I Got All My Sisters With Me — Plus Mom — in Sicily

February 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Posted in Europe, Italy | 2 Comments
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by Rosie DeQuattro
I admit the mission was a bit daunting:  our  family of six sisters would take our 82-year-old mother to the Sicilian town where her mother was born before it was — you know, too late. A week with Mom; living all together like it was when we were kids — madonn’, were we pazze?

Sure enough, it didn’t take long. On the Alitalia flight to Rome,  my sister Susan, an anxious flyer, sat clutching her aisle seat and forbade anyone to open the window shade.  When the captain asked us to return to our seats during a bout of turbulence, she burst out of the bathroom with her pants still partly down.  Mom complained she had trouble sleeping, but Debra said she’d heard her snoring.  And so it went.

Touching down in the sprawling city of Catania on Sicily’s east coast, we were greeted by delightful weather, sunny and in the 70s (low 20s Celsius) — this in November. Immediately the hot-flashers among us began peeling off layers of clothes.  At Fontanarossa Airport, we picked-up two roomy rental cars with standard transmissions. The roomy part was for Mom and the standard part was to save a little money.  Boy, did we get that wrong.

In tandem, we bucked and lurched out of the rental-car lot and snuck into the blur of whizzing traffic on the infamous autostrada.  We were the slowest two cars on the road (I could swear I saw even a couple of three-wheeled carts pass us on a parallel local road); but we doggedly maintained our steady, slow pace and ignored the Italians as they flew by, honking and gesticulating with both hands.  Mom in the backseat, pretty tired at this point and already missing her ordered life back home, closed her eyes and recited the rosary. Amazingly, our two cars managed to stay within sight of each other the whole way, including on Taormina’s steep, switchbacks.  And together we crawled up, up, up the mountain to our villa aerie, arriving in two hours flat what should’ve taken 45 minutes.  At least it was still light out.

Most of Taormina’s major attractions — the awe-inspiring Teatro Greco, the delightful Piazza Aprile, and pretty much all the restaurants — are along the main street, Corso Umberto I, far below our villa. We could reach the Corso by A. walking straight down hundreds of ancient, intermittently-crumbling stone steps; B. walking on the road where pedestrians were regarded as expendable; or C. driving — and risking life, car parts, and family harmony. But Mom’s knees were complaining, and she refused to walk.  But after transforming one of the rental cars into a cash-for-clunkers candidate (my sister Joyce got wedged in a narrow, picturesque alley she wandered into, where no auto had ever ventured, and emerged scraped and dented and riding a cloud of burning clutch fluid), we chose the steps.  For Mom, we called a cab.

Our daily routine during that week in Taormina started with a 7AM wakeup, and, in an effort to adequately caffeinate seven American java addicts, appropriating every vessel in the kitchen to make our caffè. And I do mean every darn pot, pan, pitcher, vase, kettle, and bowl, plus the coffeemaker itself, a four-cup espresso pot. Then, during the days we’d visit vineyards, stroll along glitzy Corso Umberto I, and bask in the views of smoldering Mount Etna from our villa’s lushly landscaped patio.

But our central mission was to Mom’s ancestral home — the town of Trecastagni, about 19 miles (30 km) away.  We didn’t have much more to go on than that the name we were looking for was Petralia.  We took both cars, got lost, then separated (who knew there was more than one gray church!), and finally got to the town hall’s family records-keeping office, just as it was about to close for lunch — the Italian three-hour lunch.  We did discover, though, how fruitless our search would have been, for not only is the mayor of Trecastagni named Petralia, but so, it seemed, was everyone else.   So without more specfic name information and birth and death dates, it would’ve been next to impossible to track down a Petralia directly related to our mother.  We consoled ourselves with a grand lunch at a trattoria overlooking the town’s modest piazza, followed by marzipan and candied fruits, specialties of the region — all the while eyeing our waiters and fellow diners to see if we could spot any family resemblance.  Before leaving, we took a stroll through Trecastagni’s shuttered, winding side streets, but there was frankly not much to see.

The last day of the trip remained blessedly uneventful.  Mom’s cabbie, Roberto, drove us up to the tippity-top of Monte Tauro to Castelmola, the tiny village we could see from our villa and which we had been curious about all week. We set up court at the Bar Turrisi, known throughout Sicily for its display of penis figures of wood, ceramic, terracotta, and even marzipan (they’re considered fertility symbols here — and none was battery-driven, as far as I could tell). And we toasted to Mom’s continued good health, to each other for pulling together to make the trip happen, and to our strong enduring family ties. Oh, and to getting back to the airport the next day in one piece — because with this crew, you never know.

Regione Sicilia information in English: www.Regione.Sicilia.it.

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2 Comments »

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  1. I enjoyed reading about your family taking a trip to Sicily. It reminded me of my own Sicilian family of six sisters. I wrote a novel, “Sicilian Sisters: Women in La Famigli” which encounters the strength and charisma of a Sicilian woman. It is about five Sicilian sisters in the 14th century that marry five pirates. Their lives are entangled with their old ways of living and brought to Sicily. Marianna

  2. I can relate somewhat to your post having travelled to Sicily with my back pack, fell in love with the Catania region and one beautiful lady, and never left. I have been living here for a year now 🙂


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