Si­cil­ian Hol­i­day

While North Amer­i­cans flock to Rome and Tus­cany, Ital­ians va­ca­tion on an is­land off their coast

BC Business Magazine - - Offline - By Frances Bula

We'd gone to the main plaza in Sira­cusa for our usual even­ing walk and so that I could ap­ply my in­ves­tiga­tive skills to what is said to be this Si­cil­ian town’s best ice cream, at Ge­la­te­ria Fiordi­latte.

Set­tled in at a ta­ble with a cup of or­ange-al­mond so del­i­cate that it al­most made me whim­per, we pre­pared to watch the usual pa­rade of tourists trav­el­ling in bunches be­hind their guides, the ac­cor­dion player who made an ap­pear­ance ev­ery day, the lo­cal kids on bikes cross­ing the big plaza’s lime­stone­coloured blocks.

And then, com­ing down the steps from the city’s big­gest church, the very baroque Duomo di Sira­cusa: a wed­ding. Not just any wed­ding, but clearly a wed­ding among the 10-per­centers of lo­cal Si­cil­ian so­ci­ety, with women in stun­ning full-length dresses and men who looked like they could play sur­geons on Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion.

In the warm Septem­ber air, they stood for pic­tures on the steps and ev­ery­one swarmed them to get pic­tures, not just their own guests and the paid pho­tog­ra­pher, but peo­ple pass­ing by and some of our fel­low ice-cream eaters. The bride and groom and their at­ten­dants smiled, happy to pro­vide the en­ter­tain­ment.

Just an­other night in Si­cily, the place that Ital­ians we met else­where said was their favourite place to go, a place that was richer in food, his­tory and scenery than their homes in Rome or Tus­cany.

Ital­ians ac­count for al­most half of the tourism in Si­cily and, at a guess, I’d say that other Euro­peans made up at least an­other 35 per­cent. It was un­usual to en­counter English speak­ers. Judg­ing from the Google searches that pop up in re­la­tion to Si­cily, it looks like crime, refugees and the Mafia may be wor­ry­ing them.

Oddly, the only ex­pe­ri­ence we had of any of those prob­lems as we trav­elled mostly on the eastern side of Si­cily, to his­toric towns like Noto, Cata­nia, Sci­cli and Ra­gusa, were in the pages of the In­spec­tor Mon­tal­bano mys­tery se­ries that I read ob­ses­sively while there. Those books by An­drea Camil­leri, which have sig­nif­i­cantly boosted in­ter­est in Si­cily

from out­siders and be­come a brand­ing op­por­tu­nity for the is­land, are filled with all those dark as­pects of life here.

But Camil­leri’s books also paint a pic­ture of what vis­i­tors like me find spec­tac­u­lar about Si­cily when we go—and what is much more com­mon. The rich, unique cui­sine, de­vel­oped over the cen­turies as Greeks, Phoeni­cians, Spa­niards, Arabs and the French over­ran the is­land: ice cream; pasta with sar­dines, pine nuts and fen­nel; can­noli; sword­fish in toma­toes and ca­pers; cous­cous with seafood. The haunt­ing land­scape, hill­sides cov­ered with scrub and lime­stone or vol­canic rock. The sea, al­ways so close, blue-green along the coast and ex­tend­ing out to the curve of the globe. The his­toric sites with rem­nants of Greek and Ro­man tem­ples. The towns packed with ro­coco ar­chi­tec­ture.

And then there’s just reg­u­lar life in th­ese towns. In Sira­cusa, we went to the mar­ket ev­ery morn­ing: three blocks of ta­bles filled with spices, the pop­u­lar lo­cal pis­ta­chios, the strange gran­u­lar choco­late from Mod­ica, cheeses, sausages and bloody fish car­casses. There were tourists. But also the lo­cals, buy­ing what they needed for din­ner. In the af­ter­noons, we would swim at lo­cal beaches wher­ever we were, along with peo­ple from town. And in the evenings, well, we could watch wed­dings ev­ery so of­ten.

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