Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blustery days

The arrival of winter weather in Sicily has been putting a serious damper on my local travel adventures, my main inspiration for this blog. We are going out less as a family and I am having to get creative not only about blogging, but also about fighting bouts of toddler cabin fever. That means more visits to relatives, new searches for indoor activities, and more time together at home. On most days, not so bad, really.

I am not one to be kept in by cold temperatures after having lived in climates that are much colder than this one. But what's been keeping us in are some serious storms, one of which is taking place as I write. I'm talking about strong winds (strong enough to knock out the electricity in Catania's entire historic center yesterday), sporadic downpours, rough waters (we woke up to the sound of crashing waves in the middle of the night echoing all the way up from the cliffs across the street and to our house!), and no end in sight. The wind keeps on blowing.

But thanks to holiday shopping I did manage to get out of the house with hubby yesterday. Driving into town we glimpsed the rough wavy sea and got sprayed by water numerous times.We saw many people stopping to take pictures, so we decided to do the same (see the result up above).

We stopped in at some of our regular stores for gifts. Papelu' which unfortunately has no web site but carries fun and affordable items for the home with a great kids corner in the back, and Angelo Spampinato's antique shop for those more special purchases--local treasures of dubious origins. This shopping is in preparation for a trip back home to visit family in Los Angeles--giving gifts to friends and family here in Catania before we leave, and gathering up all the goodies to surprise people back home with also before we leave.

I am pretty pleased with the range of our local finds that will shortly be packed in our LA-bound suitcases. Here's a sampling: Siculamente t-shirts;cannoli-shaped candles; Catania soccer jerseys; Caltagirone ceramic plates; Sicilian torrone from I dolci di Nonna Vincenza.

Although I am so looking forward to going home, I know what I will miss most about being here is the water, waking up with my son to watch the sun rise and cast its colors on both water and sky, experiencing the sea's daily changes in mood, color, texture, sound and even smell that comes with the privilege of living near the water. But I am also over the moon about hugging my friends and family, eating my first burrito, renewing my driver's license, seeing my son play with his American family members, driving without TomTom, jogging by craftsman style houses in Pasadena...and so much more.

So, in case I don't manage to get to a computer during my trip, I would like to send out my holiday cheer now when I have the chance:

Happy Happy Holidays and let's hope for an amazing 2009!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ognina - more than just a traffic jam

Until recently Ognina has always been somewhat of a headache. That's because I never bothered to stop driving, get out of the car, and actually see this little world unto itself that mainly seemed to be one giant bottleneck due to all the double (and triple) parking taking place always, no matter what time of day, on both sides of the road.

Here the coastline takes a sharp turn and separates the 'scolgiera' zone (everything past Ognina and on towards Aci Castello) from the beginning of Catania's lungomare. For my husband who grew up in Aci Castello and avoided going to Catania whenever possible, Ognina represents his youthful limit--i.e., the closest he was willing to drive to Catania without actually entering into its center. Of course that limit is often broken to my husband's driving chagrin, and on such occassions when heading home to Aci Castello on Catania's lungomare, it is exactly at this point, at Ognina, where the coast makes that sharp turn allowing for momentary unobstructed views of big sky, rocky black coast all the way to the Ciclope, deep blue sea, Mt. Etna overhead, the tips of the boats parked in Ognina's port, and just enough attractive old villas to make it possible to ignore the ugly new cement constructions. Here the beauty of this island shouts out and strikes you to the core. Without fail, it happens every time, a sigh, a quick gaze to take in that day's particular details (the color and mood of the sky and water) before driving past and on to home.

So given all that, it should come as no surprise that this little corner of Catania is really something special, has been for centuries, and needs to be visited on foot to be fully appreciated. And I can't explain why, but for some reason, once out of the car, all that traffic really doesn't seem so bothersome after all.

Ognina can be divided into the street side shops that are perched just above the port, and the actual port itself. I like both equally. On the street level, you can hang out in the small sidewalk piazzetta, which overlooks the cove. There is a funky old bar (Bar Balsamo Francesco) right on the water, and down below, on the small stretch of sandy beach is a colony of ducks who apparently reside there year round, as they get plenty of eats thrown down to them from the pizzeria which overhangs the rocky cliff on the far side of the bay. Crossing the busy street is also worthwhile, especially to stop in to examine the cause of those wonderful freshly baked aromas wafting from the panificio, and of course, to shop at the well-stocked, friendly and very Catanese pescheria, fish market (Ognina pescheria).

On Sundays, however, it is recommeded to buy the seafood directly from the fisherman who hawk their morning catch in the port literally from the sterns of their parked boats. That's what you see taking place in the picture up top. This is perhaps the better reason to visit Ognina and to make the walk down to the port. It is a scene! Lots of people, every kind of fish imaginable, and much cheaper than any market in town. We had fun wandering through the crowds, letting our son examine the seafood at nose level, and searching for the catch of the day that would become our lunch: for the bambino, a lovely lupo (merluzzo and sogliola are the other kiddy fish of choice around these parts); for the adults, some sea snails (boiled they are a amazing!) and a few kilos of crabs, which, thanks to hubby, was magically transformed into the most delicious pasta dish a few hours later.

So, after leaving Ognina in good spirits (and with an appetite), we unanimously concluded that we may have found ourselves a new family tradition! Please share, I'd love to be inspired by what you call weekend family traditions in your part of the world!

And as a final note, I can't resist sharing the interesting historical facts about this place. According to my brand new Sicily Blue Guide (I love Amazon UK!), this is possibly the very cove where Ulysses anchored his twelve ships before he had his fatal encounter with the Cyclops, ultimately blinding the one-eyed creature (more about the Cyclops in this post). Also, the cove used to be twice as big as its current size, but in the 14th century was half-filled by lava during an Etna eruption. The volcanic drama of this place never ceases to amaze.