Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Catania's pupi

I am a great admirer of Sicilian pupi. Until recently I had never experienced a live puppet performance. But since my first visits to the island I was made aware first by hubby and guidebooks, and later by my own reading, that the tacky little souvenirs dangling from all the tourist shops actually represent one of the most important folk art traditions in Sicily.

I was so enamored by the antique puppets that we actually decided to purchase a few of our own. On a tactile level I view the pupi as miniature mixed media sculptures. This is folk art, yes, but some puppets, especially the antiques, have finely carved faces and elaborately decorated armor. Living with my own little collection of four old, dusty pupi, I am acutely aware that the makers of these objects were skilled craftsman, able to carve and paint wood, shape and emboss brass sheet metal, and construct the detailed costumes that clothe the cast of characters that make up the opera dei pupi.

But my appreciation of these seemingly stiff, bulky objects reached a new level after experiencing them as powerful actors in the hands of the pupeteering masters, the Fratelli Napoli, one of Catania's surviving puppeteering families that dedicate their lives to keeping this craft alive. We saw their recent performance of Cristo al Golgota at the Lomax Theater in Catania. While the subject matter of this particular performance was not all that appealing to us, especially with a three year old, we were amazed at how the pupi came to life in the hands of such skilled masters. Only in the context of a performance does the art of the Sicilian pupi become evident, with the combination of subtle and dramatic gestures, carefully orchestrated scenes and set designs, music and narration. This may be storytelling at its most fascinating!

Three more performances are scheduled at the Lomax in April, May and June, any of which are likley to be a bit more upbeat for the younger crowd than the one we saw in March.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

archaeology or flowers

On our recent day trip to the Palagonia-Mineo area, there were many discoveries.

The photo I snapped of the 'bubble gum pink house' (thanks Jann!) sprouting prickly pear cacti from the roof and balcony was taken very close to the archaeological site of Palike'. The site is built within and next to a natural rocky hill, where you can see Bronze Age rock-cut tombs. There are also later architectural remains from the Greek to early Christian periods and a fascinating history that you can read all about in the link.

If you actually visit the site, you won't learn much more than what you can gather from peering through the fence that surrounds it, unless you make a private appointment with the archaeological superintendency of Catania. This seems somewhat appalling since 1 million euros have been invested in excavating the site and constructing a museum to house the finds. What is the point in investing so much in an interesting and beautiful site without making it readily accessible to the public?

In the end, it was all about the fields of wildflowers that surround the site, which are just incredible at the moment. For where there are blossoms, there are also butterflies and bees. It took a lot of bribery to get the little boy out of the flowers and back into the car.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some practical information: cost of living in Aci Castello

I was recently contacted by an American who is considering retiring in Aci Castello. This individual has been having a difficult time understanding what the basic cost of living is here.

I thought it might be useful to post our exchange in case there are others out there with similar questions or that have additional information to add.

Q: I was wondering if it was possible to tell me the cost of living for two people per month on average including rental (max 2 bedroom), utilities and food (eating in mostly). Can a couple live comfortable on $30, 000 per year?

A: Here are the basic costs you can expect in Aci Castello (all prices are in Euro) based on a frugal yet comfortable life style. This list does not include any 'extras' (eating out in restaurants, coffees in bars, traveling, etc.) and all costs are estimates and intended only to give a general idea of cost of living here.

-rent for a two bedroom apartment 600-700

ca. 100 every two months for electricity (without air conditioner)
ca. 100 every two months for gas
ca. 10/month for water

-phone/internet service: 90/month

-Condominium fees: ca 10/month

-Food for a family eating three meals a day at home: 700/month

-Car insurance: ca 100/month

-TV tax: 100/year

-Garbage collecting tax: depends on square meters of your home but could cost from 100-600/year.

What does that all equal? If I got my math right, the grand total (not including garbage tax or car insurance, let alone purchasing a car) is 1620/month, which is under 20,000 a year.

If anyone out there reading this has something to add to the list or changes to make, please let me know!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

when nature takes over

I never imagined prickly pear cacti could grow spontaneously from the roof of an abandoned house (at least I don't think anyone would do this on purpose!), but here is the proof that such things do happen in Sicily.

This was one of our many photo opportunities from our morning exploring the Palagonia area in the Val di Catania.

Friday, March 12, 2010

bits and pieces

As signs of spring peak out from under the black volcanic rocks that give my neighborhood its name--la scogliera--I yearn for the little undeveloped patches overgrown with weeds and crumbling stone sheds that can be seen now and again along this otherwise very built up coastline. A lucky friend of mine has the fortune of living right next door to one of these patches of wonderful neglect (that's her patch in the photo), which at this time of year are bursting with life, no longer able to fit into their fences and terraced walls. Yellow, purple and orange blossoms, creeping vines and the sporadic olive or citrus tree are reminders of an altogether different landscape, similar to what can still be seen away from the urban centers on this part of the island. Putting together these bits and pieces it's not hard to imagine what this coastal area must have looked like 30 years ago. Beautiful, don't you think?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

pink and blue

Shocking pink and blue sunset, so beautiful, but only lasted for a few minutes.