Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Cherries are in season--delicious, plentiful, and cheap!
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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Avid about Agriturismi

Today I treated four friends with whom I work in AVID to lunch at an "agriturismo" called Valle dei Margi, about thirty miles from school. An agriturismo is a restaurant and sometimes an inn "on the land" where they usually raise some or all of the food they serve. This one was in the middle of olive groves, fruit orchards, and vineyards. Leslie and Anne had been there before and brilliantly recommended it.

Unfortunately, the website is all in Italian, but you can get a glimpse of the place. It was a *really* nice place, and the photos don't do it justice. They have not only a great restaurant, but also hotel rooms, conference rooms, training rooms, a pool, tennis court, and a "zoo" (aka "lunch").

The minute we walked in, we were handed flutes of fruit juice to refresh us. No need to say who we were. We were "expected." The appetizers (antipasti), water, and pitchers of red wine arrived immediately when we were seated--fresh mixed mushrooms in vinegar, grilled eggplant, mozzarella balls wrapped in ham, olives (split and seeded), cantaloupe with Parma ham, warm ricotta cheese, and a few other vegetable items that were layered like lasagna. Then came two large platters of pasta--crescent-shaped, meat-filled ravioli with a light meat sauce and grated cheese and a Sicilian short pasta in creamy tomato sauce. (Keep in mind we were only five women!) Next were two meat dishes. One was a veal cordon bleu and the other was a cheese-filled chicken roll-up. With these came potatoes and lettuce and tomato salad dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Dessert was served with expresso or cappuccino. There were two types of delicate little pastries (one ricotta and one creme) and baskets of fresh fruit. To top it off, three kinds of Sicilian liqueurs were offered--lemon, mandarin orange, or cinnamon. All of this took a couple of hours to consume. The price was ridiculously low. How the Italians eat regularly like this, I have no idea, as they do not seem to be overweight very often!

We arrived back at school just in time to go home. (No Ferrarri, only Anne's mini van.) The perfect work day, I'd say!

Monday, June 13, 2005

Elephant fountain in Duomo Piazza of Catania
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Catania's Comeback

Five hundred years ago, Catania was one of the most elegant cities in Europe. It was called the "Milan of the South," and every night the streets were washed with perfumed water to make it even more pleasant.

But, Catania has been destroyed seven times--by earthquake, volcanic eruption, and bombing.Twenty years ago, the city of Catania closed up when it got dark. No one would be out on the streets. The city was dead. Now, it is alive again with restaurants, people, and life! Catania is making a huge comeback.

It is an interesting city that feels almost third-world, part African and part European. Certainly the markets with their open-air butcher shops and animal heads hanging in front remind me of the bazaars in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey moreso than anything I've seen elsewhere in Italy. In spite of the department stores and expensive shops on Via Etnea, most people shop in the open stalls of the market that features everything from food to clothing to household goods to carpets to watches to antiques. No business cards, no receipts, no returns, but great prices. The market, which is open every day of the week covers many streets and squares. A step up from the stalls are tiny, dark shops with goods stacked to ceiling in boxes, also like North Africa and Turkey.

But, around the corner from the fish market and through the arch is a modern Hard Rock Cafe, all glistening glass and chrome with a menu identical to Chicago or New York. And there are two McDonald's nearby! One block away, the decrepit buildings look like they have been bombed, and guess what? They were! They were damaged in World War II and still not repaired.Catania is alive again, indeed, with a new spruced-up look. The pollution-blackened buildings are being cleaned to reveal fabluous Baroque exteriors that are gleaming white. The cathedral is almost completed, inside and out. Municipal buildings, palaces, churches, the university, and an opera house that is considered more beautiful than La Scala mix with Greek and Roman ruins, parks, piazzas, statues, and fountains to create a fascinating city with Etna as a backdrop.

The city is just now tearing down the last building that covered up a Roman theater and odeon just a few blocks from the cathedral that is a unique combination found nowhere else in the world. And in an old gypsum factory called "The Chimneys," there is a new cultural center of museums, theaters, art galleries, and such. The World War II museum is outstanding in itself, not to be missed. There are public lidos, or beaches, right in the city. The international airport is more busy than ever, and it's being completely rebuilt. About one million people live in and around Catania.

IF you come to visit, I'll take you all over Catania, and I'll know where to park (See "The Parking Culture of Sicily," an earlier post).

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Godmother receives guests
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Marj's Mafia Party at Murgo

We celebrated my principal Marj Lewallen's twenty years in DoDDS last night with "an offer you can't refuse" retirement party at the Murgo Winery near Zaffarana. Over sixty friends gathered for an evening of fun, wine, singing, wine, videos from three schools, wine, wine, tributes, wine, food, wine, roasts and toasts, more wine, and "The Top Ten Quotes of Marj Lewallen."

Marj was, of course, "The Godmother"--Mafia Marj, and she played the part to the hilt with a black dress and a big black rose on it, tons of jewelry, sunglasses, a Godmother ring, a cigar, and a special chair. She was escorted in by two bodyguards in black (Da Matthews Boys) and then approached by various guests and supplicants including Pat the Sicilian peasant and a rubber chicken.

The setting at the winery was perfect. We had the entire place to ourselves, to begin. The yard and restaurant look down on the Mediterranean on one side and look up on Mt. Etna on the other. The fixed menu included the well-known Murgo spumante and wines flowing freely the rest of the evening, putting everyone in a further fine mood. The food was excellent--mixed antipasti dishes, two types of pasta, two meat dishes, potatoes and salad, and tiramisu (Marj's favorite) for dessert.

One of the musical highlights was the singing along of Jimmy Buffet's "Volcano" song ("I don't know where I'm a-gonna go when the volcano blows"), the unofficial theme song of Sigonella. The words were altered a bit to fit Marj, the live music of Hope and Lynn was great, and the everyone joined in. The entire restaurant staff came out to watch. I don't know if they noticed the Mafia theme, by the way, but they really liked our music.

To see all the photos of the event, go to the My Photos of Sicily link on the sidebar at the right and open "Mafia Marj's Retirement."