Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hercules Goes Mad

Hercules went mad and murdered his own children and wife in Siracusa on Thursday night. This was the Greek play "Heracles" (aka Hercules) by Euripides, written in 421-416 B.C. and performed here in Sicily in 2007 in the Greek theater in the archaeological park in Siracusa. The theater itself is over two thousand years old, but still in remarkably good condition.

Why did he go mad and do this you might ask? We had the same question (and the script, in English), but it seems that Madness and Iris, along with their dancers, inflicted it upon Heracles. Just minutes before, he was the loving husband and father returned from Hades and wreaking revenge on his family's captor, Lycus, the unlawful King of Thebes.

Of course, Heracles was immediately inconsolably remorseful when he awoke afterwards. The last scene of the play was his making peace with his own father and going off with his friend Theseus, King of Athens, to try and live the rest of his life. The theme was stated simply by Hercules himself: "Whoso prefers wealth or might to the possession of good friends, thinketh amiss. " Good friends are most valuable! "

If you'd like to see the entire script, in English, go HERE.

Our little group of good friends had a great time eating granita and buying papyrus paintings beforehand and then enjoyed a great seafood dinner in Ortygia afterwards, not getting home till after midnight. We really enjoyed the staging, music, special effects (earthquake splits the background and breaks up the floor), the acting (Hercules' father was played by an eminent professor and actor), and the ambiance of the Greek theater. The wife of Hercules personified "drama." She was the original Italian mother, I decided. About the only thing we did not enjoy was the stone seats (hard in spite of cushions). Even the youngsters in our group were glad to get up and walk after an hour and a half of drama.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Catania's Lava Coastline

One of the unexpected benefits of my many trips to the dentist's office in downtown Catania was the discovery of the beautiful black lava shoreline and its interesting rock formations. It just so happened that my dentist's office is located a little north of downtown Catania and right along the water. We were able to explore the neighborhood when I had some spare time before an appointment. Although we never found the bar or gelateria we were seeking, we did find this spectacular shore. Some of the formations caused by the waves of the Med are really beautiful. Apparently, this is a popular place for diving, too.

It made me start to think how long ago the lava actually flowed this far. I knew that Catania had been damaged, even destroyed by lava flows from Mt. Etna, but when? I came up with this explanation on a volcano site: "Since 1669 there has been no eruption that even remotely threatened Catania; the nearest lava flow in this period came to within about 15 km of the city. However, geological mapping of the urban area of Catania in the late 1990s has revealed that the area now occupied by the city was almost completely covered by lava flows on six occasions during the past 5000 years: about 4500 B.C., in 693 B.C., in 425 B.C., in A.D. 252 (or 253), in the 12th century (this lava flow is often attributed to an eruption in 1381, but was emplaced about 200 years earlier), and in 1669. The most voluminous of these flows is that of 4500 B.C. and occupies much of the central portion of the city area, while the 12th century and 1669 flows essentially remained outside the city as it was in those days."

By the way, Etna is NOT that close! It's at least 20-25 miles away. Here's a nice clear shot of Etna's peak from the shoreline itself:

And here is my favorite formation, which looks just like an elephant putting his trunk in the sea. Catania has an affinity for elephants. Perhaps it originated here?

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Friday, June 01, 2007

"A Big Scoop of Sicily"

"It's horns, Vespas, sunglasses even though the sun's not out, cigarettes, litter, family, and lots of strutting. It's a little kid wearing two shades of orange clothes and his dad with the same two shades on his cone. It's a guy who rides by with a cardboard license plate taped to his scooter and a micro fender-bender in the street and the Italian-style arm flapping that goes with it.

"It's a big scoop of Sicily."

These lines are the ending of an article entitled "Getting in Their Licks" by Joe Ray that appeared in the Boston Globe last week. "Sicilians have succeeded if you are one with the strawberry," he writes.
It is great to have the opinions of my friends and me validated in this article. It's now granita season again, and we are loving Sunday mornings at the bar/cafe with pistachio, almond, chocolate, lemon, coffee, and strawberry granita being offered right now. Later on in the summer, there will be mulberry (my personal favorite) and maybe peach. Only fresh ingredients are used, of course.

In the article, he talks about the entire "ice cream culture" of Sicily and its superiority to Naples and the rest of Italy. There are references to the pistachios of Bronte, just around Etna from us. He even names some of the best places for ice cream and granita in Sicily, but he doesn't know about the best place of all--Papaveri Papere--our bar of choice in Nicolosi, which has, by far, the best granita, pastries, hot chocolate, and barmen, all of whom have fun trying out their English on us. There is Leonardo (the artist), Michael (trying to get Kendra to let him drive her Audi), and two or three others who sometimes already have the cappucino on the bar before we order it!

This is the bar where we meet for what sometimes stretches in hours of fun and laughs, swapping outrageous stories of work and travel and Sicily and planning outings for fabulous food and sights. Ranging in age from early 30s to nearly 60, we are an unlikely group that has somehow become fast friends and support group. We pretty much all love granita and eating it for breakfast, like the Sicilians, is the greatest. How can you not like a country that does that?

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