Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sicily or how to survive when travelling The Godfather’s land and experience the best of it

If your are taking this title seriously and what you expect is to have a serious survey on how to survive on what you expect to be the mafia land, I’m sorry you will be disappointed.
If you are taking this title seriously and what you expect are useful tips and tricks for discerning travelers in Sicily, you’re on the right way.

Prejudices about Sicily are still alive and die hard. If you think yourself as a traveler, Sicily is the perfect destination to get a challenged about. Mafia? Yes, it’s true, it’s our major problem and no, you will never meet a true mafioso on your way, real life in Sicily is not Michael Corleone’s . Don’t mistake mafia with ordinary delinquency, the same you will find everywhere else in the world.

Culture and places
Sicily, the world in an island? "… A landscape in which it is possible to find what on earth seems to be made to seduce eyes, mind, imagination…". Guy de Maupassant was very impressed by Sicily during one of his Grand Tour in Europe.
A culture shaped by centuries of dominations. We had the Greek, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Barbarians, the Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, the Angevins, the Spanish and their Bourbons. Each of them left in Sicily their heritage, their way of living, food, architecture skills, and each of them contributed Sicily to be the place where the world met and till meets. A holiday in Sicily is a journey to the roots of the world, a journey to a rich source of nature, history and culture, melted into a small triangle of land in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea. Greek archaeological parks and open-air theatres located in impervious and strategic positions, Imperial age villas widely decorated with precious mosaics, Arab gardens, Norman castles and cathedrals with gorgeous byzantine decorations, opulent Baroque-style historical centers and noble palazzos: thanks to its cultural and architectural Babel Sicily is the view of time.

People and  folklore
Mourning-dressed women and short moustache men? Ah, that’s one of my favorite bias! Sicilians are blond, red, black, brown-hair, short, tall, dark and blue-eyes, beautiful women, handsome men, fashion-addict or shabby youth. If you travel inland and visit remote villages it may happen you to meet old mourning-dressed and wrinkled women with a black head scarf or old moustache men lolling out at the main square reserving you a piercing and questioning glance or a frank smile. Sincere local folklore waiting for a shot. Sicilians are daring and wits like the Muslims were, elegant and knowledgeable like the French, resolute like the Spanish. A bit of every civilization still lives in us.

Thanks to this heavy past of dominations, Sicilians are open, generous and nice people. They are skeptical, surly, sometimes rude, definitely parochial people, certainly not well disposed to queue and respect rules of any kind, truly disorganized by nature and, at the same time, able to voice a smart cleverness, adaptability and a talent to solve the most tangled problems. As we are lazy bones, we seldom turn this talent to everyday life, unless we are really fed up with something and our private life is somehow strongly involved. Sicilians are people of strong contradictions in the land of contradictions.

Bear in mind that “let’s meet at noon” does not necessarily mean noon "sharp”: we do have a wide-ranging concept of time, so we tend to be never on time. Sicilian mind is flexible.

Heavy traffic? Remember, when driving the rule seems to have no rule. So, unless you would like to turn on you travel into a real surviving camp along Sicilian roads, be careful about the idea of renting a car to drive on your own. Road signs are optional so, get ready to make a GPS your very best friend for the rest of your journey. Don’t be upset if double parking or park on sidewalks is so common: we like to challenge people’s patience and get them fit with a daily gymkhana (local folklore or civil chaos?).

But if walking or driving your car you simply ask about directions or you are in trouble, be sure you’ll find generous people ready to help you one way or another. Speaking no English (most of the people still don’t) is not that important, they know the way to let you understand the point. Sicilians are theatrical people.

Be open, flexible and generous and you’ll make the most of them.

Food and Wine
Be on a diet? What a fool you are thinking to watch your weight while in Sicily! Here, food is serious topic. If you are a foodie-kind of traveler you’ll risk an overdose.

Blessed with a fertile land, a mild climate and a shining sun, Sicily produces a large variety of top quality raw materials and staples which give rise to an incredible range of delicious dishes, unique specialties and savory table delicacies. Sicilian cuisine is the perfect resume of centuries of culinary traditions and cultures. The Arabs left us the fish-based couscous you should taste only in Trapani area and as well as a large use of honey in confectionery, the sweet and sour, saffron, spices and raisins. The French gave us sauces, gateaux and their refined elaborations. The Spanish, their sumptuous presentations, salads and frittata (tortilla).

Then, the Monsu came, the French chefs cooking for the Bourbons and the local noble families who elaborated their Sicilian haute-cuisine style.

You can eat everywhere, anytime.

Bars serve a lot: typical pastry items for your breakfast out are the ravioli (a sweet pastry filled with ricotta cheese and drops of chocolate), cornetti filled with nutella, white or chocolate cream or jam, fried iris filled with cream or soft graffe with sugar dusting on the top. From spring to fall, you cannot miss the queen for breakfast, the frivolous granita (a kind of creamy sorbet made of several tastes such as almond, pistachio, coffee, mulberry, peach, lemon, chocolate) served rigorously in a transparent glass con panna (cream) e brioche. Catania offers the best throughout the island.

Not to mention the terrific tavola calda, our quality fast-food, a large selection of snacks like arancini, pizzette, cartocciate and scaccie which are a useful alternative to a proper meal. A world to discover.

Street-food is quite common especially in Palermo area where you can meet folks selling suspicious local dishes such as pane ‘ca meusa (bread filled with spleen) or stigghiola (entrails). Leave out your prejudices, street-food is safe and tasty.

Dining out at typical trattorie is a joy for food beginners and refined connoisseurs. Whether you like it or not, you will be thrilled by hundreds of appetizers and starters, dozens of different types of pasta, fish dishes and sea-food, meat tasty morsels. No matter where your personal taste leads you, caponata and parmigiana are absolutely the Sicilian cooking -must.

Desserts deserve a chapter apart; you cannot be your way back home without experiencing cannoli and cassata.

Sip a glass of wine from our quality native grapes such as a Nero d’Avola, Inzolia, Cataratto, Nerello Mascalese, or wash your meal with a Sicilian Chardonnay or a Merlot.

When in Catania, stops at a chiosco and order a seltz, limone e sale, a mandarino al limone or a chinotto and deal with a new soft-drink experience.

Stroll about local markets: polychrome and rowdy - that’s our Arab attitude, but don’t think to bargain – you’ll be right in the pulsing heart of the town, plain people immersed into their everyday life. Just mind your wallet and never forget your camera!

Going out at weekends? Sicilians enjoy life and local movida is intense and vibrant.

Catania is the nightlife queen. Catanesi people think there is always a good reason to chill out, seven days a week, twelve months a year. No agenda, they usually improvise. No matter if you are single, gay or who your fellow traveler is, get a Lapis and see what’s on.

Palermo is fine, too, but Palermitani tend to have that snobbish attitude to live a close party friendship with respect to the Catanesi who love receiving new friends with open arms.

Ease off, you're in Sicily! Buon divertimento!

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