SICILY! Just the word conjures up all kinds of images in my mind. I do know one thing, I am going there whether anyone else comes with me or not. I am half Sicilian and curiosity is getting the better of me. I must see this part of my heritage.
Wayne, my husband of 35 years, and Kelly, our long time friend of 33 years, and Bonnie, his third wife, have decided to take a three week bus tour of Italy and Sicily. We have been planning this trip for two years and all the bases are covered. I know that I will love every minute of it.
Wayne and I had visited Italy in 1990 but only got as far south as Rome. This was a bus trip that covered a lot of territory. We saw many countries and really enjoyed it. Bonnie and Kelly have traveled a bit but never to Europe.
After an overnight flight from Toronto, Ontario, to London, England, a change of planes and we’ve landed in Rome; it’s noon. WOW! The hustle and bustle, the pushing and shoving, the waving of arms, the shouting, the honking of horns, we‘re in Rome!! There is no city like it, no how, no way. It’s Easter Sunday and most of the Italians are away, out of the city at resorts by the sea, relaxing. Italians! I’d have to see that to believe it.
As our tour bus makes its way through the city, we see the Italian drivers. They are crazy!! They park anywhere there is a space big enough to put a car and in any direction, nose to nose, trunk to trunk, door to nose, door to trunk, it’s incredible. They even triple park to run into the corner store for smokes! Our tour director tells us that when you go to driving school (?) in Italy they teach you that green means - go, yellow means - go faster and red means - if you stop for a red light you have a very poor character. Believe me the Italians learn their lessons very well.
Of course, we see all of the tourist places and they are outstanding, even the second time. Bonnie and Kelly are in awe at all of the history, it’s almost to much to absorb. We make our way north to Assisi, (thank God we saw it before the earthquake), Venice, Pisa, Florence and then down into Pompeii, Naples and Sorrento. We are telling our tour director, Karen, an America of Italian ancestry, who speaks perfect Italian and English, about my desire to take a side trip to Lipari. Karen asks all the right questions and discovers that I speak no Italian and that I have two cousins living in the house my grandfather was born in.
"of course you must visit." Permission is granted for us to leave the tour for one day. When we get to our first overnight in Sicily she will phone them. I don’t know them and they don’t know me, so won’t this be an imposition. No! Karen says, "there is nothing like Sicilian hospitality, after all you are family!"
My intentions were just to go over there and see the house, take some pictures of it and the island, have some lunch and go back to the hotel. WRONG!
When we arrive, at the Ramada Inn in Gardina Naxos, Karen says, "You must go and rent a car before they close." Off we go with her along to speak to the rental agent in Italian; in English she says, "If they want an international drivers license, Judy, I’ll give you my Italian license," Laws! What Laws! But they didn’t, our Canadian license was just fine.
At nine o’clock Karen and I meet in the telephone booth in the lobby, to make the call. She gets the phone number and dials, I hold my breath, she’s talking, telling Antoinetta that relatives from Canada are here in Sicily, Antoinetta is crying, "They must come and stay with us!"
"No, they can’t this time."
"They must come for lunch tomorrow."
"Yes, they will."
"How will I recognize her?
"I had a pair of flowered tights on and Karen described them to Antoinetta. So guess what, I had to wear the same clothes the next day so she would recognize me.
I can’t believe this, they speak no English and we no Italian.
This will be interesting! When I tell the others they laugh. We have been in Italy exactly 12 days and have managed to survive the language barrier so far. Let’s hope our luck continues.
The next day is a beautiful, sunny, cool day. From our balcony we watch two fishermen in a small boat pulling nets in the Mediterranean Sea. It's time for breakfast, our 40 traveling companions wish us well and we are on our way around the island to our port of departure, Millazzo. Our little blue Renault is quite full with the four of us. They only gave us quarter tank of gas so we had better fill up. Wayne says to the attendant, "10,000 lira please."
The attendant says "30,000."
Wayne says "ok," thinking the gas will be running out on the ground, but not so. He pays, gets back in, and now we have half a tank. Gas is $4.50 a litre over here. Back in Ontario it’s $0.54 a litre. Expensive, isn’t it?
Well, off we go on our adventure, Wayne driving and Kelly navigating. We arrive in Millazzo in plenty of time to buy our tickets for the Hydrofoil, "The Giorgione," that will take us to Lipari in one hour. I am starting to get excited now. The others have been excited for days, but I’m not sure it’s really going to happen, so I’m waiting for my excitement to kick in.
Finally, we’re away from the dock. I can’t relax. I'm fidgeting and shifting. I’m watching, looking for the first sight of Lipari. It seems like a long hour to me. The water is dark blue and the sky is full of white fluffy clouds. The mountains of Vulcano seem to be covered in clouds as we pass by. There is steam coming out of a hole in the side of the mountain. It must be left over from the last volcanic eruption. Then, all of a sudden, there it is, Lipari, rising out of the sea in the distance. What a sight! It is so green and lush, white snowcaps on the mountains--what a sight! I can’t take my eyes off it, mesmerized. We’re almost there.
As the Hydrofoil docks, I look out the window trying to contain my excitement. Now we’re getting off, the others are in front of me and as I walk down the gangplank I’m gazing around like a real tourist, trying to read the sign in front of me that says "Welcome to Lipari", all of a sudden a voice says "You Furanna?"
I say, "Si, Si!" and there she is, Antoinetta, a tiny little woman dressed in a full length brown mink coat, with dark brown eyes and salt and pepper hair.
She’s crying. "I so 'appy to see you!" she says and we hug and hug. She says "Where you 'usband?" I point. I do the introductions all around and we start to walk through the town and then up the street, Via Nova. As we walk along the narrow street it keeps getting narrower and I am thinking 10 more pounds and I will be bouncing off the walls. I start to giggle. The others look at me. I point to the walls and my hips and they giggle. Soon we’re all laughing out loud.
Antoinetta stops and turns to me and says "CASA FURANNA." It’s a round topped, brown wooden door in a beige stucco wall. She opens the door and the white marble staircase becomes visible. She enters and so do we. Up the flight of 8 marble steps we go, at the top is Francesca, Antoinetta’s older sister who is 72. Antoinetta is 57. They have never married and were raised in this house. Their grandmother was my grandfather’s sister, so we are first cousins. I make the introductions again and we giggle at my Italian that I have taken from my English/Italian dictionary. Out comes their Italian/English dictionary and more giggles. They understand the name "Bonnie" but they are having a hard time with "Kelly." All of a sudden, after they converse in Italian, Francesca says "Ah, Bonnie & Clyde." Of course there is more laughter, especially since Kelly is a Sergeant in the Ontario Provincial Police.
They show us around the house. It's on many levels. On the first level is the kitchen and dinning room with a bathroom off the kitchen. The floors are all white marble and the walls are white stucco. Hanging over the round door way in the dinning room is a painting of Christ that is 700 years old. The furniture is all antique, of course. Incredible stuff! The place is immaculate and well taken care of. There are two bedrooms on the next level and a sitting room with a large TV. There was a TV in the kitchen as well, and of course more incredible antiques. The next level is the master bedroom and off of it is "the daughters room". In the olden days, female children slept in a room off the parents room to prevent them from sneaking out with the boys. This is a very small room with two beds.
I started to take pictures of this home but became embarrassed at invading their privacy. Bonnie took some and Wayne videoed a bit. We all had the same feeling, we were guests and didn’t want to offended them with our zeal in capturing the experience on film for the folks back home.
Francesca announced that lunch was ready. We sat down to crystal glasses and their best china, set on their best linen tablecloth. It was a feast and also it wasmy favorite Italian meal. I was astounded, how did they know? My favorite meal is breaded veal cutlets and green beans, penne and tomato sauce and that is exactly what we had. They made it exactly the way my family has always prepared it, I couldn’t believe it. Of course we had antipasto first with the best provolone cheese I had ever had and some incredible tiny green olives that she had dressed herself. The wine they served us tasted just like the wine my Grampa used to make every year. I hadn't had any in over 30 years. It is so good that you never forget its taste. Needless to say my friends were impressed and are still raving about that meal. "It’s the best meal we had on the whole trip," they tell everyone. Desert was fresh fruit, naturally.
As I sat and looked around I realized that this was home. This was the place that my ancestors had lived for more than 500 years. As we walked up that street, we were walking in the footsteps of time. My ancestors had played in that street, brought the groceries home, gone to school and work, and then had left this beautiful island, going down that street and leaving from that dock where I had just arrived. A sudden peace came over me as I sat there. I knew that when I came home I would have to start my family tree and trace the people who had lived here for all of these years.
Lunch was over and Antoinetta announced that she was taking us on a tour of the island before we had to go back to our hotel. So off we went down those marble stairs and out into the street like so many of my ancestors before me. She took us to her two door blue Fiat and in we got, Antoinetta driving -- Wayne in the passenger seat with the video camera and Bonnie, Kelly and me crammed in the back (more giggling). We saw it all, the whole island. She left not a stone unturned. The white on the mountain tops is pumice. The streets are cobblestone. Flowers are everywhere; wild on the roadside and hanging from the balconies overhead--yellow, red, pink, white--just a beautiful sight. She took us out into the country and showed us the island from the uninhabited side. The lush green vegetation, large cactus, beautiful palm trees, and the largest prickly pears I have ever seen. Everything seemed even larger and more colourful than in Italy proper.
As we wended our way back, to Via Nova 22, she came upon a street where some men were working. She drove right up to where they worked, a conversation took place and we became aware that she had to go back because they were not going to let her through. She put the car in reverse and back we went, she stopped and instead of turning right the way we had come, she turned left and went right down the sidewalk. A dog was standing on the walkway and you should have seen the look on his face as he darted out of the way. I looked back and he was looking after us with a "now I’ve seen everything" look on his face. The walkway between the houses was so narrow the side mirrors on the car were an inch away from the walls.
Of course there was more giggling. Wayne, in the front, couldn’t stop and soon we were all just roaring. We came out on the main street of the town of Lipari. It is on the waterfront, with the main castle right at the heart of the town. Just beautiful. Well, we parked the car back at her assigned area and went to say thank you and arrivederci to Francesca. There were hugs and kisses all around and a request for us to come back and stay with them another time. Then we are off down those narrow streets once again to the dock to wait for the Hydrofoil to take us back to Millazzo and our car.
As we walked we noticed that a wedding was about to take place. The bride and her father were making their way to the church in a bright red Maseratti with a white bow on one front fender and a bouquet of pink flowers on the other. The people were waiting outside the church for her to arrive and we watched as they made their way to the church.
Antoinetta and I were trying to buy some stamps for my postcards for home so that everyone there would have a piece of Lipari of their very own. I was only the second visitor from our Canadian family that had ever gone back to see their roots. It had been fifteen years since my Dad’s cousin Tony had been here.
As we waited for the boat we watched a man selling shrimp and some other small fishes to the people of the town, he would call out what he had for them to buy. With all the talk from the people waiting for the boat and the man yelling out his wares, the sound became loud and enchanting. Bonnie took a picture of Wayne and me with Antoinetta between us. As Antoinetta looked up at the two of us her eyes twinkled and she said, "Piccolino! Tiny!" pointing to herself. We laughed. As the boat arrived we said our good byes, promised to write, got on and turned to wave. Antoinetta was crying again.
I felt sad too. Even though I didn’t know my relatives or the place very well, I felt a strong bond between us. As Lipari faded into the horizon I promised that I would be back someday.
The rest of our stay in Sicily and Italy was just great but anti-climactic. It was such an incredible experience, one that I never expected would happen to me.
When we started to plan this trip I didn’t even know that relatives existed in Lipari. If it hadn’t been for a family funeral in January, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to tell my Dad’s cousin Tony, that I was planning a trip to Lipari. He was the one that supplied the address and the names of our first cousins, Antoinetta and Francesca.
It’s funny how things happen in life, especially the unexpected. We have actually kept up correspondence with my cousins. They are very interested in my family research. When I have new information I write to them with the aid of my Italian-English computer program and send an update. They have supplied much information on our family, with pictures. Their letters are in Italian, of course.
So you see what can be done even if you speak a different language. Family is family!
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