120. Dreams of Sicilia

I’m not sure it was a dream, but a few weeks ago, I woke up with that mental ping I get when something occurs to me that just seems right. I woke up with the idea to bike my way through Sicily.

On New Year’s, costumed men distribute oranges from traditional Sicilian carts

I know that’s not so remarkable, but for me — a nervous and shaky bike-rider combined with Sicily’s hilly terrain and crazy drivers — it seems nearly unthinkable. So Step One is to make myself biking-strong and biking-calm. I pulled my untouched-for-twenty-years rusty and dry-rotted bike out of the garage and am proceeding to “train,” by doing long rides whenever the weekend weather permits. I’m up to 16 miles, but on flat bike paths; the litmus test will be how I do in traffic.

My first thought was to engage one of those companies that transports your luggage from destination to destination, as you bike either independently or with a guided group. But now I’m thinking that might be overkill, not to mention expensive and filled with performance anxiety. I’m thinking now of day-renting a bike and heading to a nearby destination about 10-15 miles away for a nice lunch, and then back again. No pressure, just a lovely way to absorb the sights and sounds along the way.

I guess Sicily is on my mind because we’ve been watching the Italian Inspector Montalbano series, based on the series of mysteries written by Andrea Camilleri, which take place in a seaside town on the island. We especially enjoy Young Inspector Montalbano, a twelve-episode spin-off featuring a dreamy young actor, that depicts him at the beginning of his detective career.

Even with subtitles, we find it impossible to follow the plot, but our favorite part, which occurs in every episode, is when Inspector Montalbano, who is a real gourmand, is about to dig in to a beautiful meal at the end of a long day at work. More often than not, with his fork halfway up to take his first bite, the phone rings and he’s called back into service.

We have also been watching My Big Italian Adventure on HGTV, which takes place in the Sicilian town of Sambuca. This three-part series follows Lorraine Bracco, of Sopranos and Goodfellas fame, as she buys and renovates one of those abandoned one-euro houses that are offered as rural Italian villages with declining populations strive to lure people back to bring new life and commerce to their towns. I have always been curious about doing this, but seeing what she — and her contractor — confronted made me relieved I never took it any further than idle curiosity. Total wreck would be too positive a description.

Lorraine Bracco in front of her two hundred year old house.

Although she has Sicilian roots, Bracco had never been to Sicily and doesn’t speak Italian. But with a brilliant and fluently-English-speaking contractor, aided by dedicated and creative tradesmen, laborers and artisans, the house ended up drop-dead gorgeous, for a total sum of about $300,000.

There are many books out there about Americans buying and fixing up retirement houses in Italy, Under the Tuscan Sun being the most famous, and an annoying feature of these is the author’s moaning about the frustrating unreliability of the Italians who are doing the work, as if American plumbers are paragons of professionalism. There’s none of that in this show — all of the locals are shown as hard-working, conscientious, and talented. They — and I — got weepy at the party she threw when the house was complete for all those who supported her in her journey.

My only time in Sicily was New Year’s 2011.

Ben at the Valle dei Templi in 2010. It is said there are more Greek temples in Sicily than in Greece.

The physical beauty, the history, and the cross-cultural mix were great, and as Inspector Montalbano would attest, the food is arguably the best in Italy, and that’s saying something. So I’m busy working up my courage and getting my biking legs in shape, and the minute I get that vaccine and we’re off Italy’s “not welcome” list, I am hopping on a plane to Palermo. Till then, I’ll keep pedaling.

Sicilian delicacies

5 thoughts on “120. Dreams of Sicilia

  1. So enjoyed this post. I have watched bikers pumping up the hills on Italy’s mainland and only thought “You’ve got to be kidding.” I’d admire your spunk. Go for it!

    I have watched all the Inspector Montalbano DVDs, including the “Young” gorgeous ones in an effort to learn some Italian. Didn’t work, but they are a delightful. Due to my interest, Bern has taken to reading all the Camilleri books (in translation.)

    Good luck with your biking. Be careful in traffic. Cars sometimes aren’t watchful. I look forward to your posts from Sicily!


    1. I don’t understand a word of it, but I tell myself they must be speaking dialect. Remember, you have an open invitation to join our zoom Italian conversation group, Mondays at 6:30.



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