On the last day of our final road-trip through Sicily, we drove a few kilometers up the coast from Catania to Taormina, the island’s most popular beach resort. Word of its charm had reached our ears from just about everyone we’d come in contact with: friends, strangers in bars, neighbors, Twitter acquaintances. Even my grandmother called to say that we should really visit Taormina. She’s never even been to Sicily and she’s been dead for ten years! Phone calls from beyond the grave are pretty persuasive: we had to go.
Still a healthy city of about 40,000 people, Caltagirone has been home to human activity since prehistoric days. The name comes from the Arabic “qal’at-al-ghiran”, or “Hill of Vases”, which serves as an indication of how tightly connected to pottery the town has always been. Caltagirone was completely destroyed in the 1693 earthquake that leveled much of eastern Sicily. But like Noto, it was rebuilt in grand style, with a heavy emphasis on Baroque architecture.
Before we moved to Sicily for 91 days, I didn’t know that there was actually a town called Corleone. I had assumed that the name was invented by Mario Puzo, who wrote The Godfather. So I felt a thrill upon discovering that the town actually does exist, just an hour from Palermo, and that it indeed has a past strongly identified with the Mafia. It was just a matter of time before we visited. My name is Michael, after all.
If you’re an adult human living in the 21st century, you have at some point in your life suffered a catastrophic computer crash. You’ve been faced with the choice of whether to try and recover your system, or just start fresh with a clean install. And you’ve probably learned that, almost always, the best option is to start clean and reinstall from scratch. Restorations rarely work and, even if you’re able to cobble your computer back to a semi-functional state, there are usually problems. No, it’s best to bite the bullet, lose some work, and start over. For metaphorical proof from history, just look at the Sicilian city of Noto.
Palermo is bounded to the north by Monte Pellegrino, a rock jutting into the Mediterranean which Goethe described as “the most beautiful promontory in the world”. Near the mountain’s summit is the Santuario di Santa Rosalia, one of Palermo’s many patron saints. The mountain park and the sanctuary can be easily visited in a few hours, and make a great escape from the noise and traffic of the city.
Trapped between Monte Pelligrino and Monte Gallo, Mondello was a fishing village for most of its existence, until its white beach and turquoise water were discovered by the leisure classes of Palermo. Nowadays, it’s almost purely a resort town, and highly congested during summer. When we visited on the last day of September, though, there weren’t too many other people and the water was still warm enough for swimming.
Rather than have Chucky, our ten-year-old French Bulldog, endure another plane flight alone in the cargo hold, we drove from Rome to Palermo in a rental car. It was a long haul, but allowed us to see the mountains of Calabria and the northern coast of Sicily, and also provided an initial lesson in coping with Italian drivers.