Good-bye Sicilia!

Upon my return from a wonderful week of teaching at the TangoLab in Proitze, it is time to think about tying up loose ends before leaving Sicily and start our journey homeward. We spend a few days more or less successfully trying to hand over the on-going rubbish in the ravine story, as we’ve not been able to see it to a successful end ourselves. It’s not the most enticing prospect for anyone to take on the task of nagging the council. Though there are plenty of people who agree with us that this is an environmental disaster, many of whom say that the attitude to waste disposal urgently has to change in Sicily, it is hard to find those who are willing to put words into action. We will see, maybe there are things that can be done in writing from far away. We have a few more potential contacts that we can explore…


The time has come to say good-bye to all the wonderful people we met in Passopomo. Unbeknown to us, they have planned a get-together in honour of our departure, so on the night before we leave, everyone appears and food and laughter is shared one last time. We have thought of one word for each person that sums up what we feel they have inspired in us and we hand out a card to each of them with that word written in Frank’s decorative calligraphy. They are such a bunch of warm-hearted, lovely people and we leave enriched by new insights, new friendships and plenty of shared experiences.

As a parting gift, we pick up any rubbish we can lay our hands on – by the end we have half a dozen rubble sacks and a few boxes. We say good-bye to Frank and Ruth (the goats) and we’re off, down the drive that Frank (the man) has spent the last two days removing overhanging branches from, in anticipation of our possible return in the autumn.


On our way to Cassibile, we drop in on a tyre garage as we thought one of our tyres looked a bit flat. It turns out that that one is ok, but the one behind it is completely empty, due to a faulty valve! It doesn’t bear thinking about what would happen if we lost control of Emma on the motorway… We feel very lucky that nothing bad happened. In fact, it feels like another life has been given to us! After the repair, expertly done by a lovely smiling man from Enna, we drive on to our favourite beach in Fontane Bianche and spend a day in Quiet, just the two of us, Emma and the sea, celebrating a new start. At one point, a hefty thunderstorm drums on our roof, washing away all the volcanic dust we have accumulated over the past three months. In the evening, the sun comes back out and we go for a dip in the sea, completing the cleansing process.


The following day, we head off up the hill to Luca and Laura’s place. Their neighbour, Salvatore, had already warned us via email of inclement weather and invited us to come and park outside his house instead of driving into a field that we might not get back out of. When we arrive, he comes to meet us at the bottom of his drive, at the ready with a chain saw to cut off any branches that might be in the way of Emma. We slowly inch up the drive, squeezing past old olive trees, oaks, protruding bits of wall, and often there’s only a centimetre on each side, but we make it up there.

On a previous visit to Piano Cuni ( the name of this area near the Cavagrande di Cassibile), we had found out that one of Salvo’s passions is Tango dancing, so straight away on the first day, we haul the dance floor out from under the bed and lay it in his garage.

The next few days are a beautiful encounter of the world of Salvo, inside and out. I teach him my way of dancing tango, which satisfies something in me about putting a counterbalance to the Catanian way of dancing. Salvo used to dance a lot but then gave up in frustration, knowing that he loved the dance and looking for exactly the type of input that I was able to give him, but not finding it in Sicily. Apart from dancing, we have philosophical conversations about the dance, about the music, about leading and following. Salvo says we are like minds, and maybe he’s right… we seem to have the same way of getting our point across 😉



Frank helps Salvo with some work digging trenches and laying pipes. I start removing rubbish from his yard, knowing that the wife he’s looking for will not arrive if his yard looks like a scrap heap. I spend a couple of hours picking up broken glass etc. After a while, Frank joins me and together, we spend the best part of three days cleaning the place! What is it about rubbish that attracts us so much? Anyway, half way through, we make one trip in Salvo’s car with about 6 bags of rubbish and various boxes of glass, plus when we leave we pile another 14 large bags into Emma to take to the public skips, and we leave a spanking, shining yard for him to enjoy. This was the cleaning action to top all others. We make a pact with Salvo that if within the next month, he meets the woman he is to marry, it is obviously as a result of cleaning the yard, in which case he must invite us to the wedding!

We have lots of interesting, deep conversations, some of them quite heated, about politics, about refugees, about whether one has a right or simply the possibility to have children, about genetic manipulation of progeny, about the impact of religion on war and peace, about joys and sorrows in our families, about the nature of truth – and all in Italian!!! It is very challenging to follow Salvo’s talk, he’s a lawyer and a sharp thinker who expresses himself well with not necessarily the easiest words, making not many allowances for the fact that we are foreigners, especially when the topic is grabbing him. We hang in there, trying to follow the fast flow of words and searching to meet the vulnerable soul behind the words. Conversations ramble on in our minds long past our bedtime and wake us up in the night.

We spend five beautiful days together, allowing ourselves to open up to each other through the mind, through communication, really connecting deeply – and interspersing this depth with hours of shared physical labour, with shared meals and with dancing, with strolls into the countryside to view his property. On one of these strolls, we come past the Carob tree that Salvo says is his family’s tree. For generations it has provided shade for every family member to stop their work, gather and have lunch in the heat of the day. Looking at the trunk, split and rotted three ways, one wouldn’t think the tree is still alive, but it’s branches are very much alive and growing. For Salvo, this tree is an important symbol of his family.



We had intended to spend a couple of days seeing the north of Sicily but we abandon this in favour of staying with Salvo, finishing the cleaning of his yard and repairing the stove pipe of our wood burner.

Frank finds some Almond seedlings in a heap of almond husks in the yard, which he carefully plants in pots. Salvo is very happy and says he will look after them and plant them in a special place, near each other and will call them Frank and Ruth.


On Wednesday, it is really time to go – our ferry is leaving on Thursday and we don’t want to do the whole stretch in one day. We pass by Luca to say good-bye (and unfortunately miss saying a proper good-bye to Laura who by then had gone back to work in Catania). We’ve slightly neglected Luca in the last days, due to immersing ourselves at Salvo’s, but he says that was just fine, he’d had a lot of things to do and would not have had much time for us anyway. He hopes we will come back and to stay in touch.

As we pootle along the narrow, straight, rocky road past the olive groves, we feel a gratitude for all the wonderful experiences we have had in this valley, from horse-riding to deeply connecting with nature and people. This really is a very special place, and we have met people who are well aware of it and have chosen to be conscientious guardians of it, living and working on the land.


Our last stop before embarking on the Majestic is a trip to Cefalu, described as one of the most attractive towns in Sicily. And indeed it is a very sweet place and we spend a couple of hours strolling around the narrow cobbled streets, visiting the duomo and checking our emails in a wine bar run by Pascal, a local who has travelled the world. He spent 15 years in Paris and speaks fluent French, after which life took him to Germany where he fell in love with the German way of doing things, especially the work ethic. Health issues drove him back to Sicily but he is yearning to go back to Stuttgart and continue his German life. It’s nice to hear someone speak so positively of my native country.


After some trouble with finding the harbour (we could see the boat alright – it towers over the town, like a little town in itself – but we couldn’t find the entrance to the harbour), we are one of the last vehicles to drive on. When booking the ticket, I’d decided to splash out and pay the extra to leave Sicily in a style befitting our journey: We have a ‘Matrimonial Suite’, right in the front of the boat and with a big window, facing the waves coming towards us. We are tired from the journey – before the boat is even out of the harbour, we’re both sound asleep.

The next morning we wake up to find Italy’s coast fast approaching.

To see more photos of our time with Salvo, go to this album

Here you find a few more photos of Cefalu

Posted in Uncategorizedwith 2 comments.


  • Salvo says:

    Mi ha sbalordito la vostra capacità di ricordare ed annotare ogni più piccolo particolare del nostro incontro e frequentazione a Piana Cugni, dei nostri discorsi, delle nostre riflessioni, delle cose dette e di quelle magari solo pensate la notte ….
    C’è qualcosa di umanamente grande in questa vostra attitudine di registrare ogni piccolo movimento della vita, sia esso un discorso, un atteggiamento, una situazione, e di tradurlo in un’ emozione degna di essere ricordata per sempre. In fondo la stessa attitudine avevano i grandi viaggiatori europei come August Von Platen, che tanto ancora si ricorda nella città di Siracusa che gli ha intitolato una strada.

    Questa grande capacità di analisi-sintesi e di approfondimento è , poi, la stessa che rende straordinarie le lezioni di tango di Ruth, che dimostrano una attitudine introspettiva dell’insegnante fuori del comune ed un metodo rigorosissimo ed esigente per un risultato che tende alla perfezione.
    Perfetto è un concetto che va meglio precisato. Ed io lo preciso così: Perfetto= Senza spazzatura.
    Ecco qual’è la risposta che forse potrebbe darsi al vostro interrogativo (cui fate cenno nell’ultimo capitolo del viaggio in Sicilia) circa il motivo, apparentemente incomprensibile, che vi spinge inconsciamente a rimuovere spazzatura in ogni posto dove vi trovate a passare…..probabilmente voi rimuovete spazzatura perchè odiate l’imperfezione che vi si annida, dunque combattendo la spazzatura e rimuovendola, si collabora per un mondo un pò più pulito, dunque meno imperfetto e, quindi, perchè no, più perfetto….
    Che ne pensate di questa spiegazione?.
    Sono belle le storie che raccontate durante i vostri viaggi ma, prima ancora, sono belli gli occhi con cui le guardate .
    In effetti solo con occhi così belli si poteva scrivere la straordinaria sceneggiatura del giorno della celebrazione del vostro matrimonio di cui mi avete mostrato l’album fotografico, un album che a me è sembrato, più che altro, un vero film, anzi, un documentario scenografico.
    Bravi, bravissimi….siete barbieri di qualità, come “il Figaro “ che abbiamo canticchiato più volte io e Frank.

    Per quanto mi riguarda mi avete lasciato un ricordo bellissimo , di due persone che abitano e vivono in luoghi così lontani dal mio, eppure così vicini, così simili, così compatibili, così ricchi e sovrabbondanti di ricchezza, così semplici, così speciali.
    Piana Cugni e i suoi uccelli, i cavalli, le volpi, i conigli, le lepri ( che non avete visto ma che ci sono in quantità), i custodi- sacerdoti ( come me ) di questa natura incontaminata e sacra, vi abbiamo tutti subito considerati due di noi, due come noi. E per questo, le cose che avete toccato si sono trasformate, come per magia, in due alberi di mandorlo che portano il vostro nome, e che si sono andati ad innestare in quell’habitat al pari di ogni altro elemento naturale come se vi fossero stati da sempre.
    Un grandissimo abbraccio e buon proseguimento del vostro viaggio


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