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Sicily 2019

Georgia & Zig

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Wednesday, September 11th: (from Naples to Palermo, Sicily)

At the Naples train station we got into another long queque for the shuttle bus to the airport. I swear, after this trip I’m never standing in line again.

At the airport we argued again as I managed to find a table in a little restaurant but Georgia didn’t want to wait for the glacial service from the waitress with the tell-tale motto on the back of her shirt “Don’t hurry me, I’m making your masterpiece.” I don’t think so. We went through security and found our gate down in the bowels of the airport. A huge, already restive crowd was waiting for our EasyJet to Palermo, Sicily. We sat next to our eventual seatmate from NYC and the friend she was travelilng with. There were 7 friends still hanging out together 8 years after graduating. They had come to Italy for the wedding of one of their group. I suggested she might want to see “Enchanted April.” She said she was a movie buff.

When we got in line to get on the plane one of the reps told us we had to combine everything into two carry-ons. No large handbags. Because of the wheels, Georgia’s wheelie wouldn’t fit in the luggage bin and cost us 60 euros! Next time, we both swore, we would pack even lighter.

Georgia felt bad about costing us an additional 60 euros. I told her I’d forgive her if she’d forgive me for losing my phone and a 5 euro note that fell out of my shirt pocket on Capri.

Picking up the car at the airport left me nervous and anxious again. I wouldn’t want to drive here and Georgia is a more anxious driver than me. She didn’t want to get the GPS addition or the full insurance coverage or have me as a second driver because of the added cost. This all leaves me with a terrible sense of impending disaster. I remember what it was like trying to drive in the outskirts of NYC in 2012 in a rainstorm. I’m so afraid Palermo will be like that but without the rain, but with cars and buses whizzing along the goat-trail roads.

And it was! And we missed our very first significant turn and just spiraled down further and further into the bowels of Sicilian traffic Hell. Our paper route map was useless after missing our turn, and we had no google maps because we had no data roaming. All we could do was wander aimlessly turning at any intersection that looked “promising.” And they always did, but they never were. We both got more and more upset with the near misses, honking horns, and stall-outs at killer intersections. I suggested stopping at a gas station to buy a map and try to use their Wi-Fi to download a turn-by-turn map. The guy behind the coffee bar there was an absolute life saver, got us the downloaded map and much needed encouragement. We set out and tried to follow our cached directions that kept giving error messages. You know how really painful experiences are wiped away by the mind? Well that’s the way our trip to the Baida area is for me. We arrived where google said we needed to be. It was dark. A young man coming out of his house pointed at the gate leading to the convent. We walked over and pressed the bell several times. An exasperated elderly female voice gave us to understand that we were at the wrong place and refused to talk with us anymore.

We crossed the street to another gate beside the church and rang another bell over and over, then saw that the gate was not locked and went in where we found yet another gate where we rang and rang, this time with no response at all. Georgia said we needed to give up and find a hotel. It was now about 8 PM and we’d landed at the airport about 4. We were both slap-happy from exhaustion and driver’s anxiety. I’d seen an advertisement for a 3 star hotel up the hill so we headed that way. Another nerve wracking uphill drive and we pulled in front of the reception office. A reception person met us and asked if we had reservations for a room or for parking. We admitted none. He gave us to understand (very pleasantly) that we were then shit-out-of-luck. He called another place for us and they were completo too, then called another place 30 minutes away that would hold a room for us. And we used their wi-fi to download the google map.

Here a note: The old parts of Italian cities are thousands of years old. What they consider roads (or Vias) is sometimes more like a sidewalk in the United States. And the traffic is always 2-way AND there are always parked cars and vespas, plus pedestrians. It’s as far removed from from the wonderfully well-planned and thought-out traffic system of Zurich, Switzerland as you could imagine.

Not even a quarter of the way to this new hotel and we were trying to make a u-turn on a wide sidewalk with impatient Sicilians blaring their horns at us again.

Georgia came unstrung. “I can’t do this!” “You will have to”, I said. “There’s nothing I can do to help.” “Oh God, oh Saint Tony, please help us!” (Why hadn’t we done this earlier???) We made a sharp right turn back at the 5-way intersection near the uncommunicative convent. In about 100 yards it was clear this “road” was turning into another wide sidewalk/road. “I’m not doing this again,” she said, and started to make another u-turn. We were at a large metal gate. I said, “Well, don’t turn around here. There’s a large parking lot.” So we drove in. Two men were walking to their car. “Excuse me, “Georgia said, “Do you know where _______ Hotel is?” They didn’t. The parking lot served a huge building. “This is a restaurant,” They said. So we started to leave again. “Stop!” I said. “Let’s see if we can ask directions and download a better map.” So we parked and I walked over to this very elegant outside eating area overlooking a magnificent panorama of Palermo.

A man and a woman were eating and the woman jumped up to ask if she could help us. It was now past 9 PM and I was punch drunk. I explained the hell we’d been through and asked if we could log on to their wi-fi to get a better map. When I did she tried to help me understand how we’d get to Hotel _________, that place that was holding a room for us. There was another u-turn involved.

She even took the time to walk me to that large gate to point out exactly which “sidewalk” we were supposed to drive on.

As we were walking back toward Georgia in the car it occurred to me to ask, “Do you have rooms here?” She said “Oh sure.” I said, “Could we stay the night? She said “Oh sure.” By this time Georgia had gotten out of the car and told me to get the suitcases. She wasn’t going to let me mess this up! “Could we stay 3 nights?” “Oh sure.” I thought I was going to cry. “You don’t know what hell we have been through and now this is heaven!” The entranceway and halls were amazing. With exquisite religious art and statuary. It was obviously once a very wealthy monastery.
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The first thing she asked when we went in was “What time do you want breakfast?” I could have cried. Then she led us to the office where she took our passports and we described the misery we had been in trying to find the Convento San Baida. She said, “Yes, we have been expecting you.” I nearly died. In trying to find our way out of Hell, we stumbled onto the Heaven we longed for.

Jenny, in a text, was surprised for us. We knew it was more than remarkable, it was really another miraculous intervention of dear sweet Saint Tony! Both Anthony of Padua, and dear Saint Tony of Athens, Georgia.

Thursday, September 12th: This was a take-it-easy and recuperate day – write in this journal, relax out of the heat in the garden. Buy picnic supplies in the local mercato – (definitely NOT super!) and plan for tomorrow’s adventure to the opera. With the awful experience of yesterday fresh in our minds we knew we were NOT driving in to the theater. That left either taxi or bus. After lots of time on the phone with T-Mobile (and another $50 on our credit card) I think we’ve got the international roaming taken care of (though we won’t know for sure until we try to drive to Agrigento on Sunday).

Anyway we plugged in Massimo Theater in google maps using both the convent’s wi-fi as well as without. SLOW. We only have 2G and the T-Mobile people said that’s not their fault. It’s the local coverage. We catch the 5:34 bus right in the Piazza Convento Baida (one minute walk away) and travel 35 stops toward Piazza John Lennon, walk another minute to the 124 bus stop, then get off at the Massimo Theater. Easy Peasy, I hope.

We shared a nice picnic supper of potato chips, cheese, crusty bread, thin sliced turkey, mayo, wine and Belgian beer. Yum! and less than 20 euros with enough left for tomorrow.

Friday, September 13th: Up early and apprehensive. Vacillating back and forth about the opera. Palermo is just not as tourist friendly as the other European cities we’ve visited. If it weren’t for Google we wouldn’t have a clue how to get to the theater – and if our connection fails, I’m worried we’ll be stranded. In a semi-compromise we decided to bus over to the theater and take a taxi back, no matter the expense.

The Convento has provided breakfast each morning. Sliced ham and prosciutto, cheese, packaged toast, soft croissant-like bread, coffee (with lots of milk) jelly and blood-orange juice. Not elegant, but filling. Like the rooms, no TV but does have A/C. Twin beds, postage stamp sized shower, bidet, and most important anymore, Wi-Fi.

In a way the facilities remind me of the Diocesan accommodations we stayed at in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2014. It’s an attempt to make use of a space that can’t really be sold and minimize the expenses of such an amazingly beautiful white elephant.

I hurt for the church all around the world. Even our little diocese of Lexington, Kentucky has Cliffview Retreat Center that can’t be sold and costs too much to maintain. We need another St Francis to prop up our tottering infrastructure. He didn’t just try to repair a building, of course, he started something entirely new – the Franciscans – and maybe our new St Francis can do the same – energizing the amazing creativity that led to the flowering and re-flowering of the church over the centuries. We’ve been declared dead over and over and yet here we still are.

Maybe the unused buildings could house migrants or drug addicts, or foster children, anywhere the love of God is needed.

Well, it came time to buy our bus tickets, 1.40 euros, each at the tobacco shop. According to Google the bus was scheduled for 4:37. The operative word was “scheduled.” It actually came at 5:37. But other than that, even with it being Friday the 13th, everything else went according to plan. I worried for naught. We caught both buses just fine. One was almost empty and the other was full, but we did have seats and we got to see lots of the REAL Palermo – not the post-card version. It’s even more gritty than Naples and more trashy and graffiti laden but we didn’t see any empty storefronts and there were lots of open-air markets selling everything you could imagine. And people everywhere, living their lives on the sidewalks and in the piazzas. (playing ball, sitting and visiting, arguing, laughing and generally doing all those things Americans do behind closed doors. Here it is all out in the open.)

Before the opera we had champagne punch and gin and tonic on the patio. Lots of elegant ladies and long-sleeved white-shirted men. Another couple, from South Carolina, sat in our little space. In playing the “Where are you from” and “Who do you know” game we discovered that they too went to graduate school at UGA in the Philosophy Department! What a surprise. They were there 4 or 5 years before us but we knew the same professors, Blackstone, Nemetz, Clarke, and Frank Harrison, who is their facebook friend. John and Jeanie Presto. They come to Italy virtually every year and Sicily as often as possible. John’s father emigrated to NY in the 1950’s. They both speak adequate Italian. That always makes me so jealous.

The opera house is enormous, probably the largest in Italy. Six rows of balconies and perfect acoustics. But it needs TLC like just about every other public building in the world. Churches were once the “public buildings” supported by everyone. As religion has become private, support has dwindled, and now with the battle-cry of “no new taxes” public support for opera, the arts, and even schools has waned. “Let those who use it pay for it!” SIGH

The opera, La Traviata, was lovely and our seats were not bad, though we were the back two in a 5 person box perched up on the high chairs trying to see over the people in front and around the corner to the stage. Violetta was amazing! What projection and pitch, and it seems most of her singing was done on the floor or on her sickbed. Wow! Alfredo, the tenor, was weaker. Very little projection except on the highest notes. The bass-baritone, his “father,” was easily as good as the soprano. They had the loudest ovation at the curtain call.
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Speaking of which, there was an act 2, scene 1 and 2 where the curtain closed and the set changed. No one got up and the house lights stayed down, but I thought it was just act 3 with no intermission. At the real end of act 2, the supporting cast all came out for their curtain call and received tepid applause. The house lights came on and lots of people got up to leave. Georgia was miserable from the heat (even with her store-bought fan) and wanted to catch a taxi. Except for the smokers I could tell very few people were actually going outside. We’d missed the third act of Tosca in Florence because the convent closed early. I hated the idea of doing that again, so I persuaded her we needed to stay and see Violetta’s death scene. I’m glad we did, and so was she – the couple in front of us did leave and we were able to see the dramatic last act so much better. And Violetta was magnificent! Even the softest parts of her final arias were clear as a bell. Wish I knew her name. I just know she has a wonderful future ahead of her. The base singer belted out his apology beautifully. Their duets were stunning. The tenor hung on gamely and didn’t embarrass himself. Georgia wept when she died.

Tonight is La Passagiata and the streets were full even at 11:30. But we were just too beat, and walked over to the taxi rank. We asked a drive if he was free. He pointed at another cab and said “he is free.” We asked how much to take us to Piazza Convento Baida. “30 euros for me.” That sounded good to us and we hopped in the back and buckled up for the “Wild Mouse” ride without roller coaster tracks. Oh lord, what a ride! How can there be so many people and cars on the road this late at night? I could see his speedometer and he was hitting 60 or 70 kph on those tiny city streets and slamming on his brakes to stop inches from the car or scooter in front of him, and pulling out to pass those cars who were only going the speed limit staring down oncoming headlights. Lots of hand squeezing and soft whimpering on the way home but we made it. AND collapsed asleep after having just a little snack from the picnic supplies.

Saturday, September 14th: We made arrangements with the lady in the office for a taxi to take us to Monreale Cathedral and back. She called two companies that wanted 55 euros each way. “Too much” she said. “I have a friend who has a friend that drives a taxi.” He said 35 euros each way. We jumped on it. Otherwise, it was an impossible collection of buses, hikes, and metros.

Federico was early and the drive was unbelievably calm. He was a nice young man and it was a brand new van taxi. Maybe that was why he was less aggressive. Whatever. It was a pleasure. He dropped us off right at the taxi stand in front of the cathedral.

Magnificent! And beautifully maintained, but then funded by tourists, “the ones who use it.” We told the guard we were coming for the Mass but wanted to sightsee first. He waved us right through. The stained glass was mediocre but the mosaics were spectacular.

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The Pantocrator of Jesus in the apse is very similar to the one at Sacre Coeur in Paris. I think this one is much older, but I’m not positive.

We paid for the rooftop tour and walked up relatively easy stairs with exhibits at each level. Met several people coming back down who must have failed at some point. There were plenty of opportunities for fear to kick in with various catwalks between towers and tunnels along the clerstory. The perfect opportunity for acrophobia, agoraphobia and claustrophobia all on the same tour!

We sat at a little bar on the piazza and had drinks and a little snack. Then went for a walk to get cash from the bancomat. As long as we stay under our daily limit, there doesn’t seem to be any problem. 300 – 350 euros at a time seems to be the magic number.

Went back for Mass. There was a charming baptism as well. A little baby surrounded by her family was being ushered into the Kingdom of God. She hollered when the water hit her head. Maybe it was a joyful shout as she glimpsed all her new brothers and sisters. There were maybe 100 in the congregation. They couldn’t hope to support this building with our meager offering.

Federico was a good as his word and was waiting for us as we left Mass. This time Georgia didn’t fall backwards trying to get in the high cab, so that was good, but then I didn’t get the chance to catch her by the bum, and that was a disappointment.

He dropped us off in the parking lot behind the Convento. We saw the veranda set up for a spectacular meal. The Maître d’ looked like an ex-boxer. Cauliflower ears and no front teeth, and He told me it was “solo notazione”. Only by invitation. I’m pretty sure we didn’t get an invitation and I’m not sure I want to crash a huge party with bouncers for waiters.

We had cheese and crackers in the room and so off to bed with visions of Godfathers dancing in my head.

Sunday, September 15th: Up early, quick coffee then on the road for Agrigento. Really nervous about driving Palermo streets again but it was a piece of cake. Google maps worked perfectly after we ignored its initial instructions in the rabbit warren and followed Federico’s instructions from yesterday instead. When maps caught up with us on the main roads we were set. Sicilian roads and bridges are crumbling and the highways are often spoiled with litter and the “pull offs” seem to be used as landfills.

There is also a pall of smoke and smog everywhere. You can never see the distant mountains even though you know they are there. Depressing. Especially as I realize how much Trump wants to gut our own EPA. It sure seems like he wants us to become a third world country ruled by strongmen for the benefit of the Mafioso “business men” who care nothing for the greater good and only their own interest.

Things went perfect on the 100 km drive. Stopped at an Esso service area for a bathroom break and a snack. Tried to order 2 coffees and 2 pastries. Suddenly blanked completely on the word “croissants” and told the clerk “due café lattes y due biglietti creama” (two cream tickets). He hardly even smirked.

Google maps went completely haywire in Agrigento and sent us round and round tiny little streets and even down a street that had only 2 exits, both being steep stairs. Poor Georgia was about in tears trying to do a u turn on a “road” that was little more than a sidewalk.

We finally just parked and took off walking in search of the Monastero Santo Spirito. It was in the middle of the rabbit warren. In its parking lot we met a man who knew the sisters and was so kind and friendly we asked if he would help Georgia get the car to the parking lot. He walked with her back up the hill to where we’d parked near the cathedral, then drove it around the city and brought it in by a secret passage. We would never have found it, but Google wouldn’t either. But it did suggest an excellent restaurant where we shared a plate of clams and mussels and a plate of spaghetti with champignons and shrimp. Had a nice “gin lemon” and a glass of wine and our spirits began to revive. Some gelato on our walk back and we were right as rain.

Monday, September 16th: Up early again for package toast (like melba toast) and paper thin slices of meat, coffee like liquid mud and jars of honey and preserves that went “out of date” in the last century. No wonder the sisters stay thin.

On our way to the Valley of the Temples today. The Trojans settled in Sicily in 700 BC then a faction broke off in 580 BC and founded the city of Akragas. In a war with the Carthaginians they took 30,000 prisoners and used them as slave labor to build a series of temples on a hilltop to honor Zeus, Hera, Herakles, Diana, etc. The remains are stunning.

We took the city bus and I alerted the driver to let us off too soon. We ended up having to walk several hundred yards along the busy narrow highway to the real entrance.

The audio guide was a big help in understanding the piles of huge stones in front of us. Over the centuries wars and squabbles with the neighboring cities of Syracuse and Carthage led to destruction and rebuilding and more destruction.
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The scale of the place was humbling, at its peak there were 200,000 people there, but the heat was beating us down. We had a sandwich and a granita and tried to skip from one shady spot to another. We visited the gardens down below the temple mount in an ancient stream bed where there was still a trickle. But it was miserably hot everywhere and it looked to me like lots of the smaller trees were dying. If they do, I can’t see how people will be able to endure visiting.

We tried to catch the bus back to Agrigento, but it was now siesta and there wouldn’t be a bus for another hour. We took a 15 euro taxi and it was worth it. We wandered from bar to bar looking for one with a breeze. Sparkling wine, gin lemon with a shady breeze and we started to recover.

Back in the room while undressing for a much needed shower I sat on the toilet seat lid and managed to shatter it. I wasn’t hurt, except for my pride, and confessed to Sister who called Mother Superior who said it would cost 45 euros to fix. I was happy to get off that light. Sister said “You are a good man; others ‘pfft!” and indicated people who just leave without saying anything.

Took some pictures inside their church. The crucifix is mounted on the wall and surrounded by 36 square niches containing bones. She said they are relics. I wondered if they might be local people who wanted to be interred in the local church, near “family” so to speak.

I moved the car in the parking area so we could get out more easily in the morning before the double parking cars arrived at the postage stamp parking lot.

Tuesday, September 17th: The car was blocked anyway and I had to do some maneuvering to set it free.

Sister Maria Gabriella joined us for breakfast this morning. She brought us the convent’s own almond-paste candies. I can’t eat them, they are sickeningly sweet.

She was sort of “down” this morning. I think their primary mission now is caring for other elderly nuns. A nursing home. She said the church was full at Easter and Christmas but empty the rest of the year. “Money is not the problem. Priest is not the problem. No people is the problem.” On that sad note I told her I would pray for her. “Please pray for me,” I said. She smiled. “I will.”

We followed the directions we’d been given to get out of the immediate rabbit-warren of streets and stairs and sidewalks and when we got to a main road (about the size of a country lane) we let Google maps take charge.

Out on the road away from town more trash everywhere. “Pull offs” full of bags of garbage. Roads and bridges crumbling. But for me the most depressing sight was the constant smog that obscures everything in the distance. Not being able to see the mountains in a mountainous country is just wrong! Lots of the roadsides are burned whether on purpose or from thrown cigarettes I don’t know. Also dying trees. Yuck.

The only hopeful sign I saw was a few miles of tree farms planted near Agrigento. Patches of hardwoods next to patches of evergreens. Maybe it will catch on. I hope so. Sicily is in real danger of desertification.

As we approached the more wealthy eastern coast of Sicily, the roads improved noticeably and the amount of trash declined. The eastern part must be the tourist area and where they put their infrastructure money.

The drive to Syracusa was uneventful. We stopped at another Esso for a midtrip snack but it wasn’t nearly as nice as the one on the way to Agrigento.

But Syracusa, at least where we are driving, has much larger roads. Missed our turn and had to circle the large block around the Basilica of the Madonna of the Tears (Basilica Santuario Madonna Delle Lacrime) again. Just parked and walked over. We got directions to the Hostel for Peregrinos. (Casa dei Pellegrino) The desk clerk told us a pizza place for lunch and asked us to come back at 2. Lunch was O.K. and we visited the basilica too. It’s huge and mostly finished, but lacking about ½ of the stained glass. It seems to be laminated glass and acid-etched flash glass. It’s too pastel for my taste.
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The crypt is dark and creepy with a Jesus Mannequin laid out on a pseudo rock.

Georgia had me drive over to the Hostel and since it was after 2, the siesta time had calmed everything down.

Our room had four single beds, two of them pushed together and made up as one. A little TV with a “box” and two incomprehensible remotes. But that’s O.K. Italian TV is incomprehensible anyway. There is a bus stop close by and lots of restaurants. We will be O.K.

We went over to the Basilica Santuario Madonna Delle Lacrime took pictures and waited for Mass. There were 6 concelebrating priests, but no deacons. The main priest was small and balding and shuffled. But his voice was clear. Mass was held in the Eucharistic chapel where the reserved host was kept. There were a handful of people scattered throughout the cavernous sanctuary and 35 or 40 people in the pews by the chapel.

A homeless man sat in front of us. His face and hands were lined and grimy. He carried a dirty white disposable shopping bag and a white cane. He would occasionally groan during the rosary and the elderly woman who led us would scowl over at him. It looked like they knew each other. He took two small coins out of the depths of his bag for the collection. “The widow’s mite,” I thought.

During the passing of the peace I noticed his handshake was firm and his voice strong. But he shuffled too as he went up for communion.

The priest had a small shot-glass like chalice in the center of the paten. He dipped the host as he offered it to us.

After Mass the homeless man shuffled over to a bas-relief reproduction of the Shroud of Turin. The man wept and cried and bent over, poured out his heart, and lavished kisses on the battered face on the shroud. One battered man to another.

Wednesday, September 18th: Up about 6:30 to fetch coffee from the breakfast room. Wonderful coffee machine with all kinds from espresso to cappuccino.

We caught the local bus and headed to the Cathedral, located in old Syracuse on the Island of Ortigia. It has some nice clerestory windows of saints. Bright colors and bold rendering; they look down on the hordes of tourists marching around snapping pictures. I wonder what they think. “I suffered and died for this? So tourists could have photo ops before lunch?”

The Church of Santa Lucia opens on the same piazza and it has a Caravaggio painting of the burial of St Lucy. They were adamant against taking any pictures, but unlike the Cathedral they don’t charge admission and do still need income from the tourist hordes. They did turn the light on briefly so people could actually see the painting. It is magnificent! Saw that there is another Caravaggio of St Andrea on loan in yet another building on the piazza. We’ll need to come see it too, but first we need to find somewhere to eat.

The fountain of Arethusa Spring looks like a beautiful clear, perfectly round fish pond with swirling water, dark fish and a couple of ducks, one white and one dark. It’s about 20 feet below street level. There’s an upper and a lower seaside promenade lined with restaurants and restauranteurs trying to lure in passersby, but it was just too darned hot! We headed inland where the buildings, at least, offered some shade. Saw an art museum featuring medieval art but didn’t stop. Saw more bars, pubs and restaurants but there wasn’t a breath of fresh air so we passed them up too. Went further and further out toward the finger of land where the Castel Maniaci is located. Finally there was a breeze and there was a bar/restaurant with tables under flapping canopies, Maniace Ortigia.
We took a seat and got menus pretty quick, but came within an inch of walking out. I finally waved my arms at the single waitress to attract her over. She was being run ragged.

I enjoyed the Caprese in Agrigento so much I ordered Caprese salad with fresh mozzarella and a beer. Georgia got sparkling wine and “Back to the Future,” eggplant parmesan. And they brought a basket of bread. Oh my goodness, we were so glad we didn’t leave! The food came quickly after we were able to order and both dishes were amazing. The eggplant was supposed to be a modern take on a classic Sicilian dish. Georgia loved it but I’m not that fond of classic eggplant parmesan let alone a new take. The caprese, though, Heavenly. Simple and heavenly with lots of perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes split in half and dressed in a very olive-oily pesto with a huge blob of fresh mozzarella plopped on top. With the bread it was like “make your own amazing bruschetta!” The beer was O.K. Hard to have a bad beer. We then walked on around the island looking at the water.
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We saw a couple of rocky beaches with quite a few people limping into and out of the crystal clear, blue-green water.
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We finally made our way back to the Cathedral piazza. An accordion virtuoso was playing beautifully but, I swear, his bored little puppy was garnering more attention and coins.

Caught the hop on, hop off bus again at the fountain and rode back to the Sanctuario bus stop again for a little rest before Mass. The heat just saps your strength. I took a second shower too.

Mass was lovely again with 4 priests and a deacon helping the main celebrant up and down the steps of the altar. He wasn’t much younger himself, but more agile. The homeless man was there again grunting as if in pain during the rosary and early parts of the Mass liturgy. The deacon read the gospel, but didn’t give the homily. But he was the only one serving us communion – again by intinction.

Then we saw that the St Lucy side chapel had a full size reproduction of the Caravaggio that we could photograph to our hearts’ content!
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We tried to watch some Italian TV, but gave up. So much is dubbed in American reruns.

Thursday, September 19th: Up early to try to beat the crowds to the Archaeological Museum across the street from the basilica. It was stunning. I had no idea there would be so much on display, and of such quality. The Greek and Roman collections in US museums look pitiful, as I guess I should have expected. I remember the Museum on the Acropolis, after all. And in many ways Syracuse was the largest rival to Athens. Anyway, there were a million rooms, dozens of large tours led by umbrella waving shrews trying mightily to keep there charges on task. I can’t imagine either being in such a group or leading such a group. The Ian Rankin book tour we took in Edinburgh and the Morse tour in Oxford were as large as ever I could manage – and they weren’t in competition with dozens of other tour groups.

Outside the museum was a 60 foot rubber tree. The largest I’ve ever seen. I remember our poor little potted rubber tree in San Antonio. I think it was our first child in Starkville, Mississippi. A stray cat ate off the top and we didn’t know if it would live. It did! For many years. But it would hang its head in shame upon seeing this behemoth in Syracuse.

We enjoyed a nice lunch of meatballs and rice for me and swordfish and greens for Georgia at a local “Cantina.” Then grabbed the one euro electric bus for a trip back to Ortigia to see the Caravaggio on loan to a private museum here. Heard some people complain about there being only 3 paintings. But good grief! One of them was a flippin masterpiece!
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We went to supper at a little Mom & Daughter place around the corner. Absolutely delicious bruschetta, 6 pieces: 2 tomato and olive oil, 2 ricotta and parma ham, and 2 with caprese on melted provolone; and a grape flavored beer. Then lemon sorbet with vodka and mosquitoes. Rain roared up and we had to move indoors with the mosquitoes to keep from getting blown away.

We went to a concert in the cathedral given by the Dore village men’s chorus from Sheffield, England. They were 40 amateurs, but quite good with one good soloist and one earnest one. Their pitch slipped a few times but they started and ended together and the blend was good. I think the two soloists and the piano player were the only ones under 40. It reminded me of Brassed Off. I hope they can recruit a lot of younger men soon. I’m afraid their numbers will drop off quickly.

It bucketed rain during the concert but was completely gone by the time the concert was over. It was amazing how the plastic poncho and umbrella salesmen suddenly appeared and then disappeared.

We went looking for the electric bus but it had quit running. We stopped at a restaurant and had them call for a taxi. 12 euros, but we didn’t have to walk home.

Friday, September 20th: We got up late, had a large breakfast with several cups of coffee and met Robert from London. Then we headed to the Parc Archaeological. Robert said that he had been disappointed in how the weeds were taking over at the Roman arena. It’s true. It doesn’t seem to be cared for at all. The more popular Greek features, like the theater and the quarry, are a different matter. The fences were showing wear and tear and many of the paths were blocked off, but that could be a safety concern. The crowds were wall to wall in the most popular sites. Bus loads of teenagers on school trips seemed much more interested in each other than in their surroundings.
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Had a little respite in a coffee shop in the park where they had stracciatella gelato! Then back into the fray and tried to find an Archimedes park that turned out to be a private concern off the grounds and not worth the walk. We made our way back to Bar Leonardo and had another little bite to eat. We shared pasta with tuna and pesto and a cold vegetable salad of potatoes, corn, tomato and greenbeans dressed with a little olive oil. It was very good. Georgia had a prosecco to revive her spirits and I had the best (and strongest) gin-lemon I’ve had.

The weather was threatening rain again. The thunder rumbles and rumbles here in a way that I’ve never heard in the states. Maybe it’s all the mountain sides and echoes. We took refuge in the room, then during a lull headed over to the Sanctuario Lacrime to check out the gift shop.

The idea of a church built around a weeping porcelain plaque leaves me uncomfortable. People need hope even in the most desperate circumstances, but a miraculous weeping porcelain plaque is too suspicious. I’m glad it brings some people comfort, but me, it just makes uncomfortable. For nonbelievers, perhaps that’s the effect of all Christianity or any form of religious faith – it’s all just too unbelievable and embarrassing.

My religious faith is more akin to the “willing suspension of disbelief.” I accept my own intellectual limitations and those of humanity in general. And I see that “Truth”, “Beauty” and “Goodness” are all beyond our intellectual grasp. That means accepting them and receiving them, rather than grasping them through reason. Reason is ordered toward means and ends. “Insight” is not. That is a gift from somewhere or someone else – Perhaps “God” is the appropriate word. Was it Buber who said there is “I” but there is also a “Thou” far beyond me.

We went back to our first pizza parlor and the rain hit again. It was like crashing a family reunion. The owner and all her relatives were there eating ice cream, drinking and most of all, smoking. We waited for the rain to slacken, then went back to the Basilica to wait for Mass, which was lovely, peaceful and calm.

Then back to the room for an early night.

Saturday, September 21st: Robert said he got soaked again yesterday. He told me about an English expat artist, Elizabeth Atkinson, in old town who could tell me where to go to get art supplies. We found her and she gave us directions to the art supply store. Got there 5 minutes before siesta and bought water colors, inks, paper, pencil, sharpener and water brushes (which I’ve never used before). It’ll be fun to try them out.

Ate lunch at an outdoor grill next to a German couple from Stuttgart. We ordered too much food and they got a kick out of me trying to fob off some beer, wine, olives and cheese on them.

Then another walk around. We saw a poster for a statuary exhibit “from Rodin to Giacometti.” Had to see them! One of the Giacometties was very typical but the other was silky smooth. I’ve not seen one like that before. The Rodin was small but exquisite and there was a small Henry Moore piece and a pitcher by Picasso. Definitely worth a visit.
( I will try to post more photos in a gallery here in Sloweurope since I am not able to post as many as I would like to in this trip report.)
Georgia went to the bus stop and I tried to walk back to the Casa. I was sure that the taxi driver had padded our bill by turning right after leaving the island, so I kept going straight. I ended up on the wrong side of the railroad tracks and had to walk all the way to the Parc Archaeological before I could cross the tracks and get back to our neighborhood. Another famous Zeigler shortcut. Should have trusted the taxi driver.

Mass tonight at 7, then shower and pack for tomorrow’s trip to an Agriturismo. The Mass in the Basilica Santuario Madonna Delle Lacrime was in the main sanctuary with maybe 100 people. That church will now and forevermore be my ideal of bad acoustics. Imagine sitting inside the upturned bell of an enormous trumpet. They must have patterned this on the Ear of Dionysus at the quarry in the Parc. There was a 4 second reverberation. Everything after the first word of each paragraph was completely unintelligible. Didn’t anybody think about what it was going to sound like inside the bell of a gigantic concrete trumpet? Awful! It’s no wonder they haven’t worked on it anymore. It would be pouring good money after bad.

Sunday, September 22nd: We left right after breakfast. The little car had been waiting patiently for us and sprang into life. The drive was uneventful. Stopped at a service area and had the attendants fill up the car for us. They washed the windows and all. 1.82 euros per liter and the final bill was 55 euros. Wow! Another reason to have a Vespa or a small car. But it was the full service pump; the self serve one cost 30 cents cheaper.

It was about an hour and something drive to Fiume Freddo, cold river, the little village near the agriturisomo, Feudogrande. We stopped at a Lidl grocery store for some provisions. We still arrived early at Feudogrande and were greeted by an elderly man pottering around in the beautiful garden dead-heading the roses. I thought he was the owner but learned later that he was a retired chef. I asked him about Mount Etna and he pointed at a bank of clouds behind the main house. A thin and intense woman – about 50 – greeted us and recognized “Sono Zeiglers” and “prenotazione” (reservation). She got our keys and let us in our room without even checking our passports. The room was palatial with a large bathroom and shower, a small anteroom for luggage, big bed, small refrigerator, TV and a huge, half covered patio, with a perfect view of Etna, or at least the cloud/smoke bank covering it.

The owners were setting up a large garden party, for a two year old’s birthday. The big gift was a small bicycle. There is a nice little playground here and the kids will have a good time getting dirty. The grandfather of the group was happy to tell me that his name was Francesco and I was happy to tell him that was my name (in Italian) too. The owner/chef, Giusseppe, was busy scurrying around getting ready. He was of medium height and build with a slight pot belly (never trust a skinny chef) with a blue bandanna holding his hair, much more appropriate than the little blue shower caps that chefs wear in the USA. We headed to our room for siesta. Supper is at 7:30.

After a brief nap I decided to break out my brand spanking new and improved painting set. A lime tree next to our patio has some sort of pumpkin or squash plant growing all over it. There are lots of different greens and orange tiles with a lovely gray/brown stone wall beneath.

Supper was stupendous! Unfortunately we forgot that Sunday supper is three courses plus dessert. I tried to eat all my squash and parma ham casserole and rice balls, bread, beer and little flat strips of zucchini rolled up with a meat and cheese filling. A nice light supper I thought. Then came secundi, a huge plate of hollow pasta tubes with a tomato and meat sauce. Oh, groan! That’s why there was a second fork! But dear Lord, why would there be a third fork?!

We did the best we could stuffing down about a third of the pasta and apologizing as he brought out the third: thin hammered steak cooked with flavored olive oil and served with green beans. We did what we could but it was all too much. Any one of the 3 courses would have been enough for both of us!

And the dessert! A clear lime, soft gelatin that tasted like key lime pie without the crust or the cream. He asked if we wanted coffee or liquor. I couldn’t speak. We waddled to bed.

Monday, September 23rd: Up this morning and nervous about the drive up to Etna. It looks like a very long and winding road up to the parking lot. The French couple from Geneva at the table next to ours last night told us that the road was wide and easy and there was a huge parking lot. So we googled the map and took off. It was just as they described. About an hour’s drive – half on highway and half on a mountain road where we often met ourselves coming back the other way.

Six euros to park, 60 euros for the cable car ride. For another 55 euros we could be driven close to the rim. I balked. I think the cable car got us close enough to this moonscape.

A steady cloud of steam was coming up from the crater and several of the vents, and every once in a while there would be a belch of rusty brown smoke combined with the mountain’s tummy rumble.

The thin lady at the agriturismo was also our waitress this morning and I asked her if she was nervous living so close to Etna. I mentioned Pompeii. She laughed and said, “Tranquillo, tranquillo.” I think she might have meant that we should be tranquil though she might have meant that she was, or the volcano is. Whatever. I suspect the people in Pompeii were “tranquillo” too, until the moment they weren’t.

Volcanoes are devastating. We saw one little front-yard sized patch of grass on the mountain side surrounded in all directions with coal black pumice and basalt, from grains of sand to huge boulders. Apparently lifeless but for weeds in the hard scrabble battle for life. From the 20 minute cable car ride up we saw lots of people trying to walk all the way up. Most were bent over holding their knees and gasping for breath.

I’m glad we got the tickets. With six of us in the car, that’s 180 euros per car and thousands of cable rides each day! What a crush of people there were trying to buy tickets from 3 different ticket windows plus bus-loads of tourists with tickets already in hand. A multi-million dollar mad-house.

In the café at the end of the ride we sat with an elderly couple (probably our age) from just outside Leeds in Yorkshire. They were so nice. We both remarked on how nice people are on holiday. Both the hosts and the travelers. I think there is something about the vulnerability of traveling that brings out the kindness in the “hosts.”

But then, the huge Russian, with his wife and daughter who shared our cable car up was challenged by a tiny angry German standing behind him at the ticket office who dressed him down in English. “Stop pushing! You hear? Stop pushing!” I’m not sure the Russian meant to push but the speaker hole was just about at his waist and he had to bend way over to reach it.

English is clearly the lingua franca any more, even when I’m not sure people understand what they are saying. Like the 2 boys I saw wearing “Just fuck it” t-shirts with their parents’ apparent approval.

And walking a little way up the mountain from the cable car I heard another eastern European couple arguing vociferously about continuing the climb I: “You vant to stay here? Go on? Fine, yust don’t rock my boat!” the guy said.

Me, I was ready to go back. I could already feel what the pumice dust was doing to my throat. I can’t believe that the drivers of those giant dinosaur-sized trucks don’t wear respirators, or at least dust masks. Black lung disease is in their future I’m afraid.

The ride back down was more fun with an Australian couple and a man from Quebec whose accent I mistook for Swiss. He said he’d had to leave his wife down below with a bum hip. I told him to tell her he’d not taken any pictures. “You’ll have to go up yourself if you want to see what it looks like.” He said he couldn’t. For what it cost to get there he wanted to at least have a few pictures to show. It was an instant fun group of world travelers.

The drive down was even easier because we stuck to the back of a tour bus who cleared the way for us.

I worked on the painting some more and hoped that tonight’s supper would be smaller than last night’s.
It was, thank goodness, with only antipasta of shaved cured beef, delicious bread and little cherry tomatoes dressed with flavored olive oil. The pasta dish was little sea-shell pasta, potatoes, bits of squash in a delicious chicken broth with bits of tomato. The dessert was some of the left over birthday cake, I believe: 2 thin layers separated by a custard filling and soaked in a flavored sugar syrup and topped with whipped cream. Oh my goodness. We’re not going to lose weight on this trip!

To be continued: See Sicily, part II
 

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ncp

10+ Posts
Yes, don’t stop there, keep going! I’ve been planning a trip for us for the fall, which is now more likely next fall, but still, following your every move. Thanks.
 

Georgia & Zig

10+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Monday, September 23rd continued: I worked on my painting some more and hoped that tonight’s supper would be smaller than last night’s.

It was, thank goodness, with only antipasta of shaved cured beef, delicious bread and little cherry tomatoes dressed with flavored olive oil. The pasta dish was little sea-shell pasta, potatoes, bits of squash in a delicious chicken broth with bits of tomato. The dessert was some of the left over birthday cake, I believe: 2 thin layers separated by a custard filling and soaked in a flavored sugar syrup and topped with whipped cream. Oh my goodness. We’re not going to lose weight on this trip!
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Tuesday, September 24th: Another wonderful breakfast of coffee, yoghurt, melons and pineapple chunks, fresh croissants, nuts and seeds, toast and jam. Then sitting outside we watched the little swifts flying bombing- and strafing-runs catching flies and mosquitoes. It was very peaceful with jets of steam rising from Etna and occasional little brown farts of gas. The sound was like a very distant rifle shot.

I walked all around the grounds and took pictures and painted some oleander blossoms. Generally just spent the day pretending we were the lord and lady of the manor.
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Walked to the neighborhood bar (dodging traffic on the narrow road. Three generations of ladies were in charge of the bar. Grandmother, wife of the man who started it, her daughter, current owner and her daughter running the place. Nice pastry and fun watching locals come and go in their daily routine. Walked back “home.”

Supper was wonderful again as usual. Pasta, then weinerschnitzel and chocolate chip ice cream for dessert. Back in the room we had our own little mosquito-patrol lizard on the bedroom wall.

Wednesday, September 25th: This is our last real day on “vacation” with tomorrow’s trip back to Naples to catch our flight home through Paris on Friday.

Asked how to get to Taoromina. Our bouncy tigger of a waitress told us to be “tranquilllo;” there’s a bus leaving from the town center that takes you all the way to the town center at the top of the cliff, unlike the train that leaves you at the water’s edge. Walking toward the town-center Google was of limited help and we got lost in the narrow streets of Fiumefreddo. A mechanic pointed us in the right direction. An oriental Italian directed us around the corner and an elderly voluble Italian chatted our ears off as he led us by the hand to the buda fermata. The bus wasn’t due for 40 minutes. We toured the local church on the piazza, sat on the curb near the morning liars club and generally enjoyed watching Italian village life. The backing and filling to get into and out of tiny little parking spaces in tiny little cars. The greeting and kissing of virtually everyone you meet. Admiring of babies in their carriages. A world like ours, and yet so very different. And a world that is fading, even in Italy. In driving across Sicily we saw many signs to many virtual ghost towns. The life is too hard, the pay is too small and there’s not enough excitement (read other young people) so the towns become elder hostels and then when Grandma and Grandpa can’t care for themselves anymore they get moved to the big cities (against their wills).

That is one reason everyone is placing hope in the agriturismos. They provide a few jobs for locals, like our housekeeper/waitress, and subsidize the struggling family farms. Ours grows lemons, limes and enough squash, eggplant and such for the kitchen. And some people, at least, get to sit out on the veranda and enjoy the swifts chasing flies and mosquitoes.

The bus came, right on time. It was a small 12 or 15 seater with a few Russian tourists heading for the beaches at Naxos and a handful of people heading to Taoromina to sightsee, but also locals commuting to or from home or work. The driver obviously knew many of the passengers and carried on lengthy conver-arguments – the normal semi belligerent style of Sicilian conversation. Lots of hand motions and ejaculations of incredulity at various statements. I wish I was fluent, or even competent in Italian – or French, for that matter.

The drive to Taoromina Giardini, which is what they call the beachfront, was easy except for the occasional heart-stopping conviction that we were going to collide with that bus, or car, or tow truck, or vespa, or pedestrian. And the driver seemingly oblivious to our imminent death continues the argu-versation undeterred, while missing the rows of parked cars by millimeters.

But then we start to climb to the upper town. It’s like Ravello all over again with hairpin turns and other buses coming down so close the drivers can slap palms, and do sometimes roll down their windows and chat, and all the while the crystal blue sea out the window gets farther and farther away. The locals are bored. How can anyone live amid such beauty and be bored? Do we really take quotidian beauty for granted? Maybe that’s another benefit of travel – to help us appreciate our own humble beauty.

At the top we parked in the bus “station” about 500 yards from the town gates. It was a gauntlet of tacky tourist trinkets. Many plaques, refrigerator magnets, and cutsey aprons (like the Godfather or the physique of Venus de Milo, and the David). I was tempted to buy one but managed to resist.

The streets were full of photo-oping tourists though not as many as we’d seen in Ravello or Capri. Our taxi driver was right – the end of September is much more pleasant for seeing the beautiful sights.

We had a nice thin-crust pizza at an out of the way restaurant called “Q” though the finish was somewhat spoiled by a noisy group dominated by a woman intent on having everyone understand the full misery of having her skin cancer treated. Ugh! But my gin/limone cushioned the blow.

We stopped at another place for some nice gelato. Georgia was thrilled to find the rum-raisin she’d enjoyed so much and the waitress rewarded her enthusiasm with twice as much rum-raisin as my pitiful helping of orange. Enthusiasm gets rewarded! I think we saw all the sights there were to see, including the large crèche it took 3 years to complete and the spectacular views of Naxos and the ocean below from the cliffside.
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The Cathedral and other smaller churches each had their own charm but mediocre stained glass, if they had any at all. We passed on the Museum of Sicilian Carts. I thought it might just be a variant of “Art museum”, but no, it was a museum of Sicilian carts, as in what carried local produce and people. Maybe next time…

We headed back to the bus station early to wait for our Buda bus to arrive. It was due at 4 PM. At 3:50 it still hadn’t arrived but we saw a small gaggle of others who’d traveled with us so we weren’t worried. At 3:58 we realized that they had disappeared and we went looking for them, then saw that the very first bus, right by where we were sitting was a Buda bus, larger than the one we’d come up on.

I asked “A Fiumefreddo?” and he said “Si.” I showed him our andante e retourno sheet of paper and he asked (in Italian) where we wanted to be dropped off “a centro?” I said “Si” that would be fine. It was now 3:59 and at the stroke of 4:00 he closed the door and we were off down a goat path in a two ton bus. That wouldn’t have been a problem except for the other cars and 2-ton buses coming up the goat path. At the switchbacks there were a lot of back and fill, and jerking forward almost hitting the inadequate walls keeping us from hurtling into that crystal blue sea hundreds of feet below us. Beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

As we neared Fiumefreddo it occurred to me that the driver might be able to let us off closer to our agriturismo than the center of town. “We are staying at Feudogrande,” I said. He looked uncomprehending, then his eyes lit up. “Agriturismo?” he said. “Si.” “Oh si,” he exclaimed “Giuseppe!” “Yes, Giuseppe!” “Wonderful chef,” I said. “Bellisimo cochina.” We agreed that he was a wonderful chef and the grounds were spectacular. One of the joys of staying in a small town. He dropped us a good kilometer closer to the place than he might normally have. I got the idea too, because he was dropping other people off at their house, if it was on the route. “A su casa?” “Si.” How very civilized. Wish they took that kind of pride in keeping their streets clean and litter free, and their buildings painted. Maybe they feel it would be taking someone else’s job. Like the taxis that invariably referred us to the cab first in line.

We paid our final bill afer another wonderful meal with a quarter of a ripe pineapple for dessert. Then asked if we could have an early breakfast – 8 AM instead of our normal 9 AM. No problem. We packed everything up except toiletries and got to bed early. Set the alarm for 3 AM. The best way to avoid crises is to always be early to allow for crises. Our flight leaves from Catania at 11:30. It’s supposed to be a 45 minute to 1 hour drive from the agriturismo.

Thursday, September 26th: The couple at the other table are flying back this morning too. We both arrive for breakfast at about 7:45. The lights are out but our zippy waitress ia already there and flustered because she doesn’t have everything perfect yet. But she has coffee and yogurt and fruit salad and nuts and granola, and the croissants arrive shortly. Heaven!

It’s a lighter breakfast for us than usual but I’m a nervous passenger and this could be a hard drive. Google shows a red area as we get close to the airport with construction stoppages.

All our bags are packed and we’re ready to go. We say goodbye to the table mates and wish them a safe trip. I carry bags to the car while Georgia hugs Zippy goodbye, and we’re off. The stoppage was construction delays but we had allowed so much time I wasn’t worried.

We filled up the tank at another “full serve” station. I’m not comfortable with their pumps and paying system. Cash to the attendant works best for me.

Everything went fine till we couldn’t find where to turn in the Hertz car. Why must you hide a car return? Hoping we’d rack up another day? Or what? After circling twice and stopping once at a fork in the road to actually ask someone for directions, we got the car back. No scratches, dents, or nicks. My sweetie did great, even if she didn’t drive the way I would have. Maybe she did great BECAUSE she didn’t drive the way I would have.

No particular problem getting through check in, security, or boarding, though we might have been a little too relaxed. We didn’t get up and get in line until they were in final boarding.

Georgia took some nice pictures of Etna and the coastline out the plane window.
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I hope we don’t read someday about Etna exploding and wiping out this little town of “cold river” Italy, Fiumefreddo di Sicilia.

Flying over Naples we were struck again by just how huge it is. Inland area it looks as big as Dallas, Texas, but much more densely populated.
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Our hotel, Millenium Gold, was only a 10 minute walk away though definitely not through a scenic area. But the room was nice – old-style motel nice, but nice. And the bar served gin and tonic and sparkling wine so we were good.

Supper of caprese and fried seafood assortment. The caprese was just a large tomato cut in slices and covered with a slice of mozzarella and dusted with oregano. If all the different chefs pride themselves on their own individual take on Caprese, this chef is particularly lazy. But it was O.K. and the fried squid and shrimp were good. All together we went to bed fat and happy after setting the alarm for 3 AM for our 6 AM flight to Paris.

Friday, September 27th: Woke up early. Nervous, probably. Brushed our teeth, washed our faces and then out the door. Dropped off the room key and the air conditioner remote control at the front desk then took our 10 minute spooky walk to the airport to begin our marathon. There was already a long line at check in and two clerks sleep walking their way through a few would-be travelers. The front of the line moved at the speed of a glacier, while the back end was growing robustly. You would think that pressure would speed up the line. But no. Not until 4:15 or 4:30, when reinforcements arrived did there seem to be any movement in front of us. And finally we were through and scurrying toward security which passed us through pretty quickly. Then we encountered another long line and a closed hallway that wasn’t going to open until 5 AM, one hour before our flight, which was the first flight of the day. At 5 the dam burst and the first thing we encountered was a bakery. We needed coffee and an apple croissant even if we had to walk to Paris.

Both were yummy and worth waiting for from the arguing clerks. I have no idea what they were arguing about but they were giving each other the dickens about something and ignoring customers as a troublesome distraction from their main task, which was gesturing at each other and sniping.

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Waiting at the gate in Paris (once we actually found it and struggled through customs and security) we missed our particular line but did manage to get on board our flying cruise ship. I have no idea how many were actually on board but I have a feeling it was most of the people who live in the states of Wisconsin, Iowa, and several other Midwestern states. The man sitting right in front of me was about the height of a sequoia and could not sit still. He would pop up straight then suddenly run his chair back as far and as fast as he could until it was about 3 inches from my nose. Neither he, nor his sour wife appreciated me asking if he might set up a little straighter. And returning her complementary headset when it fell between their seats onto our floor only elicited a scowl.

But as always, I got to catch up on movies I would never otherwise see. One was “Old Boys,” a very funny retelling of the Cyrano de Bergerac tale. And “Tolkien”, a bio pic about Tolkien’s college days and world war I experiences. Loved it. Lewis and the Inklings didn’t appear in it though.

A documentary on the history of the Louvre was interesting and so the hours passed.

Our landing in Atlanta was teeth-jarring! I guess pilots have learner’s permits too. Customs, security, baggage, check-in were all very efficient and much, much less painful than our Paris experience and the airport staff were uniformly cheerful and smiling. One of my very best airport experiences.

We had a little trouble finding our Lexington gate but strategically placed “helpers” kept us going right.

The flight to Lexington, Kentucky was pleasant, if loud, with a nice conversation with “Madison”, a student at the University of Kentucky studying “management” to be a minister or work for an NGO. She had the same habit Deborah _______ used to have of pulling her long hair in front of her face and picking off any split ends she found.

And so we landed in Lexington about 5:30 PM, a very long day. Jenny and baby Willis met us at the airport with an ecstatic Sissy and Buddy, our granddogs, climbing all over us. Sissy was standing on her back feet on my lap staring into my eyes with a look of both recrimination at our leaving her and joy at our coming back.

It’s so good to be home!
 

Georgia & Zig

10+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
A few more pictures from Sicily:
Maniace Ortigia:
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Dore village men’s chorus from Sheffield, England:
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Feudogrande:
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Mt Etna volcano from our balcony:
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people walking on Mt. Etna:
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burp from the active Etna:
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Beautiful garden at Feudogrande agriturismo:
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one of the courses at dinner with Etna white wine of course:
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Prettier day to see the volcano from our balcony with a little burp from it. And the white steam coming up from it too!
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