Looking up in Sicily

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 09:12

Last week you joined me on a walk down in Modica Bassa. Today I would like to take you on a photo tour, but a photo tour with a difference because we are going to look in only one direction – up. Are you ready? Off we go!

It was my Modican friend Irma who told me, back in 1992, that you should remember to look up when you are walking around in Sicily. She is right and so far her advice has not caused me to be so intent on looking upwards that I have fallen over.

If you don’t look up in Sicily, you will miss sights such as the details on these balconies, in Modica, Scicli and Rosolini respectively.

You need to look up to see the façades of churches, too, for they are nearly all at the top of long flights of steep steps, a fact which is causing some modern-day controversy over access for the disabled. I must admit I have to make a special effort to climb up to our lovely Cathedrals of San Giorgio and San Pietro myself but is always worth the effort.

Look up, too, at the façade of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Modica Bassa. This Church was begun in around 1250, the period when the Carmelite friars arrived in Sicily from Palestine. Much of it was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1693 but its portal and rose window survived. This is one of my favourite churches and its simple symmetry pleases me.

A particular interest of mine, as I am a nosy soul, is looking at what people have on their balconies, for Italians live summer life on their balconies much as the British live theirs in their gardens. Plants, of course, abound and I love this display, partly created by articial flowers, in Modica Bassa.

I also like to see displays of crisp, white washing billowing out in the wind but I fear I have not quite acquired the knack of hanging it perfectly myself. No matter what I do, my sheets end up tangled around the line. You won’t see underwear hanging from balconies, though, as Italian women use clothes airers to dry what the British modestly call “smalls”. There was a time in Sicily when it was thought improper to hang women’s underwear outside even on an airer. I felt so Italian when I acquired one!

Until I saw other women doing it, it never occurred to me that you were supposed to sweep your balcony and I learnt fast that you should wash it down in the late afternoon when there are less people about , for otherwise you risk drowning your neighbours.

Sometimes you will also see dogs on balconies. I always worry about them but they have water, food and seem contented to watch the world go by and bark at those who, as they can tell even from afar, are not animal lovers. However, when friends sometimes suggest that my Simi might like to live on the balcony, I protest that there is no way I am putting my baby out there!

If you go a little way out into the countryside, you will reach the Cava d’Ispica, an area of stunning natural beauty. Look up and you will be amazed at the sense of space you will feel and at the tranquillity of your surroundings.

In the country as in town, there are almond trees everywhere and you cannot fail to marvel at their beautiful blossoms in spring. In January and February, when the Maestrale wind blows, you may have to protect yourself from what I call “flying almonds”.

You should also look up at niches in traditional restaurants and trattorie, for you will see all sorts of interesting detail and objects there.

I’ll leave you with this picture of houses piled onto the hillside in Modica, an image which typifies the town for me.