Like most people that have been to Messina, I had passed through many times but always only to use the ferry services that run between Villa San Giovanni and Messina, or in other words, to cross the thin strip of water that separates Sicilia from the rest of Italy, the rest of Europe, which might as well be the rest of the world. This visit though, would be different. I’m coming to see an old friend of mine in her home, built in a part of Italy that doesn’t’t even have the right to exist.
Rosa collected me downtown and we zipped around in her little car, among the traffic that seems more North African than European, a mad sort of lawlessness that somehow has its own playbook. The car windows were down and folks discussed traffic back ups in casual conversational voices. ‘Would you let me in, we’re late for lunch’. ‘I would love to but I’m late myself. OK. But just this once’, and winks are exchanged. Rosa, as I’m learning all over again, has a real way with men.
As we approached her home ‘architecture’ as I’ve come to know it, started to thin. Standard Italian building materials, uniform bricks, paint and stucco, became rarities. Cinder blocks. Corrugated metal. Sheets of re-used fibreglass panels. Exposed mortar and hodgepodge brick. It was a city built by non-house builders, a shantytown, really, as if you asked ten-year olds to build forts out of flotsam and jetsam, just with satellite dishes and hand-made curtains.
And like other communities I’ve visited in other parts of the world (in Mexico city and Caracas), unless you visit them it’s impossible to see these as happy places. In reality, everyone I saw was smiling or laughing.
Rosa’s mother Gianna couldn’t’t have been more pleased to cook with me. She was going to show me some typical plates from Messina. Only that, in her over-enthusiastic zeal, she finished everything long before I arrived. (We arrived at 11 am, with lunch in this part of the world usually hitting the table around 2 pm). She was slightly embarrassed by her own behavior, the way you would after having ripped open a birthday present when the person that gave it to you was still in the other room.
Rosa had located a wine that she never even knew existed, a 1999 Faro, the local DOC that I had never had before. It poured brownish-orange into our goblets, leaving neither of us hopefully. Her nose twitched and she silently got up and came back with a pitcher of house wine poured from a re-used water bottle.
‘She used to sit on my shoulder as I cleaned her cage’, Gianna said as I glanced at the wall. ‘Then one day……. ‘. Her eyes filled. ‘I left the door open for a week but she never came back’.
We started with breaded melanzana, crisp and crunchy and deliscous.
The wine turned out to be extraordinary, still fruity, with an intriguing taste of pencil lead. At 10 years, few southern Italian wines would be as good.
The bread, loaded with sesame seeds was still warm from the local bakery.
Gianna’s pasta al forno was classic Southern Italian: a factory pasta sauced with a rich tomato sauce, interspersed with cooked ham, hard-boiled eggs and peas, topped with a crunchy crust of grated sheep’s milk cheese and home-made bread crumbs. And again classic to this part of the world, the dish was served reheated, but just. (Pasta al forno is mom’s ‘Sunday Roast’ or ‘Mom’s meatloaf’ here in the South, with all of the same cultural saddlebags. 1) It’s comfort food but with, 2) Everyone swearing that his or her mother makes the best, but, 3) Most versions are more alike than different. And, 4) there is the omnipresent irony ‘the best in the world’, implies wide-sampling from which one could draw an opinion. The reality is, of course, the opposite, with 5), ‘Best in the World’ really meaning, ‘the only one I’ve ever tasted, I just really love it a lot’).
Gianna’s was excellent.
The second course was again a page ripped from nearly ever recipe book from the South.
Le braciole are little meat rolls, rapped around a thin piece of cheese, usually with a little parsley and salt and pepper. They can be simmered baked or pan-seared, or better yet, simmered in a tomato sauce, which will then be served first over the pasta.
Gianna asked me all the questions you’d be asked by women of her generation from Southern Italy: Don’t I live with my family? Who cooks for me? How come I’m not married yet? Don’t I want to be married? How often do I see my family? Who cooks for me? Is it true that I don’t live with my family? Who cooks for me again?
I explained again what I do for a living but that I always cooked for myself even when I was a high-school teacher in Northern Italy. She treated this comment as if I said that I preferred to bath in lakes or that I powered my house with a mill and a mule: Not with admiration but a profound sympathy, a widening of the eyes, a subtle shaking of the head.
A gelato truck passed, the driver singing out in dialect. I understood not a single word but folks came running from every direction, not all of them children.
After lunch Rosa took me around Messina and I begun to see the city with fresh eyes. The duomo is one of the prettiest in all of Italy, the bell tower needing to be seen to be believed.
We walked up a hill engrossed in conversation about the radio show she does for fun several times a week. We turned to the Strait of Messina below us, the region of Calabria, stunning, just across the water. It was where I’d be headed next.
As we sat overlooking the shiny sea, something crossed my mind in the opposite way it normally does, that after spending time with Rosa and her mother, that they were not different or special but just normal and ordinary, run-of-the-mill, in a way.
And Southern Italy is such a remarkable and heartbreakingly beautiful place because of it.
‘Silvestro! It’s been a long time’, said Biagio, beaming like a boy. ‘I knew you’d come. I just knew it!’.
‘We just slaughtered a pig, a really big one’!
And so lunch was on. He nods his head to a passing cook and a table is set for us.
First though, I’d have to see the place and he’s promised that I’ve never seen anything like it. Already, I see that he’s right.
We takes me down to a simple building at the bottom of the valley, to see the famous black pigs of Calabria, a race that has been very recently brought back, all the way from the verge of extinction to a commercial relevance. ‘Here in Calabria, the pig is everything. But without this particular pig, it’s hard to imagine our cuisine without it’.
‘Things were rocky there for a while’, he says, patting a snorty one that seems to know Biagio personally.
We pass the sheep, milked for their creamy pecorino cheese, consumed in a myriad of ways. They watch us, study us, as if we were interesting.
Back up stairs, we discuss the house ravioli, spiked as they are with piquant pecorino.
Biagio’s girlfriend Caterina lays out perfect pasta into individual servings. ‘Biagio says you make le orecchiette like an old signora pugliese’, she says.
It takes me a few seconds to realise she means it as a compliment. Biagio looks at the floor when I glance at him.
It seems that Biagio is as generous with his praise as he is with his friendship. He’d be embarrassed to discuss it though, as his averted gaze reveals.
Biagio calls the shots as several cooks snap into action.
My greedy fingers steal tiny feels here and there of the handles of the pasta station. My hands test the heft of the pan handles in my grips. The individual pasta baskets make me giddy with glee, such is my love for pasta. I’d love to stay on and work a shift with him but there isn’t time.
It’s been a while since I’ve worked in a commercial kitchen (my school’s kitchen is much more of a home scenario). And in general industrial kitchens still feel like old girlfriends to me.
Not the kind that involves break ups. But the kind that moved away, leaving only the sweetest of memories.
It’s funny seeing Biagio at work, as the basis of our friendship in Lecce was always dinners out in restaurants, where we’d sit around and discuss the food of famous Italian chefs.
He pauses before opening a door and his face lights up. ‘Can you even imagine the dreams you’d have sleeping in this room’, he says, inhaling as deeply as he can.
I can hear the Hallelujah choir as we enter, the smell both heady and sexy.
We just stand there together for a few moments, inhaling.
Like the pigs in Parma that are fed the left over whey from Parmiggiano cheese making, here in Calabria, Biagio’s chickens are fed only milk products, producing eggs with no visible difference between albumens and yolks.
He walks me through their handmade products, touching each as if they were designer fabrics: Cured pig cheeks, bellies, shoulders and back legs. The back legs of goats and sheep. Sausages. Salumis, trained with bamboo to stay straight. All of it is stunning.
As I ride out of the Calabrian mountain town of Tortora, it occurs to me just how lucky I am to have a friend like Biagio. For a few, sweet porcine hours, I was able to experience some of the best pork on earth.
Riding down the hill, I make a mental note to keep his glass full the next time he visits, to heap his plate with the foods I know he loves.
After all, it’s just what friends do.
I’ve been travelling for the last few weeks with Gina Mastrosimone, and we’ve come to Villalba to meet her Sicilian family for the first time, most of whom now live in France. We’re here on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
The mix of languages is fascinating, an Italian-French-Sicilian soup, rarely a complete sentence leaving anyone’s mouth that isn’t a concoction of the three (Of the three, Gina and I only speak Italian, a fact that never seems to stop anyone but us).
After the morning mass the nature of my bicycle trip slips out and it’s decided I’m to cook dinner with Giuseppina, widely, widely regarded as the best cook in town. We buy groceries but avoid the butcher, as we’re to skip meat until Saturday. Outside the butcher’s window, I photograph the drops of dripping lamb’s blood on the granite slab.
We empty our arms onto the kitchen table and leave to attend mass in the city’s main church, which is still under restoration. It’s the first time that an entire generation has the seen the building open, a fact that escapes no one.
The empty church cast a feeling that I don’t know I’ll ever shake.
UN,,,UN,,,,Kapu-chino?’, asks the German woman, her voice revealing that she is having what she considers an ‘international moment’.
One of a party of twenty-five or so, the middle-aged Germans line the outdoor cafes along the main corso here in Noto, drinking rounds and rounds of milky coffee while sitting in the sun.
Nearly in uniform (hiking socks with re-enforced woollen heels, clog-type sandals that have been shoe-polished, Gillian hats and those khaki pants that can be unzipped at the thigh, rendering them into cargo shorts), the ladies are chirpy and euphoric with one another. In the centre of each table is gathering of coffee cups, indicating that they’ve now had 3 or 4 cappuccini each. It’s four in the afternoon, the culinary equivalent here of eating bowels and bowels of cereal all afternoon. (Cappuccino is a breakfast drink here in Italy).
I listen to the ladies while I snap pictures of the monuments and buildings I came to see.
It’s an incongruent formula, 17th- century Southern Italian architecture with a Modern German sound track.
I’m fond of saying that there is always one more tourist than we ever see while travelling, and today is no different. I too have a guidebook in my bag, a camera dangling off my back.
A group of Americans walks behind me, the two children wearing Italian sports jersey. The two boys have spiky peaks around their nipples, revealing that the well-pressed shirts just came out of packaging only moments ago.
Here in Noto, a question that has been nagging me for years has really come to the forefront again: how much does tourism ‘wreck’ the South? And how much is it necessary or even desired to maintain the style of life in today’s world, when folks here no longer raise chickens and rabbits for meat, sew their own clothing or heat their homes with homemade charcoal. In short, how much do you need to revive Southern cities and maintain a lifestyle, and how much is just pure greed at the expense of the local colour?
I know that it’s not an easy question, as each viewer brings something different to the table.
The German ladies, for example, are in ‘Italy’, and want to profit from that in their own way. They want to eat pizza. They want to drink Chianti. They want to drink breakfast drinks all day while sitting in the sun. Never mind that nothing erodes Italian regional culture quite like thinking of Italy as a single nation, rather than many, independent nations rammed together in a hundred and thirty-something years ago.
Here in the Italian south, the sixteen and seventeen hundreds were hard times, and towns that experienced anything other than that- Noto, Ragusa, Lecce and Martina Franca, most famously- stand out, their former heydays going back only centuries rather than millennia. These cities work hard to promote this fact, and in the end, each town experiences the tourist effect slightly differently.
And as individuals, each tourist must measure the pro’s and con’s, of enjoying the services that untouristed-towns lack, versus having the thing he or she came to see mangled by the sheer act of being seen. If you’ve been to Lucca, Sorrento,Torbole or Cinque Terre in the last ten years, then you’ve certainly seen the fall out from success, formerly-charming locales rendered horrific by low-quality tourism’s affect: Ceramic shop after ceramic shop, lines of internet points catering to flip-flop-wearing, Barcardi-Breezer consumers, racks and racks of industrial limoncello- labelled ‘lemoncello’- in every-shape bottle imaginable.
But the opposite is also true and a lot of the south is simply not ready for international tourism yet. There are no hotels, public restrooms, restaurants with printed menus. The towns have not yet to registered on the RADARS of those that promise to tell you about those little, out of the way places.
This question is answered instantly in Noto. I suspect it is for the German ladies as well. As it is for the barista frothing the milk in the stainless steel container. As it is for those in charge of paying for the upkeep and restorations of the buildings the tourists come to see. The answers are probably as different as the demographics: those looking for sun and a change of pace. Someone looking for steady work. Someone Else looking to preserve something that keeps their upbringing special. And me, trying to figure out how to promote one kind of tourism over another.
We ride out of town a few hours later, and begin the makings of one of those perfect picnic, the landscape opening up below us to the point of awe. A glass of wine on an empty stomach as we lay out the foods. Our various cheeses from Ragusa, both the ones we made and the aged ones (ours is chewy and nearly-flavourless, the aged-version, complex and seductive). Some good bread, studded with sesame seeds. A local spicy salami. Two kinds of cured olives, one jacked surprising with caraway seeds. Warm, over-ripened pears sliced with a pocket knife. Long before I poured myself a second glass of Occhipinti, I began to seriously consider the iron bench overlooking the gorgeous valley below us. ‘That’s the spot’, I said, the bench’s metal nearly hot from the sun. The trees below rustled. Far away a dog barked. The warm orange sun filtered red through my fluttering eyelids as I drifted off. The occasional car passed, the passengers inside, no doubt, shaking their heads at the napping tourists.
I think we’re all guilty of it a bit, this assuming that Sicily is always a bit behind the rest of Italy. I live in the South and even I do it.
I couldn’t have been more wrong though, especially with what is happening in Ragusa.
The fact that it involvs a 700-year old cheese makes it all the more captivating.
If you haven’t been, Ragusa might be the most enchanting city in all of Italy. It looks like you perfectly poured a bag of Legos across a mountain top, and then someone recreated it in stone, mortar and twisty-turny streets.
But down in the valley, you’ll find some of the best cheese made in Europe.
And that’s where the story starts.
Down a long and stony road, lined with cyprus trees and Mediterranean scrub, you’ll find a pretty pink villa that houses a consortium that has taken upon itself the unlikely task of making sure that famous cheese from Ragusa, il Ragusano, doesn’t fall from grace.
And they’re going about it in the right way too, by focusing on the next generation.
I was able to time my visit today to coincide with a group of school children taking part in a two-phase operation.
They gathered in a tight group around the cheese makers, nearly every child filming the activity into their cell phones for their parents back home.
Once it has been demonstrated, the children reach in to form the cheese by hand, a process that had a profound impact on me as a child as well.
Caglio (‘rennet’ in English), procured from the stomachs of lambs or baby goats, is added to whole, unpasteurized milk until it coagulates. The curd is stretched into strings.
It’s then portioned and severed by hand and knife.
The tell-tale shape of a snowman, or closer to the Italian, a horse’s saddlebag is formed and the cheese is tied for hanging or brining, depending on the discipline.
I was lucky to snap this picture, lost as I was in forming my own little cheese. The enthusiasm of the 11 year- olds had nothing on my own.
At this point, this fresh cheese could be just about any from Southern Italy: Una provola, un cacio-cavallo, una scamorza, etc. It’s cheese, but just.
In Ragusa though, this is just the starting point.
The real Ragusano is formed into massive logs and brined for weeks in salt water and then suspended with jute ropes, allowing the passage of air all around the cheese. A happy biproduct of the hanging as that it gives Ragusano a slight bend in the middle. See just one and every one after that will be instantly recognizable. Not a bad thing for a cheese to be given today’s choices.
Cheese makers from several non-European nations were on hand as well, but asked not to be photographed.
‘Why are you here’, I asked a young Japanese woman in full cheese-making regalia.
‘Why wouldn’t I be’, she responded. ‘A chance to make the best cheese in the world!’, she added, as if the question had been sophomoric to begin with.
But before I said ‘two parts’, and beyond just a simple school outing or field trip, the children took part in diligently-administered research. They were given the choice of eight kinds of cheese, from aged-artisanal to industrial, pre-wrapped individual slices. The children were asked to choose their cheese for their sandwich, predicting how satisfied they’d be with the taste.
They were monitored with video and marked their choice with their hands, giving only their age and place of birth. What the researchers wouldn’t share with us was how the information would be used, exactly.
What was clear though, was that the researchers were bound and determined to understand tomorrow’s consumers’ choices, and how Ragusano would play an important part in that.
Not long after leaving the facility I stopped in nearby field and watched a cow eat, as she watched me. Her milk would eventually go into making Ragusano cheese, a rich, complex and nutty cheese of incredible depth. She somehow seemed to know it as she chewed, unphased by me and my camera.
A few hours later we had dinner at Duomo, which is perhaps one of the most famous restaurants in Italy today. It has happens to be one of the best, which isn’t always how it happens. The chef, Ciccio Sultano, not only came out to greet us but constructed a grilled vegetable timpano, topped with well-aged Ragusano.
It is one of my favourite things I’ve ever put into my mouth.
The taste was like turning a prism in the light, only instead of colours, it changed in nuances. Citrus. Salt. Almonds. Walnuts. Cream. Grass.
Walking back to the hotel, I thought about aging rock stars and out-of-work fashion designers and how nothing dates someone quite like saying, ‘Kids these days’! To be relevant, you have to continue to engage, to offer something worthwhile to each and every generation. Descending one hill and ascending the next, I thought about how forward-thinking this is of the Sicilians, how touching to see how pivotal one cheese can be to a region’s identity. And how right they are to take such an active stance.
Tomorrow I’ll head for Noto, to try my own cheese upside the more aged versions. Tonight though, I’ll just walk up a twisty-turny street, up a steap hill, tipsy on incredible wine, supremely content on a rich cheese with a seven hundred-year long story. And a future, nearly as secure.
There are few very cities I love more than Trapani. The place feels like a series of escalating good news. The city is on peninsula, the whole thing build on rock on sand. Turn a corner and where you expect the next street to be you find bobbing blue boats, their hulls waxy from fresh, sky-blue paint. Trapani is architecturally stunning, with a whisper of the baroque that puts me right at home. Culturally, it ‘s intriguing, with such a lasting and profound Arab influence, you won’t even flinch when you see Couscous as a staple dish on ever menu.
On a more quotidian level, the locals couldn’t be nicer. Just doing my research today took at extra 4 hours with all the small talk and invitations to coffee. Folks touch my arm when talking to me. Older women that have known me for 5 minutes keep kissing my cheeks goodbye. Bills are rounded down. Twice today, waddling toddlers stopped to ask me my name.
But that’s only the beginning, as I’ve said. It keeps getting better. It also produces more high-quality olive oil than anywhere else on earth, and just scanning the list of local producers has more awards than Hollywood on Oscar night. It’s been likened to Bordeaux, for the sheer number of high quality producers, lined up in rows next to each other. Which is convenient for me at least, as I’ve come for three days just to taste olive oil. Well, that and good things to eat it on.
A Madonna with child from Trapani’s duomo.
You only really need to know two olives to grasp the oil from here: Nocellare Del Belice and Cerasuola. The first I loved instantly, the first time I had it as it reminds me such much of the local cultivars in Puglia (more on that when I actually reach Puglia).
Nocellare is famous for its artichokes and green tomatoes, ending with a peppery and bitter tough-love. It’s my kind of oil but not for the skittish. In fact, I suspect many new to high-end oils wouldn’t even like it. Cerasuola is more grassy an oil, with a pleasant toasted almond taste that goes well with fish, I think. The name likely comes from ‘cerasa’, the southern Italian word for ‘cherry’, as cerasuole tend to grow in pairs or threes, just like cherries.
If you’re new to olive oil as a subject, here is how I like to explain it: most of the world is still in the ‘jug of red’ phase of olive oil, where oil is just a banal-tasting fat added to food to bolster its heft: Imagine a salad without olive oil. Where as a single varietal is more like when you discovered cabernet sauvignon, the kind bottled in a 750-millilitre bottle. And you really, really liked it.
You liked cabernet or merlot or sangiovese or whatever your first favourite wine because it had distinctive, specific characteristics that other wines didn’t. And your favourite producers were your favourite producers because they made your favourite wine taste like itself, and not, just vaguely like ‘wine’. High-quality extra virgin olive oil is exactly the same. Have just ONE good one and supper market blends will never do again. The taste will be specific, pronounced. Distinctive. The price doesn’t need to cost a lot either.
Today we’re tasting 3 oils, only one of which is really expensive, ringing in at 48 Euro a litre, easily the most expensive oil I’ve ever tasted. In olive oil country, you could expect a world-shaking, smack-your-mamma-upside-the-head oil to start at around 10 euro a litre, where super market or consortium oils hover between four and five Euro a litre in Italy (consortiums always talk about oil about by the kilo, but it changes very little).
Few of us spend as little as possible on wine, yet when it comes to oil, we buy it from the supermarket shelves without thinking twice.
Giovanni Renda makes his own oil in something of a vanity operation. Renting all the equipment, from the pumps, tubs, tubes and tanks, he recently won Best in Show in the Spoleto extra virgin oil competition. Like so many in Trapani, he gave me hours of his time talking about his passion for high-quality extra virgin oil. ‘ I named the oil after my daughter’, he says with a shy smile. ‘My oil is the second best thing I’ve ever produced’, he says, tapping her picture.
After all the tastings I’ve been doing the last few days, I’ve been mailing the bottles back to myself in Lecce. If you’re coming to our spring olive course in late May, we’ll taste them together, many of which are some of my favourite oils ever. And no, none of them come in at 48 Euro a litre.
From Palermo, and if you happen to be on an over-loaded bicycle, you’ll only need a few hours to reach a little town called Carini. You could easily miss it if you weren’t looking out for it. And if you weren’t expected. We were. We had an appointment.
It was just one of those things that comes together, someone that knows someone that knows someone and next thing you know I’m on the phone with Lina. That’s the way it is here in the South. You can bang your head against the wall when the system works against you: when you’re perfectly qualified but the car or the job or the house goes to….someone that knows someone that knows someone else……
But today though, the river was flowing the right way.
Lina wanted to show me how to make Sfincione, a wood-fired flatbread covered with, in order, caciocavallo, anchovies, tomato sauce with onion, olive oil and then breadcrumbs.
Her husband Giuseppe worked the oven.
Cake flour, salt, yeast and oil are mixed together and allowed to rise for a few hours. A fire is built in an outdoor oven using twigs, or this time of year, vine trimmings. The goal is extreme heat.
The dough is stretched over an oiled, iron tray.
The hands are oiled to stop the pasta from sticking. Even outdoors with an incredible wind I could smell the oil being opened from several paces away.
Giuseppe makes his own oil, which we tasted from plastic cups. It was bitter and biting and terrific.
Crushed tomatoes are boiled with a couple of onions, some salt and a little sugar. Like many home cooks around the world, exact measurement are always personal. ‘Until it gets to the dent’, or ‘until I can see the bottom’, is how many cooks ask any questions about cooking times, recipes as individual as an old, dinged-up pot.
The fire is removed from the oven completely using a pizza peel. (Here Giuseppe then sweeps the floor of the oven with palm fronds tied to a broom handle, the fronds soaked in a bucket of water so as not to catch flame). It works remarkable well. All the burning wood is removed and collected in an old wheelbarrow.
A handful of pork sausages jacked with black pepper and fennel seeds straddle a tiny grill right over the fire in the wheelbarrow. Like every farmer I’ve ever met, nothing is ever wasted.
A few hours later, home-made rosato wine makes an appearance in an hermetic bottle on the lunch table. A startling fresh ricotta, sharp yet sweet from sheep’s milk. A bowel of anchovies. A hunk of aged caciocavallo.
I sit next to Giuseppe and we discuss the olive oil he makes, the wine he produces, his fruit trees and his fields that surround us.
It is sobering his level of pragmatic knowledge. More than sobering, it’s humbling. I begin to look around the perimeters of my field of vision. He poured the cement to build the drive way. He cut down that tree. He built that building. He constructed that outdoor oven. He planted that vineyard. I feel 16 again. Or maybe 19. Not when I know everything but I realise I know nothing.
The Sfincione is instantly knowable, as it’s the kind of dish imported into many countries around the world with the arrival of Southern Italian immigrants. The anchovy is mild and not at all fishy. The cheese is rich. The tomato, tangy. The bread is chewy, and it requires that you pick it up, the kind of food that instantly relaxes everyone. It’s delicious.
Soon almond pastries will come out. We’ll move inside to play cards. In a few hours everyone will change into suits and dresses for the local mass.
As I sat on an old couch and awaited the wind to die down before departing, I thought about Giuseppe and Lina and their self-sufficient life-style and how rare you find that today in Italy. What will the food in Italy be like when they’re gone, when I am, when you are? Without someone making olive oil at home, will consumers continue to blindly trust labels? Will wine become a mysterious beverage, produced by over-saluted lab workers? You don’t have to look far to see that bad food and a passive, uninformed consumer always go hand in hand.
We said goodbye after being together only a day but it felt like more. Giuseppe wanted to load our bicycle bags with fruit from his trees, a bottle of his oil, a water-bottled refilled with his wine. My throat swelled and my eyes begin to fill at his generosity.
Leaving Carini, I noticed that the birds were drunk and smacked into the sides of buildings and telephone poles. Cardboard-lined wooden fruit crates flew into the air as if they were jerked by ropes. A heavy vinyl rug from the front of a tiny grocery store took flight and flew past my head close enough that I could smell the brand of detergent that someone used to mop it. The constant noise was Bix Beiderbecke on a Coke bottle, so loud it hurt my ears. I couldn’t scream over the top of it. We’d wobble every few seconds, be forced to a complete stop every thirty. The muscles in my back begin to hurt from straining to stay upright. The Scirocco was blowing and unless you’ve experienced it, nothing will ever prepare you for it. We aimed out bikes towards Trapani and kept out heads low, our bags heavy with Giuseppe’s fruit and an oily bag of Lina’s Sfincione.