We are so excited to introduce you today to a true "Global Neighbor," J of (A Feathery Nest) Who are global neighbors really? They're people with whom you have many things in common and despite not living near each other, they're always there for you with advice and inspiration! J will be taking us along on a trip to Sicily along with her Sicilian husband R. If you were as curious, as we were, about Italian agriturismo travel from the (Nudo-Italia post), this is a perfect opportunity to preview it before booking your own trip!
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Sicilia Selvaggia, Wild Sicily
In the spring of my final year of college I decided to create one of those new'ish blog thingies that everybody seemed to have. I had "discovered" them the previous summer when I Googled other people's experiences living in New York, before heading up there myself for an internship.
After getting my first blog started, I eventually gathered a circle of people who checked in on me and who I checked in on, too. One of them was a hotsy-totsy, feisty Ukrainian gal that lived in Staten Island and worked in Manhattan. We learned a lot about each other by commenting on each other's blogs and now three blogs later for me (and I believe the same number later for her!), we're still "in" each other's lives, despite trans-Atlantic moves, marriages, babies and 8 years passing. The crazy thing is, we've only ever met once!
When Alla and Mu-Hsien created On the Same Page, I got it. Immediately. After all, what better way to define the relationship between Alla and myself than "global neighbors"—friends that support each other from far away? So of course when Alla sent me a note asking if I'd like to share a story about one of my favorite topics on OTSP, I immediately agreed!
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Eight years ago I decided the perfect way to bridge my college chapter and the rest of my life would be to travel around Europe by myself for a month. Specifically, Italy. I crafted a plan to do a giant figure-eight of the country, spending the last few days with a friend who would fly over to meet me for the final leg in Sicily. That's how it came to be that I had a witness to the first time my eyes locked with R, the man who would become my husband.
R and I have been married now for almost 4 years, so if you're following the math here, that means that for 4 years I lived on the East coast of the U.S. while he lived on the East coast of Sicily. While trans-Atlantic dating is not exactly what I would call easy (especially given the limited amount of vacation time we get in NYC!), it does make for wonderful reunions.
One year I planned to meet R in Stockholm for Christmas, and then to fly down to Sicily for his birthday before I had to return home. As Christmas was spent with family in Sweden, and his birthday would be with friends in Sicily, we decided to fly to the west coast of the island for New Year's alone before renting a car and driving across the whole of Sicily to Taormina, his hometown, for his birthday.
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Neither of us are big New Year's Eve revelers, so we looked for tranquil seaside towns to ring in the new year together. We found a lovingly restored agriturismo (a farm-turned-B&B) outside Marsala—which would be a quick drive from the Trapani airport, where we landed from Stockholm, and a good starting point for the two day's drive back to Taormina on the first of the year. After we landed in Trapani, picked up a car, and drove to the Agriturismo Masseria Baglio Tenute Montalto (yes, a mouthful!) on the 31st, we quickly got settled and then back to the car we went.
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We were on a mission to find the nearest little town to stock up on the fixings for an in-room picnic: salami, prosciutto, formaggio al pepe nero (Sicilian cheese with black peppercorns), wine, sparkling water, dark chocolate, figs, grapes, mandarines, sundried tomatoes, marinated eggplant, a loaf of bread, and some olives. We found everything we wanted and then some, so by the the time the sun was lowering in the sky, we were camped out at the farmhouse on our bed with a feast before us.
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I fully intended to stay awake until midnight, but with a full tummy, and all the sea air I had breathed in while tooling around the coast that day, I fell asleep by 9. R gently awoke me for a midnight kiss and then we both slept deeply until morning.
The sky was still somewhere between night and dawn when we padded out of our room and took a walk along the water to greet the new year. We weren't the only ones out—a fisherman had been hard at work before the sun rose and was already coming in with his haul when we emerged from our cocoon. With our boots in the sand and a few stones in our hands, we broke the surface of the water with a wish for each ripple we made as we launched pebbles into the Mediterranean Sea—our own morning's work.
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When we returned to the farmhouse, the Signora welcomed us to breakfast in the cantina. We sat a midst the barrels and iron tools and broke bread as the sun that streamed through the windows went from weak, hazy light, to full on Sicilian rays.
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After checking out, and receiving a few bottles of wine as a gift from the proprietors (made from their own grapes!), I lugged the massive wooden doors open, and we wended our way back up the coast along the wine road (Strada del Vino), past Trapani, through Erice (which looks like Rio de Janeiro!) where we stopped for lunch, and on to Palermo for the night. The next day we continued on through the heart of Sicily, with a pause to stretch our legs in Enna before arriving home.
I'm so glad that I fell in love with a Sicilian. There's something about the uninhibited, but many-times-over-inhabited land that makes sense to me. The fiery spirits and fiery food, the wildness of the plains, the roughness of the rocky crags, the introvertedness of people living in small, remote hilltop towns where they only speak Ancient Greek, the hooded glances and double-voweled and -consonant'ed dialects that echo Arabic origins, the fierceness and protectiveness of a much-conquered people. I don't think I'd ever set foot in a place that I recognized as much as I did as when I first rode the night train from Reggio Calabria on the mainland to Messina, the port of entry into Sicily.
Of course I could always return by myself if I hadn't met R, but experiencing the whole of the island from left to right, reading it my way, instead of the Arabic way, alongside someone who could guide me, and more importantly, translate, helped me see what I would never have been able to see on my own. There's no passport or visa that will open the doors and hearts of the Sicilians—the only way to gain entry, especially for someone that's passing through, is by the hand of one of the island's own.
Or by a glance from one of her sons.
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When we reached the summit of Erice and took a walk after lunch near the city walls, we leaned against the stones that have supported many who stopped to inhale the same magnificent views and saw an elderly shepherd herding his flock through the pasture below. He looked up and caught R's eye—perhaps recognizing the soul of his Sicilian brother. Then he directed his glance my way and tipped his head ever so slightly, acknowledging my presence.
We paused to watch him walk slowly, purposefully, stopping every few paces to check that he was being followed by all of his sheep, and maybe to see if we were still observing him. He finally chose a boulder—his boulder, I'm sure—to sit upon while he took his canteen and wrapped lunch from his satchel, carefully unfolding the waxy paper and linen wrappings. His flock took note and found their own patches of meadow to chew contentedly on. The leader and his followers, all pausing for their midday meal.
R tightened his arm, which was draped across my shoulders and said to me, "Who do you think is the richer man, him? Or, Donald Trump?"
The answer was so clear, I didn't even need to say it aloud.
Goethe was right when he said, "To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything."