Sunday, November 20, 2005

Snow on Mt. Etna

It's turned cold here! Look at the snow on top of Etna. This was taken from 3000 ft. on the street where I live.

Putting the Horse before the Cart

This traditional Sicilian horse and cart just happened to be a few blocks from home near my Sunday morning cafe today!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Un Ballo in Maschera

This is the title of an opera by Verdi, the very first opera I have seen in my life! Yes, it's true. No one can believe I lived this many years without this experience, but, somehow I have. I just never had an opportunity before. But here, everyone goes to the opera at some point in their Sicilian stay. It's a part of the experience of living here, just like going up on Mt. Etna or eating black spaghetti. So, I went to see "Un Ballo in Maschera" at the Bellini Opera in Catania with two friends who had lots of opera experience.

The Teatro Massimo Bellini itself is an experience. It's said to be the most beautiful in Italy, even beating out La Scala in Milan. It was also supposedly in one of the Godfather films. It's all gold and gilt and exactly like an opera house should look in my mind. We had great third row seats, having inherited them from a colleague who transferred from Sicily. Having season tickets is a big deal, too, and once acquired, you never, ever give them up. Bellini, by the way, is the most famous "favorite son" of Catania.

I really thought that I might be terribly bored during a three-hour opera entirely in Italian, but surprisingly, I was not. It was something like viewing modern art--you kind of like it but have no idea what it means. So, I enjoyed the music, the voices, the performing, the staging, and as much of the story as I could figure out (and this with the help of my friends and two printed synopses).

It was all very dramatic and almost funny in that regard with all the extreme gestures, acting, and all. As near as I can figure, it went something like this: This guy Ricardo is something like a judge and all the other men don't like him and plot to kill him. He is in love with Amelia, but she is already married to his male secretary, Renato. Somehow the plot to kill him is spoiled. A case comes to him regarding a fortune teller and the entire cast goes off to see this person who foretells something bad for Ricardo. He, being the hero, doesn't believe it. The next thing you know, he is somehow in the forest by himself and whom does he run into but the beautiful (and plump) Amelia. I don't know why either of them was there, but he ends up admitting that he loves her. All of a sudden her husband shows up in an attempt to warn Ricardo that he is in danger and finds his boss with his wife. Two hired assassins also show up and the all think there's some hanky-panky going on (when really there wasn't). Ricardo escapes but Renato takes Amelia home and is very angry. He is drinking and promising to kill her. She is begging him to let her see her son before he does. This scene goes on and on and on, and, of course, eventually Ricardo shows up and Renato kills him instead. In his dying breath, he tells his secretary and long-time friend that his wife was never unfaithful to him and it all ends tragically and ironically with Ricardo dying at his friend's hand instead of at his enemies'.

I'm not sure if I'll see more opera, but I'm not ruling it out. Supposedly, the Sicilians really come out for the Italian operas and not so much for those by other composers. The next one is by Janacek, so maybe I'll just Czech it out.

Slip Slidin' Away

My friend Pat invited me and another friend to go and buy olive oil where they actually make it last Sunday. This place is a real family operation only about ten minutes from my house.

When we got there, we found out we would have to wait while they pressed it and bottled it for us. So, within the space of an hour, the olives went right from the basket to five-liter containers for us! You can't get it much fresher, can you?

I had never seen olive oil making before, and generally I don't like those types of things. Years of touring breweries, wineries, and distilleries, mostly in Germany, convinced me of the ho-hum qualitiy of such operations. I mean, who cares how it's made??

However, this was a bit more interesting. For one thing, the entire operation was in one big room, probably the size of about four garages. Cases and cases of fresh olives were stacked up outside, waiting to be pressed. This was the place the locals brought their olives to be pressed for their own oil use, primarily. The tile floor was slippery from years of oil-pressing.

First, they weighed the olives and recorded it. Next, the olives were put by hand into a sorter-masher that spit out the seeds and leaves and crushed the pulp into almost a paste. That paste came out of a spigot in a round pattern on a large flexible disk, probably about 2.5 feet in diameter. A worker put the disk with olive pulp on a spindle, stacking them up probably 3-4 feet high. When it got to that height, he rolled it over to one of the four presses in the room and put the whole stack in the press. Over the course of about an hour, the huge press squeezed all the oil out of the olives. It dripped and rolled down the sides of the disks and into a tray where it was strained and then siphoned to a holding tank.

The Sicilians were there with all sizes and kinds of containers, both glass and plastic, which were then filled from a spigot by the head olive-man. He then weighed it again and charged them by weight.

This is the greenest olive oil I've ever seen, greener than you will ever see in a store, and it smells wonderful. We didn't participate, but the regulars were actually drinking the oil in little shot-glass sized paper cups. Don't ask if this is virgin or extra-virgin--there is only one kind of olive oil in Sicily, and this is it! When I tap my gallon container, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Pete and Repeat at One Year

You might be wondering what happened to the "special needs" kittens I acquired in October 2004. Well, it's been one year and we're still together. They are now full-blown, full-grown cats. Some say they are the luckiest cats in Sicily. I don't know about that, but they have it good. They don't exactly stay outside all the time, as I had planned, but they get to come inside and visit occasionally and sleep in the laundry room in a basket.

They are fairly annoying, as cats will be, but they are certainly friendly, loving, and usually well-mannered. Gosh, I went away and left them for 25 days this summer with just someone coming to feed them once a day, and they didn't even run away! Every day they are waiting for me in the driveway, no matter what time I arrive home.

You can't tell them apart (well, I can, of course), so Repeat has a red collar. Pete won't keep a collar on for more than a few hours, so I'm not buying him any more. One has a missing rear right foot and the other a rear eft foot, but I can't remember who is missing which one. So, the collar is the best solution. They do have very different personalities. Repeat is much needier, and Pete is unwilling to be mean and fight back when attacked. He never bites, while Repeat does quite often. Most of the time, they love each other which they show by grooming each other and snuggling up to sleep together. But sometimes they growl and attack each other (not in a playful way as they did when they were kittens).

So, I invested quite a few dollars having them vaccinated, dewormed, unsexed, deflea-ed, and micro-chipped at the American vet on base. They are officially registered. I just wish I knew someone who could make them little artificial feet or maybe rubber stumps?