Thursday, November 19, 2009


Light-flashing, pop music-blasting merry-go-rounds with none of the charm of the 'traditional' rides I remember fondly from my childhood can be found all over the Catania area, conveniently placed in just the spot where your little one will be sure to not miss it. Well, my negative take on these eye sores has slowly developed into tolerant acceptance, but I have never purposely sought one out to this day. My son recognizes certain merry-go-rounds that can be spotted from the car on our more well-traveled routes, and of course, this little boy wants to ride on the merry-go-rounds. He doesn't find the music annoying (but does the volume have to be so loud?). And he loves the little race cars, jeeps, and flying dragons that whirl him around and around and around. His level of passion for these rides seems to be only increasing with age. So, when convenient, I succumb to this whimsy. I dole out the 3, 4 or 5 Euros for 4 or 5 rides, sit back, and try not to feel dizzy with my waving from the sidelines. And as my resigned self has come to accept, most of these merry-go-rounds are in much better shape than the shabby playground you will find across the street. In fact, I can't help but wonder if these privately owned, modern contraptions make a fortune on the fact that the public, free facilities are often in such poor condition. Sigh. One more compromise that no longer irks but has merely become part of the reality of mama life in Sicily.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


These unusual sightings caught me off guard a few weeks ago. 

City rainbow peeking through Catania's buildings. The entire drive was like playing peek-a-boo with a giant band of shocking rainbow color. The photo just doesn't do it justice, but it was amazing.

The sudden cloud covering followed by the ping-pong downpour of ice balls whizzing down from the sky onto the pavement startled me from my work. Can't remember the last time I experienced a 5 minute hail storm that disappeared as quickly as it came.

This week, though, it feels like summer and I am loving it while it lasts!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Catch of the day

Ingredients: sunshine, a net, a Sicilian hubby, crystal clear water, curious toddler,...

you get: six baby scampi, several hermit crabs, and a big ole' black crab for some morning fun.

(P.S. living ingredients returned to their habitat unharmed)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Alta Moda Catania style

Marella Ferrera is her name. Never heard of her? I hadn't either. But we all might want to since she is Catania's link to the world of Italian alta moda. And fashionista or not, you can experience the designer's creative work in person by visiting her atelier, which occupies a small corner of the stunning Palazzo Biscari here in Catania. The space is divided into two long corridors, one dark, suggestive, dramatic, hip--the 'Museum'--and the other sun-drenched, filled with racks of the latest made-to-order gowns--the 'MF Studio'.

In 2008 the Biscari family decided to open up this corner of their palazzo to high fashion in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the palace's original museum, which once stood in this very place. Take a breath and see if you can say this without pausing--Prince Iganzio Paterno' Castello V Prince of Biscari (phew!)--well he was the family's forefather who created a natural science and antiquities gallery here, famed in the 1700s (and visited by Goethe) for being one of the most important museums in Italy at the time.

While the current incarnation of the 'museum' has nothing whatsoever to do with the original one, the tie here is more conceptual and symbolic than anything else. But in addition to the installation  showcasing Ferrera's innovative style, 'Oltre l' pensiero', you will see some remnants of the past--the original tiled flooring, two excavated stone altars--as well as some contemporary paintings, in this most unusual of spaces. Feels more NYC than Catania, that's for sure!

P.S. the historical information was translated from the Museum-Fashion web site.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Playground update

Although a visit to the Parco Gioeni requires a drive along Catania's often congested circonvallazione, it may be worth the hassle once you get there. This very urban park is perched on top of a hill and is a pleasant mixture of brick walkways, dirt paths and lots of greenery, despite the concrete jungle that surrounds it. The park is big enough and closed off enough that it feels safe to let your kid run loose. Walking down the different pathways will lead you to hidden nooks of functional play equipment, basketball hoops, and skateboarder friendly cement, giving a sense of exploration and discovery to the little ones. And as you wander towards the open platform at the far end where the dog walkers gather, you will discover the impressive view of Catania's coastline stretching out far below you. If you look hard enough you will also find the remains of an ancient aqueduct nearby. After the fun we had here this weekend, this spot may have moved to my number one Catanese playground destination.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cultural Catania

Palazzo della Cultura is the 15th century 'Palazzo Platomone' converted into a convent (Convento San Placido) in the 1700s and now one of Catania's most beautiful cultural spaces. Even though I have walked by this structure unknowingly many times in the past, it wasn't until a friend and relatively new resident to the area mentioned it to me (thank you Lucia!) that I realized this was a place worth entering. According to long time residents of Catania, the palazzo has been used for concerts and conferences for years. But based on my recent visit, there are no signs of concerts (except for a decaying wooden stage in the outside courtyard and a covered piano in the corner of one of the many rooms) but a series of high -ceilinged rooms on the ground floor dedicated to rotating art installations, and a second space upstairs that now houses an insect exhibit. As with many of the hidden jewels of Catania we wondered why this institute is not better publicized, or maybe it is us who are not reading enough of the local newspaper to find out what is going on in the city. In any case, a visit to the insect exhibit, which will be up until the end of November, is a great outing for children of all ages, and you won't have to pay a penny to see the shows and wander the halls of the building. If you are lucky and find a nice guard like we did, you may even get to experience walking down the long corridors lined with the nun's former cells, some of which are now office spaces, as well as view the terrace originally reached by a narrow, spiraling stair case, where the nuns hung their laundry to dry. In the outside courtyard the remains of a Norman building which once stood here is also visible, as well as a glass covered section of the floor that preserves a portion of the original tiled floors. And most startling of all is that the peace and tranquility one normally associates with a convent still fills the walls of the building, so much so that when you finish your visit and step back out into the street you will be surprised to find that you really are in the middle of Catania's bustling historic center.