We had joined a print-making art group for our time in Sicily. After our four days in Taormina it was time to go back to Catania and meet them. From Catania, we were taken to Siracusa and to our apartment in Ortigia, which is an island connected by three bridges.
Immediately we all went out for lunch to a restaurant called “The Happy Celery”. After eating we pulled out our sketchbooks, and I sketched the pots of geraniums on the wall, suspecting it might be the only opportunity to sketch that day. There are flowers blooming everywhere in Sicily now. Geraniums and cyclamens mostly in the town, also wisteria, but in the country there is a blaze of yellow from the broom and other plants of a similar colour, interspersed with red poppies.
In the evening we went for a walk with the group for ‘orientation’ which was nothing if not confusing. Ortigia is amazingly beautiful, but the layout takes a little time. We went to the print studio where the group was to do their printing, and around the town. We also went to a small supermarket to get supplies. Very impressed by the man in the delicatessen there, who allowed us to try many things that were so delicious we had to buy them.
Too cold after a time sketching in the shade, we moved to a spot in the sun. Taormina is well equipped with well-placed bars for sketching. We found a wonderfully sunny spot in the Piazza of the Duomo of Taormina, and gave some people the death stare till they vacated their table (quite quickly). The bar was called Billy and Billy, but the man there semed to be called Salvo which was much more appropriate for Sicilia, as it is Commissario Montalbano’s name.
We sketched the Duomo and I was wishing I had brought Matthew Brehm’s book, because the whole face of the duomo was textured, I know he deals with that in his book.
Dinner at the same restaurant (again?), yes it was that good
And a free liqueur even though they had no idea it was our last night.
Finally the sun! Mount Etna revealed right outside our terrace. Snow in plenty, still cold, but the sun. Walking down into Taormina we noticed the orange blossom scent in the street from the fully laden trees. It doesn’t seem quite real.
The thing that had first interested me in coming to Sicily was the buildings I saw in the backgrounds in the Commissario Montalbano tv series. At the bottom of the hill this morning there seemed to be standing with his back to us…Catarella, a character from the series. Same uniform, same stance, same hair. It was a bit like seeing an old friend.
We went back to Licchio’s Bar, where the friendly waiter with the fuschia pink jumper and scarf ensemble brought me hot water for my Tachifludec.
We sketched from the same spot as the previous day, drinking lemon tea, until the cold drove us to look for another spot in the sun.
Another rainy morning, and cold, but we tumbled down the hill into Taormina. A wander around the Corso in the cold, dodging the raindrops, and we found a Licchio’s Bar with an umbrella to sit under while we sketched.
My sketch is the doorway of Palazzo Corvaja. It was one of a number of things we could have sketched from the same bar.
I can’t emphasise how beautiful Sicily is. There is so much to look at, wherever you are. We got some delicious takeaway pizza and sat in a weak gleam of sunshine, then back to Casa Cuseni for a while to get warm. I really hadn’t expected it to be this cold.
In the early evening we were off down the hill again, tempted by the food at the Trattoria da Ugo, and the friendly people there. We ate zuppa di pesce (fish soup) and that warmed us right down to our socks. Same little taxi driver appeared just at the right time to take us back up the hill
Yes, there’s a reason men wear their scarves in the house in Sicily at this time of year. It is to keep warm. It is colder than we expected. We came in through cloud, and although Mt Etna was right in front of our balcony, it couldn’t be seen.
We were staying in a wonderful B&B called Casa Cuseni. It is a national monument, and a museum. It was built in 1902 by an English artist, and turned into a B&B by his niece. There is a book written about it called ‘A House in Sicily’. It is full of art, and many famous people have stayed there in the past. A house with history.
You need to look at their website. There is too much to explain and pictures do it better. It is high on a hill behind Taormina, though not far in actual distance. Taormina is all on a hill, though the main street, Corso Umberto goes along on the flat.
We went down on the first evening to do the passageiata and saw more well dressed men with scarves. Taormina is beautiful place though full of tourists, even at this time of year.
But it was rainy and cloudy and cold. We found a restaurant with local food and had yummy yummy yummy swordfish. A nice little taxi driver took us back up the hill. He pointed out a bride. Una sposa, he said. I said I think it is una sposa Americana, (I had heard the wedding group talking). He said yes, it is una sposa Americana. If it was una sposa Siciliana, it would have to be una sposa mafiosa!
By this time I was feeling shivery and achy. It rained all day the next day and I spent most of it in bed. Etna didn’t show itself from behind indigo clouds (which were beautiful in themselves) so I stayed in end all day keeping warm. This is hardly a sketch, but it is representative of the day and the weather.
Morning, and here we were in Rome’s Fiumincino airport. We had several hours to fill in before our flight to Catania, but had needed to leave a slice of time in case of delays. We wasted a bit of it trying to find the stop for the ‘free shuttle bus’ between the terminals. Got some confusing directions. Because we had been up all night? No. Because you could walk it in 5 minutes with your luggage.
We had a plan.
A. Buy Desigual scarf at the Desigual shop in the terminal. Easy. We even got sconto (discount). This was to prove a very sensible purchase rather than an extravagance.
This is it
B. Buy TIM card. That’s a Telecom Italia SIM card. Done. I now have an Italian phone number.
In the early afternoon we flew off to Catania on Alitalia. We had somehow stumbled across a ridiculously cheap fare. When we boarded the aircraft, we seemed to have been given a semi-upgrade. The cabin had a 3-3 formation, and we were given a row of three seats each. How did that happen? I am guessing that because Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Alitalia are all part of the ‘One World’ Alliance. We are Qantas ‘frequent flyers’ and we had been Cathay Pacific business class passengers from Australia. We were probably ‘on their system’.
It was cloudy and we didn’t see Mt Etna. I couldn’t help wondering where it was. A very slightly bumpy flight. I never worry if it is no bumpier than the back of a bus, but someone screamed. Haven’t had that before. As the aircraft landed, there were red and yellow wildflowers in the grass between the runways. I had hoped the wildflowers would be blooming, and it was such a delight to see them so soon.
On arrival we were met by our driver and taken to the wonderful Casa Cuseni in Taormina. A national monument, museum and B&B. We were greeted by an elegant man, jeans, nice blazer and a perfectly tied light cornflower blue scarf. Or was it azzuro. Taormina is full of elegant men my age. All wearing scarves perfectly tied…..even in the house.