Sicily in November

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The first and second of November in Sicily are sombre, holy and sad days dedicated to Saints and dead souls. A month of meteorological transition, which has been causing havoc all over Italy this year (2018) with extensive flooding in Veneto and Alto Adige.
In the south, there is a flux between the hot scirocco winds from Africa which whips up wind storms and slowly is pushed aside by the cool Baltic stream.
Every year the days are always uneasy, with hot allergy-inducing sandy winds in the day, followed by cooler longer nights and then days of rain before gradually settling down into a routine of winter-like chill.

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The garden and the plate are also transforming as tomatoes and aubergines are replaced with mushrooms and pumpkins.
As the vegetable garden prepares for winter greens in the planting of fennel, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, peas, beans, spinach and other leafy greens.
We welcome the persimmons and pomegranate together with our friends the walnut and chestnut.

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With the feast day of San Martino on the eleventh of November where the pressed grapes of October are miraculously transformed into ‘vino novello.’
French Saint Martin was the third bishop of Tours and is one of the most familiar and recognisable Christian saints in the Western tradition.
When Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Roman army and stationed in Gaul (modern-day France). As he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, he met a scantily clad beggar. Martin thought to cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.”

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El Greco – San Martín y el mendigo

In another version of the famous story, Martin woke to find his cloak restored to its original state. The dream confirmed Martin’s mission in life, he was baptised at the age of 18 and then became a religious minister.

St Martin’s shrine in Tours became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. His cult was revived in the French nationalism of the Franco-Prussian war of the late nineteenth century and as a consequence became the patron saint of France.

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In Sicily, San Martino gives us his ‘summer’ of Saint Martin, a blessed week of fine weather and sunshine before winter sets in. A perfect moment to taste the year’s new wine and drink a toast to the patron saint of soldiers, conscientious objectors, tailors and vintners.

 

In fact, the feast of Saint Martin features heavily in the events calendar of Sicily this month. Here is another list of suggestions to pin later for anyone visiting the island this month.
(Events may vary from year to year, this information is valid for November 2018.)

 

Nov in Sicily

 

Images are taken from Unsplash.com, Canva.com and Wikipedia Media Commons.

Flowers and lights for our ancestors

I morti in Sicilia

November is a sombre time in Sicily, traditionally it’s not all jack o lanterns and candy rather its about taking flowers to the cemetery and lighting artificial lights instead of candles in memory of the dead.

All souls and dearly held saints are prayed for in religious services in the Roman Catholic church and the autumn signals the beginning of winter.

Sicilian’s make the rounds of the graveyards with chrysanthemums cradled in their arms, paying floral homage to their ancestors and placing light globes around the edges of tombs.

Trinacria’s necropolises are decorated by the living as the photo’s of the dead demand it, the images on each tomb and mausoleum plea to be acknowledged. Each photo has surreptitiously robbed a piece of their soul imprisoning their glances in an eerie reflection of life.

As we honor our deceased in among flowers dampened by the rain and hazardous electrical wiring, we secretly utter a prayer for those we love and hope not to be accidentally electrocuted.

The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ’ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,—
“Guess now who holds thee!”—“Death,” I said, But, there,
The silver answer rang, “Not Death, but Love.”

                                                                                 – Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Sonnets from the Portuguese.

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Fall in Sicily

Autumn in Sicily

The beginning of Autumn in Sicily can be abrupt. The gradual changes from one season to the next are now a thing of the past, there are no more slightly shortening days or time for the leaves to go from greens, yellows, warm rusty reds or browns, now the fall begins with heavy rains and cool nights, whenever the gods decide.

One day you are sunbathing on the beach and the next you are pulling on your cardigan and sheltering under an umbrella. The first rains are capricious, sometimes drizzling, then pelting, blurring the mountains and threatening with ash coloured clouds and distant thunder drones, initially succumbing to the afternoon sun and the Scirocco.

The heavy breath of the Scirocco is a lethargic exhale held in cupped hands, a stifling African wind which saps energy, tickling the skin without any relief or pleasure.

This corrupted zephyr, fed by ancient Aeolus the keeper of the winds, ravages the land and utters its curse without any mercy. In the summer it whips up the thermometer, in September it teases as it ushers in the rains, in the winter it tries to deceive people into shedding their skins too soon. First, there is the flotsam and jetsam of the winds and then the storm begins.

 

Autumn

October in Sicily means many things to the Sicilian’s table from fruits like fichi d’india, hazelnuts, mushrooms and grapes. Late ripening in this years season also means a tardy gathering of tomatoes, eggplants (aubergines), capsicums, chilli peppers and other summer fairs.

The insanity of August is easily washed away as Sicily gets back into its daily routine, children go back to school, freshly bronzed public servants are well and truly lazing in their offices and the everyday grind begins.

A new season is always a new beginning, it changes the sensations and assures as we are moving forward despite our want to stand still.

Autumn is like sipping a fine Nero d’Avola, smooth and deeply satisfying with a warm and fruity aftertaste that makes you wish more.

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A September song

I was recently asked via twitter about what there is to be done in September in Sicily. The truth is just as many things as you can do at any time of the year, it probably is a good month to visit the island as the holiday ‘high season’ is well and truly over and if the weather holds it is so much more pleasant compared to the stifling heat of August. Feel free to do all the same things as you would in the summer but perhaps with cooler weather and less confusion.

If it is still warm you could have the beach to yourself, even if you will find many of the small bars and restaurants will close up after the summer. This is easily resolved with a trip to the supermarket where you can buy a bread roll with whatever your heart desires, perhaps a selection of cheeses, a beer or a small bottle of wine, what more can you ask for than a five-star picnic at the beach?

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The choice of beaches in Sicily is really endless, heck it’s an island which means 360º of coastline. From Mondello beach in the north with it’s white sandy beaches near the Capo Gallo Nature reserve, in the south the Scala dei Turchi or ‘the Turkish steps’ rock formation near Realmonte in the province of Agrigento it is a little out-of-the-way but it is worth it, the Riserva Naturale Belice-Menfi with its beach and dune area in the province of Trapani in western Sicily and snorkeling or swimming through the rocky inlets near Acitrezza’s Isole dei Ciclopi below Catania on the eastern coast.

For those who are interested in trekking, wildlife and archeological sites, September is a perfect time of the year to visit the likes of the Etna regional park, Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples and the Zingaro Natural reserve. The hunting season starts in mid September so don’t be alarmed if you hear gunshots, hunting is prohibited in parks and reserves so you are perfectly safe.

Sicilian beaches

If the weather gets all stormy on you there are plenty of indoor activities to keep you busy from museums, wine tasting and eating. There are still plenty of festa’s and sagras (food and religious festivals) to experience the best thing to do is keep an eye out in the local press. Sicily in September is famous for wild mushrooms (particularly porcini) and fichi d’india fruit which are widely consumed throughout the year, the refreshing rains perforate their prickly cactus exterior adding flavor to their pip filled flesh.

Lights for the festa in Paese

I’m generally allergic to archeological and ceramic museums as it’s easy to overload on them in Sicily, there are literally hundreds of these types of museums here.

Some wonderfully fascinating museums which spark my interest include: The Museo Interdisciplinare Regionale Agostino Pepoli di Trapani with many elements grouped together it gives you a general taste of  Sicily’s history and art from coral jewelry, religious artifacts to ancient Greek bronze sculptures.

If you are tired of medieval churches the Galleria di Arte Moderno (Palermo) gives you a selection of artwork from the Neoclassical and Romantic periods, it also hosts regular exhibitions of contemporary Sicilian artists.


A September song

The Museo Regionale di Palazzo Abatellis (Palermo) has some of Sicily’s most famous artworks, sculptures, ceramics, decorative arts and jewelry including works from Antonello da Messina and Antonello Gagini.

The Museo Regionale di Palazzo D’Aumale at Terrasini, Palermo offers a variety of Sicilian archeology, natural science and includes a collection dedicated to the once common and elaborately decorated Sicilian cart.

Antiques at Taormina

I think if you are going to visit Sicily you need to experience the dying art of Sicilian marionette puppets which once proliferated the island in the period before modern cinema as a form of popular entertainment and told stories of epic battles and heroes from Sicilian history. You can even adopt a puppet and help it’s restoration at The Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino.

So far from being an end to the summer, autumn in Sicily is the beginning to a new season filled with ever more feasts and experiences.

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