Remember to follow my advice on how to avoid Stendhal Syndrome on your next visit to Sicily:

The best way to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the beauty of art and history, especially in Sicily where art seems to grow ever more elaborate, is to space out your museum visits.
I have shared my own personal bucket list of artworks you don’t want to miss with Italy Magazine, who has published it on their webpage.

Click on the image below if you’d like to read my suggestions.
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Part two in my series of artworks you simply must not miss on your next visit to Sicily has also been published.

Thanks to Italy Magazine for sharing my love of fine art.

Click on the image below if you’d like to read more suggestions.

 

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Sicily is a must visit place for art lovers, it is filled with priceless works of art from many periods of history beginning with the ancient Greeks and ending with contemporary art. Everything from architecture, sculpture, paintings, marble work, wood carving, mosaics to gold jewellery.

Looking forward to exploring more in 2019.

Will be back soon from my visit home to Australia.

See you then.

 

Out of Sicily for now …

Little river winery

This month I’ve been travelling home to Australia to visit family and friends. It’s been a strange visit, somewhat rushed, bittersweet and filled with a terrible sense of reverse culture shock. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tired or disoriented than after going from a deep Sicilian winter into the middle of a warm Western Australian summer. My head is swimming with confusion and recalling many little details I’d forgotten.

I always get this strange sense of deja vu in the first few days off the plane driving around the same old streets from my childhood. I’m sad to see many old landmarks disappear, and sometimes I struggle to recognise my old friend, Oz.

This strange sense of foreignness usually doesn’t last long as I get back into a routine, but this time I haven’t been able to shake it.

No through roads

I’m gradually recalling what I loved about home, its landscapes, colours, the laid back and warm nature of the people and the incredible amount of space there is to create your own path. For the first time, I’ve realised how European I’ve become: small things make me cringe, I am a snob about my food, I’m riddled with culture shock, and for the first time I feel like a foreigner.

But I am determined to pick up my friendship with Australia where it left off, as true friendships never die, they merely need to be revived every once in a while.

Every day here I am happily breathing in the fragrances of the summer, getting a bit of a tan and merely soaking up everything around me, gathering and making new memories.

Boat reflections

This year I have had the privilege of visiting the coastal city of Geraldton North of Perth. Thanks to my sister in laws beautiful family who lives in this charming Midwestern regional city I have been able to experience this place with many insights from the locals who adore their town.

Located 424 kilometres away from the capital, which is easily reached by plane in a fifty-five-minute plane journey Geraldton has a population of 37,432 people. It has a beautiful location right by the ocean and is a quirky mix of farmers, fishermen, families, miners, surfers and laid back trendy alternative vibe.

Port at Geraldton

The port of Geraldton is a significant link in the west coast in the major industries of the region like mining, fishing, wheat, sheep and tourism.

Since 1840 ships have been tugged in and out of the port twenty-four seven and the crystal clear waters are mesmerising.

The Batavia coast marina has been developed into a beautiful succession of jetty’s, fisherman wharves, yacht clubs, high rise apartments, beaches, a museum, restaurants and many other fascinating points of interest to explore.

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The Geraldton Foreshore is the centre of Geraldton’s social and family life. Zigzagged with cycle and walking paths it is where locals do their early morning workout, there are many playgrounds, picnic areas, beaches, cafe’s, fish and chips places and even a free water park.

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One of the distinctly colourful local food places has to be The Jaffel Shack. Anyone having an early morning swim will find delicious coffee and full breakfasts in the little surfing themed hut which spills out on the foreshore. It’s the perfect place for a snack or a milkshake after you go to the beach. (Jaffles are crusty toasted sandwiches, a word I either had forgotten entirely or perhaps never even knew.)

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Shopping at Geraldton is terrific fun, there are many surf stores and trendy boutiques to explore especially along Marine Terrace. Even if you don’t buy anything a walk around the streets of the town will be filled with street art, cafe’s and newly renovated pubs and eateries to explore.

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The only downer to visiting Geraldton in the summer is the terribly hot and robust desert winds which literally howl through the town in the afternoons. It is much better to visit in the mild winters as you won’t be battered by the wind, or risk to be blown to one side like many of the local trees along the roadsides.

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The streets of Geraldton are broad, comfortable and welcoming, just like the locals. The golden sunsets are always spectacular, and the light makes it perfect for landscape photography. The place has a beautiful colonial country feel, like stepping back into time. Every photo I take has the feeling of an old black and white or sepia picture filled with character and tales to tell.

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The memorial of the World War two cruiser HMAS Sydney is located above Geraldton on Mount Scott. The beautifully sombre memorial recognises the loss of 645 lives in what still remains Australia’s most devastating naval loss after being sunk together with and by a German ship off Shark Bay in November 1941.

The Memorial is made up of steel based on the ships original prow, a granite wall listing the names of the ship’s crew, a bronze statue of a woman looking out to sea and I dome made up of 645 seagulls dedicated to the souls of the people who died at sea.

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When I visited the monument, there were many people who were making the most of the scenic view from above Geraldton. A handsome couple of Indian newlyweds were having their wedding photos taken in the beautiful light, their celebration gave the monument a sense of elegance, respect and honour. What a special place to have your photograph taken.

Country road

Taking a drive out of Geraldton towards Point Gregory to see a magical pink coloured lake I was reminded of the golden expansive Australian landscape which is barren and dry in the summer yet beautiful. It reminded me of the expansive golden interior of Sicily, near Enna which is like a twany coloured quilt cover with its flowing hills and harsh sunshine.

Looking out from the airconditioned car along the drive to Point Gregory I recalled an old poem by Australian writer Dorothy Mackellar titled My country:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

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Port Gregory lies near the mouth of the Hutt River on Western Australia’s Coral Coast and is home of the Pink Lake called Hutt Lagoon. This picturesque fishing village is encircled by five kilometres of exposed coral reef. Originally developed to serve the Geraldine Lead mine, the town is now a holiday hotspot for fishing and diving.

Hutt Lagoon boasts a pink hue created by the presence of carotenoid-producing algae Dunaliella salina, a source of ß-carotene, a food-colouring agent and source of vitamin A.

The lagoon is about 70 square kilometres with most of it lying a few metres below sea level. It is separated from the Indian Ocean by a beach barrier ridge and barrier dune system. Similar to Lake MacLeod, 40 kilometres to the north of Carnarvon, Hutt Lagoon is fed by marine waters through springs.

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The intensity of the lake’s colour changes right before your eyes at times it doesn’t seem pink at all then as the desert wind begins to blow and the heat begins to burn your face the lake appears to heat up and blushes in light pink. As we stood on the banks, the lake put on a lovely show for use, blooming into a gorgeous deep fuschia colour.

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Driving out onto the salt flats, the pink salt surface looks like ice, crunching under your feet and caking your shoes in light salt. It is another worldly landscape, and it takes me back to Sicily once again. For a moment I find myself near Marsala on western Sicily at the salt mines. The same hot desert air whips up the salt only here at Port Gregory no colourful windmills are helping to churn out the stockpiles of natural sea salt.

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Overlooking the Indian Ocean, the Museum of Geraldton celebrates the rich heritage of the land, sea and people of the Mid West region.

The beautiful new Maritime history museum allows you to discover ancient landforms, Yamaji history and culture, and the region’s unique natural landscapes and marine environment.

The archaeological riches included in the museum’s exhibitions include details from four different Dutch shipwrecks off Geraldton’s coast (Batavia, Gilt Dragon, Zuytdorp and Zeewijk). The whole coastline along from Geraldton is littered with wrecks from the 17th and 18th centuries as the Dutch traders would travel to and from Amsterdam into modern India and Java.

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The story of the Batavia is probably the most fascinating of all of the wrecks, coming aground near the Abrolhos fishing islands off Geraldton the fate of the Batavia was marred by a bloody mutiny and has inspired many historians and authors with its mystery and horror.

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The St Francis Xavier Cathedral was designed by World renowned Arts & Crafts architect and Catholic priest Monsignor John Hawes (1876 – 1956). Construction began in 1916 and was completed in 1938. The external of the cathedral is made in a golden coloured limestone, with a distinct mixture of Australian colonial and nineteenth-century European architecture. It resembles the Spanish style of New Norcia in the south west of Western Australia.

Gero markets

The Platform markets on Chapman road every Sunday are on the site of the original central railway station at Geraldton. They are an excellent way of exploring the local produce and the vibe of the local people. A mixture of colour, perfumes, food and creativity a visit will give you a perfect impression of the real character of the city. It was also the place I choose to end my trip to Geraldton, casually browsing and chatting with the locals before hopping on a plane back to Perth.

Poetry: Sicilian DNA

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I live in Sicily because I fell in love with a Sicilian,

but in reality, the love affair existed long before …

I’ve been enamoured since birth, 

Italy is imprinted on my DNA,

my family and heritage has always been here

connected to this place of endless human history

my love of stories keeps me happily lost inside its tale

there is always a story, a connection, a heartbeat.

 

Rebuilding Messina

 

The most powerful recorded earthquake to hit Europe struck Messina at about 5:20 AM local time. Its epicentre was under the Strait of Messina, which separates the island of Sicily from the province of Calabria, the “toe” of Italy’s geographical “boot.” The main shock lasted for more than 20 seconds, and its magnitude reached 7.5 on the Richter scale.
Ten minutes later a tsunami brought waves estimated to be 13 metres high crashing down on the coasts of northern Sicily and southern Calabria. More than 80,000 people were killed in the disaster. Many of the survivors were relocated to other Italian cities; others immigrated to the United States.

Experts long surmised that the tsunami resulted from seafloor displacement caused by the earthquake. However, research completed in the early 21st century suggests that an underwater landslide, unrelated to the quake, triggered the tsunami.

The Messina shoreline was irrevocably altered as large sections of the coast sunk into the sea. Houses, churches, palaces and monuments, military barracks: commercial, municipal and public buildings had all collapsed entirely or were severely damaged. Many structures were cracked shells, roofless, windowless and standing upright precariously.

Initially, authorities adopted a plan to demolish the remaining structures of Messina and transfer the city and its port elsewhere in Sicily, but this was discarded after loud protests from the Messinesi.

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The area around where today’s Cairoli square is at Messina was at the centre of the city’s rebirth after the 1908 disaster. Piazza Cairoli became the ground zero of the new town and was the main area where temporary housing was built for the newly homeless of Messina.

The square was a makeshift area made up of a tent hospital, premade wooden houses donated by countries like Switzerland, Russia and the United States, a printer and a chapel.

In the reconstruction of the city, many of Messina’s historic Palazzi was too severely damaged to be fixed and were merely knocked down while some more modern buildings built later in the fascist period were irrationally demolished to make way for modern apartment buildings in a rush to make profits. Beautiful buildings from the 1930’s like Cinema Trincaria and Cinema Teatro Peloro Anni (pictured above)  were unfortunately sacrificed for Messina’s need for public housing.

Piazza Cairoli is dedicated to the Cairoli brothers, two heroes from the period of the Italian unification. Today it is a green, fresh piece of garden in the centre of the city, divided in two by the tram lines and the main streets of the town Via Garibaldi and Viale S. Martino.

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Today there is no reference to the disaster whatsoever in the open space, it is simply a beautiful square popular with the locals because of its proximity to the best shopping in the city.

Around the piazza there are many bars, gelaterias and restaurants, hile along the furthest part of the piazza, the most well known Italian fashion brands have their stores, which makes this area the high-end shopping district of the city.

It is a beautiful part of the city and is the focus of events throughout the year, from street food festivals to the quaint Christmas markets every year. It’s lovely on a Sunday for a quick coffee or an ice cream.

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During the week you will see many families stroll around the square with their children, or take a moment to sit in the shade on a hot day and catch the tram to different parts of the city. It is also where the local MacDonalds is located so there will often be groups of teenagers slurping soft drinks. While others use it as a meeting spot before or after their shopping sprees.

The memory of the time when Messina was practically erased from existence seems to have been forgotten as this thriving modern, cosmopolitan city busily goes about its daily business.

The Normans in Messina

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The Chiesa di San Tommaso Apostolo il Vecchio is a precious artefact of the Norman period of Sicily. It dates back between 1061 and 1109 under the reign of Count Roger the first, a French Catholic ruler whose crusading knights left for the Middle East from the port of Messina.

For many years it was known as the church of the Concezione delle Vergini Riparate until it was given the name of San Tommaso Apostolo from 1530.

It is a fantastic example of Norman Arab architecture, which borrowed the dome structure of the Mosque and placed within the very stoic, classic lines of the Norman style.

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Walking past the tiny church right in the centre of Messina fills the imagination with images from of Sicilian history, you can almost see the crusaders ending their prayers and galloping onwards to the port and then the holy land.

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Sicilian churches and cathedrals simply take my breathe away, the mixture of extravagant styles from baroque, Norman, Gothic, Romanesque, Catalanian and many more. Together with the tremendous artistry of marble work, sculptures, woodwork and small details unique to this part of the world which easily mixes so many cultures in its complex history.

The Church of the Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani in Messina a most unexpected church to visit. It is literally only a short walk away from the Cathedral at Messina and is easily missed as its entrance is located under street level hidden down a flight of stairs it is often closed but if you are lucky to sneak inside you will see one of the best examples of Norman architecture on Sicily.

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The church dates from the 12th century, built on top of the ruins of an older temple dedicated to Neptune, the church is a beautiful mix of different cultural elements. The church displays influences from Arab and Byzantine architecture and also contains Roman elements.

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The central apse is well-preserved with small intricate bricks which form an archway around a beautiful dark-skinned Christ on a crucifix at its centre. The church is popularly used for local weddings, and if you are lucky to see it decorated for such an event, it is truly spectacular.

The name of the church comes from merchants from Catalonia who established a presence in Messina in the 16th century.

A newly restored treasure of Sicilian Art Nouveau

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The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III at Messina was built from 1924 to 1929 by architect Camillo Puglisi Allegra who was inspired by the ornate seventeenth-century Sicilian baroque style which dominates the island, particularly in the Val di Noto area of South Eastern Sicily.

The beautiful Galleria has recently been reopened after many decades of abandonment, and in the evening it becomes a swirling buzz of cafes, bars, pizzerias, restaurants and fast food joints.

But visiting it in the early morning sunlight you really get a sense of the scale, colours and almost religious understanding of this elegant Liberty style structure, so characteristic of the eclectic post-1908 style of Messina.

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The Galleria is located on via Cavour and is part of a small cluster of important public buildings who circle the Piazza Antonello square at the entrance to the Galleria.

The circle around the piazza includes the main Post Office of Messina which was designed by architect Vittorio Mariani, il Palazzo della Provincia (or provincial government) built by Alessandro Giunta and the very grand Palazzo del Municipio (town hall of Messina) which is a work of the celebrated architect Antonio Zanca.

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In the morning the Galleria is like a stain-glass filled church, the sunshine streams in and there is a peaceful silence which allows you to take in the scope of the place and all of the decorative details.

The balconies which look out from the first floor onto the mosaic details on the expansive floor, the marble details, archways and domed ceilings are simply elegant. The balance of the simple classical elements gives the Galleria a real sense of style without being ostentatious.

It is light filled, breezy, with a wonderful well rounded sounding acoustics which I think would be perfect for chamber music, opera, choral music and other such refined performances which often find it difficult to find a performance space outside of the theatre.

And who would not pay good money to stay in an apartment or B&B directly over such a picturesque place?

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The Galleria seems to be empty, making it a home for Messina’s Burger King is a waste. The large elegant space has the potential to a focus of ongoing events and vibrant economic activities. If marketing is done the right way this venue could be the focal point of cafes, markets, local brands, offices and many other sources of entertainment.

Rather than lying half asleep in the late morning it should be bustling with people. The Galleria deserves to be filled with families, locals and tourists visiting and marvelling over this beautiful attraction, similar to other Galleria’s at Naples and Milan.

Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II


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Messina’s Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II was built in 1852 by Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies.

The building is in the Neoclassical style and was designed by Neapolitan architect Pietro Valente. Previously known as the Teatro Sant’ Elisabetta its name was changed after the Expedition of the Thousand (Italian Spedizione dei Mille) which was a part of the Italian Risorgimento that took place in 1860.

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Spanish Bourbon King Ferdinand II

A corps of volunteers led by Giuseppe Garibaldi sailed from Quarto, near Genoa (now Quarto dei Mille) and landed in Marsala, Sicily to conquer the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, ruled by the Spanish Bourbons in a bid to help unify the Italian peninsula into modern Italy we know today.

The three archways at its portico entrance are elegant in the early morning sunshine and are embellished by marble architecture created by Messina’s sculpture Saro Zagari.

Walking by the theatre in the early morning the building is covered in a beautiful golden glow, each elegant embellishment seems to catch your eye and it is always a focus of contemporary art and performance. It’s outer halls often are host to exhibitions from antique opera costumes to contemporary pop art there is always something to see.

 

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Intrigued by these two busts engraved into the front of the theatre I googled them immediately on my phone. Count Vittorio Alfieri (1749 – 1803) was an Italian dramatist and poet and considered the creator of the Italian tragedy.

While Giovanni Battista Niccolini (1782 – 1861) was a believer in the independence of Italy and his neoclassical drama showed his idealistic belief in liberal politics with a distinct romantic flare. So it is no surprise why these two playwrights are featured on the facade of the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II at Messina. Both were symbols of the new Italian theatre when the building was first constructed.

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Inside the theatre, the ceiling was decorated by Sicily’s most well known contemporary artist Renato Guttuso and represents the legend of the half man half fish Colapesce who dived below the island to discover its mysteries.

The expansive painting is stark, modern and typically evocative as is usual in Guttuso’s style. The anorexic mermaids pose around observing the skeletal Cola Pesce who is diving naked down under the island of Sicily to discover the lava river flowing at its foundations. Noticing one of the four pillars holding up Sicily is about to give way he stays below, helping to hold up the island from the abyss below.

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In between Christmas and New Years of 1908 Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II was enjoying its winter Opera season as a thriving Sicilia Opera house.

On the 28th of December as the crowd of spectators had finished enjoying an excellent performance of Verdi’s Aida and the orchestra was packing up to go home in the early morning, the worst tragedy possible happened, wiping out the grand city in a dozen or so terrifying seconds of the earthquake and tidal wave.
The aftermath is the subject of hundreds of books, biographies and testimonies which tell the sad tale of too little help arriving too late, hundreds of orphans, looting and thievery of ruined houses, broken families, fortunes and hopes.  Millionaires became paupers, a thriving city reduced to rubble in seconds, the population became ghosts and the city a desolate wreck.

And many more stories still of heroic acts, of many locals who returned home to help their city to rebuild, the Italian Parliament who decided to fund the reconstruction of a town which no longer existed, the many generations of people who lived in temporary homes while the city was rebuilt and the many acts of kindness towards Messina from the Italian royal family to the entire world.

The Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II reopened its doors for performances once again in 1980.

 

The historical heart of Messina

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Piazza Duomo at the heart of Messina’s historic centre and is the focus of the city’s social and cultural life.

 

A few minutes walk from the port, train station, post office, university and shopping districts the piazza is wonderfully positioned.

 

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Lined with gracious palazzi, cute bars, restaurants and shady trees it is a beautiful spot to the side and soak up the sunshine, even in the middle of winter.

 

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Apart from the occasional busload of tourists or cruise liner passengers who stop to see the clockwork bell tower go through its midday chiming routine, the piazza is a tranquil place to visit.

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Right at its heart is the beautifully restored Cathedral and bell tower, which was nearly completely destroyed during the 1908 earthquake.

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Today it stands miraculously restored to its former greatness and is a must visit place filled with ornamentation marble sculptures and artful details. It is a beautiful church to wander through at any time of the year.

Downstairs there is a permanent exhibition of the Duomo’s treasures filled with golden ecclesiastical objects and beautiful donations given to the Madonna of Messina in thanks for the many miracles she has granted to the city.

The bell tower houses the largest and most complex piece of intricate clockwork in the world. Constructed in Strasberg, the sixty-meter tall campanile is made up of an impressive astronomical clock and a collection of gold-coated bronze statues which acts out seven different scenes symbolic of Messina’s history. (Clockwork Messina)

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The beautifully restored Cathedral at Messina is made even more spectacular simply because it was nearly completely destroyed during the 1908 earthquake. Today it stands miraculously restored to its former greatness and is a must-see place lovingly rebuilt by the locals. One could only imagine how beautiful the original church might have been.

 

Messina’s Madonna

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Messina has a special connection to its Parton the Virgin Mary. Not only does she welcome the ships into the port with her giant golden statue at the entrance of the naturally formed inlet. She has many churched dedicated to her, and her image is at the centre of the city’s immense faith and religious celebrations.

On the third of June, a procession is dedicated to the Sacred Hair of Mary, a single strand of hair which according to the myth was tied around the letter sent to the city. The scroll is part of a procession around the town for the Madonna della Lettera.

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For the mid-August holidays, a float is constructed in her honour at Messina. The Vara, an elaborate cart depicts the biblical structure of the universe from the earth up to the heavens completed with a hierarchy of angels ending with the image of Christ who supports his mother in the palm of his hand raising her into the sky as she ascends body and soul into heaven.

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The ornate structure is pulled along basic iron slides by the Messinese with long tow ropes while singing praises to Mary. The celebration has a long history and is central to the city’s expression of faith and trust in their patron.

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The Quattro Fontane (four fountains) once dominated the corners of the two main streets of the city in pre-1908 Messina between Via Austria (now via I Settembre) and Via Cardines. The decorative fountain heads were constructed between 1666 and 1742.

The immense structures were symbolic of the city’s beauty and aesthetics before the disaster hit. Palermo’s surviving Quattro Canti mimic the style and grandeur of what Messina’s four fountains may have been.

The first fountain was designed by Florentine architect I. Mangani while later in 1717 the second was made by a local sculpture Ignazio Buceta. While the final two were completed in 1742 by unknown artists.

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Damaged significantly in the 1908 earthquake the two remaining fountains have been reassembled in the surviving stretch of Via Cardines, while fragments of the other fountains in this series are preserved in the Regional Museum of Messina together with many artefacts left behind in the aftermath of the destruction of the city.
The details in the two reconstructed fountain heads recall the influence of the Tuscan and Roman style which was popular in the seventeenth century. The elaborate decorative heads and features remember elements of mythology and the artistry behind their designs is obvious.

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Even if only a little part of these fountains survived, it is certain they were terrific to witness when they first became a part of the city of Messina.

Walking around Messina

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I love walking around and exploring the streets of Messina.

This city is filled with many treasures, and its details tell many stories.
The beauty of the world is always found in small pieces of beauty.
Like in the moments we connect to those around us, a handshake, a smile, a quick greeting, the brush of a cheek, small discrete intimacies which create harmony.

 

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When I notice a pattern on a wall, a small flourish or funny shaped piece in the puzzle, there is a sensation of feeling connected to an essential human past as if feeling the warmth of another palm against my own opened hand.
Each precious little mosaic tile tells you about how it was all put together. A work of art is created one day at a time, one word after the other, one brush stroke at the moment, until one day you step back and see the bigger picture and see you have finished something bigger than yourself, a work which will speak to everyone.
I’d like to share the little details I discovered while exploring on an early morning walk around the city.

Please come with me to Messina.

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Messina is a living, breathing miracle. The city was decimated in one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in European history.

On the early morning of the 28th of December in 1908, a massive earthquake and tsunami destroyed ninety per cent of the buildings of Messina and Reggio Calabria on the opposite side of the strait which separates Sicily from mainland Italy.

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In the second half of the 1800’s Messina was a thriving hub of economic and cultural activity. It was described as a beautiful city filled with a succession of beautiful palazzi, churches and a beautiful baroque fountain which provided fresh mountain spring water to its inhabitants directly in the centre of the town.

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Gradually over the decades the city has picked up the rubble and rebuilt itself, some reconstruction projects lasting up until the 1980’s while others continue until today.

Many well-known literati, musicians, businessman and barristers worked and lived in the city. The university hosted many famous intellectuals of the day as lecturers.

Even today the University of Messina fills the town with bookstores, trendy cafes, take away stores and restaurants frequented by young students giving Messina the vibrancy that only University towns can have.

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While Messina is usually a chaotic, buzzing metropolis for most of the year as it is the focus of essential offices for the provincial and national government, towards the end of August when most office workers are still on holiday the city is much calmer and more comfortable to explore.

This is when I usually like to go for a visit, explore the typically crowded streets, take the time to soak in the cosmopolitan atmosphere and so some street photography.

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At Messina the buildings are always as expressive as the people, they speak without words, their delicate details tell of their reconstruction, the care and love that was expressed by the locals to never let go of their city, bringing it back from an apocalyptical end.

Ottobre in Sicilia

'Falling' in love with Sicily

October in Sicily is a beautiful time of the year, there is a distinct cold snap which reminds you of the comforting warmth of a sweater and the new season brings with it new sensations and tastes which are as inebriating as newly fermenting wines.

While I am always sad to see the end of the summer, I’m reminded of the wisdom of many Italian proverbs which tell me of the magic of autumn in Italy.

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This year’s change in temperature has come quickly and decisively which means I’m now wearing a jacket and have put a blanket onto my bead clothes. And this will also mean the quick demise of the insects which have been torturing us all summer.

Thanks to the humidity there are always plenty of mosquitoes, over this past year they have also made many people sick over the summer with numerous cases of the West Nile virus being reported. But as the Italian proverb above reminds us, this won’t be a problem anymore!

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My favourite fruit of the autumn has to be the mushroom. There is nothing like walking through the woods and finding little colonies of mushroom clusters. I’m probably the worst mushroom hunter in the world, but thank goodness that I am surrounded by experts.

I always look forward to preparing flavoursome risotto with porcini mushrooms, or preserving small yellow field mushrooms and discovering different varieties like these meaty ‘deer antler’ variety we discovered this year, which are filled with wonderful properties.

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In Italian, it is known as the Grifola frondosa and grows in clusters at the base of trees, particularly oaks. The mushroom is commonly known among English speakers as hen of the woods, hen-of-the-woods, ram’s head and sheep’s head.

It is typically found in late summer to early autumn. In the United States, it is known by its Japanese name maitake (舞茸, or the dancing mushroom). This mushroom stimulates the immune system, has anti-cancer qualities, lowers blood sugar levels and is often sold as a supplement in health food stores.

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October also means we are preparing our garden by planting our winter vegetables. With the rains and cold our cauliflower, broccoli, fennel, pumpkins, spinach and kale will ripen for us. I can’t wait for the more opulent dishes of autumn and winter.

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Over the past week of pleasant coolness, my appetite has already been stimulated. Pork becomes the taster as pigs are naturally fattened up and with the October sagra season is beginning this time of year even busier than the summer for food festivals in Sicily.

From big festivals lasting every weekend in October like at Ottobrata at Zefferana Etenea and Ottobrando at Floresta there are endless things to taste and eat.

From grapes, new wine, cheeses cooked grape juice (or mostarda), honey, apples and other local, seasonal fruits being harvested including fichi d’india (prickly pear), pomegranates, hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, pistachios, olive oil and many preserves under olive oil (conserve sott’olio).

October has an even more abundant amount of flavours still.

Here are just a fraction of some of the beautiful food festivals in Sicily to put on your bucket list, there are literally too many to put down on one visual.

 

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The one time I went to Etnaland

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Every year a group from my small Sicilian town of Sinagra organises a pilgrimage to the Etnaland amusement park at Belpasso outside of Catania. In the summer months, the waterpark is open until the early evening, and the connected theme park rides are put into motion as the locals spend their evenings spinning, dipping and riding around until the early morning.

This year I was swept up by the enthusiasm of my eight-year-old son, who had never been on a waterslide and was somehow tricked into wanting to relive my childhood. I remembered the wind blowing through my hair on toboggan rides with my best friend at the tritely named Adventure World, a magnet for children on school holidays in Western Australia, together with summer barbecues and walks through Kings Park, a hundred acre patch of natural bush right near the centre of the Perth CBD.

I was determined to create some memories for my son, after this year’s most disappointing persistently rainy summer. I happily got up at six am, took the long bus ride, paid the exorbitant entrance fee, and made a packed lunch.

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The day began by dipping our feet and bottoms into the extra large doughnut-shaped floating devices which took us along the ‘slow river’ ride, gently being pushed along by the leisurely paced artificial current while intermittent water features and fountains sprayed us around the circuit.

Lulled into a clear yet false sense of security we decided to test out something more adventurous. My son had seen a waterslide on the parks web page called ‘the black hole’ and was determined to have his official water park baptism on it.

Now I should have guessed the true nature of this ride, by the name alone, the phrase Black Hole doesn’t precisely evoke unicorns and rainbows. But from the outside, it didn’t seem too fierce, and it resembled similar fun waterslides in Australia.

While we sat down on our little double seater water raft at the mouth of the steep pitch black tube, I wondered how I would be able to reassure my son in case he becomes frightened, and I resolved to make happy, encouraging yahooing sounds on the way down. As the water rushed past us and pushed us down into the absolute darkness I suddenly remembered, I’m no longer a child and I actually hate water slides.
What followed was a brief moment of absolute terror. The sensory deprivation of the pitch black meant we could not see one another even if we were one in front of each other, nor prepare ourselves for the twists, turns and bumps along the tube of terror.
Needless to say, my reassuring yahoo noises were actually more like hyperactive teenage girl squeals and screams. My niece who was waiting for us near the chute’s pool heard us coming down and said my son’s frightened eyes looked as if they were ready to pop out of their orbits.
The worst thing about water slides is the sense of losing control over your own movements, once you start there’s no going back, you just need to sit back and try to enjoy the ride, or in my case scream your lungs out.
Then there is the sudden realisation of all the naked foreign bodies who have also sat on the same mats, seats and lifesavers as you, yes the water is chlorinated, but there is a distinct sensation of uncleanliness.
Childhood is such a wonderful time when you seek out adventure, live in the moment and never see the danger. Sadly I’m no longer in that phase of my life and have become quite a snob.

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To my surprise, the Etnaland crowd is far from snobbish as it seems most of Catania comes here to cool off during the sweltering Catanese summer. The lava rock landscape around the city is scorching and apart from the odd swimming pool, air-conditioned shopping malls, fountain, crowded rocky beaches, and after dark piazza, there aren’t many options for cooling off, so the water park is a substantial part of the summer entertainment.
Ranked among the twenty best water parks in the world Etnaland is an endless hive of activity with busloads of people coming from throughout Sicily and many families from Europe. It’s a beautiful spot for people watching, as different waves come in, strip down into bathers and head off to the rides for the whole day.
I’ve never seen so much overexposed flesh in one place, it’s actually beautiful to see how so many people can be comfortable with their own bodies and its great to see this immense power for body positivity. But sun worshipers roasting their skin is actually quite unhealthy, and I felt quite overdressed with my shorts and sun proof shirt designed to protect my pale flesh from sunburn. Some habits from my Australian childhood will never grow old.

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On the whole, the day trip is a good family day out, the place is well organised, clean, safe and very popular. The only downside was having to wait in line for the rides, but if you are shrewd and head out to the more popular ones while everyone else is having lunch, you can avoid some of the confusion.
Basically, you arrive, throw everything you have into a locker you hire for the day and strip down to your bathing suit and then crisscross the dozens of water rides and pools around the park. There is literally something for everyone from kiddy pools to rides with names like Kamikaze, Twister, Giant Toboggan, Red Cannon, Jungle Splash, Colossum and Titania. There are complimentary maps available at the entrance, so it’s easy to plan out your day.
The many park employees are positioned around the place with cameras taking everyone’s photos on the rides. At the entrance to the park you are given the option to get a bracelet which is scanned after every picture, and when you are finished, you can go and see your photos at the photo booth and purchase prints for about 10 euros a pop.
For those who are looking to relax on a deck chair by the pool all day you can hire a spot, buy a cocktail at one of the many overpriced open bars and restaurants. If you don’t have an energetic child dragging you around the park, you can dip into the artificial wave pool which is put into motion every hour together with an active dance party complete with twerking and gesticulating dancing girls, if that’s what you like.

If everything gets too much at the end of the day there is a relaxing spa bath to massage your aching muscles, just in case you need it, there’s something for everyone really.

Reflections on a summer garden

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I am probably the worst gardener in the world, name a plant, and I’ve probably killed it usually by forgetting to water it.

Strangely enough, both my parents and grandparents were (and still are) fantastic green thumbs. Our family always had terrific vegetable gardens. In the summer we never needed to buy tomatoes, basil, eggplants (aubergine), zucchini, capsicums, chilli peppers or any other variety of Mediterranean vegetables. We always had figs and grapes in the summer and fennel or broccoli in the winter. My mother still has endless flowering plants decorating the outside of her house everything from roses to succulents and anything in between. My dearly departed Nonna Carmela grew flowers in her front yard. I still remember going out to check the mail, the perfume of her violets and the stunning antique white roses which lined the pathway.

My first steps were on a farm in Serpentine Jarrahdale a few hours south-east of the capital of Perth WA, filled with animals and plants. Then when it was time to start school I moved to five minutes from the CBD in Victoria Park. Luckily with the luxury of large quarter acre blocks of land in the Australia of the 1980’s, there was always space for an abundant vegetable patch behind the house. Then moving to the semi-rural Swan Valley in Western Australia I grew up with the habit of eating fresh farm vegetables together with local table grapes, rockmelons and watermelons.

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The Italian community always had the habit of planting their own fruit and vegetables a tradition which persisted and was shared with extended family and friends. There were bags filled with the first tomatoes from whoever was able to harvest first. Or bunches of platted garlic or onions from an overabundant crop. Kilos of broad beans or peas waiting to be shelled and frozen after a bumper year. And if someone knew your lettuce had been decimated by snails or rotted by fungus they’d likely give you some of theirs.

Since moving to Sicily, I can’t say I’ve suddenly inherited the gardening gene, but I have become more passionate about the art of gardening. A garden is a place of reflection, there is a sense of peace which connects you to the rhythms of the natural world. I love planting things and watching them grow. Growing things is like planting the seed of an idea in your mind and seeing it develop into its ultimate form. As a mother, a writer and creative I can see the obvious connections between the fertility of the natural world and that of the mind.

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I love to spend my summers in the vegetable garden, planting, nurturing and watching everything grow. Every year I happily take my son into the garden and teach him about the different plants, herbs and vegetables and show him how to prepare them and enjoy them in his food.

There is a deep connection between my memories and the garden, every time I am there I feel connected to my ancestors who went through these same rituals.

 

The extravagant Tabacchere

 

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One of the most sumptuous fruits of the Sicilian summer has to be the Tabacchere, a strange little squashed furry peach packed with enormous flavour.

I first saw these seemingly insignificant mini fruit at the fruit and vegetable stalls at the open air markets and took them as an inferior version of regular peaches.

I was seriously mistaken as the Tabacchere are baroque masterpieces of the Sicilian estival fruits. They taste unlike any other peach a concentration of delicate sweetness with a pungent aroma that is intoxicating.

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A case of Tabacchere is a generous gift a real luxury and can cost up to three times the price of regular peaches. A house drenched in the perfume of these peaches is a sensual pleasure filled with the sweetness of summer sunshine, which lingers in the air and in the mouth.

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Also known as saturn, snuffbox and tango doughnut peaches Tabacchere have been grown on the slopes of Mount Etna since the early 1800’s. The rich volcanic soil and the sunshine makes these peaches thrive. Since they do not keep for long and due to their odd size they are generally consumed locally during the short growing season.

These delicate little pieces of flavoursome decadence are characterised by a thin outer skin which easily slips off to reveal a light flesh with a strong scent of peach like a bouquet of roses, Its tiny Tabacchere pip makes it nearly entirely edible.

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Peach cobbler is always on the menu when they are in season, any recipe that will make the most of this surprising abundance, to share them with extended Sicilian family and friends.

Everyone should experience the heavenly Tabacchere.

 

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Carciofi affumicati e arrostiti

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La primavera Siciliana è triste perchè il tempo passa da giorni piovosi a giorni di forte sole. Il vento di Scirocco nasce dal deserto Africano e soffia a lungo durante tutte le stagioni.

I fiori bianchi sugli alberi da frutto si mescolano con il grigio della passata stagione. La primavera è come un  armistizio che permette all’inverno di arrendersi e dare inizio ad un nuovo ciclo.

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I carciofi siciliani sono tanto spinosi quanto il cambiare del tempo, ma dopo che le loro spine esterne vengono rimosse, il carnoso fiore interno è un delicato rimedio per il freddo.

Il cariofo è un cardo selvatico e viene dalla stessa famiglia del girasole. Questo fiore commestibile è nativo del Mediterraneo, risale al tempo degli antichi Greci, e venivano coltivati in Italia e Sicilia.

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Secondo la mitologia Greca Zeus creò i carciofi da una donna mortale. Un giorno mentre cercava suo fratello Poseidone, Zeus vide un bellissima giovane donna, ed essendo molto colpito dalla ragazza, di nome Cynara, decise di trasformarla in dea. Cynara accettò questa proposta con la promessa pero’ di non tornare piu’ a casa, tuttavia la ragazza non riusci’ a resistere alla nostalgia e tornò di nascosto a visitare la sua famiglia. Quando Zeus lo scoprì si arrabbiò, decise di ributtare Cynara sulla terra e trasformarla in una pianta.

E’ sempre un piacere preparare i carciofi e servirli in tavola ogni anno. Può sembrare difficile prepararli ma sono molto versatili, facili da imbottire e la tenera parte interna che viene tolta può essere preparata separatamente come condimento per la pasta. Uno delle piante più squisite della primavera.

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Il modo migliore per preparare i primi teneri cariofi della stagione è di imbottirli con una combinazione di aromi freschi come pancetta, prezzemolo, cipolline, aglio, sedano tagliato finemente, un pizzico di peperoncino, il tutto bagnato con un filo di olio extra vergine di olive ed un pò di limone, e poi cuocerli lentamente sui carboni ardente o ‘braci’ come dicono in dialetto locale.

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Mettere i carciofi abbondantemente conditi sulla brace calda e lasciare che gli aromi gradualmente insaporiscano il tutto è il modo migliore per gustarli. Le foglie esterne sono croccanti e bruciate ma fungono da guscio protettivo per permettere al tenero cuore di cuocere. Il grasso della pancetta si scioglie e si amalgama con la dolcezza delle verdure in un irresistibile sapore affumicato.

See the english version of this post here: Smoky Roasted Artichokes