OK, not really banana. Buon Anno! (It’s Italian for HAPPY NEW YEAR! But it sounds kind of like people keep wishing each other banana.)
New Year’s Eve. A LONG day. We started out in Marsala, and did a little backtracking. First, we had to go take a couple of pictures of this amazingly wonderful fountain we found in Marsala. I mean, what town actually puts this up?
Having seen the fountain and breakfasted, we further backtracked up the coast towards Trápani to visit the island of Mózia. It’s a site of interest for anyone who likes learning about the ancient world.
The island houses the ruins of ancient Phoenician settlements – the Phoenicians lived here prior to being stamped out by the Romans. It was the pet archaeological site of a man named Joseph Whitaker, who bought the whole island out from under its inhabitants at the turn of the last century so as to explore it.
The most wonderful thing he found is a statue called the Boy of Mózia, a Greek statue of delicate proportions. It’s the best thing in the museum, which is otherwise mostly a jumble of amphorae and votive offerings.
After you see the Boy, you can wander around the island for as little or as much time as you’d like. It’s pretty compact, but we were in a hurry so we only walked about half of it. There’s an ancient Phoenician road that’s about 3 feet under the water that we wanted to see, but it’s unfortunately not visible from the shore. Ah well.
Also, you have to take a private boat to get to the island from the mainland – no bridges or anything of the sort. Makes it just a little more fun.
The island even has its own “Giuseppe Garibaldi slept here” building. It’s Sicily’s version of the ubiquitous “George Washington slept here” signs you see absolutely everywhere in Virginia, D.C., and Maryland.
We left the island around lunchtime and headed south for Mazara del Vallo, where we were planning to drive through the Arabic village center prior to heading inland. We got lost, really lost, and ended up circling through endless suburbs until we absolutely had to stop for lunch. And a cannoli. Also very sheepy.
Giving up on Mazara del Vallo, and already worried about remaining daylight, we turned the car inland to see a little bit of the Sicilian interior.
We drove through hill towns, mostly made up of new apartment blocks, and past olive groves and shepherds tending their flocks. A couple of hours inland, we finally made it to our destination.
It’s famous because… well… you know why. I do have to say that we were surprised to discover a lovely old town, dominated by a huge rock with what appeared to be perhaps a monastery on top.
In all seriousness, though, I’ve never seen a higher concentration of stereotypically “Italian” men – with the little floppy hats and the perfectly tailored jackets. We also saw lots of small groups of men talking intently. Though the people in the car where we grabbed a coffee were very nice, the town exuded a strange vibe.
The Mafia museum was closed for the holiday, so we walked around for a half hour or so.
With the sun again starting to go down (I can’t wait for Spring… it gets dark way too early!) we left Corleone, again pointed south to the coast. Though we did get lost again and go a full town out of our way (I swear it’s the signs, not us!) we did eventually make it to Agrigento and then to our pensione.
When we got here, there was a whole family group gathered in the downstairs common area. We learned that they all belonged to the proprietress, Antonella, and we were introduced around to many shouts of “Auguri!” and “Buon Anno!”
Antonella and her sister were even kind enough to call around and make restaurant reservations for us, a difficult proposition since most restaurants in the town were completely booked for New Year’s Eve. Dinner wasn’t bad, an overpriced set menu, but wine was included and we had a great time.
Several enormous firecrackers went off outside of the restaurant while we were eating, loud enough that people dropped silverware in surprise and yelped. (By people, I mean “me.”)
Dinner ended with panettone, the traditional Italian holiday egg bread, and a plate of lentils, which are eaten around midnight to ensure money in the year to come. Tasty lentils, but I’m not going to make a habit out of ending my meal with them!
We got back to our pensione at about ten to midnight, planning to grab our bottle of prosecco out of the fridge and quietly toast in 2007. Antonella and her family, however, had other plans for us.
They grabbed our coats and my purse and sat us down at an extremely long table, where we were given wine and watched the end of a rollicking game of Uno. We were urged to eat pomegranates, and as midnight came near (and the explosions outside became louder and louder) an enormous pot of lentils appeared and everyone got tiny plates.
Then, all of a sudden, prosecco was everywhere and the Village People were singing “Macho Man” on the TV and people were eating lentils and everyone was cheek-kissing us and some kid was asking me, “Che significa ‘In the Navy?’” and a giant conga line snaked through the common area and we were introduced to “la zia”, the aunt who had lived in England for 40 years and nevertheless spoke next to no English but who spent the next hour or so talking with us in Italian about Sicily and how we liked it and how the food in Firenze is good and how funny our Italian was.
Our attempts at speaking Italian met with much happiness, and a couple of people practiced their English on us. It was a GREAT New Year’s Eve, just wonderful, and though we got up several hours later today than we meant to and thus didn’t continue on to southeastern Sicily like we had planned, it was completely worth it.
Plus, it meant we got another day in Agrigento to explore one of Sicily’s premier tourist attractions, the Valley of the Temples.
Good night from Agrigento, settled by the Greeks who were pounded by the Carthaginians who were sacked by the Romans who gave over to the Saracens who hung on until the Normans arrived, and eventually this all turned into Italy. I think that’s the chronology. Except for the Bourbons and the Aragonese…