Thursday, October 17, 2013

VISITING SICILY – 2013



Sicilian Flag
Daughter, Caroline, chose a visit to Sicily as part of her 40th birthday celebration.  Her birthday was in June; she and her sister, Andrea, enjoyed an early birthday celebration on the El Camino in lower Galicia in May.  Mother and daughter left London for Sicily September 20th.  What a perfectly beautiful time to arrive in Sicily: delightfully sunny days in the mid 20’s, warm waters, few tourists.  We would have 10 days.

The Birthday Girl
We chose to locate on the west side of Sicily, south of Palermo in the little town of Trapani (pop. approx. 64,500).  Andrea (our family travel consultant), found us an apartment in the old section of town, on the narrow peninsula.   It was a bit of a shock when we entered.  It was 10pm and we found ourselves engulfed in a dark cavern-like dirt floored basement.  This large set of apartments with inner courtyard was partially gutted.  It was under renovations. To her credit, our very gracious and helpful landlady, Francesca, used her flashlight to direct our eyes to the ceiling motif in the vestibule.  A 9th century coat of arms designed in a white rococo-type plaster motif was being preserved. 

Ceiling motif
The building looked like 19th century, but obviously there was more to know about it.   We were a bit disappointed to have an inner apartment with no outside facing windows, but it was two bedrooms with bathroom, kitchen and seating area; and we were very comfortable.  It was easy to see that the renovations would create a graceful preservation of 19th century town living.


Inner views of apartment
Out on the narrow streets one could look to either end of a cross street and see the Mediterranean on both the port side of the peninsula, as well as, the breakwater side.  A cool breeze kept this old section of town, with its old buildings (typically 4 stories) cool and very livable.  

 
View of Trapani
Tourists love it.  The three main streets are lined with shops; bakeries cum coffee or gelato shops; and restaurants.   Lingering along the streets is a favorite activity.   Real red coral is a product of Sicily and is to be found in very beautiful jewelry settings. Food holds a special place in the hearts of Sicilians, making a visit an epicurean delight.  My favorite dish was a Sicilian pasta with a tuna roe sauce… the rusty, red roe was pressed, dried, then grated.

“[Old] Trapani is a town of a thousand balconies.  There isn’t a house, it seemed, that doesn’t have a box of wrought-ironwork festooning its façade; some of the boxes are straight-sided and straight-laced some bulging and blousy, some with geometric diamond shapes, some with filigree as delicate as lace.” 


Buildings in the old town
In our tromping around we discovered:  “[a] Trapani of cultured Europe, with handsome, wide boulevards… lined with palaces that dated from anywhere between the 16th and the 18th C.”  Some of the palaces lining these streets are large and imposing, others are “more like town houses dressed up”.

Old Trapani is wrapped around a coil of narrow streets, as tangled as the mesh of the fishing net.  This tangle of narrow streets is the old Arab section. As we exited a restaurant one night early on in our visit, we stumbled into these alleyways.  It was an immediate, “Where are we?”  “It has the unmistakable feel of a suburb of Marrakesh or Tangier.”

 
The Arab quarters
It seemed centuries earlier than our own neighborhood, and its lighting acted as a lure into a mysterious labyrinth.  Don’t you just love to wander in new places and discover the unexpected all on your own!  It was only afterward that I came across a description of these alleyways.

Clearly Sicily is not just European.  It is actually closer to Tangiers than it is to Europe and like in Andalucía, Spain, the Moors held power for several hundred years in the early Middle Ages.  While I have not visited the rest of Italy, I wonder if this positioning and history is instrumental in creating the perils of Sicily.  Unification with Italy has not worked for Sicily.  Sicily grew in poverty whenever the power rested in Rome or northern Italy, as it does today.  History shows the Mafia as a natural outcropping of this disenfranchising authority and poverty.  I have no doubt authority had run amok too many times for Sicilians. 

Remnants in Palermo of  the authority of Rome
The Sicilian has a “level of kindness, of generous daily decency, of thoughtfulness, of simple grace” that is truly distinctive.  I expected the caricature of the typically dramatic Italian.  Not so:  “Whatever their suspicions of the wider world, and the elliptical way in which they relate to it, when dealing with an individual, with a stranger, Sicilians seem unfailing in their warm-hearted kindness.  I don’t know whether this makes Sicilians a good people, but it makes them a civil people, instinctively thoughtful and kind, with an inborn generosity that is extra-ordinary in its spontaneity.”  This is such an apt description of Francesca, and many of the shopkeepers.  I was also reminded of Joe, a fellow administrator I used to know; and a Sicilian.  Only now do I understand his quiet way, even in times of emotional or political turmoil.

These qualities make the Sicilian vulnerable, I think.  There is also a story about their not really wanting independence.  Their history shows them thriving when the land has been well managed.  Unfortunately, the traditional economy was feudal and only the elite held land.  A feudal structure lasted until WW 1.  Imagine!  How to reconcile this gentle vulnerable Sicilian with the violence of the Mafia?  It was much too short a visit to come to grips with the phenomenon.  I am left with the knowledge that Sicily is perhaps one of the world’s most desirable patches of land, but with something quite nasty lurking in the shadows.  It is surprising to note the thoughts that so easily trickle through your mind when you see a gathering of rich, showy people in a restaurant.  Your mind immediately says, “Mafia!”  Note the picture of the burnt out car in Trapani.

Burnt out car
It is a small town.  How could this possibly happen?  Read the books on the Mafia like MIDNIGHT IN SICILY – On Art, Food, History, Travel & Costa Nostra by Peter Robb (1998).  Burning a car at the front door of an apartment is a common tactic.  Then there was the ship of African immigrants that was burnt off the coast of Sicily this week, which I was convinced was not accidental.  However, newspaper articles were very clear on the details of an accidental fire.  Paranoia or intuition on my part?  I cannot say.  Another famous author on Sicily, Leonard Sciascia, once said that Sicily is a metaphor for the modern world.

Onward.  Like the rest of the land bordering the Mediterranean, Sicily has layers of history thrusting itself forward into the present day.  Trapani lies at the foot of a craggy hill, used throughout the millenniums.   History on that mount starts about 6000BC.  In the guidebooks they call Erice a Medieval town.


Erice
That hardly tells the story.  While the guidebooks lead you toward the castle, what you find when you get there is simply a shell of a castle.  The innards, which they have preserved, are the remnants of an Aphrodite Temple!  Caroline and I would be tickled by the synchronicity of coming upon a dove as we walked our first few blocks into the old town.  There it was cooing on a window ledge of a medieval home… we were to find out that it is a major symbol of Aphrodite.

We took 2 excursions: one down to Agrigento about 80 K to the south, to explore the ‘Valley of the Temples’… LOOK!  It was stunning to walk amongst such triumphs of the past.



Temples at Agrigento
Our second excursion was out to the Egadi Islands part of the marine reserve a few miles off the coast of Sicily.  We visited the islands of Favignana and Lerganzo.  Both islands showed off cave dotted cliffs that were inhabited in Paleolithic times.  A distinctive cave on Lergazo depicts markings showing the transition from random scratchings to actual drawings.  While our boat stopped at the two islands so we could explore their port towns, it also stopped for us to swim off the boat!  An oh-so-memorable Mediterranean day.

 
Caroline clambering onto the boat
Before visiting, I asked friends what they thought of Sicily.  Every one I talked with had thoroughly enjoyed it.  But this I came to discover, nowhere near was an adequate guide.  It certainly is beautiful; it’s history is daunting in it’s capacity; and the food is ‘to die for’, as my British friends say.  But I wonder if I would go back.  I think not.  While our short visit only scratched the surface on one side of the island and there is so much more to see… the city of Syracuse was said by Cicero to be the grandest of the Classical cities and rivaled Constantinople; the world’s largest site of ancient mosaics and frescos are revealed in a 32 room Roman villa near Agrigento.  Yet, I think I have had enough.  It has so much potential!  I would love to be part of its re-development.  Those palazzos on the peninsula in old Trapani are begging to be refurbished!

 Old Trapani

Old Trapani port
But I cannot imagine living for any length of time under the threatening possibility of Sicily’s lurking, violent underbelly.  One is left wondering if it will ever shirk this persistent trauma.  Oh Sicily!  I cry for you!  YET…

“I thought that maybe Sicilians, by and large, had a more profound understanding of what it means to be human than any other people I had come across…”

* It is interesting to note that both Caroline’s birthday celebration locations held the ‘trikelion’ image of the interlocked spiral.  Both the image on the Sicilian flag, with its’ 3 legs spiraling around a center head of Medusa; and the old Celtic image of the 3 interlocking spirals found all over Galicia are  ‘trikelions’ images.  Caroline and I saw the same 3-legged, Sicilian flag image on early Greek coins displayed in one of Erice’s museums. (Must ask Caroline her interpretation of such the synchronicity!)

All quotes are from SWEET HONEY, BITTER LEMONS – Travels in Sicily by Matthew Fort.  Thomas Dunne Books. 2009.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

THE INN at the QUAY – September 8, 2013

“The McMillan – Marlatt Wedding”


Thank you, Devon!  We have a new Marlatt in the family.  What a happy, relaxed, sweet occasion we enjoyed.  Dear Megan.  We are all very lucky to have you join the family.  What a treasure!


Megan and her sister Laura spent hours making paper tissue flowers: these great flowers covered the wedding arch; they framed the wedding cake; and were the perfect backdrop for the dance floor. (Hundreds! I’m sure).  The colours were mauve, turquoise, and white for the wedding arch and the cake display.

video
For the dance floor the colours went wild… as did the dancing. Tavia… you were great.  Thanks for getting me out on the dance floor.

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Megan had three very lovely bridesmaids in purple gowns, lifelong friends. One friend since they started grade school and two since their junior high school days.  Trish and her friend Carol did all the flowers for the dinner tables… starting at 8:30a that morning.  (Thank God for moms!  This sentiment was expressed several times throughout the speeches to both Patricia and Betty.) The flowers were white hydrangea with sprigs of mauve freesia…. a few mauve roses too? Beautiful.

 
The Cake Table

Devon…. What a man!  Such a big smile and so easy going all afternoon and evening.  AND what good friends you have!  Again, long term friends… 18 years???  Great guys to accompany you on your wedding day.  Loved the tennis shoes… and the cigars when they made their entrance after the picture taking.  What I remember most are the happy smiles.

 
The guys in their tennis shoes

Everyone in the wedding party took their turn offering a short speech. Thank you each one for being so brave and giving us a chance to get to know you… and your relationships with Devon and Megan.  So well done.  The only senior member of the family to speak was Roy… having great fun reminding Devon of embarrassing moments; and giving sage advice for married life (our family expert!!).

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We all sent in our favourite ol’time song, so dancing was great!  To say nothing of the mountains of yummy food.  More than a dozen deserts!  Who’s the desert lover??? Megan???  Well … dear little 4 year old Bella (Isabella) enjoyed her share.  Roy whispered it was a half dozen cream puffs (they were little) that she managed at her first go around at the desert table… Is that right Rene?  Do take a look at the video of her tossing the rose petals.  Sweet.  Well done, Bella.

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Thank you, Megan and Devon, for your gift to us… a box of ‘little things’ as a symbol that it is the little things that make the world go ‘round.  How true.  Bless you both, Devon and Megan, in your years to come. 

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PICTURES OF FAMILY

Rene & Chris

 Barri, Rene, Chris, Roy

  
 Patricia and Tavia

 Paula… getting ready to go

** If you are having trouble viewing the videos click on the title below to go to the Youtube video. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

TRAVEL HIGHLIGHTS: APRIL - JULY, 2012

More travel: 
  
 Vineyard in Spain

Home mid-January, gone again mid-April.  It just happened.  Really!  Not my idea!  Rye, New York mid-April was a must… it was brother Jerry’s 70th.  We, his siblings, just had to attend:  He is the first of us to reach… the age of dignity.  From Rye I went to Nashville, Tennessee to visit Jerry’s oldest daughter, Catherine, and her family which includes a new baby born the end of February... a must see, given she is the 6th in the Marlatt family’s new generation; and given Tennessee is on the way to Alabama. Andrea picked me up at Catherine’s and we travelled through Georgia, including a stop to see Roy Eugene Davis, a man in his 80’s, who is a disciple of Parmahannsa Yogananda.  Then Andrea’s semester ended and she wanted to go back to Spain,  “Of course!” I say… and we headed to Madrid, Santiago and the ‘El Camino’, then up through Galicia to the old Spanish resort town of San Sebastian… Bilbao and the Guggenheim.  Following this 6-day whirl, we met Seale and Zoey in London.  Andrea and I were back in Alabama for my birthday, May 26th, when we celebrated by getting in some summer plantings around the house. 


Plantings at Andrea & Seale’s home

But that was not the end!  At the beginning of June, I flew north to visit my cousin in Essex, Ontario… another must, given Judy’s husband Bernard, had died in February; and I am closer to Essex when in Alabama, than in BC.  (It was good to spend time together.)  THEN… the last excursion before home… a 10-day retreat with Roy Eugene Davis in Georgia.  Finally, there were 10 more days with Seale, Andrea, and Zoey before I flew home at the end of June.

Did I write any ‘Musings’ during this time? No.  Contemplation was not the mode… I was travelling too fast.  But it feels wrong to leave this whirlwind of gallivanting out of the 2012 picture.  The following are some snippets of the stronger impressions.

1) Rye, New York:  What to say to one’s brother on his 70th?  While it could have been about his accomplishments (of which he has many… he has been recognized by the NY Law Society), that was not my knowing of him.  Mine is a life-long knowing:  He is my older brother, so has always been there!  WHAT was always there? 

When I thought about ‘always there’, it was not so much about his personality, which grew and became shaped over time and events; it was about something deeper, something I knew even at the non-verbal level… I think.  Gradually, an image came to mind:  a very quiet, patient, gentle ol’ soul who was a natural teacher and guide.   In every picture of him that I pulled out of our family photo archive from his babyhood… to ‘the boy’ everyone chose to show their horse… to the young man graduating from high school in Chino, California… to the lawyer and family man, I saw these deeply ingrained qualities.  It’s in the eyes… where you see it.   One family story, in particular, catches it:  the 3 year old little boy sitting with his 1 year old sister (me!) by the freshly tilled vegetable garden:  Patiently, he says, “No.” and gently pushes her hands away… from rubbing out his dirt roads.  I think he may even have tried to teach her, “Roads”.  The story goes on to say he gently pushed her hands into her lap, again… and again… and again.  The dear soul never lost his patience.  (Little did I remember I was so trying!)

My wish for him and those around him is that these wonderful qualities may be fully lived… now.  Living the ‘good’ life has happened, may he now enjoy the ‘fullness’ of life… the age of dignity.

A celebration… amazing how kids really know how to party!.  There were 3 of them under the age of 7!  A perfect delight… a perfectly NOISY!! Delight.

Jerry being decked out with necklaces by daughter, Emmy; and grandson, Zachary, enjoying birthday cake. 

 Henry, Emmy, and Zachary… celebrating by taking over Jerry’s chair.

2) Nashville, Tennessee:  Catherine… and her family!  Aughhhh… I remember those years.  Busy… Busy… Busy.  How does anyone do it?  It was a privilege to re-visit those years… to see it all again.  We were 3 generations.  Catherine’s mom, Linda, lives close by… I remember Linda in my! parent’s kitchen, sitting at the table doing the very things we were doing with Catherine.  Fun to watch Linda and Catherine; and for Linda and I to re-unite in this delightfully busy family setting, after all these years.

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Grandma Linda and Marin

There was also a whole new world for me to explore.  Catherine took me to her place of work.  She is a managing accountant for Gaylord Entertainments… the world of Nashville’s ‘Opryland’!  What a complex… acres:  4 hotels… shops… gardens… restaurants… conference centers… theaters… and a broadcasting station.  I took pictures like I did at the Alhambra in Spain… an incredibly different age, an incredibly different culture, yet the detail was equally amazing and the overall impact equally overwhelming.



 Gaylord’s ‘Opryland’

3) “Oh! Spain - What a creature you are… you have seeped into my soul.”  Madrid is one of Europe’s grand old dames… but, so thoroughly Spanish.  The grandeur of its’ Royalty is dauntingly close to the surface… it was the last medieval court in Europe, existing into the 20th C.  The King and Queen still served a lavish banquet to the poor in 1925… even to the extent of washing the feet of the poor in a ritual ceremony.  It feels nothing like the royal history in London, where the medieval surfaces in a purely decorative way.

 Royal City: Madrid

THE BULLFIGHT!  I cannot say enough.  Andrea saw it as a circus; I was totally captured by the worship of ‘courage’ and ‘death’.  It is perhaps cleaned up since Hemmingway wrote, “Death in the Afternoon”… the horses are well padded and can no longer be gored.  But death permeates the scene… it will be the death of the man or the bull.  There is no out!  THAT is the thing… THERE IS NO OUT.  Man facing bull; bull facing man… the energy radiates; the image magnetic.  One’s own energy pulsates (reminiscence of daring circus acts?). It is very clear that facing death takes courage… even to watch takes courage.  We know the courage it takes to live… day-in-day-out.  This we learn gradually.  But death happens only once.  So Spanish, this fierce courage… yes, I think a defining characteristic of the Spanish people.   

The ‘cult of death’ predates the ‘cult of the hero’… here is a living memory of that first cult.

Following the bullfight was the ‘El Camino’, the most revered spiritual pilgrimage in Europe.  Such an intense contrast…  THAT’S SPAIN!  We attended Sunday mass in the Santiago Cathedral on Mother’s Day!  (Mother and daughter together… how did this happen??); and walked ‘the path’ for one day.  Andrea plans a return, to do the path (and herself) justice.

Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela

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Choir during Mass

On the Camino

To the above add a Gaudi palace for a Cardinal, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao… the architecture throughout Spain is a ‘must see’:

Residence for a Cardinal by Gaudi (Astorga, Spain)

 The Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao by Gehry

ALL of this in 6 days:  What did I quote in one of my winter blogs on Spain?  “In Andalusia, we swallow men.”  I think that could be said of Spain, in general.

4) Essex, Ontario:  My cousin Judy and I grew up together in Vancouver; and, I think, we are growing hand-in-hand again as we each enjoy a nice long retirement.  We both retired in our 50’s… pure luck!  Though Judy is grieving the recent death of her husband, Bernerd, she eagerly took me in hand and showed me a great time: we walked the lanes in the farm country where she lives, neighbors with Bernard’s sister and her son’s family; we visited family and friends throughout the county of Essex… she has wonderful support! we toured the rather crumbling city of Windsor… talk about a depressed city! and visited her yacht club.  Due to Bernerd, Judy has a Mazda Miata convertible…  not really her choice of car, but we loved spinning around in it... like a couple of teenagers again.

View of 'home' farm bldgs. from Judy's screened porch... cool and no bugs in the coffee!

AND it was 2012… so! I got a blast of Canada celebrating the War of 1812 and “The Making of Canada”.   The town of Ashville, a 20-minute ride in the Miata from Judy’s home farm, is the sight of one of Canada’s major historic forts in the 1812 war… across the river from Detroit; and the attacking U.S.!  The land around Essex was the land that got ‘taken’ and ‘re-taken’ during this seminal war of the ‘Making of Canada’.  Well, I have come through this year’s celebration with a great admiration for Tecumseh, as opposed to the weary and faltering armies of either Canada or the US.  When Tecumseh was killed, the 1812 War trickled away… and so did Canada’s promise to Tecumseh.  Goodness! THAT was ‘The Making” of Canada?  I guess it was the first time ‘we’ Canadians fought for our own nation… that seems true.  But the story of what we promised Tecumseh and the native peoples, and then reneged on, is also our legacy.  I am humbled more by that historical fact, than I am by the general non-event of the War of 1812 and ‘The Making’ of our nation.  Perhaps we as a nation need to grieve some of our history, not just celebrate it… that was my glimpse of the 1812 War:  Three cheers, Tecumseh!

 
Tecumseh

5) Northern Georgia:  Parmahansa Yogananda; Roy Eugene Davis; a 10-day spiritual retreat… 

Roy Eugene Davis next the lineage of  Paramahansa Yogananda

On the grounds at the retreat

 View of the grounds at the retreat

AND all 3 books of “Shades of… Grey”!!  (Judi’s faulther Mother’s Day gift!).  What a combination:  periods of meditation followed by periods of reading… about a flaunting erotic sexuality!


Meditation is back in my life.  “Thank You, Roy.”  AND…“Shades of … Grey”???  What to say?  What I will say is, "if you have not read the book, I will not listen to your criticism." True: The story line is too simplistic. True: The writing is only average. True: It titillates. Yet there is such lightness and zest. One is left with feelings of deep trust for one's body and naive good sense. I say, "Well done author!" A book of lightness and zest. Perhaps not bad as an accompaniment to meditation. :) 
General Comment:
When I think of 2012, I think it exemplified ZEST!  I left India in 2011 with a great need to be active… to be ‘LIFE’!  This need morphed into a haunting image of all the 1920’s Rivieras in Europe and the great ‘zest for life’ this symbol seemed to represent.  In 2012 I took advantage of being in Europe for Erin’s wedding to explore the symbol:  Ibiza, the Dalmatian Coast, the south coast of Britain, and the Costas de Sol & de Tropica… all were either current or past ‘Rivieras’.

A zest for life continues… thank you India and my first 10 years of meditation.  Now for the next 10 years!   In retrospect, I think of 2011 as a culmination, with so many ‘endings’; and 2012 as a transition year… ushering in a new beginning.  Beginning of what?  I have no idea! FUN!