Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 9: My little Sicilian fantasy

After breakfast we shuttle to downtown Taormina to meet my sister. A late start to the day, we miss the 10.30a shuttle and leave at noon instead. The streets are not as busy because the smart people (the native Sicilians) are in hiding from the sun at noon.

J needs a bathing suit. Everything here is sparkly and girlie and bright so we settle on a simple two piece black bikini (to my surprise) – the plainest thing we can find at Irisblonde on Via Luigi Pirandello for 55 euros – I can tell you that that hurt. I have never spent that much on a bathing suit. As I pay J gives me a guilty look and whispers in my ear, “That’s expensive.” But that’s Taormina, I knew we would not find anything less than that and it’s my fault for forgetting the bathing suits. Is there anything plain and black for me? No chance.

I console myself with a plain, bamboo coloured fan (3 euros) from just down the street to ward off the heat. My sister smirks at me, “You’re just like mom!” What’s that I ask – menopausal?? It’s so hot here and today we saw on TV that Europe is experiencing a heat wave. I know I am experiencing one myself.

We find a little place called Tutti ‘caa Risto Pub (“tutti ‘caa” is a Sicilian phrase for “Everyone here”) on Via F. Ui Ingegnere, 12. Great food but extremely slooow service and lackadaisical serving staff – we order antipasti, paninni with prosciutto, spaghetti alla pomodoro. I ask my sister to cuss them out in Sicilian because of the slow service, as she is better at it than me, but she demurs. Her accent is much more natural than mine.

Out into the heat … the streets are pretty deserted. We make our way to the Teatro Antico, Via Teatro Greco, 40. For 8 euros you can do an unguided tour of the amphitheatre. Deep Purple will appear here in a few days and then Diana Krall next week. It boggles the mind to imagine both of those acts performing on these ancient ruins. At the top of the amphitheatre you can see the sea from under the shade of trees. We rest and take pictures at the top.

We weave our way back to the shopping core. R notices busts of Benito Mussolini for sale (later we will also see beer bottles emblazoned with his mug). If I had not read of something similar in my friend Frank Giorno’s facebook posts a month ago while he was in Rome and Calabria I would have been shocked. Now I am just annoyed and a bit repulsed. “What’s wrong with these people?” someone whispers to me. The other thing that irks us is the tacky Godfather souvenirs. If Sicilians knew how much grief we North Americans get with this mafia thing abroad I wonder if they would be less willing to embrace this schlock – not the movie, which I love, but the crappy souvenirs?

I debate buying a pale blue linen tablecloth with a white design for 75 euros from a shop called Sugar Spice on Via Teatro Antica, 35. What a perfect memento of our trip my sister says. She is right. It turns out that the shop is owned by a fellow Sicilian-Canadian named Diane Lo Coco from Montreal who has been living here for forty years. It is then I notice she is wearing a tiny Canadian pin on her dress. Now she, her Sicilian husband, her sister and her mother all live here.

“I’m going to do that!” I spontaneously exclaim to my companions as we leave the shop and my sister F rushes right in and says, “Come on, you would be bored and would return in six months! You won’t be able to stand the xenophobia and you will never, never be accepted.”

There is a truth to this that I am deliberately ignoring in my little Sicilian fantasy. I would never be accepted despite my rightful heritage. The minute I open my mouth they know that I am not native born despite my best efforts and they switch to English to assist me. Then we get into an amicable argument about which is less welcoming Toronto or parts of Sicily? I can say I have never felt entirely comfortable or accepted in Toronto either. I like being surrounded by faces and voices that are familiar to me; hence, being in Sicily appeals to me – is this racism or just plain human nature?

You rarely see black or brown people here. If you do, there appears to be very little intermingling. It might be the sole vendor of sunglasses on a sidewalk or a porter, and very few tourists that are Asian, black or South Asian. Perhaps F was right, perhaps I would always be acutely aware of the xenophobia, the lack of diversity, the impossibility of really fitting in. Sad really when you think that colonization and invasions over two millennium have resulted in a rich racial diversity in the Sicilian people which they refuse to recognize.

There is also the issue of being a part of a bi-racial family. R and J both receive curious looks here that make them uncomfortable, especially the more sensitive J – not necessarily hostile but more like “Hmm, what are you doing here?” When asked R vetoes the hypothetical move to Taormina; curiously, Firenze does appeal to him greatly probably because there is a greater mix of different peoples there and we blend in more easily. There is greater access to culture and art … And I couldn’t live here if R and J could not.

I am also searching for a symbol of the Trinacria but the ones I see are quite gruesome, many of them made of volcanic ash – black and ominous looking with a Medusa like visage in the middle that does not appeal to me. I have always loved the symbol on my dad’s membership card at the Trinacria Club in Hamilton (of which he was a co-founder) where it appears as a beautiful woman in the centre of the image. I keep looking.

Our shuttle leaves at five … quickly, we return for gelato at the centre of the shopping district. Here they charge you extra if you sit down at a table (for example: where we buy gelato they charge an extra .60 euros per person or about a $1.00). We return home and despite a late lunch we are a bit hungry.

Our hotel is a bit isolated form the downtown core and there is nothing around to serve food but room service before dinner. For a treat, we order it for J. Ordinarily we don’t do that, ever. We are too cheap and the service ridiculously expensive. But we order something simple. She says she has a craving for “salty meat” (i.e. prosciutto) so we order melone e prosciutto. It comes in a heaping mound on three spears of melon served by a handsome young waiter on a tray with a linen napkin under a silver dome. J beams like she has won the lottery when she sees the dish and we take her picture on the balcony covered in blankets with me serving her the tray.

Debating back and forth about dinner and wondering if we shall meet up again with our family but we finally decide to eat at the hotel on the fancy terrace as R has work to do that he is committed to.

We are having on-going disappointments with technology and hotel keys which is odd as J and R are both adept at these things in a way that I am not. We can’t dial out on the land-line for some reason, our cell phones don’t work here, there is no Wifi in the rooms, the DVD player won’t work when we try it and then we get locked out of our room because we forget our keys which necessitates a few back and forth trips from the sixth floor to reception. Once the concierge even gives us the wrong key and must rush back with the right one.

Flash forward an hour or two and we are on the hotel terrace enjoying a view of the pool and the sea and a so-so meal which surprises me with its mediocrity. J gripes when asked to put on a dress but the dining is a bit upscale on the terrace and R is right to ask her to do so – flip flops and jean shorts won’t do.

J is right though about the looks we get, inquisitive looks as we pass by on the terrace. We joke amongst ourselves that they are saying, “I have never seen such good looking Chinese people ever!” Even J complains about the way men look at women (and girls) here. As she gets more mature she is also the recipient of such looks and it is disturbing to her.

But they are not always necessarily unpleasant looks unlike our maitre d’ who is (unpleasant that is). One look at us and he sees that we are not high rollers like some of the other patrons of the hotel. Is it the beer and mineral water we order or our relative youth compared to other patrons? Is it the fact that we tried to seat ourselves initially because we didn’t see him? He gruffly points in the direction of the food once he takes our drink order and we never see him again. R is worried that we have not brought any money to tip. I say for what though? He seated us brusquely, talked to us rudely then disappeared never to be seen again.

The hotel is very elegant and beautiful but the food has been disappointing. In the mood for something other than pasta or pizza, my tacchino is dry and the vegetables are overcooked – hello! is my mother in the kitchen cooking these things? There appears to be only remnants of a spaghetti dish and some gnocchi warming in a tray that J and R get the last bit of. Everything looks a bit picked over. But J enjoys the antipasto. The venue is beautiful. There is a wedding party in the pool area and the DJ is playing cheesy wedding-appropriate music. We see the bride going down in the glassed elevator that leads to the pool.

I refuse to be unhappy – that will be my new mantra here.

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