Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Elizabeth Gilbert and Goethe on Sicily

I am finally getting around to reading the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert thanks to the glowing recommendations of many of my friends. It is very entertaining and fun to read--at least the Eat part, which is about the author "feeding her body," literally and figuratively, in Italy.

She spends four months in Rome, with occasional side trips to sample the cuisines of Naples, Bologna, Parma, Venice, and finally, Sicily. This is not about travel or even food, but about pleasure.

It's interesting that she saves Sicily for last: "And maybe it's in preparation for my trip to India that I decide to spend this last week traveling through Sicily--the most third-world section of Italy, and therefore not a bad place to go if you need to prepare yourself to experience extreme poverty. Or maybe I only want to go to Sicily because of what Goethe said: 'Without seeing Sicily one cannot get a clear idea of what Italy is.'" Not to steal her thunder, but how many times have I called Sicily a two-and-a-half world country?

Many years ago, when I only got to travel to the schools in Italy and didn't live here, my friend Diana Patton at the Mediterranean Superintendent's Office in northern Italy let me in on a little secret. She said, "The further south you go, the better the food gets. Naples and Sicily have the best." Although not everyone will agree, I happen to, and so do many other people, including Elizabeth Gilbert. She finally gets to Taormina and gets a restaurant recommendation from a local policeman: " . . . within the space of twenty minutes I am busily eating the hands-down most amazing meal I've eaten yet in all of Italy. It's pasta, but a shape of pasta I've never before seen--big, fresh, sheets of pasta folded ravioli-like into the shape (if not exactly the size) of the pope's hat, stuffed with a hot, aromatic puree of crustaceans and octopus and squid, served tossed like a hot salad with fresh cockles and strips of julienned vegetables, all swimming in an olivey, oceany broth. Followed by the rabbit, stewed in thyme."

"But Syracuse, the next day, is even better. . . . the waiter brings me airy clouds of ricotta sprinkled with pistachio, bread chunks floating in aromatic oils, tiny plates of sliced meats and olives, a salad of chilled oranges tossed in a dressing of raw onion and parsley. This is before I even hear about the calamari house specialty."

She writes about the poverty and ugliness of Sicily, especially how the Mafia has strangled the island, but comes to this conclusion: "Still, I will say that same thing which has helped generations of Sicilians hold their dignity has helped me begin to recover mine--namely, the idea that the appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one's humanity. I believe this is what Goethe meant by saying that you have to come here, to Sicily, in order to understand Italy."


At March 05, 2008 8:20 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

Pleasure comes to us in many ways, places, and forms...Speaking from experience, I can attest to the pleasures of Sicily! :0)

At March 06, 2008 2:24 PM, Blogger Sharon said...

Love your 2 and 1/2 word comment. I agree but since 1992 when I came here, it has changed alot!

At April 11, 2008 9:45 PM, Blogger Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Hi found you over on Sicilian mama...I read that book whilst on holiday in Lake Como last year, I had already visited Sicily the year before :-) Amazing story.

We went to Syracuse, found the market, had coffee, it was great.

Have you ever read this site, it belongs to my friend nad she lives in Modica..

At August 17, 2008 7:16 PM, Anonymous Jo Manning said...

Do you know Renee Restivo, who does culinary tours of Sicily? My grandmother and her great-grandparents came from the same mountain town, Castrofilippo, north of Agrigento. I wrote a romantic novel based on family stories (my mother's family came from Borgetto, in the Conca d'Oro, north of Partinico) some years ago called The Sicilian Amulet. If you'd like a copy, let me know and I'll mail it to you, gratis. It is very, very romantic and is set in contemporary Sicily (well, a few years ago) and has flashbacks to the early 20th century, with some spooky paranormal elements thrown in. If I had to describe it in a couple of words, they'd be: reincarnation romance.
Cheers, Jo Manning (maiden name Asaro)


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