For­get about “The God­fa­ther”

Imperial Valley Press - - OPINION - RICHARD RYAN Richard Ryan lives in El Cen­tro and wel­comes com­ments at [email protected]

Ihave found the Mary Pop­pins of the Bed & Break­fast business. She is Car­men and man­ages Il Labrintino B&B in Syra­cuse, Si­cily where I was stay­ing for a song. She runs up and down the three flights of mar­ble (no hand rail) stairs as if un-ruled by grav­ity. The day be­fore this, break­fast was in a pala­tial four star ho­tel in Taormina, Si­cily about two hours north of here.

To­day it is in a crammed semi-porch struc­ture only steps from my room. Yes. I wore my PJ’s pos­si­bly to the hor­ror of French tourists. “Mon dieu,” these Amer­i­cans are a dis­grace. I am usu­ally a late riser, but since I am nine time zones from home, I have been get­ting up early. My in­te­rior clock has no bal­ance and no idea what early or late is. Even­tu­ally, I will pay for this with a se­ri­ous case of jet lag when I re­turn to El Cen­tro.

No cap­puc­cino at the B&B but gal­lons of cafe au lait: half cof­fee and half hot milk. Af­ter a few of these, I feel like I could fly. Crois­sants, yo­gurt and blood red orange juice. And I don’t have to do the dishes. Si­cily grows lots of cit­rus in­clud­ing blood red or­anges along with lemons, plus zil­lions of olives. I was chas­tised one night by a Boris Karloff-like waiter for speak­ing tor­tured French in a restau­rant. This is Italy af­ter all, but here in the B&B all lan­guages are OK. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, how­ever, stum­bles. I end up say­ing some­thing in frac­tured French like, “yes, I pre­fer eat­ing socks with French to­mato paste.” Puz­zled looks all around, but Car­men just smiles and of­fers more cafe au lait. See. She is the Mary Pop­pins of Si­cil­ian B&B’s.

I have been read­ing about an­cient Si­cily, a Greek colony 700 years B.C., so I can blame this wan­der­lust on books. The most re­cent book, though, is about the mafia and is set in the 1980s and 90s. It has the col­or­ful ti­tle, “Ex­cel­lent Ca­dav­ers,” re­fer­ring to the mes­sages the mafia would send by killing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, of­ten po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors. In the 1990s the mafia blew up the high­way from the air­port to kill Gio­vanni Fal­cone, a tire­less pros­e­cu­tor who was build­ing an in­te­grated case against the bad guys. In the main cathe­dral in Palermo, the cap­i­tal of Si­cily, there is a dis­play about a par­ish priest who was sent to a par­tic­u­larly poor area to as­sist youth. He was slain by the mafia since he was per­ceived as a threat to their lo­cal in­flu­ence. He has been be­at­i­fied by the Catholic church, the step be­fore saint­hood. The mafia has not gone away; it has gone un­der­ground smug­gling im­mi­grants from Africa. Those who died fight­ing it are now revered as he­roes in Si­cily. In Cor­leone, the start­ing point for Mario Puzo’s, “The God­fa­ther,” there is an anti-mafia mu­seum. Yet, mafiosi still live in the town. Si­cily’s re­la­tion­ship with the mafia has changed but not dis­ap­peared.

As an Amer­i­can, I had been too steeped in iden­ti­fy­ing Si­cily as the home of the mafia and not much else. In­stead what I found is an is­land with the friendli­est and most open peo­ple I have met. In Rome and or Copen­hagen, we are just an­other tourist. In Si­cily, peo­ple in­vited me into their shops, posed for photos, helped me get bus tick­ets, shared their sto­ries, and dis­played a warmth that seems so rare in the age of self­ies and in­come in­equity. The Si­cil­ian peo­ple have not lost the abil­ity to spend time talk­ing face to face. And you must learn to use your hands, other­wise, you are barely heard. As with all of Italy, food is im­por­tant. And what food! Si­cily is rich in veg­eta­bles and seafood. I’d guess the un­of­fi­cial first dish is egg­plant parmi­giana fol­lowed by sar­dines in pasta. I was in heaven. On the way back from the restau­rant, I’d stop in for a can­noli. The server would make it there in the café. But every­body walks, and the food is healthy. Even the can­noli is made with low fat ri­cotta cheese. Buono ap­petito.

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