My Sicilian blood was boiling when I stepped off the plane in Catania. I had never been to any part of the little island Italy perpetually kicks along…so I was very anxious to embrace my forgotten history. What I saw was a bit shocking and strange. I admit I had culture shock. Catania was a whole other world apart from the rest of Italy in general. If Rome feels old, Sicily feels…retro. Sicily has definitely got a soul that no one else in Italy can lay a claim to. My case and point lies in the fish market, which has remained unchanged for centuries, still as smelly, slippery, and scrumptious as it ever was.
From above you can see the nonnucci with hands in nests behind their backs and their longshoremen’s caps, endlessly contemplating the catch(es) of the day. Below, weathered fishermen stand loyally with other members of the family (each representing a different generation) adorned with bags full of euros on their crotch of their jeans and bibs sequined with pearlescent fish scales. They shout prices to the spectators above and dip their paws in buckets of water to flick and sprinkle atop the displayed morsels from the trawls, a gesture which I understood to be a sign to whet the appetite of potential customers or to signify freshness. In Sicily, their dessert is sweeter than yours always. The cassata never fails to outdo its other competitors with not one but two layers of colorful marzipan, candied fruits, and fruit juice or liquor soaked into pan di Spagna (sponge cake) and finally layered with sweet ricotta cream..think cannolo…(anglicized to the heretical, ear-scathing term, cannoli). Catania was ancient, dirty, scary, all-encompassing, and surprisingly friendly. I tip my hat to the barkeep who I talked to on my first day who taught me all the best (and worst) parts of town. I got around using the public transit, which is full of all kinds of characters going every which way (and many a spitting gypsy).
It brought me to hike Mount Etna, which is the most active volcano in Europe. Aside from the horrendous sunburn, I took some amazing pictures and got to hike along the snowy, smoky volcano’s summit. I also visited thanks to the public transit, the sleepy beach town of Aci Castello, where the water really is bluer on the other side.
From the licks of Arabic in the language, to the crazy concoctions, to the myriad of biomes and settings, Catania was so many amazing experiences rolled into one. Though I might never go back, Catania has enough character and left enough memories to last me a lifetime.