Sicily - Italy

I’m poking my fingers into the crystal-clear sea of Ortygia full of big rocks, surrounded by a winding road lined with colourful houses that exhibit different kinds of cacti on their balconies, and looking at the beach that seems like a painting. It’s obvious that Sicilians love to take advantage of the scorching sun as spending a couple of hours lying on the beach, although the summer has already ended. With several boats bobbing in the sea, a view of infinite blue blended with honey-toned sand and beach umbrellas that look like cocktail ornaments, I’ve realized that finally, I’m in Sicily. After spending 3 days on the road and driving the car all the way from Istanbul, one of my dreams come true. 

 

I had a vision in my mind to picture what Sicily looks like: Having a synesthetic feeling while visualizing the island coloured with sand yellow, olive tree green and a splash of sea blue, smelling an awakening smell of coffee filling the streets mostly early in the mornings, and dreaming about sightly villages that are home to sun-baked buildings and largest cathedrals which feel familiar from the movies I’ve seen, such as The Godfather, Cinema Paradiso, Le Grand Bleu, directed in Sicily. But, to be honest, I’d never expected to see such an abundance of prickly pear cacti in every possible nook and cranny alongside the roads and ceramic wares all around the island.

 

It takes only a couple of hours to notice that streets, balconies of houses, facades, churches are all adorned with ceramic ornaments. These ceramics, the finest and most colourful form of soil with different techniques and textures, flourish the island from balcony railings to tiled walls. Ceramic heads featuring men and women are the ones that carry on not only a history and tradition, but also an interesting love story with a violent ending. When I find a flower pot shaped as a woman head made in ceramic of Caltagirone in a store to bring with me as a souvenir, I remember the perks of traveling by car and try not to look at every other single ware.

 

Walking past bars lined on streets preparing for the day, pale brown buildings with floating laundry outside and ceramic pine cones at the top of balcony railings, places serving caffé, granita and brioche — sort of a national breakfast of Sicily, and small boats coming back from fishing the first thing in the morning let me witness an ordinary day in Sicily. I also notice that Sicilian way of living is filled with joy, laughter, and lightness of moving as slowly as possible. It’s clear that there is no rush here. The locals are very easy to communicate, even though I’m a beginner in Italian. No matter what I ask them, they answer with never-ending sentences in the fastest manner. This makes me more willing to communicate with Sicilians randomly, and fortunately, they let me take some captures at the end of our conversations.

 

After a couple of weeks of spending time in Sicily wandering in Ortygia, Ragusa, Modica, Noto, and Cefalù, this island still boggles my mind that the significance of history is steeped in the details of culture. The way of living — the culinary; including the spices used inside meals, traditional arts, architecture, and myths are all brimming with traces of different nations, such as the Sicels, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans. With each layer of the island, it’s possible to reach a new era, as if digging the ground as an archaeologist to discover the story buried under the surface. I tell myself I can’t be charmed more while looking at Arabic influenced architecture of Cefalù until I see the Duomo Cathedral of Ortygia built on the pillars of the Greek temple to Athena, like the ones I saw in Athens. The next day, I find myself in the streets of Noto, a city blessed with the Baroque buildings and once occupied by the Normans, I’m surprised by a dessert called “salame Turco” which looks like salami but prepared with chocolate and biscuits served in a traditional Sicilian trattoria. As a Turkish and having this dessert that appears to be the same in my country, I can’t wait to ask the chef about the story behind this dessert. In fact, the name doesn’t refer to the origins, but to its colours, which recall the skin colour of the Moors once called as “Turks” in Sicily. “You're more likely to run into surprises if you travel in Sicily,” says the chef of the trattoria.

 

As I make my way to the northwest coast of Sicily — known as Egadi Islands, I’m happy being on the roads again. Through traveling from the south to the north of the island, I’m impressed by the way Mount Etna looks angry yet so beautiful through the window. I watch the melon sellers on trucks by the road and notice that the views are rapidly changing — olive trees, aloe plants and almond trees are taking over in addition to pear cacti that my eyes already got used to.

 

I spend a week in the Island of Favignana watching the life happening before my eyes every morning in a café, accompanied by a brioche and granita di mandorle (almond flavoured), and I see that time feels so fluid here. Also, while strolling around the streets, I’m feeling close to Sicily but at the same time, these streets feel so different from the other parts of the island. The buildings are bare, the streets are naked compared to Sicily, and the colours are based more on white. And being so small and easy to walk, I feel like I’m always close to the sea. Exploring maze-like roads suddenly ending up in a hidden cove on a scooter, watching sunset as I’m sipping Spritz accompanied by aperitivi, enjoying piazzas which are totally tourist-free at the end of the summer open up a new door to my Sicily journey that makes me remember the importance of living in the moment and an immediate sense of belonging.

© 2023 by Deniz Yılmaz Akman

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