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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sept 18 (Etna on the 15th)

Mi dispiace che non ho scritto. (I supposed to be learning past tense but I find it EXTREMELY difficult! I just can't seem to remember.)

It's been a few days since I've written and I've mostly been walking around, trying to meet locals, and practice my morning lessons.

The big event since I last wrote was that on the 15th, I visited Etna. What an amazing time. There was 1 guide (Sebstiano), 1 assistant (Luca), myself, and 3 other tourists.  All but one of us  thought that we were going to be taken up Etna, get a presentation, and so some wandering around. Turns out that our Italian wasn't as precise as we though. Apparently, we signed up for a 7 hour HIKE up Etna. We were so not dressed for it but we did it anyway and it was so worth it!

The guides refer to Mt Etna as "Her Majesty crowned with/wreathed in clouds. Interesting.

As I said, the internet here is very poor so I'll attempt to post some photos and then log off for the day.  The lessons are still going well but very slowly. I guess that happens when you get older. ;-) Today was 3 hours where I wasn't allowed to speak ANY English. Talk about difficult (and very amusing for my professoressa!).

Here is a cave entrance on the side of Etna (we did NOT go down the tiny hole!:


My view at the start of the hike:




 
Descending to the lava floor:




Eating lunch (arancini) on the lava floor:




Apples from Etna:


And finally, the lava tube entrance (we explored several hundred meters of it):


Well, that's it for now. Ci vediamo a tutti!

---Vincenzo

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sept 11 - recipes...

Oh gosh, let's see. My brain is about full but I'll do what I can.

Peperoni in agrodolce - sweet, sweet red peppers chopped/sliced (almost diced). In a dry pan, fry on HIGH heat so the natural sugar in the peppers begins to caramelize. When you hear that they are done (sizzle sizzle, mmmm), add some oil (peanut oil has a high flash point so it is preferred). Cut one onion in half and set the other aside for later. Take the onion and slice it very very thinly. (we only used 1/4 onion) Add onion. Still on high, add 2 Tablespoons good vinegar, 5 good pinches of sugar, and when that starts to caramelize, cover and reduce to simmer for 10 - 20 minutes.

Sgombri (Mackerel) con nettarne is a "light opener dish" served first. It’s 2 nectarines, diced. Add (good) olive oil, sprinkle with fresh mint (torn) and a dash of balsamic. (edit: toss in cooked, flaked mackerel). Mackerel is cooked on high heat, maybe 2 minutes each side.) I don't think there was anything else but I'll think on it.

The Pasta con acciughe e mollica is pasta with anchovies and mackerel. To a pan, sardines, 3 sage leaves and 4 sprigs parsley. As it cooks, "mashed the anchovies almost into a paste).  Toast semolina bread crumbs in a dry pan. The bread crumbs are toasty and crunchy and will be sprinkled on top of the pasta in place of grated Parm. I was told that "the poor" used breadcrumbs in this dish instead of cheese because the cheese was expensive and leftover bread could be used. In yet another pan, fry the slicked mackerel (narrow strips, skin side down) for a couple minutes until done. Let stand, then dice. Add to the anchovies. Add pasta (which has been boiling) into the anchovy pan to "finish and toss".  Serve by topping with the bread crumbs.

Cotoletta di sarde is sardine cutlets. We got them fresh and whole so I learned how to clean and prepare them. Wow! They are breaded with semolina bread crumbs. You can get them already made, just add 4 - 6 basil leaves (finely chopped) and a bunch of parsley (finely chopped.) Set the crumbs aside. First, turn the large sardines (1 kilo) into cutlets. Then, in a bowl, combine 2 beaten eggs, 2 pinches salt, spalsh of good vinegar, and which together well. Dip cutlets in egg mixture, then coat with breadcrumbs, pressing firmly. Heat pan and add oil. When hot, fry cutlets for ~1 minute per side (until golden brown).

Eggplant Parmigiana & Fresh tomato sauce. The sauce goes (lightly) over the pasta. This is a modern update on the "traditional" dish. The sauce was made from scratch. Tomatoes, the other 1/2 of the onion (thick slices). Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium for about 20 ish minutes. Pour through a food mill to remove seeds and make smooth. Return to pot and add 2 large clove of garlic each sliced in half and a dash of oil. Keep warm but bubble. Eggplant: stand on end and slice top to bottom for slices, not across. Place slices on a plate, lightly sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Place next layer of slices on the first, lightly salt, continue until the eggplant is all sliced. Place paper towel on table, one slice of eggplant, cover with another paper towel, press down FIRMLY. Move slice to new plate and continue until all slices have been pressed.
   Step one - DRY nonstick-frypan, very deep. Get it very hot. Fry each slice for 15 - 30 seconds then remove.
   Step two - now that each slice has been seared, add 1 - 2 fingers of oil into the pan. Get it very hot. When very hot, fry (again) each slice for 15 - 30 seconds each side (I did 30 - 60 to get them brown) but don't over lap them. Allow excess oil to drip off slice when removing it from the fry pan. Continue until they're all fried.

In a baking dish, put a thin layer of sauce (enough to cover but not too much). One layer of eggplant. One layer of sliced parm (thin or thick, your choice) leaving space between the slices so you can see the eggplant beneath.  Add 3 - 4 basil leaves (torn small). Add a tiny bit of black pepper (or red if you like). Start over until all the eggplant is gone. If the day isn't hot, bake for 10 - 15 minutes (to warm it). If it is a hot day, serve the dish cold since all the ingredients are already cooked.

OK, now I'm going to bed. :-)

P.S.  I'll try to get the translating for "Sgombri" and some of the other words. I think I'm also missing an ingredient for that one.

Sept 11 - Cooking class


Mercoledí, Settembre 11

 

For today, by "luck" a woman came by and wanted to know if she could take an Italian cooking class.  That was perfect because we weren't sure that I would be able to do one by myself since it can get expensive and there is a lot of work. Yay us.

 

First, we spent the day at the market (pictures will be added at some point). Then we went to my teacher's home (another honor!) to make and eat our creations.

 

The menu was:

 

1 - Peperoni in agrodolce

2 - Sgombri con nettarone

3 - Pasta con a cuige e mollica (with toasted bread crumbs instead of cheese)
     Correction: pasta con acciughe e mollica

4 - cotoletta di sarde

5 - Melanzane parmigiana con pomodoro salsa fresca

 

con frutto per dolce

 

OMGs, I made a 5 course Sicilian dinner!

 





Sept 10


Martidi, Settembre 10

 

Part of my homework was "Scrivi la giornata"

 

Mi sgevlia alle sei di mattina ma mi alza alle sei e mezzo. Dopo faccio la doccia. Poi mi lavoro i denti con lo spazzolino e dentrificio.

 

Mi vesto alle sette e un quarto. Dopo faccio colazione: espresso, frutto, e cereale o forse qualcosa dolce.

 

Alle otto vado fuori e cammino da Piazza Archimede. Prendo un'altra espresso e bevo a Fonte Diana. Dopo vado mi lezione dalle nove alle dodici. La lezioni di giorno fine alle dodici o dodici e un mezzo.

 

Dopo la lezione, compro atricoli a il negozio. Io compro lo standine e deterviso a mano. Passara a supermercato e compro cibo per pranzo. Alle tredici o quatordici ho mangio pranzo: proscuitto, formaggio, pane, e frutto.

 

La oro mi vestiti a mano. (Yes, I am actually washing my clothes by hand during the hottest part of the day as a way to cool off and save money.)

 

Alle diciassette faccio una passaggiata. Prendo un spuntino a Cafe Minerva e collegormi (mi collegare?) di internet.

 

Quando ritorno a casa, ricevo invito a cena di Singnori Aliffi.

 

OK, that was part of my homework - mistakes and all. The rest in English.

My hosts, Mr. & Mrs. Aliffi, invited me to dinner: "a simple spaghetti dinner".  Of course, I dressed for it and brought a very nice bottle of local wine as a gift for my hosts. Apparently, bringing a small gift for the host is traditional (arrivare mai a mani vuote) and/but hey didn't expect me to know about it. You'd think that I brought them something precious. ;-)  I was told "we eat as amiche, non c'é formale". To be invited to your hosts’ home for a home cooked meal as a friend is a great honor and I was almost struck dumb.  I did say almost, right?

 

The "simple spaghetti dinner" was amazing. Antipasti, pane, frittata (pomodori & cipolle), funghi (quatro tipi!), e cinque tipi olive. After that, there was the spaghetti with homemade salsa (sauce). For dessert, there was an assortment of frutta. They showed me how to eat fruit like a native Sicilian (how you eat it depends on the type of fruie). Simple, huh.

 

Dopo a cena noi guardanno il calcio a televisione. I didn't get to bed until mezzanotte.

 

Oh, did I mention that the one other person in the class dropped out? 4 individual hours of active lessons per day is making my brain full.

 

Big day tomorrow, cooking class!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sept 9

Sept 9
Bright and early, first day of classes! It started with espresso al bar a Café Diana in front of the Fonte Diana.

Class is very small and taught by Professoressa Luisa. There is only one other student, Tina. She is from Australia and is here visiting family who spend 6 months of the year in Sicily. Class was very intense but very good.  We even have homework. 

After class, Tina and I went for a leisurely lunch followed by caffe and gelatti.  Afterwards, we went shopping. Tina showed me some wonderful “local” mercati. She has been here for some time and has already cultivated relationships with some of the locals. With her help, I was able to avoid the worst of the American faux pas. Tomorrow is shopping for necessities such as a clothes rack and handwash clothes soap.

For dinner, I tried to go to a very upscale restaurant – O’Sciná. Try doing a search for it.


It’s hard to do when you're one person. They offered me a table that was outside the restaurant which I gladly accepted. During the appetizer, a nice Australian woman also asked for una tavola per uno. When they told her that they had none, I invited her to join at the sidewalk table which she accepted. Apparently, this won me lots of points with the staff.

Natalie was a wonderful, intelligent, interesting dinner companion. We exchanged contact info. Conversation was so involved, I hesitate to try to summarize it. Imagine my surprise when I realized that dinner took 3 hours and it seemed like it flew by.  I really enjoy this “slow food dining” experience that is the norm here. It didn’t that the waiter was gorgeous and told me that I looked just like his best friend, a web designer/internet professional. Of course, I liked him from the moment that he told me my accent was pure Sicilian. :-)

We topped off the evening with a complimentary glass of local dessert wine. I think I may have found heaven.

Buona Notte amici i miei!

---Vincenzo

Sept 8

Sept 8
Fare Colazione: espresso al bar è late solo a Café Apollo.

When they say that nothing is open in Italy on a Sunday, they really mean it!  I spent the day walking around the island and getting some sun. I do mean walking AROUND the island. I really need to find an electronic store. The adapter that I purchased at the airport is the incorrect type. No adapter means no power means no internet.

I just saw the Galaxy S4 – 700 €.

Fonte Diana:







Fonte Aretusa:
     







Some miscellaneous pics:










     
And, finally, a wedding. There were 3 brides maids holding a white lace veil and “best men” under it with them. I think they were doing some sort of kissing game.



Well, that’s it for today. Io ho fame! Ci Vediamo a tutti.

Sept 7

Sept 7
Early morning – with about 2 or 3 hours left until we reach Rome, we have a medical emergency. The crew just came on the PA and asked for any doctor or medical professional to announce themselves. Apparently, one of the older passengers (with a tour group) seems to have fainted and possibly had a minor seizure of some sort.
It really reminds me that I am far overdue to take that first aid/cpr course. I really feel helpless not being able to contribute anything. From what I’ve seen, it appears that she is dehydrated and overheated.

Breakfast just arrived: chocolate croissant (heated), 2 dark chocolate Milano cookies, and yogurt. I scandalized the Italian flight attendant because I asked for a big glass of milk. The some water. Then a cup of coffee. Finally, I asked for a dish of fruit. That’s when she caught on and realized that I was practicing my “eating Italian”. I’ve been cut off from the snack cart. First Starbucks, now Alitalia.




Our ill passenger is being attended to by a nurse – another tour guest. They’ve given her 2 saline drips and that seem to be helping quite a bit. I guess that I was close.
Wow, already starting our descent. Safe landing! Delay in getting off the plane while the paramedics come and check on the passenger. They’re going to be taking her to a hospital in a nearby town (Ostia?). It’s a good thing that I opted for the flight with the 5 hour layover instead of the flight with the 1 hour layover.

Now I have time for a leisurely lunch and some shopping. Like Logan, plugs are scarce here. I forgot that lines in Italy are just imagination. It took quite some time to get through passport control but once up to the counter, it was less than 15 seconds.
Lunch – I couldn’t resist:


Hmmm.  Did I mention that I forgot to bring a coat? I guess that I will just have to resign myself to buying a nice Italian one at some fashionable shop. :-)

Before leaving, I found that there was a profound lack of useful information regarding USA travelers getting an EU number and cell phone. There’s a reason for that. It’s not difficult. Most EU airports have a Vodafone, WIND, or TIM store. I went with TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile). I got a (basic) Samsung Android smartphone, PayAsYouGo, 200 local minutes, and 1 Gig of data for less than the phone would have cost in the US. Of course, it is the bottom of the line phone. The nice phones (Galaxy S4) are even more expensive. The nice TIM man explained how the phone works, set up my balance, and quickly programmed my phone.

OMG, no. Look at this picture:


Hopefully you can’t make it out clearly. It’s the display at a high end men's’ boutique – “Real WILD rabbit fur.” I don’t want to know more. It looks like bad shag carpet. As you can see, the camera on the new phone isn’t all that great. No autofocus. Sometimes, like now, that’s a blessing.
Before leaving, I found that there was a profound lack of useful information regarding USA travelers getting an EU number and cell phone. There’s a reason for that. It’s not difficult. Most EU airports have a Vodafone, WIND, or TIM store. I went with TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile). I got a (basic) Samsung Android smartphone, PayAsYouGo, 200 local minutes, and 1 Gig of data for less than the phone would have cost in the US. Of course, it is the bottom of the line phone. The nice phones (Galaxy S4) are even more expensive. The nice TIM man explained how the phone works, set up my balance, and quickly programmed my phone.

From here, I board the plane to Catania and then make my way by bus to Siracusa where Sergio will pick me up.

OMGs, everyone in Catania looks like my relatives! I guess I should have expected that  but WOW what a shock.

Fair warning – even though you have to pre-purchase a ticket for the Bus to Siracuse, it is still first come, first serve. In my case, first to get their luggage onboard and your butt in a seat, first served. These little old ladies are fast and have bony elbows! For consolation of not being rude during boarding, mMy butt is currently next to a VERY attractive Sicilian man. He is ½ Greek and ½ Sicilian “I’m not an Italian. I sono Siciliano.”  I guess language won’t be as much of a problem as I thought.

Here is what some of the ride to Siracusa looks like:
         
This is the actual view from my balcony overlooking the Temple of Apollo on the island of Ortigia:



I’ll try to add a quick video:



OK, I don't think the video worked.

OK, the cellular guy has a sense of humor. I just got a sound notification telling me that I have a text. My phone now whistles at me. :-)

Sept 6

Fair warning, the internet connection at he B&B is VERY slow. I'll post some text  now and add pictures later.

Sept 6
Amazingly easy check in at Boston’s Logan Airport.  Yummy “American style” lunch of clam
chowder and steak sub.

TSA was reasonable and polite even though their baggage scanner snapped off my luggage tag
and tried to eat it.
First class travelers are some of the rudest people that I’ve seen – even to each other.
They’re like a pack of rabid dogs shitting on everyone to get in 10 seconds before
everyone else because THEY are the entitled one. Then, after this type of behavior, they
sit down with each other – all smiles – and talk about the “less affluent people”. Don’t
ever let me get like that.

Sprint sucks. Not only does my phone not work in Italy because of their Sprint
customization. Turns out that I have an embed sim card so I can’t use a European one. To
top it off, I can’t even get an international roaming plan because they configured the
hardware to only accept their bandwidth which is not the standard in Europe.

The international terminal at Logan has virtually no amenities and electric plugs to
recharge electronic devices are almost non-existent.

OK, we’re on the plane! Of course, I’m hungry now and should have brought my own snacks
with me.  At least they have arancia rossa (blood orange, juice) and a surprisingly tasty
selection of wines.



 I think that I’ll begin my immersion with and Italian movie - “Bianca
come il latte rossa come”.




I am sitting next to a very nice young woman from Mexico City. She and a friend (and her
friend’s parents) came to Boston and are now headed to Italy. They’re flying all the way
to Venice and Florence to see a musician perform. It was nice that I could offer them some
advice for what to do in their free time.

I’m very impressed with them and their language skills. They all speak Spanish, English
(no noticeable accent), and at least one other language, each.

Food time! I’m being served by flight attendant that has a passing resemblance to John
Barrowman. Actually, the entire flight staff has been very professional and courteous but
I get the feeling that they’re NOT TO BE CROSSED under any condition. For airline food,
this is pretty good: Baked Pesto Mac & Cheese, prosciutto & mozzarella, potato salad,
roll, and cassatta for dessert.  Wait. No veggies. Um, who cares.



One really neat thing about the Alitalia plane is that every seat has a UBS plug in next
to the movie screen that charges devices. Nice move.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

1 Day and Counting...

One day and counting - I leave tomorrow!

Today, I spent the day visiting with friends and doing... well, doing nothing.  :-)

I got to watch the guys from a local landscaping company fix the yard up. I have them removing some trees, cleaning the yard, and making a path from the front yard, along the side of the house, to the back. When I return, I'll be able to do some minor mods before fall/winter sets in and then I can focus on the yard in the spring time.

It seems I picked the perfect time to go to Sicily.  Yesterday, Malden started to do street work to replace the gas main.  That means for the next 4 - 5 weeks, our street and the surrounding streets will be under construction with very little parking.  Talk about timing!

I'll be off-line for a few days. I figure that it will take me until Monday to set up reliable internet access and a phone.  Until then, I'll just have to read and write.  :-)

Ci vediamo a tutti!

Benedizioini,

---Vncenzo

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2 Days and Counting

2 days and counting. Just today and tomorrow and then Friday I board the plane.

Everything is set except the arrangements for an overseas phone. Sprint (my current carrier) sucks.  I need a phone that will do text, voice, and data (especially for GPS). Their solution is ... nothing. Actually, they want me to go to their international office and use their HUGELY overprices international roaming rates.  My current phone has an embedded sim chip so it won't work overseas even if they unlock it.  If I pay full price for the new S4, I can use a SIM chip overseas if they unlock it but they won't do that until it's been on their network for at least 90 days - and the phone is like $600! If I"m going to pay full price for a phone, you can be damn sure that I'm not going to lock myself into a 2 year contract that only screws me!

I may just buy a new phone and sim card while in Sicily and hope for the best.  At least I'll have internet during the day at a local bookstore. I should be able to put my phone on their wifi network and send/receive texts with my gmail/voice account. That's going to have to do until I can get to a mobile phone store in Sicily that will rent for a month or sell a cheap smartphone.

Ciao a tutti!

---Vincenzo

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

3 Days and Counting

3 days and counting - today, Wednesday, and Thursday - Friday I board the plane!  It's really starting to seem real instead of a pipe dream.  Now I'm starting to realize how inadequate my Italian-American slang really is. Luckily, I little immersion learning will cure that!

This morning, while playing around with my phone, I realized that I have an amazing program on it for voice recordings.  It can record up to 86 hours and I can offload the files to my PC or send them to the cloud if I get a wifi signal. So, even though I'll need a local smartphone for calls/texts/gps, I'll keep my US phone handy for quick pics and voice memos.

I have a great guidebook to Origia and Siracuse. It shows dozens of interesting things within a 30 minute walk of the B&B. I really don't think that I'll have any trouble filling the time.

Ciao a tutti,

---Vincenzo

Monday, September 2, 2013

4 Days and Counting!!!

OMGs, I can't count.

Monday (today) - 4 day
Tuesday - 3 days
Wednesday - 2 days
Thursday - 1 day
Friday - I'm off!

I can't believe I messed that up!

5 Days and Counting

5 days and counting until I leave for Sicily.

Today, I finished 90% of my packing.  Basically, I'm done.  I always like to pack early so in the last 2 or 3 days leading up to my departure, I can rearrange where I packed stuff. Inevitably, I realize that I really don't need something in my carry-on and moving it to my checked bag makes room for reading material or space to make my carry-on lighter.

I still have to make some scans of my documentation.  I know that I'll have physical copies of things (emergency contact info, passport, directions, etc.) but I will feel safer knowing that there are electronic copies easily accessible to me.

The last thing I need to do is find my camera (I found the charger and power cord!) and pack my laptop.

I just tried to add the Blogger app to my Hootsuite account to make updating the various social networking accounts easier.  Unfortunately, Hootsuite chokes every time it tries to connect. 

I'm going to miss my usual September routine - apple picking, cherishing the crisp arrival of the fall, celebrating the equinox in New England, etc.  I really do think that autumn is my favorite season.  Sure, the others have things going for them but there's something special about autumn in New England.

Ciao a tutti!

---Vincenzo