Passopomo – the Ravine


The pollution in the ravine troubles Frank and me. But we don’t really know what to do, it is beyond our ability to bring all this back up the slopes! It seems indicative of the Sicilian attitude to rubbish: we see the young ones on a regular basis dropping plastic wrappers once they’ve eaten the contents, and none of the adults remark on it. The amount of plastic used in general is shocking: each meal new plastic plates, forks and cups are used and thrown away. It’s also hard to find a place where one can correctly dispose of rubbish. We have several bags in our van and have repeatedly asked various people, but most don’t know where we can officially dispose of them. One person offers to take the stuff to the recycling place in his town but when he says he would have to pretend it’s his, I politely decline – this is part of the whole story and I want to find out what are the correct options. In the end, Chantal takes me and our rubbish to a place 5km from here, where we find large bins by the side of the road. They are marked – plastic, paper and general rubbish – but they are filled to the hilt with a total mix of everything, so there is no use separating our stuff out. Besides, they don’t have lids and are so full that one big wind will take away most of the top layer and generously spread it around the area. Chantal says that they used to have better facilities, but someone set fire to them. It is costly to dispose of rubbish correctly, I am told, and various people recount stories of illegal dumpings just outside their property gates. One day, a whole lorry-load of builder’s rubble was dumped on the top end of Passopomo, making it impossible to exit with the horses. Rosi had to pay for its removal if she wanted to be able to take people on rides along this route. Nobody ever tells a story of someone having been successfully fined for illegal dumping. The only success story we hear is that a friend of Chantal’s, after repeatedly clearing up an illegal dump just outside his property, hit on the brilliant idea of erecting a big statue of Christ in the very spot. That stopped the dumping from one day to the next, although they proceeded to dump 200mtrs further up the road instead.


People we tell about the ravine either shrug their shoulders saying there’s nothing that can be done about it or they change the topic. Most laugh when we suggest contacting the local government to come and clean up. Very few can be persuaded to come and have a look and possibly help with ideas or action. Frank and I have decided to start cleaning some 200mtrs below the bridge and just do a bit every day, slowly working our way upstream. We have a few people helping, each day a different team, most notably a neighbour who spots us on the first day and comes with hammer and pickaxe, as well as clearing a path below his property to help get the heavy stuff out of the ravine.

But something is moving. Just the fact that Frank and I descend into the ravine to do an hour or two of wrestling the rubbish from the brambles and the river-bed makes it impossible for others to ignore the situation. It’s uncomfortable for them, we notice. We’ve become something like a splinter to people, but at the same time, they start to think how they can help move this project along. I think there is a mixed feeling of annoyance, respect, guilt, frustration and wanting to ignore everything, and none of those feelings go away. We wrote an email to the mayor of Zafferana, but despite trying three different addresses, it bounced back every time, so we will need to deliver it by hand after the festive season is over. We hope that he will have an open ear and be willing to act – he has a good reputation for addressing waste issues in his constituency, so let’s hope…

This morning, we spoke to someone else who recommended other points of contact in addition to the local government, so we have a bit more research to do in the next few days. Meanwhile, the ravine slowly transforms from squalor to a spot of outstanding natural beauty. It’s hard work but actually very satisfying and good fun. We’ve cleared about 60 mtrs in 4 days. However, the race is on because as soon as there is heavy rainfall, more rubbish will definitely be swept down by the inevitable torrents.

Here are two photos, before and after one of our cleaning actions. For more photos go to the flikr album



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Passopomo – La Passeggiata di Giulia


Lunches often culminate in the sharing of a Pandoro and a good story. In this photo, Rosi, who is a great raconteur,  is in the middle of telling the story about the day when there had been a child’s 5th birthday with many kids from the pony club, as well as friends of the birthday child and other first time visiting children. The parents were happily chatting with each other, when they suddenly realised the absence of their children. They had just disappeared, off the face of the earth. Three hours of frantic shouting and searching ensued, and Rosi started having visions of police helicopter searches…

What had happened? Rosi’s daughter Giulia, 5 years old at the time, had taken all children on a walk to the dry riverbed. They proceeded to descend towards the sea, until they arrived in Giarra, 5km down the hill from Passopomo. Then they turned around and came back up the hill.

The parents were still running around shouting for their children, when one of them heard a child’s voice singing. Five minutes later, all of them arrived safe and sound, excited if a bit tired from their adventure, not at all disturbed by the big journey or the long absence from their parents. In fact they couldn’t quite understand why their parents seemed so upset.

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Passopomo – Sunrise on Etna & Party Times

The nights are beautifully starry and the days are bathed in brilliant sunshine, about as hot as an English summer’s day. We are often awake at the break of dawn, and after twice missing the magical moment when Etna turns pink, we catch it on the third day.


Turning the camera 180 degrees, we get this:


Lunches are often a communal affair – someone goes off to get a roast chicken and chips or some meat to grill on the big barbecue, and everyone takes a break from mucking out the horses or whatever they are doing to sit together and share food and merriment.

One day, I join Katerina and Davide for a trip into town to get the chicken. Katerina warns me: I’m not a good driver, I’ve only had my license for three days. Well, I think, it’s only a short trip into town and if I get stressed, I can always walk. It turns out she is the smoothest and most caring driver we have met so far in Italy, where everyone seems to go round like they are trying to win a race. The chicken takes ages to cook, and when it comes to paying for it, Katerina bypasses me by instructing the woman behind the till not to accept money from me. But I want to pay, I say to the cashier, who shrugs her shoulders in an archetypal Italian way, nods towards Katerina and says ‘she spoke first’.

The roast chickens here are in another league to what we can buy from an English rotisserie – full of herbs, succulent and with a crunchy skin!

We have arrived just in time for the holy days. No-one knows us and yet we are received with open arms and invited to the festive meals at people’s houses. They are quite an event to behold. For New Year’s Eve, there are discussions for days in advance, about the time and location and most of all about the food. Ideas change on an hourly basis, and they have no trouble discussing the event for two hours at a time without coming to a final decision. In the end, it’s an ad hoc party with bring-along food. All in all, we are about 25-30 people. Almost everyone who frequents Passopomo on a regular basis turns up. By now we have met most of them at least once, but when they are all in one room and everyone is talking at the same time and jokes are flying, it can be quite tiring just to watch them, let alone join in. It is wonderful to see them all so joyful and connected, but generally, after a couple hours’ of exposure, Frank and I are so worn out that we fall asleep on a chair or have to be driven back home after the food and before they start in earnest with their card games. Meanwhile the young kids are still running around. They seem to have a lot more party stamina than we do. Maybe we really are getting old. We are awake every morning in time to see the sun rise and we don’t have the energy anymore to burn the candle at both ends…

For photos of the general merriment, go to our flikr album

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