Carnival time in Italy is filled with endless fried desserts, parades, tricks and masquerade.
The masks can be beautiful like the ones at Venice’s world famous Carnevale or terribly ugly like these.
When you see one do not be afraid, they are harmless they only want to be offered a glass of wine or mime something funny or rude to make you laugh.
They don’t talk, they are only strange spritely manifestations of the Carnival spirit.
Sicily is filled with delicate pieces of art always where you least expect them.
You will find intricate statues in dusty churches, decaying statuettes in the nooks of decrepit Palazzi.
Fine art is always a surprise even if it is so terribly neglected by a country which is overburdened by an aesthetic abundance, sadly without the ability to maintain it.
Stopping at a ‘belvedere’ or lookout on the side of a Sicilian mountain road will give you a spectacular surprise and a sense of the expansive nature of Sicily.
On a clear day you will feel like you are in the heavens looking out onto a new world.
The closest belvedere to me looks out at the Ponte di Naso road down to the coast between Brolo and Capo d’orlando in the province of Messina.
When the weather permits you can see, part of the Messina-Palermo autostrada and beyond to the Aeolian Islands of Stromboli and Vulcano.
Naso, is one of those feisty Sicilian towns, perched high up on a seemingly precarious peak, it looks down the valley at Sinagra and hauntingly peers down at the cars driving down the mountains towards the coast.
Literally Naso is ‘nose’ in Italian and it would be more aptly named ‘head,’ but it is surely looking down its proboscis out towards the Aeolian Islands and the surrounding towns.
incidentally Naso is also the birthplace of Lady Gaga’s Sicilian descendants with the surname Germanotta, the town invited her to visit but she has never accepted their invitation.
I cannot reiterate enough the joys of exploring Sicily by car, it is easy to zig zag the island through mountains and valleys, weaving your way through endless small towns.
Sicily by road means effortlessly experiencing the ins and outs of the islands landscape and stopping at a local roadside Trattoria or family run restaurant will give you the most memorable literal taste of Sicily.
I used to think visiting Sicily in the winter is a sad and cold way of experiencing the island but I have changed my mind.
I love the feeling of having the place to myself.
The lava filled countryside near Etna is infernal in the summer and so the wintry months offer the perfect time to savor the landscape.
If you are lucky enough the perennial mist at Etna’s peak will lift long enough for you to get some fascinating snaps.
Mount Etna is the most active volcano in Europe and is my current fascination.
Sicilian writers have the burning heart of Mongibello deep within their hearts, so much so they barely acknowledge it in their words.
For someone new to the island like this once Unwilling Expat, the mountain offers endless images over the ever changing seasons.
In the winter Etna is an ashen melancholic tribute to a lonely gravesite.
One of the most fascinating historical sites I have discovered in Sicily is the Castello di Maniace (also known as the Castello Nelson) outside the small agricultural town of Maniace in the extensive plain between Bronte and Randazzo a city literally at the feet of Mount Etna.
Admiral Horatio Nelson was given the estate of nine million hectares together with the title of Duke of Bronte as a gift from the Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies after he helped the king to escape certain death during the revolution of Naples in 1796. Nelson himself never lived on the property but his descendants the Hood-Bridgeport’s took possession of the dukedom until the final heir sold it to the city of Bronte in 1981.
I have frustratingly passed beside the property on the way to Catania never having a moment to stop, but this place is calling out to me to visit, here near the ancient Simeto River which has been so loved by ancient poets.
Sicilian villages are amazingly steadfast and stoic.
I am constantly impressed by the way they have been constructed a top the mountains in the most unlikely places as if they have always been a part of the landscape.
This is Ficarra in the province of Messina which casually lounges on the Nebrodi mountains looking out to the Aeolian Islands.
We know of a natural water fountain where we refill our drinking water bottles which looks up at the village, as we fill our cups we hear the Ficarra church bells playing Schubert’s Ave Maria down to the valley.
Flamboyant Italian art critic, politician and intellectual Vittorio Sgarbi has criticized the use of wind turbines in some of the most picturesque mountains in southern Italy.
Sgarbi says they have ruined the natural beauty and wasted millions of Euro without producing much energy, going as far as to suggest links with organized crime.
I tend to agree with him, the Nebrodi regional park is flanked by endless turbines which are almost always dead still, they are terribly ugly and give me a menacing impression of a Jules Verne ‘War of the Worlds’ alien invasion scenario.
In the middle of the winter I always get nostalgic about summer and the beach. I have always had a difficult time with Sicilian beaches and their rocky nature, I miss sandy Australian beaches.
I like the sparse rustic nature of the coastline which gives me the sense the beach belongs to me.
I also have an extensive collection of lava rocks and stones.
Today Taormina is a major tourist Mecca in Sicily but it was once a place of decadence attracting many artists, writers and bohemians alike, inspired by its isolation, beauty and ancient quality.
In amongst the gaudy tourist stores there are many small artist studios and speciality stores which reflect the creativity and artistry of Sicilians, they are what draw me back here.
Sicily is close to Africa in a geographical and historical sense.
The island’s cuisine is dappled by Arab influences, open air markets in most major cities are reminiscent of Moroccan bazaars and the scirocco wind often whips up dry air from the Sahara.
Another African element of the island are the strange insects you discover, which seem to plucked out of a National Geographic Documentary.
If anyone knows anything about Entomology, please tell me the name of these fascinating creatures …