Beach findings

The amount of rubbish on beaches varies greatly with different regions in Sicily. San Leone is one of the cleaner beaches, where a stroll along the 2 kilometres of sand only yielded a small plastic bag full of rubbish. Nevertheless, one can find some amazing things, and even people, on the beach! The Italians love to hear me practice my violin – it’s a real boost to my confidence, they always give me compliments when they pass me, or even divert their route by up to a hundred metres just to chat :-)

The first morning, I get chatting to the water controllers. San Leone’s sewage used to just flow into the sea, untreated, but now this has stopped. However, the old system had to be rerouted in a complicate way: everything from the town still arrives at the beach, where it gets collected in a great underground tank and then pumped back up the hill to a sewage treatment plant. Two people come along every morning to check that everything is working well. One of them stands and listens to me for a long time. Eventually he starts talking to me – he plays the guitar he says, to exercise movement in his hands as he had an industrial accident, an electric shock, which burnt him and severely restricted movement in his arms and hands. It always gets me, to hear such tragic life stories coming from a smiling face. He stands there, enjoying the music and the morning sun, happy with his life, happy to take one little step at a time to recover from a near fatal accident.

The next morning, I meet Bruno, the retired Italian teacher and his little dog. He makes a detour to tell me that the beach is always a pleasure to see in the morning, but today it was especially beautiful in combination with my playing. Ahh, honey to my soul… I tend to get quite frustrated with my playing; to me, it seems so fickle and often still out of tune, scraping, and my vibrato still tight and nervous. Well it obviously looks and sounds different from the outside… we chat for a while and he invites Frank and me to a local traditional bar and plies us with copious amounts of local pastries. We are treated to a ‘Genovese’, a pasty filled with fresh ricotta, incredibly tasty! We have conversations about language and about our recent experience in Favara. Bruno is originally from Favara and he has tremendous respect for how this one couple has managed to throw a life line to an otherwise deteriorating city. We hear this repeatedly in the next few days, from various sources. This one example is creating waves, giving hope and inspiration to old and young alike. They may think that some of the projects are too crazy, but they like the effect it has, bringing Favara out of obscurity.

On the third morning, I strike really lucky – as I’m playing ‘Lark in the Morning’, an Irish tune which helps me to practise the changes from one string to another, trying to relax but at the same time to control the movement of my bow, a man arrives with an elastic band and proceeds to do stretching exercises not far from me. So we each happily do our thing for a while, before he finishes his exercises and comes up to me, by which time I have arrived at playing the theme tune to ‘Schindler’s List’. You know, he says in Italian, if you want to get a smoother transition from one string to the other, it would help if you held your bow a little differently, if I may give you some advice? I’m looking at him, taking in what he said and translating it into English in my mind. He interprets my pause as reticence and says I play the violin…. he trails off, probably not sure if his advice is welcome. I push my violin into his hands and he proceeds to magic the sweetest sounds, taking off exactly where I’d left from Schindler’s List. Oh, my violin can sound so beautiful when it’s played well! Something to aim for… Naturally, I soak up all advice he is willing to give that morning and ask him for a lesson the following day :-)

I’m quite fussy about teachers, but Antonio’s got just the right way for me, and so we spend 90 minutes, sitting on the beach in the sun and I receive enough practise material to keep me busy for the next three months. I wish I could kidnap him to have regular lessons!

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Back to the Coast

From the Villa Romana, we take a route across the countryside on little roads to drop down to Agrigento where we are hoping to find the lovely family we met last year. We can’t remember their names or where they live but only the fact that they have a wolf as a pet. We are planning to park up on the same beach as last year and just wait a couple of days to see if any of the family come down to take their wolf for a walk. We stop off at a Lidl on the way to stock up with Rice milk, and there in the car park, we bump into a friend of the family who recognises us from last year! So we get the low-down on names as well as a phone number. How easy was that?!?

By ringing the daughter Irene, we get hold of Guiseppe and Gina, the parents, and arrange to meet for tea the next day.

Mudra, the wolf, has grown slightly and become more thick-set than she was last year. Guiseppe and Gina show us the changes they have made at their house, including a newly installed infinity swimming pool in their back garden and a terrace on the roof of their bungalow from which one can see the land sweeping down to the sea.

Maybe it’s that we came at short notice and they don’t have much time to spend with us in their very busy daily schedule. Maybe it is that in Guiseppe’s presence, Gina doesn’t feel free to say what she thinks, but somehow the atmosphere is a bit tense and lacking the magic we had with each other last year…but it was still nice to see them again.

In the afternoon, we drive up to visit the Cultural Park in Favara, another typical Sicilian town, tightly packed houses perched on top of a steep hill. Apparently Favara was quite desolate about a decade ago, with young people draining to the bigger cities for want of work. It says on their web site: Farm Cultural Park was born from the intuition of Florinda and Andrea, a young professional couple who decided not to move abroad, but to remain in Sicily; not to complain about what is not happening, but to become protagonists of a small but significant change – to return to their pups Carla and Viola, and to their community, a little bit of a better world than they received.

Seven interlinking courtyards in the historic centre of the town house a multitude of projects, the most inspiring for us is the architectural school for children age 6 onwards. Famous international architects come to teach at this school. What better tool for transformation of a crumbling city than to give its young residents the know-how and creative energy to transform what they have, into a sustainable future.

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It will be interesting to see Favara in 10, 15 years’ time. It is still very dilapidated now, but it has a buzz about it, with lots of interesting nooks and crannies, bohemian cafes and many, many beautiful old buildings. It is exciting to imagine how this city will lift out of its slumber through regeneration from within.

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We roll down the hill to San Leone beach for the night, inspired by the energy we felt in Favara.


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Famous Mosaics at the Villa Romana del Casale

For a change, we have our tourist caps on!

We are taking a trip inland to see the famous roman mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, built as a hunting lodge  in the 3-4th Century AD, for Maximian Herculeus, who shared the title of Roman emperor with Valerius Diocletian.

Having lain under the earth for many centuries, they were rediscovered at the end of C19th.

The mosaics are plentiful and amazingly well preserved, it is very impressive:

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Sunrise in Southern Sicily

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Frank shakes me awake at 5.30am and we hop onto our bikes, still half asleep. All is quiet at the camp site as we steal out through a side entrance. Two kilometres down the road, we are greeted with a beautiful sun rise on a little land spit, while the moon is setting on the other side. Looking down the cliff, we also spot a pulpo fisher.

For more photos, click here . Do click on it, they are nice photos!

 


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Going West

We’re off on an adventure – one we wanted to do last year but got ‘stuck’ in Passopomo – a round trip along the Southern and Western coast of Sicily!

Not far from Noto is a charming little fishing town called Marzamemi. One can really imagine how it must be heaving with tourists here in summer, but right now, nothing but us and the wind pass by the old houses and across the open squares paved with beautiful flagstones. The houses cluster in front of a large disused fish factory. The mind boggles what could be done with a property of this size, right by the seaside…

We take Emma back out of town and along the coast. Where the road slowly dissolves into sand and muddy puddles, we come to a halt by a little sand dune, and pitch up for the night within a stone’s throw of the sea.

The next morning, our route takes us a bit inland to a little town called Scicli which lies along a river about 100mtr above sea level, but if you don’t know how to get there the easy way, you might find yourself on a rocky outcrop high above it before plunging down a series of treacherous hairpin bends. Emma performs well under Frank’s expert guidance!

We find a parking spot on a bridge below the town centre. Across the river, we see some people repairing a wall. It looks like we may be able to buy some organic vegetables there… The only way to get to them seems to be across the river, so we hop across the stepping-stones to meet an Albanian family local to Scicli, who bought this piece of land a year ago. It had been neglected for 30 years previous to that, and the father proudly shows us all the work they have already done to free the overgrown lemon and orange grove and the olive and mulberry trees. Today it is Sunday and a sunny one too, and he’s on his land with his two daughters and a nephew, building a low stone wall. There is a proud enthusiasm in their stories and a laughter around this back-breaking work.

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When we ask if they can sell us some of their produce, they fill a bag with fennel bulbs and very tasty lettuce but won’t accept any money. They also promise to keep an eye on Emma while we hop back across the river and up into town to do a bit of sightseeing.

 

There are many, many beautiful old towns in Sicily and Scicli is one of them. We stroll through the little streets and alleyways until we arrive at the main square where we have a hot chocolate while watching women and children dressed to the nines pour out of church into the square where they are awaited by their husbands and fathers who, it seems, don’t need the approval of god – or maybe it suffices to send your family in to sit for an hour or two in a cold place on a hard bench.

We leave Scicli the easy way, which takes us back to the sea and a little town called Donalucata. We pick up some vegetables and fresh pulpo and set off to find a place where we can grill our food as well as find an internet point, because this afternoon there’s rugby to be watched (writing this, I’m told it’s not just any Rugby but 6 nations!) We rarely stay at camper sites, but today is one of those days, and we’re in luck: we find one by the sea, so small it would only take half a dozen vans, with internet access and plenty of space. I get a chance to catch up with admin, Frank watches Rugby, we eat freshly grilled super soft and tasty pulpo and vegetables and in the evening, to cheer up Frank because Wales so narrowly lost to the old enemy (England, that is, for those like me who wouldn’t know unless they are married to a ardent Welsh fan), we go and chat with the fishermen who have set up their fishing rods out on the beach. One of them grew up here before moving to Catania and he urges us to go to a particular spot not far from here to watch the sunrise the next morning.

I take my violin out to play to the setting sun. It used to be my mum’s violin, she gave it to me shortly before she died. My mum loved playing music and also she loved the sea, so playing the violin by the sea really puts me in touch with her in a good way.

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