Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Travel plans

When we were getting ready to move back to Italy in the spring of 2008, my sister announced: August 2009 we will come visit you in Italy. The 'we' being herself, husband and two adorable children, the later three of whom had never been to Europe before. 

Being a last minute planner myself,  the pronouncement barely registered at the time. Who can get excited for supposed visitors a year plus prior to the actual visit?   

But eventually spring 2009 did arrive and suddenly my big sis was sending me possible dates for a visit. And soon thereafter a copy of a flight itinerary. So I guess they're really coming. Was that a twinge of excitement I felt in my bones? 

And then I found myself doing research for my sister on accommodations in Rome and Florence. And soon big sis dared to ask: Would we be able to meet them in Rome?  And of course my response was: too far away to plan, who knows how the toddler will be doing or if we will be up for traveling then. Let's wait and see.

And suddenly it is July, and we are still wavering. Where will we stay, will it be too hot, will the little one have fun. But as I waver and as their departure time nears, I know I cannot bear to have my sister and her family in Italy a whole 10 days before I get to see them in Sicily. The rest will follow and it won't matter how hot it is, where we stay, or even what we do. What is important is that first big hug in the airport. Seeing my little boy with his American cousins again. Sharing some of my favorite things about Rome with them. This is an opportunity that cannot be passed up. 

Hubby senses my excitement and decides to join us. Two weeks ago we booked our tickets. 

Yes, dear sis, we will be meeting you in Rome! 


Have a good week and I'll let you know if it was worth it when we get back (but of course it will be!).

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Emily's post about visiting this beautiful garden in Catalgirone and Megan's post about enjoying time on her gorgeous terrazzo made me think about my own little piece of paradise right here in our backyard.  How lucky we are to be surrounded by this wonderful yard full of luscious greenery that in the spring and summer is bursting with life. It is here when the afternoon shade takes over that we spend our best hours lounging, playing, exploring and, most importantly, staying cool.

The pleasantness of our yard has shaped our summer afternoons. Toddler wakes up from his nap, after a cuddle or two on the couch and little bit of TV, we wander outside barefoot, play with Bianca the kitten, inspect our vegetable garden for any ripe pickings, and delight in the coolness of the grass on our feet and any sea breeze that might reach our cheeks. Soon hubby joins us and if the soil is dry, out comes the hose for an afternoon watering. The tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis and peppers get thirsty in the hot summer sun. As do our newly planted fruit trees--lemon, tangerine, lowquat, avocado. 

I love this ritual and the balance that spending time with the earth backyard play creates in our summer routine. So in thinking about the special place greenery and shade have in our long hot summer days, I realize that Sicilian summers are not only about water after all. But when the hose does come out for a watering, you can bet that pretty soon after toddler's clothes will be off and there will be a naked wet little boy tearing through the yard, often with a wet kitten darting after him. I guess that brings me back to my last post: a little water thrown into the mix never hurts! 

Thursday, August 13, 2009


August in Sicily is all about finding ways to stay cool. And with a toddler in tow, that means anything having to do with water. Swimming pools, rocky beach, sandy beach, inflatable wading pools, sprinklers, water toys, baths, showers. You name it, we've been doing it.

Despite feeling a little waterlogged, this form of play has its benefits. For example, I have been discovering many new places--pools at friend's houses, new lidos (beach clubs) on both sandy and rocky beaches that include great swimming pools, organized activities for kids, and playgrounds. The latest is the Lido dei Ciclopi at Acitrezza. A different way to experience our black rocky coast than what I find on the patch of rock in front of our house--carefully constructed wooden platforms that contain private cabinas, large swimming pool (pictured in photo), fish pond and an oasis of palm trees, not to mention bar, restaurant, lounge chairs and umbrellas, and easy direct access to the sea.

Something that I had forgotten from my own childhood memories about spending lots of time with water in the summer is that water play is fun and exhausting at the same time. Time flies. Boredom doesn't exist. And the little guy is sleeping more hours than ever before. We're talking 12 hours at night and 2 to 3 hours in the day. According to Italian tradition, the iodine in salty water is good for the respiratory system but also very exciting for children's metabolisms, causing them to expend a great deal of energy in seaside play. For my fellow mamma friends and I this seems to be true based on the number of hours our kids are sleeping this summer. But I think the heat also has something to do with it. And the fact that 2 year olds don't walk anymore, they run.

And then there is the pure enjoyment of time spent with friends and family outdoors, surrounded by the beauty and wonders of the big blue sea--just look at that color! Don't you want to jump in for a swim?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

pesto and pancakes

After seeing Karen from South of Rome's post about growing basil, I felt inspired to share with you the results of our first pesto using not only home grown basil, but also home scavenged pine nuts. The whole family partook in this one. Smashing open the pine nut shells might have been my toddler's favorite part, although he also had fun trying on the gloves I wore to protect my hands from becoming a sticky mess from the pine resin that oozes out of our pine cones. And once he got bored with that, he discovered the pile of freshly opened pine nuts and started eating them about as fast as we could open them!  Thank goodness that only about 1/2 cup are necessary.

I didn't use one recipe, but glanced at both Italian and English language versions on the internet. Then the Italian husband who is very-good-in-the-kitchen took over with the quantities and blending, saying it was more about a little of this a little of that, until you got the proportions right according to your taste buds, than following a recipe. I didn't argue, but somehow ended up the official taster. And after a few tastes, not only did we find our perfect blend of fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, parmigiano and pecorino romano, but we also found the perfect way to eat it: on top of Ligurian testaroli (pancakes), a simple mix of two types of flour and water cooked on the grill just like any old pancake. So simple, so fun to eat. You have to try this!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Whizzing through Messina

There is a small but interesting regional museum in Messina that I have known about for quite awhile (it is the home of two Caravaggio paintings!), but only recently visited for the first time. We decided to make an afternoon of it, and speeding along the autostrada were able to arrive in Messina's centro storico in an hour and a half flat. After passing Taormina, the pebbly coastline was pretty built up with new houses and nothing else, but inland to the west the craggy hills were occasionally dotted with an alluring medieval hill town just visible in the distance. But most interesting to me was the ever-changing view of the Italian mainland which loomed larger the closer we got to our destination, until we could actually see the outlines of buildings on the coast of Reggio Calabria directly across from Messina's busy port. 

The seemingly short, 90km distance we had driven had transported us to a whole new reality. First, this is a relatively small town, so as compared to Catania, everything here feels manageable and functional. Like the city's infrastructure--it seems to work! There is next to no litter on the streets, the avenues are lined with trees, it was rare to see a derelict building, and no matter how small, its well-cared for museum is open to the public for a bargain 2.50 Euro (Catania's regional museum has been virtually closed for years).

Messina's museum is 4km outside of the center and wouldn't be open until 4pm. That gave us an hour or so to wander in the historic center. Our timing for visiting the town wasn't that great, because 15.00 is the magic hour in which everything (except for the duomo itself as far as I could tell) shuts down for the afternoon break. 

But I still got a wonderful impression of Messina's historic center. Although tragically 90% of the city was destroyed by a 1908 earthquake, which means most of what you see is under 100 years old, I loved the feel of the wide, tree-lined avenues framing three story Art Noveau buildings that radiated out from the Piazza Duomo--a real contrast to treeless, taller Catania. And as we noticed while driving in and out of the city, Messina is hilly, with a pretty natural landscape and much greenery integrated into the town which was a real surprise. This, combined with the city's main feature, its port, gave my better half the impression of a little Naples.

In the Piazza Duomo you will see three of the city's most important monuments (all three in the photo below): its main cathedral, completely restored but still retaining original medieval elements like the portal; the adjacent campanile, built in the 1930s to house the world's largest astronomical clock; and the Renaissance period Orion fountain (Orion being the mythological founder of the city) sculpted by Friar Montorsoli, a student of Michelangelo. While these are the city's most noted monuments, one glance at a guidebook and you will see that the centro storico warrents more than just an hour visit.

But our time was limited and our main goal was to see the regional museum. So off we went, and with relative ease found ourselves in front of a modern cement mammoth--nothing like the former 19th century silk weaving factory I had read about and expected--thanks to the striking architectural fragments that form a sort of outdoor sculpture garden in front of the museum. The older building (pictured at the top of the page) is quite small and visible only once inside the gate.

We were not alone! A little crowd of tourists had gathered out front of the museum waiting for it to open. And our visit began. With a little reading, we discovered that the museum was built just after the 1908 earthquake in order to house the many works whose original homes had been destroyed. Most moving was a fragment of a painted wooden beam rescued from the cathedral, as we had just seen the restored version on our visit inside the Duomo. But of course I was intent on seeing the two Caravaggio masterpieces--Nativity and Raising Lazarus, whereas hubby zoomed in on the Antonello da Messina works. But in addition to those, we were able to read about and view everything to our hearts content and in about thirty minutes had seen all that we could. Like I said, this museum is pleasingly small.

It was time to go home, but never empty handed! We picked up our edible souvenir at the only shop we had found open on our quick stroll in the centro storico.  This funky, old-fashioned pasticerria carried not only homemade granita (not as tasty as what we find at home, but definitely refreshing) and bottles of locally brewed Messina beer, but also messinese delicacies like the pignolata, a kind of vanilla cake with lemon and chocolate frosting, just the thing for hubby's sweet tooth and, as we were to later discover, whole-heartedly enjoyed by the toddler.