I can recall one late afternoon after returning from a tour of Taormina, one of the loveliest places in Sicily, we had taken a detour on a small side road. We encountered a small pickup truck loaded with beautiful Sicilian eggplants; some were light purple and some white. The truck was parked, and we greeted the driver with our best “buon giorno.” We asked if we could buy some eggplant. Si signora, certamente. We chose six or seven and asked how much we owed him. To our surprise, he said he could not take any money. He said they were not his. They belonged to someone else, but we were welcome to take all we wanted. Somehow it seemed a strange way to do business. Eggplant was on our menu for several days in a multitude of recipes.
Another evening, we decided after a day of touring we eat our evening meal in Villa Antonelli, an agricultural farm walking distance from our villa. Guests at this villa worked on the farm and received room and board. We arrived at 8 p.m., and the cook was not quite ready for us. His wife came out to greet us and sat at our table to chat bringing a basket full of fresh-baked bread with virgin olive oil for dipping. We enjoyed the dish of the day, fresh-made pasta with a tomato sauce topped with fried eggplant. As was our ritual, we shared a bottle of wine of the region. It was 10:30 p.m. when we completed our late dinner, and the hostess had become a friend joining us for black coffee and pistachio gelato.
One afternoon, we drove up to Taoramina hoping to explore the area. There were so many things to see. The visit to the ancient Greek temple at the top of the city, where performers from all over the world still used this outdoor amphitheater. We had just missed the performance of Sting, who is an internationally known entertainer. Shops lined the winding streets throughout the town. The flair of fashion and elegance of the items were displayed with such panache, as only the Italians can do. Outdoor cafes were filled with tourists from all over the world, since September is a popular month for vacationers.
One day, we found ourselves on our way to Taoramina traveling on a mountain road, narrow enough for only one car to pass. Joan, our driver maneuvered the car well, but when we came to a dead end, we discovered there was no way to turn around and go back down. There was no guardrail, and the drop from the mountain was steep. My sister, terrified, sat immobile. Susan, my niece, sat with her fists clenched until they were white. All of us were silent with fear we would remain on this road with no way out. Finally, we reached the end of the road and realized we had come to the entrance of a gated community.
It occurred to us there was nowhere to go but in. I got out of the car, walked up to gate and rang the bell of one of the residents. A voice answered “Chi Ce?” Who is it? As the woman at the other end spoke, the gate opened. I was so flustered I could not get the words out. Joan proceeded to drive the car through the now opened gate. The gate closed behind us. Susan had remained outside the gate. My sister was hiding her head in her hands since this was too much for her to bear. At this point, the car was inside the entrance gate, Susan was outside the gate, and all we had to do was reopen the gate to leave. I pushed the button on the inside to open it, but it would only open enough to let out a person, not a car.
We all were totally exasperated when a resident in a car approached us and used his remote to reopen the gate and allow us out. As we drove down the mountain road again, we could still hear the woman who spoke over the intercom still saying “Chi Ce? She may still be waiting for us to respond and invite us in.
Each day here was an episode we shall all remember.
Linda Alessi contributes a weekly column to The Democrat on life’s later decades.