Land, tour, tradition: the triptych that describes the mountain sicily throught the eyes of sara ballacini.
Touristic district of the Sicani Mounts and the Platani Valley, Italy. Describing Sicily with an only word: this was the game I proposed to the rest of the group during the dinner of our last day of tour. Somebody said ‘tradition’, someone else ‘truth’, then ‘people’. I chose ‘wrinkles’. The marks of the time testify the time going by and they hide the worth to tell stories.
When I landed in Punta Raisi airport in Palermo, on the way to Adrano I observed amused the different landscapes: first of all the sea and the mountains, then the sea again, after that the buildings and the traffic and at last the valleys and the mounts. My enthusiasm is put to the test for the hot weather, so unusual in November. However I’m not discouraged, because at most I’ll go back sun tanned (but the mission failed).
When the train stops we’ve arrived in Casale Borgia. We’re welcome by Illuminata, her children and all the staff. The heat becomes warm and their hospitality makes me feel at home. In the afternoon I take my bag and my camera. Everything is so big, so wide but so close: I can touch everything and feel the strength of this untouched land. Then the evening comes, the rest of the group has arrived and we can sit at the table. We’re all so different each other: it will be a great experience, I thought. Nero D’Avola, good food, a lot of pleasant talks and some water confirm me all that.
It’s Tuesday morning, the cold air jabs the nose and after coming down for breakfast I realize I’ve forgotten about an important member: the ricotta. She’s with us from yesterday evening and meeting her again also this morning is a great pleasure: we have one more friend.
665 meters height and narrow streets typical of an Arabic village: we’re in Bisacquino. Going down along a descent we stop at n° 76 of Corso Umberto I: the Museum of the Clock is an old shop founded by Paolo Scibetta. The last ‘artisan of the period’ doesn’t only let a memory, but also a real witness, ‘The tradition of a generation of clockmakers, who thanks to their works mark the time going by’. Paradoxically, it’s as if here the time had stopped, giving space to the History told by hour hands and cogwheels. Now I understand why Luchino Visconti decided to visit this shop before filming ‘Il Gattopardo’. After a few hairpin bends we stop in Giuliana. This small country is a little gold mine, red gold. The atmosphere is very fresh and purple flowers variegated in red and yellow colour the dark field. Their appearing weakness conceals perfumes and strong spices contained in the hand extracted stigma which would be later dried up. The beloved saffron requires much more love and care than you can believe.
“The heavier is the man, the deeper are his footprints” this is what Alfredo, interpreted by Philippe Noiret said in the film ‘Nuovo Cinema Paradiso’. Giuseppe Tornatore couldn’t have chosen better settings than the Palace of Adriano. From the church to the smallest detail, everything speaks: you only have to listen: you could hear an arbresh song a rite in Greek or Latin quotations. We fall asleep happy among small cassate, red wine and traditional dances: the water percentage in the body has been replaced by masses of ricotta. It’s 9:00 am ‘o clock, the morning is fresh and clear, so we head for the district of Agrigento, more precisely to the Santa Rosalia alla Quisquina hermitage. The monastery is a monumental complex dating back to 1600 and transformed in Museum in 1900. The old traditions immediately reappear. Authenticity, History and Faith are the secret words. We’ve started trekking in the Sicani Mounts Park. The ground is still wet and the wood smells good from the morning. We get to the top of a slope at about 1000 meters above the sea level and our gazes are all addressed to a land expanse which colours change from the brilliant green to pistachio-green, then ecru, up to chocolate.
Continuing our trekking on this side of Western Sicily we get to Lorenzo Reina Art Farm: shepherd by vocation, this 55 years old man welcomes us and he tells us his story. His main concern is life: his darling’s life, of his animals, of his fields and the life of his works. He’s a free man, doubtless a happy man.
I’m speechless: beyond a revolving door I’m plunged in his Andromeda Temple. Built in the same place where the sheep took refuge during the bad weather, the ellipsis of the central scene seems endless, while the cavea is composed by 108 stars set faithfully according to the Andromeda constellation. All that, for him represents a value added.
What is really important for Lorenzo Reina is the image of his sheep grazing in that place. The sculptor shepherd moulds his memories and impresses the tradition, giving birth to his most creative ideas.
It’s doubtless one of the most charming sunsets I’ve ever seen: yellow, then orange, now red and then an expanse of dark blue sky. It could look like a painting by Rothko. Background painted colours, strong and sharp dyeing. We’re in Bivona and we’re observing this magnetic panorama from the square where the children play football even involving us. Here I fall in love with Romeo, the dog of the town: as a good Sicilian he does the honours of the house wagging his tail.
The town of peaches is worth to visit: the truthful and Spartan appearance hide a sensible character: the inhabitants are the bursting heart of the village. People are devoted to the tradition, they want to change and let us know their identity. They involve us, making us feel as part of their world, indissolubly attached each other. They have all the potentialities, the energy and experience to claim their essence: a lot of voice to join a chorus, ‘Here we are’.
Our Thursday begins with a warm morning and breakfast at Pigna D’Oro Country Hotel is very rich and homemade. From there it’s possible to perceive a wild and hard nature laying on a plaster hill. I’m talking about Sant’Angelo Muxaro, a place of great charm. Here several archaeological remains have been found: a real open air museum, with nearly 2000 vases as much as bones.
The tombs are dug-out in the rock and they appear as communicating rooms: they have the typical Mycenean tholos shape. It’s there, in front of the blue mountains. I stop daydreaming when I hear a Sicilian accent from a house on a tree under construction. The man who’s whispering to the plants is Aldo and probably he’s ageless: he’s a character who doesn’t need to be in wavelength with the environment: he is the living nature. He cultivates officinal and wild plants, he prepares ointments and he only feeds on what he produces, all in total harmony with the Universe and complete empathy with nature. In his island there are only perfumes and the colours change in a glance; you only need to turn your head to be inebriated by changing fragrances and tonalities.
Aldo offers us an infusion of 36 herbs to give us a little refreshment. Maybe it’s time to go: it’s getting dark and our full stomachs were beginning to induce us to sleep. We go down to San Biagio Platani where before dinner we visit the Museum of Easter wreaths. The exhibition is distributed in 10 rooms, of which 8 are expository, 1 prepared for the virtual tour and another one for the school laboratory. The visit lets us know the historical and cultural aspect of the Easter wreaths, the different manufacturing and the details of these works.
Dating back to the XVIII century, the construction of the Easter wreaths makes San Biagio Platani Easter a unique one. We’re talking about big structures decorated with natural elements and above all bread. They represent Christ’s triumph on Death and thanks to their rich decorations people could temporary forget their poverty. However, there’s no time. At 09:00 pm we get to the restaurant Cortile Halikos, in Cianciana. It’s the last evening and on the table we sip white wine and a little bit of sadness.
It was here that the game ‘Find the word to describe Sicily’ started. Pierfilippo, our guide suggests ‘thanks’: it’s his word addressed to us, to the group and the days we spent together. I think we have to express our thanks to you, Pier, Carmelo, Sabrina and to all those who believe it. They believe it and they stand up for their sentiments. I thank the rest of the group for the days, the stories and the shared experiences. I’ve enriched my eyes, my mind and myself.
Leonardo Sciascia in The Day of the Owl wrote: “I’ve been told that if you want to know Sicily you have to go towards its interior.”.
Don’t miss this occasion.
P.S: which is your word?