“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” Goethe, Italian Journey.
We spent four days with Marilena and Giovanna before we left Delia for Cianciana and our search for our Sicilian home. Delia lies about 30 minutes north of Agrigento or as much as an hour and a half if roadwork sends you off through a labyrinth of narrow country roads. It is a city that rises suddenly off the hillside and rolls quickly down to the sea. The high-rises, mimicking the colours of the surrounding hills, oddly echo the Greek ruins that sit, ironically, on a hilltop called the Valley of Temples. As one moves away from Agrigento and into the interior, the economic downturn becomes more and more apparent. Two years ago, the vehicles we saw on the roads here were new-ish if not actually new, and were well taken care of. Now we see older cars, dented, rusted, and not nearly so well kept. Poverty makes the “bella figura” more difficult to maintain. The closest small city to Delia is Canicatti’. I did not much like Canicatti’ two years ago, and I like it less even now.
The roads are busy and strewn with litter and garbage. Drivers are impatient – in my experience more there than anywhere else I have driven in Sicily. In our two small forays into Canicatti’ this time we saw easily a dozen stray and starving dogs and cats. We did not see this two years ago. I suppose that as it becomes more and more difficult to simply put food on the table for one’s children, feeding the dog or cat becomes less important. Even in the tiny village of Delia, we came across three stray dogs that picked through garbage to keep themselves alive. One evening, when we were out walking with Marilena, she spotted a small, Siamese kitten hiding next to her building. While the kitten didn’t appear to be starving, it was young enough that its mother’s milk must have been keeping it fed. Marilena took it in and it became one of the farm cats on her brother’s farm. A working cat, but fed and happy nonetheless.
I wrote earlier about the importance of the piazza in Italian life. In Delia, this is changing. Just as in Canada we import migrant workers from places such as Mexico and the Philippines, in Italy there are many such labourers from Eastern Europe – Romania, Poland, etc. Delia has many such Romanian workers – young men and women who have come to the Sicilian farm country to make money and then return home. It is these people who sit in the piazza in the evening in Delia and the Sicilians more and more, stay home or sit in small groups outside their homes to catch any kind of breeze in this summer heat that does not abate with the sinking of the sun. Marilena explained the changing life in Delia and, while she did not say this to us directly, I suspect that the underlying threads that hold the community together are being pulled apart as a result.
We drive the south road past Agrigento and the stunning sandy beaches of La Scala dei Turchi (The Turkish Steps) and Eraclea Minoa that rim the Mediterranean before turning north towards Ribera. On Thursdays there is a big market in Ribera and it is our plan to visit it at least once before we return to Canada. From Ribera, our GPS takes us over a narrow mountain road filled with pot holes and cracks, past fields with goats and cows shaking their horns at us as we go by. We see only the very occasional car travelling in the opposite direction and most houses that we see in the fields are stone ruins lacking walls and roofs. The view here is of some of the most spectacular mountains and rocky crags thrusting up haphazardly in farmers’ fields. The members of the rock climbing academy at my school back in Canada would be drooling if they could see what I see as we drive this mountain pass. Of course the view here is different than back in Canada. We certainly have spectacular vistas. What makes this different for me is the ability to see for miles even though the land is mountainous. At one time Sicily was covered with forest, much like Vancouver Island, but the Romans harvested huge swathes of trees. Today, there are patches of forest, mainly in the north east of the island, but where we are, in the southwest, most of the forests are gone. While this may not be of good ecological benefit for the island, it does make for unparalleled views.
In the midst of appreciating the vista before us, we quite suddenly round a bend and see a village perched on a hilltop. This is Cianciana. Old stone buildings cling to the mountain and at the centre, right at the top, stands a large cross – the town’s Calvary and the start of the Passion play and the Easter procession every year. There is a peaceful feeling that radiates from this place. Perhaps it is from the lonely countryside that surrounds it. Perhaps it is from the lack of traffic as we drive into the town. Whatever it is, we feel glad to be here. We have, I believe, found our Sicilian home.