Wednesday, May 10, 2006

from Campofelice di Rocella: the hills are alive with the sound of progress

(Wednesday, post 2)

Our Tuesday hike took us to the top of Monte Zimmara. I had not known there would any summits involved. When Ed read the description to me, I focused on the part about gravel roads, relatively straightforward climb, all at the outset. If you’re going to strain yourself to death, I feel it’s best to get it over and done with.

But the hike was from The Book. The one published in 1998. Before the years where wind energy swept over Europe. Sicily has often been scornfully regarded as standing still, but here, in the northern mountains it has its share of these:

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cows and wind "mills"

The hike was through a Riserva Naturale, but here, a Riserva Naturale can include villages and farmsteads. In the oak forests, in valleys and on mountain crests, the sound of cow bells is everpresent.

I would not call the climb easy. “Only 450 meters!” Ed said, using exclamation marks to emphasize his perception of things. But from the top, you could see pretty much all of Sicily.

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sweat peas, poppies, etc.

Still, the quiet has been disturbed. When you get within a few feet of the tall masts, the whirling sound of the powerful spinning blades is close to that of a hurricane passing through. The cows seem not to mind. And you have to keep thinking how excellent a source of energy this is. In Germany, our hosts were less enthusiastic. Nuclear is the way to go, they told us. But here, in Sicily, where the winds are so strong, the arguments against its use fail, I think. And, there is something majestic about harvesting the force of wind.

(Even though I wish I had worn more than two shirts, a sweater and a jacket to protect myself from that same majestic sweep of air.)

As a post script, let me add that this is the third hike from The Book and the third time we lost our way, this time on the descent. Amazing. You would think that finding the trail down is easier than searching for the one to the summit. You would be wrong.

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she reassured us that we were not lost

Oh, looking for evidence of dinner foods here? Back in the village of Campofelice, we went back to the tiny trattoria, where cheese and roasted eggplants joined forces with tomatoes to produce this:

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from Campofelice di Rocella: agriturismo

(Wednesday post)

So what’s it like to stay on a farm in Sicily? This is our third. Each has been different, but let me say a word on this last one.

It has no name and it appears to have a sole inhabitant, Signora Cristina. I did not correspond with her. She speaks no English. I’m guessing she has a friend handle any email in another language. She is gentle in spirit and manner as she has an expquisite sense of detail.

The house is very very old. She tells me it has been in her family for hundreds of years. The guest room is in the second floor, over the old olive press.

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In all three farm houses, we have been left to ourselves. In Wisconsin, you have to be social if you go the bed and breakfast route. Most of the time, breakfast will a communal affair, whether or not it is your inclination to be bright and chatty from the minute you take a sip of o.j.. Not here. You are given space. But if you ask questions, you are given the moon (see post below).

These are all working farms. The first one was a serious producer of olive oil under its own label. The second sold grapes to the cooperative. This third one has the olive trees as well, but it seems more laid back – as if their livelihood did not depend on farming.

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farmhouse, olive trees

The breakfasts have been typical Italian affairs: excellent coffee and then some stuff thrown in – usually breads and jams, sometimes a boiled egg, sometimes cheese. In this last one, we eat in the garden, bordered by lavender bushes on one side, and the sea coast, just a few miles down below, on the other.

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view from farm to sea

There are no phone lines, no televisions. Tile floors, puffy quilts and a sprinkling of antiques. All have views onto gardens and all abound in the wake up calls of birds, or, as I write this, the occasional rooster.

From Campofelice di Rocella: a chapter book

[Tuesday post]

Sometimes I feel that by the time I find an Internet place, I will have enough pages ready to publish on Ocean to constitute a book.

I apologize in advance for the eyestrain.

For simplicity’s sake, let me group yesterday’s events into four chapters within this odd little chapter of a day

1. the long answer to a short question

It happens that on this day (Monday) we leave the western coast of Sicily and cross the island all the way to the north-eastern shores. Unless you are determined to make this journey ten times longer, your only choice is to cut through the mountains of central Sicily.

I must have switched into second gear more than a thousand times in the course of the day.

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goat herder below, mountain village above

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his close-up

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their close-up, hidden by grasses and flowers

Ed promised, in the empty way you toss about promises to make your traveling companion shut up already, that several of the towns along the way would have Internet Points. He was not exactly wrong.

The only way to locate these points is to ask. The preferred category of person to direct inquiries to: young-ish, male, on a motorcycle. Works every time. But it took us a while to think this one through.

What becomes clear from the very first person we hail as we drive through the first big town, to the very last, as we pull into the coastal city of Termini (see brief note posted the other night), is that the people of Sicily have an overwhelming desire to give even more than is asked of them. I am remembering several chance encounters on this day:

[first encounter]
Do you know if there is an Internet Point in this town?
Yes, yes, just a minute
The man works his body into the car, passenger side, where Ed is sitting. He has a look of great concern. He points to Ed’s foot.
But what happened here? Did you hurt it? Is it broken?
He looks closer and the lines of worry on his face change to lines of laughter. He pulls on the elastic of Ed’s big burly white socks (Farm & Fleet, a dozen for $5).
Socks! They are only socks! I thought a cast for sure! What a relief! Now, here, you want to turn the car around. Go right into this driveway. More, more, that’s right… (and so on)
[n.b., the Internet Point is closed. Why? A neighboring storeowner shrugs his shoulders. It’s Monday so maybe they needed an extra day off.]

[and another]
Do you know if there is an Internet Point in town?
Yes, yes, but it is hard to find. It is far, out of the way. Come, follow me, I’ll lead you there on my motorcycle.
[There follows a crazy ride through back alleys as I struggle to keep up. Internet Point is about to close, but they stay open one minute so that I can post my Ocean disclaimer.]

The desire to help, to explain, to protect, does not arise only on matters of the Net.

[Conversation in the late afternoon, in a café, in a mountain village]
One capucci’o please.
You want a capucci’o? Let me see if I want to serve it to you.
[Man behind the bar takes out carton of milk, opens it, inhales deeply and shakes his head] I am sorry, but for you I do not think it is good enough. The smell is not good.
He knows I have three other bars to choose from in town. He has just saved me from spending the rest of the day in a toilette.

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happy to switch from capucci'o to gelato

[It is very late. I pull up in front of a store.]
Do you know where the road to Campofelice di Rocella is?
Campofelice di Rocella! Come, walk with me.

She prods me to go with her. We amble up the road. She points to the hills ahead.
Do you see those lights there? Campofelice di Rocella. Not the pink lights, mind you. The blue ones.
And how do I get there?
She has prolonged the moment. But now I must move on.
Ah. Just follow the road. There will be a sign.

2. Another set of hiking difficulties, all blamable on “Hiking through Sicily,” copyright 1998

We do not have time to get lost, Ed, pick an easy one for today.
Okay, right in the central mountains of Sicily. It’s rated “average” and talks of gravel roads.
I have enough sense not to wear a denim skirt. We set out.

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watching us

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showing off

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It says we are to go through a gate and cross the field.
Ed, there is a herd of sheep and I see at least three dogs and they are all barking ferociously at us.
Let me see if they mind my walking toward them
They are directly in your path. Do the dogs mind? Listen to them! They think you and I are wolves ready to destroy their herd. Their teeth will be firmly around my shin any minute now!

And so we detour.

And then, yet again we are faced with a path that disappears.

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all flowers, no path

And it continues thus.
It says to look for a solitary oak on a meadow.
Brilliant. There are a dozen solitary oaks. Which one?

Where there is a path, it is wet, muddy, good for horses, less so for people. When three hours later we do finally make our way back toward the village, I wash off my shoes in a watering hole, picking at the muddy soles with a thin stick. I should have photographed the look of shock on Ed’s face. I do not think he has ever even contemplated that anyone would, in the middle of a hike, wash the soles of shoes. We are different in this way, Ed and I. Very different.

3. The men

This is a country of men. By five in the afternoon, the piazzas, bars, benches are filled with them. We all know what the women are doing – fixing their food back at home. Still, the sight of all these men makes you think that a plague has swept through the towns and deliberately wiped out those with different reproductive systems.

These, then, are the photos from the village to which we returned at the end of our hike. It is 6. The sun is low, the stone houses are the color of burnt butter. The men come out to talk.

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4. lost

The farmstead that is to be home for the next three nights is the most obscure of the whole lot. I do not even remember how I found it: it has no name. It is not listed in any of the books I own. It has no website. But as I corresponded with a Signora Flora, I became convinced that it was special. The owner is an advocate of organic farming. She rents just one or two rooms, not too far from the sea, in an ancient stone structure in the middle of nowhere, of course.

And when it is dark, that nowhere becomes even more nowhere.

What’s that smell? Didn’t you say they practiced organic farming? The air is absolutely acrid!
I agree. But as we get out of the car, having finally found the place, only because out of the three dozen people we bothered along the way, one actually had heard of Signora Flora – it becomes clear that the smell belongs to the car.
Have you been riding the clutch??
I have. I am tired. I have switched gears close to five million times as we navigated roads, paths and terrain that has made our rental look like it signed up for a mud bath special and they forgot to do the final rinse. We should have arrived at 7, instead, it is 9:30. Riding the clutch comes from not giving a damn anymore.

After we are shown our quarters, we are told of a small eating spot in the village, some 3 kms away. The place is empty. The food is, of course, excellent.

Are you from here?
It is a two people place: he cooks, she serves.
No, but my husband is. I am from Paris.
Do you like Campofelice?

I love it. My entire family comes here for the summers from France. My two children play outside and I do not worry about them. They are well cared for in this village. They are safe.

Safe, cared for. Fussed over. It describes me here as well.

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