Pearl and Gina Move to Toronto

This is a big change for us! The last time I lived in a big city was over 45 years ago when I lived in Vancouver for a brief time. That was a pretty wild time because somehow I ended up being part of an “in crowd” of very rich hippies – think platters of coke and Thai stick being passed around on silver trays at cocktail parties. But those are stories for another day.

Pearl and I had settled into a nice routine back in Dundas after moving from an apartment run by slum lords (charging luxury prices) into my mom’s apartment. Those of you who followed our journey in Europe might remember that my mom died while Pearl and I were on the ferry going from Civitavecchia, near Rome to Palermo, Sicily. There were a lot of people in my apartment building who believed Covid was a hoax and flaunted all the regulations meant to help keep people safe, so my sister suggested I move into my mom’s apartment for awhile. The rest of the family also thought this was a grand idea because someone needed to sort through all of her stuff and no one else was willing. It is a lovely apartment in an old Victorian home with high ceilings, transom windows, large rooms and a good location. Lots of places for me and Pearl to walk and a schoolyard to play fetch.

I had been having problems with the superintendents ever since I moved in because I had had the audacity to complain about the window screen with a huge gash in it, my storage room being full of someone else’s things, my fridge leaking water all over the food and the floor etc. I was told that if I complained they had ways of evicting me and believe me they tried. I even got an eviction notice for speaking too loudly when on my balcony! So anyway my sister, who owns the house containing my mom’s apartment asked me to stay. I was iffy about renting from family, but thought perhaps I could supplement my income by renting out the extra bedroom. of course my idea of renting to a visiting prof or post doc never materialized. When Universities are closed, people don’t tend to visit.

Oh well, Pearl ad I were enjoying having a yard and a nice place to live and had no plans to move until a subsidized housing unit became available and that was years away. Then my niece decided that she wanted my apartment and I was out on my ass. I looked in Dundas and there was almost nothing available and they were all way more than I could afford. I kept raising my budget, but to no avail. The cheapest apartment that wasn’t a complete dump was almost double what I was paying. So I started looking in Hamilton where apartments were only 150% to 175% more than I was paying. And most were in areas where I would be afraid to walk Pearl at night. I did go to see one in an okay area. There were a dozen people waiting to see it. It was completely different than the description – 1 instead of 2 bedrooms, no garage, no sign of renovations in the past 20 years or more and the current tenants were openly selling drugs! Since I didn’t want to wake up one night with a gun in my face, I did not attempt to rent it.

I could have looked further east towards Stoney Creek, but then it would take even longer to get to Toronto to see Penny. Now that the numbers were down, I could finally spend some time with my granddaughter again. Perhaps Toronto was the answer, but I was sure it would be even more expensive. To my surprise it was cheaper! Even in the Beaches where I eventually found a place. Instead of looking at smog from a grimy window in Hamilton, I could see Lake Ontario from the front of the house that my apartment is in. It is a beautiful shady street, a 4 minute walk to the beach and there is a grocery store a couple of minutes away. One of the things I loved about Dundas is all of the little independently owned shops and restaurants. Well Queen Street in the Beaches is like Dundas on steroids! AND Penny is only a 30 minute walk/ 20 minute transit ride away.

The apartment is tiny. It is about the size of my living room in Dundas, but location, location, location as they say. Also my landlords are super nice. They are a youngish couple with 3 children aged 9, 7 and 5 who are in love with Pearl. Of course. How could they not be?

And what does Pearl think of the move? It took a bit to get used to all of the dogs and she still reacts sometimes, but mostly she loves it. The Beaches are so dog friendly that the grocery store has a dog hitching post out front. There is at least one dog skiing with its person at every cafe you pass and lots of dog parks. In fact the beach at the end of our street is an off leash park where Pearl can play with all kinds of dogs and go for a wade in the lake when she gets hot.

The Road to Noto is Not Smooth Sailing and Whispers From the North

I’ve gotten pretty good at navigating through Siracusa, but the train station is a little out-of-the-way from my usual haunts, which have by the way expanded greatly.  When I tried to get there to take a train to Catania, Pearl and I got completely lost and a 20 minute trip took well over an hour. Silly me, I relied partly on Google maps, which if you have read my other blogs, will know doesn’t work. I do have to admit that it’s not completely Google’s fault this time as the area around the train station is under construction so it looks like a reroute is needed, but it is not for walkers, only for those driving. Thank the goddesses that the trains between Siracusa and Catania run every hour during the week. 

For the trip to Noto I decided that I would walk there and plan a route the day before, prior to navigating with a dog and a suitcase. Plotting a route in Siracusa is not quite as simple as you might think. You can look at a map and figure out the best way to get there, but when you try to do it via the streets you’ve mapped out you may discover but some of those streets are not conducive to walkers and/or the sidewalks are not usable. This can be for many reasons. First of all, be prepared to walk around the many drying racks. Small town have nothing on Siracusa where laundry (at least it is more or less clean)  is literally hung out for everyone to see. Alternately, the excess water from clean laundry may be dripping on your head as you walk. Also there are apparently no building regulations in Siracusa, so if you want a porch you just build it on the front of your house and if your new porch extends over the sidewalk and onto the road — shrug. It’s also best to know if the street is one that is in particularly bad shape. Wheeling a suitcase across broken pavement that is basically rubble is more difficult than wheeling it over cobblestones! Another factor to take into account is the width of the sidewalk. Sidewalks vary between 1/2 a metre to 2 m. A single person walking on a half metre sidewalk is doable; walking single file with a dog is barely doable, but trying to walk with a dog and a suitcase on a half metre sidewalk is not doable!  Next, one needs to consider the type of street. A via is a small street and easy to cross. Also less likely to have motorcyclists suddenly coming up behind you on the sidewalk and scaring the shit out of you. On a viale one needs to be more careful of that and can run into tricky situations. Do you know those traffic corners where they have lights for left turns?  Well, in Siracusa that is also when you get the crossing signal for walking across the street when people are turning left directly into your path! Because the city is over a thousand years old, nothing is on a grid, so often the people turning left are often doing so from a curve and do not see you until they are a metre or two away. Since all Sicilian drive as though they are participating in a the Monaco Grand Prix or Daytona 500 this makes for a very dangerous situation. Having extras to watch out for such as a dog and a suitcase, make it even more so. It is best to know how to avoid these. So rather than crossing vale Luigi Cordona at Viale Tiocrito, it is best to walk a block south and cross over. This is the pedestrian walkway that brings you into the grounds of the Basilica Santuario Madonna delle Lacrime. I have a theory that drivers stop for pedestrians there because they are entering the grounds of the Basilica. They tend to stop on the other side too and this is extremely unusual behaviour — obeying the regulation to stop at pedestrian crosswalks.

Another benefit of crossing by the Basilica is catching a peak of the gardens as you walk along. This picture is from the second week of February when flowers suddenly started blooming everywhere.

The widest street that you are likely to have to cross is a Corso. For me on the way to the train station I needed to cross Corso Gelone. This is not difficult if you know the right spots. Corsos and some viales are like boulevards with a centre area, so you cross one half of the street and then the next. 

Back to the story:) So I plotted out my best route on the way home from school. Yes, I started taking Italian classes at the Italian Academy. This is from their site and it is actually true! “The main building of our campus is a historic villa that boasts over 2 acres of lush botanical garden filled with citrus trees, Mediterranean flora, century-old palms, and magnolias, as well as many other exotic trees and plants. Outdoor lessons, cooking classes, workshops and other activities are often held within this enchanting setting.”

So while I improved my Italian, Pearl roamed the grounds. I chose individual lessons since I was bringing Pearl to school with me (you really can bring dogs anywhere in Sicily). Luisa was very helpful in cementing and adding to my knowledge of Italian both written and spoken. The written was useful to learn the spoken, but I can’t even remember how to spell simple English words, so within a day or so, I’d forgotten how to spell the Italian words. However, I still remembered how to say and understand them which was what was really important. I dictate all of my posts using Apple Pages and then double check and look up the spelling of words that I know Pages misunderstood so that you all get somewhat legible text to read:)

The news was starting to pierce my bubble. Of course we had all heard about Wuhan, but reports were starting to appear on the news about an outbreak in Northern Italy. It seemed as though one day there were rumblings and the next there were lockdowns in a few small towns quickly followed by reports of Coronavirus spreading to Milan and Venice. A couple of days before, I had been chatting with my niece about meeting her in Florence instead of Naples, but that was beginning to look like a very bad idea. 

My original route back to Canada was Siracusa to Palermo by train, followed by a ferry to Napoli where I would stay for 5 or 6 days before heading north to Milano to meet a friend and a few days later the night train to Paris for a short stay. Then a flight to Montreal followed by a train to Toronto (after an overnight stay), a Go Bus to Hamilton and a taxi home to Dundas. The main reason for this torturous journey was of course Pearl. I wanted to avoid plane travel as much as possible, but also it would be great to see some of Italy and meet my online Italian teacher Cristina who lives in Milano.

I started looking into a possible new way home and cancelling hotels and transportation, but with my intermittent Internet it was just too frustrating so I decided to put it off until I arrived in Noto. at that point in time the virus seemed contained to the north of Italy with most of the cases in a few small towns. So there didn’t seem to be a real rush. I had already given my notice to my landlady because it was just too damp in my apartment plus I didn’t feel like living like a peasant anymore. There was a great spot on the beach in Taormina an hour and a half up the coast waiting for me a few days after I returned from Noto. The condo even included a kayak. And while it may have been cool and damp in my apartment, outside with the sun shining Sicilia was waking up. Temperatures during the afternoon were often hitting 24° and by 10 in the morning it was 18°. My new plan was to head north to Taormina and from there take a ferry over to the tip of the boot in Calabria. I really hadn’t figured out what I was going to do after that. There were so many possibilities and I still had a month to go before my flight home from Paris.

I decided to see how the situation unfolded while I was gone for two nights in Noto and also to check out transportation while I had reliable Internet. A delicious chicken cutlet from the butcher down the street with a bit of pasta, bags packed and Pearl’s toilette finished it was time for bed before tomorrow’s travel.

Catania: The good, the bad and the ugly

I booked a long weekend at an Airbnb in Catania to meet my friend Bena who was coming from Frankfurt with her family. We never meet where we live:) The last time we met it was in Strasbourg, France. They were staying in Aci Trezza a 20 minute drive away, but I chose Catania because it is more accessible if you’re not driving. My Airbnb was very nice, in the same building as the Romanian Embassy, but the area around was a little sketchy. I walked down a side street one morning and came across a group of men huddled around a garbage can fire. There were lots of belongings such as clothes and blankets so it appeared as though they lived there. They were also quite a few homeless people in the piazza a block up the street. They probably were not dangerous but there were a lot of broken beer bottles, even more than usual, in their vicinity and perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but for me smashing bottles shows anger. As a woman on my own except for a very small dog, I didn’t feel very safe walking around once it turned dark. When I took Pearl out for her final walk we just walked back-and-forth in front of the few stores that were open. It was very unfortunate because as I said the Airbnb was nice. The apartment was big and airy and bright and the bedroom had a terrace from which you could clearly see Mount Etna once you disregarded the large crane somewhere behind the building:) If you are brave enough to drive in Sicily, the apartment is perfectly safe because there is underground parking — a rarity!

I found one of the coolest things in Catania the first afternoon that I was there. In the main Duomo piazza there is a large elephant statue in the middle of the square! 

I sat and had a glass of wine with of course snacks because in Sedalia they always give you snacks with your wine, while Pearl had some water and we both watched the people go by. I picked up some pasta to go and we had an early evening. It’s funny, at home I hate shopping for clothes, but when I am in someplace new, I enjoy it. It is part of the exploration of culture. So the next day when Pearl and I were wandering around Catania we visited a few shops and I found a great cotton hoodie — perfect for Sicilian February temperatures. With the 3 legged Trinacria, the symbol of Sicily, on the back. I still had not found a pair of made in Italy Italian leather boots, but knew that it was just a matter of time.

Trinacria the symbol of Italy

In the afternoon we hopped on a tourist bus to go to Aci Trezza to meet my friend Bena. She and her family had spent the day in Taormina checking out the Greek theatre and soaking up some Sicilian sunshine. Pearl and I walked along the seafront for a while, smelling the salt air and listening to the waves until I found a perfect little bar with a great view of the water, where I could relax, sip some wine, have a snack and marvel a the the Rocks of the Cyclops. These large boulders, so myth has it were where Polyphemus, Poseidons’s son, lived. Polyphemus as befits a cyclops was not a nice creature and according to one legend, the bay surrounding Cyclop’s rocks is a young shepherd boy transformed into a river after being killed by Polyphemus. There are many Aci somethings in the area. Either to honour the young shepherd boy or to cache in on the action. Who knows? Whether or not the legend is true, the bay and the rocks are beautiful.

Many of the wines from Mount Etna are also wonderful. The whites are rich with a minerality reminiscent of French Sèvre et Maine and the reds are full bodied with hints of tobacco and tannin, similar to good Bordeaux. So of course when Bena, her husband, daughter and son arrived the grown-ups needed to try more. Bena wanted to know how I found what was obviously the trendy bar in town. Truthfully I had been feeling a little out of place when I first arrived and then I thought screw it, I may not be young, but I’m trendy:) Like many places in our travels, Pearl picked it, but don’t tell anyone!

After our very large glasses of wine we headed off to try to find dinner. I was amazed that we found an open restaurant because it was only 6 pm. Mind you Act Trezza is a tourist town, so I guess it makes sense that restaurants would cater to touriste tastes in dinner times. After huge pizzas and entirely too much Etna red wine, I still had to make it back to Catania, so we walked to Bena’s holiday booking to call a taxi and wait. I discovered that she was not kidding when she told me it was nothing like the pictures on-line! She had sent me a link to the property a month before and I jealous of this big space with two bedrooms and a terrace looking out at the sea. In reality it was a small room with two bunkbeds and you had to take a walkway around the back of the building to look at the sea! There was a private beach, so that part was true, but the room description and pictures we’re completely off! I did arrive safely back in Catania, perhaps due to Aci’s intervention. I have a hazy memory of taking Pearl for a very short walk before going to bed and passing out. I love my wine, but rarely have more than a glass and certainly not more than 3, so the 5 glasses of very strong volcanic wine really hit me hard!

The next morning Pearl and I went off for a walk through this lovely Boulevard that I discovered the day before with a great piazza at the end of it. Pearl for her toilette, me to walk off my hangover. We met many people on both days walking dogs, but on this day there were a bunch of dogs off lead playing around the fountain. With no provocation, a large yellow lab mix suddenly came running over and picked up Pearl and started shaking her. I was screaming at the owner who kept saying it was all in fun, they were playing. It was not in fun he pierced her skin and there was blood dripping down her side! When I tried to pick her up he tried to pull her out of my arms! I was yelling at the owner to call him off and she kept saying no he’s playing, he’s playing and I was like no he’s not he’s a bad dog call him off. I had to kick him in order to get him to stop. Pearl was injured, one of my fingers was broken from our tug of war over who got Pearl and the idiotic owner was still saying that he was playing! The next hour was spent, to no avail, trying to find a vet open on a Sunday. I washed her wound with soap and water followed by alcohol, love those little swabs, I take them everywhere, but Pearl was just going to have to wait to see a vet when we got home to Siracusa the next day.

Bena and her family came over for a visit and were very impressed with my apartment. Everybody checked out Etna and we tried to take photos, but the sun was directly behind us, so we are just silhouettes. There is not much to do on a Sunday in Sicily, so we headed off to the market. The Sunday market in Siracusa is great! It has fresh vegetables and fruit, seafood, cheese and meats, clothes and household items, antiques and junk. I was hoping Catania’s Sunday market would be the same because Isha, Bena’s daughter likes flea markets. But it was very small and only had fruit and vegetables, so, it being Italy we partook in another great pastime and went to eat of course.

Somehow we happened upon the perfect restaurant for Sunday lunch (It was probably Pearl, she was developing an uncanny knack for choosing which way to go and what places to go in to). It was full of Italian families having dinner after church, and us. Bena wanted to order another bottle of wine but after the night before I said no way, maybe one small glass of white wine, but that’s it! They had delicious bread and wonderful olive oil to put on it which helped soak up some of the booze from the night before. We each ordered different things so we were able to taste a lot of different pastas and seafood and the owner brought us some homemade cannoli for dessert on the house.

Sadly, after lunch, it was time to say goodbye because they had a flight to catch. After dropping off me and Pearl they headed out to the airport and we had a very quiet afternoon and evening before heading back to Syracuse the next morning. Our first stop was at the vet, suitcase and all. After scolding me for not seeing a vet with her the day before, even though I explained that I couldn’t find one open, he washed Pearl’s wounds and shaved the hair around them and gave her a shot of antibiotics and instructions that I was to come in every day for the next four or five days. Total cost including the shots for the next five days was €20! I also had a prescription for her that I was to take to the pharmacy.

Bite from the cane cattivo! If you happen to find yourself in need of a vet while in Siracusa I highly recommend Dr. Romano Piazza Santa Lucia, 9, 96100 Siracusa SR, Italy, His wife does grooming also!

Not a dog pharmacy — a regular pharmacy! But now there was a new problem. When he gave Pearl the antibiotic injection in the back of her leg she jumped and I noticed when we were walking home that she was favouring that leg. Shortly after we got home it started swelling and I was very worried that she had had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics. However, we were in Sicily and nothing is open in the afternoon in Sicily, so we had to wait until the vet re-opened at four in the afternoon. I was there with pearl at 3:30 so we would be first in line, but somebody was already there before us. 4 o’clock came around then 4:05,4:10 and no vet. That’s when I rechecked the hours and discovered that he didn’t re-open until 4:30. At 4:30 on the dot, surprisingly (for Sicily), the doors opened and the woman who was ahead of me went in. I waited impatiently with Pearl, getting more and more worried, because by this point, she couldn’t put her leg down at all! She couldn’t put any weight on it and she cried in pain when you touched it or if she accidentally lay on that side. If you have or have ever had a dog, you will know that they don’t cry unless they are really hurt, so my poor baby was in a lot of pain. Finally we got into see the vet and it was not an allergic reaction, it was a massive blood clot in her leg. He gave me some medication to break up the clot and another prescription to bring to the pharmacy. One prescription was a spray for her wounds and the other was for anointment that I was to rub on her leg to help break up the clot. So off we went to the bank, because I only had about €10 and somehow I knew that the prescriptions would be more than the vet. With cash from the bancomat I set off to the pharmacy with my baby in her carrier. Pearl only weighs about 5 kg, but let me tell you 5 kg starts getting heavy after the first two or 3 km! I had carried her to the vet, the bancomat, than pharmacy and then I realized that there wasn’t much to eat in the house:( I had the tiniest fridge that barely worked, so I bought food for a day or two at most and I was really too tired to think of going to the grocery store and then making dinner. Plus our favourite pizza place was on the way home from the pharmacy. Pizza and an early night sounded good to me.

In my comfy clothes. It drops to between 8 and 10 at night in Siracusa in February, but the damp makes it feel cooler and the heating systems leave much to be desired:)

Siracusa: living like a Sicilian peasant

It’s been well over two weeks since I’ve written a blog post — sorry. This is due to many different things. Probably the most significant is the terrible Internet in Syracuse or at least where I am. Although my Airbnb is supposed to have Wi-Fi, it usually only works when I’m out in the yard a good 6 feet away from my door which puts me on my landlord’s porch. Once in a while when the goddesses agreed and the planets aligned, I could get it inside my little casita for a short amount of time —only to be abruptly kicked off for no apparent reason. I tried using first my Wind Sim card, but their network only seemed to allow me a limited amount of time per day even though I had 35 gigabytes on the card, next I tried the Vodafone Sim card from Rome, but it did the same thing. So both of them kicked me off in the evening when I most wanted to sit back and browse the net or watch Netflix after a long day of exploring Siracusa and Ortigia. Also don’t forget that I essentially have to shop for food everyday because the fridges are tiny and don’t work well. My freezer is embarrassed to be called by that name! When I bought the Wind plan they gave me a data only Sim card as part of a promotion, so that was next on the list. Brava it worked molto Buona! The only problem is that it is ONLY for data, not texts, no phone calls. But it worked so I was back on the Internet.

However, I spilled an entire latte onto my laptop, so that was not working. I do have an app that works on my phone, but it is not the same. My laptop recently returned from 2 weeks at a repair shop where luckily Mario was able to fix it. If you ever have computer problems in Siracusa bring your computer or phone to Telabone on via Corso. After cleaning out the latte Mario replied a burned out connection and the keyboard. Since he had managed to fix, what the Apple community told me was unfixable, I also asked him to replace the battery, something my laptop had been telling me was required for the last month or two. The storage was so overloaded that I recently reformatted it also, so now my 2013 MacBook is like new!

Except now I was out of the habit of writing and also struggling to adjust to this new lifestyle. The best place to buy food is at the street market in Ortigia which is about a 3.5 kilometre walk each way and is only open until noon. It is great for vegetables, fish and things like nuts and dried beans but not good for bread, meat, milk or water. So if I need any of those things I need to make it to the market in Ortega and back to Syracuse or before 1pm when the bakery closes until four or 4:30 in the afternoon. Yes, I could go then and at this point I do, but initially I found it difficult to start my day again late in the afternoon. I think part of the reason that it is easier now is it staying light later and also the sun has shifted slightly. Siracusa is a collection of very narrow streets and where I am it was getting quite dark by 4 in the afternoon. Now it is still light until about five which makes it easier to go out at four to go for a walk or to do some shopping. In addition, if I’ve gone to the street market in Ortigia, the bakery, the pet store for Pearl’s food and the grocery store for milk and water, which needs to be bought every couple of days, I have already walked around 9 km. Plus I have a sofa bed and a very, very, tiny, tiny studio so the bed needs to be turned back into a couch every day. This may seem like a small thing and it was for the first week or 10 days, but now Sundays it’s seeming like a big chore. A couple of times I’ve tried to leave it open, but then there’s only about 2 feet between the bed and the kitchen table, the bed and the stove and maybe 4 feet between the bed and where my clothes hang. So that is really not a great option. I’m beginning to long for a four-star hotel with room service. LOL 

There are many wonderful things about living here. First my landlady is very friendly and helpful and in love with pearl. Both pearl and I love having the garden for her to playing and pee in before bed. I’m really getting to know the neighbourhood and quite a few people wish me Bongiorno or Bonasera as I walk by. If I don’t bring pearl to the grocery store the women who work there want to know where she is and if she’s OK. At least I think that’s what they’re asking because they speak zero English and what they do speak is a mix of Italian and Sicilian so it’s very difficult for me to understand. I do know that they really like pearl and they always greet her when we come in. Yes, A grocery store where I always bring my dog. I do have to carry her in my arms or in her sling, but still, how wonderful to be able to do it. Nobody even freaked out the day Pearl puked in the grocery store! The cashier just handed me some paper towels and I cleaned it up and put it in her pool bags, stuck them in the garbage and continued shopping. They were just as happy to see us the next day as they had been any other day. I like my butcher too. He cuts up the chicken pieces that I buy for soup like he knows that I only have small pots. If I don’t make it to her teacher there is a small vegetable shop a couple of blocks away. I also go there if I just need a couple of onions or potatoes. I went the other day to buy a couple of oils and he gave them to me. BUT, my all-time favourite shopkeeper is fabulous Fabio who owns the cheese shop. He is a master of theatre and if you go is there any time between about 11 and one he makes a huge production of making these amazing sandwiches that he then cuts into pieces and gives to everyone in the shop. Now that I’ve gone there a few times I also get wine in addition to my sandwich and we can cin:) seriously you have to see him make the sandwiches in order to understand what I’m talking about before I leave Syracuse or I’m going to ask him if he’ll let me video him while he does it. He has these big motions and he rips out the heart of a bun or a small loaf of bread which he drizzles with oil from a few different olive bins, then he smashes it down with his big chopping knife and then he smashes some olives to put on and cuts up this really rustic sausage he also smashes with his butcher knife, then he adds some mozzarella that he makes in the shop and is absolutely delicious and maybe a bit of pecorino or pistachio cheese and then he puts the whole thing together and smashes it again and then cut it into pieces and presents a piece to each person in the shop with a flourish. This is not a place to visit if you’re in a hurry! If however you want some delicious mozzarella cheese and some flirtation it is definitely the place to go! In addition to his showmanship Fábio also appears to love women. At first I thought it was just me, but now I’ve realized that he gives Rigali to every woman who comes into the shop to buy cheese. The first time he gave me a few extra pieces of cheese to try and a cannoli. Last time when I called him Fabio fabuloso— and told him I was writing to my Canadian friends about him he added two cannoli and 8 big, beautiful, plump ravioli filled with his homemade mozzarella! I have some beautiful Sicilian olive oil and some basil growing in pots that I got at the market and I often add some fresh tomatoes to those ingredients for lunch. I don’t know what I’ll do without the fresh food when I get home — especially the cheese and tomatoes. There are so many different kinds of tomatoes and some of them are so sweet they are like candy. I was making chicken stock every week and then making soup or risotto with wild asparagus, but February is very damp in Siracusa (I had not read that in my research) and this small place is already cold and wet. Cooking stock makes it unbearable. I’ve learned a new trick out of necessity. I blow dry my clothes before I put them on — really! Before I started doing that it was kind of like camping through extended rainy periods. You know, when everything is cold and damp and you can never get dry. At least here, I can go to Ortigia in the day and walk by the sea. For some reason, Ortigia is always 3-5 degrees Celsius warmer and there are more open spaces for the sun to penetrate. 

If I don’t go to the market in the morning, I will often walk around Ortigia. The sunsets on the via lungomare are spectacular and there is a restaurant where I like to sit and have a glass of wine while gazing out at the Ionian Sea.

Next post will be about my trip to Ace Trezza and Catania. I met a friend from Frankfurt who was visiting with her family and we had a wonderful time, but a terrible thing happened to poor Pearl in Catania.

Without home wifi uploading pictures is costly, but I’m going to the town of Noto for a few days next week and supposedly the internet works at that airbnb, so I will post pictures when I’m there.

Siracusa: Week 1 — Part 1

And now for something completely different — living in southern Sicily. People here still follow the traditional way of life. Most but not all shops are open for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening. Although, some are only open in the morning, some only in the evening and some are only open on certain days. The bars that serve coffee are usually open from 8 am till about 1:30 and some of them reopen for cocktails around 4. Some restaurants open for lunch from 11/11:30 to 1:30/200, some only for dinner 7/7:30 to between 10 and midnight and some for both. Almost nothing is open on Sunday except for the Sunday street market.

This means that you have to plan when you were going shopping for food or even when you were going out for a bite to eat. I imagine it would also be good to know which shops are open when and what days. My fridge is tiny and there is little room to store food or clothing for that matter. I’m living in a small studio apartment attached to the main house consisting of 10’x13’ bedroom/living room/kitchen plus a small bathroom. However, there is a garden which is wonderful! As I write I’m sipping water with a slice of a lemon that I picked from the garden! Ah yes, water, that is another thing that needs to be planned. The tap water is not drinkable or really useable for anything other than washing clothes and dishes, so all water has to be bought and carried home. I’m so glad that Angela had left a 2 L bottle for me when I arrived because otherwise I don’t know what I would’ve done. I had no idea where the stores were or how far they were. As it turns out there is a little grocery store just two blocks away and it is fine if Pearl shops with me, as long as I carry her in my arms while I’m in the store. This does make it a little difficult to shop though. However, the store is so close I just go every day or two.

Both Google and Apple Maps are almost completely useless here. Using them is an exercise in frustration, but the first couple of days I had no choice even though I knew that they were taking me on roundabout routes and in some cases in actual circles! Luckily I really only needed them to get places. Our new home away from home is very close to a large Basilica and the spire can be seen even from Ortigia.

During my travels I had run across a small restaurant to take away place that did rotisserie chickens and one night I thought that sounded like a great idea for dinner so pearl and I set off. I remembered it being quite close so thought that it should only be about five minutes away even though Google told me it was 25 minutes. My brain doesn’t work well at the best of times so I figured maybe I was misremembering. Pearl and I trenched off and walked and walked and walked and walked for far longer than 25 minutes we circled a few blocks twice and finally found the chicken place to the right not to the left as Google said it was. I bought a mezzo pollo arrosto e patates arrosti and used the basilica spire to guide us home. It was only 5 short blocks – about a four minute walk!

My dog has a death wish! The lifestyle is very laid-back except for when it comes to driving. Drivers pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to stop signs and very little to traffic lights and one-way street signs. The street is going in the wrong direction, that’s OK, just reversed down it, or better yet drive on the sidewalk like the people on motorcycles do! Seriously I can’t count the number of times when I have suddenly been confronted by somebody on a motorcycle driving right behind me or in front of me on the sidewalk. It appears to be the norm here. Sometimes you drive on the road but if it’s busy, you take the sidewalk. So crossing streets and even walking down the sidewalk can be quite a dangerous proposition. This is not helped by pearl deciding that she likes to stop in the middle of streets when I’m rushing across to stop from being run over by a driver desperate to get who knows where so that he or she can go back to piano piano. This means that I spend a large part of our walks saying andiamo, andiamo. The other day she decided to stop in the middle of the road and have a poop! I am amazed that I’m still alive to be riding this tale! Your other favourite thing to do of course is to walk in front of me and suddenly stop. Now the sidewalks here or not cobblestone, but most of them haven’t been repaired in years, so they are not in very good shape. Many of them are stone tiles and the tiles are loose or broken or cracked. Sometimes there are just holes in the sidewalk and I’m not sure what’s under there.

As you can probably guess from the broken sidewalks and undrinkable water Syracuse it is not a rich city. there’s a lot of alcohol gambling and garbage in the streets.

Despite the fabulous weather and the beautiful sea, always within a short walk, the people seem quite sad. Or maybe it’s just my Canadian nature to smile at people when they look at me. Most people when I greet them will not reply with a smile but they are at least genial. Pearl or Perla as she’s called in Italy often provokes conversation most of which I can’t understand other than mascul o feminin? Or some variation of that. Not many people speak English and most of them speak a mix of Italian and Sicilian. Some of them appeared to speak only Sicilian or at least it’s not an Italian that I can recognize although that might be partly the accent. This is good! It is forcing me to practice my Italian and a lot of hand and arm gestures. Once in a while I need to resort to Google translate but most of the time I’m muddling through somehow. Although, truth be told I do a lot of nodding when I have absolutely no idea what the person is telling me.So far I have managed to feed myself I’ve also managed to buy some things that I needed for my little apartment such as a grater, an espresso pot, another adaptor and a corkscrew now that’s a funny story.

I wanted to try a nice robust red Sicilian wine and one day when we were walking I stumbled upon a dusty old Wine Shop. After a comical conversation with the proprietor of which I think neither of us understood much at all I chose a bottle of wine. Now the problem was that I had tried the corkscrew at home and it was useless in fact it chipped the bottle. I needed a good one. The shop owner, although insisting his English was very good was obviously having trouble understanding me. Google translate to the rescue — or not. I don’t know whether it was google translate, my pronunciation or just a general lack of understanding but I turned my back for a moment and the next thing I know the shopkeeper was OPENING the bottle of wine! No! I was a little too late and the wine was open and he was telling me that I needed to wait three hours before I drank it. I kept saying no no no I don’t want to drink it now and finally he understood so he stuck the cork back in slammed it down and said va bene. I said no I want to take it I Canada in una borsa. For a while he insisted it would be fine but eventually he realized that I wasn’t having any of it and I think what he said was that he would drink it himself that evening. Soon after Pearl and I were on our way again with an unopened bottle of wine and a good corkscrew – success at last. I felt a little bad about the open bottle of wine but I’m pretty sure he charged me at least double for the corkscrew.

Inspired by this wonderful soup I had for lunch one day, I made my own. I haven’t made bruschetta yet. And since they had this lovely chicken stock plus some wild asparagus, the next day I made risotto.

Pearl and I are starting to settle in. I know my way to the market, where the supermarket is, where to buy the best croissants (those are the most common pastry here) and I’m beginning to adjust to the lifestyle. Pearl is happy to I think. She likes her garden and she loves our landlady Angela. If she’s not up when we get up in the morning pearl waits for her at her door.

The days are warm. It usually gets up to 17 or 18 by mid afternoon, but the nights are cool and the heating is not good. This is my morning outfit when I crawl out from under the down duvet.