I’ve been on the island of Ortigia, in Siracusa, Sicily, for over per week now, have found and moved into a lovely apartment, met some terrific folks (especially my landlady, Giuseppina, who lives downstairs — she and her brother, an MD Alzheimer’s researcher at Columbia, own this beautifully restored palazzo, dating from the 19th century with evidence of 6th century parts, overlooking the sea), and have begun to seek out my way around. Giuseppina is very (and understandably) proud of her true Sicilian heritage, and she teaches English at a secondary art school in Siracusa. She has lived in London for about 10 years and now lives in this beautiful place by choice within the midst of an enormous circle of friends. She is, as one in every of my friends aptly stated, a ‘jewel,’ and has been an exquisite guide for me. Again, I actually lucked out, finding this apartment and this friend totally by chance.
And yet, this is unquestionably one in every of my self-imposed transitions, and I am finding it hard and, regardless of meeting many warm and wonderful Sicilians, lonely (and quiet, especially after the wonderful busy-ness and stimulation that is Florence). I do know I must get myself comfortable here, to find my way around and my ‘rhythm’, and I am really lucky that Giuseppina has, generously, introduced me to her friends and her world. The opposite night we went out for an evening walk (‘passeggiata’ — an important tradition for all Italians!) and i met her pharmacist, her news agent, her vegetarian restaurant owner-friend, her gallery-owner friend, her bookstore owner-friend and some others on the street. In addition, she directed me to a manicurist at her parrucchiere (beauty salon) — life is good! I went out with her for an ‘apertivo’ (pre-dinner drinks and nibbles) to meet a bunch of other locals — again, I’m so very lucky to have found this gorgeous apartment and this gorgeous woman.
I sit here overlooking the sea, where the sun shines daily (after, perhaps, some morning rain); the apartment is absolutely great (sleek and immaculate and welcoming), except for the numerous (I have never yet counted them) steps as much as the second floor (really the third floor here), which I manage to climb slowly just a few times a day… sigh. I don’t like the beating my body has taken here on the old stones (Florence was really tough on my previously bad knee and all, especially with the complete uneven-ness of the cobblestones everywhere, Sicily seems way more smooth in that way), and am trying hard to stop whining. Alex and June helped me find really good and stylish (after all!) walking shoes once they were in Florence, and I have decided, sadly, to acknowledge my limitations and go slowly… oh, well… I get quite a lot of exercise, though, and somehow my body, in spite of the pasta that abounds, deliciously (oh, the spaghetti con vongole!), while getting a bit rounder, I feel, still fits into my clothes and a few of them are even big on me… things are changing!
And — update on Sicily — ‘what the **** am I doing here?’ has been going through my head the previous few solitary days. Since I do hate transitions, and do appear to keep setting myself up for them, I kind of expect this ‘re-adjust’ time, but still… I loved Florence so much with all of its craziness and hectic-ness, and with so many nice people I had befriended (huge ex-pat community, which was very welcoming), and now I find myself alone once again (OK, I know — I did this to myself!) and feeling lonely. Yesterday was overcast and gloomy (but warm) for some time, and i got myself really tired and sad.
I’ve had a number of important successes recently, each of which filled me with joy:
1. I found out where to take my trash
2. I discovered the daily outdoor farmer’s market (complete with veggies and other stuff and incredible looking fish, too.)
3. I found an incredible lunch place (four tables) that had been recommended and had an incredible lunch (maccarone in pumpkin sauce with baby shrimp and ruccola). Thankfully, I walked up and down stairs many times and walked all through the city afterwards.
And now, on Sunday morning, I am feeling more confident and more ‘set’ here in Ortigia, and believe that I have ‘landed’ in the fitting place for me for now. Ortigia is a lovely little island, stuffed with winding alleys and lovely old buildings and artisans and quirkiness. Prior to now few days I’ve really expanded my world and have met a terrific couple from Canada (who bought a gorgeous apartment here three years ago), a yoga teacher (hooray!) and her partner (an Englishman who sailed her a few years ago and has stayed) and an English writer; I hope to get to know each of them better within the near future.
PART II: GOTTA GET THE RICOTTA
Sunday, January 19th –
Today I went to the Sunday market (supposedly one of the best one of many week because the vendors are the growers or bakers or cheese-makers in person) to get ‘one of the best ricotta on the planet,’ among other things. After meeting a pair of recent friends by chance on the street, I walked around the market with them, getting advice on what to buy (simple advice: ‘Only buy what’s in-season now!’). The oranges and lemons, as I had heard, are absolutely incredible and plentiful and inexpensive; I have never had such juicy or sweet lemons, and i just learned that a number of the oranges are good for salads and some aren’t, and that I need to watch out not to combine them. I did, however, commit a mortal sin by buying some zucchini, though I used to be warned that it wasn’t the appropriate month for it. I’ve so much to learn.
And the ricotta choices abound — ‘normale’ (used for spreading on bread or even eating with only a coating of olive oil in true Sicilian style), or baked (and re-baked — making it more solid) or ‘salata’ (salted, making it most firm and most enduring). I never knew ricotta and should have developed a brand new addiction — with none additives, the flavor and the texture are truly heavenly!
So, Ortigia is feeling like ‘home’ and, even without feeling the necessity to venture too far away yet, I’m happy to be here. Sicily does promise many beautiful sites I do want to go to (hopefully, with friends); now that I am more comfortable in my surroundings I will figure that out soon. My loneliness will, probably, always be present for me; after all, I did not envision or script myself alone at this stage of my life, but here I am, and here I am feeling fortunate in so some ways. The concept of community is so essential, and now that I have begun to create one here, I have a lot to sit up for. I learned that the ‘best pizza on the island’ is available today (the pizzeria is just open on Saturday and Sunday this month), that there is a wonderful language class (with different levels and a diverse population) available, that I can practice yoga with my new friend — life is, in any case, still superb!