Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Posts Tagged ‘Sicily

Legends Thrive off Italian Coast

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By Igor Lobanov

Mature Life Features

 


VALLETTA, Malta ‑‑‑‑ Long popular with vacationing royalty and artists from across Europe, this rock‑bound bastion 50 miles south of Sicily remains an enigma to many North Americans.

  A balmy year‑round climate bathes a land whose legacy is rooted in temples a thousand years older than Egypt’s Pyramids at Giza and branches through classical Greece and Rome to the palaces of a patrician unit of Christian crusaders.

  The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked here. Arabs occupied the outcropping in 879, followed by the Normans. Napoleon dropped by for six days and his troops hung around for a couple of years until sent packing by the English. Britain’s Royal Navy operated out of the island’s superb natural harbors for a century and a half before the Maltese finally attained their independence in 1964. But it was the Sovereign Military Hospitaler Order of St. John of Jerusalem, better  known as the Knights of Malta, whose influence is most heavily felt.

  Our cruise ship arrived after dark and we made sure we were on deck as the harbor pilot led the vessel to the quay. As we nosed past the breakwater into the island capital’s narrow harbor entrance, we were confronted by the massive spotlighted star‑shaped Fort St. Elmo to the right and the spear‑like walls of Fort San Angelo to the left whose towering ramparts take on a creamy yellowish glow.

  The Knights of St. John, ousted from the Holy Land by the Ottoman Turks and then from the island of Rhodes by Suleiman I (The Magnificent), were invited here in the mid‑16th century by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V who saw Malta as the pivotal bulwark to blunt a Moslem  invasion of Southern Europe. The newcomers fortified the island and withstood a brutal four‑month Turkish siege in 1565. Over the next 2 1/2 centuries, they created a place that Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott called “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen.”

  The Renaissance grid of narrow streets holds palaces, municipal buildings, and churches, many still honeycombed with secret passages.  The soaring Co‑Cathedral of St. John, with its high‑baroque ornamentation, has a marble floor quilt‑pattern of mosaics that covers the tombs of some 350 knights. A museum houses treasures “liberated” from all over the Mediterranean by the far‑ranging cavaliers. On a wall of the Oratory is Italian Renaissance  painter Caravaggio’s chilling masterpiece,  “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist.”

  Perched on a mountain spur 160 miles away high above the Ionian Sea on the northeast coast of Sicily is Taormina (see map). Medieval  stone buildings hug cobblestone streets and unexpected portals reveal views past flowering gardens to the deep blue waters where Homer set his tales of Neptune, Ulysses, and the Cyclops.

  A favored residence of wealthy Roman  patricians for centuries,  its quixotic Piazza IX Aprile overlooking the sea is its social center where folks gather in coffee, gelato and marzipan or participate in the lassiggato, the traditional Latin evening stroll. 

  The piazza is framed by a couple of churches and a clock tower dating from the Middle Ages that serves as a gateway to the medieval sector. Narrow lanes lead to views of the villa‑strewn hillside above and the sea below. A few small squares with bars and other meeting places are interspersed with shops catering to the chic crowd.

  Carved into a hillside on the northeastern fringe of town  is the town’s treasured Greco‑Roman theater that dates back to the 3rd century BC. The Greeks built it for classical plays and musical events and the Imperial‑age Romans transformed it into an amphitheater for gladiator contests, hunting spectaculars, and even naval battles on a flooded stage.

  Today”s audiences at summer concerts and other events still have a grandstand view past the stage to the sea and the largest active volcano in Europe: Sicily’s Mt. Etna.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2003       

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 11, 2011 at 12:05 am

Posted in Italy, Travel

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Siciliana

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“Take a week and visit Sicily,” everyone tells us. “ You have to see Palermo. Drive around the island and stop wherever you wish. The food is good.” We sorta agree that’s next time. U-T oldtimer Frank Saldana has visited the island a few times and he loves it. Any time of year is fine because of the climate but Mariolina said she likes February best because the blooming almond trees cover the hills with color.

Packing Them in in Panicale

Oil festival weekend of Nov. 21 – 22 was touted as a “gastronomic experience” of new wine and olive oil of the region. There are those who say, without argument or declamatory tones, that Trasimeno olive oil is the best in the country. You have to keep in mind that everything here is a festival. Bologna even had a Festival for Festivals, sorta leaving you with the feeling that, if there isn’t a reason for a festival, we’ll have one anyway. It brings in the booths and the tourists and the dollars. This little village has transformed itself into a tourist-dollar magnet. Prices are aimed at the transient, not the local. Friday’s weekly market was about half the size of those recalled from the past. And most of the ex-pats, from Europe as well as U.S., head home for the winter.

Met Santa Claus

Ran into entrepreneur Bobbie (a Swedish ex-pat whose last name I forget) in the piazza this morning (Nov. 19). We chatted for about half an hour until his wife, Ann, came to retrieve him. He’s growing a beard to be Santa Claus Dec. 24 for the kids of the village.

Napolitania

Wot a trip! Simone met us at the station, introduced us to his friends – sculptor/artist Dario Correale, girlfriend Maria, their roommate Tulia, and acrylic painter Rosario – who showed us the real Naples after we walked to and into some of the sites after a 90-minute hop-on/hop-off bus tour around this metropolis built at the foot of Vesuvius: “Christ in the Veil,” Santa Lucia, Little Calcutta, Piazza Plebescito, Palazzo Reale, Parque Virgiliano, Pozzuolo e Camu. The last is a 3,000+-year-old archeological site that few folks visit. We walked thru a long tunnel/warehouse to the Apollo sybill’s niche and then climbed to the acropolis to walk around the Temple of Apollo and, at the top, the Temple of Jove, with a magnificent view of the Med shore, and the islands of Proscida and Ischia. Ruins not as impressive as others but quiet and easier to visit. It was where the Greeks established their first sites for vacation homes on the Italian peninsula and founded Naples later. Harness racers were putting their horses thru their paces on the beach while we were enjoying the vista.

And we supped and sipped our way thru pizza margharita, birra Moretti, lemoncello, grappa, spaghetti and clams, fried pumpkin blossoms, fried shrimp, fried mozzarella, fried pasta cakes, mozzarella napolitana, mussels, lagostina, Dario’s parents gave us cookies and grappa and lemoncello and mandarino and, to take with us, a bottle of lemoncello and two bottles of home-made red wine for my birthday.

Four-hour train ride (26 euros each) got us home shortly after midnight tired and happy, in need of a shower and happy, a bit sad we left but happy we went.

Rain Routine

Our first rainy day here was almost welcome. It gave us a chance to rest, especially since we were invited to, and accepted, an invitation for cake – it was a gorgeous-looking and tasty chestnut cake with layers of meringue and cream that looked like a lady’s expensive hat — and cards with Riccardo and Mariolina. Invite was for 9 p.m. and we stayed until after midnight.

The wet weather cut down the size and time of the weekly Friday market in the piazza. It also gave Carla, who takes care of the church (Chiesi de San Michel) the opportunity to wash her car. She sweeps off the muck and mud  with a broom.

Downpour also prevented Simone (Aldo’s son) from putting out and plugging in the all-red-light Christmas tree in front of his osteria — Il Gallo del ????

We spent most of the day reading and napping and eating and napping and reading and napping.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 28, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Europe, Travel

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