone dangerous for animals? Two large rubbish bags later, we sit down for a breakfast in the splendid sunshine.


I am writing this chapter two weeks after the fact, and the contrast between the Beautiful and the Ugly continues. We have never been in such a beautiful place, combined with the openheartedness of people, and the joy of being surrounded by a bunch of horses that are so calm that some of them can be let out to roam freely during the day. Our encounters are so manifold and rich that they warrant a whole load of chapters – but so is our discovery of a terrible fly-tip just on the border of the property, where people abuse the fact that a quiet road crosses the riverbed on an old bridge, to chuck their rubbish, letting it spill into one of the most beautiful ravines we have ever seen.


Most of the time, this ravine is dry, but there are clear signs that once the winter storms come, the rubbish is swept down and along with great force, distributed and embedded between rocks and volcanic sand, or wrapped around trees. Whole cars fold themselves along the line of this force.


We are stunned by the contrast, and shocked into action. In the following chapters we will share our discovery of the beauty of this this area, as well as its ugly pollution, and you will see how we progress (or not, as the case may be) with the cleaning of the ravine, and whether and how the people around us and in the local government respond.


For more pictures on this chapter, go to the flikr album

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Catania (December 19th)

It’s a fairly straight-forward drive along the motorway from Noto to Catania and the tolls are all open, maybe due to a strike or the workers having decided to take Christmas off. As soon as we join the main traffic into town though, the story takes on a different tone altogether. Traffic is heavy and fast, with cars absolutely using every inch of the road, in front, by the side and directly behind us. Linger for more than half a second at a traffic light and you have people hooting behind you. Do not think that a green traffic light means a free road, and make no assumptions about people respecting the rules at roundabouts! We have to brake sharply a couple of times to avoid suicidal Sicilians in Cinquecentos or Fiats cutting us at roundabouts. You’d think they would weigh their chances of survival, but they choose to dice with death instead. Or they just know that we foreigners will brake hard.

Luckily we’ve been given exact instructions by the organiser to find the place where we will be dancing tonight, otherwise we wouldn’t have stood a chance – it’s a big sports hall with a large meandering car park, but the entrance is hard to find. It’s an ideal place to stay for the night. The car park feels quite secure, and it’s relatively quiet for being in the city. We are early for the event and the car park is virtually empty, so Frank decides to have a shower, which in Emma means hanging an extended hose with a shower head out the window. Water is hot, and the night’s are often cold… Just as he’s finished, the first Tangueros and Tangueras arrive. This sports hall seems quite an unlikely place for a Tango event, but as we walk towards it, we hear the music spilling out of the venue, and upon entering, we are surprised to find over 200 dancers! Catania has a strong Tango community. This isn’t even a festival, just the usual Saturday evening Milonga. Over the Christmas period they have two or three events per week from mid December until January 6th.

The Tango community seems a very friendly one. We haven’t even got our shoes on when a young woman greets us and introduces herself as Giulia. As it turns out, she is the daughter of Rosi, who is a friend of Chantal’s, who we met in Bologna and who invited us to come horse riding. In fact, Rosi runs the stables! We ask if we can come and visit, if Emma will be able to make it up the hill and where we can park. The answer is yes to all of this, so we arrange to visit the following morning, and Chantal will be there too, so we can all go riding together.

We’ve been thinking about where we will be spending Christmas and that it would be nice to be in a safe place and with some nice people, and it just seems like our wishes might come true. As we snuggle up in bed after a lovely evening of dancing (where I am so excited to be testing my knee again for the first time in two months), we have a sense that possibly a new chapter in our journey might be starting tomorrow…

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