Well the drive to Mondello was an experience. I sat in front and I can now see why Alison cringed when I drove the Saab. Narrowly missing wing mirrors and road markings, tail ending cars and suicide braking. Will we or will we not crash when we merge. I struggled to start a conversation but he spoke no English and was one of those men whom conversation when you are driving was ”bastardo, tetardo, fuck,”. Best concentrate on the sights. And they were many.
Can’t wait to try the food here. The street food is renowned and I am drawn to pani ci meusa (a sandwich made of fried beef spleen served with Sicilian lemon and caciocavallo cheese), yeah beef spleen. There are also sea urchins which I will definitely give a miss but lots of fish.
We had walked past it yesterday and glanced at the m3nu but all I could see was fish, fish, fish, so we moved on. A guy standing out from cooking on a two burner gas stove , surrounded by little dishes of seasonings, herbs and freshly diced vegatables. Trattoria da Piero. We woke late. I had tried the plug in gizmo to deter mosquitos but the fumes triggered an asthma attack so I had moved out to the balcony and woke to a thunderstorm and heavy rain avoiding the need for a morning shower. It is a bit of a problem showering and washing because one of the many ‘rules’ of the house is to turn off the gas water heater overnight or when we leave. Getting it started again is a bit of a hit and miss affair and twice I have started a shower only to get lathered up and the water goes cold. Trudging back out the balcony I find that the pilot light has gone out and I have to start all over with soap running into my eyes.
Anyway we trudge downtown around 1300hrs and I am prepared to give fish a go. Much to my delight there is meat on the menu but we start with an octopus salad. That the large pot on one of the burners turns out to contain three octopi simmering in a broth of stock liberally spiced and dashes of lemon. One is hauled out and dissected in front of our eyes, smothered in pepper , salt, lemon juice and olive oil, and that folks is your starter. Alison has the grilled sea bass and I , the Angus beef with one of the best simple salads I have tasted in a restaurant. To top it off the beef, oysters, fish , vegetables are actually bought off a truck outside the shop, AND, amongst all this the three staff take turns cooking, waiting, and entertaining the guests. The cook even pulls customers over to stir something, or look in a pot, or smell a jar of something just arrived at the restaurant. All very entertaining and the food is seriously good. I will be back and will probably be tempted to do fish.
What was interesting and he let me have a smell of it was a can of tonka beans, a South American member of the pea family which is dried and looks like a big coffee bean. He explains that he likes cooking with them (shaved) and they go well with fish. They are also put in ice cream and deserts. They are illegal in the USA and several top restaurants have been raided by the FDA. Apparently some Italian liqueurs contain the active ingredient is coumarin which the misguided food police believe is a blood thinner, hence the ban.
Last morning in Cefalu. We stroll up to the old town as the day climbs toward 30+ degrees and take our last coffee and pistachio treats for breakfast. I am tempted to buy that coppola that I spied earlier on but fortunately the shop is closed and I can only look longingly through the window at the poles of €25 hats. Later as we stroll for the last time down the waterfront and gaze jealously at swimmers taking an early morning dip I spy a similar hat for €10, but wrong size. We pay a last visit to the Superstore for refreshments for the train ride and I sit on the bench outside waiting for Alison and ponder on the begging. Sitting next to me is a young African man and his scam is to approach people who are struggling with their groceries and, for a small offering, carry them to the car or taxi. Earlier we were approached by the lesser form of an African guy holding out his hat and asking for money, he does this up and down the street, in shops, in restaurants, along the beach. A variation is a woman, usually with a baby doing the same thing. Then there are the (usually Indian) people selling crap, again along the beach or on the promenade. Yesterday the municipal police turned up and as the cheroot smoking officer with his low slung Glock, looked on, the vendors scattered left and right moving their stuff down alleys, into waiting cars or just over the wall onto the beach. There are signs everywhere warning of pickpockets and thieves on the treno notte but this barely legitimized and marginally tolerated begging seems to be the norm. And 90% of the time is fruitless. At least the masses who roam the beach offer something for your money. I figure they earn about € 160-200 a day, seven days a week, tax free. Not bad and this is the off season so it could be considerably more July- September.
Cefalu has been great. The beach is fantastic, the amenities only a few minutes stroll through the railway tunnel. The supermarket has everything. There are fruit and vegetable and fish stalls everywhere. The apartment, although north facing has a large balcony. There is a great bathroom and apart from nightly visits from mosquitoes good sleeping facilities. We could try harder to avoid them but it’s a luxury to sleep with all the doors and windows open and repellants smell so bad. The old town is fascinating, good eateries , and high end fashion shops.
She came out of the sea. Blue suit, my favorite. Pale. Probably not local. Stretched towel. Daughter, I phone, furiously texting. She shook off the sand, donned goggles, swam out an impossible distance. Glanced back. Had her lover returned. She had to pick up Raffeleo at 1339. Rush along the beach. All good. Change to swimwear agong. Stroke out. Don glasses. Dive. The sand is so white, the rocks so green. From out here she can see the beach. Stick figures. Closer, the men, leering at her, the women, envying her. Roffello arrives. “ Oappa is here. He has pizza’. The scheme ends.
Train journey to Palermo has its moments. We wait at the Cefalu train station, validate our tickets, we are leaving from platform 3 which is a trek across two lines. We have thirty minutes to wait in the now blistering sun and I idly consult the board and see that a train from Palermo arrives at 12.57 and one leaves for Palmero at 13.05. Alison and I first have an argument about whether it’s the same train (she it is, me it is not) much to the delight of the young Italian beauty sharing our platform seat. We consult the board and they are indeed 1291 and 1298, two different trains. I demand an apology which raises a smile from our onlooker and then the train from Palermo pulls in and suddenly the board changes and there is much station announcement in Italian, English and German I cannot hear because of some loud youths yelling and playing music. The train sits and both tourists and locals sit and then a guard comes running down the platform yelling Palermo, Palermo, and there is a mass scramble for seats on the very flash new train. I run up to the guard and ask Palermo and indicate that the train has just come from Palermo and is it possible its going back without going anywhere else. “si, si , Palermo” as he mimes a thumb back along the track. I throw my suitcase on board and see Alison stubbornly standing on the platform. I can see her little mind going “he’s wrong, wrong, wrong, and we have a bloody taxi waiting in Palermo to take us to Mondello, wrong, wrong”. Finally, her pride shattered she jumps on board and pretends that she can’t lift her suitcase up onto the rack in a vain attempt to make me feel even more guilty. She then sits and mutters under her breath how this is all going to turn to shit and we will be back in Messina and ……….. Actually I am a little concerned myself because I can’t see why a train would just retrace its steps like this but, much to my great relief, the train starts going to Palermo. And then… the loud youth from the station have populated our carriage and one of them has obviously got a boom box attachment for his cellphone and suddenly our carriage is bombarded by some really bad Italian rap. Despite dire warnings over the intercom that the railway police are on board and that all carriages are under police surveillance it doesn’t deter them from turning the crap up even louder. Suddenly Alison releases all her rage and ‘politely’ asks them to turn it down. And they do.
Lovely train ride and they get off at some dump about two stops on so we can enjoy the coastline and intensive agriculture on the other side of the tracks. I keep wondering about irrigation as Sicily does have a problem in that area and they don’t seem to store what little rain that falls.
Finally we pull into still bomb damaged from WW2 Palermo. It doesn’t look great. Some obvious rubbish problems (Mafia) and awful high rise dwellings. We are met by Carlo , our driver, who, for €15 is going to drive us to Mondello , on the airport side of Palermo.
Awoke to the sound of thunder rolling in the distance. I rolled over and went back to sleep. Bone tired. We had a mosquito in the room last night. A particularly angry one who divebombed me every moment I felt safe. After two hours cowering beneath the bedding I gave up and sacrificed my arm for the sake of some sleep. Then I awoke to the sound of really intense thunder and bright lightening. Then the room was filled with a bright light. My God. We had been hit! No it was this curious light I had Noticed in two of the rooms. A soft glow that didn’t respond to any switch that I could locate. My first thought was it was an evacuation light (the building had been hit by lightening and was on fire) , then, I realised it was emergency lighting for a power failure. When all the street lights are out it is pitch black and new apartments must have them fitted for such an emergency. What a grand idea. I managed to locate a gas flicker thingy so we could have a cup of honey sweetened tea and watch the fireworks. But how do the electric trains keep running?. In 2003 Italy had a serious power failure which turned off all of Italy, Switzerland and affected 56 million people. The railways shut down, people were trapped in buildings, a major SNAFU.
Three hours later and I am losing my faith in Italian ingenuity. Still no power and as the thin light of dawn starts to brighten up the apartment, I think of no hot water (gas heated but requires an electrical prompt), no internet, no supermarket as the doors will be closed and nothing open. This was our big day out. Shopping, a restaurant meal, and maybe a visit to a church. Yes! A church service! I have been to one other Roman Catholic service and it was fascinating.
Then a train flashes by and I think “that cant be right” , locate the switchboard and see that the main fuse has been tripped. Power on and the day resumes. We had spied a cool restaurant that has chairs out over the rocks and you dine while the waves kind of break all around you. Unfortunately, it being Sunday, its shut down but the one next door has a balcony for about 15 tables overlooking the same stretch of rockery so we settle into q fine meal. Me the antipasto and then pistachio encrusted entrecote, Alison, some fishy thing. The only fishy thing that tempted me was the anchovies in pasta but I was curious about the steak and it was a winner.
Then a stroll back along the promenade where the local police seemed to be having a blitz on beggars and thy were fleeing everywhere. I struck up a conversation with a French lady and suddenly realised she was asking me for money. Time to move on and as we sauntered along, infused with the lovely Sicilian lunch time wine, I spotted this sexy little Ford coupe with pinafornia styling. While was trying to focus my camera Alison had struck up a conversation with a short, burly Italian and, in broken English/Italian he was showing the even bigger prize parked in f4ont, a mint Fiat Abarth. Great conversation and the love of fine cars really breaks barriers. He proudly displayed his Alfa Romeo patch and we parted with much Ciao & Arriverderci.
The bedroom has been mosquito proofed, the night is drawing in, the vespas are rattling under the railway bridge and another day in glorious and surprising Sicily draws to a close.
Tchotchkes everywhere. It’s a beautiful old town, narrow streets, old church buildings, bells ringing every quarter but its also a tourist trap. Hundreds of shops filled with – well tchotchkes. Badges that represent something, sea shells, old fishing nets, and then high end stuff like Burberry child gear. I stop at a shop selling, amongst other things, coppolas made from old sacks. Quite beautiful to hold and look good on but € 25 is a little step for sackcloth. We find a space where the locals used to bring their clothes to wash. Long closed over but a fresh water stream that flows under the village to the sea.
Then its back to the beach. I must confess that we have a week pass to Lido Beach which allows us a parasol, a sun bed, access to the restaurant and toilet block and changing sheds. Yesterday we slummed on the public beach because my socialism would not allow me to enjoy the ‘private’ one. I say private but I fail to see how this all works. Apparently it’s the same in most European countries. Yesterday I was approached by a slight Asian lady touting a card and smiling sweetly. There is a lot of this on beaches. Guys with racks of baubles, selfie sticks, wallets, sandals, and umbrellas. You develop a thick skin and either “ no thank you or fuck off”. Some are very persistent but hey you are here to relax , not to be bothered with street shlock. Anyway, I could not work out what she was selling as she waved this brightly colored card about. Later in the day I saw her in negotiation with a young lady and it looked very civilized and not having the flavour of the other hawkers. We were lounging back on our beach loungers, adjusting our parasols, and thinking of that first martini, when she appears again. She is a masseuse and for €20 you get a 40 minute full body massage. Seems reasonable to me and I can tell you there is nothing like getting a full body massage while the sun beats down on you and the Mediterranean gently flows beneath your lounger. Only downside was that after I paid her she kept chanting ‘domani, domani, you domani’ which I thought meant I hadn’t paid her enough but quickly realized meant see you same place tomorrow. Unfortunately we have found a ritzier lido further up the beach so we may never see each other again. And she gives a good massage. Except when she pulls your shorts down to have a better go of your butt or, if a woman, asks you to rollover with fully exposed breasts, in front of 50 or so fellow lidoers, who don’t give a toss.
Very impressed by the politeness of some Sicilians. For, not the first time, a person in a supermarket queue, seeing my meagre buy, has ushered me in front of them. Rarely have I seen this in NZ. Also, people we have dealt with in shops or stalls will see us in the street and wave and boungiorno. Very friendly and touching.
Started off the day with the Guardian updates on the third and final Bledisloe cup. Why we have to rely on the Poms for up-to-the-monute commentary I do not know. The Herald and Stuff were about 49 minutes behind and Sky does not broadcast in your location. Why not! I’m still paying my bill. I listened to last weeks game in Catania from South African radio and then switched to Australian radio. Totally different game. The SA thought they were in with a chance but the Aussie radio told it like it was. Same this week. I checked out Aussie media and it was all about bad ref calls, and booing Quade Cooper. We do live in a parochial little world. I have tried to watch Italian football on a Sunday but not knowing any of the teams or players makes it hard and football is , at times, a pretty boring spectacle.
I started with tchotchkes and I will finish with them. Small, worthless, icons or tokens often sold to tourists. You will probably see them on mantlepieces, coffee tables, maybe pinned to a wall. Like those endless photos that are taken. Or when you get bqck to the office and someon3 asks how was the holiday. But they don’t want to hear your stories or look at your photos. They are YOUR memories – to cherish, to fall to sleep to. TCHOTCHKES.
The term Lido, originally coming from this island, is used to refer to certain types of outdoor swimming pools especially in Great Britain, and the “Lido deck” on a cruise ship. It also forms the first part of many place names in coastal locations throughout Italy.
A lido (/ˈliːdoʊ/ LEE-doh, /ˈlaɪdoʊ/ LY-doh) is a word inEnglish for a public outdoor swimming pool and surrounding facilities, or part of a beach where people can swim, lie in the sun, or participate in water sports. Lidos tend to be found in towns and cities in southern England, particularly London. On a cruise ship or ocean liner, thedeck with outdoor pools and surrounding facilities is often designated the lido deck.
Lido is an Italian word for “beach” and forms part of the place name of several Italian seaside towns known for their beach, e.g., Lido di Venezia, the barrier beach enclosing the Venetian Lagoon. Possibly, the term found its way into English from English visitors returning from the Lido di Venezia, where sea-bathing took place from the lat7e 19th century.
The reality is, weeeelll. A long white beach , private in places, dotted with the ‘public’ bits. Only on our passiegea the next day did we see the roped off sections, clearly telling you where you belong. Its strange for someone used to NZ BEACHES, free and accessible to all. We have a pass that allows us unto the Lido Beach Club, but we haven’t used it yet or to be truthful, found the said club. We, spent an entire day at The Lido. First get your towel. And they are beautiful towels sold by a promenade vendor. Alison has become adept at barging but falls a little short not understanding Italian numbers. When I interpret the towel guy thinks thats the price. Still, eighteen € for two cotton , beautiful lightweight towels is a bargain. Next day she managed to spruke down from €10 to €5.50 a belt. She is learning.
The beach is an e⛱🌐exercise I observe humanity at its best and worst. There is no shame. Grotesque bodies, huge man breasts, sunken bellies, sagging, necrotic skin, pale bleached anoretic, huge wrinkled, flabby arms, hanging butts. Its all on display and no-one cares.
A Japanese lady walks by, cardboard display, begging, I think, but she is offering, on-the-beach massages. I watch h in dismay as a beautiful German mother, takes all her clothes off a is pampered for a half hour. Three buxom males are next, submitting to her heavenly touch.
I dive into 27C water to cool off. Offshore a yacht ha lies lazily at anchor, A very huge Slavian women stands a few metres from me and removes her bikini. No shame. Huge pendulous breasts, swinging freely, gross pubic hair. She smiles as she pulls on a faded blue, striped dress.
I look down the beach and see a well tanned elderly gentleman gingerly making his way, step by painfully step, into the Lido bar for a cocktail to get him through the next few hours. He has obviously had a right side, left brain stroke and I want to go and help him in his painfully slow walk. He makes it and despite a severe right side deficit manages to get back to his wife on her lounger.
We wander back to our apartment and discover the old part of Cefalu. A distant tower from our balcony, a light at night, a bell that sounds every quarter hour. The big chime is the hour , the little , the quarter. The streets are like Naples, narrow, steep, quirky shops, many tourists, getting the real experience.
The days are cooling. Low 20s today with a promise of afternoon rain and thunder. Still, humidity is high and anything more than a little effort results in drenching sweat.
Was a quiet Sunday morning, blue sea rolling in from downtown Italy as we cruised up the east coast from Catania to Messina. Past St Maria de Teresa, past the horrible Taomaina and finally in Messina Centrale. Beaut snack mozzarella and cruudo in a beautiful warm bread and an americano. We are off to Cefalu on the Messina to Palermo Intercity. Italy certainly does train travel well. Grotty train but 150 kph at times and efficient ticketing etc. Why ever did NZ downgrade rail. I was reading ‘ The Rough Guide to NZ’ which made a point of NZ not having much of a rail system.
Our plans have changed. Rather than rent another car,and drive from Catania to Syracuse in the middle pf the night we booked an overnight stay at the Excelsior hotel in Catania and are training the rest of the journey.
Alison has woken up very grumpy. Apparently the room next door had very loud TV until 2.45 am and she has had little sleep. Me, I had a great sleep and am rearing to go.
Just a short little rave about Air B&Bs. On the whole we have found them to be great. Aside from Bari where the apartment was a cellar, the hot water arrangement meant a two minute shower, then a twenty minute wait while the water heated for another shower or to rinse off those bits you missed earlier. And the smell. But its the little things that annoy. Take this morning. Beautiful apartment close to shops, restaurants, transport but no plug for the sink so no washing of last nights meal so ee can have coffee and a fry up for breakfast, No utensils to cook with, no washing up powder, no d3tetgent for the washer so Alison mistakenly adds bleach because she cant read Italian and is to stubborn to ask me to read the label. So a load of washing that is now ruined. The shower looks great with jets up the wazzoo but only the miserly hand held gizmo will work. No soap, no shampoo, no teatowel, no dishcloth. And a hostess who now doesn’t speak or understand any English although yesterday she was fine. Then the Internet which was working fine last night wont go. Her response – phone YOUR internet provider. Pardon me Ms canta speeka da inglese – but its your bloody provider. Plugs for sinks have been a constant problem I think Italian housewives ( i cant imagine an Italian male going anywhere near a sink) just rinse them off under the tap. Toasters are a hit and miss affair and jugs have only appeared in those places that have many foreigners staying. Soap and shampoo are seldom present and most places have no basics like salt and pepper. On the positive side some have left enough ingredients to whip up a quick pasta dish when you arrive.
This morning I also realised how little some people know of the world. Most, when asking where you come from, seem bewildered as to where NZ is. Part of America? Part of Australia? When i tell them in Italian how long to takes to fly here (trenta ore) they mime swimming or driving. When I flap my wings they are incredulous. I shouldn’t be surprised. Our current hostess, a seemingly educated woman of the world, doesn’t even know where Malta is. She could probably hit it with a stonethrow on a good day. But then there is an arrogance about some people as well. She has just fronted up and seems bewildered why our Internet is not working. Now I am a little borderline on some IT things but I have a pretty good grasp on why Inherent is not working, She shows me her tinny little smartphone and the wireless signal. “ is good, is good , internet work fine , your machino is problem “. Hmmmm! Thank god when I ask her to go to her browser and look up something she gets the little dinosaur and YOU ARE OFFLINE sign. So then its “yoyse been pkayng with switch?…?.. you broke?…”. I had actually rebooted the router as this is sometimes the problem with these dreadful cheap D-Link routers but all the lights looked right. The problem was elsewhere. Same with the shower which she swore was alright when she last used it . Yeah right! The apartment is so unused that the freezer has mould growing in it. She then showed me the deep gash on her hand she had inflicted on herself whilst trying to turn on said shower, and, before she got a man to unfreeze the jammed valve. She then starts to forget her English and gets very bossy. Time to remind her who is paying the bills. At least they all front up to fix the problems. Eventually. Unless its between 1300 and 1600 hrs. Or a Sunday.
What can I say. The family run restaurant. Its tucked away up a backstreet, behind the information centre and the executioners museum. It a tiny little, two storied building g with a massive commercial kitchen , seating for 29 downstairs and up a winding limestone staircase another 20 upstairs with a public toilet with bath, toothbrushes and shampoos. No menu. You eat what they have out of the garden that day and fresh local produce. Entree of 10 antipasti, no choice of wine apart from red or white, hard or soft, then a main which this night was quail and pork done the Maltese way. Dessert and coffee. All paced well, described by a knowledgeable waiter and very civilized. I would rate it as the second best meal we have had in the last few months only bettered by the octopus an rabbit we had in Italy. Just too much rich food, not enough freedom to choose, and very, very expensive.
Verdict. The food is there if you go looking for it. Avoid tourista menus, avoid any menu in English, try the local foods, dont rely on flashy tables or decor.
Imagine if you like. You awake, mid night, bladder bursting. Pale street light shows you the way to the bathroom but you need lights to ensure you dont spray the floor and wall with male pheremones. As you, still half asleep contemplate that fava bean puree and mixed barley and orange antipasto you see a scuttling to you right in the base of the shower stall. No! Must be my imagination. No! There it goes again. Eyes finally focus. Its the biggest beetle you have ever seen. Looks like one of those dung beetles. In my bathroom! I am a spider and bug phobic and have stood on chairs while Alison tracked down and killed spiders, cockroaches in New Orleans, scorpions in New Mexico, hunter spiders in Australia. I quietly close the shower door and scuttle back to bed where I lie wondering how the thing got there, I go back an hour later and its gone but my shower this morning was not a relaxing affair.
Another odd thing explained. Whenever we sit at our local Cafe du Brazil there is this constant background of distinctive whistles. I just discovered what they are as my favourite Nonna brings me a boiled sweet to go with my 1800hr wine. Its like the old party line telephone. Ours was two longs and a short telling you that the number being rung was yours. The whistling is a code. Hi its Nonna here. I want to talk to you Maria. Maria whistles back from the other side of the house. No, im busy. Maybe next ten minutes or variations. Could make an interesting anthropological PhD thesis.
We rode the ferries and the buses today. Explore Maltas three harbours then a blue bus to look at the interior and the south coast.
The harbour tour reminds one of the great maritime traditions of Malta which are still evident from the shipyards, the extensive dry docking facilities and the large working port. Also apparent is the navy presence which the tour guide was at length to point out was for fiheries defence, search and rescue and illegal immigration. Yeah right, as HMS Daring puts to sea, after losing a crewman to bad Maltese driving or drunken pedestrian behaviour. She is a class destroyer at present on patrol in the Persian Gulf and fighting ISIS. . The ports are also home to numerous marinas full of yachts ranging from the frugal to the super. Many overwinter here and leave skeleton crews who spend their day washing and polishing, washing and ppolishingthen probably sending text attachment to their owners across the world.
The trip inland showed us a different face to Malta aside from MDina (the walled city). Very intensive agriculture, rich looking cities, olives, lemons , tomatoes, peppers, potatoes .
We finish off the day by missing our ferry but share a water taxi (a gondola with an outboard and a skipper with attitude)with a Frenchwoman who has been living and working in Malta for ten years. “ the cost of living goes up and wages stay the same”. Sounds familiar and our waitress at du Brazil confirms the minimum wage is €4.6 and she doesn’t even get that. I tip her €2.
Just had my second gelato and iced coffees at the little gellatario off the top of the wharf lit in Valletta. Superb after a couple of hours of people watching and grading fellow travellers on degrees of awfulness. Top, must be the Asians who are either asleep or taking selfies and holding everyone up. Second, the Germans, who talk loudly and forget they almost bombed this island senseless. Third, the English who still think they run the island and don’t realise that with their funny teeth and white skin or terrible sunburn they are just a laughing stock. The other night at the restaurant our fellow diners ( British ) informed us proudly they had just become French citizens after Brexit. Some loyalty. FFourthly Americans )see the British) overweight or stick thin, loud, brash”back home we havem this much bigger, brighter, and at half the price”.
Sitting here, watching humanity drift by is like a continuous Ralph Steadman series of drawing’s. Grotesque body types, carnivorous features, lizard movements. The Malta sun is baking my brain. A procession of people stop to pay and photograph a mangy cat. If she had a begging bowl she could make a fortune. The Malta gunbattery fires its midday gun. The pigeons flee. Thencat rolls over. A few hours to myself she dreams.
So its goodbye to Malta. A pat on the shoulder, a kind word, a place that will stay in my heart.