My wife and I and our good friends Kathy and Tony recently visited the island of Sicily, which is off the mainland of Italy and a semi-autonomous province. We rented a car and toured the edges of the island from Palermo to Cefalu, Taormina, Ragusa, Agrigento, Trapani and back to the capital city of Palermo.We simply had a wonderful time – gorgeous weather, excellent food (and of course wine), beautiful historical sites, and friendly people. I would enthusiastically recommend a visit, especially a trip up to Mt. Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, the stunningly white Turkish Steps along the deep blue Mediterranean Sea, the well preserved Valley of the Greek Temples outside Agrigento and the crystal clear waters off the islands of Trapani. In most of these locations we were high up in the mountains overlooking not only the blue waters that surround the island but fields of olives, grapes and lemons.
Where we didn’t go is inland to Corleone, the mythical birthplace of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. The Sicilians don’t accent the movie story of The Godfather, except for a few t-shirts and refrigerator magnets, but rather concentrate on beauty of the island and its long history which dates back to the Greek conquest and a long series of other interested parties from the Romans, the Visigoths, the Normans and the Byzantines. Throughout the island there are signs that Sicily has a multi-cultural history in its architecture, its language and its culture.
I must admit that before I left for Sicily I had the mistaken impression that Sicily was all about the mafia and the criminal element, some of whom left the island and headed to America to continue their lawless ways. But Corleone is now a major wine producer with its own brand that is marketed not with Marlon Brando on the label, but the seal of the town. It is important to point out that in the major cathedral in Palermo there is an altar set up to remember Blessed Fr. Pugliese who was assassinated by the mafia in the 1960s for daring to establish a Christian-based community of faith and kindness, which the mafia felt weakened their hold. The Sicilians hope that Fr. Pugliese will soon become a martyred saint.
In Palermo we saw a ramshackle boat in front of the Royal Palace that memorializes the 18,000 migrants who died a sea as they journeyed from Africa in search of a better life. Thousands of migrants did survive the journey and are making Sicily an island with an African character. Although we only stayed on Sicily for a short time there were no visible signs of discrimination but rather inclusion and diversity. And still they come.
Our trip to Sicily will remain in our hearts and minds, especially the connoli, the gelato, the swordfish, the bread, and the after dinner cordial, Amaro. Our taste buds have been forever impacted by our visit. We left Palermo confident that this island is not identified by the Godfather but by its beauty, history and food ( and of course the wine).