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FATHER’S DAY—ITALIAN STYLE

March 29th, 2012 1 comment

The Festival of St. Joseph (San Giuseppe in Italian) is celebrated throughout Sicily on or near March 19th each year.  San Giuseppe, the Biblical “father” of Christ is the patron saint of Sicily.  On a recent Sunday evening we saw a nearly life size statue of the saint carried from the local church in Marina di Ragusa on a flower decked bier as faithful followers paraded through the streets in homage. 

A priest leads the procession bearing the statue of San Giuseppe

The pageantry is followed by fireworks over the sea for those who are patient enough to wait for the very slowly moving processional to return to the church.  This is not a night for small children as no fireworks can occur until San Giuseppe is safely ensconced back in his sanctuary.  Bells peal throughout the evening air as children shriek with delight at the colorful balloons being hawked on every corner. 

The Marina di Ragusa town square was crowded with people from mid-day as families promenaded along the palm lined beachfront soaking up the spring sun.  The temperatures this time of year are in the mid-60’s F. and the sky is robin’s egg blue.  The beachfront palm trees are wind-battered from a recent storm but spring has definitely arrived in time for the festival.

People start gathering early in the day at the Town Square. . .

and by evening the square has a carnival atmosphere with balloons and lights.

Many towns throughout Sicily honor San Giuseppe with their own day or days of Festival activities featuring parades, music and fireworks. 

After waiting nearly two hours for the procession in Marina di Ragusa to tuck San Giuseppe in for the night, we made our way back to the boat to tuck ourselves in. 

Our motley crew waiting for the procession.

The minute we laid our heads on the pillow, the fireworks commenced.   Even from the marina they lit the evening sky in a final salute to San Giuseppe.

By the time the fireworks went off we were back on Destiny and ready for bed!

The prior evening the nearby seaside town of Donnalucca was the site of a celebration that included flower bedecked horses of the Calvacata of San Giuseppe.  This spectacle which is purported to be a re-enactment of the flight of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to Egypt is like our Tournament of Roses Parade with horses as the floats. 

In front of the church, Mary, Joseph and the child along with a lowly donkey are greeted by the ornately bedecked horses and riders.

San Giuseppe & family are honored guests in Donnalucca. . .

as crowds line the street waiting for the parade.

The horses, which are massive creatures towering well over the heads of the parade goers, were decorated from head to hoof with elaborate structures covered with flowers artfully crafted into Biblical scenes commemorating the life of San Giuseppe. 

Horse and rider both in "costume". . .

but the horse is the center of attention. . .

and each is a virtual work of art. . .

with intricate pictures created entirely of flowers and petals.

Floral frescoes, seems a good description. I wormed my way through the crowded sidewalk to photograph the scene, but was hard pressed to capture a full picture.  Using a flash was a little tricky too as the prospect of spooking a horse that big in a crowd hardly seemed worth the risk.

A week later the festival activities moved to the larger Town of Scicli–another of southern Sicily’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

Scicli is known for its baroque architecture, including this church which faces the town square.

Scicli has a large square that accommodates the huge crowd of spectators for what is said to be the best horse parade of all the San Guiseppe Festivals. 

We arrived at the Cavalcata festival in Scicli with a bus load of cruisers from the marina, including Roy and Madeline from the UK

The pedestrian mall that led to the town square was lined with vendors hawking everything from handblown martini glasses to children’s toys with psychedelic lights.  Food vendors cooked from little stands set up on the street or served from special open-sided trucks–mini-food wagons. The scent of horses combined with roasting meat and french fries was less than appetizing to our stomachs.

For nearly two hours, the streets around the square were filled with high stepping horses with shiny coats and riders dressed in everything from a Superman shirt to native costume. 

Superman. . .

looks a little lame next to this high stepper!

The horses, some of them draught horses with massive bodies and hooves the size of dinner plates, and other as sleek as racing horses, strutted their stuff for the crowd. 

Check out these hooves. . .

compared to these three.

Many of the horses wore fancy collars decorated with bells that filled the square with a melodious staccato accompanied by the clip-clop of hoofs on the marble streets.

This is typical of the bell collars that many horses wear. . .

although I doubt that the horses like the noise they make.

Finally, after hours of anticipation, the flower festooned horses of the Calvacata arrive as a finale to the parade. 

Believe it or not. . .there is a horse under there.

The horses are hidden under elaborate structures that cover them from head to hoof.  The head pieces on some of the horses are so large that you can barely discern that there is an animal underneath. 

The headdresses are so large its all the animal can do to keep it upright.

Some of the horses are covered with blankets made of flowers and others with pictures of San Guiseppe fashioned from flowers.

This horse's "blanket" is made of flowers in an intricate design, and palm leaves give the illusion of floating across the ground.

San Giuseppe adorns many of the "horse floats".

I was reminded of medieval pictures of horses in elaborate armour.  Adults often accompanied by a child, each attired in native costume of black velvet pants, white shirts with intricately embroidered vests, colorful scarfs, and long black stocking caps rode atop each horse. 

Not all of the children looked thrilled to be on these massive animals.

Alongside a handler dressed in native attire is on each side with firm grip on the bridle as a precaution.  Not all the horses are happy to be decked out in such silly attire.

If you look closely, you can see one very scared horse.

The Festival of San Giuseppe has deep roots in Sicilian history and culture.  It is a religious festival first and foremost, but coming as it does in the month of March has not been usurped by tourism.  It is a festival for and by the people who live in Sicily all year.  It is a time for families to celebrate spring and to honor the Father of Christ as they honor their own fathers. 

We're not sure. . .but think the ribbons on the handlers indicates that this may be a prize winning entry.

As in any crowd for a festival, there are also people who stand out.

Seeing double??

I can’t wait to see what how Sicilians celebrate Easter, but parades and fireworks are expected.

HOMECOMING: SPRING IN SICILY

March 22nd, 2012 No comments

The old saying about March arriving like a lion and leaving like a lamb is certainly true in Sicily.  Kent spent the first two weeks of March in howling wind, pouring rain and temps in the 50’s at night. 

Every boat in the marina is heeling in the 50 Kt. wind. . .

as horizontal rain pelted the boat.

The Saturday before I arrived on March 15th saw the worst that Sicilian weather has to offer, with 50 kt. Sirocco winds filled with Sahara sand that stung your eyes and deposited red dust on every surface in the marina.  Coupled with driving rain that was reported coming sideways, everyone in the marina, including Kent and Jolie, hunkered down waiting for the sky to clear.

Once the rain stopped Destiny was covered with red Sahara sand.

Several cruisers who arrived during that terrible weather spent 8 hours getting from Catania Airport (normally a 1 ½ hour drive).   Bridges washed out and roads were impassable due to dirt and rocks washing off hillsides and covering roads.  Nearly a week later when I arrived, the landslides and uprooted trees were still evident and detours (or “diversions” in Italian) made the trip from airport to marina longer than usual.

On March 15th  a glorious, sunny day with light winds and high wispy clouds greets me in Catania.  The temperature was a pleasant 65 F. and although I’m jet-lagged having been up for about 24 hours at that point, I’m glad to be back.   Thankfully, the “lion’s roar” has been replaced with the sounds of birds chirping.  Kent and Jolie arrive in a rental car to take me and 75 lbs. of baggage (including a bottle of duty free Mount Gay rum) back to Destiny.

As we made our way to Marina di Ragusa, Mt. Etna’s snow encrusted slopes against the milky blue sky contrasted with a profusion of yellow wild flowers along the roadside.  The fields are a green patchwork of newly sprouted crops stretching as far as the eye can see.  The countryside is soaking up the welcome sunshine and is bursting with life.  As for me I am bursting with adrenalin.

Mt. Etna is snow covered but smoking

Arriving at the marina is a homecoming.  Familiar faces greet me with “welcome back”.  Destiny is even better than I left her.  Kent has had time to put everything back in order before my arrival, despite some frustration in needing parts to finish some necessary maintenance.

Kent is ready to get back to work now that the parts have arrived.

As I arrive, we are saying goodbye to friends leaving the marina in a couple of days.  Bill and Jean on Soliel San Fins are off to Naples to put their boat on a ship to the USA, a reverse of our trip.  I stay awake for some 36 hours but crash as the sun sets over the marina.

Sunset, March 15th. . .bedtime!

It’s good to be home.  The “Med adventure” continues.

THANKSGIVING. . .SICILIAN STYLE

November 26th, 2011 1 comment

Celebrating a uniquely American holiday, like Thanksgiving, abroad is never the same as being home for the holiday.  No Thanksgiving Day Parade to watch on TV or hometown high school football rivalries to settle. In fact, no football at all—thankfully–sorry I couldn’t resist.

Thanksgiving in a foreign country requires more pre-planning that we are accustomed to in the States.  Not only don’t they have Butterball turkeys, they don’t sell turkeys in supermarkets, except for an occasional breast. Whole turkeys come from turkey farms, and the one we enjoyed was still gobbling two days before Kent said “grace” over it.

Kent and Bill, a Canadian cruiser who is married to an American, headed the effort to find our turkey and then find a place to cook it.  Galley ovens are not designed to accommodate whole turkeys.  We hoped to gather a sizeable group to share this special meal and locating a restaurant in Marina di Ragusa that would be willing to roast a whole turkey was the next challenge. 

As we walked to the seaside restaurant for dinner, we were thankful that it hadn't rained.

On the seafront promenade at Marina di Ragusa there is a lovely restaurant, Shosholoza, with a private dining room and a chef that was up to the challenge of making a traditional American Thanksgiving meal.  Bill put together a proposed menu with the help of Google translate and he and Kent negotiated all the details.  The chef asked us to provide some recipes for stuffing and selected the one with prosciutto and Italian sausage for our bird. 

The elegant dining room at Shosholoza included model ships. . .making us feel at home.

We had expected a group of about 20 and specified two birds of 7 kilos each, thinking that smaller birds would be more tender than one large bird for a group that size.  It turns out that turkeys are eaten in Sicily primarily at Christmas and the birds available now were very large or too small.  Our chef selected a 17 kilo bird (just under 40 lbs.) straight from the farm to our dining table—and it was without a doubt the most succulent turkey we have ever eaten.  The chef told us he wasn’t sure the bird would fit in his oven and his contingency plan included using a larger oven at the local church–it did fit, but just barely. 

We had never seen such a big turkey!

Our multi-course Thanksgiving extravaganza started with prosecco toasts in the restaurant bar/lounge.  

We had free access to the kitchen to see how the dinner was progressing and to admire the bird.  The only thing the chef needed some help with was the turkey gravy, but he understood “roux” and the gravy was excellent. 

Kent consults with the chef on making turkey gravy. . .

while I checked out the mashed potatoes.

After starters of pumpkin soup and ravioli with tomato sauce, Kent gave a non-denominational “grace” that included some historical references to the first Thanksgiving and then it was time to carve turkey.

The master carver checks his equipment. . .

and finally the bird arrives. . .

C
but the bird was so big it required dual carvers.

Click here for U-Tube link of turkey carving http://youtu.be/VZlDAk2s_Us

The only disappointment was the cranberry sauce—there wasn’t any.  Well, there was sauce, but it was blueberry sauce—it appears that there is no word in the Italian language for cranberry and Google translate used the next best thing which was “blueberry”. 

Roasted turkey stuffed with proscuitto & Italian sausage, with mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, carrots, green beans & roasted pumpkin.

It wasn’t a total loss, however, as the faux cranberry sauce was excellent on the ricotta pie for dessert—another Sicilian twist for the meal.  Of course, we also had apple and pumpkin pies.

Ricotta pie with blueberry sauce and whipped cream in a can. . .oh boy, oh boy.

All in all, this was a memorable Thanksgiving, made all the more so because of the wonderful friends we shared it with—our group had Americans of course, but we were outnumbered by British, Canadian, German and Irish yachties.

Our multi-national group

What is Thanksgiving without leftovers–Kent and Bill negotiated that as well.

Hot turkey sandwiches the next day.

Thanksgiving is more than turkey and stuffing.  It is a celebration of life.  .  .for which we are thankful everyday.

CHOCOBAROCCO

November 1st, 2011 No comments

The ancient town of Modica in southern Sicily was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002 because of its baroque art and architecture dating to the late 1700’s. 

St. Giorgio Cathedral dominates Modica's skyline

Modica also happens to be the chocolate capital of Sicily.  So it stands to reason that when they have a fall festival, it celebrates those two important aspects of the town’s history—hence the name “Chocobarocco” for the annual festival that takes place in late October each year and concludes on November 1st which is “All Saints Day”—an Italian national holiday.

We left Marina di Ragusa with several cruising friends on a sunny Saturday to see Modica and enjoy the festival.  This required a bus trip to Ragusa and then another to Modica, which took us through some of the southern Sicily countryside.

We were quite surprised to find that the southernmost coast of Sicily is quite flat, and predominantly rolling agricultural land.  There are thousands of acres under cultivation, and many of those covered by green houses. 

The town of Modica sits  inland at an elevation of 1,000 ft. above sea level   where the topography is hilly.  It has an upper section with steep stairs and narrow streets that crawl up the hillside and buildings that all seem to be at angles.  The lower section of the town follows the winding path of an old river bed–now a paved street called Corso Umberto I.  In 1693 there was an earthquake that destroyed much of the town and resulted in its being rebuilt both in the valley as well as on the hillside in the baroque style of that time.  The places of interest include numerous palazzos, museums and the Teatro Garibaldi where some of the festival events take place.

Baroque architecture with gargoyles. . .

tall windows and balconies. . .

and ornate arches are seen throughout Modica.

There are 29 churches in the town according the the turistica map, many of them elaborately decorated with ornate statuary.

One of many statues of saints adorning Chiesa di San Pietro

Chocoarocco takes place well after most tourists have abandoned the region and is a seasonal festival enjoyed primarily by Italians.  The timing in late fall probably takes into consideration the necessity of cooler temperatures so the chocolate doesn’t melt.

School children get history lessons along with chocolate. . .

and colorful balloons.

One of the most important baroque structures in Modica is the Cathedral of St. George (St. Giorgio in Italian) which has a tower and dome that are visible throughout the town.  Over 250 steps lead from the main street of the lower town, Corso Umberto I, to the Cathedral which looms overhead as you trudge upward.

St. Giorgio Cathedral

On this sunny Saturday, not everyone was attending the Chocolate Festival, Some were attending a wedding at the cathedral.  There is something about weddings that draws a crowd, whether you know the happy couple or not.  Perhaps its a universal fascination with the pagentry or shared joy at the prospect of a “happy ever after” ending.

The interior of St. Giorgio. . . .

awaits the bridal party. . .

while musicians tune up in the organ loft.

Finally the bride arrives. . .

and is greeted by her guests on the cathedral steps.

As we toured the church before the ceremony I saw a printed program for the wedding, and made a silent wish that “Davide and Danielle” would have their happy ending. 

First we enjoyed the architecture, and then it was time to savor the chocolate.

The most famous of all the chocolate shops in Modica is Antica Dolceris Bonajuto which first opened its doors in 1880 off a small alley on Corso Umberto.   Walking through the doors of this shop is like stepping back in time to the late 1800’s.  The shop has beautiful glass doored cases that display chocolate like it is expensive jewelry.  The wood is rich mahogany, and the lighting soft like a museum.  People seem to speak in soft voices as they make their selections from the confectionary treats displayed.

Antica Dolceria Bonajuto is just off Corso Umberto

The kitchen is visible through an open door and window, where the white coated chocolatiers do their magic using the same methods and ingredients that Aztec Indians perfected in Mexico thousands of years ago. 

The heady aroma of chocolate wafts from the kitchen.

The result is chocolate that is very rich in flavor with a slightly grainy texture from the sugar in the cocoa not being totally dissolved.  The higher the cocoa content, the more grainy the texture.  This chocolate melts on the tongue with a burst of flavor that makes milk chocolate seem bland by comparison.  The chocolate is flavored with vanilla, orange and interestingly pepper.  The chocolate with pepper has a particularly interesting sweet tanginess.

Even more amazing than the taste, and we did a lot of tasting as we worked our way down the street, stopping at tent after tent, were the amazing shapes and designs that the chocolate masters presented. 

Chocolate as far as you can see. . .

and lots of samples.

White chocolate cheese shapes were so realistic it caused a double take to confirm that we hadn’t stumbled into a cheese purveyor among the chocolate tents. 

Chocolate salami, anyone?

Chocolate salami, anyone?

There were flowers, and tools, and even designer shoes—all edible.  Making chocolate tasty is one thing, but making it into intricate shapes is an art.

Chocolate flowers seem common. . .

and truffles conventional. . .

when compared to chocolate designer shoes--at 15 euros each!

Chocobarocco, celebrates the art of chocolate and Modica’s baroque heritage.  There are concerts, tastings and chocolate sculptures for the public.  There are lectures (in Italian of course) and  trade booths for chocolatiers.  Modica exudes a festival atmosphere and chocolate scents the air.

Is there such as thing as too much chocolate?  After Chocobarocco, the answer was a resounding “yes!”  Fortunately, feeling of being overwhelmed by the taste and smell of chocolate passes quickly–I’m nibbling some dark chocolate laced with almonds right now. 

It's always time for chocolate in Modica!

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UNDER THE SICILIAN SUN

October 25th, 2011 No comments

After dropping Spencer, Molly and EB in Salerno on September 28th, we headed back south toward Destiny’s winter home at Porto Turistico Marina di Ragusa.  By the time we reached there on October 5th we had covered just about 1,000 NM in less than a month and had been both north and south in the Straits of Messina.

Our first sunset in Marina di Ragusa. . ."Red sky at night, sailor's delight"

Along the way we revisited Marina Stella del Sud (translation “Star of the Sea”) in Vibo Valentia, where I stocked up on wonderful meat from the butcher that had been closed for vacation on our way north.  We also made good use of the new facilities at the marina to clear up the backlog of laundry that accumulates when you have guests on board for a week.

After a couple lay days (boat speak for we stayed in one place) in Vibo Valentia, we did a 72 NM passage to Taormina, Sicily and actually had favorable winds and currents to sail south through the Straits of Messina.

In the Straits tide & current are not all you have to worry about.

Taormina, with its view of Mt. Etna, proved to be a rolly anchorage this time of year, and the moorings we had expected from our last stay there were no where to be seen, possibly due to the time of year. 

At dusk there was only one other boat anchored under Taormina. . .

but by morning we had lots of company.

At this point we were anxious to get to Marina di Ragusa where our contract commenced October 1st.  Having visited Taormina in the past, we opted to push on to Siracusa the next day.  Siracusa is approximately 50 NM south on the east coast of Sicily.

A fortress sits at the entrance to Siracusa's harbor. . .

and trees line the town quay. . .

where cruise ships dock. . .

We fell in love with the large protected harbor at Siracusa, its Old Town, Fortress and farmer’s market.  We purchased swordfish for dinner that was probably caught in the Straits that day and local barrel wine sold in plastic bottles. 

Swordfish doesn't get any fresher!

At the Siracusa fish market there are lots of options. . .but we didn't always recognize them.

F.LLI BURGIO at Piazza Cesare Battisti sold molto bene vino & formaggio.

Having done a couple of long passages on consecutive days, we spent an extra day in Siracusa and enjoyed lunch at a little restaurant in the Old Town.

Archimedes Restaurant was up a tiny street in the Old Town.

We spent some time wandering about the town.

Siracusa has tree lined boulevards. . .

and ornate architecture.

Anchored in the harbor were several boats heading to Marina di Ragusa for the winter. Sailing yachts LuLu, Feisty, Matilda, Mystique and Destiny made five US flag vessels anchored in the harbor at one time.  This is a rather unusual occurrence for the Med.  More often than not when we see a US flag it is an EU imposter evading local taxes.

Siracusa Sunset

Siracusa was the final stop before we reached Marina di Ragusa on October 5th.

Marina di Ragusa is a beachside town on the southeastern Sicilian coast.  In Italy, the word “marina” denotes a town on the beach, not necessarily a port for docking boats.  In most cases “Porto Turistico” designates a port that can accommodate visiting yachts—hence we are in Porto Turistico Marina di Ragusa.

The marina(with a small “m”)is only open for its second season and the number of boats wintering here has grown because they are offering phenomenal rates, especially for in-water mooring. 

The population of Marina di Ragusa, like many waterfront vacation destinations, explodes during the summer months.  We are told that from June through September the beach is cheek to jowl with vacationers, but this time of year only a few hearty souls are to be seen—still in bikinis nevertheless.  The Italians love the Sicilian sun, and so do we.

There is a wide pedestrian promenade along the white sand beach that stretches the length of the town. 

The beach at Marina di Ragusa. . .

is bordered by a wide, paved promenade. . .

perfect for biking.

A 5 min. bike ride from the marina along the promenade brings you to the tree lined town square where tourists and locals mingle to sip robust Italian coffee and savor treats from the gelato shops and patisseries.  

The days are a pleasant mid-70’s and evenings cool to the low 60’s making for perfect sleeping weather.  However, the sun doesn’t always shine in Sicily and this time of year it is common to have a couple days of rain and high winds scattered between the sunshiny days.

This is not looking good.

I volunteered to prepare a contact list for cruisers in the marina for the winter season and can therefore give the following information concerning the makeup of the cruising community.  USA flag vessels-16. UK-16; NZ-5; SWE-1; Denmark-1; NL-4; Iceland-1; GR-2; AU-2.  And this is just the English speaking boats which does not include others from France, Italy and elsewhere who have  not participated in the list.

We have a Cruiser’s Net on VHF 72 at 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday when information on everything from weather to social activities is shared.  On Monday, Wednesday and Friday there is yoga on the dock–nice if you can get up that early, and a walking group at the same time daily.  This is a very energetic group that also enjoys a weekly Happy Hour.

On October 8th we celebrated Kent’s birthday with a little surprise celebration pulled off with much help from friends. 

Kent's friends helped surprise him for his birthday. . .

which included lots of Prosecco. . .that's an empty bottle under his arm.

As much as we are enjoying the comraderie of our fellow cruisers, we have decided (mostly me, truthfully) that living in a marina for three months is a little too sedate for our taste.  Besides, we miss family and some of the creature comforts (a real bed and bathtub for example) that await us in our cozy little apartment in Missoula, Montana.  There is also the added benefit of seeing old friends.  So as of December 1st we are “Coming to America” as the song goes.  Destiny will stay in the water here in Marina di Ragusa, where Kent would very much like to have a video camera feed to the States to keep an eye on her.  I expect that the boat will survive the winter just fine. . .but I’m not sure about Kent.

Marina di Ragusa Sunrise

More Sicilian sun to come.  CIAO!

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