Saturday, December 29, 2007

A little longer than expected

Snowstorms have gotten the airlines all screwed up. Somehow I've ended up in Dallas. Things like this shouldn't happen. 8am flight to Raleigh tomorrow. Should be painless. No weather down here. Downright balmy in NC if I believe the weather report. This is probably the most amateurishly run, unprofessional hotel I've ever stayed in. But after I found my room hadn't been cleaned from the night before, I asked for another one, and somehow ended up in the luxury suite. Kitchenette that I'm not going to use, king size bed, that I'll only use a tiny bit of, and a hot tub/shower that I might just have to go ahead and use. Even if I have now officially been awake for 24 hours.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I made it to Napoli. I'm pretty impressed with the hostel I've landed in. No real plans, really. We'll see what happens!

Friday, December 14, 2007


I´m here. I´m in a hostel. They have free internet. Their keyboard is a little fucked up. It´s late, so even though I´m not particularly tired I think I´m going to go to bed.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Per Caso

Here's why I like Catania. It's Sunday night. I'm getting antsy for lack of exercise. I need a walk. I go out and head downtown. The streets are packed, and I mean packed full of people. Ok it's Christmas shopping season. But it's kind of cool that things are so lively. With everything open improbably until 8 on a Sunday night, all the Christmas lights, the people in cafes and bars and crowding the streets, it feels like a big party. I don't feel like doing anything complicated for dinner so I just get an arancino. Then I go wandering about a bit more and by chance run into a couple of guys I met the other night at Indigena and then at the Blonde Redhead concert. I join them and we have a beer. They play in a band here that's going to be touring the US in March. They're playing SXSW. I've never been to Austin. You should come out for SXSW then, they say. Idle chatter, probably. That's a lot of money. And time. And I will have just had a three month vacation. But, you never know. We wander down towards the Teatro Bellini which is covered with Christmas lights and is blaring opera at incredible volume into the square, which sounds like it would be obnoxious, but it's actually quite nice. It turns out none of the three guys I'm with have ever been inside the place. I've been inside once, to see Tosca with Christa and Mary, but Rosa (the professor's wife) was terribly disappointed afterwards when I told her we had gone to our seats, watched the show, and then left without exploring the building--we supposedly missed some cool stuff. They're giving small guided tours of the place, so we go inside. This is exciting. I'm with locals who have now also become tourists. There's a fairly impressive salon that I hadn't seen before. Very fancy. That was about it. Another beer in another place. We chat about a lot of stuff, but one thing I hear about is the Benedectine monastery and the crazy unfinished church there in Piazza Dante, which already is one of the most impressive building complexes I've seen in Catania from the outside. (No picture--Laura was the only visitor I managed to make it over there with, sorry.) Apparently there is a whole series of tunnels underground that exploit the existing roman city that modern Catania was built on top of, that go all sorts of places, and there's lots of strange stories. He offers to show me around sometime and so we make a tentative appointment for Wednesday lunch time. Then home. It's nice to be out and about with the locals. I don't know very many people here, so it's pretty cool that I can run into them by chance and we can go out and have a good time. That's all. Good night.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


Man am I incazzato. I was all geared up to watch the Catania vs Lazio match in the series A championship. I found out what channel it would be on, Mediaset 1, and turned it on well before the game and left it on while I did other things. At some point I realized the game should have been on already and I started poking around. As near as I can tell the game is actually on a Mediaset premium channel that requires a subscription. The only coverage of the game I can find is a local channel that has a graphic with the logos of both teams and then a terrible sounding audio feed with someone in the stadium. Occasionally, and I shit you not, they cut to a TV studio where there's a guy watching the game on a TV that we can't see and who talks to the guy out in the stadium. Ridiculous! I can't watch the game but I can watch a guy who's watching the game! How am I supposed to root for the local sports team? I presume the rights to broadcast the game are owned by Mediaset, which is owned by Berlusconi, who is a stronzo, so there you go. Grrrr. Fanculo.

Anyway, Catania was not favored to win and they didn't. No big surprises. It's cold out and raining. Bahh.

Photos Updated

Photos are all up to date on my site. I'd write more but the sun just came out and I feel like going outside. More later.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Tonight I went to go see Blonde Redhead with some friends. I enjoyed them in a nice background music to my thoughts kind of way. Anyway, you basically know what you're getting into with them at this point. I paid too much, but there's a dearth of concerts here and it was an excuse to go out with people. I met some new folks and had a good time. A good evening on the balance of things.

Now, last night, I was watching TV and this movie came on. An animated movie from 1968. ViP Mio Fratello Superuomo. I probably can't really explain it. It was very 60s. A little psychedelic. Comic. Ironic. Heartwarming. Social messages. It came on late so I fell asleep before it finished, but I think I need to track this down and watch it all the way through. I don't think I can explain how awesome it is, and I don't know if there's a version with English subtitles or not, but trust me. It's cool.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Petralia Soprana

Some things just have to be done. There are places that are just darned inconvenient to get to by bus. One of those places is Petralia Soprana. Petralia Soprano and her twin sister down the mountain, Petralia Sottana, are located right on the edge of the Madonie mountain range and a state park. I thought it would be good to give it a visit since my great grandfather was born there. Richard, an optimal travel companion, was amenable to an adventure to the remote interior of Sicily and happily shot photo after photo to record the experience.

First, we needed a car.

When I saw the Smart Fortwo on the list of cars I could rent, I snapped it up. We'd been seeing them around and had been curious about what they were like, so I thought I'd get some hands one experience with one. This blog post isn't about the Smart, though. Let's just say, yes, it's really tiny. It doesn't have much acceleration, but the gas mileage is damn good, it goes fast enough, and it doesn't complain at all about climbing and descending steep mountain roads.

The terrain south of Catania is a vast, rich fertile plain full of citrus and olive orchards.

As you travel west the terrain becomes hillier and more barren.

As you're getting close to the Petralie (there are two of them), you see the edge of the Madonie mountain range.

Then you see Petralia Sottana, the lower of the two Petralie.

To get to Petralia Soprana, you first drive through Petralia Sottana and then past the entrance to a state park.

What we found when we got there is a tiny medieval town on top of a mountain. At one end you can walk out of the city through the castle, now a church, onto a ridge with a nice view of the countryside.

First things first, though, we needed some lunch. There seemed to be one trattoria in town, so we decided to give it a shot. As we would learn from talking to Salvatore, da Salvatore is listed in both the Slow Food and Gambero Rosso guides. For lunch there were a handful of locals and then Richard and I. Before we left we had said at least a few words to just about everyone in the place. As it turns out, every single person we encountered in this tiny town was incredibly nice and friendly. I don't know if I've ever been to such a friendly town. As far as the food goes, we had some pasta that was just fine but didn't knock my socks off--ziti in a spicy tomato sauce with olives and capers. The best part of the meal was actually the appetizer, the antipasto rustico, which for uninteresting reasons we ate after the pasta. It was a mix of a bunch of different things, mostly all gathered, grown or produced in the immediate vicinity. Several different varietys of mushrooms, a few different cheeses, some salame piccante, pickled onions (sounds terrible, tastes wonderful), zucchine, etc. It was very fresh, simple and, well, rustic. More or less what people have been eating there for centuries.

We talked to Salvatore a bit. Apparently I'm not the first American to go there to see where my ancestors are from. In fact, Salvatore pulled out a binder filled with business cards from Americans who'd come to Petralia Soprana because their ancestors are from there. I was just one of many. Salvatore showed us some literature about Petralia Soprana and directed us to a newspaper stand and a tourist office where we could get some phamplets. Both of these were still closed at 4:45 when we left. Oh well.

After lunch we did a little more exploring of the town. There's not muc to it, so it didn't take very long to see. It's a pretty town, though. Founded in 1300 or so, it still retains the feel of a medieval town.

After our brief, pleasant stay in Petralia Soprana we made a quick run over to Caltagirone on the way home.

Then we ate sandwhiches and went home. We managed to drive all over Sicily in a tiny toy of a car without incident (except getting mad at road signs). Success!

Isole dei Ciclopi

So one day I noticed that the local city bus, 534, said "Aci Trezza" on it. Aci Trezza is a little town just up the coast from Catania which has now been made a part of Aci Castello. The 534 bus line, it seemed went through Aci Castello all the way up to Aci Trezza and then turned around and came back all the way to the south end of Catania. Aci Trezza is where we had heard the islands of the cyclopses were, as well as the museum of the sea and a protected marine reserve with flora and fauna unique to that zone. So, with an 80 cent bus ticket and some time to kill, we decided to go check it out. We rode the 534 all the way to the end of the line, got off, and walked half a block to the waterfront, and there the were. Le isole dei ciclopi. The very rocks thrown into the water by Polyphemus after being blinded by Odysseus. (Or lavic formations from an underwater volcano--which story do you like better?)

We ate a sandwhich and wandered around a bit. It was pretty but the place was pretty dead, there was a visitor center but it was closed. It looked as though the tourist boats had all been drydocked for the season. So although there were rumors of a museum of the sea and glass bottom boats to view the unique flora and fauna, all we found was a quiet seafront and some cute feral kittens.

On the bus ride back we did get off in Aci Castello and saw the Norman castle there. It is built on a cliffside of black lava rock overlooking the sea. It was pretty, too, but we didn't get any pictures. On the whole, a nice, pleasant, relaxed day.

Monday, November 26, 2007

More Thanksgiving

So Richard and I had a Sicilian-American Thanksgiving themed Sunday dinner for which we invited over the Professor and his wife. For the first course, I made pasta alla zucca. (Zucca is pumpkin, basically. Although the species grown here for eating looks a little different from the species we grow in the US for making jack-o-lanterns. See above photo.) For a second course, I made involtini di tacchino, again. This time I remembered the broth and toned down the rosemary a bit and they came out even better than the dry run on Thursday. (Involtini are some sort of meat or fish rolled up with some sort of filling, usually cheese and herbs, sometimes bread crumbs. They are very sicilian--I don't believe they're common outside of Sicily. Sword fish and veal are both very common types of involtini. The sword fish seems to always be covered and filled with breadcrumbs.) These particular ones I made were turkey, speck (sort of a smoky prosciutto), and a mixture of a couple of dry, grated cheeses with rosemary, salt, and pepper. Richard made some very tasty mashed potatoes, despite a lack of milk or cream in the house, improvising a mixture of salt, parsely, roasted garlic, rosemary, and probably one or two other things I didn't see him put in there. The professor and his wife were suitably impressed that a couple of young American man actually knew how to cook and could do it well.

The professor brought some red wine from Taormina that was one of the nicest wines I've had so far. I think it was probably a new wine. The professor, himself, is quite the dessert chef. He made us cuore calde (warm hearts)--a kind of small chocolate cake kind of thing with warm liquid chocolate inside. (Hence the name.) He also brought us quite an assortment of small cannoli of various flavors. The colpo di grazia were some that he made especially for Richard, showing off his flair for creativity and willingness to take risks, with chocolate on the ends and a surprise of cayenne pepper inside the ricotta filling. They turned out to be delicious with the pepper really complimenting the chocolate.

The professor was taking pictures of the whole thing, and when he sends me copies, I might even post them in this here blog. In the end, were all full, a little drunk, and happy. After a short walk and a short nap, Richard and I met the professor for a wine tasting at the fanciest hotel in town, which also happens to be about two blocks away from our house. We were very under dressed but no one seemed to mind. The professor had been invited in a professional capacity as someone involved in the tourism industry and we got to tag along as his guests. Some company had bought vineyards all over Italy and was producing a number of different wines from a number of different regions. The wine tasting was a publicity effort on their part, to get hotels and B&Bs, etc, to buy their wines. They were ok, but none of them were knocking my socks off. When I mentioned that to the professor, he explained to me that they were pasteurized--the heat had a tendency to kill whatever made a wine taste unique and special. I had never really thought about it before and wondered how many wines I drink are pasteurized. No idea.

Richard and I capped off the night at a smoky club downtown drinking beer and watching some local jazz musicians tear up their instruments until pretty late. The band was very good, for what it was, and it was all very warm and pleasant.

Wow, that sounds like a pretty good day once I write it all out!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cross Reference

Brian Risk has some posts on his blog that might be of interest to readers of this blog.
I especially like the picture of Etna from the second post.

The Valley of the Gods!

Bonjourno! Can you spot the American in this picture?

Chris and I spent the day in Agrigento, aka the Valley of the Gods! The scenery proved to be worth a long bus ride with bad music. We got some good views of the temple of Concord, the best preserved Greek ruin in Sicily. The Byzzantines repurposed it as a cathedral to St. Paul a few centuries after the big AD, filling in the columns with supporting walls that likely spared it the earthquake destruction that befell the temples of Juno and Hercules, also in the valley.

These doric temples get their red color from the indigenous sandstone, a very crumbly rock. Here's a clever little photo of the aforementioned temple of Juno; its ruins are at the top of the hill in the background.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Here is our traditional thanksgiving octopus. Actually, this will be our thanksgiving lunch tomorrow. We cooked them and stuffed them into a cut-open water bottle to cool overnight. tomorrow we will cut the mass of them into octopus slices, full of tentacles and delicious octopus body. These are much more managable than the five-pound octopus the vendor tried to sell Chris originally. In the wild, it would have frightened me.
Since we woke up a little too late to complete this, we baked some fish for lunch and invite over Chris's downstairs neighbor, an American from Chicago who has been teaching English here for the past 25 years. Thanksgiving started around 1:30, consisted of multiple courses and a bottle of wine, and concluded with a little nap and an Italian-overdubbed He-Man cartoon. Oh, Orko, will you ever cease your bumbling ways.

Tonight we are preparing turkey for real, and dinner is soon. Ciao.

Cosa mi dici di bello?

It looks like we're a little behind on our blogging. Let's see if I can catch us up. On Monday we went to Taormina. We saw the Greco-Roman theater.

Then we climbed Mt. Tauro.

That was a pretty good hike, but we just didn't feel like we were, well, high enough. And since the Saracene castle was closed (like it always is, it seems), we figured we'd get a better view if we hiked up to Castelmola. From there we could look down into the Saracene castle.

We also found a good spot to watch the sunset.

I think we might have died and gone to heaven.

Then we came back down to earth.

We finished off the day with some home made pasta alla norma.

The next day we went for a ride on the Circumetnea railroad. It's sort of like the Chatanooga Choo Choo only more lava.

And prickly pears.

When we were done with that we went back to Al Gabbiano where I had the best fish meal I'd had since the last time I went to Al Gabbiano. Brian and I ate spaghetti in black cuttlefish ink.

And then Richard and I ate barbecued squid.

In the end we were happy, sleepy and full. Very, very full.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Update on the trash strike. I just heard them empty the dumpster on our street. Yes!

Monday, November 19, 2007


This poor girl--not only has she embarrassed herself by bowling in the improper lane, but her lacy unmentionables have taken this as the moment to fall down. A perfect moment capture by a genius artist!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lazy Sunday

Yes, we did indeed walk to the coast. And while there we took advantage of the scenery to shoot the dustjacket photos for our upcoming biographies, Brian Risk's A Life Lived on the Edge and Chris Rossi's A Man Undaunted. Sicily's coastline, like its cartoons, is filled with inexplicable bulges. Featured dishes were a whole roasted artichoke bought from a street vendor (and full of butter and parsley) and sicilian pizza, a savory doughnut-like disk filled with anchovies and cheese.

Walk to the coast

Stone Arch
Chris an Richard laugh at death.

I've finally started to remember to bring my camera, have it charged and am thinking of some photos here and there. Today was another walk to the coast. In the 1600's (I believe), Catania was burried in lava -- about this much lava. Smart cars are everywhere. So are Mooninites.

Catania bars

Duff Tavern

A lot of taverns around here have themes. We ended up stopping at a Communist-themed bar (don't tell McCarthey) , and rather than being filled with Hippies, it seemed to be the more family oriented spot we would visit. Richard and I are in a beer mood and, perhaps out of laziness, Chris suggests that rather than ordering three beers, we order one large beer.

Huge beer

What we got was an obelisk of shame. When they hauled this thing in, every other customer turned to see who the garish twats were that would actually pick such an eyesore from the menu. Chris is notably shamed. I tell him we should tell the waitress there was some sort of mistake in ordering, that we are Americans and that we were expecting something bigger.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Morning Shopping, How Much for a Kilo of Democracy?

Clearly I should have sucked it up before I left and bought a new digital camera. This morning, after kind of a late start, I hopped the bus downtown so I could buy some food for dinner at the pescheria. As I came up on Piazza Duomo I was surprised to find the square filled with garbage trucks and a bunch of workers standing in front of the municipal building. A sanitation worker's strike? Let's hope they resolve it soon! If Grady thinks the city is dirty now, just see what happens if they don't empty the dumpsters for a day or two.

I've done some peeking around on the web but haven't yet turned up a news story that tells me what's going on. Maybe the TV will tell me. Anyway, it's always interesting to see street level democracy in action. I keep meaning to dig up more info on what was being protested at that march we ran across in Palermo, but don't yet have a handle on what the issues are. It wasn't really anything to do with tuition, like Christa suggested, since there is no tuition here. I think it's more to do with new labor laws that remove some protections for students and other "precarious" workers, meaning low end, unsteady employment, workers. I think.

The Palermo protest didn't seem to be a real big deal. It did get about 4 seconds of coverage on the news that night, but for a huge city like Palermo, the number of people participating was minuscule. Despite posters everywhere calling for a general strike on that day, I didn't see a single business closed, giving the impression that this was an event for only the most left of the left that had failed to grab any real popular support. Add this to the fact that the posters and slogans covered such a broad spectrum of leftist issues that any coherent political message was lost. I've seen the same thing in the US. You can have a protest about the Iraq war and there will be groups there marching in support of saving the manatees. Just stay on topic, people. This also helped add to my confusion about what it as they were actually marching about. Yes, I know, we're all in favor of worker's rights, safer working conditions, better access to food, housing, medical care, etc... But what exactly do you want right now, in concrete terms, at this moment? Oh well.

Cosa Nostra on the way out?

So, I keep meaning to write a longer piece about what's going on with the fight against the mafia in Sicily, but just keep not getting around to it, so I thought I'd do just a quicky instead. This is a fairly interesting time for Sicily right now. Three years ago there was a convention in Palermo for merchants and civic leaders to come together and talk about how to fight against the mafia. No one came. The very day after Mary, Christa and I were in Palermo, they held the same convention in Teatro Biondo (we passed by there at some point) and the place was packed. Palermitans are finally finding the courage to openly defy the mob. This is big. It's probably no coincidence that it was also about three years ago that the organization Addiopizzo got off the ground. They now have a roll of 209 businesses that refuse to pay protection money (pizzo) and 9105 consumers who have enrolled to boycott businesses that do. If you can cut off the pizzo, the mafia starves.

Only a few days before we went to Palermo, police managed to capture the current boss of the entire Sicilian mafia, capo di tutti i capi, Salvatore Lo Piccolo--he had been wanted for arrest for 25 years. There doesn't seem to be anyone ready to step in and take his place. The mafia also finds itself headless for the time being. (This could also lead to wars and power struggles among rival factions--who knows?) They arrested Lo Piccolo at a meeting of several bosses to go over finances--police managed to capture their entire budget, including every pizzo, complete with names and addresses. A single supermarket was paying 5000 euro a month, alone. Including were also members of Addiopizzo who were being slated for punishment. A punishment that now, hopefully, won't take place. In the following days even more arrests have been made, based largely on the evidence seized at Lo Piccolo's arrest--a veritable gold mine of information.

Individuals have tried to defy mafia before. 16 years ago, a textiles manufacturer, Libero Grassi, stood up to the mafia. He was killed. But he stood alone. No one else had the courage to stand with him. Now, with Addiopizzo gaining ground, the success of the convention last week, and the arrest of several high ranking mafiosi, it looks Sicily might finally be seeing the right combination of commercial, civic, state, and law enforcement efforts to finally put an end to the crippling economic hegemony of the mob. One person alone can't take on the mob, but all of these people working together probably can. There's still a long way to go and no way to predict how it will all go, but for now, at least, things are looking pretty optimistic.

Got any raisins? How about a date?

So, some of you have seen those fruits dangling from some of the palm trees around here, asked me what they were, and seen me shrug my shoulders. For a while, though, the word "date palm" has been circulating around in my brain and so I've finally did a Wikipedia lookup and have confirmed that indeed, the mystery fruit growing everywhere in huge bunches on those palm trees--those are dates. Here's the Wikipedia article.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I'm so hungry I could eat a horse

Even the most inattentive among us probably has some vague sense that food is related to culture. We talk about going out to a Mexican restaurant or a Chinese restaurant. We have some idea that people from different parts of the world cook things differently, although in the American culinary landscape it would seem almost to be a matter of a few different spices, maybe a different way of preparing something, but rarely something beyond a different flavor of an already familiar food. Maybe tonight you can have a chicken burrito, or maybe sweet and sour chicken, or curry chicken, or barbecued chicken, etc.... We all agree for the most part that chicken is part of the wider family of objects and materials that we like to think of as food.

What a lot of people don't realize or haven't had a chance to pick up on is culture determines far more than just how we prepare food--it also determines what we consider to be food in the first place. On a friend of mine's blog, she talks about eating live ants that taste like lemon in Ecuador. It only seems weird if you're not from Ecuador. Many Asians, I've heard, that don't use dairy in their native cuisines find cheese to be horribly disgusting. Whereas I think it's delicious.

Which is all just a long way of getting around to the fact that in Sicily and other parts of southern Italy, I hear, people eat horse. I've never seen it on a restaurant menu but I've seen people grilling it up fresh out on the street and serving it on rolls. I've seen horse butchers and I've even seen horse sausages. In fact, horse, is one of the many things I see sold as food that I don't see served in restaurants. (Evidence that restaurants only represent a certain aspect of the cuisine of a culture. Think about what you eat in restaurants in your home town and then think about what you actually prepare to eat at home. Not the same things are they?) Although there's no biological reason not to, we Americans have a tendency not to eat horse. We simply don't think of horses as food. If you haven't been brought up to consider horses to be a food source, you might even balk, psychologically, at the thought of eating horse. Whereas no one around here would give it a second thought.

I myself spent six months in Sicily in 2001 and have made a few trips back since and have never actually tasted any horse. I've known it was available but it was never served to me and, well, I just hadn't really been brought up to consider horse as an option for dinner. I had never tried it. It occurred to me that that was kind of silly. Curiosity got the better of me so at the supermarket I bought the smallest package I could find of horse meat. I don't need a lot. There's only one of me. It was about 250 grams--two very thinly sliced steaks. It looks a lot like beef but the color is different. Redder. And yellower, kind of, at the same time. I figure if it looks like steak I'll cook it like steak so I planned to pan fry it like I would a similar cut of beef, with a little salt, pepper and olive oil. I also prepared a sauce based very loosely on Argentinian chimichurri. Chopped parsely, garlic, red pepper, olive oil and lemon juice, served raw. Sort of a South American pesto, if you will. It's supposed to have onion in it but I didn't have any lying around. I think I probably used too much garlic, or something. It has so much bite to it that almost hurts to eat it. We'll see how it does in the fridge for a day or two. Maybe it needs to soak in that oil for a bit to mellow it.

As far as the horse meat--tasted like beef. I mean, not exactly like beef, but not different enough that I probably couldn't slip it to you with you even realizing it. Probably leaner than beef. You're not likely to make any horse burgers any time soon. Not enough fat. But, yeah, no big deal. The biggest obstacle is psychological more than anything else. In the end, I'm glad that I've been able to give myself a new experience, and to try something else that is indicative of the region--even if I have no idea, honestly, how the locals would have prepared it. The Professor seemed to think pan frying it was a perfectly reasonable idea, although I bet he's never had chimichurri on his horse. The professor says horse is actually a good food to feed to sick people, especially those that are anemic--it's easy to digest and has lots of blood which is good for our blood. (Lots of iron.) For dessert, a couple of Mandarin oranges from the market that are out of this world delicious.

In conclusion, I'm happy that I could I give myself this experience--taking a beautiful, strong and noble animal and devouring it. I didn't find it to be any better or any worse than an average steak experience. Actually, I'd probably prefer the beef steak. But there certainly seems to be no reason not eat it. If for no other reason than variety. Which, the nutritionists say, is good for us.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Al Gabbiano

On my first trip to Catania I was lucky enough to be taken to a local fish restaurant called "Al Gabbiano." It was there that I tried for the first time, Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia. Of course, it was immediately obvious to me that the food here was good, but it took eating at several other places in Catania and Sicily to realize just how good and special this place really is. Although it has been my intention to bring everyone who visits here, due to sickness, weather, and circumstances in general, it wasn't until this past Saturday night that I finally got over there, with Christa and Mary in tow.

Interestingly, this place has yet to show up in anyone's guide books. Maybe it's because menuwise, their offerings are so typically local, so narrowly traditional, that folks have just missed it, not realizing the hidden treasure. Of course, it's just as well, really, because the locals know all about it and would probably prefer that I stop telling other people--it's packed every night, and its clientele is almost exclusively local. What makes Al Gabbiano special is not what they prepare, which is largely the same stuff you can get in any other local sicilian trattoria, but the fact they hands down make it better than any other place in town. Well, that I'm aware of at any rate. Maybe they get the freshest fish of anybody in town or maybe they have some secrets that don't leave their kitchen. I don't know why. The end result, though, is that it's just uniformly delicious. And if you want an authentic Sicilian experience, you need to eat the traditional cuisine at least once. You wouldn't let someone visit NC without eating the BBQ would you?

When you walk in, the first thing you'll see is a large table covered with fish and other marine animals. Wonder what they have tonight? Take a look. That's what they got. Before you've even sat down, they'll ask if you want the mixed appetizer of fish, which includes both marinated (some of you know it by the Spanish name, ceviche) and fried fishes. I've never seen anyone say no to this and I'm not sure why anybody would. You've barely sat down and already you have a bread basket and they start bringing out plates of marinated shrimp, alici (small fish, filleted, larger than anchovies, smaller than sardines), octopus and not long afterwards you'll have a plate of a number of different fried fishes of various sizes--with my favorite, hands down, being the tiny little baby squid that are fried whole--so tender and succulent.

Shortly afterwards they'll come and tell you which first courses (pasta) they have (they do not have a menu) and ask you what you want. Second courses aren't usually listed out explicitly, since you can see what fish they have and they can cook it any normal Sicilian way. The other night, though, they kindly suggested the mixed grill for us out of towners and we all jumped at the chance to not have to make a real decision. For the first courses, there was one I hadn't heard of before--spaghetti with something that sounded like either "neonata" or "neorata". I finally decided that it must be neorata because neonata (which means newborn) didn't make any sense to me. After some digging around on-line, though, I've realized they were saying neonata and meant it--spaghetti with newborn fishes. It was, not surprisingly, incredibly delicious. Even not entirely understanding at the time what I was eating. The mixed grill turned out to be a small piece of grilled swordfish, the best grilled squid I've ever had, and a couple of giant prawns that were alright, but didn't hold a candle to the squid.

As a special treat, a Sicilian folk group wandered in and played for us. I had heard recordings of music like this before on a CD of field recordings made by Alan Lomax in Sicily. But this was the first time I had heard it live. Check them out in Christa's video footage below. They were incredibly good at what they were doing, and were playing quite frenetically and with abandon. It was a real treat--I wish they could have stayed all night, but they moved on fairly quickly. Presumably to hit another restaurant somewhere. I do recommend that Alan Lomax CD, though, linked to above if you are interested in the traditional folk music of Sicily. It's a neat way to get to know another culture, and it's neat for me to think about my great grandparents and their parents and grandparents having grown up with this kind of music--not to mention puppet shows like the one we saw in Palermo.

The only disappointment came at the end of the night when they brought us all a complimentary dessert--we were all too stuffed to even think about eating another bite of food. We were quite intrigued by the sweet filled pastry with powdered sugar on top--we simply couldn't physically eat another bite. I tried to ask the waiter if we could take them away (home, with us) but he apparently understood only "take them away" which he did. And then gave them to another table. I felt sad that we had refused this kindness and hoped they didn't feel insulted. They will recognize me if I come back. I don't exactly blend into the crowd around here. If I could have possibly eaten another bite of food I would have found room for it in my tummy somewhere.

But, oh, in the end, what a night!