Friday, September 30, 2011

Sicily and the town of Milazzo

[Kyle]As a sort of consolation for not getting to Taormina, we decided to spend a day in the town of Milazzo on the Sicilian mainland. {Maryanne: I was pretty insistent that we HAD to step ashore and spend some time in Sicily}

We left our anchorage in Messina and head to a nearby fuel dock to top up. We had originally intended to top our fuel and water tanks there, but as soon as we tied up, we decided to just fill our jerry cans and go as quickly as we could. The swell at the pier was so bad that we ended up having to throw off the lines given to us in order to keep our cleats from ripping out of the deck. Maryanne and I held Footprint off the best we could while the attendant filled our cans. By the time we pulled away only a couple of minutes later, our rubrail was drooping into the water. About half of it had been stripped off on the side facing the pier as we smashed against it.

As we made our way out of the straits of Messina and into the Tyrrhenian Sea, I was hanging over the side with a hammer banging our rubrail back into place while Maryanne got the sails up and pulling and steered us out of the strait.

Our trip to Milazzo was in a flat sea until about twenty minutes before we arrived, then another thunderstorm arrived and the sea was churned into a froth. At our first marina of arrival, all of the protected inside berths had been taken, leaving only exposed outside spaces. The few boats on the outer berths were busy with occupants engaged in a desperate struggle to adjust their lines in order to keep from being smashed into the dock. Disregarding the encouragement of the attendant, we abandoned that marina and headed for an inside berth at the next one over, where we found slightly more protection. The staff was exceedingly friendly, but when I asked how much it would be, was told they’d figure it out tomorrow. Hmmm…

Since it was our first time setting foot in the country for a while, our first order of business that night was to get our wifi working so we would have "internets". We managed to arrive just as the store was closing, but they let us in anyway and we were assured we'd be back up and running first thing in the morning. On the way back to Footprint, we found a bakery/pizzeria that had a line out of the door. We decided that was a good sign. We got a selection of vegetarian pizza slices that filled us up for just above €5. Takeout pizza seems to be the only way to eat in Italy that’s affordable. Every bakery makes it and there are three or four per block. Picking the place that was full worked for us. Yummy.

The next morning we checked in again with the marina. We were told the rate was €60 per night plus 50% because we were a catamaran. They were going to do us a favor by only charging us €80 since we were little, which they would further decrease to €150 for two days. This just kills us. We know the boat next to us is paying around €500 per month, yet we get charged €150 for two days, and for what, two bollards and €3 worth of electricity? I admit that I don’t understand much about a marina’s business expenses, but I can’t imagine this is less than 90% profit, which seems brutally unfair to me. He assumption seems to be that I have a boat, so I’ve got more money than I’ll ever need. They might as well have some. There’s no room at the inn for the little guy anymore. We toyed with cancelling our second night and leaving, but we'd have to be out by noon (in just 30 minutes) and could not find a plan to stay elsewhere so just paid up.

This cast a terrible pall over us as we went to explore the town. We want to see it, but we seem not to be good enough to be allowed to stay. It’s a good thing pizza is cheap.

Milazzo actually ended up being a pretty interesting town. I loved it and I hated it. We started with the stuff that I ended up hating. We went for a walk to the Spanish Castle, which looks prominently over the city and can be seen from nearly everywhere. It ended up being closed for renovation, but the thing I remember was the walk up. It was terribly depressing. Every available space in this otherwise likeable village had been covered with graffiti. Worse still, behind every cliff, abandoned building and low wall, there were piles and piles of garbage. Why go to the dump if you can just go across the street and throw your trash bags over the wall? Parks looked like dumps. It was so disheartening to see such a beautiful place treated with such callous indifference.

The hike up to the castle was a little grim, but worth it

In spite of this shameful mess, Milazzo still had a certain charm. Mostly this was due to the atmosphere created by the local culture. Milazzo seems like the most Italian place we’ve been. A lot of other places seem to be influenced by neighboring countries or the insidious culture of global television, but Milazzo seemed to exist in it’s own purist Italian bubble. The Sicilians here seem utterly incapable of saying two words without gesturing wildly, like silent film actors playing to the back of the theater, and they could not be more friendly. It is terribly endearing.

‘You have paid for something! Here it is - your change! It’s correct, no?’ ‘I wish you goodbye! Arrivaderci! I will now wave as if you are on the top deck of a departing ship.’

The Sicilians have solved the problem of personal space. You have to stand out of arms reach or you will get inadvertently smacked. The strange exception seems to be when riding scooters. The town seems full of Piaggios driven by remote control with mannequins wired on top.

Kyle practices his Italian and enjoys a lemon gelato

One of our favorite Italian gestures is one where a pointed forefinger is twisted into the cheek, as if to make a little dimple. It means, “This tastes good”. We had heard about it, but had not seen it in action until stopping at a place across the street from the marina called The Cordial Bar. When I ordered a lemon gelato, the round little man behind the counter used it to indicate I had made a good choice. Indeed I had. That was by far the best lemon gelato I’ve tasted. After that, I decided I was going in for one every time I passed by. It didn’t quite work out that way. Sometimes I was in a hurry. Sometimes I was carrying a load. I managed to get in about half of the time though. I’m sure they thought of me as ‘Lemon Gelato Guy” by the time we left. Oh, that stuff is good!

After pouring through the guides, we decided the only thing we had really missed of Milazzo by our second night was a trip to the grand library, so off we went. It didn’t turn out to be much of a library. There were only a few books on one part of one floor. Mostly, it seemed to be a museum dedicated to Garibaldi, who lived there and was responsible for uniting Sicily to Italy in 1848.

Quirky artifacts and elaborate 17th Century decoration at the (now) Town Hall

As we were perusing the second floor, which still had most of the 17th century frescoes ad floor tiles, a nice man came up and asked us in Italian if we would like to know the history of the building. We apologized; saying we would love to, but our Italian probably wasn’t up to it. Stefano insisted, and with obvious difficulty and enormous patience he walked us through the entire place, showing us its treasures and answering our many questions in broken English and Italian. He didn’t have to do that, but we were so glad he did. It was such a privilege to be given a personal tour of such a beautiful place.

As we were leaving, we passed through an exhibition on the main floor of artwork using leather as a medium. Maryanne recognized the artist from one of the newspaper clippings on display and introduced us. We were then ‘adopted’ and given yet another one-on-one tour of the entire collection. At some point, the artist, who we decided was probably French, lapsed from Italian into French. Our French is actually pretty good so it made following his ramblings about his work and his artistic process a bit easier. We left with big smiles on our faces, amazed at our good fortune.

It was getting late by then, so we stopped by a nearby pizzeria, where we ordered a delicious vegetarian pizza and a beer big enough to share, all using the language of giant hand gestures. It’s such a comical way of communicating that you can’t help but smile. Our total was €8.50

Lively fishermans quater with busy fishermen and it's splendid outdoor church

The next morning, we went out to restock some of our fresh food supplies. All along the waterfront, the local fishermen were selling and gutting the day’s catch, right in front of the boat that caught it. They divided their time between animated haggling over the price of this fish or that and carefully mending their long nets. I collected our laundry, while Maryanne stopped at ten different tiny stores and a couple of big ones for the things on our list. We topped it with one last stop to The Cordial Bar for an early lunch before heading out in a windless sea for our next stop, the island of Vulcano.

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