Friday, May 27, 2016

Mi dispiace, Sicily

I owe Sicily an apology.  We left Noto yesterday feeling we had made a mistake coming to Sicily.  We hadn't much cared for Siracusa, we loved our hotel in Noto but didn't think much of the town, we visited Modica and based on that decided not to visit Ragusa.  We found the landscape dull.  We were on a "no" roll. We were wrong, at least in part.

Yesterday morning we left for an overnight visit to Piazza Armerina, a middling size town that is the closest point to the Villa Romana del Casale, an enormous Roman villa that had been covered by a landslide and forgotten for 700 years, leaving the spectacular and extensive mosaics protected and for the most part intact.  We drove to Piazza Armerina through the countryside on the Catania-Palermo autostrada, a countryside completely different than that of the southeastern part of Sicily where we had been so far.  Here we had green fields, enormous rolls of hay, hills that felt more like Tuscany.  It was lovely.  When we reached Piazza Armerina we checked into a B&B in the modern part of town, above a café, someplace we would typically not consider, but it was great.  Modern, clean, well decorated, great shower, nice owner. Unlike the fancier places we had been staying I was forced to use my Italian.  No one we met in Piazza Armerina spoke English.  

The mosaics were extraordinary.  It was blazing hot but with enough of a wind to make it not too uncomfortable and we kept on and on, through thousands of square feet of room floors, all covered in exquisite mosaic scenes. We've seen a lot of ancient remains over the years but these were special.

The guide at the Villa suggested a bar for us to have a light dinner and when we mentioned the name to the girl behind the bar at "our" café she told us it was her uncle's place.  Once we got there I told the barman we had been sent by his niece.  This was the beginning of a conversation with him, his wife, his son (who made the delicious arancini the bar was known for), various neighbors who dropped in to get their own arancini, the niece from the café, the niece's old high school teacher, who rushed back home to bring us some fresh cherries after I said the ones we had bought were no good, and a nurse from Lago Maggiore who was back home visiting the family and tossing back a few glasses of vino bianco.  We discussed the lack of outdoor tables in the old part of Piazza Armerina, which led to a discussion about the venality of local politicians who were concerned only with lining their own pockets rather than improving local business conditions, which led to the differences between countries and their politicians, which led to travel and to work and to retirement and...

After a round of cheek kisses we found our way home and fell happily asleep.  A good day in Sicily.

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