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Saturday, 31 March 2007

Windsurf World Festival 2007

The World Festival On The Beach is a large-scale sports and music festival that takes place each year in May in Mondello, Sicily. The World Festival combines windsurfing, sailing, beach volleyball, kitesurf, scuba diving, sky diving, paragliding and fitness in a single setting on the Mondello beach near Palermo. In addition to the sports competitions there are also concerts, fashion shows, fitness sessions and photographic competitions, which all together turn Mondello into a huge village that welcomes thousands of fans from all over the word day and night. Mondello Bay, whose waters are warm even in winter, is one of the most popular, famous resorts in Sicily. The World Festival on the Beach was created by Albaria Club, which has offered to organize a huge, competitive beach sports event for over twenty years. The festival's main events are the windsurfing and sailing competitions. The last edition of the Festival hosted the World Windsurf Championship and sailing competitions between the most famous crews from the America's Cup, and a stretch of the Isaf World's Match Race Circuit, level 1. The New Jazz Festival, a photographic competition with a lot of music and merriment complete the festival's programme, when the sun disappears and the beach is transformed into a dance-hall in the evening. All the events take place on the beach in a huge pedestrian area amidst the green vegetation. Access if free for tourists and Palermo inhabitants.

When: May 10th-20th, 2007

Behind the Trinacria

The symbol dates back to when Sicily was part of Magna Graecia. People attribute the origin of the Trinacria, to the triangular form of the island, which consists of three large capes equidistant from each other, pointing in their respective directions, the names of which were Pelorus, Pachynus and Lilybaeum. 
But for a symbol that must be older than any cartographic conception of the island, there are surely other interpretations, since this symbol is associated with a multitude of triads.
While the greeks called it Triskele, The Celtics called it Triskelion and the Romans Trinacrium, meaning "star with 3 points", other Spiral forms of Trinacria are often classed as solar symbols ; supposedly Pagans. Since earliest ages, the concept of the Great Goddess was a trinity and the model for all subsequent trinities, female, male or mixed. The Goddess Triformis ruled heaven as Virgin, earth as Mother, and the underworld as Crone, or Hel, or Queen of the Shades. This was remembered even in Chaucer’s time, for his Palamon invoked her “Three Forms,” Luna in heaven, Diana on earth, Proserpine in hell. (See, Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales at 81, 511). The old name of Sicily, Trinacria, invoked her as a “centre of the earth” with three realms.
Besides, the Trinacria is quite similar to the three-legged heraldic symbol of the Isle of Man, another medieval Norman dominion, but all pagan religions were soon stomped out by the rise of Christianity, and today the official history of Sicilian Trinacria is only to be attributed to Greek legends.
The head in the centre of today's Triacria was that of Medusa, whose hair was turned into snakes by the outraged goddess Athene. In their wisdom, the Sicilian parliament, which uses the Trinacria as its Flag, replaced the Medusa head with one that is less threatening to the innocent onlooker who, after all, should not be anticipating being turned to stone....

Count the Devils

In the city of Palermo, specifically in the district called Olivuzza, you can find an enormous palace that looks like a castle; its name is Zisa. Zisa has a huge entrance, made of gold and full of charming frescoes; right in the center is a marble fountain that sprays fresh water and in which the golden mosaics of the walls are reflected. They say that the Zisa has an enchantment and a treasure of golden coins hides there. The guardians of both are the Devils whom originally were meant to guard them against the Christians. This palace was built at the time of the Pagans and it was here that they were hiding the Emperor's treasures. The Devils' paintings are located in the entrance and whoever goes there during the Festivity of Saint Annunziata (March 25) can see their tails snaking and their mouths growling. Nobody really knows how many there are; some say there are 13, others 15, perhaps more. They are devils and for this reason nobody will ever be able to count them. Even the golden coins, nobody knows how many there really are and nobody has ever been able to find them. Perhaps one day somebody will solve this mystery and Palermo will be rich again.

Two words

Most people who come to Sicily come because they want to sample and enjoy some of the best food in the world. The diversity, depth and fusion of Sicilian food is well known, it ranges from the Baroque, Aristocratic French-influenced dishes to the so-called "poor kitchen" often consisting of fishermen village delights. Somewhere in the middle of these two is a dish most beloved across the entire island of Sicily, the humble Arancina.

The immense satisfaction a mouth full of freshly made Arincina provides a lover of food can be described using an amount of words breaching the thousands, and in later articles I will no doubt indulge in such descriptions of the Arancina [insert links/photos], but in the meantime, and for the sake of brevity I provide just one piece of advice for the reader who is just a little bit curious about Sicilian food. And you can follow this advice even without needing to know one word of Italian...

...Upon arrival in Palermo, take a taxi or drive to a place by the port called "Bar Touring" , approach the counter and say just two words, "La Bomba". Then relax, wait, and prepare yourself for a snack so addictive, so despicably delicious, so Sicilian that you will be left wondering why it took you this many years for you enjoy such a pleasure for the taste buds. Again, Sicily delivers!

Bar Touring - Via Lincoln 15, 90133
get direction on Google maps from HERE

A good alternative to Bar Touring is Bar Alba - Piazza Don Bosco 7/c, 90143 Palermo - who can deliver a smoking hot fresh arancina to your door or hotel. (If you are not fluent in Italian ask the consierge to call for you) They charge euro 2,60 per delivery, regardless the size of orders. For "Arancina Taxi" service, call 091 309016.

Clearing Up Some Vinous Misinformation

Shiraz is undoubtedly Australia's king of the wines, but its origins are elusive and many erroneous stories have surfaced.

We know the shiraz we have in Australia was brought from the hill of Hermitage by James Busby in 1832. We also know that due to an aphid known as phylloxera devastating Europe's vines in the late 19th century, Australia is now the possessor of the oldest shiraz vines on Earth. But did they originate on the Rhone Valley's hill of Hermitage? Perhaps the Iranian city of Shiraz is the correct birthplace? Then again they might have all started in the Sicilian city of Syracuse (which is why shiraz is commonly known as 'syrah').

The most popular story runs as follows. A French knight by the name of Gaspard de Stérimberg brought cuttings back from the city of Shiraz (in the country then known as Persia) and planted them on a hill. He became a hermit and built a chateau on the hill that was consequently named after him  Hermitage. The vines were then naturally named after the city of their origin.

And here's the facts: Gaspard was a knight, he was injured on a crusade, built the chateau and planted the hill with vines.

The problem with the story is that he was injured on the crusade of Albigeois in 1224. This was a crusade of Catholicism on the Cathars and was fought in southern France. Shiraz during this time was well within the Persian Empire and was not subject to any crusades. So unless Gaspard de Stérimberg was one of 13th century France's greatest travellers, he never went anywhere near Shiraz. The city itself had a reputation for producing the finest wines in the Near East. Perhaps he named his vines in honour of the Persian capital.

Syracuse  is home to one of the world's greatest ever mathematicians, Archimedes  still grows shiraz to this day and produces delicious Sicilian wines from it. Syracuse is much closer to France than Shiraz, so perhaps Gaspard named his vines 'syrah' after some great wine he had tasted from Sicily. Perhaps the word 'syrah' was corrupted to 'shiraz' somewhere down the line and this is why it is known as shiraz in Australia although the French, Americans, Sicilians and many others know it as 'syrah'.

Whatever the truth of its name, DNA testing has been able to unlock its place of origin and it is…the Rhone Valley.

What Gaspard de Stérimberg named shiraz came from the Rhone Valley and certainly not from Shiraz or Syracuse where he almost certainly never was. Shiraz's parents, the undistinguished monduese blanche and dureza, are also both Rhone Valley varietals.

So it's a French grape after all, with a name that is either Italian or Persian and with a distinctly Australian flavour.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Enter the Vucciria

The city of Palermo has always been a market town, well for nearly 3,000 years anyway. In fact at times it feels like one big crazy bazaar. Take a detour anywhere in downtown Palermo you are instantly hit with a wall of noise, the sounds of people talking, bartering, shouting, arguing, laughing. Walk down the labyrinth of lane ways in the old city on any morning and you may just be fortunate enough to come across The Vucciria.

The Vucciria is probably the most famous, and oldest, of Palermo markets. The Vucciria is a truly incredible place. During anyone's first visit to this place it is hard not to just stand there and stare, mouth wide open, in amazement. It feels like a place where time has stood still. It is as if you have walked out of a time machine into some crazy, noisy market from a centuries ago.

Whether you are one who likes this sort of mayhem or are noise averse, it is hard not to feel alive at the Vucciria. Your senses are surrounded on all sides with life and activity. Your sense of smell is instantly awoken by the waft of exotic smelling spices and flavours, your ears are under assault by the sheer volume of verbal activity, and if you are fortunate enough to try some of the food and produce on sale, you will honestly feel as if this was suitable for a king. Your eyes are watching people going about their business, acting as if this was the most normal thing in the world. People are moving everywhere, deals are done, items are bought and sold, money is exchanged, and by 2pm - everyone is gone! Siesta time. What was bedlam only a few minutes ago turns into an eerie silence as the last of the stall holders packs up and goes home for lunch.

Words cannot adequately describe nor do justice to this unique place.

The local Palermitans have long been "proud" of this place. It is true to form that only a Sicilian can take pride inn bedlam and see the beauty in abject chaos. The esteemed 20th Century Italian painter, Renato Guttuso immortalised the Vucciria in his colourful (does that surprise you?) painting of the same name. When you look at this painting and you see what Guttuso saw, you feel an instantaneous connection with the painter. It is almost as if he was standing right there next to you on the day you first stumbled, unawares, on the Vucciria.

By the way, the term Vucciria, comes from the French word for butcher but soon the word became synonymous in the local dialect with loudness and "being out of control". To say something is a racket is to say that it is a vucciria. I think you get the picture.

In more recent times, the locals have been organising Sicilian art and music performances using the Vucciria as a backdrop. Last Sunday I went to one of these concerts, which was held in an abandoned , desecrated yet incredibly beautiful church right in the heart of the Vucciria. Outside the street vendors were cooking up a storm, supplying hungry concert goers with some of the best Sicilian street food you can find. There are very few pleasures in life better than drinking a beer while eating Sicilian street food until your heart's content - and still getting change for ten euros!

Another thing that you notice with the Vucciria is how many stray dogs there are. They absolutely just love this place. I mean, it only makes sense, dropped food, humans, loud noises, plenty of stray cats to chase - it is dog butt sniffing heaven at the Vucciria on concert night.

Inside the church of Santa Eulalia, performing were a collection of Sicilian artists. Vuccira Festival - 11/29 Aprile 2007 - ranges from the more traditional folk, to rock to a classical and refined. http://www.vucciria.org/ - website in Italian -
One of the groups were singing in a very old style of vocal dialect which sounded not unlike the Peking Opera. In fact, running your fingernails down blackboard was probably more pleasing to the ear. I should not be too harsh, as like the Peking Opera, I am sure that this style of music is a definite acquired taste.

Another group, called I Beati Paoli were magnificent, the play a form of rock music with explosive lyrics (sung in Sicilian dialect, of course) combined with powerful instrumentals. They were followed by a very professional and obviously very experienced (judging my the grey pony tails and increasing girth) group of musicians who go by the name of Sun. Like I Beati Paoli, this group amazed me in the beauty of their performance and the obvious talent they possessed.

The highlight, without any doubt, was provided by a pocket sized female singer with a voice that packs just more than just a punch. Etta Scollo is a powerhouse, an incredible performer who, through the colour and sound of her voice, manages to keep the audience in a state of awe. While naturally I could not understand a word she was singing, the power of her vocal communication made me feel as though I could understand everything.

If Etta was singing out in the middle of Vucciria during peak trading, everyone would stop what they were doing, down tools and watch and listen. If you have ever been to the Vucciria you will understand the significance of what I am saying. No one ever gets distracted from their business at the Vucciria - but they would after just a couple of bars from Etta.

I went home that night thinking where else in the world could a place so simple and seemingly mundane, like an outdoor market, have such an effect on you. I can't answerer that question , Renato Guttuso could, although he did not need words.

Vucciria Festival
when : 11/29 April 2007

Sicily on the road

From May 20-24, 2007 the Motogiro d’Italia, the oldest Italian motorcycle road race, will be revived on the most beautiful roads of Eastern Sicily. For the seventh year in a row, the Motogiro d’Italia has been organised by Dream Engine with Ducati Motor Holding as its main sponsor.
Hundreds of bikes, passionate riders and collectors from all over the world will contribute to recreating the atmosphere, the style and the spirit of the original race. At the same time enthusiasts will be able to enjoy Sicily in the springtime and will see a parade of the best of Italian motorcycles ever produced: Ducati, Morini, MV Agusta, Moto Guzzi, Benelli, Bianchi, Piaggio, Gilera and Motobi. To keep bond with history alive, riders Maoggi and Venturi, Motogiro champions from the 1950’s, will return as guests of honour. The enthusiasm for the Motogiro revival has been constantly increasing since the first edition in 2001 and the number of participants has almost tripled.
The Motogiro 2007 will begin and ending in the town of Sciacca (Agrigento), an acclaimed thermal location famous since ancient times for its gentle climate and the healing properties with waters rich with minerals. Each of the 5 legs, approximately 250 km each, will push East and will take riders as far as the slopes of Mount Etna. Here is the tentative itinerary:

19 May 2007: Preliminary operations at Sciacca. 20 May 2007, leg 1: Sciacca-Chiusa Sclafani–Selinunte-Sciacca 21 May 2007, leg 2: Sciacca-Piazza Armerina-Brucoli 22 May 2007, leg 3: Brucoli-Noto-Ragusa Ibla-Brucoli 23 May 2007, leg 4: Brucoli-Zafferana-Catania-Brucoli 24 May 2007, leg 5: Brucoli-Caltagirone-Agrigento-Sciacca.

The route was created to work well for vintage motorcycles and as often as possible, riders will ride a loop, departing and arriving at the same city. Each itinerary was studied to create a unique ride with a plethora of beautiful panoramas and interesting tourism points along the coast and inland.

Each route has numerous pre-designated rest stops made possible thanks to local agencies and motorcycling clubs. At the end of each ride participants will be welcomed by the Motogiro Village set up in each arrival city. At the final prize giving dinner, participants will be guests of the ‘Presidenza della Regione Siciliana’ and the overall winner of the Vintage Class will be awarded a special Motogiro 2007 Ducati motorcycle.

The Motogiro d’Italia 2007 relies on the support of Ducati Motor the event’s main sponsor. The event is also made possible thanks to the support of: Presidenza Regione Siciliana, Motociclismo d'Epoca, Assessorato Regionale al Turismo Regione Siciliana, Provincia di Siracusa, Comune di Sciacca, and the Comune di Augusta.

Sicily in a coffee cup

Source : The Guardian Unlimited

Cafe culture is integral to Italian life, and Caffè Spinnato in Palermo has just been voted the best.

The Italians take their coffee seriously, and cafes are the centre of social life - establishments where you can eat and drink, socialise and do business. They are considered so important they are rated like restaurants, and this year the best is the 145-year-old Caffè Spinnato in Palermo, the capital of Sicily.
On a warm day in late autumn, customers are sitting under shady blue umbrellas sipping aperitivi or eating rich Sicilian pastries while a pianist plays in the background. "Coffee is at the heart of our business," says Mario Spinnato, the fifth generation of his family to run the cafe. "It is our calling card because it reflects the quality of everything we offer."

Sicilians like their coffee strong. Caffè Spinnato's is a blend of 70% arabica and 30% robusta - the average blend in Italy is 49% and 51% respectively - and it is served 7am-2am every day, 365 days of the year. Cappuccinos, espressos, macchiatos and correttos are brought out by waiters in smart uniforms.

The cafe also serves hot and cold snacks, 40 flavours of ice-cream and traditional pastries made with almonds from Avola and pistachios from Bronte. In summer, granitas made with shaved ice and espresso are consumed by the bucketload. The cocktails are spectacular, too - the barmen are all old hands who can whip up delicious drinks made with Sicilian liqueurs. Thirty types of bread, rich chocolate cakes and two types of cassata - the famous Sicilian dessert - are on sale in the shop next door.

Caffè Spinnato is still relatively undiscovered by tourists - Mario estimates only 20% of their clientele are foreigners - so it is a true meeting place for Palermitani. "We are very lucky to have a climate where we can live outside for most of the year and so many people come here to relax, to sit in the sun and just watch the world go by," he says.

On Saturdays, there is the added bonus of watching the teenage passeggiata, which starts at 4.30pm. Hundreds of beautiful Sicilian girls and boys in their best clothes stroll past the cafe, taking part in the social highlight of their week, and providing hours of entertainment for customers.

Caffè Spinnato in Via Principe del Belmonte, Palermo, was judged top cafe in Italy for 2005 out of 1,390 establishments assessed by the Gambero Rosso food publishing group.

Mick's red is not so simple

Source : London Sunday Telegraph

Mick Hucknall is best known as the singer with the pop group Simply Red but his Il Cantante label, produced in Sicily, is beginning to make music in wine circles.

Mick Hucknall bounded on to the stage in Verona, his audience's excitement followed by a reverent hush. "Il Cantante!" - "The singer!" - cried a breathless voice from the crowd.

The Simply Red vocalist was there not to sing, however, but to give a much-hyped debut to the first vino rosso produced from his Sicilian vineyard at Italy's most prestigious wine fair, Vinitaly.

The pop star has been nursing his grapes to maturity on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna since the dawn of the new Millennium. First, he announced a successful 2001 harvest. Last year, he presented the label. Last week came the excitement of presenting the first vintage, appropriately called Il Cantante-Etna Red, though nicknamed "Simply Red" by locals.

In Verona, Hucknall savoured a mouthful of wine and relentlessly milked his "celebrity" connections. "I'm sure the wine will go down well with our Prime Minister, Tony Blair," he told the audience. "He's a good friend of mine and, like me, loves your country."

The crowd, as they say in showbusiness, went mad. "There's no question about it - it's an excellent quality wine with a robust structure, typical of some of the better examples to come from Etna's slopes," enthused Giuseppe Castiglione, the vice-president of Sicily's regional government and minister for agriculture.

"Mick's an extraordinary person," Mr Castiglione said. "He took part in every phase of the production, even choosing the terrain.

"A Sicilian can't help but be charmed by someone who comes from the world of showbusiness and falls in love with our land and goes about doing such a project so seriously. The result has been a great promotion for Sicily."

Hucknall is one of a growing list of showbusiness winemakers who have been wooed to Sicily, which is trying to shrug off its intimidating historical association with the Mafia.

Gerard Depardieu, the French actor, has bought vineyards on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, while Lucio Dalla, an Italian singer, is producing rose close to Hucknall's 18th-century Etna Red estate.

As well as the well-known enthusiasts, serious wine-makers have also ventured to an island whose wines were once dismissed as being worthy only of being shipped to France to bolster the Bordeaux.

Gianni Zonin, the former head of Italy's wine producers' association, who entertained Mr Blair in his castle in 1997, is among the viniculturists drawn by the ideal growing conditions, comparatively low prices, and the tradition of local winemaking. As a result, the price of land planted with vines in the Etna area has shot up tenfold in 10 years, to euros 80,000-100,000 a hectare ($126,000 - $157,000). The first 6,000 bottles of Hucknall's Il Cantante-Etna Red, a full-bodied, medium-quality blend of local nerello grapes, will go on sale in Britain in September, along with 13,000 bottles of another Hucknall wine, Il Cantante-Nero d'Avola. For each bottle sold, Hucknall has promised to plant a tree.

He plans to have invested almost $4 million in the area by next year, planting another 2.5 acres of vines higher up the slopes of Etna at 1,200 metres above sea level - this time, of local carricante white vines. He also wants to increase his holding to 26 acres, in order to market olive oil as well as wine, and to buy, restore and rent out former vine-workers' cottages to tourists.

The singer's oenologist, Salvo Foti - considered the leading Etna wine specialist - praised Hucknall's "respect for the area and its traditions". Mr Foti said: "When he tried to enlist my services, I told him, 'If you're planning to produce something that breaks with tradition, you can go to someone else. I'm only interested if you make wine the way my father made it and his father did before him.'

"Maybe I was being a bit too hard. I had never heard of Mick Hucknall. Since the age of six I've been spending my life in vineyards. But he listened.

"Just as you can leave your mark with quality music which stands the test of time, you can too with a quality wine."

Palermo's sacred cave

Set on top of a magical promontory just above the ancient port of Palermo, is a unique place that holds a special place in my heart. A little temple entirely hewn out in the rocks, although you only make out the façade: here is the sanctuary of Santa Rosalia, set up in the cave where a Saint lived and died as a hermit. This extraordinary place provides the backdrop of the story of a young woman known as Rosalia, born in 1130 from a Norman noble family, descended from Charlemagne. According to a leggend, Rosalia refused to partake in her arranged marriage and ran away to live as a recluse in a cave on Mount Pellegrino. In 1166, she died in this cave on this mountain. Nobody knew anything about her demise.

In 1624 a terrible plague descended upon Palermo, and it was during this dark and evil time that the spirit of Rosalia appeared to a hunter to which she indicated the location of her remains. She requested him to bring her bones to Palermo and have them carried in procession through the city. If he fulfilled this quest, the city of Palermo would be saved. The hunter climbed the mountain and found her bones in the cave just as she had described. He did what she had asked in the apparition, and after the procession the plague incredibly ceased.

The whole place is slightly surreal - natural rock contrasting with baroque glittering furniture.

You can enter the sanctuary through a little chapel constructed over a cave in the hillside, where the bones of Rosalia were found in 1624. You can also light up your own candle near the beautiful marble statue of the young saint, clad in stiff golden robe and crowned with roses and ask for your wish.

A little Museum full of magnificent gold and silver votive offerings testifies to the devotion of pilgrims who believe they have been healed here in the presence of their Saint. I look at those icons representing human body parts (supposedly affected by a illness) and I keep thinking of all these people, all these hopes, tears, faith. It brings tears in my eyes.

Inside the cave a network of metal pipes hanging from the ceiling designed to channel the rain water seeping from the ceiling into a container. The liquid is supposedly miraculous and holy, and is highly prized by devout followers of the Saint.

Although I’m not religious, I can’t help myself from getting emotional each time I climb the steps of this tiny, humble shrine; as have the multitude of friends and family who I have taken with me to visit the Sanctuary. It is the atmosphere that you breathe and feel in the cave that makes it unique in its own way.

The Sanctuary on Google Maps

Cave visiting hours: weekdays 7,00 am - 12,30 pm and 2,30 pm - 8,00 pm, Sunday 7,00 am - 8,00 pm
How to get there: bus number 812 from Piazza Don Sturzo, (behind the Politeama Theatre)

Down below

For those of you who are interested in the subterfuge of history, and in particular, the "Great Game" [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Game ] of the 19th Century, you will be fascinated by the story of the underwater volcano just discovered off the coast of Sicily

In 1831 a small piece of black rock was raised to the surface of the sea from a submerged volcanic after a series of earthquakes in Sicily. As it was more strategically located closer to France and Spain, that its then current possession, Malta was, the British upon hearing of this island birth, sent a navy flotilla to claim the piece of sulphur for Queen Victoria. They named the island, "Graham", how quaint. Either the name, "Graham", or the pure insolence of the British very much annoyed King Ferdinand, the Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies, that he countered by sending his own troupe of soldiers to replace the British flag with his and to rechristen the lump of smouldering ash as "Ferdinandea". Modest was certainly not a virtue in his court.

The French, not wanting to miss such a juicy piece of hardcore lava action duly sent a team of geologist to claim the island in the name of science, and to give it a nice French sounding name, "Giulia"; how sweet a name for such a pungent piece of sulphur (it makes is difficult to look at any girl called Giulia again in the same way). Finally, just as the Spanish were preparing for an all out ground assault, the smoking black rock sank back into the sea.

Why is this story relevant today, you may ask? Well a team of Italian scientists have just discovered that Graham Ferdinandea Giulia is actually a smaller outpost of a much larger, volcano that is comparable is mass to the grandaddy of them all, Etna. The scientists say that, although the underwater volcano is still active, it doesn't pose any threat today. Tell that to Blair, Prodi and Chirac - who have their marines on 24/7 standby just waiting for it to pop its head just a little above sea level.


Thursday, 29 March 2007

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Driving in Palermo (for non Palermitans)

Rule #1. Driving in Palermo is a Contact Sport.

Once a person decides (after a lobotomy or some other brain reducing surgery) that they feel an inner desire to drive in Palermo they need to be made aware that driving in Palermo is fun. People from Palermo treat driving as a sport, a kind of game. Some games you play are board games, others are card games, others involve some exercise like tennis or golf. At the top of this game apex are those games that involve more than physical exertion, they involve full body on body contact. It is only in these type of games, such as rugby or American football, that the true nature of our competitive instincts come out. This is the type of game preferred by Palermitans, when it comes to driving.

Rule #2. Act like a fish that grows to the size of its pond.

This rule is incredibly important to all first time visitors to Palermo roads. No matter how wide or how narrow the road you are driving on is, you must, as a true Palermitan (or aspiring one at that), metaphorically grow your car so that it can use all the road surface. Why build such a wide road if it cannot be fully utilised? So like the astute buyer who wants to get the maximum "bang for his buck", you too must swerve as much as possible all over the road so as to use the maximum amount of road surface. Only then will you experience that incredible feeling of satisfaction one receives upon the realisation that you are undoubtedly getting your driving money's worth. If in doubt about how much of the road to use, think of how a fish's growth is limited only by the size of its pond. You too as an aspiring Palermitan driver must drive your car to the size of the road.

Rule #3. Road Works - Preparation is the best Medicine.

The good folk at the Palermo Road Works department have discovered a revelation in roadwork management. They are of the firm belief that the best way to carry out road works is to let people know in advance. This type of public information is not given in billboards, or newspaper ads informing the public of impending road works. No, that doesn't work here. Who reads the newspapers for anything else but soccer and politics anyway? The best way, and the tried and true method, is to block off a lane of traffic a week or so before you actually start the road works. This genius of an idea allows commuters to understand, while they are stuck in a traffic jam extending 5km and taking an extra hour to get home, what will be happening in a week, and therefore, allowing them to get "used to it". Road works should never be a surprise. Brilliant!

Rule #4. Shoot First. Ask Questions Later.

How do normal drivers approach a turn into a T-intersection in order to join the main road? Well, they approach the intersection and give way or stop until the traffic clears enough for them to turn into the main road. Safe, yes. Proper, yes. Boring, yes. That's not how they do it in Palermo. The way of the streets here is to approach a T-junction as if there was no traffic at all and place the nose of your car inside the intersection so that anyone driving in the lane closer to the side of the road has to stop, or at least slow down considerably, in order to avoid you, thus allowing you entry into the main road unimpeded.

Rule #5. Busy Road/Quiet Road.

A busy or fully packed road is like a subconscious stimulus to a Palermitan that he is in a hurry (I tend to use the masculine here for simplicity, not because of the fact that many traditional Sicilian women are forbidden to drive ;) . He could have all the time in the world and be casually driving along, but upon entering a busy road, he suddenly turns to be a man possessed, a man who is late for his own wedding. Nothing can get in his way, he will use all resources at his disposal in order to move one car ahead of his sworn enemies (basically everybody else on the road). He will happily knock over an elderly lady at a pedestrian crossing if it results him climbing the road ordinal rankings of this road. An emergency stopping lane? What's that, he says to himself as he realises that he can climb four places ahead. Conversely, as soon as the same man turns into a quieter street, he suddenly realises that there is no rush, there is no hurry. In fact, he will slow down to admire the road. While admiring the craftsmanship of the particular tar that the builders placed on this road he will also be oblivious to the 20 cars behind him wishing he would move out of second gear.

Well, I hope these rules are of value to all you burgeoning Palermo drivers. Stay tuned for the next instalment of the The Idiot's Guide to Driving in Palermo, while part three can be found here.

Latin Sicily - meet the people

Are you Latino? Speak or understand Spanish? Then you're on your way to enjoying a vacation in Sicily - By Litza Melendez

"When most Latinos go on vacation, we see our country of origin. We visit abuela (grandma) , our cousins, our aunt who is still single at age 40, and all those relatives who can't remember our names. But if you're Latina and don't mind having hoards of men admire your Latin beauty, Sicily is for you! Did I mention that those hoards of men also happen to be gorgeous?

When I landed in Palermo, Sicily's largest city, I had no idea what to expect. Like most Latinos, I'd never been to a country where I didn't know the language. What I first noticed when I stepped off the plane was that the people looked like me! They were a beautiful mixture, like most Latinos. Sicily has been conquered for hundreds of years: by the Moors, Romans, Greeks, and most of Europe. The mixture created an eclectic culture of tantalizing food and people.

The men. Many of the women that I traveled with were intimidated by the forward men. Their forwardness did not phase me. Piropos, is the Spanish word for catcalls. As Latinas, we know how to handle the situation. We learned as little girls how to handle the man who used their best piropos on us. Our mothers instructed us to keep walking and pretend not to hear them, to show we're respectable women, ‘good' girls. Do what your mothers taught you when you go to Sicily! The same rules apply. The only difference is, you'll probably have no idea what they're saying because they are speaking too fast. My advice, is assume that they're calling you beautiful!
And they will do anything to get your attention; whistle, kiss in the air, call at you in Italian, Sicilian or English.

The stereotype of Latinos is that the men are macho and the women are submissive. The same is said of Sicilians. When people think of Sicilian men, they think of the mafia; they envision Al Pacino. Yet machismo, although present, does not define Sicilian culture. Like Latinas, Sicilian women do not take the husband's last name. The United States, which considers itself to be ‘modern,' does not have this same tradition. Sicilian women also are more daring in the way they dress. If Sicily were truly just a "macho" place, women would be covered head to toe. But the women that I saw flaunted their bodies and their beauty. Many in the United States see this as bad, but for Sicilian women and Latinas, it's being proud of what you look like.

Because Sicilians are as expressive with their hands as Latinos, it was also easier to communicate. So when Sicilians could not understand me, my hand movements made it easier for them to guess. In Sicily, you don't have to feel like you must restrict your movement!.
If you want to go to a foreign country that's not your native land, go to Sicily. You'll find similarities you never knew existed and differences as well. See the Roman and Greek temples. Shop. Eat. Party. Treat the Sicilians with respect, and do not assume that your values or your way of thinking is the only and right way. Smile at people. And last, but not least, roll your ‘R's with pride! The Sicilians do it too!" - Litza Melendez

Noisy, friendly, hot tempered and often overwhelming, Sicilians are the heart and soul of the place called Sicily, and they're worth getting to know. Nobody can describe them perfectly, but they immediately recognised by their unique style, in a unique realm encompassing aristocratic elegance, gangster chic and everything in between. Sicilians are the real people who make Sicily the special place it is.

Hilton Portorosa opens in Sicily

Hilton Portorosa, the only five star leisure and conference hotel in the north east region of the legendary island of Sicily, opened its doors this week, becoming the second Hilton hotel in Sicily and the second Hilton Worldwide Resort in Italy. The spectacularly located nine-storey new hotel is framed by a private sandy beach on one side and Sicily’s premier tourist port, the Portorosa Marina, on the other. The 263-room hotel boasts one of the largest conference facilities in Sicily. Welcoming the new addition to the Hilton family, President for Hilton Hotels Europe, Mr Wolfgang M. Neumann said, “This is an important hotel for us. Hilton Portorosa provides yet another exciting step in a growing network of 11 Hilton family of brand hotels in this country and it signals our second Hilton in Sicily, a destination that is fast becoming the newest getaway for seasoned travellers to Europe.“

Rates start from £146
per room per night inclusive of Hilton Breakfast and can be booked on Hilton.com/worldwideresorts.

Live like a Princess in Palermo

"Don't go to Palermo with an itinerary only, go with an open heart," pleads fashion designer Domenico Dolce. The co-founder of Dolce & Gabbana speaks of his home town with a passion shared by its patrician residents. Since the recent revival of Palermo as a tourist mecca, many leading families have decided to open their ancestral homes - and even their hearts - to the public. While most palaces are willing to hold wedding receptions and grand dinners, a select number now welcome paying guests. Even prestigious princes need to keep a (regularly restored) roof over their heads, and have to count the cost of cleaning priceless chandeliers and portable altars.
Sicily nurtures the seductive illusion that you are a treasured guest rather than a common tourist. But it may not be an illusion: Sicilian hospitality is legendary, as suffocatingly sweet as the local cassata sponge cake. These sumptuous palaces are genuine homes, even if it is a gothic pile with a baroque ballroom and medieval kitchen. As such, the pleasures are deeply domestic, with the chance to saunter from one scene to another, from balconies as private as boudoirs to the bustling market beyond the portals. Set amidst a jumble of eastern-style souks, tiny squares and scented gardens, these noble palaces present secret snapshots of the city.
The families are a delightful mixture of the imperious and the genuinely imperial, of desiccated old fogeys and dynamic entrepreneurs. Among the charming princesses and courtly, tweed-clad princes lurk occasional crashing snobs bound to their family tree. Rivalry is rife, if expressed in genteel terms, with gentle shrugs laced with wicked asides. Some nobles manage to move with the times while others are mired in the past, living off splendid memories when the Sicilian nobility was awash with servile retainers. But nowadays, even princesses remember to turn out the lights and turn down the bed-covers. Fortunately, Sicilian hospitality and family pride succeed in making duty seem like pleasure rather than an irksome chore. Life has moved on, and the liveried footmen may be borrowed, but the generous city spirit stays the same.
In Palermo's palaces, it may be a case of taking in lodgers in order to restore crumbling loggias. But, given a sultry night, swaying palms and a princely bedroom, the city works its seductive spell. Palermo then becomes a playground for the senses - possibly with a Gothic en-suite bathroom attached.

Aeolian Glamour

Stars are opting for Sicily’s exotic islands, lured by volcanic scenery, Moorish villas and citrus groves

The seven Aeolian Islands have a stark volcanic allure that make them a magnet for the beautiful people. There is a studied nonchalance about these islands, which feel both remote yet civilised. Arty sorts feel at home here, especially in pretty, oleander-bedecked Panarea, number one choice among Milanese fashionistas and young Italian hipsters.. This island is a delightfully decadent port of call for the yachties while still retaining a funky edge.

Neighbouring Filicudi has been in vogue since the 1960s and remains a sophisticated magnet for creative types, such as Italy’s influential designer Ettore Sottsass. Salina is the celebrity’s secret Aeolian island, an understated place, treasured for its traditional values. Picturesque yet private, the island was the setting for Il Postino, and is a favourite with Sean Connery, who loves the coffee and almond sorbets. Yet Salina has always had a blue-blooded image: once patronised by the Hapsburgs and Orleans dynasties, it was recently chosen as the scene of the 60th birthday celebrations for Albert, King of the Belgians.

Seduced By Sicily

Sicily becomes the latest target for Brits seeking the new Tuscany.

The young architect and broadcaster Charlie Luxton is feeling smug. There are few places greyer and chillier than London in February — but he and his wife, Kate, manager for an architectural salvage firm, are basking in Sicilian sunshine and Charlie is towelling off after a vigorous swim at the beach near their home. The couple, who are expecting a baby this summer, are part of a group of trendsetting young Brits who have discovered a hot spot they reckon is “the next Tuscany”: an “uncorrupted” area around the baroque cities of Noto and Syracuse, in southeast Sicily.

The advent of direct flights to the city of Catania, an hour’s drive from Noto, has helped this stretch of the island, rich in ruins for renovation, become a property magnet for British buyers, who have snapped up houses for as little as £30,000 in recent years.

David Harber, a sundial maker from Oxfordshire, spent £40,000 on 13 acres of olive, lemon and almond groves and a farm building outside Noto which he plans to convert into a holiday home for his family of six.

He sums up the appeal: “It is a romantic corner of Europe. We have friends buying in the southeast corner of Spain and we find visiting them depressing. There is no tourist developments to cater for northern Europeans. You don’t pay through your nose for a cup of coffee like you do in St Tropez. It’s an exquisite, simple, local culture.”

When they visited this part of Sicily three years ago, they fell in love with it. Despite both working in London, they couldn’t find a property “with potential” for a price they could afford, so instead plumped for Noto.

How much would a house like this have cost in Tuscany? “Maybe five times more,” says Charlie.

“Noto is just three hours away but it feels like it’s on the edge of Europe. It’s a Unesco world heritage site so there can’t be any modern tourist development. Architecturally, it’s stunning, baroque buildings in a soft sandstone that glows under the Sicilian sun. The 17th-century cathedral is being renovated and everything is looking better and better.” And at Vendicari, 10 minutes away, there’s a five-mile long nature reserve with an untouched strip of beach.

“It’s the stuff of dreams,” says Charlie, whose next BBC television project, A House in Time, to be shown later this year, follows the fortunes of seven homeowners who are renovating their homes.

Local estate agents confirm that in the past few years English buyers have followed in the footsteps of the Germans and Italians, who have been buying property on Sicily for several years. Pop star Mick Hucknall produces wine, known by the locals as Simply Red, from an 18th-century estate on the slopes of Mount Etna — but most are just looking for a holiday home or a renovation project.

Sicily is no longer a byword for backwardness and Mafia movies – the stars are backing Sicily by buying on these islands, says Lisa Gerard-Sharp, travel writer and author of "Insight Guide Sicily"

Living on top of an active volcano might not seem an obvious celebrity career move, but the explosive setting draws surprisingly mellow singers. Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall relishes his 18th-century wine estate on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. As for Madonna and Sting Pantelleria may be the singers favourite Sicilian island, to Giorgio Armani and Gérard Depardieu. As a passionate wine-maker, the French screen legend produces fine Passito wine on Pantelleria.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Dodging bullets

Today is a special day in my history of living Sicily. It was today that I received my first death threat from a local mafioso, and I intend to wear this as a "badge of honour". This is like a coming of age for a Sicilian I think, you can never stand up and proudly call yourself a man until some local, illiterate, goat appreciating, low level member of the mafia has threatened to blow your head off with his rabbit hunting rifle.

One of the greatest pleasures in life is to drive around the amazing Sicilian countryside. For a lover of nature and rural driving Sicily, is savagely beautiful, with its mountain ranges meeting the crystal clear Mediterranean water. Conversley, one of the greatest dangers in life is to actually drive anywhere in Sicily. Driving is truly a contact sport for the Sicilians. In a land where acquiring a driving license in as easy as waking up in the morning, travelling 100 km without seeing at least one or two accidents is the exception, not the norm.

This weekend, we decided to take a "working" tour of the wineries and agriturismi surrounding the Mount Etna area. We are organising a tour for 25 wine and food lovers coming from Malta over Easter ready to indulge themselves in the finest, authentic Sicilian produce and wine. So in the name of research and preparation we spent a weekend of tastings and samplings. Life can be hard sometimes.

While driving to inspect a beautiful agriturismo property amidst the spectacular Alcantara Gorges, located down one side of the smouldering Etna, it was necessary for us to take a narrow, winding country road. Behind me was an amazingly fat man in an amazingly small Ape (the gravity defying three wheeled mini pick up tucks found all over Sicily), blaring his horn in an incredible display of impatience. You need to be aware that these Ape's have an engine not much larger than the average lawn mower, so to one trying to overtake you akin to you driving as fast as granny on a church day.

Admittedly, we were driving slow, not only because of the dangerous, narrow and winding road, but also because of the incredible view that the gorges offered us in the distance. One never ceases to be amazed at the incredible natural beauty of Sicily.

As we turned a blind corner we were faced bumper to bumper with an old Sicilian man in his little white VW bug. Fortunately we stopped within millimetres of the VW, but unfortunately for the man in the Ape behind us, who we shall refer to endearingly as "uomo grasso", he didn't appear to have the luxury of brakes, preferring, I believe, the Fred Flintstone method of stopping his vehicle. As a result he ploughed into a stone wall next to us to our right. Remember the top speed of these Ape's is about as fast as a sloth on valium, so you would expect the damage to be minimal. Not so, the windscreen shattered like a match stick. Although this was probably because the vehicle was indeed constructed with match sticks.

Out emerged our "uomo grasso", and with his large, but malleable figure quickly retaking the form of a vaguely human shape after having a shape similar to the outline of the small drivers compartment of the Ape he was in, he loudly and aggressively remonstrated with us, blaming us for his stupidity and sheer madness in trying to overtake on a blind narrow corner - and in an Ape for god's sake!

Within minutes, as always happens anywhere in Sicily, 10 curious onlookers popped up. It seems no matter where you are in Sicily, you could be in the remotest corner of the island, and if an accident occurs, 10 people will always pop up to offer their "help" and opinions. This appears to be one their national sports and pastimes. Where these people came, I have no idea. We were in the countryside, miles from any village.

One of the onlookers, took us aside and said something along the lines of the fact that our "uomo grasso" was only a poor, simple peasant, and we should feel sorry for him. In fact, we should offer him a small amount of money to help him as he will not be able to afford to repair his working truck, the Ape. At this stage, we were thinking that maybe 20 or 30 euro would be a good an kind hearted gesture. As long as he didn't spent it on hamburgers, I would have been happy. The "small amount" that the onlooker was referring to was not 20 or 30 euro but 700 euro!. And he said this with a totally straight face. We couldn't help but burst out laughing at this proposal. I was laughing until I realised that I was in a foreign country, in a foreign place, with little language skills, in a remote country road, with about 10 hardcore, native, dialect speaking Sicilian men staring at me as if I was Marilyn Monroe with a two day growth, next to one of their "brothers" in a smashed-up working truck. It then dawned upon me that laughing in their faces was not necessarily a smart, or life-extending, thing to do.

These were situations that Alice had warned be about living in Sicily. No one can hear you scream and no one will know you are gone.

Although we dropped the laughing routine we still kept up our bravado, this is Sicily after all, and said that we were happy to pay the 700 euro if that is what the insurance company says and we will call the police now to adjudge the situation.

At that stage, "uomo grasso" told us to forget about it and leave - Now! No doubt because he lacked any insurance or registration at all for his Ape. Taking our cue we jumped straight back in the car and drove off within a microsecond, but not before "uomo grasso" had threatened to execute us Sicilian style (whatever that means, and I do not intend not speculate) in the heaviest Sicilian dialect I have ever heard.

We did get out of this situation alive, and there was probably never any real danger, but in Sicily you just never know. This is a harsh land. Maybe that is why I feel such an affinity and connection with it. The harshness of the Australian countryside, while very different, evokes similar emotions. It is the feeling that Sicily is not for beginners - it is a wild place with danger yet incredible beauty and immense satisfaction. To conquer Sicily is to conquer life.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Sicily's Etna volcano spouts 'fountain of lava'

ROME (AFP) - Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, spouted a "fountain of lava" early Thursday before slipping back into its fitful slumber, a spokeswoman of Italy's vulcanology institute said.

"The eruption, a fountain of lava, lasted about an hour and happened in an uninhabited area," the spokeswoman told AFP by telephone from Catania, a town on the east coast of Sicily about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Etna.

"We also saw two (lava) flows, one of which was very weak," she said, adding that they were proceeding down the mountain at a rate of about 10 metres (35 feet) per hour.

A small cloud of ash produced by the eruption is floating towards the Italian mainland, she added.

Mount Etna was last active in December, spewing clouds of ash and causing the closure of Catania airport for about two weeks.

The volcano, which is 3,295 meters (10,800 feet) high, had been dormant since July 2006.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Sicilian blondes

Recently, while enjoying dinner at a seaside restaurant in Mondello, outside Palermo, I noticed that the four women at the next table --all forty-ish with dark brown eyes and equally dark eyebrows-- were all "blonde." Not genuine blondes, but blondes having hair of a colour not found in nature. All four seemed to be married to the men they were with; two had young children with them. I whispered to my friend, a brunette businesswoman in her early forties, that the four wives, when observed together, were a strange sight. "Ah," she responded, "quella è la Palermo Bene." In other words, being a financially well-off man in Palermo meant that you could achieve your dream of a blonde wife!

Sicily has its natural blondes, of course, even if they're a small minority among waves of dark brunettes. It's also interesting that most of the foreign brides in Sicily seem to be natural blondes, even though the countries they come from (Russia, Romania, etc.) boast plenty of attractive brunettes and redheads. Ebony and auburn, it seems, don't hold much appeal for the typical Sicilian man. But blonde as a status symbol? In 2005? This piqued my curiosity.

In interviewing a number of Sicilian men, I was surprised to learn how many otherwise educated, astute Palermitans and Catanians didn't just prefer blondes but were actually obsessed with having a "real" one. For many, a local "bottle blonde" was the next best thing --a kind of mediocre "consolation prize" in place of the real deal.

As a dark brunette "mora" ("Moorish-haired" woman), I have to admit that I found their remarks a little offensive, perhaps indicating a certain masculine superficiality. But taste is taste. It's interesting that one of Versace's bestselling fragrances (in a bottle similar to the one on this page) is called "Blonde." Well, one imagines that the Versace organisation could have chosen something like "Brunette" but maybe there's a psychology associated with the perfume's name.

One man actually confided that a woman's "intimate" blondness was even more intriguing than the long ocks cascading over her shoulders, and an object of envy for other Italian men. His comment reminded me of the story of Marilyn Monroe making herself "all blonde" long before baring all was a routine career move.

At that point, however, I ceased my informal "research" with the men. Things were getting too bizarre. So I queried a few women. The pseudo-blonde women I spoke to (all between 30 and 45) invariably responded with vague replies referring to "change" or to a husband's preference.

One particularly candid "bottle blonde," a single woman who prefers a strange shade of platinum, went so far as to suggest that being blonde was part of a certain mentality, a state of mind inducting the pseudo-blonde into a kind of elite sorority where a privileged life awaited. On the other side of the aisle, few Sicilian men go blonde, though many paunchy, middle-aged males of varying social status dye their hair in a lame attempt to project grayless youth. (Among Italy's current crop of national politicians, Silvio Berlusconi and Romano Prodi stand out in this regard, but they are hardly alone.)

Outside Italy, several sociological studies of the attitudes of Italian immigrants and their immediate descendants (in places like the United States) over the last fifty years reveal blondeness as a social aspiration. It's surprising to encounter the same kind of thing here in Italy, but one of the women interviewed remarked that --years ago-- being a fake blonde implied the wealth necessary to afford the then-costly bleaching process, and that the old attitude continued to flourish even when hair coloring became affordable. This brings to mind the popular Eduardo De Filippo film Napoli Milionaria, in which a Neapolitan man returns home from the Second World War to discover that the newly-blonde women of his family and neighborhood are making a good living servicing American soldiers, who, if one is to accept the movie's cynical point of view, preferred blondes to brunettes.

There aren't many conclusions to be drawn from all this. It's one thing when a woman with sandy or ashen hair lightens it a shade or two, but why would a dark-haired woman want to become an unnatural orange-blonde? A male friend made an interesting point. He said that he couldn't imagine dark Italian beauties like and Monica Bellucci and Maria Grazia Cucinotta (both married) going blonde just to be "different" or to please a man. So in the end perhaps it's all a question of self-image.

Source : Best of Sicilian, Author : Maria Luisa Romano

Thursday, 1 March 2007

smoking hot

Source : Sydney Morning Herald

Stromboli's volcano has been erupting again, and for Andrew Bain the news brings a desire to return to the island.

ON THE Italian island of Stromboli, the so-called Lighthouse of the Mediterranean, even the most ordinary night is a natural spectacular. As Europe's most active volcano, the island has been in permanent eruptive activity for centuries.

Molten fireworks shoot into the night sky and explosions reverberate around the island - and these are in its quiet times.

Regularly the island experiences greater eruptions, most recently a fortnight ago when two lava flows poured down the mountain and into the Mediterranean. In 2003, during Stromboli's last major eruption, rocks fell on homes and into the sea, creating a tidal wave that washed over shoreline houses.

In between these two eruptions I visited Stromboli, where it was clear that even when slumbering, this mountain is restless.

Stromboli is one of seven islands that make up the Aeolian archipelago off Sicily's north coast. Each island is a volcano, though most are dormant. Vulcano, the island that gave its name to all volcanoes, fizzes and steams in a sulphurous stench, but Stromboli is the Aeolian's true firebrand.

Crouched bravely at the foot of Stromboli's 924-metre-high mountain are three villages that merge into one. Their beaches are as black as tar, and their lanes so narrow that golf buggies serve as their taxis. In 1930, following a large eruption, the villages saw a near-exodus. In contrast, it's the very promise of volcanic activity that now brings thousands of visitors into the villages each year.

The volcano was what lured me here, and at the villages' end I began walking along the mule trail that led up the mountain. Before the 2003 eruption, visitors could follow the trail to the summit, wandering around the boiling craters that even then spat out rocks like popcorn.

After the eruption, climbing beyond a point 400 metres above sea level was prohibited, although hikers with licensed guides were again allowed back to the summit in 2005. Ascending through wild flowers, the trail quickly came to the edge of Stromboli's most remarkable sight: the black abrasion of the Sciara del Fuoco, a lava path that is slowly cannibalising the island, nibbling it away eruption by eruption. Every few minutes an explosion shook the mountain, bouncing rocks down the Sciara del Fuoco and into the sea.

I climbed higher and a larger bang sounded, followed by an avalanche of boulders. A rock as big as a car bounced no more than 100 metres from where I stood, enveloping me in a fog of dust. Even if I'd been allowed higher on the mountain, I was no longer daring. I'd prefer now to view it from the sea.

Evening and irony descended together over Stromboli. On the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean none of the lanes were lit, so that moonless nights were almost unremittingly dark. Visitors carried torches to restaurants, and about the only glow on the island came from the summit of the volcano.

On such a night I walked a dark course to the island pier, where I hired a fisherman to take me out to sea. Several hundred metres offshore from the Sciara del Fuoco we watched tracer bullets of molten rock shoot across the sky. To me it was an incredible sight - fireworks with attitude - but to the fisherman it was a humdrum disappointment. "Not much activity tonight," he said apologetically.

When it was erupting, he assured me, lava streamed down the Sciara del Fuoco like a waterfall from hell, the sea boiling and steaming at its feet.

As he talked, I felt the urge to return to Stromboli even before I'd left, to see this volcano in the fiery fury of an eruption. In the last few days I have missed an opportunity, but there will almost certainly be others.