A COUPLE OF OCTOBERS AGO my sweet wife and I had the opportunity to travel to Sicily for a vacation, so we took it. We were invited by my step-daughter's husband's parents, which makes them . . . some people from Juneau, Alaska? (We'll give you their email addresses if you ever want to go on a great vacation that involves lots of walking, lots of talking, lots of eating and more ancient ruins than you can shake a stick at.)
Because the Lutchanskys are from Juneau, they travel a lot. (Trust me, if you were from Juneau, you'd travel a lot too. For example, what month would you say generally has the best weather in Juneau? If you said August, you would be correct. In the August preceding their vacation in Italy, it rained 30 out of 31 days. That's the good weather.) So, Leo and Llewellyn invited us to join them in Catania for the last 10 days of their month-long trek across Italy.
Some background: Sicily is the football at the bottom of the boot which is the peninsula of Italy. Sicily is a wonder of the ancient Mediterranean. According to our unbiased Sicilian tour guides, Sicily was the most important place in the ancient world, strategically if not culturally. The island of Sicily is the center of chessboard militarily. If you wanted to control the Mediterranean, you needed to control Sicily. That's what they said, and I believe them.
I learned a lot more on our wonderful trip to Sicily.
For example, whatever you might think of the “Victory Mosque at Ground Zero,” we went inside a Roman temple that became an early Christian basilica that became a Moslem mosque and then, via the Norman conquest, became a Baroque Roman Catholic cathedral. Such are the ebbs and flows of history – which is always written by the victors.
I also learned I don't like Baroque. Right off, it's screwy. If you've ever seen a Baroque column (and known what you were looking at), you will know what I'm talking about. Baroque boasts too much. Baroque’s the brat who is always yelling, "Look at me! Look at me!" If there ever was a self-centered, ostentatious architecture, it's Baroque. Happily, Sicily has but a little of it.
One thing my lovely and talented and wine-drinking wife learned quickly to like about Sicily was how they do dinner. Nicer Sicilian restaurants have a per capita “table charge” which covers plates, dinner ware, napkins, bread and, here's the kicker, the wine. They bring to your table freely refillable pitchers of red and white wine. It's like they do the sweet tea at Allen & Sons BBQ.
And the wine is good, and, as the bottomless carafe suggests, quite affordable. One of my most memorable memories from our very memorific time in Sicily was a service station, or at least what I thought was a service station, in Palermo. It had glass-paneled garage-type doors and we could see people at two pumps filling large 20-liter containers (like you might use if you use kerosene space heaters to heat your house). One pump said "vino rosso" and the other "vino bianco." It was a wine filling station, where they sold wine by the liter.
The food in Sicily was meraviglioso. Italy has been at the forefront of the "slow food movement." Sicily, to the best I could see, never left it. Meals in Sicily can last hours, and the food is universally exquisite. We stopped once at an actual service station where I got the best Italian sub sandwich I ever put in my mouth.
We stayed at a B&B set in a vineyard/olive orchard and asked the proprietor to recommend a “good restaurant.” He led us in his rattling little pickup to what looked like a biker bar way out Highway 54. It was the best homemade pasta I ever tasted.
Our trip to Sicily was, as we put it afterwards, "the search for the bad Italian restaurant." What this means we will have to return, 'cause we didn't find it.
Gary D. Gaddy got a laugh from his Italian hosts when he told them he was a Lupo.*
* Lupo was his Sicilian grandmother’s maiden name. In Italian it means a crazy person.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday January 21, 2011.
Copyright 2011 Gary D. Gaddy