Over the past eight months I’ve seen a lot of Italy, but yesterday was by far my most ‘Italian’ day out. For starters, I was actually with bona fide members of the Italian nation, which always helps make things that little bit more authentic. A group of teachers from school were going to Sicily for the day and Silvana, my mentor tutor aka life saver, invited me along for the ride.
Italian point 1 : Integrating myself with Italians
The crew heading out
We started the day taking the ferry over to Messina and ten minutes later had our first stop at the service station (I only included that detail for you, Mum!) Unfortunately, the espresso I’d been daydreaming about wasn’t to be, as the majority of the staff of Autogrill were on strike and asking for customer solidarity (which was given, a little reluctantly by some of us…) so we were quickly (after half an hour’s miscellaneous standing) on our way again to Taormina, a beautiful Sicilian resort that was on my bucket list to visit this year.
Italian point 2 : Intention to drink an espresso
Italian point 3 : Strike action
We lunched in Taormina and had a lovely wander round – I love places like this as much for the fact that they are filled with other tourists as that they are gorgeous places to visit. We took a photo by the sea front next to a random American woman who kept saying ‘oh, there are so many of you!’ ‘Oh my! Beautiful!’ ‘That’s lovely!’ Americans are definitely culturally closer to the gushy Italians than the brits. Feeling a little peckish post-panino I joined the rest of our group in indulging in an arancino, a typically Sicilian snack (or meal, depending on levels of hunger/greed) made from rice with meat and cheese coated in breadcrumbs – I found a recipe for these online so will definitely be trying to recreate them at home!
Italian point 4 : Eating local
Sadly we couldn’t spend all day in Taormina as we had a show to catch, so in the early afternoon we headed to the theatre. Hopefully someone* will take me back to Taormina some day to properly explore the history and taste all the amazing things they do with almonds!
So, on to the show. Being forgetful I couldn’t remember where the show was (and when I asked Silvana I immediately forgot again as it’s a place I hadn’t heard of) and indeed what we were going to see, and my hopes of having a fabulous time were momentarily dashed when we arrived at the theatre and it all just seemed a bit dodgy. My personal experience with Sicily seems to be that unless you are in a very precise touristy spot (i.e. inside a museum or in the haven of Taormina) then it all feels a bit unsafe and not the kind of place you either want nor ought to observe more closely. However, everyone else I know (Italians and the Brits alike) tell me time and time again that Sicily is magical, the best part of Italy and totally stunning, so I’m prepared to put my personal prejudices on hold, if remaining lightly sceptical of the whole thing.
Anyway, this place genuinely was dodge – our car was hailed down by an unsavoury looking character on the way in, who asked us to park where he indicated ‘to save time when coming out.’ I didn’t like the look of him or the thought of handing him euro, but I also didn’t like the idea of trying to do differently to what he said. Luckily the decision wasn’t in my hands and our driver dutifully obeyed him, telling me afterwards ‘This is Mafia. If you don’t park here and pay them who knows what they will do to your car while you’re in the theatre.’ Heck!
Italian point 5 : Encountering and surviving the ol’ Cosa Nostra
Fear not for your narrator, though, not only did I survive the show but it. was. amazing! It turned out we were seeing Romeo and Giulietta, which was fortunate as I could follow the story well enough even when the Italian got a little beyond me. Not only had I never seen a musical of Romeo and Juliet before, I’d never seen the play at all, so I had no real expectations. First thing to note, the actors playing Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio were all absolute stunners (and Tybalt if you like your men without long flowing curls) and amazing singers and dancers. The Prince Juliet is supposed to marry was played by a sufficiently poncy ballerina who didn’t have any lines, and it had a really cool edge based on the crisis of faith experienced by everyone (including the friar, who does a great rock solo about it) in the face of all that tragedy. The performance was fantastic- the troop have travelled around Europe and have been to England (not sure where their Italian audience would be?) and they had some hardcore fans waiting for them in the audience – the staff placed barriers before the stage before the curtain call! One thing I will say about the play is that it was much steamier than I imagine the British equivalent would be: Romeo and Juliet enjoy many extended kisses on stage, Mercutio and Romeo get a proper on the lips kiss (don’t remember seeing that in Shakespeare’s version) and there is a nude Romeo! Even if it is from back view/behind a translucent screen.
Italian point 6 : Any excuse to get touchy feely
Mercutio (left) and with Benvolio (my personal favourite)
As a lovely day drew to a close we had one more stop to make: a café in a nearby town that on Silvana’s authority was the second best granita she’d ever tasted (the first was a bit more of a trek). Granita is basically a cross between an ice cream and a slushy – the best ones are nearer to ice cream and the worst ones taste like someone’s poured milk in what could have been a delicious ice-cold beverage. This was one of the better ones, and momentary panic that the café had run out of brioches was replaced with the intense joy of receiving them freshly baked! Brioche goes with everything here, and is definitely one of the things I will most miss!!
Italian point 7 : Everything with brioche
Me with pistachio and chocolate granita and freshly baked brioche #1
Another brioche (tee hee) and a taste of local liqueur later and we were heading back home. By this time it was nearing eleven and some of us (mainly me) were pretty tired, so I took a back seat (literally ha) in the car and the conversation – something that is especially easy when there are four Italian women around you to take the reins. The ferry home was late so I rolled into bed at around 1am – am I embarrassed to say that is one of the latest nights I’ve had this whole year?
Italian point 8 : Be late (the ferry) and sleep late (me)
Thankfully, unlike everyone that I was travelling with, I get Mondays off, so am spending the day in a glorious state of relaxation, munching on grapes and shuffling papers ready to start packing, because – and I can scarcely believe it – I’m coming home a week today!
The grand day out was the perfect way to spend my last calm weekend in Italy, reminding me of all those Italian quirks that I might just miss.