Meet the Council of Zafferana Etnea

The work of cleaning the ravine at Passopomo cannot be done by us alone – it needs professional power, with the right machines to lever the vehicles out, and people in protective gear who can deal with the poisonous stuff. So we decide to approach Zafferana Council – we’ve been told that they have a good reputation for environmental awareness. Our first attempt is an email (which, if you are interested, you can read here in English as well as its’ Italian translation), but neither of the three addresses we find on the internet seem to work. So on January 5th, we take a paper copy and try to deliver it by hand. The doors of the town hall are open but everything seems very quiet. We pass by an unmanned reception and venture into the belly of the administration. However, the only people at work on this day are cleaners and the police. We try again the next morning, and you can read about that visit in a previous chapter.

Entering the town hall of Zafferana is like entering some kind of theatre play. Every character seems exaggerated, almost cliché – we have the beautiful, doe-eyed secretary; the grandiose, benevolent, fast talking higher official; the mute and slightly grumpy ‘fat controller’ who doesn’t move from behind his desk; the serious, intelligent and ambitious young consigliere, and, last but not least, the very important Mayor, in his splendid (and verging on the opulent) large office on the upper floor, facing the town square and overlooking his ‘realm’ all the way down to the sea.

We don’t meet the mayor until our 4th visit though. Before that, we pay another visit to the waste disposal office on the floor below, where despite becoming known for uncomfortable information, we find an open ear and a generous reception. We are here to find out if anything has happened ‘back stage’ in the two weeks since our first visit, since we have not seen any changes at the ravine, other than more rubbish having been dumped. Alfredo, in charge of waste in this town, gets a bit more involved in the conversation than last time we called round. He asks us if we can give the council one more week to come up with an action plan. This makes me reflect on how these people see us. We are foreigners and this seems to give us some kind of kudos, we are respected, listened to and treated very politely. I try to imagine how it would be in England – let’s say a Sicilian arrives at Totnes town council to report an illegal dump and ask for its removal. Somehow I doubt that they would be paid the same kind of attention we receive here… Nevertheless, we are slightly frustrated by the permanent reply of ‘non e facile’. Well, yes, we know it’s not easy. We know it will cost money and requires several organisations to work together, but this should not mean that nothing is being done.

In the same way as two weeks ago, more people gradually arrive and are shocked by the story, especially when I mention that there are fresh animal carcasses and that we cannot do anymore cleaning ourselves as last time he went to the ravine, Frank contracted some kind of bug, possibly from being in the vicinity of the cadavers.

As no-one tells us to leave (or more likely, we don’t get the subtle ‘hints’ since we are not fluent in Italian, let alone au fait with Sicilian cultural undertones), we sit in the office and present our case for about half an hour. Before we leave, Antonino promises to come at 9am the next morning.

Below is a photo of the new lot of rubbish in the ravine, with a horse’s head perched on top.



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‘Home Alone’ in Passopomo ! – by Frank

Rosi, who runs the riding school, lent me her car to drive Ruth to the airport in Catania, for her week-long trip to Berlin. It was odd driving back to Passopomo without her but I began to make a mental list of all the things I wanted to do while she was away – help Rosi out with the horses, make more marmalade (I’d been told that the root stock onto which they graft Mandarins, was the bitter Seville orange and that there were many trees on the abandoned farmland around the Maneggio which had fruit on their lower branches perfect for Marmalade making), fix the driver’s- side step, which had been damaged at the Hot Springs weeks back in Saturnia, fill the wood-store – there being plenty of fallen/dead trees on the uncared-for estate and of course continue the clear-up of the river-bed, prior to the visit of the team from the Town Hall. Sadly, I got back from the airport to be told that the council had been and gone with a small pick-up truck – I had the key to the neighbour’s property which they needed, to access the pile of rubbish we’d already gathered from our clean-up sessions… A week later they made another appointment for a site-visit, this time it was called off because it was raining ! Christ, if they did that in Wales, they’d only work half the year! Two days later the neighbour texted me to say they’d been to clear the rubbish – I was confused. I ‘wrote’ back to tell him how delighted I was but what a shame I hadn’t been there to take photographs for our documentation of the ‘project’. Meanwhile, Gianni, who had already taken Ruth and I on an amazing walk below Etna, had invited me on another one, sensing that I was already missing Ruth and heading out at 7 am the next day, in time to catch the extraordinary rose glow that sunrise gives to the snow-capped volcano and surrounding area. It was truly unforgettable visually but also rich in shared conversations about language, nature and Sicilian culture.



On our return, I couldn’t wait to see how much they’d done at the ravine and was disappointed to find the pile below Giacomo’s property hadn’t moved. So, I set off up the river-bed towards the bridge, where the worst of the ‘dumping’ can be seen, only to find no change there either! I took out my frustration on a few more hours of clearing and on my way back to Emma, gathering a barrow-full of wood for Emma’s stove and the fire-place in the communal room at Passopomo. It was only the following day, when I’d had no reply from Giacomo, that I realized that his initial message lacked a question mark.

The next day Gianni drove me to the local hardware store, Emma’s step tucked under my arm, to buy the correct bolts for the job (there was no way of taking a measurement, as the bolt holes disappeared into the step casing, with no way of knowing how deep they went). After a few attempts by the friendly man behind the counter we plumped for a set, complete with assorted washers. Since that day it’s rained on and off and Emma is stood in a muddy part of a field, so sliding under the cab hasn’t really appealed to me, so it’s been added to the ‘to-do’ list.

Given the turn in the weather, I set about another Marmalade-making session, this time filling an assorted selection of saved jars: I’m up to about 30 now but it seems as fast as I make them the sooner they leave us in the form of presents. It’s so nice to be able to give something home-made and it often takes people by surprise that it’s come out of our camper-van home.

Saturday comes around quicker than I’d hoped and it’s time to pick Ruth up from Catania airport – not a day too soon, as I miss her terribly and can’t wait to hear how she got on with Yoli in Berlin.

More photos of my walk with Gianni are on our flikr album

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Passopomo – the Young ones

Passopomo is synonymous with Paradise for children and teenagers who love being outdoors with animals, especially horses. Hardly a day passes without 10 year old Davide showing up and taking his horse for a ride.


If it’s wet, he trains Dixon on a long reign in the sandy patch by the side of our Emma. If it’s dry, he’ll be in the manegio with the others, exercising the horses, trotting, cantering and jumping. It’s a joy to watch them. Rosi gives some input, but I think most of all, they learn by watching each other and being around the horses a lot. When they go off to a local competition, they come back with prizes, even for things like doing gymnastics on horses, which they rarely practice, except when they stand on the saddle to reach for oranges from the trees! They enjoy finishing ahead of the kids from more prestigious pony clubs.


18 year old Katerina is also a regular and helps a lot mucking out the horses. She is training to become a vet. When the horses have exercised, everyone gathers and trots off for a ramble through the vineyard. It’s fantastic to have such a large enclosed space to go riding in – no roads to cross and plenty of paths weaving up and down the fields.


Here are more photos of the horses and their owners/riders.

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