Friday, September 19, 2014

Sicily ~ Thinking Outside the Boot

I’m nothing, if not overwhelmed, when I step away from Italy and into Sicily. I am also liberated. Freed from thinking things are as they are, because Sicily has its own interpretation for everything.

Culture? At once obsessed and ignorant of the riches surrounding one on any given day in almost any place. Sicily is dripping with history. At the same time, the citizens pile trash, in the cities, in the country, with a disregard for their natural surroundings.

Organization? Maybe a road will take you where the GPS tells you to go. Maybe the road won’t be there. Not to worry. For thousands of years, people have been getting around Sicily, one way or another. On the other hand, there is a plethora of wind and solar farms, next to the tomato hot houses and pepper plantations. Sicily feeds more than just the Sicilians.

Food? Lord. I haven’t found any place on the Italian boot that defies what people think Italian food is as well as Sicily. Never once in a week of adventurous eating did I ever see truffle oil, balsamic vinegar or over-refined olive oil. Garlic? If it was there it was in the chorus, it wasn’t the fat lady. What I did encounter were sesame seeds, everywhere on the breads, the cookies. Eggplant, so many ways I lost count. Tomatoes performing yeoman service, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Seafood, swordfish, tuna, spigola, octopus, gambero rosso. Crudo, roasted, grilled over coal, fritti, marinated. Heaven. Even the offal was unavoidably seductive. Spleen, intestines, things without names in English. Not what folks think of in America when they think of Eye-talian food.

And the wine. I don’t think I have ever traveled in Sicily and had as wide a view of the different types of wine coming from my wonderful little island. I went back to the Marsala bodega I first stepped into in 1971, in the La Vucciria marketplace. Time stood still in that place, waiting for me to find it and reclaim a piece of the innocence I once had.

Marsala, in general. Struggling to be relevant in a digital, iPhone6 world. Marsala will be here after the iPhone is relegated to the dustbin of technological advance.

Simple wines. Grillo, Nero d’Avola. Every day drinking. Solid wines. But they were solid 30 years ago too. Now, we look back and see those days weren’t as primitive as we thought. Winemakers in California, in the Veneto, in Australia, they now emulate what Sicily has been doing for a long time. Now, Sicily is very fashionable, thanks to the New California wine.

Everywhere. Not just on Etna. Everywhere. In Licata I had one of the great Nero d’Avola wines I will ever have in my life. It made me cry. It makes me cry thinking about it. Just a simple barrel. Sitting there since 1998. Full of the sugar of the Sicilian sun and made for the sweet-dependent palate of one whose DNA made those dependencies seem so very normal and natural. I can still taste the wine, even through the fog of jet lag and the muck of morning coffee. I brought one small bottle home, to drink the night before I die, somewhere in the (hopefully) very distant future.

Yes, wine. And the land the wine comes from.

I was standing outside a baglio, waiting for my travel mates. In between two buildings on the property was a little plot. About the size of my side yard, back home. In it, two men with clippers were giving the plot a haircut. They remind me of my Italian barber, Alfonso. But they were trimming the oregano, the rosemary, the effluence that the land naturally emitted. Abbondanza.

There will be more. You will get sick of this and stop coming here. The readers will dwindle to a handful, only my mom, my sister, a few close friends. This is my paradox. I have found something I really love and it will probably turn you away. So be it. This is all vanity; it will not be pulled down here. Not now. Not yet.

Sicily called. It was impossible to resist. Once again.

written and photographed (with the exception of the first image, by Salvatore La Lumia) by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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