Monday, September 27, 2010

from Turkey to Aidone

After our time in Turkey, I rolled right into the next project, based an hour-and-a-half away by car in the Morgantina Museum, town of Aidone, region of Enna, somehow still island of Sicily. It took me some time to get over the shock of this temporary but still grueling commuter life. Imagine this: 3 hours in a car everyday driving half the time at wheel-gripping high speeds on the autostrada and the other half on equally wheel-gripping hilly, curvy terrain, always circuitous but with no other way to make it to the tippy top of the very high hill on which the lovely, breezy, never-too hot town of Aidone is perched.

I didn't see much of Aidone other than the inside of the museum and the bar down the road I frequented for my daily more (that would be blackberry) or gelsi (that would be mulberry) granita. And the breathtaking views as I descended from the town down to the site of Morgantina itself when I was asked to advise on some conservation issue as the American archaeologists and students uncovered more of the marvelous Hellenistic baths they have been excavating there since 2001.

As I got used to the commute and the full-time immersion that is archaeological field conservation, I also learned to enjoy those drives and take full advantage of the novelty of having all that time to myself. Loud retro music on Virgin Radio became my best friend on those drives. And my eyes grew attached to the changing landscape I drove through. Starting with the citrus groves in the Piana di Catania/Palagonia area, quickly moving into the drier, never-ending yellow of Sicily's breadbasket in the Raddusa area: nothing but hills of wheat fields as far as the eye could see. Other finer details did not escape me either: the smell of eucalyptus that signaled I was beginning the climb up to Aidone, how tiny I felt as I wound my way around rows of wind turbines that dotted a certain stretch of golden fields, the detour around a collapsed tunnel that required slowing down to a snails pace and let me peek through the fence of an inviting agriturismo, and on the ride home that first glimpse of the spectacular stretch of blue sea from the Catania exit of the autostrada that reminded me that all this driving was worth it if it meant I could spend the evenings at home with my family.

A Sicilian summer work adventure you could call it. And I do recommend exploring the Aidone-Morgantina area. I'll tell you the best route to get there!

the landscape around Aidone with Mt. Etna near (click to see those wind turbines)

...and far

and the part of the museum you don't want to see!

This is village life 2

Too much silence....

This summer was wonderful but really non-stop work and travel. So much has happened, but let me begin by picking up where I left off, sharing a few photos back from our time in Turkey.

Living in a small village in eastern Anatolia forces you to slow down and take in all the details of daily life, simple pleasures like eating fresh village bread. Not much has changed in a few millennia in this regard. This year we were able to document the entire bread making process, which begins early in the morning before most of the family awakens. The women prepare the neat rows of dough balls on large round trays that they carry on their head over to the tannur oven (like the tandoor oven in India). The lighting of the oven takes quite some time and is a matter of placing twigs and paper inside and lighting it with a match to get a fire going. Once hot the balls of dough are deftly twirled around till they become flattened discs. A little water on the inside of the oven, some egg brushed on top of the dough, and the next thing you know those discs are stuck all along the oven's slanted walls in gravity defying circles. Just a few minutes later, they are peeled off one by one, now transformed into fragrant, hot, puffy rounds of the most delicious bread, wrapped carefully in cloth and stacked on the tray for the family's supply of bread for the week.

Lingering around the hot oven, with lots of smiling and picture taking usually guarantees a sample of the delicious bread, best gobbled down with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and a little sheep cheese. Looking at these pictures, I remember trying to handle the burning hot bread and impatiently waiting for it to cool a little so I could savour the wonderful taste of fresh flat bread. There's nothing else like it, really.