Life in Paradise…

Shortly after Nick and I got back to Canada, I had a conversation with my friend and hairdresser, Barb. I said something about being jetlagged and she jokingly commented that she had no sympathy for me as I had just spent my summer in Italy.  I replied, “You know, life in paradise is still just life.”

I spent three years in my twenties living in Japan. Back then, I remember thinking that life anywhere could be mundane.  I don’t think of life as mundane anymore. Life is only mundane if I don’t open my eyes to the wonder in each vein of each leaf or the shapes of the clouds that drift overhead or colour variations in the tiles that lie parallel to each other on the roofs just down the hill…

This is not to say that life does not have its challenges and that those challenges don’t, at times, leave me gasping for breath. This past summer was one of those times.  At every moment, just in my periphery, some hairy little monster came creeping up to bite me in the ass. The Telecom Italia guys… the temperatures that climbed past 47C on our terrazza… the car salesman who had never transferred the registration of our car into Nick’s name… the visit to the police over a situation in which someone was trying to scam us… not to mention serious illnesses hitting friends and family and family members of friends. There were moments when all of these things came together and I fell apart in stormy weeping in the face of all of this and poor Nick stood in bewilderment.

But, in spite of the summer’s challenges, there were the sparkling moments that helped me forget how much I wanted to kick the car salesman in the ‘nads the stresses of the previous weeks. So, to help me remember these moments, I have gone through my pictures and I am going to share some of them with you.

One of the things Nick and I were looking for when we bought our house in Cianciana was a community to which we could belong.  When we got off the bus from Palermo, the first person we saw was Angelo, from the Bar San Antonio.  He smiled, waved and welcomed us back to Cianciana.  We sat down and ordered two arancini.  As we sat on the street, bags tucked beside our table, Franca and Pat came down the road and met us, proclaiming that now we had arrived, summer had officially started.  We are part of a community of Sicilians and Italians, Canadians, Brits, Poles and Americans, people from Belgium, France, Ireland, Denmark and oh so many other places.  It is one of the gifts of such a place that we are welcomed into the global community.

Yes, one of the best things for me about having a house in another part of the world is the fast and very tight friendships you make. One of those friendships is with Linda and Bruno.  I met Linda online in one of the the myriad of expat forums.  I liked her immediately because she did, and still does tell it like it is without pulling any punches.  And it doesn’t hurt that she can be uproariously funny.  She is married to Bruno, a Sicilian that grew up on the very trendy island of Ortigia, just off Syracuse.  I’ve seen pictures of Bruno as a young man, and he looked like a young Marlin Brando.  Linda and Bruno live in the hills just above Avola and have very kindly put us up whenever we make our way out to that side of the island.  This summer, once again, we visited them and we slept on the pull-out bed on their covered terrazza.  In the middle of the night there was a thunder and lightening storm and the rain came pelting down, the way it does in Sicily – no half measures on our island.  It was amazing.  We had the experience of being out in the middle of a wild thunder and lightning storm without being caught in the downpour. As we lay snuggled up in our bed we watched the sky light up and shivered as the thunder crashed overhead.  Eventually the storm passed and we went back to sleep, but when I woke up early in the morning, I was met with spectacular skies and cactus drenched with rain.  It felt like a gift from the storm gods.

That day was ferragosto, one of the most important holidays in Italy.  It celebrates the ascension of Mary into heaven and most towns have a procession in which they carry a statue of Mary around the town.  We had been in the crowds in Cianciana the two previous years but this year we did something new.  We climbed into Linda and Bruno’s van and drove up to Palazzolo Acreide, a lovely little town in the lavish baroque style and had lunch sitting on the balcony of the restaurant and watched the few people out on the street in the midday sun dart back and forth, trying to maximize the shade on the street.  Later, we drove farther into the hills and stopped in Buccheri, a small town built in the depression of a long dead volcano and well renown for the excellence of their olive oil.  We sat in the piazza, sipping on cold drinks and fighting the heat with the sweet and ubiquitous gelato. Finally, we drove down to the beach in Avola.  Linda and I stripped down to our swim suits while Nick and Bruno went off in search of swordfish pizza.  Linda and I swam in the dark, floating and looking up at the millions of stars as they danced across the sky above us, and listening to plop plop of fish jumping up from the sea around us.  When Nick and Bruno returned with the pizza, we sat on the beach eating our dinner and listening to the people down the beach singing; from modern tunes to Italian folk music and all in a similarly tone-deaf manner.  And yet it didn’t matter.  It was all wonderful.

After we said goodbye to Linda and Bruno, we moved on to a cabin that we had rented for when Nick’s sister and brother-in-law visited us from Canada.  The cabin was in Acireale, a small city on the north side of Catania.  When we arrived at the cabin were delighted to discover that the cabin was on the edge of a plant nursery filled with palm trees and cacti.  The cabin sat on the edge of a cliff faceand next to it was a large well with a spiral staircase that took you deep into the heart of the cliff. At the bottom was a tunnel with a large metal door at the end.  When the door was openned, you stepped out onto a platform on the cliff face.  Stairs took you down to the black volcanic rock and the sea so warm that you barely felt the water as you stestepped in.  As we looked out across the water, we could see fishermen in their small boats fishing in the same ancient ways that their ancestors had fished as well as weathy families holidaying in their flashy power boats and yachts.  Nick and I floated out from the shoreline and peered up at the top of the cliff and wondered at the resiliancy of the cacti that seemed to be able to grow out of the most in hospitable locations.  So far below the cabins and the workers in the nursery, all we could here was the water lapping against the rocks.  It was utter peace, floating in the soft, salty warm bath that is the Ionian Sea.

On our way back to Cianciana we stopped in Caltagirone, a town famous for ceramics. We poked through the shops and I picked up a couple of little pieces for our kitchen. I like going into the various ceramics towns because, although they all have similarly styled items, each town has its own unique offerings.  One thing that makes Caltagirone famous is the tiled staircase. As you can see in the picture, it goes waaaaaaaay up and every stepface is tiled with a differently decorated tile. We spent some time sitting in the shade at a streetside cafè and relaxing and I was able to snap this picture of Nick.  It is rare that I get a picture of him laughing naturally.  He hates having his picture taken and he is usually making faces.

This summer found me with a “new” favourite beach: Bovo Marina.  What with all the craziness that the summer brought this year, Nick and I didn’t make to the beach as much as we would have liked to. One day, early in the summer after wait fruitlessly yet again for the Telecom Italia guys to show up, I said to Nick, “Screw ’em, let’s go to the beach.”  We drove down to Bovo Marina just as most of the Sicilians were packing up. We sat on the beach and watched the sun go down. Nick went in swimming and I sat soaking up what was left of the day’s sun. Later, we had dinner at a beachside restaurant – Nick munching on pizza and me enjoying a caprese salad.  Towards the end of the summer we went back down to the beach with our friends Diane and Pat.  They introduced us to a wonderful fish restaurant at the other end of the beach.  This place looked like a resort in white.  It was lovely.  We swam and ate and relaxed under the sun. 

Another decadent moment (or moments) for me was visiting a new bar in Cianciana – the Bar Dolce Vita. The bar is managed by Dario. Now let me be clear.  I am very happily married to a handsome, wonderful man that I would not trade for anyone or anything. (Love you sweetie!) But, it doesn’t hurt that Dario is a tastefully tattooed, liberally muscled, handsome Sicilian guy with a quick grin and a twinkling eye that any straight woman would find yummy.  Dario’s good looks aside, what I love about the Dolce Vita is the caffè freddo (cold coffee). Most bars make up their caffè freddo ahead of time with enough sugar to make one’s pancreas run screaming for the hills.  Dario, on the other hand, when I asked for a caffè freddo senza zucchero (without sugar), gave me a signature grin and promptly shook up a caffè freddo for me in a cocktail shaker á la James Bond and served it to me in a martini glass at a table on the side of the piazza.  Sipping a caffè freddo watching the Ciancianese life wander up and down.  Life can be wonderful.

In spite of the tough things that we faced this summer, the frustrations of Telecom Italia, the betrayal of someone that we had trusted, the grief over a dear friend’s serious illness, the heat of the hottest Sicilian summer on record, ultimately I was with the man with whom I love spending every day living in one of my favourite places in the world. As difficult as summer was, nothing changes a gift like this.

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