CASA VALENTINE…

………WHEREVER WE ARE TOGETHER, WE ARE HOME

Some Thoughts on the Sicily We Love……..

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - Feb• 24•17
Sicily....Scicli Street Life

Sicily…..Scicli Street Life

Sicily warmed my heart, not just my body.  And months after being there I am still drawn back in every way….emotionally first, but also mentally and even physically.  It takes no more than a photo or an aroma or a fleeting memory to yank me right out of wherever I am and send me back with a big contented smile on my face.  The feelings this yearning generates are so strong I sometimes wonder how I can possibly still be standing here instead of being transported there on the strength of the thought current alone.

Sicily....Scicli Sidestreet

Sicily….Scicli Sidestreet

It all started when we decided to spend a month in Scicli, a very small town in southwest Sicily.  We had already visited Sicily a few times because we had been living in Florence for more than a decade, but those visits were exciting, exploring, exuberant kind of trips.  Trips to see exquisite shorelines, vibrant and crowded cities, dream-like architectural structures from the far away past, and of course to experience the food that even mainland italians consider to be in a class by itself.  But every time we visited, we left (each of us) with a little thread of return dangling in our consciousness.  We always wanted more.

Sicily.....Scicli Curve

Sicily…..Scicli Curve

So it was that when we were looking for a page-turning experience to mark the transition between a working life in Italy and a retirement life that would include time back in the USA, the moment Sicily entered the discussion the discussion was over.  For logistical reasons we found ourselves with a one-month window of free time and much to our surprise we actually knew where in Sicily we wanted to be.  We had become enthusiastic fans of the Commissario Montalbano TV series about a sicilian police commissioner and his crew of unique characters who solved one murder after another in their little corner of Sicily…..the corner we wanted to see.  Really good fortune stepped in at this point and a loving friend connected us to one of her loving friends who had an apartment to rent in Scicli.  That was it.  Simple as that.  We packed a small bag each and hopped on the night train to Catania.

Sicily.....Scicli Alley with Lemons

Sicily…..Scicli Alley with Lemons

From the moment we stepped off the bus that had taken us from Catania to Scicli a huge part of my consciousness separated and fell off to one side.  That was the part that contained all the worries and unknowns about the future.  Once that was gone, the other part came into sharp focus.  That was the part that let me take in the flood of good that was coming my way…smiles, friendly faces, warm sun, flowers and plants everywhere resting against yellow stone buildings with crazy-gorgeous carvings dripping off the oddest places, and then there were the aromas swirling around every little corner because it was nearly noon.

Sicily.....Crazy Scicli Carvings

Sicily…..Crazy Scicli Carvings

It did not take long for us to settle in…..less than a day actually….and we spent the next 29 days being schooled in the art of living in simplicity with abundance.  Scicli is the kind of place that brings you to an abrupt halt….at least if you’re going to stay put for any length of time.

Sicily.....Scicli Street with Flowers

Sicily…..Scicli Street with Flowers

It’s not a big spread geographically and you can walk from one end of the old town to the other in less than fifteen minutes.  The town is so old that the paving stones are worn down.  And yet the old buildings still stand and are home to lots of people….many of them elderly.  By the end of our stay, however, we were happy to notice an influx of seasonal residents who

Sicily.....Scicli Maintenance

Sicily…..Scicli Maintenance

come to spend the summer.   We spent some time every day just walking through town, quietly taking in what we came to see was just everyday life….babies in strollers, elderly folks gathering together for cafe and conversation, smartly dressed workers of every stripe setting off or coming home, youngsters playing in the alleyways.  Clothes got washed and hung out to dry, shopping got carted along these tiny streets and into hushed and hurriedly opened doorways, pets waited impatiently for doors

Sicily.....Scicli Alley with Pale Door

Sicily…..Scicli Alley with Pale Door

to open and let them in to escape the heat, wooden chairs got set up in front of doorways and created social opportunities for their users and passersby.  It was beautiful.  It was moving.  We greeted everyone who made eye contact as we passed by……and that was just about everyone.  After a couple of days we became recognizable and no longer a novelty.  It was easy to forget about time and place and just wander around taking discreet photos.  Walking around these alleys and stone paths seemed like

Sicily.....Scicli Doorway

Sicily…..Scicli Doorway

a serious endeavor to me because I was in very close proximity to the living spaces that sat just on the other side of the doors that I passed.  I could hear the sounds of cooking, the sounds of silverware on plates, the voices chatting over dinner, and I did not want to intrude.  What I wanted was to experience the same pure and simple life that I saw all around me.  And I did.

Lunch at Home

Lunch at Home

We would go back to our apartment with the ingredients for the day’s meal and have some wine while we cooked and set the table out on our terrace.  Then we’d sit in the quiet and have our own little chat while others would pass by and nod in greeting.  This happened often because we lived next door to one of the finer restaurants in Scicli…a place that is known for its expertise in cooking fish.  The aromas drove us mad.  The kitchen staff would occasionally come out for a break and sit on the stairs to our stoop to make a phone call or smoke a bit of a cigarette.  It was always fun when we would show up as customers after they had witnessed so many of our own meals laid out on our outside table.  I wonder if our kitchen aromas wafted over to their workspace…….

Sicily.....Elegant Scicli Entry

Sicily…..Elegant Scicli Entry

Of course we went to the sea often (by bus) and we also took a few day trips to other places like Ragusa and Noto and Siracusa (by local one-car train), but it was Scicli where we were enchanted.  It was always Scicli.  Who would have thought that doorways could be works of art…..or that

Sicily.....Scicli Alley with Church

Sicily…..Scicli Alley with Church

magnificently grand churches could just blend right into neighborhood

Sicily.....Cathedral and Hill, Scicli

Sicily…..Cathedral and Hill, Scicli

streets, or that buying a few euros worth of vegetables from the vendor driving by in his three-wheeler truck could be such a sweet and comforting exchange of information and genuine caring?

Sicily.....Veggie Vendor, Scicli

Sicily…..Veggie Vendor, Scicli

As we were often told by other Italians, Sicilians are warm and very open-hearted people.  Their interest in you is genuine so it’s very easy to relax and feel that you are part of their everyday life.  Simple things…..like

Sicily.....Pause for Wine, Scicli

Sicily…..Pause for Wine, Scicli

enjoying a very good glass of wine while reading….take on special meaning because they are infused with pleasure.  Nothing seems to get in the way of pleasure here anyway…..every dinner out, fancy or not, is meant to be gratifying and lots of fun.  And every guest, single or part of

Sicily.....Sunset Dinner, Scicli

Sicily…..Sunset Dinner, Scicli

a group, is coddled and nurtured as a matter of course.  We noticed a din of commotion every night…..not from traffic or music, but from animated conversations and laughter.  There are small places that open only at night,

Sicily.....Nighttime Pizza Crowd, Scicli

Sicily…..Nighttime Pizza Crowd, Scicli

some that set up tables in alleyways and upon stairways, and they are all magnets of energy…..what a joy to go out at night in Scicli……perhaps this wine box message contains the secret of life in Scicli……… it is made with passion and emotion!

Wine Box Message

Wine Box Message


The Lure of the Beach in Sicily……..

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - Feb• 10•17

Italians love, love, love their beaches and with good reason.   They are designed to offer pure pleasure in many ways.  It’s true that purists can still find pristine and unpopulated shores where they can commune with the gods of nature, sun and surf.  But by far the beaches that are most popular are the ones that offer warm and mild surf, options for reclining in the shade when the sun becomes too hot, and the chance to have a leisurely and well-prepared lunch just a few steps away…

Italian Beach Chair

Relaxation Destination

Sicily Lunch at the Beach

Lunch at the Beach                                                                                                                                                          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are literally hundreds of beaches in Sicily and they each have their own version of beach life.  We sampled four of them during our month in the southeastern corner of the island and we loved them all…..one for its surf, one for its good food, one for its quiet peacefulness and one for its quirkiness.

Donnalucata, a Quiet Beach in Sicily….
This beach was made famous by the Commissario Montalbano detective series on Italian TV.  No one in the series actually swam here but the road along the shore was often filmed and it portrayed a quiet and peaceful place where land and sea lived together in harmony.  It was quiet, it was peaceful, and having soft grass underfoot was dreamy…..

Donnalucata Umbrellas

Donnalucata Umbrellas

Donnalucata Shore

Donnalucata Shore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                              Sampieri, a Long and Sandy Beach in Sicily…..

Also featured in the Montalbano series was the panorama of this shore with its distinctive factory ruin in the distance.

Sampieri Shore & Ruin

Sampieri Shore & Ruin

Nearly two miles of sandy beach stretch along the shore which is wildly popular with all ages during the day

Sampieri Fun

Sampieri Fun

and a destination for the younger set at night when every beach bar stays open late.

Sampieri Safety Rules

Sampieri Safety Rules

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lifeguard’s chair is barely tall enough to contain the Republic of Italy’s official rules for shorefront safety put forth by the Coast Guard Harbormaster of Pozzallo, the nearest port.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cava d’Aliga, a Hidden Gem of a Beach in Sicily……..

Cava d’Aliga (a name that took us a long time to pronounce correctly….to the amusement of the bus driver) is a cove-like little beach that we think has it all.  The surf is calm but alive with gentle waves, there’s a wonderful restaurant/bar with good food, there are plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas and the small crowd is made up of locals who have been coming here forever.  So……breakfast of espresso with milk and a warm croissant and then a seafood lunch and yes, wine and beer were consumed, followed by a nap in the shade.  Summer bliss, in our opinion.

Cava d'Aliga Gentle Waves

Cava d’Aliga Gentle Waves

Cava d'Aliga Breakfast

Cava d’Aliga Breakfast

Cava d'Aliga Seafood Lunch

Cava d’Aliga Seafood Lunch

 

 

Ortygia, an Extreme and Quirky Beach in Sicily for Intrepid Souls Only………  Ortygia is a peninsula of the city of Siracusa in southern Sicily.  It’s enveloped by water on three sides but not a grain of sand in sight.  Not to be deterred in their love of summer beach days, Ortygia folks gather on this odd-looking structure which serves the purpose.  Down the stairs they go….young and not-so-young alike…into the cool blue waters of the Mediterranean!

Ortygia Extreme Beach

Ortygia Extreme Beach


Everyday Sicily………The Events.

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - Aug• 17•16

For us, a true travel pleasure is to go to a place we want to visit, find a comfortable accommodation, stay there for the whole of our allotted time and just take in the life that is going on all around us. It’s one of the easiest and perhaps most meaningful way in which we can really get to know a place.  Even though we have lived in Italy for the past thirteen years and visited Sicily before, we have always wanted more…..we have wanted to understand the slow lifestyle we heard so much about. And since we are true-blue foodies, we were particularly curious about the food habits, the shopping, the recipes themselves. Well…..Scicli did not disappoint on any front. We learned, firsthand, about living in intense heat. We learned about shopping in a very small-scale way, i.e., daily. We learned what going to the beach is really all about. And we learned about open-heartedness among strangers. We also found time to have a lot of fun. Here are some of the “cose quotidiane” …..everyday things…..that played out in front of us and brought us such pleasure and contentment while we lived among the citizens of Scicli, one sweet little corner of the Sicilian world.
We started off with two weddings the day after we arrived…….

Sicily Wedding, Scicli, July 2016

Sicily Wedding, Scicli, July 2016

Sicily Wedding, Scicli, July 2016

Sicily Wedding, Scicli, July 2016

followed by two funerals during the week……..

Sicily Funeral, Scicli, July 2016

Sicily Funeral, Scicli, July 2016

Then there was the unexpected spectacle of the Scout Troop Installation, right in the main piazza, followed by a blessing in the Church……….

Sicily Scouts Sworn In, July 2016

Sicily Scouts Sworn In, July 2016

And early one morning we opened our shutters to see why people were running past our door…..and we encountered a marathon in progress right through Scicli……

Sicily Marathon, Scicli, July 2016

Sicily Marathon, Scicli, July 2016

Another day we were surprised to hear a very loud engine noise coming and going and we went out to discover a tiny little one-man earth mover slowly transferring a huge pile of sand and dirt from our street corner all the way up a very steep and narrow alleyway where a bit of construction was going on……..

Sicily Tractor, Scicli, July 2016

Sicily Tractor, Scicli, July 2016

and later that day, construction events of another kind would appear.  Finding electricity for power tools requires a bit of creativity in Sicily as we discovered while walking over extension cords that snaked their way through a couple of streets in our neighborhood…….and we were not surprised when, a few hours later, someone plugged in one too many power tools and knocked out the electricity in the center of town for a couple of hours.   Now we know what how that big burn spot on the wall across the street from us got there!

Sicily Power Source

Sicily Power Source

Sicily Power Source Continues

Sicily Power Source Continues

Sicily Close Call

Sicily Close Call

For all the daytime activity going on, you’d think things would calm down by evening.  No way.  Scicli holds its own in the night life department.  To our great surprise, everyone goes out at night……everyone.   The piazzas are full, and tourist season has not yet really started.

Sicily Small Town Nightlife...

Sicily Small Town Nightlife…

As is the Italian custom, families are out with babies in strollers late into the night but here we also noticed a wider mix.  Many young people, dating or hoping to, young children playing games in the street, and most of the senior population (a considerable force in this town) also

Something For Everyone

Something For Everyone

dressed up and headed out for the evening.  Everyone has a good time.
On the home front, meanwhile, our daily experiences were sweet even if they were a bit different than what we are used to………

Sicily Veggie Man, Scicli, July 2016

Sicily Veggie Man, Scicli, July 2016

our veggie man, Dennis, showed up faithfully three times a week with the most outrageous array of produce.  See that curved basket at the rear of his truck?  Large, dark, aromatic cherries….each one perfect! By the time he left our stop, my neighbors and I would clear out that basket…..and I can’t even begin to describe the watermelons.  We would stay home just to wait for him…..his horn announced his arrival and he would hop out of the truck and take care of three or four of us at the same time and then be off in a roar.  One day he brought his assistant-in-training……his two year old son, Elio.

Sicily Veggie Man and Assistant

Sicily Veggie Man and Assistant

At this stage of his training, Elio was a bit more interested in all the goodies that his father’s customers offered him…..but still, he’s getting the hang of the route and the pleasure of being with his father all morning…..not a small thing in itself.
Our daily routine unfolded as daily routines usually do…..but our equipment was a bit different…….

Sicily Dishwasher

Sicily Dishwasher

our dishwasher and clothes dryer were models we hadn’t seen since the 50s……..

Sicily Clothes Dryer

Sicily Clothes Dryer

but in the area of home surveillance, we were covered on two fronts……..

Sicily Surveillance, First Line

Sicily Surveillance, First Line

first, by Ombra, the ever-alert puppy who lived above our front entrance and then………

Sicily Surveillance, 24/7

Sicily Surveillance, 24/7

by our kind and generous and ever-present neighbors who sat at their stoop pretty much non-stop……they were the ultimate nonni (grandparents) who had an unending stream of visits from kids and grandkids and even we two, strange as we were to them.
We loved our daily life here……it really is slower…..and I don’t think it’s only because of the heat.  I think it’s because of a mind-set that is most unusual in its patience and contentedness……and the heat.

 


Noto, City of Sicilian Baroque

Written By: Arlene Ridolfi Valentine - Jul• 27•16

A cloudy and windy day in southern Sicily does not bode well for beach-going.  It is perfect though for a visit to Noto, Sicilian Baroque at its most outrageous.

Porta Ferdinandea, Noto, Sicily

Porta Ferdinandea, Noto, Sicily

From the minute you walk through the Porta Ferdinandea, you’re strolling through history.  For sure, there are too many tourist venues pandering gadgets and flags and bouncing balls…..but even they can’t take away from the magnificence of what unfolds before your eyes as you walk down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele.  The old city of Noto was destroyed by a violent earthquake in 1693 and the entire city was rebuilt in Baroque style which was the fashion at the time.  I’ll just let the photos do the talking……..

Chiesa San Francesco d'Assisi, Noto, Sicily

Chiesa San Francesco d’Assisi, Noto, Sicily

Just a few steps under the arches and the procession begins…..the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi gets you in shape for the stair-climbing that is to come.   All of the churches and palazzos have grand entries.

Security and Screens Combined

Security and Screens Combined

This amazing building, not even a church or monument, has the most original screens and window moldings, not to mention its rooftop pediment which is literally over the top.

Chiesa di San Carlo al Corso, Noto, Sicily

Chiesa di San Carlo al Corso, Noto, Sicily

A few steps further along and the Church of Saint Carlo looms over the narrow street that is leading you directly to

Duomo, Noto, Sicily

Duomo or La Chiesa Madre di San Nicolo, Noto, Sicily

the Duomo……the Cathedral that looks out over all.  The same Cathedral whose cupola collapsed in 1996 and was rebuilt (just a tad shorter than before),

New Cupola, Cathedral, Noto, Sicily

New Cupola, Cathedral, Noto, Sicily

but still wonderfully frescoed (and hopefully safely reinforced).  Off to a side street, the same street on which there is an infiorita every year in May (when the street is completely covered in flower petals laid out in intricate designs and patterns), there is a palazzo that stands out because of its lavishly decorated balconies……here are three of them, exceptional in their lifelike forms……

Palazzo Nicolaci Balcony, Noto, Sicily

Palazzo Nicolaci Balcony, Noto, Sicily

The faces, oddly enough two per support, seem to follow you around……while the next balcony

Nicolaci Balcony, Noto, Sicily

Nicolaci Balcony, Noto, Sicily

features lion/horses charging forward……and yet another displays

Palazzo Nicolaci Balcony, Noto, Sicily

Palazzo Nicolaci Balcony, Noto, Sicily

female forms rising from the sea.   One more church nearby stood out because of its setting…..

Chiesa di San Domenico, Noto, Sicily

Chiesa di San Domenico, Noto, Sicily

the Church of Saint Domenico sits on a little rise with a magnificent pine tree of equal height right outside its door.
By now, all that stair-climbing and craning of necks looking upward had brought on a fierce hunger which was no problem at all since it was past noon and we knew right where we were going…..

Trattoria Carmine, Noto, Sicily

Trattoria Carmine, Noto, Sicily

The Trattoria Carmine, kind of nondescript on the outside, had aromas emanating that could not be ignored.  The only sign is a bit high to notice from the street……the entrance is up a flight of stairs….and I can only describe the inside by saying it brought back

Trattoria Carmine, Noto, Sicily

Trattoria Carmine, Noto, Sicily

a flood of memories of what New York City’s Little Italy was like in the 1960s.  Heaven!  We ate very well here……their own pasta with a sauce of sicilian pachino tomatoes, pesto, eggplant…..and a bit of roasted sausage on the side.  Sadly there are no photos because my camera just plain blew a fuse (too many baroque photos will do that every time)……but at least I got a shot of the sweet, happy and very talented Queen of the Trattoria Carmine Kitchen….

Queen of Trattoria Carmine, Noto, Sicily

Queen of Trattoria Carmine, Noto, Sicily