“Picture it … Sicily ... 1922 ...” Estelle Getty, from TV's The Golden Girls, sure could tell an incredible tale of her family’s “old country.” But La Sicilia (Sicily) is sooo much more than the mafia, donkeys and peasant girls. The hot, golden sun; the brilliant turquoise sea; the long, comforting strands of spaghetti. While fall always reminds me of the lazy, rolling hills of La Toscana (Tuscany), summer brings me back to the sultry, spicy times down on the infamous island of Sicily. The unceasing Mediterranean sun, the warm, North African sirocco breeze, the tantalizing dinners beginning at 10 pm. Sicily is other-worldly, and why shouldn’t it be? It is the scene, after all, for many a Greek myth—including (but certainly not limited to) such notable characters as Odysseus, Persephone and Polyphemus the Cyclops. Join us for a new summer series all about this uniquely enchanting island. Andiamo (ahn-dee-AH-moe) … let’s go!
The island of Sicilia (largest in the Mediterranean) is simultaneously enigmatic and revealing and it’s not hard to understand why. Less than two miles off the Italian coast,
87 miles from Africa, and surrounded on all sides by the sea, this island (the soccer ball to Italy’s boot) has always been exposed, not only to nature and her elements, but also to an unrelenting tide of invaders over the millennia. #Drama. Home to two, yes two, volcanoes and frequent earthquakes, La Sicilia sits nestled snugly right between the African and Eurasian tectonic plates. Although originally inhabited by indigenous people groups (including the Sicels, from whom the island derives her name), Sicily has been conquered many times over by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Moors, French and Spanish (just to name a few). Eventually gaining autonomy, the people of Sicily soon found themselves relinquishing it in order to unify with the peninsula under the Italian tri-color in the late 1800s. That’s a whole lot of languages, cultures, religions and baggage to pack into a relatively small island and melding those disparate identities into one of cohesion doesn’t just happen overnight.
As you can imagine, that many hostile takeovers will put a dent in the old vernacular. And while Italian might be the official language of La Sicilia, and what’s taught in school, it’s certainly not the most beloved. At home, people speak Sicilian, and, more importantly, they speak the dialect of their particular region. The Sicilian language, while roughly 50% derivative from Latin, is also roughly 50% constructed of ALL the other people groups who’ve inhabited the island throughout a handful of millennia—most influentially, the Greeks. But hometown dialect is where the rubber meets the road and the pride of her inhabitants lies. After all, they aren’t Italian or Sicilian. At heart, they are Catanese (from the province of Catania), or Messinese (from the province of Messina), or Palermitani (from the province of Palermo), or one of the other nine provinces of the island. In Sicily, as in most places, life’s complicated, but the Siciliani (Sicilians) have found a way to make peace with it, channeling all that diverse energy, like an art form, into creating a truly beautiful and unique culture. You know the old saying, after all: “When life gives you volcanoes, make … snow cones!" No? Never heard of it? Well, you have now, and in La Sicilia, that’s exactly what they do.
Legend has it that the infamous granita (Sicilian snow cone) was birthed in days of yore out of the fiery peaks of Mt. Etna, when snow storms dusted the summit (and they still do). The ice would, somehow, be conserved until summer for a delicious treat. The granita is to Sicily as gelato (ice cream) is to mainland Italia—absolutely essential and life-giving for cool-down during those sweltering Mediterranean summers senza
(without) air conditioning. Did I mention the air flow from North Africa?! And in Sicily they don’t play around—summertime fun begins with a hearty breakfast of brioche (Sicilian pastry) dipped into said granita. It’s #mindblowing. Granitas, just like snow cones and ice cream, come in a plethora of flavor explosions, but honestly, it’s just so blisteringly hot, the flavor doesn’t matter as long as it’s chilly and wet. In addition to boring flavors like strawberry and vanilla, you’ll find more interesting choices which better display the character of La Sicilia, like mandorla (almond), pistacchio (pistachio) and limone (lemon). And the brioche is fabulous too. It appears to be heavy but this sweet roll is actually quite light and its flavor has a citrusy brightness to it. It’s delightful. Ok, your insulin and protein levels will need adjustment, but it’s so worth it!
I could literally talk about all the amazing experiences of Sicily forever, so that’s exactly what I’ll do—at least for the summer. Mt. Etna looms somewhat ominously over the city of Catania and her inhabitants. We’ll explore both of them in my next post in a few weeks. But until then, put La Sicilia on your bucket list. Better yet, book a trip through OGGI Travel and let us guide you expertly through the best experiences Italia has to offer!
Ciao for now!
Granita and Brioche by Siculodoc from Canva