Just One Of Those Days

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This post is dedicated to my husband, Nick.  He is the best man who has ever been in my life.  Nick, happy anniversary.

I think most of us have one.  A day that seems to attract special occurrences – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always memorable.  July 31st, over the past few years, has become one of those days for me.  Let me explain.

I’m a teacher.  Part of being a teacher is having 2 months holiday in the summers.  Until 3 years ago, July 31st meant I was halfway through my summer vacation.  On July 31st, I was never ready to be on the back-stretch of my holidays.  July 31st also meant I still had 6 weeks left to get by on my savings for the summer.  I (and every other teacher) has heard a comment like,”Gee, it must be nice getting 2 months holiday in the summer every year.” or “Wow, what a cushy job – you only have to work 10 months a year.  Must be nice.”  (Oh dear, enough with the comments, I feel a rant coming on!).  What most people don’t realize is that teachers are not paid in the summer, so that cushy summer holiday often comes with stress over money by the time August rolls around.  So for me, this is what July 31st was all about for years.

Then three years ago, everything changed.  Three years ago my (then) boyfriend and I decided that it was time for us to make a trip to the country of his parent’s birth – Italy.  It was a wonderful, magical journey that took us from Trapani on the far west coast of Sicily, across the island and all the way up the boot to Milan.  We finished off with four days in Paris.  On our third morning there, we got an email that Nick’s father had died.  That was July 31st.  While it wasn’t really a shock, he had been declining for some time, it was still a very difficult day.  It was taken up with phone calls to Ottawa, frantic emails back and forth to our travel agent, all trying to make sure that Nick could be in Ottawa in time for the funeral.  When it was done and we knew that he could be there, Nick asked me if he could have some time alone.  My stoic Nick.  I took Miyuki and we went off to spend a few hours in Paris.

What a roller coaster of a day.  I left the hotel heartsick for my husband.  It doesn’t matter if you know that Death is on the doorstep, he still brings pain and anguish.  But I wasn’t out wandering alone – my daughter and her crazy sense of humour was with me.  We decided to go to the Moulin Rouge.  I talked about this in an earlier post so I won’t go into a lot of detail here.  That evening was, however, one of the best 1/2 days my daughter and I have spent together.  She is a wonderful girl and fills my heart every-time I am with her.

Fast forward one year.  July 31st two years ago.  Picture a white gazebo, hung with burgundy and white ribbons.  Through the ribbons, as they flutter in the breeze, you can see the sun glinting off a pristine lake.  In front of the gazebo stand two people, oblivious to everyone seated around them.  That was Nick and I on our wedding day.  We had chosen that day purposefully as a way of celebrating not just our life together, but also as a way of remembering people passed – Nick’s father and mother, and my father specifically.  It was the best of weddings; beautiful, meaningful, but most of all fun.  That day Nick and I pledged our loyalty and love to each other – to the persons we were meant to be with.  We had already been together almost 6 years, and, while I won’t say everyday had been perfect, we had been perfectly content that we were with the right person.  Since then, our lives have grown in so many ways.

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Fast forward another year.  July 31st last year.  Nick and I celebrated our anniversary with a phone call from our realtor, Joe.  The offer we had made on our house in Sicily had been accepted.  We were going to have our house in Italy!

Fast forward to this year.  Today is July 31st.  We have been in Cianciana for almost a month.  Everyday, when I walk to the bakery or the fruit and veggie store or the butcher, I am stopped by this neighbour or that, just wanting to chat or to say hello or to tell me “Il fa caldo!” (it is hot!) to which I reply “Si’, troppo caldo!” (yes, too hot!).  Last night, Nick and I went to our neighbours’ house in the country.  We sat outside on their patio, under a thick canopy of grape vines, surrounded on three sides by olive, almond and fig trees.  We ate pasta and chicken and potatoes, and they poured Nick glass after glass of their homemade red wine made from their own grapes.  We finished the end of the day sipping strong espresso coffee.  So, today Nick and I are celebrating our anniversary volunteering with the local community group that is hosting the annual harvest festa, or festival.  There will be stacks and stacks of food.  It starts after sundown and goes until 3 or 4 in the morning.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our second year as a married couple than to do so with our new community around us.

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Perspectives on a Small Sicilian Town

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A few days ago, my husband and I arrived in Cianciana, the small Sicilian town in which we had bought our retirement home – we aren’t quite there yet, retirement I mean, but we have our plans all made.  The house we bought is 3/4 of the way up the hill on which the town stands.  You can see in this picture that we are surrounded by mountains and we look down on all kinds of interesting things in the town.  For example, there is the Sicilian-Argentinian lady across the way.  She was born here in Cianciana but grew up in Argentina and now spends 6 month here and 6 months there.  We can see into the top floor of her house from the terrazza on ours.  She is a widow now and for the first couple of days I was worried because she is elderly and seemed to be always alone.  But now I see that her son and daughter come and visit her as well as some of the ladies in the town.  We spoke to her two days ago.  She was so happy to meet us, but was disappointed that we didn’t speak Spanish.  Interestingly, in this town we get asked if we speak the following languages in this order:

  1. French
  2. German
  3. Spanish
  4. English

I took both French and German in school but I remember little of French and nothing of German.  I wish I had paid more attention in school!  (How many of us have said just that?)  So many times Nick and I are asked if we are American that it is kind of a treat to be asked if we are English all the time. “Siete Inglese? Are you English?”  “No, siamo Canadese. No, we are Canadian.”   “Canadese?  Mio fratello e’ in Canada. Montreal.  Canadian? My brother is in Canada.  In Montreal.    Si chiama Gaetano.  Lo conoscierli? His name is Gaetano.  Do you know him?”  It seems as if everyone has a family member in Montreal.  I had the same experience when I lived in Japan.  “You are from Canada?  My friend is in Canada.  He lives in Toronto.  Yuki.  Yuki from Toronto.  Do you know him?”  I should mention that we live on the west coast – thousands of kilometres away from both Toronto and Montreal, the two largest cities in Canada.  It’s unlikely we know either Gaetano or Yuki.  But, ya never know.

Anyhow, I digress.  One of the things that I noticed on our first morning on the terrazza was the tiled roofs of the houses on the streets below us.  They have interesting angles, shapes and colours.  I also noticed that many of them have rocks sitting on the tiles to, oh, keep them from sliding off and hitting people on the head I suppose.  Speaking of being hit on the head, I narrowly missed being hit by old cleaning up water as I walked home today.  A middle aged housewife tossed the dirty water out her 2nd (we would call it 3rd) floor window.  It hit the ground just as I was stepping onto the sidewalk and out of its trajectory.  Thank goodness because I had just taken a shower before I went out and God forbid that I have to take a second shower in one day!  But I digress again.

Back to the tiled roofs.  I took a number of pictures with different settings on my camera.  I would love to know what you think.

One:

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Two:

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Three:

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Up

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These are a few pictures that I have shared before but fit together so well with this theme.  It’s so true that we rarely take time to look up but when we do it can be magical.  Ten things I have seen by looking up:

  1. Clouds racing across the sky.
  2. An eagle being chased by a blackbird.
  3. Clouds morphing from one thing into another.
  4. Glimpses into other people’s lives.
  5. The beauty of days past.
  6. The creativity of someone now long dead.
  7. Unintended glimpses up someone’s skirt (I was at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower trying to take a picture – completely unintentional).
  8. Crazy geometrical shapes.
  9. The arms of trees reaching out  to each other.
  10. And very occasionally, because you really have to be in the right space, the hand of God.

And here are a few new shots of “up”.

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And the unintentional photo in Paris…

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Central Bar in Corleone

Central Bar in Corleone

The 50 Year Project inspired me to post this photo. TBM posted a photo of The Sherlock Holmes Pub. My husband, a friend and I went to Corleone last summer, the actual seat of the “Friends of Friends” or the Mafia, and the last name of “The Godfather”. This bar, and the town itself, underscores the degree to which the Mafia has lost control of Sicily. Just off the main piazza is the Anti-Mafia museum and then there is the Central Bar. It was filled with posters from all three of the Godfather films. There were bottles of Godfather amaretto and Godfather limoncello and Corleone beer. On a side note, the gentleman in the striped shirt, on discovering that we three were Canadian, insisted on speaking to us in French, even though we told him in Italian that we spoke English and not French. At least we were pretty sure it was French…he wasn’t wearing his false teeth and it was hard to tell what he was saying, no matter which language he was speaking!

Caves in Capizzi

Caves in Capizzi

I have mentioned before that my husband’s family comes from a tiny mountain village in Sicily. When he was 13 (1972), he and his family returned to Capizzi for a visit. Part of that was a return to the family farm. The caves in this hill were fitted with doors and this is where they stored all the vegetables they harvested in the fall. Obviously, this photo was not taken by me but by my husband.

Castle Owner

Castle Owner

My last post was of a castle in Capizzi. In this photo, the grinning young man who is working on restoring this beautiful work of art is the youngest of the family who owns the castle. Unlike many – not all but many – of the young people you find in the big Italian cities who are enamoured of American pop culture, fashion, films, etc. the group of young people that we met who were restoring the mother church’s artwork were not just content, but happy to live in their village and to be active participants in their own history.

Castle in Capizzi

Castle in Capizzi

Capizzi is the remote mountain village that my husband’s family comes from. This castle was built about 400 years ago and wasn’t finished because the family ran out of money. I was amazed to find out that one of the young men in the village that I had seen earlier working on restoring the paintings in the mother church was part of the family that still owns the castle. What an amazing thing to be able to have such long roots in a place and to be able to actually see and put your hands on something that your ancestors built!

Fishing in Acireale

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What do you think of when you think of Italian food?  Pasta?  Pizza?  You should probably add fish to your list.  In Italy, perhaps with the exception of the extreme north, you can reach the sea from anywhere in a couple of hours and in many many places it is just minutes away.  There is […]

La Bastarda di Santa Genevra

Marcello shut the door to the shop and hung a sign reading “chiuso” – closed – from the doorknob. 

“Follow me.  Signora Lo Bianco lives in the caves.  We have to walk.  Your car won’t make it there.”

Elena stopped abruptly.  “She lives in a cave?”

Marcello called over his shoulder “Si’.  She’s only one of two people left who do.”

Elena ran to catch up with him. “What do you mean she lives in a cave?”

“You don’t know about the caves?”  Marcello asked quizzically, as he slowed his pace to allow her to come abreast with him.  Elena shook her head.

Marcello chuckled. “Most foreigners who come here do so because they have read about the caves.”  They turned a sharp corner that led onto a street affording them a view of the hill to their left. “Look up there.” Marcello pointed.

Elena’s eyes followed his gesture.  As she gazed upon the side of the mountain she squinted in the bright light.  She could make out what seemed to be rows of…  “Doors?  Are those doors in the side of the mountain?”

Marcello laughed out loud at her astonished look.

“Si’.  The people of Sperlinga have lived in caves for generations.  I heard from my grandfather that before there were the caves there were houses that were demolished in an earthquake.  To make safer homes, they dug into the sandstone and built the caves.  My father says that it was to hide from invaders – Greeks, Carthaginians, Normans. 

Elena was staggered.  If that were true, the cave homes had been there since before the time of Christ!

The steep hill that Marcello was following soon precluded any conversation.  Sweat ran down Elena’s back and she wiped her forehead with the back of her arm to keep the salt from running into her eyes.  They wound back and forth up the hill until suddenly Marcello took a sharp right turn and stopped.  Elena found herself standing, panting, on the precipice of what seemed to be a cliff edge.

“Careful.  If you trip here there is no way to stop yourself from falling.” 

Elena’s stomach dropped as she looked over the cliff and out across the valley, Marcello stepped forward.  Elena gasped, sure he was stepping off the cliff.  Instead of falling to his death, as Elena was sure he would, he turned back to her with a quizzical look.  Elena realized that, hidden from her view were steep stairs traversing the edge of the mountain, taking them down to what she could now see was probably a ledge below.  Elena gulped in a deep breath and edged her way closer to the steps.  Marcello offered his hand and Elena very gratefully accepted it.  Slowly, step-by-step, they made their way down the stairs until finally they stepped onto a wide ledge.  Elena’s mouth dropped open.  What she couldn’t see from above was a trellis covered with vines – wide flat leaves and the beginning buds of green grapes.  Flower boxes filled with plumeria and snapdragons brightened the sun-bleached stone with amber, pink and red.  And next to the weathered boxes was an equally weathered door flanked by two open windows from which crisp, white curtains fluttered.  Along the ledge was another door – this one propped open but with a wide wooden board leaning across the lower section.  From the open door Elena could hear…chickens?  She shook her head, trying to clear her ears, thinking that she must be hearing things.

Marcello grinned at her.  “Chickens” he said.  “Chickens, two goats and maybe a pig.”  He gestured towards the door.  Elena walked over and peered into the darkened space.  It took a moment for her eyes to adjust but when they did, Elena was dumbfounded.  Carved into the stone was a cave, easily 20 feet deep and 15 feet wide.  The walls had pictures painted by a childish hand but most startling were the placid eyes of the two goats staring up at her and the soft snoring of a sleeping sow with eight little piglets quietly nursing.  The pungent odor of the pigs however, brought her back to her quest and made her step back slightly from the door.  She turned back to Marcello who stood watching her and grinning.  From behind him the door in the stonewall creaked open and a slight, elderly woman, back bent forward – a sign of decades of hard work and osteoporosis – stepped onto the wide, flat ledge.

This is a short excerpt from the novel that I am currently working on.  I have a publisher and I am hoping it will be out next year.

The village with the cave homes actually exists.  It is called Sperlinga and there are dozens of caves in which people used to live.  When I visited in 2010 there were only 2 people still living in the caves however when Theresa Maggio, author of The Stone Boudoir, visited Sperlinga several years ago, many of the caves were inhabited.

My husband, daughter and I were able to visit several caves that had been left as they were before their inhabitants left.  It was certainly in the top five of things that surprised me when I was travelling in Sicily.

Have you found something particularly surprising when you have been travelling?