Not in a hurry. Piú piano. Slower! When I think back to our day spent on the island of Sicily I remember the relaxed, leisurely pace of it all. Very reminiscent of ‘old Italy’, the kind we see portrayed in movies where there’s action but not much effort on anyone’s part. I can still vividly recall my very first glimpse of this island, presented to me as a gift around 5:30AM as our ship slowed to a crawl moving through the narrow passage of the Messina Strait that sits between Sicily and mainland Italy linking the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas. As was our custom, we had slept with the sliding glass door to our patio left partially open in order to allow for the sweetest dreaming while being lulled into perfect rolling-sea-induced slumber. And on this morning I remember waking one eye with a partial sunrise, but when I opened the other and tried to focus them both on the passing scenery I was just spellbound by what was in my line of sight.
I could make out tiny lights as if a string of luminaries marking the curving path gently rolling up the Sicilian hill, and although I had no idea where the path led it was an obvious pattern lighting a road for travelers. I actually couldn’t even tell whether it was for cars or hikers or bicycles but that’s not the point. It reminded me of one of the final scenes from the movie Mamma Mia where the bride is on her way to the church riding the donkey up the Greek mountainside that was soft-lit by lanterns from the villagers and wedding guests. Except this was Sicily. And it was really happening before my very own drowsy eyes. The scene was mesmerizing, and while I badly wanted to grab my camera and snap away photos to capture the moment I was afraid if I moved in any direction I would miss a precious second of this spectacular scene. And some pictures are best left to our own private and sweet memories. This was one of those.
Moving on, welcome to Sicily. Birthplace of my husband’s (deceased) grandmother, sweet Anna, for years the Matriarch of their family, along with (by most accounts) the Mafia and Il Padrino. In fact, the excursion we chose for this day was appropriately called ‘In the Footsteps of the Godfather.’ Seriously. At first I was stunned that they actually acknowledge and encourage this whole sub-culture of movie-tourism to exist, I mean, we weren’t exactly back in the land of Disney and make believe. This was the real deal! But, as Mario Puzos’ books and movies had been a source of endless pride to Italy (not to mention decades of murder and mayhem?!)’, Sicily did what any self-respecting country would do in this day and age – embrace the ethnic stigmatism and make the very best of it.
But first, a little story about Nonna Anna, a woman that I barely got to know before she was gone but instantly fell in love with. Aside from being the best dang cook ever, my most vivid memory of her had been at our wedding when she proceeded to tell my own parents, “Whata gooda girla uza geta witha myaboya Sammy. She’sagoodagirla, thata Sammy.” And although it took my Swedish mother a few minutes to comprehend that Nonna was speaking of the new son in law, that simple phrase about summed things up as far as Anna’s command of English. But when you’re from Sicily and cook like a true Italian you can, in my opinion, charmingly mangle up any language you chose to speak.
So that’s my little Anna story and I mention it because it was a sweet memory, and so was our day in Sicily despite the fact that it was spent walking in the footsteps of Il Padrino. You see, instead of thinking of (shhhh) la mafiosa as what they truly are/were/still are (?), Sicilianos, in my opinion, are paying them respect by embracing the whole movie genre. Subsequently, “when in Rome. . .” err, Sicily. . .well, you know the saying, and that’s exactly what we did. Scenes from The Godfather were filmed in multiple villages dotting the hillsides, and our tour made frequent stops so we could do what any red-blooded American tourist would do – take pictures of where Marlon Brando sat in Bar Vitelli, pose with costumed movie characters, and walk the wedding route of Al Pacino and his first wife, the exquisite Apollonia, before his enemies blew her up. (I told you there was murder and mayhem here, right?)
Another fun memory of this day was our tour guide, Bertel, a trilingual Swede (yes, I was as surprised and delighted as anyone) who married a Sicilian and ended up moving to his bride’s homeland. He had a typical Swedish dry sense of humor (I say this with loving memories of my own mother’s relatives from the Scandinavian homeland), and yet knew Italian history – specifically Sicilian history, including that of Il Padrino – as if he was born there. But if you’ve traveled in Europe you know this to be true of the tour guides you encounter in any country – they are well trained, highly educated, always multilingual, and can recite dates and facts as easily as Americans remember their game scores from ten years past.
A final interesting side note to this day was that we found out later than James Gandolfino, the American actor best known for his portrayal of Tony Soprano, a respected and revered mob boss in the HBO series, The Sopranos, had planned on being here this same week were it not for his surprising and untimely death by heart attack that he suffered in Rome just a few days prior. Americans – Mafia – movies. Apparently the circle of life on this island.
So, Sicily was many things to us, beginning with everyone being non di corsa (not in a hurry) and in retrospect, why should they be? Well here’s one really good reason – they’ve chosen to live on an island that contains a still-active volcano, Mount Etna, and if there ever was a good excuse to be in a hurry it would be living in fear of having to flee for your life as you attempt to beat the flow of hot lava nipping at your heels. But still even given that, Sicilians choose to stay on their precious Motherland as if to say, ‘eh?’, and I loved that about this place.
That, and those cannoli. Grazie, Sicily!