Frank Dolci’s photo essays of Sicily have been one of the most popular features in “Globetrotting Grandpa”. I finally got Frank to write a post about his travels and include some more of his stunning photos. Enjoy!
My wife and I just finished our first overseas trip, the first time in Sicily, and first experience with a personal driver and tour guide. We came with our son, Robin, and he’s been overseas before, to the UK for work. However, we were all new to Sicily.
All my grandparents were Sicilian immigrants, but as part of their assimilation strategy, they discouraged us from speaking Sicilian/Italian. I speak Italian a little bit because I have worked on it, but I needed practice. The mission of our trip was primarily to trace my roots, but also to observe Holy Week festivities, and become acquainted with Sicily directly, especially its history. We were very frugal about our agenda. We committed only 10 days for all those missions. Ciro, our tour guide, was nothing less than a Godsend.
The flight process led us in increments from the familiar into the unfamiliar, until we were completely submerged in an alien world. And yet, the fingerprints of my family’s culture and social habits were everywhere, as though everyone was related to me.Ciro had someone there to pick us up at the airport in Palermo. He met us personally at the apartment he’d arranged for us. So spacious! So restful! And hospitable with a ‘Sicilian’ charm. There were food and wine waiting for us in the kitchen. Everything domestic was elegant in its simplicity and thoughtfulness. There was a hall that adjoined the separate rooms: the bedroom for my wife and me, the kitchen, the bath, the living room… We procrastinated over submitting our down payment too long, so our son slept in the couch’s large fold-out bed instead of getting his own room, but he, too, slept very privately and comfortably.
That first night, Ciro walked us through the neighborhood, introducing resources: a nearby grocery store, several restaurants, shops, post office, and even an ATM.We have traveled as a family before. Unexpected challenges, decisions, and the general fatigue of driving and navigating can make it very stressful. The family is too isolated and dependent on each other. We sometimes got into power-wars or ‘need’ wars. Ciro’s presence removed almost all stress factors. We were able to focus almost entirely on Sicily, and our mission.
I had been privately researching strategies for this trip all my life. I have many relatives and friends who’ve been to Sicily. Standard tour packages are popular, but there is a ‘price.’ You don’t get to visit the remote villages of your distant relatives. The focus is always on popular resorts or historic sites. Period. My mission for this trip was too specialized and multi-faceted for standard tour packages, and I wanted to cover it in minimal time to save money. (Plus, we have lives back home that must be resumed, like work…) My personalized Sicilian Ancestry, Holy Week, Historic Site Pilgrimage would never have enough tourists signed on to justify a standard tour package.
My four grandparents immigrated here from four different towns: Lucca Sicula, Lercara Friddi, Villa D’Oro, and Cefalu. I also wanted to see authentic St. Joseph’s Day tables, Good Friday Procession, Easter Service mass… Then, mix that in with famous and historic sites: Mount Etna, the Catacombs, ancient Greek temples and theatres, Teatro Massimo, cathedrals in Palermo and Montreal… We probably saw more ancient cathedrals than any other site
Everything was so amazing; I was asking to stop to take pictures every few miles. (And Ciro graciously accommodated my whims because he respects photography. He, too, does some photography.) While traveling, I often ‘grilled’ Ciro for the Italian words of English equivalents. And at every site, I practiced my Italian with the natives. Ciro sometimes introduced me, just to enable more practice for me. Inspiring landscape to photograph, social opportunities for practicing Italian… And the food?
The food? Sicily deserves its reputation. Completely. I can only say: it raised the bar on my own cooking ambitions. (Because I love to cook, too. It’s apparently in my genes.) Sicilians eat extremely well.Everything I saw in Sicily broadcast deep historic roots, and nature in great bounty. It is truly: the land of the sun.
In spite of mesmerized interruptions, we managed to visit an average of three big sites daily. Nobody but an expert on Sicily could’ve orchestrated such a feast of Sicilian culture.
Ciro was always extremely patient, informative, flexible, accommodating, and in every way the “rock” of our 10-day Sicilian adventure. He expressed both wisdom and humor. He enabled my dreams as though we were elite, and shepherded us like a gentle father. The memories we take away fill a lifetime void in me I am eager to share with more family and friends. The trip’s intent was completely gratified.