Monday, March 27, 2017

A Lizard, Donkey, Orlando Too.

February 21-22

A small strip of water separates the island of Ortigia from the island of Sicily. Two bridges cross it, one in and one out.

Just for the hell of it, we walked across both bridges on Tuesday. The approaches to the bridges on Ortigia enclose a park, and in the park is a life-size bronze statue of the town’s most famous resident.

Archimedes holds a parabolic mirror in one hand, maybe to burn a small ship. It’s a little bigger than the solar cigarette lighter that used to be sold by Radio Shack.

The other hand has a compass. He is standing on a stomachion, a geometrical puzzle ascribed to him. I actually had one made of plastic when I was a kid.

It’s a square dissected into various shapes and you different ways to compose the square. My version of the game had a booklet with a number of strange shapes, and it challenged you to make them from the pieces.

There was a school group at the statue, and we think they were presenting papers about Archimedes. A student would mount the stomachion and give a short speech. The others would applaud and then the next student would take his place.

We stopped at Cafe Apollo for an Americano (me) and cioccolatta calda (Joanna) before we walked over to the street market near the Bourbon jail to buy a few pieces of fruit.

It was pushing 1 o’clock and several stands were already packing up, but most of the market was still intact and in business.


Joanna had read a curious story about the municipal building, which is at the Piazza Duomo, across the Via Minerva from the cathedral.

The architect, Giovanni Vermexio, for some reason was nicknamed the Lizard, and he signed his work by putting a lizard on a cornice of the building. So we went looking for it.

I was standing back to look at all the decorations on the front. Joanna stood closer to the building and found it.

It’s made of stone or concrete and looks like it’s crawling from one edge of the roof to another. It’s certainly the photo of the day.

Punto G was quiet when we stopped there. Where’s the music? Gabriele put some on for us.

So I sat with a glass of wine and listened to some bouncy, almost ’20s-sounding music, although I knew it was much newer than that.

We tried a new place for dinner, Sciccheria, which Gabriele had recommended. 

We had pasta with clams and salmon. The clams were in the shell sitting on top, and pink salmon morsels were mixed throughout the linguine. Very savory.

We also ordered swordfish with breadcrumbs. I expected toasted bread crumbs sprinkled on top of the dish. Instead, it was a thin swordfish steak breaded and fried.

I prefer swordfish grilled, but this was tasty.

Wine was a new one to me, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, under the label Judeka. It’s a mild southern wine with just a touch of tannin to bite the tongue. 

How long can you live in a neighborhood that has its own Museo di Pupi and not go see it? The answer is seven days. 

Wednesday was our seventh day in Ortigia, so we went to the Museum of Puppets. Unlucky for us, it was closed, because this is the off season. 

But we did get to chat with the lady in the laboratorio, where they make puppets. We saw Orlandos and other characters in the process of taking shape, the guy puppets in shining armor, Orlanado’s innamorata in a long flowing dress.

Everywhere we have gone in Sicily, There are marionettes in armor. There are four of them on the stair rail in the breakfast room.

They are sold in souvenir shops and in the store of the puppet theater.
They are on post cards and restaurant signs. They are also featured briefly in a scene of “The Godfather Part II.”

I’m sure there are many traditional puppet shows, but the one that I was aware of is based on Roland, who becomes Orlando in Italian. When they drove the Moors out of Sicily, the Normans may have brought tales of Roland with them from France.

We walked down to the water and came to the Fonte Aretusa. The shallow water of the natural fountain contains a large cluster of papyrus. Like tufts of curly hair. 

We didn’t make it back to Duomo Square for lunch. Instead we stopped at an eatery called Mokrito overlooking the harbor.

We shared a plate of curried donkey meat and French fries. I had the best beer so far on this trip, Norbertus red, which is from Belgium.

The curry was very mild, but it wasn’t a free ride for Joanna. She told me she could feel the heat building in her stomach.

So when we go to the Piazza Duomo, we shared a crepe to settle her digestion.

We were sitting at the crepe when Gabriele from Punto G walked in. He took one look at us and asked, “Why here?”

We told him we’d see him in a little while.

When we stepped into Punto G, Gabriele remembered that we like his choice of music. He put on a new artist, whose name I didn’t catch.

After a rest stop at the hotel, we finally got to Osteria da Seby when it was open.

We started with spaghetti with clams (no salmon this time). Clam sauce is always good, but in New Jersey, the clams are not in the shell. These came from the back yard, so they are not likely to get much fresher than that.

We followed that with pan-fried sardines. We ate them tails and all for the calcium. And also because they were very good.

I bought a bottle of Sicilian Syrah to go with dinner. It has a lot of tannin, and I’d tell you what the name is, but we were almost back to the hotel when I realized that we had left the remains of the bottle on the table.

Joanna offered to go back. They say there are guys who’d walk a mile for a Camel, but I wasn’t about to do that for a couple of bucks’ worth of wine. 

Be well, everybody. Don’t forget to eat your clams and your calcium, and don’t forget your wine.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fourth Down and Punto

February 19-20

We were running late Sunday morning, but we made it to the church on time. Early, in fact, because we got there a little after 11 and found that the service didn’t start till half past.

Time for more coffee. We went to a colorful looking place called Punto G, in a corner of the Piazza Duomo. I had noticed it the other day when we were eating crepes across the street.

It sells chocolates, sandwiches, coffee, and drinks.

I had an Americano, which is espresso with extra hot water added. It’s a little smaller and has less kick than a cup of coffee at a New Jersey diner, but two or three in the morning are usually enough to hold off my caffeine withdrawal symptoms. 

The bartender was singing “Come Together” along with John Lennon when we got there. It was still early, I guess, because there may have been people at one other table.

When it came time to leave, he offered to put a plate of something together for us. It sounded good, so we told him we’d be back. 

In the plaza near the church steps we saw families with young children in costumes. The girls tended to be princesses, although there were a couple of tiny Teddy bears. Among the boys, we saw an astronaut, a cavalier, and a page.

One of the big activities was to throw confetti into the wind and watch it eddy. The kids got a kick out of that.

The cathedral service was fine but strange. The only other Sunday morning mass is at 8 o’clock, so I expected 11:30 to be the principal mass. 

Only about 50 or 60 people attended. There was no music, and that was the strangest thing of all to me, a Sunday morning service at a cathedral without so much as an organist, let alone a choir.

We saw a sign on the way in asking tourists not to visit the church during its religious ceremonies.

Somebody in the back started to take flash pictures during the sermon. It didn’t seem to bother anybody, so that may have been for the church bulletin.

But after the service, we took a quick peek into the side chapel where the martyrs’ bones are. When we came out, there was a group of people pointing cameras.

They were about the same number as the people who attended the service. Were there that many tourists at mass?

No, this was a new group, listening to a tour guide. They must have been waiting on the porch for the go-ahead.

When we got back to Punto G, the guy was glad that we hadn’t been pulling his leg. The place isn’t big and was beginning to fill up.

The bartender would run into the back now and then to come back a short time later with stuff. He was bouncing to the music. He was juggling oranges before he cut them and held them on the juicer.

Joanna had water, but he mixed a great Campari and soda for me. He came back from one of his trips with two plates of appetizers for us.

There were little squares of pizza and others cut from what appeared to be a croissant filled with ham. There were olives and a few cold cuts as well.

The guy’s music selection had shifted to some interesting Italian pieces, including one that sound hauntingly familiar. I could even hear the English lyrics: “We will come from the shadows. ...”

A mild cocktail, salty and savory snacks, a Leonard Cohen cover. I was in pig heaven.

I talked the bartender after the track finished. Something like this: “What was that song? There is an English-language song by Leonard Cohen called ‘The Partisan.’ This sounded like it.”

He said it was the song in Italian. But I’m not sure that he understood the question. He wrote down the names of several performers on his playlist, but not the Italian name of the song.

Doesn’t matter. I had just found another favorite bar.

The bartender had a good command of English when he spoke to us. So Joanna asked him for a few vocabulary words, specifically names of vegetables so we could order them in restaurants. 

He didn’t quite get the gist of the question. He recommended a restaurant down the street and said we could even mention his name. That’s how we learned that he is called Gabriele.

We wandered a while, but it was Sunday, and afternoon besides, so very little was open.

According to Gabriele, the afternoon shutdowns are seasonal. In the high season the restaurants stay open all day long.

We were back in the hotel a little earlier than usual. It wasn’t bad to rest on the day of rest, so we stayed in until dinner time. 

I had an inspiration. At my age, I should know better, but anyway, I led Joanna on a walk in the chilly wind to the third of the restaurants that the man at Villa Politi had recommended to us.

I even know how to get there. It’s the Osteria da Seby on Via Mirabella, near the Leonardo museum. You walk down the east side of Piazza Archimede into Via Dione and right past the Street of Dyers.

Of course, the restaurant was closed and dark. The whole street was closed and dark.

We walked back looking for a place to eat and finally came to Dioniso again. It was open, key in the door and everything.

It’s hard to pass up pan-fried stuffed sardines, so we started with that. They may have been the best sardines we’ve had so far on this trip.

They were tasty but not overpoweringly fishy. They may have been stuffed with cheese. Whatever the stuffing was, it was very good.

We’re not crazy about gnocchi, a doughy pasta stuffed with mashed potato, but the pork cheek and broccoli made us go for it. We expected that it would be good, but it was indeed surprisingly good.

We also ordered a side dish of turnip greens.

The broccoli in the pasta sauce and the turnip greerns were the same thing, broccoli rapa. I wasn’t disappointed by that. I prefer that to broccoli. “Rapa” is Italian for “turnip.”

We got a bottle of Sicilian Nero d’Avola called Ananke, maybe named for the princess in “The Mummy.” It’s a smooth mild wine.

We were doing fine until the end. 

Joanna wanted to pay for the meal. When the waiter brought her the bill, he did the unforgivable: “Do you want to pay in euros or dollars?”

I couldn’t believe it. The food is good at Dioniso, even though there is not much of a selection. It is also expensive enough to border on overpriced. 

When they ask euros or dollars, they don’t tell you that they plan to lay a 3 percent surcharge on your bill “for the convenience of paying in dollars.”

I ran into this scam in Amsterdam when I bought bus tickets to see the flower gardens in Lisse. It’s the petty nastiness of it that makes me so angry.

So here was this guy trying to weasel another 3 points out of Joanna on an already inflated bill.

So if you’re anywhere, watch out for this trick. Pay in the local currency. And if you’re in Syracuse, stay the fuck away from Dioniso, just on principle.

Monday dawned bright and cheerful and stayed that way till the power failure. Our street and the next one over went dark.

In Montclair, a power failure takes out lights, of course, along with TV and computer. But the gas and water still flow, so you can cook by candlelight and take a hot shower in the dark. That can be fun.

Here, though, the water relies on electricity. Suddenly, we were no longer on the set of “El Cid”; we were plunged into the age of El Cid.

We set out to pick up our laundry and to scout out places with bathrooms we could use when we needed them.

My suit still needed a touch-up so the lady at the laundry asked us to come back in 10 minutes. We went for a short stroll. I got some cash from a bancomat, and then we got our clothes.

We took them back to the hotel, rather than tote them everywhere, and found that our lucky angel had turned the lights back on while we were out.

It was sweet. We all know how great a shower is when you think you won’t get one. I even put on a clean shirt to celebrate our deliverance.

We went to a castle, Castello Maniace, at the southern tip of the island. It looks like a fort within a fort. The central structure was built by Charles V, who is billed on a plaque there as “emperor, king of Spain and Sicily.”

This may be where he took the stones that used to be in the Temple of Hieron at the Archeological Park.

It’s a fun place to visit. You get some terrific views of the sea and of Syracuse across the bay. You get to look through some cannon ports. 

You can climb ramps and stairs, see replicas of the bronze rams that used to be somewhere in the fortress, and walk on the Spanish Walk.


We saw photos of a spectacular space with vaults and columns, but that is being renovated and is closed.

For two euros each, it was a terrific place to go.

We made our way from there to Arethusa’s Fountain and then to Piazza Duomo. It was about 4 in the afternoon, and Punto G was closed, so we went across the street for a crepe and a Campari and soda.

We checked out Osteria da Seby by daylight. From September through February it is open only for lunch on Sunday and is closed on Monday.

OK, so now we know the ground rules.

Joanna seemed to be doing fine, but I was wearing down, so we retreated to the hotel for a couple of hours.

We went back to Kalliope for dinner. No Pinocchio this time. 

We tried that Sicilian specialty, pasta con sarde, again. Kalliope makes it with sardines, pine nuts, capers, fennel, and raisins. 

The dish was good the first time, at Terrazza Angelo in Taormina, but the sardines largely took it over.

The version at Kalliope balanced everything. The sardines were part of the flavor, and not the main event. It was plain terrific.

The second course was grilled swordfish with caponata. The swordfish, pesce spada, was breaded and roasted. 

We had a side dish of potatoes, and the sweet-sour of the caponata actually went better with them than with the fish.

Wine was a Sicilian Syrah called Talia, from a town called Salemi.

It has a little more edge than most of the Nero d’Avolas we have been drinking, and it was time for a change.

And now it’s time to wrap this one up.

So everyone, here’s wishing you good wine and good times.

And don’t let the sardines take over.


Feb. 21

Harry: Unfortunately I'm recovering from pneumonia and I'm on a restricted diet.

Have extra for me!


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Euripides, Muse, and Pinocchio

February 17-18

Friday morning we did what we like to do best, wander.

When you don’t have a plan for where to go or what to do, you can expect to be surprised.

Around the corner from our street is a Renaissance palace. It has a large gate with a little door in it. That’s so Americans can tell that it’s old.

The little door was open, and we could see people in the courtyard. So we went in.

We saw a young woman twisting strands of sisal and we started to chat. That’s how we learned that it’s a drama school and that these were some of its students.

While we talked, the woman kept twisting sisal. Another sat on a doorstep doing some kind of handwork.

They were making tragedy masks. The student on the doorstep had a mask that was nearly complete. It was chalk white, and apparently the sisal strands became braids on the mask. 

They were preparing for a production of “The Bacchae” by Euripides, which opens in a few weeks in Syracuse and then will tour several cities, including Milan.

On our last trip to Piazza Duomo Joanna had noticed a gelateria offering crepes. We had already eaten lunch so we weren’t in the mood for them then, but now we were feeling a mite peckish.

They didn’t have a big selection, and not craving Nutella or marmalade, we had them plain, with a little confectioners sugar. The shop threw on a few sprinkles for a dash of color.

They were good, sweet but not overly so, with a slight taste of orange. I don’t know where that came from. Crepes can be made with Grand Marnier, so that may have been the source.

For some reason I was trying to behave, so I didn’t even have a glass of wine, just coffee.

From there, we made another find, Trattoria Kalliope, on Via Consiglio Regionale, a block away from Piazza Archimede. More fantastic seafood on the menu.

We’re going to grow gills if we keep this up, but hell, let’s come back for dinner.

Near the market street, we came to the Bourbon Jail (Carcere Borbonico) built in the 1830s.

Then we sat for a while by the Temple of Apollo before heading back to the hotel.

We rested and did some work on the computer and then headed out for dinner at Kalliope,

I recognized Kalliope as the name of a Greek mythological figure, as well as the circus wagon organ. I had to look up the name, though, to find that she was one of the nine muses. Indeed, the muse of eloquence and epic poetry.

Maybe of seafood, too.

When we walked in, we passed an array of fresh fish, mostly invertebrates, displayed on ice and under glass. I was so glad we found this place.

I saw a group of crustaceans similar to others I had seen in the market. They look like large white crawfish with two black dots where you’d expect the eyes to be.

What are they?

The waiter said that they are locally called Pinocchio.

Like the puppet? Yes.

We started with a mixed seafood appetizer, marinated anchovy, breaded sardine, seafood caponata, grilled calamari, stuffed mussel.

It was all good, but the caponata, with its vinegar, and the silver anchovy on crisp toast were the hits of the plate.

The waiter offered to have a dish made of Pinocchio with a twisted (possibly regional) pasta whose name I forget. 

The fish have little meat but a lot of savory flavor. We picked them up and sucked out the juice. The pasta was saturated with the flavor.

Wine was a house brand syrah, tangy enough to stand up to the food.

The Arkemedeion is closed, so Saturday we went to the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. 

It’s a small place with two rooms displaying models of machines and devices based on drawings in da Vinci’s notebooks. 

Several are from his speculations on flight. There are models of his glider, his helical wing (predecessor of the helicopter), parachute, and inclinometer.

Some models, like the cam-lifted hammer, pulleys, and ball bearings, are designed for visitors to try. Others, though, including models of a turtle-shaped battle tank and a paddle-wheel boat, are hands-off.

A room devoted to Archimedes has little about his work, but instead shows the simple machines (shadoof, inclined plane, pulley, etc.) that he applied and improved.

We stopped for a light lunch and shared an impanata, a thin wrap of leavened bread baked around a stuffing of spinach and cheese. I guess this is the Italian version of the Spanish empanada. 

The place, Viola, also mixed one of the best Campari and sodas I ever had. No scrimping on the liqueur.

We went home by way of Via Laberinto. It has a number of turns, but we didn’t need a clew of thread to get us out.

I wanted to catch up on writing because I had been spending most of my computer time making reservations for the rest of this trip and for another in April.

I did some research and found no place between here and Naples with much to see that we hadn’t already seen. The train passes through or near several small towns, but their main attractions are beaches, which are not my kind of thing, especially when the daily high is in the 50s.

So I extended our stay here through Friday, because we are both enjoying Ortygia. Then we’ll go back to Reggio for a few days before we train north for four days in Naples.

For dinner we went back at O’Scina, partly because the food is so good and partly so I could spell it right this time. Either they have changed the name of the restaurant and the street, or I misremembered it in a previous message. 

The was a “t” where the “n” is now. The street is the Via Domenico Scina. 

The lady who runs the restaurant recognized us and jumped up to greet us when we came in. She seems very friendly by nature. She sat briefly to chat with regulars at their tables.

Joanna opted for an appetizer of fried fish, a mix of anchovy, calamari, and octopus. Like all fried food, it was very good.

My only concern now is where to get anchovies this fresh when I get back to New Jersey.

The main course was spaghetti with anchovy sprinkled with bread crumbs. The bread crumbs take the place of grated cheese.

They may have been pan-fried in a combination of olive oil and butter. Done right, as these were, they are tasty and crisp.

There may be a trick to getting it right. I have tried to fry them myself but they have always been oily.

We had a bottle of Sicilian Nero d’Avola with a French name, Sallier de la Tour. Perhaps it’s an echo from the old Bourbon days.

It has a slight sharpness, perhaps because of the alcohol. At 14 percent, it’s a tiny bit stronger than most wines I know. But only a half percent, so I’m not sure that will make a tastable difference.

In any event, it held up to the strong flavor of the anchovies.

I don’t remember exactly where we were when we came across the house with the arm. But it gave us the photo of the day, Joanna Talks to the Hand.

Stay well, all. Wishing you good drinks and even better anchovies,


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Playing El Cid

February 15-16, 2017

Wednesday was our last day at the Villa Politi, so we trekked out in the morning to see the remaining big attraction in that part of town, the Archeological Park.

The park is a few blocks west of the Paolo Orsi Museum. I was no longer under the influence of a reality-distorting drug, so the walk was pleasant. It was a little cloudy and there was chill in the air.

What’s more, I could walk without danger of wandering into traffic. I could even look for lizards in the wall.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned the lizards before. They seem to be everywhere.

Next to the hotel there is a park named for Pope John Paul II. It’s the one with the low wall of caves that we found on our first walk in Syracuse.

There is a retaining wall by the sidewalk. It’s a drywall, in which irregular stones are laid without mortar.

Lizards love the place. When the sun is out, they sit on the edges of crevices to warm themselves. When you get close, they dart back into the rocks. 

The movement is so quick that, if you’re not sure what it is, it can be startling. Especially for Joanna, who is extremely frightened by snakes. So I have to warn her that we will encounter lizards when the sun is bright. 

I sat on the hotel porch and saw one on the banister. It crawled along the concrete and then dodged into the hedge, probably to wait for lunch to fly by.

We even saw a tiny dead lizard that had somehow crept into one of the museum cases.

It was too cold and dim for them Wednesday morning, so we didn’t see any lizards.

The Archeological Park is the site of later development of Syracuse called the Neapolis, New City, which is also the origin of the name Naples. Most of the structures in the park were partly carved out of the living rock and then finished with conventional construction.

The seating in the Greek theater is carved right out of the hillside. I don’t know what type of stone it is. It is very white, with pockmarks maybe from weathering or from its geoological formation.

Many banks of seats are still usable, although some parts have eroded. Here and there holes run right through the stone.

We sat in an upper tier to take in the view. It is a dizzying pespective to look down the seeming endless tiers of steps. Good thing, I guess, that we didn’t try to come here the day before, when balance was a challenge.

From the Greek theater, the way leads to the Quarries of Paradise. I have no idea what they may have looked like when they were being worked. Maybe littered with the corpses of careless stonecutters. Who knows?

They are beautiful today. The steep carved walls surround a variety of trees and flowering plants. There is a bamboo grove, too, but I doubt that it’s indigenous.

The site also has a high-ceilinged cave called the Ear of Dionysius. People at Villa Politi had told us that the cave in their quarry was the Ear. Wider opinion, however, identifies the Ear as the cave in the Neapolis.

It is said that during Syracuse’s war with Athens, Dionysius the Tyrant kept his prisoners of war in the quarry. He is said to have built the cave as a listening post to eavesdrop on the captives.

There are other caves, but they are roped off. You can walk into the Ear. When we did, we heard an echoing murmur. That was in addition to the occasional visitor humming or shouting to test the echo.

I wondered if the background noise was a recording put in for effect. It was only after we got all the way in and were coming out that it became apparent. It was the cooing of pigeons roosting on the walls.

Another feature of the park is a large structure called the Altar of Hieron. Hieron was the tyrant who had the altar built. It’s believed to be a huge sacrificial altar, indeed the largest known, designed for killing 198 bulls at a shot or something like that.

This too is partly cut out of the rock and then built up. Or at least, it was. One of the medieval rulers of the city, Charles V, took most of it away to build a fort.

The Roman amphitheater, which is also in the park, was built much the same way. More of that is left, including some of the original tunnels. 

The 12th or 13th century church of St. Nicholas of Cordari, fenced off and apparently abandoned now, stands at the entrance to the park. It was built over a Roman bath, and the ancient arches hold up part of the church foundation. Come to think of it, that may be why the church is no longer used.

After a few hours of walking, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel for a rest. 

After almost four weeks here, we have sort of fallen in line with the rest of the country. We spend the afternoon taking a long breather at the hotel when everybody else is taking a nap.

Dinner at the hotel started with a pasta roulade. This was a sheet of pasta, much like a layer of lasagna, rolled around a filling of spinach and ham. It came with a white vegetable puree thickened with melted cheese.

The second course was slices of roast pork with mushrooms and potatoes.

The wine was the same blend of Syrah and Nero d’Avola that we had tried the other night.

There is a conference in session at the hotel. The theme is “invest with your head and your heart.” It’s in a separate building next to the main hotel, so we had no idea how many people were attending it.

The answer is “lots.” And they all showed up for a buffet dinner in the big dining room next door.

It was quick. The whole thing may have lasted a little more than half an hour.

After everyone had gone, the waiter brought us some complimentary sweets for dessert, apparently from the buffet.

Thursday morning we checked out on time and took a cab to our new digs in Ortygia.

We are at a small hotel called Alla Giudecca. It’s the same name as a street a block to the west. This is the ancient Jewish quarter of the city.

About 20 meters under us, we’re told, is the old ritual bath, the mikveh. 

The building has very high ceilings, many of which are vaulted in the common rooms downstairs. Breakfast is like having a meal on the set of “El Cid.” I keep expecting Charlton Heston’s teeth to shine out of a corner.

We are in a small apartment with a living room, kitchenette, and two bedrooms.  

We left the bags at the hotel while they finished getting our room ready. We started strolling through these fascinating alleys and winding streets. Many of them are closed to cars, although motorbikes seem to be allowed everywhere.

When we came to the Temple of Apollo, we saw a street market on the far side. 

Vendors were selling vegetables and fish, and everything looked so good. The fish were all brand new and lying on ice.

There were things to eat there that I couldn’t recognize.

Then we passed a man outside a restaurant who was clearly enjoying a plate of pasta with seafood. We weren’t ready for dinner, but made a note of the place, La Isoletta.

We stopped for a snack and a beer at Bar Apollo. It’s a bar named for a church. I was giving pagans equal time.

We made our way to the Piazza Duomo to visit the cathedral, which may have its roots in the 6th century. That is, a sign said that the apse of the Lady Chapel has Byzantine and Norman elements dating from the 6th to the 11th century

The vestibule and the sanctuary, the area around the main altar, are baroque, like the front of the building. 

We got an update on St. Lucy’s relics. Her body was returned to Syracuse in 2014. It and a separate reliquary holding her left arm are held in the altar of the St. Lucy chapel in the cathedral.

They are brought out once a year and processed through the old city. A video running in a room full of St. Lucy art and artefacts shows the procession, which draws an immense crowd.

There is an event like that, though on a much smaller scale, in Montclair. The old parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel used to process an image of St. Sebastian every August. Maybe it still does, even though it has been merged with the Immaculate Conception parish.

We followed the procession through the neighborhood several years ago.

Maybe 20 guys carried the statue on long poles over their shoulders. There was a small band for the occasion. Every once in a while, the procession stopped and a family brought out a large candle, which was tied onto the float with the saint’s effigy.

The figure was already covered with donations of money pinned to its cloak.

In one of the Duomo’s rooms devoted to the history of St. Lucy, there are cases containing jewelry and gold watches that have been donated to her.

We also learned what those metal hearts and masks are. They are votive offerings to St. Lucy. The mask represents her eyes, which were gouged out but miraculously replaced.

We saw the bones on display of two other martyrs, one named Benedict and the other Victoria. They are in lighted glass cases lined with red velvet and surmounted by gold crowns, indicating martyrdom.

St. Lucy is often depicted with a golden crown. In one of her symbolic representations, she holds a dish with two eyes in it. She may have a wound in her neck, sometimes with a sword still in it. At other times she holds a martyr’s palm frond.

We went back to La Isoletta in the evening. Joanna had pasta with shellfish: clams and mussels in the shell, shrimp, and squid. I had spaghetti with a fish ragu. 

There was a little tomato in my sauce, but not much. Unlike a ragu made with red meat, it didn’t have that consistency of thick gravy. Instead, it had small bits of fish in a little broth.

The seafood pastas here are amazing, and these were no exceptions. 

They were both very different from each other, so we couldn’t mix them, but we sampled each other’s dishes. 

The wine of the night was a three-year-old Sicilian Nero d’Avola bottled under the name Kammut. 

I can’t imagine where the name comes from. It could be local dialect, a reference to the old Arab days of Sicily, or something completely different. 

Anyhow, it’s bottled by a company called Bagliesi.

It is sharper than most Sicilian Neros that I’ve had, but if anything, that edge gives it a little more strength to stand up to the strong flavors of the food.

Enough for now.

Be well, all, and don’t forget to love your fish.