Winding Down

A final brief word from me…..

Today I went on the local bus to Noto, a small and beautiful Baroque town south west of Siracusa. After a major earthquake which destroyed the regional towns in the early 1600′s ( including Ragusa) , the towns were rebuilt in the Baroque style. Again I wish I could include the photos I took , but worth googling to have a quick look.

This was my final adventure for the trip as we are winding down and our thoughts are now gearing towards the train travel then flights from Sunday , arriving back in Perth late Tuesday 15/7/14.

As usual, one of my highlights has been in the indulgence of taste and flavour and my tummy. Some highlights of the food in Sicily for me have been :

Granitas: ice drinks flavoured with either lemon, almond, pistachio, ricotta or coffee. I have enjoyed all , but especially some great lemon and strong cafe granitas particularly, usually two daily.

Ice cream : Loved them all but especially the Almond in the cafe down the way in Siracusa.

Pastries and Biscotti: all great and fresh daily , but I especially enjoy Biscotti Regina: toasted sesame coated biscuits ( dry & not very sweet but a shortbread style) , can be dipped in your cafe as well.
I now have the recipe so expect some soon :)

Pizzas – especially with anchovies, cheese and tomato sauce – simple but so tasty….fresh, hot and thin crusts.

The Kasbah restaurant in Lipari: we had 3 great meals here: luscious wine and top food and reasonable prices too :)

Now Food-ed out, History- ed out and so ready for my own bed, home and life !! Albeit with a wider girth…..

See you soon

Warm wishes

Deb x

It’s all Greek to me

I have bent over backwards for the Greek experience.

I have gone as far as to re-injure my Archilles. Unfortunately this was via the more prosaic carrying of two overladen suitcases and my own backpack down a decrepit train station stairwell en route to Siracusa. My exclamation on feeling the tear was hardly aesthetic. I appreciate that this sorry story is infinitely less poetic than Homers’ (the Greek not the Simpson) namesake hero in battle for Troy. But there you have it.

Taking the contrast to extremes, my bruised ego and acutely painful lower left leg have been trussed up in lurid pink strapping. Tragically (well…pathetically really) I packed the strapping, just in this event.

I hobble, uncomfortable on a range of levels, through beautiful Siracusa, site of an Ancient Greek settlement. I am the modern but pale imitation of a Greek tragedy in search of the bona fide.

This is the place of the Fountain of Arethusa. The stuff of Greek legend and mythology. At this very spot Arethusa, on trying to escape the advances of the river God Alpheus, turned into the Diana (the Goddess not the Spencer). The tragedy of the eternal pursuit of man V women- ending in the man ultimately getting more than he bargained. No wonder the Greeks explored alternatives.

We encounter the Duomo, a beautiful Baroque church built on the ruins of a wonderful Greek temple. For mine the 2600 year old pillars and foundations the more remarkable- a statement of innovation and power.

The Duomo attests to both my quest and acute experience. People have always called out to the Gods in moments of despair. My own utterances on my re injury, although agnostic, were nonetheless colourful, beyond my control and a search for salvation. Further, my very public utterance and prostrate body on a dirty stairwell were swiftly followed by a kind of Catholic guilt and embarrassment.

The tragedy of Archimedes.

We find the museum to this great Greek. Having been told the story on a previous odyssey (our trip last year to Rome) we are now actually in the city where he made remarkable discoveries and celebrated the same by running naked through streets yelling eureka. Scientists of today get a grant or a publication in comparison- little poetry here.

Like his equal, Leonardo, centuries after him, Archimedes was able to switch seamlessly between fundamental science to its application- including in military settings. Siracusa is also sadly the place he met a bloody end at the hands of the invading Romans- marking the transition to a new power. Archimedes genius was snuffed out by brute force. It is a tragedy when the sword dominates the pen. An all too frequent, yet less frequently reported, experience. The brutal facts of history are seldom poetic.

Today we visited the Parco Archeologico. Siracusa is famous for its dramatic set of Greek and Roman ruins. Side by side are the respective theatres. The Romans’ for blood sports, the Greeks’ for staging tragedies of a different kind.

Also in this rocky and dispersed area is the Orrechio di Dionosio (ear of Dionysius). Named by the great artist Caravaggio in the 16 hundreds (when it was still considered an archeological site!) for its shape and characteristics. This huge cavern, about 30-40 meters tall, has very unusual acoustics.

Legend has it that the tyrant Greek Dionysius used to listen at the top the quarry to hear what his prisoners were plotting below. Dionysius plotted successfully to overthrow Syracuse’s democratically elected government from within. It is tragic to consider big brother governments have been shafting the public for millennia.

It’s all Greek to me.

KG

Ground control to Uncle Tom………

Apologies from your unreliable correspondents delay in penning these consistently unreliable memoirs.

We are closing out a week of slumber, sizzle, slobber and sloth in the beautiful Aeolian Islands.

Our bolt hole has been on the biggest of the islands, Lipari. We have been staying in a grand old lady, The Carasca Hotel. Well past it’s glory, this hotel retains hints of its movie star past- it is where Naomi Campbell belted a paparazzi. Stings majestic yacht is parked out front. The rather exorbitant price (almost double what we have been paying) justified on the basis of ethereal glimpses of the ghosts of the past and glorious views of the here and now from the balcony.

These islands offer a vista resplendent.

Huge rugged cliffs, volcanoes active or shattered having either dramatically blown their load or sizzled their steam; and seas of the deepest impenetrable blues side by side with opaque turquoise. This simple Kalgoorlie boy has never swam in the ocean so much.

The lure of the geography and geology is strong. At once new and ancient, familiar and foreign.

The volcanic activity rings memory bells from our own school days and those of the kids- volcanoes have been the staple of primary school curriculum over generations. Seems we have retained much. Nothing however can prepare you for witnessing the steady steam and lava bursting from the craters of Stromboli (now there is a name). We approached by boat during the day- regular ash erupts from the island, with plumes restricting views from one side of the boat; and moored by night- an awe inspiring pyrotechnic display.

Stromboli is one of the few constantly active Volcanoes in the world. People still live on the supposed “dead side” of the crater!! Uninsurable I suspect. The ancient Greeks called it a natural light house. Yet despite this remarkable history and awesome present, the beautifully set out and informative (lots on volcanoes!!) Lipari museum has a great display of Amphoraes taken from a wreck which joined Poseidon on the seabed before Stromboli’s existence. Remarkable.

Old and new, familiar and foreign.

On the islands, physical has been well and truly complemented by the social.

We have met up with Giuliette, Deb’s close colleague and friend, who’s ancestors roamed (climbed) these islands. Giuliette is a gracious hostess, a welcomed and passionate translator of language, customs and all things culinary. She is gregarious, warm, witty, intrepid, fun- the Italian clone of our friend Lesley.

Giuliette, has introduced us to a wide range of Aeolieon food and wine and the people. A welcome contrast from the comparatively barren experience in Palermo. The local white wine and the seductive sweet, but well balanced, Malvesia has regularly found their way into our hearts and stomachs- complemented by litre steins of beer. They are so good we plan to reintroduce ourselves on our return home.

The Malvesia accompanied us on an island hop yesterday. We have had the pleasure of now visiting or sailing close to all the Aeolian islands. The previous night over a wonderful meal supported by a regularly stream of said beverages, Giuliette had entertained us with a sensitive and heartfelt story of Uncle Tom.

I will not attempt to summarise the story here because I would simply not be able to convey the pathos nor wish to compromise the confidence stemming from conversations involving good friends, good food, good environment and good wine all experienced in the wonderful Kasbah Restaurant. What I will say is that Uncle Tom left the Island of Salini alone at 11 years old, lead a most colourful and at times lonely life and touched the lives of so many in so many ways that he could not have envisaged. In some small but significant way this now includes us. Uncle Toms’ was a life well led.

Despite substantial obstacles and through circuitous and curious means, Uncle Tom’s final wishes to be buried in the place of his birth were realised. We set off with Malvesia in hand (actually secreted in the back pack) in pursuit of meeting his acquaintance and honouring his memory.

1 1/2 hours we were given for lunch.

More good food, more Aoeleon wine (and a little beer). On the little island of Salini, there is only one restaurant from which to chose. Giuliette was in fine form having established she was related to both the restauranteur and the pottery maker next door!! Seems those who staid (!) behind from exodus past were warm, but noticeably narrower from a far smaller world view (and possibly gene pool). Time flies while you are having fun and delicately navigating the sensibilities of families dead and living- more ghosts here than on Uncle Tom’s Royal Show Ghost Train. Yep, he was a showman throughout his life- operating across WA.

Shit! We have to find the cemetery and fast. The three of us, rushed off with the relative’s best wishes and vague instructions into the blaring mid day sun. Anxiety built as the effects of lots of good food and fantastic wine mixed with overweight holiday bodies, good intent, disorientation and the deadline for the boats departure.

Deb, ever the tactician and holder of all things emotional breathlessly opined as we turned what appeared to be yet another interminable hill: “well at least we were here in spirit” and “we have done our best”. Not wanting to relinquish the dream of the previous night and buoyed by both the Malvesia imbibed and that bobbing in the backpack, we pressed on. Matching Deb, Giuliette’s uttered a missive equally useful and strained on sweatily stumbling into the cemetery “he’s here somewhere”.

What is it about Psychs??

Likes mice in a Psych Lab we rushed around in the cemetery maze in mild panic checking names- in search for the figurative cheese, feeling we were observed from above.

Escalating despair quickly turned to elation. Here, at last was Uncle Tom!!!! Befitting his life he was in the back row, his black marble contrasting to white of those around him in life and death……and on top of three women, “floating in a mysterious way”

We toasted him and left the half full bottle of Malvesia in his honour (and because we couldn’t fit any more in and had to run).

Uncle Tom, you were worth every bit of the effort to make your acquaintance. Salute’

Finally a brief word on being Italian.

We were invited for drinks with two Italian couples on the boat at journey’s end. We discussed the sorry state of a Italian politics, Berlusconi (he of the fake hair, fake tan and faker still persona) and the unstable and ineffective governments. In broken English a fellow traveller explained “they are too selfish”.

Emboldened by the conversation I whispered to Giuliette, “now can I ask about the mafia”. Her deadpan but definite answer gave no sway:

“I have told you before, don’t mention the war Kevin”

KG

Roger and The Normans

Here we now are in Palermo, Sicily.

Our initial reaction has been a bit of disappointment as the city is quite dirty, ramshackle and rundown as Kev has also described. Our accommodation has been excellent , at a B&B near the harbour and so far as Tour Director I have been very pleased with the accommodation pre booked to date , re locations/ facilities etc.

Yesterday I was happily blown away by the wonderful Norman architecture, history and beautiful Byzantine mosaics ( from 1100 Ad onwards) of :
*La Martorana church
*The Palace of The Normans , including Capella Palatina or the Palatine Chapel
*And the Palermo Cathedral, where the underground crypts and the Royal Tombs of Roger II and other kings are.

These are all really worth googling, the descriptions in the travel books include “simply extraordinary” especially for the Palatine Chapel. It ranks right up there for me for the mosaics and was such a delightful surprise as I really had no knowledge of how stunning & breathtaking it all was ( ignorant Aussie) .
In addition in the morning we went to two Art galleries of regional and historic art which were very interesting.

Today we went to Cefalu to visit the seaside which was a one hour trip out of Palermo. Saw another Norman Cathedral ( less impressive but interesting) and enjoyed lunch over the water.
I have been making a point of tasting different local cakes, pastries and sweets – because why wouldn’t you if you have come all this way!!! – and so far all have been tasty…. The Lemon Granitas are the best we have ever tasted :) :)

I have been thinking of home more now ( Yes, missing our kids, dog, home , friends ) and am actually looking forward to coming home after our trip to the Aeolian Islands and Siracuse.
Nearly photographed out/ eaten out/ travelled out …..

Plan to just relax in Lipari….. And catch up with my colleague and friend Giuliette in her ancestral home ( her Grandfather emigrated from the Aeolian Islands to Perth).

Looking forward to catching up soon
Love Deb x

….just don’t mention the war

“Mr Coleoni is Johnnies Godfather. To the Italian people that is is a very sacred, religious, close relationship.”

The Godfather (1972).

Palermo is old, both in years (nearly 3,000 years old) and appearance. It is the largest city in Sicily and its’ tourist, economic and social capital.

It is higgledy piggeldy, grey, gritty, dirty and dusty. The place looks to be spiralling into disrepair. The line between antiquated and antiquity having been crossed and confused years ago. It feels like it needs a good town planner and local council who have both balls and integrity to sort the place out. The decay is matched, and I contend caused, by a moral decay.

Within this confusion and decay, there are real gems that rank well in grandeur and glory against those in the more wealthy and credentialed north of Italy. These are well worth hunting down.

Sadly the decay is complemented by the disinterest, surliness and downright disdain of those in the hospitality industry- certainly not always, but noticeably different from both Turkey and Croatia. In the latter two we were welcomed, in the former barely tolerated.

Why?

Sicily, more than most, has been constantly taken over by invading forces. From Greeks, Romans, Normans (the wonderfully named Rodger in 1120), Spaniards, French, through to their own royalty, Italy (under the wonderfully named Garilbaldi and the altogether less wonderful Mussolini), and the allies (in WW 2) in recent history. Even the British “owned” it at one time. Whilst resulting in an eclectic street scape it has left the populace always subjects, never citizens.

In itself the social and physical diversity is a possible point of differentiation and attraction. But the state of the asset is concerning, actively working against any aesthetic value.

For example, there remain areas of WW2 bomb damage that have yet to be repaired!

I doubt if any if the above is strongly related to applied heritage values of attributing provenance. It appears to be more related to insufficient funds and the tragic ‘dead hand’ of the mafia.

The guide books strongly advise to avoid questions on the Cosa Nostra or Sicilian mafia whilst over here. As you might appreciate, I find this a very challenging impost. My dissonance is only marginally appeased by indirect enquiry and observation. Ahhh the sweet irony of resorting to subterfuge to explore the underworld.

It seems that there is great sensitivity entailed in the Sicilians inherent fear, raw (bloody) experience and rarer still sympathy for the Mafia. Yet this dark and sinister force is palpable in monuments; churches honouring slain priests; tacky souvenirs- Al Capone t shirts abound (economy seems to have outweighed sensibility!!); guide references; and I believe more broadly to the service culture, economy and architecture.

A long bow you might contend?

I’m not convinced. In the absence of more evidence (permission to cross examine the witness your worship- oops you too have been knocked off), I am using this as a workable hypotheses.

On the long journey into Palermo, Deb questioned the taxi driver as to the name of the mountain to our right. “What’s that?” she gestured innocently, right as we passed 2 monuments. Misreading the intent was the somber reply “That is a monument to the murder of Judge Falconi by the mafia”. “They laid in wait and slaughtered him here” Higher on the hill was a less formal monument spray painted onto the rock face (yet still lit up). Like an epithet on a tombstone was the simple: “no mafia”.

On the waterfront there is a huge steel sculpture. Of which our guide simply said: “that is to the many, many people murdered here by the mafia”. No further correspondence was invited or, in respect to previous instructions, entered into. You can appreciate my frustration.

There is theory that such a destructive and invasive force (the mafia) was aided by the combined long history of political instability/ mismanagement and the economic malaise discussed earlier. I believe these forces are chicken and egg. The hand of the mafia has fundamentally undermined this society, directly leading to political instability and an retarded economy in too few hands.

This has been a place where corruption has been a way of life. A place where repairs to important monuments have been thwarted because of funds being siphoned to the Mafia.

I must say, it is gratifying to see attempts to change this. The battle for hearts and minds seems to be shifting. The mountain is however steep and treacherous. Still Sicily remains in Purgatory- terra infadelium, or the land of disbelievers. Like extremism in religions, corruption of a different form, has sucked the life force out of the populace. Bastards.

Like legal corruption everywhere, first there is corruption of the human spirit. Where the “common man” such as a waiter, doesn’t trust civil leadership and sees disproportionate and unjust distribution of wealth, it is hard to be civil to a paying customer.

Depression is a many faced monster – economically, societally, individually.

I remain in the pursuit of understanding, but with a mixture of respect and trepidation.

I plan to actively avoid sleeping with the fishes and either ends of all horses.

KG

Farewell to Croatia

We are travelling again tomorrow 6pm to Rome then transiting 9pm Rome to Palermo in Sicily. Last legs of trip- Stage 3.

Kev had a lovely birthday and says hi ! :) & thx for good wishes. We had Coffees at 10 then Ethnography museum He then went to archeology museum ( which he said was Fantastic) and I went to Mestrovic sculpture museum ( inspiring / beautiful / elegant figures ) then siesta then went to a gorgeous quirky bar for drinks & dinner, then ice cream ( Snickers and Caramel) and home to read our books :). ( we remain the party animals !!)

Split has so many lovely cafés ,restaurants, bars all around and woven with in the Diocletian Palace – as well as people’s washing hanging out!! A fascinating area.

When we went out a couple of nights ago we went to a little restaurant recommended by Teo our skipper ,of Hvarian food- all home cooked- mum in kitchen and Dad was head waiter – I had The BEST gnocchi I have ever had (!!!!! And I have never been keen on pasta) then fresh penne in a capers, anchovies and tomato sauce – to die for !!!!!!!!

We will be waddling home as we are eating very good food EVERY day plus lovely local beers as well , we love Croatia and really lovely people – feel VERY safe. I reckon we will need to be careful in Sicily re bag snatching etc though it will be interesting to see if this prediction is accurate or way off the mark. And we haven’t even started on the fresh Italian pastas yet !!

Wandering the back streets,cobbled and narrow and hundreds of years old has been such a joy. The places & architecture ooze history, sorry we have not been able to share more photos – I have taken SO many …. And had a lot of fun with it :)

Take care & have ( more ) fun

Love Deb & Kev xox

Croatia: Close to Close Out

Sitting with a cold beer in a hot busy street square, overlooking an elegant white Cathedral, on the wonderful island of Trogir listening to Acapella singers. Doesn’t come much better than this.

Situated just a 45 minute boat trip from Split, Trogir is a real treasure. Beautifully preserved medieval buildings, dating back to the 14th Century. Labyrinth cobbled stoned streets leading to hidden delights around every narrow corner. No wonder it is World Heritage Listed.

This has the equal of most of the buildings of Florence: at half the size and a fraction of the dreaded tourists (self loathing anyone?). The sculptures are evocative- some great life-like stone dead bishops! Nothing, however will ever compare to real life yet disproportionate David. His hands were large (more on penises later).

To think, we only discovered Trogir when Deb asked for the best cheap silver in Croatia. She is currently in hot pursuit.

Get over here before it is too popular and becomes less a joy to visit.

Croatia has been all that it promised. Warm people; good and affordable: food, wine and beer; a rich history and beaut scenery. We have stuck to the coast with the boat trip and the longer bigger city stays. We have, however, been told inland is equally impressive in all respects. Must be damn good.

Tomorrow is our last full day. Following we begin the last leg to Sicily. A day transiting awaits involving the prequisite tiredness, jagged nerves, relationship stretching and deep questioning of the human condition.

Time to lift the spirit in preparation.

The sights and substances I’ll leave to a Deb. For mine is the place of people: dead and living, fictional and real, mythical and magical.

The Croates are remarkable in their resilience and insight. Tonight they fight it out with Mexico to make the next round of the World Cup. Not bad for a relatively small country (4 1/2 million) impoverished (by Western European standards) emerging from tragic domestic conflicts which has left both deep scars and strong nationalism. The latter being simultaneously understandable, admirable and alarming.

A proud people.

Napolian said “Give me 10,000 Croates and I will take over the world”. Mind you, he probably said that to all those he was recruiting. Like a Kitchener after him, old Boney of the small stature, smaller penis and much much bigger ambition needed others to realise the same (the ambition, not the penis). “My ego needs you” probably wasn’t the best of propositions to get others to risk life and limb (and appendage).

Historically, appeals through flattery and/ or nationalism are tried and true methods.

As I have said the Croates are to be admired in their self analysis. They:

-are aware of their minnow status economically and politically, but not historically or culturally;

- recognise their reliance on the tourists dollar, gearing up for a subsistence winter and yet are neither ‘needy’ or ‘self pitying’;

-universally regret joining the EU. I couldn’t find anyone who would admit to voting to join (a bit liking the search for Abbott voters). “We aren’t ready” and “they are self serving” are the most popular refrains;

- still they are able to draw on a rich and brutal history: “not to worry, every other alliance we have had has ultimately led to fall of the empire”. A lovely take in the Aussie tall poppy syndrome; and

- proud of everything Croation. Here there is as much bunting as America on the 4th July. I love the red check flags wrapped around car wing mirrors and a strange mix of contemporary rap and folk songs blaring out of the bars declaring the virtues (I think) of Croatia.

Two incidents come to mind to draw out what it means to be Croatian (and Australian) to me.

The first involves docking on one of the little islands on the sailing adventure. Alongside our yacht was another under serious duress. Populated by middle class Norwegians, the yacht’s three toilets had blocked.

I wandered out to join an albino Norwegian to watch the proceedings- a guy who wouldn’t be out of place in a Dan Brown novel. Before my joining, I had observed said white man for some time, wondering why he was waiting and not out exploring the wonderful island relieving spirit, bowels and bladder.

For over 2 hours 3 Croatians busied themselves by hand and hose like the proverbial constipated mathematician who “worked it out with a pencil”. After exchanging pleasantries, including a mutual understanding we belonged to the top two nations in the UN quality of life ladder, pale face leans in and whispers conspiratorially: “primitive methods”

I wondered what it said about him to spend all the time transfixed with the process at the expense to what I had assumed was the reason he travelled to the island. Or of me watching, watching him watching them……

At close, the Croate workers smiled and waved triumphantly as they passed us with soiled hands and the tangible smell of success. Pardon the pun, but job done.

The second involves a fellow Aussie. Australia’s cultural attaché.

Leaving our local supermarket, I literally bumped into this bloke. Beer belly, huge earrings necessitating elongated lobes, firm grasp on a local brew, whiff of something altogether other than success and clad in Geelong FC jumper.

Remembering the Cats had just unexpectantly been beaten by Gold Coast, I ventured: “Go the Cats”. I may have startled the poor antipodeon from his alcoholic slumber or melancholic grief, as all he could rejoin was: “mate I’m spewen!!!” before stumbling off up the street.

I was left wondering of both the meaning of being an Australian and my own propensity to over-analyse small exchanges.

Off to the big game tonight for more cultural exchange.

Go Croatia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

KG