Enza, Frank & Christy in Siracusa

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Frank and I love his cousin, Enza, so much that we kidnapped her for our roadtrip to Siracusa to visit even more relatives. The picture above is a typical gas station along the way – they all come with an espresso bar!

Ortigia

We rented an apartment in the old town of Siracusa, called Ortigia. It is an island connected by a short bridge to the mainland. It was settled over 2500 years ago and has remnants from Greeks, Romans, and Arabians. The streets are a cobblestoned maze full of restaurants and shops, all along the seawall.

The town definitely was built before cars, and you have to have a special “ZTL” pass to drive here. We do, since our apartment is here, but that does not make it any easier. Needless to say, it was a bit of a challenge finding our way and getting settled in. As Enza said, “Mamma Mia!”

But our apartment is spacious, beautiful, and in the middle of everything. We have two balconies overlooking Via Santa Teresa, right over an excellent pizzeria, and a half-block from the seawall. Our parking woes were worth it.

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Enza and I have already taken a passiagetta along the sea wall, where she introduced me to a new drink I love called Crodino. It is orange and very refreshing (non-alcoholic). We walked to a cafe, ordered Crodinos and potato chips, and had a wonderful time trying to speak in “poco” Inglese / Italiano.

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The Siracusa Side of the Family

We also got to visit with another of Enza’s and Frank’s first cousins on the Buccheri side – Tina. Tina’s daughter is Evelina, who came with her son Antonino to visit us in Venice. They live in town in a 4-story building with the whole family on different floors – Tina (the matriarch), her three children, and their families. They had us over for a delicious lunch of fresh spada (swordfish) and gamberi (big shrimp). (Fortunately for us, Evelina’s sons, Antonino and Diego, met us via motorcycle to lead the way, so we didn’t get lost.)

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Evelina’s husband also has a sporting club a little ways out of town, where they have a huge lemon and orange grove (2,000 trees!), along with soccer fields, swimming pools, and tennis courts. They have a home there as well. It was peaceful and beautiful. They sent us back with an armload of oranges and lemons.

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Santa Lucia

When we tried to drive back to our little island of Ortigia, traffic was backed up, and a policeman said we could not get in, even with our pass. It was the procession of Santa Lucia, which only happens twice a year. Santa Lucia is the patron saint of Siracusa. She was a young woman who vowed to follow her own way and help the poor, rather than marrying the husband that was arranged for her. This did not go down well, but she persisted, performing miracles and helping the poor. Eventually, she was martyred and made a saint. However, the Venetian doge took her body, which still rests in Venice. Frank and I went to see it because we knew it meant so much to the relatives in Siracusa. So it is just her tomb and statue that are here. She is very much loved – especially by women. They have a big festival in December for her, but during May, they take her out and parade her through the streets.

Well, for us, after driving around, we finally ditched a car in what we think was a real space (we hope it is still there) and made our way on foot to our apartment. We turned a corner, and lo and behold, there comes Santa Lucia. Talk about timing! There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of people lining the seawall. We joined them and soon the procession went by, accompanied by a band. Everyone fell into line to follow after it. What a wonderful sight. That night, they had fireworks, which we could watch from our balcony.

Of all the places we have been in Italy, I am starting to think Sicily is the best by far.

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On the Road Again – with Enza!

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We spent our last day in Canicatti with Mirella and Benedetto at their beautiful home for lunch. Enza (Mirella’s mom) made grilled fish and the most amazing fried calamari I’ve ever had. It was even better than Southern Fried Chicken (and as a South Carolinian that is saying something)!

We were all a little tired from the previous night’s big banquet, so it was a laid back afternoon of talking and visiting.

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On To Siracusa

And now we are on the road to see more family – to Siracusa, which is on the eastern coast. We have an apartment in the old town area and have an extra bedroom. So we are kidnapping Enza and taking her with us! Another one of the “first cousins” (Tina) lives there, so we will all catch up.

But we are not going empty-handed. The Canicatti Family is sending us off plenty of provisions. Mirella sent a huge tin of olive oil made from the olive trees in their backyard – they press the olives every year to make their own olio. She also packed homemade orange marmalade made from their orange trees. Wow. And Salvio and Cettina presented us with a giant jug of Nero D’Avolo wine made at Cettina’s family’s vineyard. We love Sicily!

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Family Dinner in Sicilia

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Last night was the definite highlight of our week. The family, led by Mirella (Enza’s daughter), planned a final banquet to send us off. All the people we have met this week came – plus a few more – 30 in all! Each of them was related in some way to Anointetta (Frank’s mother). It was heartwarming, fun, boisterous, and very, very special. Three of Frank’s first cousins were there – see picture at the top.

We drove out to the country to a trattoria that was set up just for us. Once we settled in, the men sat at one end, the women in the middle, and the kids on the other end – all talking up a storm. We feasted on pasta, carne (meat), contorni (vegetables), fragole (strawberries), and tiramisu, all washed down with unlimited pitchers of red wine.

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Frank and I both even gave a little speech thanking everyone for their hospitality – we wrote ahead of time and used Google Translate, with Mirella’s help on pronunciation.

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We did not get home until 2 am! These Sicilians know how to have a good time!

I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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All in the Family

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Wow – we have had a busy few days re-connecting with LOTS of family. This is a little long, and I am posting several pictures because the family back in America, along with those in Sicily, are using the blog to catch up with each other, too. Very cool.

Background

As a refresher (since it is confusing for a newcomer), Antoinetta Buccheri was Frank’s mother. She was born in Canicatti, Sicily and emigrated to the United States when she was 18. Her older brother was Salvatore, who was the one who traveled with her to Naples to catch the ship for America. He stayed in Sicily and had a family, including a daughter named Enza. Antoinetta had a family in New York, including a son named Frank. So Frank and Enza are first cousins.

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Enza

Enza invited us to her home and then to a fabulous lunch. But first, she had a surprise. She had invited a few other relatives to join us for pre-lunch cafe (where I even had my first espresso!). We would sit down, and the doorbell would ring, and a relative would come in, and we’d take pictures and hug. Then we’d sit down, and the doorbell would ring, and . . . it really was like a movie.

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My favorite part was when Enza was showing Frank some old pictures. He found a picture of his mother he had never seen before (the picture posted at the top). This was taken of his mother when she had just landed in America – she sent it back to her family.

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Maria Teresa

Another first cousin of Enza and Frank was Maria Teresa. She has passed away, but her husband, Rosario, came by Enza’s house (he is the one with white hair hugging Frank, above). And then later that day, we went to Maria Teresa and Rosario’s son’s home and saw his family (this would be Frank’s cousin’s son, his nephew, once removed?). They have a stunning (and huge) apartment on a top floor with a terrace view of the city.

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The House

One of the most special moments of the day was when Enza led us back to the childhood home of their parents – where Salvatore and Antoinetta grew up. It is in the oldest part of town – the original village – and now, is more of a shell of the original house. But to imagine their parents playing on these streets. Frank never got to meet his grandparents, so it was very meaningful to be able to picture where they lived.

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More Family

And there is even more! The next day, Mirella (Enza’s daughter), hosted us for a luncheon at her beautiful home. This is where we went the first day. Mirella is a teacher, and her husband, Benedetto is a dentist. They have a gorgeous home in the country with an olive grove, gardens, and even a separate kitchen house for cooking when it is hot (there is a kitchen in the main house, too).

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Mirella’s family joined us for lunch and after dolce (dessert), we heard the doorbell ring . . . and Maria Teresa’s two other children came by. (Remember we had visited their brother at his big apartment with the terrace the day before.) Out came the grappa, and rapid-fire stories and laughter were shared across the table.

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Soon, the doorbell rang again – and in came Enza’s third child, Salvio (Mirella’s brother), along with his partner Cettina. More grappa, stories, and laughter.

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The Vineyard

While we were talking, we learned that Cettina’s family owns a vineyard nearby. So on the way home, she and Salvio took us there so we could see some of the countryside. They make Nero D’Avola wine (with black grapes) – we have seen this in the stores.

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So – a good time was had by all. We took yesterday off to just rest, work, and catch up on laundry and chores. Whew.

And tonight – the grand finale – a dinner with ALL the cousins and relatives. Pictures to come . . .

Famiglia in Canicatti

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Have you ever been to Canicatti? When Frank told our sailing friend, Stephano, that his mother was from Canicatti, Stephano told us that there is an Italian rhyme about going “all the way to Canicatti” – sort of their version of “Timbuktu.” I think it is mainly because the word is catchy. But there really is a Canicatti – and we went there yesterday.

Antoinetta’s Story

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Canicatti is in the southern part of Sicily, near Agrigento. It is actually quite large, with a city center surrounded on the outskirts by green countryside, small mountains, and close by, the Meditteranean. Frank’s mother, Antoinetta Buccheri, grew up here. Frank’s father, Angelo Volpe, grew up in the neighboring town of Castrofilippo. The story goes that Angelo saw Antoinetta in a window one day and knew he would marry her.

After they married, Angelo was the first to strike out for America. He then sent for Antoinetta, who, at the age of 18, boarded a ship by herself, crossed the Atlantic, and disembarked at Ellis Island in 1927. Angelo and Antoinetta settled in Brooklyn, where Frank and his brother were born.

Angelo never went back to Sicily – his story is more of a mystery. We will try to uncover some of it while here. But Antointetta kept up with her family and made several trips back. Frank has been back to meet his first cousins, but it has been several years since they connected in person.

Meeting the Family

Frank had called his cousin, Enza (Antoinetta’s niece), and through an Italian-English combination, they established that we would all meet for lunch on Tuesday. We were on our way back from Palermo after switching our rental car (see prior story) when we decided to swing by Canicatti to make sure we knew where we were going. It was about 6 pm by then.

We found Enza’s address and, lo and behold, her daughter, Mirella, was waiting out front. She spotted us and honked and waved. She jumped out the car, called her mother and daughter, and before we knew it, Enza jumped in our car and we were heading to Mirella’s house to meet the rest of the family.

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Mirella’s home is beautiful, with an olive grove and big garden out back. Soon, more family came – Mirella’s husband, Benedetto, and her brother, Johnny and family.

They mainly speak Italian, with a little English. We mainly speak English, with a little Italian. But we told stories, traded family updates, and laughed and laughed. This turned into dinner and before we knew it, it was almost midnight!

We looked like one of those Super Bowl commercials for technology. We traded messages through Facebook to figure out each other’s phone numbers, showed each other family pictures on our respective iPads, and used Google Translate (a lot) to help sort out the tricky words each side didn’t know.

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My favorite moment was when Frank was filling in his family tree. He had sketched out what he knew and then sat with Johnny and Johnny’s 6th-grade son trying to fill in names in other squares. Three generations of Bucherris back together again.

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What a truly amazing and moving experience – like a movie. We are meeting up with Enza today to look for the house where Frank’s mother and Enza’s father grew up. Stay tuned . . .

Sicily!

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We are finally to the place that was the whole inspiration for our trip – where Frank’s parents grew up. We will be here for two and a half months, exploring this beautiful island and connecting with family.

Agrigento Beach House

Our first stop is Agrigento, which is on the southern side of Sicily and only a few miles from where Frank’s parents grew up. It is also the home to the Valley of the Temples, what some say are the best preserved Greek temples outside of Greece. You can see them from the highway, but we will tour them later this week.

We rented a beach house on VRBO. The owners sent us directions, which we followed along the autostrada – and then – there was a quick right and all of a sudden, we were in another world. A very narrow dirt road, where two horses galloped by, those amazing Greek temples in the distance, and no signs. We gamely inched forward and made the next left, as instructed, only to encounter an overpass that looked like it would take us to an even more remote world.

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The overpass ended at a gate, and we didn’t know what to do. We called the owner, who said we were in the right place, and all of a sudden, the gate opened. We drove forward to another gate. It opened automatically, too. And we found ourselves in an incredible compound right on the water. Movie stars could stay here, it is so private.

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The family was super nice – the mom, grandmom, and two kids were there. They had stocked the ‘fridge with local cheese, canolli, and limoncello. They even drove us around to show us the local markets. Wow – Sicily is very friendly.

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And Of Course Adventure

We pictured driving into the nearest little town and having a leisurely, fancy dinner to celebrate our first night here. But there always must be a little adventure. Ours came when we tried to lock the rental car, and all the windows rolled down. After a few more attempts, we realized this was a pattern. Every time we hit “lock” on the remote key, we would hear a click and all seemed well. But then a few minutes later, all the windows would roll down. Oh no! We have heard a few scary stories about Sicily and how bold thieves will actually steal purses right out of moving cars. What do you think they would do to a car sitting around with all its windows down? Not good. We pulled out the manual – of course, it is in Italian. We called Hertz, who seemed as puzzled as we were – although there may have been a little detail lost in translation. (After some Googling, apparently this is a common problem on this model of Volvo.)

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Our Car – notice windows all down.

In the meantime, we were starving in our compound by the sea. So Frank and I made a bold plan to go to the market. One of us would dash in, while the other would be the look-out to for our unlocked car (so the windows would stay up). We took turns grabbing groceries and then running back to check out the car. I’m sure we looked like crazy people. With the marketing finished, we decided to just order a pizza to go. We turned down a beachfront avenue that we knew had restaurants, but learned that it apparently closes to cars on Saturday nights so people can take a stroll. There was no way out, so we had to keep going for six long blocks – apologizing to bikers, babies in strollers, and elderly couples walking arm in arm in our path. Finally, we picked up our pizza and headed home.

Back on the autostrada, back under the little overpass, back down the dirt road and through the gate. We collapsed on the terrace overlooking the water, opened a bottle of wine, and ate our (now cold) pizza. It tasted delicious.

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Update: After trying to explain this quirky problem on the phone, we are heading back to Palermo Hertz. Good news is that Frank has already connected with his cousin, Enza, who lives nearby. We will be going there for lunch this week. Things are looking up.

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Rollin’ on the Tiber River

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For our last day in Rome, we decided to just take it easy and go on a boat ride (our favorite thing to do). We had seen a brochure for a “Hop-On Hop-Off” boat along the Tiber River. Perfect – we could ride down, hop off for lunch, and ride back home.

If you haven’t been to Rome, the Tiber River is not that big. It is muddy with a swift current and has a series of rapids part-way through the town. So the range a boat can go is somewhat limited. But we still would see a different side to the city.

We excitedly made our way to the riverbank, where there was a huge rowing regatta going on, bought our ticket and waited. About 15 minutes later, this little barge with plastic lawn chairs on top chugged up to the dock, listing a little when the passengers turned this way or that. Just our type of adventure!

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We boarded and had a marvelous time taking in the river sights. We saw a number of rowing clubs with beautiful boathouses, along with restaurants and even houseboats. My favorite scene in “Roman Holiday” was when Audrey Hepburn went to the dance on the barge along the Tiber River, so I loved this.

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Eventually, we ended up at Tiber Island, the only island in the river. We got off and wandered around awhile before going to the mainland on the other side to the Jewish Ghetto. Rome’s Jewish population first came here 2,000 years ago. Then, in about 1500 AD, the city decided they should be segregated in a 4-block area next to the river, which at the time was undesirable due to flooding. The area still is the home to a beautiful temple, thriving kosher restaurants, and galleries. We had lunch at a place that specializes in whole fried artichokes, which are in season right now. Delicious.

We came home, packed, and had a final toast in our lovely apartment. We are a little sad to leave Rome, but we are super excited about our next destination – Sicily!

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The Gardens of the Pope

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If you think the above picture is chaotic, you are right. This is what the entrance to the Vatican Museum looks like. Visitors stand in a line that goes for blocks – unless you have a guided tour. Then, you are able to by-pass everyone and walk right in. And even better if the tour is of the gardens, where you can trade the picture above for this:

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Ahhh . . . much better.

These are the gardens of the Pope. We were extremely lucky because they only open them twice a month to visitors. I had looked online a couple of months ago to see what tours they had and reserved this one because it looked off the beaten path, and we usually like that type of thing.

It was great! Not only were the gardens beautiful, but we learned lots of interesting facts.

– For example, did you know that Pope John Paul II jogged nearly every day in these gardens?

– Or that Vatican citizens have a special license plate? They can park anywhere in Rome and not get a ticket (like diplomatic immunity).

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– The Gardener has his job for life and a house right below St. Peter’s Dome (see yellow house below), where he lives with his family. They all get to be Vatican citizens, until the children turn 18 and then have to become Italians.

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– There is a 15th century tower, which was used as a look-out when first built. Each Pope is able to choose whichever rooms in the Vatican he wants for his apartments. One decided to live in the tower, so they fixed it all up for him. Now they let dignitaries stay there, including (they told us) American Presidents.

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– There is an area surrounded by fountains where the Pope can have a private conversation that is guaranteed not to be overheard by anyone on the outside.

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– And each Pope gets to decorate their own area – whether a type of garden or statue that means something to him. If a Pope has a favorite walking path, they will end up naming it for him. One Pope walked the same straight line so often that they installed a glass ceiling, so if it rained, he could still walk and see the sky.

So not only was the setting lovely, but it really was like walking around in history. What a fascinating and beautiful place.

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