Category Archives: Sicily
It’s official: I need a waterproof camera. When Monsieur and I were caught in a Sicilian deluge in the little town of Trapani, I couldn’t help myself; I kept on snapping. Even in the grey of the downpour, shooting Trapani’s buildings was worth getting a little wet. Or so I thought. Meanwhile, Monsieur’s camera stayed safe in a dry pocket. Ah, such wisdom.
Everything seemed fine until we got back to the hotel that evening. I tried to take a shot of our room, only the LCD screen on my trusty little Canon Powershot SD870 IS started to act up. First it went pink, then dark, bit by bit, kind of like those black spots that appear before your eyes just before you pass out. Then there was nothing. The lens was open but no one was home. The screen showed nada. Oh, hell.
Taking my camera to hospital was definitely in order, but we wouldn’t be able to do that until we got to Taormina the following evening. And that evening would be New Year’s Eve, so I was likely to be without the ability to photograph anything until the New Year rolled round, IF I could even find a photographics shop that was open over the holidays. Monsieur scolded me. “You shouldn’t have used it in the rain. It’s probably got water in it and that’s going to take a while to dry out.” Bummer.
Periodically, I’d get the camera out and try, try, try to get some sort of image on the screen. Sometimes I was rewarded for my efforts, but everything would appear tinged with a strange purply pink before going dark after a mere few minutes of action. Still, some of the shots turned out quite interesting, so I kept them. Here are some shots of Sicily through rose-tinted lenses.
This was our room, with Amityville lampshade, at the moment when I realised that something was wrong.
In Taormina, things seemed to return to normal, for a moment or two. Then suddenly, THIS:
Miraculously, a photographics shop was open in Taormina on New Year’s Day. I trotted into the shop, offending camera in hand, and in my best Italian explained that it wasn’t working. To demonstrate, I pulled it out of its case and turned it on. Wouldn’t you know it? The screen showed a perfect image, no pink anywhere. What a stupid ‘Inglese’ I was. As I left the shop I could still hear the three assistants laughing at my error. Hrmph.
And so, for the next day or so, the camera behaved just as it should, but on the drive back to Palermo, it had a relapse. As we stopped to photograph Etna, all was going well:
But minutes later The Canon and I were once more tainted in our outlook:
It seemed we were into apocalyptic-style photography now.
By the time we got home, the camera was perfectly happy once more, doing precisely as it was told at all times, so I put its pink episodes down to internal damp and a change in air temperature around Etna.
And so, months and much use later, Monsieur and I sat in the sun on our first day in Sardinia. I took out my camera, turned it on and BOOM it went all pink on me again. Perhaps it’s something about these Italian isles that makes it blush so. This time it only lasted for a minute or two before behaving perfectly for the entire trip. I guess it must have been disturbed by the in-flight air pressure. What a delicate little thing my camera is. Lesson learned: never, but never should I use my Canon to take photos in the rain.
(I’m considering my next digital camera as this one is going to die soon. Its LCD screen is growing a big black hole. My previous powershot was bulky and needed batteries but had one of those little turn around screens on the back so when you weren’t using it, you could close it up against damage. Any recommendations you have for the next Epicurienne camera would be most welcome!)
It’s a bad day in the Epicurienne household if we run out of lemons. Monsieur and I use them for just about everything – squeezed over salads, in sauces for fish and seafood, in lemony vinaigrettes, on spaetzle, on roast potatoes… So imagine my delight on finding gigantic lemons in Italy!
The first time I saw such mammoth citrus was on walking to the car after a steamy day spent exploring the ruins of Pompeii. “eeee” I squeaked, in a fit of excitement, causing Monsieur to stop abruptly. He thought I’d been stung by one of the many wasps hanging around that day. Nothing so painful, I’d simply spied a fruit stand selling the biggest lemons I’d ever seen in my entire life.
To give you some idea of what we’re talking about, the two crates on the bottom right of the photo contain lemons of about five to six inches in length.
“Let’s take some home!” I suggested to Monsieur,
“No,” came his firm reply, “they’re too heavy.” and I’d regretted it ever since.
Then in January, I visited a Taormina grocer to stock up on packs of South Italian herb mixes. On the fruit and veg stand outside the shop were huge artichokes, fire engine red tomatoes, chilli plants and the massive lemons I’d seen at Pompeii, only even larger.
Monsieur wasn’t with me and therefore couldn’t say no. I bought two to take home. As long as it was in my luggage, he’d have nothing to complain about.
In fact, these gargantuan citrus fruit are known as ‘CITRON’ with the most ancient evidence of its existence being seeds found at Mesopotamian sites. Alexander the Great and his army reputedly aided the distribution of this citrus, as did the Romans who sent bushels of the fruit to China as a gift in the 4th Century AD. It’s around the same era that cultivation of the fruit on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily was first recorded.
At home, I carefully unpacked my giant yellow fruit with pride. They were surprisingly light, given their size, something to do with the fact that once open, they’re mostly white pith, with very little flesh.
(Citron on the right with regular lemon on the left to give idea of size)
Unfortunately, my darling citrons had not survived the flight in great shape; they now had a light dusting of white mould, but that wasn’t going to stop me from having fun. After all, I love cheese and cheese is mould.
And so, I chopped them open. The fleshy part was only the size of a regular lemon. The rest of the interior was white pith, but according to my research, this was edible white pith. The flesh was sweeter than a regular lemon, gladly lacking in eye-stinging sharpness. No wonder some folk eat the citron like a grapefruit.
In Sicily, citron are often candied, used to decorate cannoli and other sweets. They can also be added to ricotta cakes or made into marmalades. But the recipe I love best is for Citron Salad.
Remove the outer yellow peel from the citron, then chop the fruit into chunks. Place in a bowl and toss with a sprinkling of salt. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.
(You can prepare oranges in the same fashion for an equally refreshing salad. )
For a variation, once the lemon chunks have been tossed with the salt and olive oil, dollop them onto a bed of watercress, sprinkle with pine nuts and serve. The sweet lemon taste goes so well with the bite of watercress, and the pine nuts add a subtle quality of taste and texture.
Now all I have to do is work out how to get citrons in London. If you know, please leave me a comment.
Yesterday everything got a bit serious on Epicurienne, with an Irate Reader making an Irate Comment about my views on Sicily, Sicilians and the influence of the Mafia là-bas.
To lighten the mood, here’s a Newsbiscuit story from the Wise Woman of Wandsworth. Made me snort all over my keyboard. Again. Now where are those anti-Swine ‘Flu wipes?
This morning I received a comment from an American reader of Sicilian descent who finds what I write about Sicily to be racist. Crikey!To him, and to anyone else who might feel the same, I apologise as that was never my intention. (I’d also recommend not watching Bruno at the cinema.) However, I do reserve the right to be open about what I observe when I travel. The whole point of visiting different countries is to experience cultural variances, such as I found in Sicily, so if some of what I’m trying to figure out about locals is related to the Mafia’s reputation in such a place, then I will write about it. I won’t be the last to do this, besides which, to pretend that the Mafia have no influence in Sicily’s history is like writing about Silicon Valley and not mentioning Bill Gates.
To kick off, The Irate Reader asked me why I went to Sicily? That’s simple. Sicily is an island of tremendous contrasts – in landscape, in people and in history. Its culture never ceases to fascinate as it has been occupied at different times by Ancient Greeks, Carthaginians and Catalans and more. This creates a jigsaw of influence, both genetically as well as in its architecture, art and food. Far from feeling a fish out of water in Sicily, I love it there. If I’d found it to be a disappointment on any level during my first visit, I would never have returned and I hope to go back in the future.
On my first visit to Sicily, the presence of the Mafia barely featured, apart from occasional mention in anecdotal form by our Sicilian guide, my Italian tutor or his Sicilian friends. This time, I was keen to learn more about the influence of the Mafia on the locals. So I read The Last Godfathers and visited Corleone. The latter had a negative impact and, as I wrote in my Corleone post, I felt that the people there have had enough and just want to be left alone. This is an observation, not a criticism. I just felt awkward for having joined the Mafia trail in such a stereotypically tourist manner, because Sicily has so much more to offer the traveller than bottles of tourist-quality liquor with Don Corleone’s face plastered all over them.
But the Irate Reader was not done with me yet. No siree. He called me a WASP who would feel more comfortable in Nordic countries where everyone is blonde and blue-eyed with pointy features. Sounds to me like something from a puppet movie like Dark Crystal. As for calling me a WASP, well, that’s akin to the pot calling the kettle black, no? Fair enough. I am white. But the -ASP bit is quite inaccurate. I’d also point out that some of what may have offended was tongue-in-cheek commentary. Ah, well. I’ll have to be more serious in future, lest such humour falls on deaf ears.
To the Irate Reader, I would only say: please calm thyself. There are many more posts about Sicily on their way. They’ll cover the ancient site of Agrigento, the dreamy seaside village of Cefalu, the glistening Cathedral of Monreale, the hill-top town of Taormina with its Greek Theatre and friendly cannoli man with windows filled with postcards from his fans, not to mention lip-smacking gelati and the glorious views of a snow-capped Mount Etna.
On reading matter, it might interest Irate Reader to learn that once I’d finished The Last Godfathers, I moved onto di Lampedusa’s classic called The Leopard. Then, thirsty for more background on this fascinating island, I ploughed through Midnight in Sicily. After that came Peter Moore’s Vroom by the Sea and a charming tale of village life in Sicily called The Stone Boudoir. Perhaps once he’s read a little bit more of what I find so fascinating about this island and its occupants, he’ll realise that I’m not such a “pathetic miserable thing polluted by (my) own racist hate and bigotry”. Then again, in the interest of freedom of speech, he’s entitled to his opinion.
Here’s the full comment from Irate Reader:
I am a Sicilian American and find your remarks quite racist and insulting. Why did you go to Sicily? Apparently you went just to degrade, insult and condemn its entire people as criminals and murderer. You are the typical WASP racist. You cannot see the difference between the good and evil because all Sicilians to you are evil. Why, because they are racially different from you. Before WW2, most Anglo nations, Australia, New Zealand etc. strictly forbade any immigration from Sicily, or any non-white country, because in fact the Sicilians where classified as Blacks and thus totally unacceptable. This racism is now veiled by racists like yourself as “mafia’ remarks and labeling. Apparently you are a pathetic miserable thing polluted by your own racist hate and bigotry. The Mafia is a criminal group that makes up a tiny percentage of the Sicilian population. Its negative impact on the good people of Sicily and of all Sicilians worldwide is not from its bad deeds but from all this racist literature and other media that feeds the racist appetite of whites like yourself. Racism and bigotry is an evil worse that any “mafia”. Your next trip go to Sweden or some place like that where all the people have fair skin, blond hair, blue eyes and those pointy northern European features that people like you worship. I am sure you will not make one remark about them.
On the subject of ‘Anglo’ countries not admitting Sicilians prior to WWII because they were considered ‘black’, I was shocked enough by this claim to look into it further. To be fair, New Zealand only has a population of around 4 million people and has never had a hefty influx of Italian immigrants, so I couldn’t find much about this. As most foreigners moving to New Zealand tend to be our Polynesian or Pacific Rim neighbours, the issue of skin colour preventing anyone from crossing that border, Sicilian or otherwise, makes me wonder about the accuracy of this claim.
Conversely, across the Tasman in Australia, there is a very lively Italian community, including a sizeable population of Sicilian descent. Their presence in Australia dates back to the 19th Century. Nowhere could I find reference to Sicilians being turned away from Oz based on the colour of their skin. However, if the Irate Reader would care to share such information with me, I’d be most interested to check the facts.
In the meantime, here are some interesting articles about Italian (including Sicilian) migration to Australia.
Reading list for books about Sicily – warning! Some include Mafia references. Hell’s bells.
Leaving Trapani proved a little more troublesome than we’d anticipated, mostly because of the downpour that drenched us minutes after leaving the wonderful little Cantina Siciliana, where we’d refuelled in anticipation of an afternoon packed with activity. Just before the deluge began, Monsieur and I had been happily photographing Trapani’s buildings. We dashed between dripping awnings all the way back to the car where we sat for some minutes dabbing at wet faces with inefficient paper napkins. No, we wouldn’t be going to Segesta today. Greek ruin complexes + rain = mega-uncomfortable.
“So what next?” asked Monsieur, somewhat unhelpfully. You see, Monsieur books the flights and I come up with full itineraries of where we go and what we do, including plan Bs in case of uncooperative weather like today’s. I didn’t really have a plan B. Yet. But in a place like Sicily, teeming with interest and culture (and gelato), how hard could it be to come up with one?
This wasn’t to be as easy as I thought. The nearby town of Erice, on cliffs overlooking coastal Trapani (where we now sat steaming up our car windows for all the wrong reasons), would have been an obvious alternative to Segesta. Our guidebooks raved about a couple of pasticcerie, and strange rituals of ‘sacred prostitution’ once practised in the Venusian temple now buried beneath the castle ruins, made us intrigued to visit. Alas, the best part of visiting Erice, which sits 750 metres above sea-level, is the view. Usually, you can see Erice from Trapani. With the current rainfall, the town was completely obscured by low, grey cloud. There wouldn’t be a lot to see in Erice today, besides which we’d eaten far too recently to take full advantage of the town’s renowned cannoli. In summary? Plan A – abort. Plan B – ditch. Plan C? Crikey. Whatever could we come up with now?
In the end we settled on a drive down the west coast to Marsala, home to the sweet Marsala wine. The drive was unexpectedly interesting, taking us along the SS115, which follows the line of the sea. It is here that the salt with the best reputation in Italy is produced, big, white piles of it lining the road, the salt pans lying flat to either side.
Around this point I started my own game of Count the Ape. An Ape (ah-pay) is a small three-wheeled workhorse of a vehicle much favoured by Italians, especially those in rural areas. The typical Ape is a flat-bed in miniature, with room for one person only at the wheel. En route to Marsala we spotted so many Apes that I had to stop counting. Piaggio, the Ape manufacturer, must really like Western Sicily, and I ‘m sure the local salesman does, too.
It was pouring in Marsala by the time we found our way into the town. Some local chaps at a stationery store kindly helped us do our scratchy parking card, before we set off in search of interest. We were only a stone’s throw from the Cathedral, yet getting there took a while in the rain. As we dashed along the side of the Cathedral towards its front entrance, a gush of water from the overloaded gutters above splashed directly onto our heads. Monsieur looked at me with that “Are you okay?” frown, but he needn’t have worried. I was completely sodden now, as was he. All we could do was laugh like a pair of bedraggled hyenas.
The Cathedral itself was a bit disappointing. It was so large and cold that it felt unwelcoming and empty. No, we wouldn’t stay here. Running past the twinkling Christmas tree in the piazza outside, we sheltered in the Caffeteria Grand Italia, in spite of its reputation as a magnet for octogenarians. Apparently all the octogenarians were wiser than we were, sat safely in comfy armchairs at home. A couple of espressi were now required, as was gelato, a small reward for braving the rain.
Once we’d dried ourselves with yet more malabsorbent table napkins, we set off to visit one of Marsala’s museums, but in spite of the posters stating that it would be open, it was firmly closed against us and we were wet once more. So we dashed from shop to shop in an attempt to stay dry. I bought a Tiziano Terzani book in a small libreria, where we were treated like unwanted foreigners until I asked the right question about the right author. Then the shop clerk couldn’t do enough to help me.
The next shop clerk we came across was even more unpredictable. We’d run into a Marsala wine specialty shop, disturbing the sole proprietor who had the malady of mobile phone permanently attached to ear, as shown by the fact that when we’d passed him earlier, he was chatting away and was still now in the state of permanent chat. It must have been a slow afternoon for him because when we entered, he cut the call short and focussed his full attention onto us. Bearing in mind that he looked strangely like Hutch from Starsky & Hutch, only with the deep orange skin of a fake-tan addict, it was difficult to take him seriously. First he tried to steer us away from the Marsala wines which are now owned by big liquor companies, thereby losing their seasonal variance in favour of the supermarket shelf-friendly reliability of mass production. Then he allowed us to taste three or four different breeds of Marsala, feeding us morsels of bread with some of his cupboard wares – tapenades heated in a terracotta bowl over a tealight and a creamy garlic sauce. Our new curly-haired friend was a little too attentive to me, however. He asked me how I knew Italian, so I explained that I’d lived in Venice for a while.
“Ah, Venice. Beautiful place. Have you been anywhere else in Italy?”
“Yes, all over,” I answered,
“So if you love Italy so much, then tell me, how come you are with this Frenchman?” he asked, grimacing unsubtly in Monsieur’s direction.
“Because I love France, too.” I replied, keen to get Monsieur away from perm-head as quickly as possible, in case he’d understood.
We left leery Mr Hutch with a bottle of Marsala, some tapenade and garlic sauce, which we’d started to assemble just before his studliness got out of hand. Paying up we wasted no time in getting out of there. The rain was now subsiding, but we dashed away from that shop and Mr BadFakeTan almost as if the rain were still torrential.
It was completely dark, the roads slick with wet. Now we just had to get back to Palermo. Our map looked straightforward enough, but the route was far from. With a combination of impossible signage, lousy back roads, windy ways and a lack of street lighting, the next couple of hours were to be the most stressful of our Sicilian adventure. When we finally found the way to a decent autostrada, the relief of being back on a well-lit road was truly something else. We wouldn’t be taking the Sicilian motorways for granted again.
It was getting dark as Monsieur and I set off to explore something of Palermo on our first day in Sicily. We enjoyed the window-shopping along the Via R Settimo, later rejoining the broad Via Roma, where discount shops and mobile phone outlets were busy with post-Christmas sale business. My favourite window was for a deli-stroke-drinks shop where pyramids of prosecco bottles stood interspersed with beautiful boxes of candied fruit, marzipan and other sweet treats, ready for New Year’s revellers to come shopping. We visited San Domenico, the church where the great and the good of Palermo are buried, and there I spent ages in front of the giant Nativity display, or ‘Presepi’, as they’re known in this part of the world. It was garish, with larger-than-usual figures, pot plants, straw, bowls of citrus and figures of sheep. At the centre of everything was the inanimate model of Baby Jesus. For some reason, this Nativity made me want to laugh; it was such a happy, kitsch scene compared to many.
Back outside we wandered through a market off the Via Roma, passing the usual knock-off stands and stalls loaded with anything and everything from kids’ slippers to pyjamas or fake Calvin Klein underwear and kitchen implements in the alluring colours of lime or fuchsia plastic. On the way back to the hotel we passed the Teatro Massimo, seasonally decked out in fairy lights, twinkling their way to a massive civic electricity bill, with a carpet of red-leafed poinsettias running down its main stairs. This was the theatre where the attempted assassination of Michael Corleone takes place in Godfather part III. I was only sorry that it was closed for the holidays so we couldn’t see how they’d decorated the interior. I bet it was über chic.
Having endured a long day with only the most basic of nourishment, we were ready for an early dinner. The clerks at the hotel had recommended a restaurant for our first supper in Sicily: Zafferano. The reception was such a vivid example of pricey modern chic that it felt more like the entrance to a top hair salon than an eatery. Put it this way – there were pony hide chairs and a tweed-suited receptionist, only the tweed wasn’t fusty musty old English countryside smelling vaguely of mothballs; this girl was confident in her 5 inch heels and the suit hugged each of her curves as if she’d been born wearing it.
Down a few stairs we entered a space with exposed brick walls, a couple of didgeridoos, a knee-high vase carved of the darkest wood, and some splashy abstract canvases eating up the wall space. However, it wasn’t any of the above that distracted me; at the end of the room hung red and white poinsettias ‘planted’ in hanging tiers of plastic bags and ‘fed’ from IV bags. I’d never seen anything like it.
The maître d’ greeted us with champagne flutes, filling them half-way with prosecco. An elegant plate of small zucchini, carrot and potato dumplings then arrived and we selected a bottle of sauvignon/viognier called ‘La Segreta’ from the Planeta vineyard which is well-known throughout Sicily. Just as the wine appeared, the waiter whisked our unfinished glasses of prosecco away before we could say “Don Corleone!” but the wine was so crisp and fruity that we were soon distracted from the absence of a few extra bubbles trickling down our throats.
To start, Monsieur chose a carpaccio of smoked salmon, swordfish and tuna, whilst I enjoyed a plate of cernia or dusky grouper tartare on a bed of cress. On Monsieur’s side of the table the carpaccio disappeared with the silence of a satisfied diner and the cernia was so delicate that it dissolved in my mouth, leaving the sensation of a dream of fish flavoured gently with fennel, dill and lemon. The peppery cress brought the perfect tartare back down to earth with just the right amount of earthy leaf texture.
We weren’t kept waiting by the staff. Our glasses were refilled with a couple of fingers of wine at a time and were soon savouring our main courses. Monsieur’s suckling pig tournedos was served with fries and an orange sauce that perfumed not only the pork, but the air above it so that an orange grove appeared to be invisible around us. Meanwhile, my linguine with dried sea urchin and tuna roe was served in an ideal portion so as not to bloat the diner. The sea urchin brought with it a subtle taste of the sea and the roe slipped about the plate in an attempt to evade my eager tastebuds; it was so soft and cool that it disappeared with each press of the tongue against the palate. To top it all off, the sweet juice of cherry tomatoes cut through the saltiness of the other ingredients, making this a new top favourite on the Epicurienne List of Ideal Pasta Dishes.
We decided against taking a dessert at Zafferano, opting instead for a gelateria stop on the way back to the hotel. This was one of those good-ideas-at-the-time. The gelato was certainly refreshing but the flavours were all wrong. The coconut scoop tasted vaguely of pineapple and the stracciatella was sadly lacking in chocolate bits. “Never mind,” I told Monsieur, “we’ll just have to make it our week’s work to find a better gelato experience.” Besides, we’d enjoyed a superb dinner and a long, energising sleep awaited us, as did more adventures Sicilian style. There would be plenty of gelato cups to look forward to during the coming week.
Landing at Palermo airport is not for those who’ve failed a fear of flying course. The runway is bordered by the sea, and the final descent goes something like this: fly along a bit, drop a bit, along a bit, PLUMMET, bump, bump, reverse thrust and breeeeeeathe. It’s the PLUMMET part which feels truly life-threatening, especially as the passenger’s eye view makes you think that you’re going to miss the runway and fall splat into the water below. Even I, who’ve been flying since I was five, found myself white-knuckled and promising all sorts of good acts to the Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael when Monsieur and I flew to Sicily for a New Year’s break.
The adventures which taunt us on every trip commenced immediately. Monsieur goes to fetch rental car. I wait for our bags at the caroussel. Monsieur’s bag appears immediately. Mine does not. After watching an empty caroussel go around and around and around for some time, I finally snap out of denial and go to find out if my suitcase is lost. Luckily, it just ended up on another caroussel from somewhere else in mainland Europe (I think it was Munich, OBviously). Then, all bags retrieved, Monsieur collects me in a cappuccino-coloured Lancia with a temperamental gearbox that switches between automatic and manual at will. And so, stop-start, we set off for Palermo.
Following our Michelin instructions from the airport to the hotel seemed straightforward enough at the start of the drive into Palermo proper, but once we’d left the autostrada, the instructions malfunctioned. Italian traffic can be unpredictable. Sicilian traffic is a bit worse again, added to which the one-way systems and bus lanes and squares and a general lack of geometry to the town planning meant that we were soon lost. Even when we found ourselves NEAR the hotel, we couldn’t reach it because we’d invariably be at the wrong end of one street after another marked Senso Unico (one way). So close and yet so far and very, very hungry.
Having snailed around in circles for a Sicilian age we finally found a successful approach to the Grand Hotel et des Palmes, one of Palermo’s historic hotels, parking in a bay at the front with a tandem sigh of relief. But this is Italy, remember; things are never straightforward.
“You cannot leave your car there,” said the Adonis-like check-in clerk with a frown. Farts. We’d been afraid of that.
“Does the hotel have parking, then?” we asked,
“Oh, yes. The hotel have parking but eet eez not open now. Eet open at 4pm and close at 8pm so eef you want leave car all night, hotel parking eez fine.”
“So where can we park now?” It was barely 2pm. “Can’t we just leave the car at the front until 4pm?”
“Unfortunately, no.” this Adonis could win an Oscar in regretful eye-batting.
“You can leave thee car on thee street, and you pay for thee teeket at thee Tabacchi.” Adonis pulled out a map of the area and started marking tabacconist shops for us. “and for later, here eez thee parking.” A nice, big cross marked the location of the parking building a good 15 minutes walk away. And it had a curfew. If the car wasn’t parked up by 8pm, we were on the street.
The mere theory of arranging parking worked up our already large appetites, but first we had to drop off our things at the room. We followed a greying porter bedecked in a braid-laden uniform, into a lift that was fine for two people but a little cramped with three of us and two suitcases, and up to the second floor. There, my heart sank. The carpet was tatty, the walls were peeling, the naked ends of cables hung in knots in dark ceiling corners. We’d read on Tripadvisor that the hotel was in the process of being refurbished, so I just hoped they hadn’t stuck us in one of the older rooms which had inspired unfavourable reports. Then we rounded a corner and the wallpaper was fresh, the door finishes smooth and creamy, the light fittings bright with polish and the walls hung with attractive antique prints of Sicilian scenes. Relief. Now we could eat.
It was well past 2pm, the time when most Italian eateries stop serving lunch. Meanwhile, from 4am to now Monsieur and I had existed on no more than a small in-flight snack sandwich each and a small pack of crackers. Famished only begins to describe it. Back in the cappuccino-wagon, our first task was to find somewhere to park it until the parcheggio opened at 4pm. Eventually we found a spot near the Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, dangerously close to McDonald’s. In fact, we were so incredibly hungry that Monsieur tried to insist that we grab a burger because all the restaurants had already closed. May I add that the whole time I’ve known Monsieur I’ve never yet seen him eat McDonald’s, so this might indicate just how desperate we were for food. Luckily, instead of chowing down on a universal burger in Italy, home to such incredible food, we found a pasticceria that was open and serving snacks. There we inhaled squares of doughy pizza, mine with potato and pancetta; Monsieur’s with pepperoni, and at long last we felt human again.
There was still space in our stomachs for a cheeky treat on the way out, so we bought two cannoli from the sweet pastry counter. May I admit here with red face that I’d never, ever had one before? I’d seen them, heard people compare them, read about them but I’d never yet tried one. Out came the camera to document this historic occasion, as poor Monsieur groaned with embarrassment and moved away from the mad food photographer, but this is one photo I’m thrilled to have taken. The cannoli shell was crisp and sweet, lined with chocolate and filled with creamy, sweet ricotta. The first mouthful was one hundred per cent Heaven. There and then I began to understand why so many people love that Godfather quote: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Only we’d left the car, instead.