I am still on my Sicily high. No matter that I came home well over two weeks ago! Mentally I am still there and fighting off all attempts for other sensations and concerns to worm their way into my consciousness and destroy my high.
Yes, I have raved about Sicily to all my friends and even people who were careless enough to politely inquire after my trip. Little did they know they would be taking on an impassioned monster!
I have been reading, eating and watching “Sicily” since I came back.
Why bother talking about this now, you might ask. It’s simple. If you want to have a really memorable trip, you need to do some reading and watching before you go! I took one trip during the last decade in which I did not do this: It was a lesson learned and a failed trip. I vowed I would not do that again. To help you get ready for a Sicily trip, I am going to talk about a couple of books and a couple of movies and encourage you to search the web.
Before I left, I read On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal, by Mary Taylor Simeti. A fascinating book written by an American who went to Sicily shortly after college and married a Sicilian, the author came of age as a wife, mother, and writer in her adopted land. She writes beautifully of the emotion and soul of the Sicily she discovers, and engagingly and colorfully of the Sicily she describes. Her journal follows a year’s worth of seasonal rhythms and festivals and day trips. Unfortunately for me, October, the month of my visit, was the last month described in her journal so I was reading it while I was there. My recommendation: After the introduction, find the chapter about the month of your visit and read it first. Then go back and read the whole book. That way you’ll start out knowing something important about the time you’ll be there and go on to find out the significance of that event. Even if you don’t read this book as a prelude to visiting the island, I still recommend it just because it is a well-written, good book!
My traveling companion and friend-in-books, Galina, was reading Seeking Sicily: A Cultural Journey through Myth and Reality in the Heart of the Mediterranean, by John Keahey. We enjoyed certain excerpts she read as we were travelling and when I got home I purchased my own copy. Keahey arranges his book based on topic, and describes different aspects of the topic from all four of his visits to Sicily. This is a book for the literary minded – lots of references to poetry, novels and travelogues by Sicilians and foreign visitors alike. There are also many movie references. You’ll find lots to underline and go back to reference again. Fortunately, the book reads like a series of essays, so there is no need to read it straight through or in order. Hunt around for a topic that interests you (Leonard Sciascia? The history of the Mafia?) and read at your own pace.
The third book I purchased, again once I was home, was Mary Taylor Simeti’s Sicilian Food: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle. This is a newer re-edition of the book I really wanted called Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-five Centuries of Sicilian Food. I couldn’t find the later from a bookstore who would ship it to Puerto Rico (at a price I was willing to pay), so I settled for the newer one, which I could get in an e-book. [As I am writing this, I have just begun to read the book, so a description will follow when I have finished it.] My recommendation: Read about it – but don’t actually go out and eat it until you get to Sicily! Read to discover what the typical dishes are and to determine if they are something you’d try. But don’t eat your local interpretation! Wait until you get there and then try an authentic version.
I am a bibliophile, so at some point I will begin to read or re-read the literary works of famous Sicilian writers. We read The Leopard for our book club, but I cannot remember it – so that will be a must-re-read! I will come back to comment on those as they happen (if they happen).
I must mention the books of Andrea Camilleri. I am currently suffering from unrequited like with Luca Zingaretti, the actor who plays il commissario Salvo Montalbano, the main character from Camilleri’s Dectective Montalbano series, which RAI has made into a very successful TV program. I bought the DVDs. I practice my Italian and (learn some Sicilian) and entertain myself for an hour or two of an evening. The TV program is shot in Sicily, in various locations that I can recognize from our trip. If you want, similar to “the Godfather”, you can actually take Montalbano themed tours! Ragusa, one of my favorite places in Sicily, is featured in the series, especially the opening and closing footage.
Keahey addresses the Montalbano phenomenon in his writings, too – which helps to give some dimension to the movies, which I am sure lack many of the details you would find in the books.
Another movie we watched before our trip was “The Sicilian Girl”. Be forewarned. It’s sad. The story centers on a girl who grew up in a family of Mafiosi. Over and over in Sicily we came across stories and events similar to what we saw in the film. Fortunately, the current situation with the Mafia is not that pictured in the film. Keahey, too, writes about the anti-Mafia groups that have sprung up in Sicily. We were aware of the anti-Mafia sentiment of the people we met and the media, but the organization seems to be pretty quiet right now. Is it just that they have bigger fish to fry in a global world of drug and human trafficking, so that shaking down local merchants is way down on their list of priorities? Time will tell.
Some links you might enjoy:
About Mary Taylor Simeti
About John Keahey
About Andrea Camilleri