25.11.2016 - 29.11.2016 18 °C
On Friday morning we checked out of our Airbnb apartment, completing the interaction solely in Italian. Admittedly, there was not a lot of complexity to the conversation, but we still felt rather triumphant as we walked out the door. Lina and Bastiano met us at the Porta Messina, and we wound our way out of Taormina. As we left town, we passed a place called 'Baby Farm' which rather made me chuckle to myself as it conjured up amusing images that I'm not sure the proprietors were intending. Let's assume it was some sort of 'Farmacia' specialising in baby products, shall we?
We stopped in Barcellona (not to be confused with Barcelona - been there, done that) and met briefly with Dr Alessia before continuing on to admire the Basilica di San Sebastiano (troppo grande) and partaking in some granita at St Honore - a pasticceria that we remembered from eight years earlier. Barcellona was a busy place - more cars than people - and we had a quick refresher course in the Art of Crossing the Street (don't look, just go and walk with confidence), the Art of Parking (stop the car in a location that is convenient for you) and the Art of Driving (move the car in a direction that is convenient for you). There were few signs, and seemingly fewer rules, but when a sign said to stop it did so in English - maybe 'fermi' didn't fit in the available space as easily?
We arrived at Zia Venera and Zio Sam's place in Protonotaro, a village in the mountains. The house was just as we remembered it, but there were some new inhabitants of the animal variety. Umberto promptly introduced us to Mister Jack and Sissi (the cats), Fiamma (the rabbit) and Trudy (the puppy). After lunch we admired the views from the balcony, then admired Mimma and Domenico's wedding photos (I particularly enjoyed the prominent display of white socks).
Mimma took us back to Barcellona to visit Zia Santa and Zio Pepino. Mimma acted as an interpreter, even though she didn't speak English, because she was able to accommodate our need for slow and simple Italian phrases.
We returned to home base for a spot of Rummy with Valentina, Bea, Umberto and little Salvatore. Salvo had been a one year old with piercing blue eyes at our last visit - now he was a tiny nine year old boy with piercing blue eyes, and he was functioning very effectively as Umberto's shadow. We had a quiet dinner (no mean feat in an Italian family) and then retired to bed to reflect on just how lucky it was that I had studied Italian all through high school.
The weekend kicked off with breakfast of croissants and yoghurt (with toast to dip in it of course - any opportunity for carb loading should be seized with both hands), and continued with a game or two of Scopa with Zio Sam. An excellent way to consolidate one's ability to count in Italian! Tanino came and collected us and took us back to St Honore for granita (con panna e brioche, naturally - there's that bread dipping habit coming out again) and then we headed to lunch at Tanino and Graziela's new house. We met the king and queen of the family (Zeus and Regina - rather aptly named dogs), and enjoyed lunch together while practising our Italian and English language skills. We spent the afternoon sightseeing around Milazzo - first to the Capo di Milazzo (which is a spot I highly recommend for sunset viewing) and then the Castello di Milazzo (excellent for appreciating ancient buildings and seeing the town of Milazzo by night). While daylight allowed, we could see to the Eolian Islands, but the sight that most tickled my fancy was that of the beach showers. These were large mosaic structures shaped like penguins (not local to the area) and elephants (most definitely not local to the area).
Our touring for the day done, we returned to Zia and Zio's place for a big family dinner of pizza - the most ginormous pizzas I have ever had the privilege of eating! And one whole pizza featured the slightly unexpected toppings of chips and saveloys. Not what I had anticipated, but I had to try it (it was better than you would think).
On Sunday morning we went adventuring with Domenico and Mimma - first stop: gelati. Of course. From there we went to Portorosa, where the rich people keep their boats moored up and waiting for the summer. We called on Salvo and his parents, and then had a big family lunch (only Alessia and Vera were missing) before heading off to Milazzo with Veronica, Bea and Santino. We explored the Venice pool (did you know that the Italian for 'selfie stick' is 'selfie stick'?) and went for granita in town, because we had walked up and down lots of steps and had definitely earnt it. We then farewelled Santino, and popped in to see Concettina, Tanino (another one), Maria Carmela, Cettina, Claudio and baby Clelia. Claudio earned us some massive brownie points by asking us all the questions we knew how to answer in Italian, thereby making us look proficient in the language and drawing compliments from everyone. Winner.
Mimma and Domenico took us to dinner at Zia Santa's, and we all sat in the lounge room talking while we waited for everyone to arrive. When I say 'talking', I mean other people talked, and we tried our best to understand. People kept arriving, the room was full, but still we did not eat. I wasn't sure who or what we were waiting for, but eventually my favourite word ("mangiamo") was uttered and we sat down to an absolute feast. There were lots of people (some whose relationship to us I still am not entirely sure of) and lots of noise (videos on phones to entertain the small people), so it was difficult to hear, let alone understand and respond appropriately in Italian! We managed a decent conversation with Nino, finding some cultural common ground with Ligabue and Montalbano. After all the dolci had been shared around (and we'd been forced to consume more than our fair share), it was time for bed. Time to rest our poor little heads!
Monday morning we spent with Tanino, exploring Tindari. From the hill, there are views across the whole region, and we could see all the other places we had visited so far, which was helpful for putting it all into context. We explored the nearby teatro greco, dating from about the 3rd century BC. Even if we couldn't understand all the informative signs, we got the general gist of the situation - and Tanino was able to translate the serious and formal written Italian information into language that was much more comprehensible to us. We managed to time our visit so that we could see the old church (approx. 500 years old) as well as the new one - the 'Sanctuary of the Black Madonna'. Simon had plenty of opportunities to use one of his favourite Italian words - 'bella'. The views, the weather, the church, the theatre - and most importantly, his wife. Haha.
For lunch we had leftovers (my favourite), and bread with sugar and oil, which sounds a bit strange but actually tastes amazing as long as you don't stop to think about the nutritional content of what you are eating.
We traipsed around 'lo zoo' in the backyard, and visited the Buccheri family plot of land that was absolutely filled with oranges, lemons, mandarins, and olives. A little haven of peace, quiet, and fruit.
Alessia, Lina and Bea popped over in the afternoon to begin the farewell process, and then we looked at the photos of the 'Festa d'Umberto'. Valentina and I formed an alliance based on being festa-less, but even that alliance couldn't save me from The Worst Rummy Tiles Of All Time. Ah well.
On Tuesday morning, it was time for us to depart Protonotaro. Simon had prepared some carefully selected Italian phrases, but when Zia started to tear up they were promptly forgotten and he had to make do with hugs instead. Tanino and Veronica drove us to the airport and we did our final farewells - but with the plan to catch up again in less than eight years.
We lunched at the airport - arancini and cannoli, because what else would you expect? - and then ended up scoring exit row seats for the flight back to Malta. Arrivederci Sicilia, e grazie per tutto!