Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Ingredients are sourced almost exclusively from the farm itself, where they grow a large selection of fruit and vegetables, olives and grapes. There is also a barnyard with chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits and pigs. Other produce are from the immediate area, such as capers from Pantelleria, a selection of Sicilian wines and bluefish from the local fisherman at Porto Palo close by.
The restored farm villa has been in the family for centuries and it is here where they serve their guests courses upon courses of Italian delicacies. On arrival we find the large empty room a bit spooky and dark and decide to walk through the garden and watch the sunset over the vineyards while Mrs Napoli sets up our table for dinner.
Mr Napoli is quick to open the wine as we finally sit down in anticipation. Between the six of us, none of us can manage a decent conversation in Italian and yet Mr Napoli happily chats away to our amusement. Mrs Napoli drops by to ask us some questions about the food and it becomes a guessing game. Is she asking whether we're ready to start or making enquiries about what we would like to eat, or perhaps, what we don't eat?
They don't seem the slightest bit put off by our dumb looking facial expressions, questioning gestures or giggles. After the first course - a large platter each full of delicious cheeses, cold meats, olives and artichokes, which we slowly consume with a fairly large quantity of wine - the Napolis proceed to introduce what we understand to be their daughter, though it could have also been the younger sister of Mrs Napoli or anyone else for that matter.
As they shove the lady onto a chair next to Caroline's husband (who looks a little Italian himself) the very one sided Napoli family conversation takes on a suggestive tone. Until this moment there has only bit a hint of weirdness to the experience: the large dark empty dining room, the seven open bottles of different wines on our table for six and the bubbly Italian conversation of which we don't understand very much at all.
By the time we finish more courses of simple Napoletana and seafood pastas, veal and fish, we have the whole family sitting down with us. Mr Napoli herself snuggles up next to Peter to the amusement of his girlfriend Susi, who suddenly poses the question whether she is Mrs Napoli after all. There is no way for us to safely judge who is married to who and what they are saying but so they continue chatting to each of us individually and as a group in a way that suggests they couldn't care less whether we understand them or not.
The more wine and grappa we drink, the more interesting the evening becomes and the more we laugh and giggle and talk - us in English and the Napolis in Italian, still with no hint of understanding between the two groups. Eventually the charm wears off and the guys become slightly uncomfortable with the uninvited Italian attention in the presence of their beautiful partners.
It is probably the strangest dinner I have ever had. Excellent food; that real Sicilian mama food that wins you over in one bite. I would go back for that. Yet, perhaps it would be possible to order a takeaway and avoid the forced Italian company and the festive dinner conversation without any understanding from the conversing parties.
We laugh a lot in the moonlight on the way home but there is also the very real sense of something eerie that we cannot quite pinpoint. Certainly not an evening we will forget anytime soon.
Monday, September 19, 2011
All I can see in front of me is an expanse of still blue that stretches out into a powdery sky. This balcony is set on a cliff in Marinella di Selinunte, a small beach town next to the Selinunte ruins in Castelvetrano on the South Coast of Sicily.
In the background Edith Piaff and Pavarotti sets the mood. Around me I see potted cacti and the smiling faces of good friends. To the right the Selinunte acropolis and its five temples tower over it all.
Could anything be more perfect? Yes, actually. I keep telling myself that I would not go back to Italy without a great love by my side. I’ve travelled to Tuscany, Rome and Venice and all of these have managed to highlight the absence of love and passion for which every little intimate street corner seems to shout.
Sicily is no different. The food, ah, the sensory flavours of sun ripened tomatoes, plump olives, fresh-fresh garlic and parsley, flavourful fennel, Italian anchovies and, of course, the revered celery. Sicilian food is so sexy and never perfectly complete without romance. And yet; a dirty old Italian mafioso won’t do. What? Yes I know I’m picky!
Daydreams aside we decide to have a pizza at Ristorante Baffo’s in the area, which ends up being a bit touristy and disappointing especially after the home made pizza’s we fired up in the pizza oven at our villa a few days earlier. Then there is the free carafe of Sicilian wine, which is known for having a typically higher alcohol content than other wines in the region. At most restaurants in Sicily some house wine is included with the meal. However between my wine loving friends from the Rhine Valley and the Cape Winelands we find these wines undrinkable and prefer to pay for our own bottle of Mandrarossa or Planeta wines instead.
By the time we leave for home the still night air envelops me like a big hug and I fall asleep happily wined and dreaming of a hot date for my next trip to Italy.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
The name Selinunte is derived from a type of wild celery that grew in the area and was held in high esteem by the ancients. The Selinuntines also used the celery symbol on their coins. Set on top of a high plain the ruins of this ancient Greek colony tower over long wide beaches and a stretch of that unmistakable Mediterranean ocean blue.
The Carthaginians finally defeated Selinunte in 409BC during the First Punic War and for more than 2000 years these ancient Greek temples and acropolis have been beautifully desolate.
With the acropolis and various different temples and living quarters scattered over a large area, the ruins take some walking to discover and in the Italian mid-summer sun, even dear Suzy had to give up after a while. While she wrote postcards in the museum shop, I spent an hour or two walking the dust roads and clambering over rocks and stones, imagination running wild while taking in the breathtaking views framed by columns and rubble.
I don’t know why I love ruins so much. Perhaps it is because of all the stories hidden under ancient stones or simply the fact that it’s a novelty for a South African with a fairly modern country to connect with these antique civilizations through time.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Sensation: After spending the day under the hot summer sun in a tiny bay around San Vito lo Capo the crisp mountain air is invigorating.
Taste: Artisan ricotta pastry, crisp and soft, not too sweet - yes, it has been known that such a pastry can steal my heart - and a tiny fragrant Italian espresso.
Charm: Erice is an ambient little place to explore, with lots of atmospheric corners and crannies, two historical castles and some remains of ancient Elymian and Phoenician walls. I also enjoyed tasting a host of Marsala wines and a selection of olives at the gourmet shops along the way through the narrow streets.
How to get there: It is possible to drive up the narrow windey road leading up the mountain. Or simply take the cable car close to Trapani: it's only three euros for a 20-minute thrill.
Must-do: Caffe Maria offers a scenic upstairs balcony and a gourmet menu. Just go, both are unmissable.
To put it into perspective; at Boomerang beach close to our villa in Menfi in the south of the island, the beach chairs and umbrellas are free on a first come first serve basis.
So there are options if you are willing to look around and compromise on the main beach areas on the island. We discovered a small bay just a few minutes away from the main tourist attractions at San Vito lo Capo. This is where the locals seem to hang out, away from all the tourist noise. It's just a tiny splash of white sand surrounded by rocks and mountains in the background.
There are no immediate towns or shops close by and it sits slightly off the highway so there is also no noise but the soft murmur of the Mediterranean Sea and the voices of the handful of people on the beach.
The clear warm water is irresistible and we all decide to go for a swim. This is an exquisite place, more so for the natural surroundings and the clear seawater than for the beach itself. It's a great spot to have a splash and linger for a while to take in the beauty of it all, before continuing a journey.