So a month has swung by since I’ve been living on this beautiful Island, but it feels infinitely longer! I can’t say that I’m feeling like a complete local, and whilst I feel that I am only just beginning to really acclimatise myself to the unhurried pace of life here, I can say that I have definitely adopted some local habits. If ever in my youth, I relished in Starbuck’s the watered-down caffè americano, I can confirm, hand on heart, that this has become nothing more than a distant memory.
I guess I should start off by giving my first impressions. This is my first time in Sicily and although I have had my fair share of travelling on mainland Italy, visiting in a brisk the more touristy towns in the North and nurturing my summer childhood memories in my grandparents’ idling hometown, Zungoli, I was not sure what to expect in store from Sicily. Any time I would tell someone back home that I was coming to Sicily, they would crack a little joke saying ‘beware of the mafia and corruption’ and although I know they meant no harm, it made me a little sad to know that this is the mainstream image that other societies (and indeed even the Sicilians I have met in London!) have formed of Sicily. As soon as I knew that I was coming to Sicily I decided to research about the real history and culture, which has often been masked behind the almost romantic and cinematic portrayal of the Mafia.
Artwork from my school.
Watching every documentary I could find on YouTube and reading endless Wikipedia pages (don’t judge!) on the Byzantine, Greek, Roman, Islamic and Norman Empire in Sicily–just to name a few, I became quickly enthralled and completely taken with the rich history and constant transition that this Island, and its people, has had to endure. All this history and more is right on my footstep and dipping my toes into the nearby waters of Mazara and Selinunte, I am gifted not only with the hottest autumn I have ever experienced, but more so, with incredible culture infusion in a way which is still very much loudly, and proudly Sicilian. Tucking into the local cuisine, I was treated with a very different twist on a typical pasta bake; pasta bake with eggs and raisins and a very Italian spin on notably north african cuisine, a pesto Tabbouleh . There is definitely something to be said about the unique way in which the local cuisine marries traditional Italian cuisine with those specialities introduced over the period of varying empires– most notably so far, with raisins, dates and couscous. Coming to Castelvetrano, I was aware that it is a town renowned for its olive production, but I did not realise that it would be used as much as a main ingredient as a side snack. You can be sure to find an olive hiding in your insalata, pasta, and caponata or staring you right in the face in the form of an olive pâté.
I have realised that this defiantly Sicilian attitude definitely permeates into almost every aspect of life, going to the supermarket feels more like haggling at an outdoor market, bureaucratic processes seem to have little urgency and the classroom banter is very much influenced by the Sicilian language. In some ways, being in Sicily makes me feel at home. I am reminded so much of my grandparents’ hometown by the 99% incomprehensibility of the Sicilian language–the harshness of which reminds me of my grandparents’ Zungolese– the slowness of life, and the friendly, outgoing nature of the locals.
Thank you Sicily for the heart-felt welcome.