Travels in Sicily- The center

October 1-4

Thursday evening, October 3

I am watching a rainstorm come up the hillside toward Villa Rainò, the pensione where we are staying, in a valley at the base of Gangi.

Gangi is the geographic center of Italy, a town grafted onto a rocky peak, altitude 1011m. This makes for gusty lower temperatures, hooray! While we ponder how and why people settled sooo high up, we as tourists looking to have our minds blown, appreciate the fact that they did:

The area is the breadbasket of Sicily, where the wheat harvest is about to be celebrated. 

The fields, now bare, are cultivated on gentle slopes, and steep, with sheep grazing those places tractors cannot reach.

We drove today from Piazza Armenina, through reforested areas (alder? aspen?), oaks, cedar, pine, walnut (a town called La Madonna de Noce), olives, and fruit trees. Eucalyptus was imported to Sicily, either as a windbreak to control erosion, or to drain swampy areas in an effort to control malaria. Good for honey and also pulpwood (did you know that eucalyptus is a good wood for tissues?)

As we climbed higher, the trees gave way to the desolate bones of Sicily, outcroppings of folded strata exposed through erosion. The soil is thin, the fields are plowed anyway, and the rock crop is huge. Great sweeping views of mountains, valleys, and Renaissance cloud formations.

Last night in Piazza Armerina we were awakened by a tremendous thunderstorm that rushed over the town, flashing and booming, sheeting down rain. Then it moved off to the horizon, where heat lightning flashed across the sky. It turns out you can’t take pictures of thunder, sorry.

We stayed in P. Armerina, at the B& B Giardino del Zagare, a little gem run by a couple, Morgan and Alessa, on a quiet alley with an eastern view. Alessandra teaches history in an elementary school, seeing all ages. Morgan runs the inn, cooking, cleaning, hauling suitcases to the second and third floors, and being a charming and thoughtful host. In the tiny bit of garden there are fruit trees, palms, bougainvillea: a wonderful place to sit for morning tea, while the sounds of birds and the tinny, amplified voice coming from a car, announcing something to buy, or maybe the need to repent.

Yesterday we went to Villa Romana del Casale (the hunt), the site of an ancient Roman palace, of which the most remarkable remains are the mosaics decorating the floors. They all share the theme of the hunt, both literal and metaphoric (Romans conquering the wild areas of the world, reason and the arts conquering the wilds of human nature). They are tangible representations of the culture, and it is easy to connect with their beauty.

One of the more pleasant aspects of this excursion was not baking in the sun, as the whole area is covered by structures to protect the mosaics. 

Tuesday we left Modica for Chiaramonte Gulfi for lunch at Majore. The drive took us into a vast and very productive agricultural plain, with the town rising high above. Unbelievable views! 

Lunch, a mushroom pasta, and a grill mix, then an almond parfait with deep semi-sweet chocolate sauce. Parfait, indeed! And check out this very cool cooking unit, and the great chef.

Maneuvering these hill towns is a challenge, and Castalgirone was no exception. Here we checked out the Ceramics museum, but didn’t try to find any retailers: time to move on.

Question: were the Greeks from another planet? It is amazing to see their refined work in contrast to what came later.

Friday, October 4

As I sit on the terrazzo of Villa Rainò, the church bells up in Gangi insist that the faithful attend. The crows in the abandoned house next door squabble over whatever, sheep bleat, dogs bark, and ragged clouds move patches of light and dark over the hills.

Today we took it easy, following the owner’s dog over a dirt road, muddy from last night’s rain, the kind of mud that builds up on your shoes, falling off in big chunks. Half of the cows were lying down, half were standing. 50% chance of rain? None, just dramatic cloud action.

Finally got in the car for a late lunch at Petralia Soprano, a small town (“Prettiest town in Sicily”, boasts the sign) on the top of a rock outcrop, some 1150+ meters high. Salvatore was not entirely happy to see us come in at the last minute, but we placated him by agreeing to his suggestions: Burata cheese (imagine a delicious softball), and an antipasto plate with ten different tiny bowls of olives, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, all bathing in olive oil, cheeses, sausage, bruschetta. We could not finish it, but not to worry, some pig is going to have a feast. 

(Oops, forgot to photograph, you’ll have to make do with more jaw-dropping views.)