Where: Cefalù, Sicily
Plate of food: Sicily demands two foods in this category and we all know that Sicily is not one to be taken lightly, what with the shifty eyed mafia and, dare I say, the stocky middle-aged women (how do impossibly beautiful young women turn so “solid”? The answer may well be in the next two foods I am going to mention). Firstly, allow me to introduce Arancini: fried balls of risotto the size of your hand. Not so special, you say? Prepare to get on your knees because hidden within the golden crunchy exterior is a gift of melting mozzarella and fragrant tomato sauce. Aha! I remember following my nose to a tiny shop window along a cobblestone street in Cefalù. It obviously only took a matter of days before my senses were attuned to finding these magical snacks. They were fresh, hot, and life-changingly delicious. The second Sicilian food that lingers in my memory is Cannoli (the singular is Cannolo, but you will never, ever eat just one so don’t bother remembering that). These are quite simply delicate tubes of pastry filled with voluptuous cream, but they will quite simply make you swoon. This effect is perhaps enhanced by sitting at a small cafe in the main square of Cefalù, the cathedral looming behind you and the sun warming your back as you sip espresso and eat your
first fourth Cannoli of the day.
The best: So, I am going to bend the rules with this one, too (man, what happened to “The Plan”?), and nominate the Roman mosaics in central Sicily (not Cefalù) as my best. The floors of the once extravagant Villa del Casale are incredibly intricate, ornate, and colourful. The tiles are each about the size of a tooth and some scenes are 60m long! It is breathtaking to see. I loved the scenes of women playing ball games in what look like bikinis…clearly this was before they discovered Cannoli.
Story that needs to be told: We hired a car in Sicily to drive from Palermo airport to the sleepy seaside village of Cefalù. Once we arrived in the village we quickly realized that we wouldn’t find any parking near our holiday apartment; the roads were too narrow and too crowded with people, scooters, and the odd donkey. There was parking, however, at the local marina, just a 10 minute walk away.
One evening my husband, Matt, and I sat enjoying some red wine as a violent storm battered the village. The wind was exceptionally strong and the shutters on our apartment nearly rattled off of the windows. At about 10:30 Matt’s mobile phone rang which was unexpected as we didn’t know anyone in Sicily, except for the man selling the Arancini (how great would that be if he could deliver them at all times of the night?? No, it did not cross my mind. Why would you think that?). The person on the phone only spoke Italian and our Italian is quite poor, that is to say, non-existent. Eventually the phone was passed to someone who spoke a few words of English and those words were “Mister? Your car? In the sea.” Huh. We guffawed and shook our heads – “those crazy Sicilians!” But the man was so adamant that my husband decided to go down to the marina and show those loons that our car was in fact not in the sea.
As he crested the hill above the marina, hunched over against the gale force winds, he saw a jumble of people in the carpark below. He also saw our car. In the sea. Huh. It turns out that we had neglected to engage the hand brake and our car had gently and slowly rolled across the parking lot, aided by the Biblical storm, until it tipped off the edge and landed bumper first in shallow water with its rear tires still on land. The car was terribly considerate and avoided the other cars in the lot. So polite. The local police and the coast guard were there, as well as several dodgy looking characters in dark suits (I kid you not, it is Sicily after all). They were all bemused by the tourist who let his car go into the sea, but they were very friendly and organized for a Mr. Jocco to come with his tow truck and extract our car. While they waited, they took turns having their photo taken with Matt, calling their friends to come to the marina (and they did come, in droves), and pleading with Matt to do the New Zealand rugby team’s pre-game war dance, the Haka. He declined. Mr. Jocco arrived amidst cheers and pulled the car out, although not with any haste despite the time and the inclement weather. He stood atop his tow truck – his trusty steed – and shouted instructions to the Coast Guard officers and anyone else who would listen. Matt didn’t understand any of the instructions, but one can only imagine that they were “Get that chain! Lower the hook! Can you take my photo? Someone get me Arancini!!” The cost of this service was clearly up for some Sicilian debate, summed up by Mr. Jocco raising the fee and demanding cash only. A Coast Guard officer took pity on Matt and negotiated a receipt for him to show to the rental company.
We all went as a family to the Coast Guard office the next day to pick up the receipt. The officers greeted my husband like he was a brother and we were all shepherded into the Chief’s office. Young, strapping officers clustered around the doorway, curious about the infamous tourists. Some ventured inside the office to show me photos of their babies on their mobile phones. Eventually the Chief sauntered in, sat behind his enormous wooden desk and smoked a cigar while he finalized the receipt. It turns out it is EXACTLY like the movies in Sicily. We bade our new friends a heartfelt goodbye and they sent us off with a print-out of the weather forecast. I am surprised they didn’t print out the instructions on how to use your hand brake.
Photo: Well, since the rules are far more flexible than I thought (hey, it’s my prerogative), I am including 3 photos instead of just one. I am not crazy about their alignment nor their size, but it appears I have much to learn about creating a blog. Thanks for hanging in there! I hope you enjoyed reading about Cefalù as much as I enjoyed being there. I would love to hear from you if you have been there, too, or if you have ever eaten Arancini…or if you have ever had your car in the sea!
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller