Tag Archives: Sicily

Modica Meanderings, Sicily 2017

There’s a church half way down the Corso Umberto toward the circle in the centre of Modica. This church – Chiesa Madre di San Pietro – is not the most grand one in this beautiful town, which is difficult to fathom, due to its grandiosity. No, that prize goes to the Duomo di San Giorgio, up an impossibly steep back road that leads up one of the cliffs upon which most of the town of Modica precariously balance.

We pass the church, with its huge, wide steps watched by the twelve apostles who flank them, twice each time we go for an amble (which is often, there’s much to see): once on our way down the gentle slope and again on our way up. Each time it offers up a different view as the sun changes position and the huge blocks of stone from which it’s made change from rock-coloured to pink in the setting sun and then golden in the orange light of Mediterranean nights. The apostles, too, take on different looks as they watch frilly brides and their grooms posing for photos, exuding love; black-clad old Sicilian women clutching rosaries heading in to the ornate church to pray; and youngsters gathering on the steps to watch the town on their evening ramble.

The evening ramble was one of my (many) favourite things in Sicily. In fact, the whole lifestyle is. The Mediterranean countries just get it right. It’s hot in the middle of the day so they close up shop and head home for a siesta. Later, when its cooling (slightly), everything opens up again. Even later – because the sun only sets at about ten – families go out for their evening stroll and, often, dinner at a sidewalk Osteria. Friends stop and greet, discuss their days, pass the baby around to be cuddled and made to gurgle and laugh. It’s just so friendly.

Our amblings during the day and ramblings at night take us past – and into – ancient buildings that glow, huge doorways and tiny side alleys, music schools and town halls and gelateria, all wound around the aroma of one of Modica’s most famous things … chocolate.The original Aztec way of making chocolate was learnt in Modica during that occupation and it is the best I’ve ever come across (not forgetting that I’ve tasted plenty of chocolate in my time).

Hemingway’s, in the back alley behind the church, serves amazing aperitivo – which will get their own blog, they’re so wonderful – at sunset, while old men play chess watched by their teenage grandsons. At the end of the alley, the disciples from Chiesa San Pietro turn pink in the setting sun.

Later, as we amble home, we happen across the local orchestra practicing. Standing next to ancient buildings that are burnt orange in the evening light, the sky that blue that squelches my heart, we listen to a full orchestral soundtrack of an ABBA medley as we stand listening on a pavement worn smooth by hundreds of years of just such ambling. It is entirely surreal and wonderful.

*For in-depth wheelchair accessibility advice, contact me via e-mail on shinybriony@gmail.com.

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Sicily Incoming: Modica Welcomings

Coming in to land in Sicily at the tiny airport in Comiso, the sun was just setting over the island, turning the Meditteranean golden and the fields pink as Mount Etna smoked in the far distance. It felt welcoming and friendly – the customs guy smiled and happily stamped my passport on request. The air was warm and fragrant and we were met by Walter – he of no English, us of no Italian. Communication via smiles and nods and the quintessential Italian hand gestures was perfectly adequate. 

Darkness had fallen as we wound our way through hairpin bends at breakneck speed, most often halfway across the middle line. Road travel in Sicily is not for sissies. I caught brief glimpses of dry stone walls, blooming oleanders and olive trees as the cars headlights punctured the darkness. Balancing on top of hills, villages glowed gold.

Modica at night

Modica is approached down multiple hair pin bends that open up into a wide main road, Corso Umberto I, which runs – relatively flatly – through town. The buildings on both sides are all ancient, made with huge golden blocks of stone that glimmered in the street lights. Walter dropped us at our Air BnB, down the end of the road, just off Corso Umberto I. It was in a perfect position.

But …

Travel must obviously have hurdles otherwise there’d be no stories to tell, would there? And here we stumbled – well, crash-banged, really – into our first. The eighth floor apartment that I’d booked as it had a lift and a gorgeous view had both, but the lift was hardly big enough for two people and definitely not big enough for a wheelchair.

Floriana, our lovely host, was mortified and offered her husband to carry me up the stairs. A very kind but completely crazy idea. She got on the phone, called her cousin at the other end of town who works at the hotel there, and got us booked in, apologising repeatedly throughout. She and Leigh headed up there with the suitcase in the car and GM and I ambled up the Corso Umberto I behind them, marvelling at the architecture and being greeted by all we passed. An old man invited us in for coffee, the Duomo San Pietro watched over us, the aromas of the almost-closing restaurants spilled onto the streets. It was gorgeous.

A clean, spacious hotel room and dinner at the Osteria a couple of steps down the road – which stayed open especially for us and fed us freshly made pasta that defied description in its deliciousness served with red wine and followed by a digestif as the family’s youngest son played football in the kitchen … it was the perfect wobbly welcome to Sicily.

 

Eddie Vedder Found: Taormina, Sicily

My history with Eddie Vedder’s music goes way back. The night before I had my accident in 1996 I listened to Off He Goes, sobbing for a life I was leaving behind in a small town in South Africa. In that moment, I had no idea of how my life would really change the following morning, in the few seconds, filled with crashing glass and crunching metal and breaking thorn trees followed by the hot still silence of a clear Karoo day, it took to put me in a wheelchair.

That was not the only moment in my life that had a PJ track attached to it – there were many moments, from gentle, quiet ones to gleeful ones to heartbroken, sad ones, that had a range of their tracks attached, and still do.  And there’ll be more to come.

And that’s the back story as to why this trip to Sicily from Cape Town is a dream. I’ve been wanting to see Eddie Vedder for years. Many, many years. When I saw the Florence festival announced, I hesitated for a split second, and booked, living by the cliched (but true) ‘Life is short’. Then Sicily was announced and the plan changed. Sicily! In an Ancient Greek ruin? No brainer.

And so it came to be that last night, in an amphitheatre dating back to the early Seventh Century BC (BC!), I saw Eddie Vedder, live. It may well have been the best night of my life.

One advantage of being in a wheelchair is that the ancient Greeks didn’t really build amphitheatres for us, so the only place I can go (after negotiating some pretty fabulously steep ramps, with the help of some pretty fabulously handsome medics and firemen), is right in front! The lovely Federica, from Rome, sat next us, having broken her knee saving a guy from falling during a stage dive in a mosh pit three days ago. She shared her water with us

As the sky deepened to cerulean blue, the new moon flirted with the Evening Star above Mount Etna and the Mediterranean turned dark. The ancient walls of the amphitheatre that have seen so much in their time twitched in anticipation. The hot evening air, filled with the whispers and stories of thousands of years, was electric. A couple got engaged in the front seats as the crowd exuded love. And then the electricity multiplied …

(Thanks to Martin Grundberg for this gorgeous pic from up at the back.)

The crowd roared – echoes of gladiator fights of years ago – as Eddie Vedder walked on stage, 25 m from me. As he picked up his guitar and sang those first few words, I dissolved, grinning like a loon, my lips quivered and tears overflowed. That voice. The one I’ve listened to a thousand times, on tapes, on CDs, on YouTube videos … live.

For two-and-a-half hours he sang, no break. Just Breathe, Society, Without You, the best rendition of Jeremy, with the string quartet, the list went on and the crowd went wild and my lungs scrunched up and my heart expanded and I was enthralled. And an R.E.M. track, with a Michael Stipe in Berlin story attached – my second favourite band – swoon!

During Jeremy he came into the crowd, shaking hands, hugging people, coming closer to us, until he was right there, so close I could’ve touched him, but I was totally frozen in awe. Leigh put out her hand, he shook it. And then he hugged Federica, before going back to the stage. We all cried, like teen fans, but much more sophisticated (of course).

Pigeons flapped from rampart to rampart, momentarily lit by the stage lights, and bats flitted across the sky. A heavily pregnant woman in a white dress walked up and down in one of the top tiers, beautifully lit and looking like a Greek goddess. The whole thing was surreal.

And Eddie Vedder sang and chatted and shared his wine and congratulated the newly engaged couple and brought his daughters and wife on stage and it just all felt so incredibly lovely. And, dare I say it again? That voice.

Fascinating fact of the day: Eddie Vedder with a ukulele and Glen Hansard can sing, without microphones, in that ancient amphitheatre, and the sound is perfect and the audience will be hushed in wonder and it will be magical.

Second fascinating fact of the day: Five thousand people singing Hard Sun on a hot night in an amphitheatre overlooking Mount Etna and The Med can change the cells in your body, rearranging them into something that just feels better, man. (See what I did?)

Tonight, I’m lucky enough to go again. Hold thumbs for Off He Goes, please.

Sicily On My Mind

Sicily has never been on my list of ‘Places I Want To Go’. Not that it’s been on my list of ‘Places I Don’t Want To Go’, either (I don’t really have one of those), it’s just not been on my radar at all, really. I come from a travel-lovin’ family. My childhood was filled with back roads, exploring old graveyards and farmhouses, stopping to swim in rivers, look at rocks (my Dad’s a geologist) and follow paths to see where they went.

As a 16-year old, my parents took me on a Whistle Stop Tour of Europe, to open my eyes to the world outside of my Small Town, South Africa. Open my eyes it did, to the splendour of the world and the tinyness of each of us in the greater scheme of things, and the tinyness of the block of time in which we live, and the joy of seeing new places and meeting new people, trying food whose name you don’t understand and whose taste you’ve never experienced, seeing cultures that are so removed from your own, yet, in some ways, comfortingly familiar.

I loved Italy on that Whistle Stop Tour and swore that when I finished school I’d become a plumber and go and live in Venice, because Venice, surely, needs plumbers. I didn’t though, and got swept up by life and all that goes with it and went to university and, and … I didn’t stop travelling and exploring throughout, but  didn’t go to live in Venice. Italy has remained up there on my list, but not Sicily. Sicily never crossed my mind. But now, it’s very much on my mind.

Here I sit, reading my umpteenth article on Sicily, tickets on my desk from Cape Town to London, London into Comiso and two weeks later out of Catania to Paris, then to London, then back home to Cape Town. I now know all about the Mafia, towns with names like Modica, Noto and Ortigia, ancient buildings, beautiful ruins, shining beaches lapped by the Med, and I haven’t, yet, been there. But I’m going. Next month. Next. Month. To Sicily. The place that I’d never really thought about going to.

And here I get to my point: the most marvellous way that the world manages to throw ideas at you, randomly and beautifully. You see, I’d never have thought of going to Sicily, but Eddie Vedder’s going, and I’ve loved his music since my teens. And he chose to play in an ancient Greek amphitheatre that overlooks the even-more ancient Mount Etna, with her rumbling tummy, and the Med. Who could resist? Certainly not me.

So, though the culture and the history and the food and the scenery are only some of the reasons to visit Sicily (I know now, having armchair-travelled a lot in the past six weeks because, really, the planning is half the fun, isn’t it?), seeing your favourite musician play, is the cherry on the top of those reasons.  The fact that I’ll be seeing Eddie Vedder, live, TWICE, in the midst of such scenery makes me grin like a loon and squeal like a teen. Music really does broaden your horizons.

The fact that Sicily sounds particularly, let’s say … challenging, in a wheelchair doesn’t put me off one iota – I’m travelling with two of my favourite allies (credit to RHCP, and now we all have an Ear Worm), and I can’t wait.

I do love an adventure.

 

 

In Search of Eddie Vedder

I have loved Eddie Vedder since I was a teenager. And by loved, I am perfectly happy to admit that it’s a love of the complete teen-adoration-for-ridiculously-good-looking-rockstar-who-stage-dives kind. It’s not only that, though, and it’s lasted into my 40’s. I love his voice, his lyrics, his … I’ll stop there. Swoon.

Pearl Jam and, later, Eddie Vedder’s solo songs, have been integral tracks on the Soundtrack of My Life. You know how when big things are happening – you’re falling in love, you’ve had your heart broken, somebody ate the last piece of pizza – every song lyric is written for you? In those moments, those song lyrics for me, very often, were those of Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder.

For years I’ve been watching them announce concert dates, the world over, and thinking ‘should I’, ‘shouldn’t I?’  Then they announced a Florence Festival date *Quick whirl back in time: I went to Italy in 1990, as a long-limbed 16-year old, and fell in love with it* and I thought, ‘I should.’ A few days later, they announced more European dates, one in Sicily.

And that is why I have spent the last weeks plotting and planning and calling in Italian Knights in Shining Armour (IKiSA) to help me translate booking sites and correspond with organisers, to work out if I could wangle it to see Eddie Vedder play in the most beautiful ancient Greek ruins overlooking Mount Etna in Taormina, Sicily. There have been mails to-ing and fro-ing and nails being bitten and so many lovely, kind people both here and in Italy giving me the low-down on accessibility.

Yesterday, I received the final one, from the organiser of the Taormina concert. Yes, I would be able to access the Teatro antico di Taormina, all I needed to do was get online and book, when bookings opened this morning at 10 AM (CET), all in Italian. My IKiSA gave me careful instructions on what to do. Yesterday, using Google Translate, I registered on the ticket site, practiced buying a ticket for something else, Google Translated every little line.

I checked three different websites to make sure that 10 AM (CET) was the same as 11 AM here.

This morning, with my ADSL behaving like a 2-year old that doesn’t want to go to school, I pretended to do some work while I watched the clock like a civil servant waiting for tea-time. At 10:45 AM I moved myself and my tetchy computer into the kitchen, with its nose against the modem and logged on on my phone too, in case. Google Translate was open. Everything else was closed, so that my computer could concentrate solely on the matter at hand: Getting. Those. Tickets.

10:58.

10:59.

11:00! And there they were! A little green button next to ‘Biglietti’! I clicked on it, put in the number of tickets and clicked on ‘Metti nel carrello’. The little Circle Thingy of Hell turned and turned, the page not changing. I started doing the same thing on my phone, a panic rising from the pit of my stomach.

Wait! A Capchta code. Eek. Those things freak me out. Is it a ‘C’ or a ‘c’, a ‘W’ or a ‘w’? I felt like I was doing my final Chemistry prac again.

Success! New screen.

Pick ‘Ritiro sul luogo dell’evento’, as told by IKiSA. Then more Circle Thingy of Hell, as the time-allowed-clock ticked down from 10:00 to 08:40. My shattered nerves. New page loading!

What? Who? You need me to fill in which? Eek. Frantic Google Translating … Enter credit card details.

We’re down to 04:21.  The timer is sticking it’s tongue out at me. 02:34.

Enter SMS’ed code to agree to payment coming off my card: 9939.

Circle Thingy of Hell.
Circle Thingy of Hell .
01:24.
Circle Thingy of Hell …

VOILA! (I think. Everything’s in Italian, but it looks like tickets to Eddie Vedder, and the money’s gone off my account, and I’ve got the e-mail. I feel like I’ve just received a Golden Ticket to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.)

I am going to see Eddie Vedder in Taormina, Sicily on 26 June 2017.  I have that excitement that makes the tummy gurgle and the mouth stretch into a smile and the heart flutter arrythmically. The excitement.

This is where I’ll be seeing him. It’s almost unbelievable. Here. That’s the Mediterranean in the distance. Oh. My. God(father). Sicily. Eddie. Swoon.