How had Friday, the end of our week here, arrived so hastily? And with it came the sadness of farewells to people and place, but also the excitement of embarking for Chiusa Scalfani, the hometown of Sal's father. Arrivedercis taken care of with promises of "la prossima volta in Texas", we left Rosanna, Greta, and Alessandro to enjoy their day on the beach while we made our way inland.
The journey to Chiusa Scalfani was extended by an hour more than planned...thank you, GPS...but did afford us magnificent views of the remote inland of Sicily. Hardly another car passed opposite as we followed narrow highways that snaked and climbed through extensive, rolling countryside punctuated by fields, vineyards, and olive groves. Towns were only occasional, appearing like earth-toned blankets draped casually across sloping hillsides.
The sky seems to open up in a special way over this part of the island -- billowy cloud shapes dangled under a brilliant blue cover and teased us with their shadows, skittering like phantoms across the roadways. The alternating portals of light would highlight our view one moment, then suddenly obscure it with a gray overlay as if to say, "Basta - enough for now!"
Finalmente -- we arrived in Chiusa Scalfani. The GPS lead us efficiently, this time, to the family-run B&B that would serve as Sal and Winnie's home for the next several days. The proprietors were away until afternoon, but their young adult son kindly greeted us and showed our party around. He offered several suggestions for lunch, then invited us to spend time in the luscious garden if we wished.
I watched as Sal marveled at the delectable taste of the grapes elegantly hanging from the pergola we stood under, excitedly commenting on how he hadn't experienced such flavor since he was kid in Brooklyn. I wondered what else he might be thinking; after all, 84 years later and he was finally on the terra firma that nurtured untold generations of Vetranos. I posed the question aloud, and Sal grinned impishly as he remarked, "È molto fantastico!" We laughed and grabbed more of the juicy orbs suspended just within reach.
We decided to find our way to the "locals eat here" restaurant that had been suggested, and well...let's just say our inability to comprehend that the locked gate of a house-like structure decorated with very little signage was indeed the restaurant, closed this day. Our poor deciphering abilities and dogged stubbornness resulted in a 30 minute foray down an increasingly less-paved, bumpity road that coursed through rural farm lands, each kilometer taking us further away from civilization...but also making for a great "side trip"! We finally cried "Zio!" (Uncle!), and made tracks back to the main road, opting instead for a restaurant that was 1.) obviously a restaurant, and 2.) obviously open.
And as so often happens on Italian soil, the ancient muses chuckled at our foils, all the while awaiting our delight at the gift we would stumble upon as a result of our fumbling misturns... the restaurant L'Oscar dei Sapori and the dear friend yet-unmet, the lovely Giusy.
We entered, feeling somewhat weary from our morning long journey, definitely ready for food and drink. The interior was an airy, modern facility decorated in soft colors of caramel and butter, movie posters gracing the walls, and occupied at this hour by only two gentlemen in quiet conversation.
It didn't take us too terribly long to make the connection with this restaurant's name - eureka! The L'Oscar part was in direct reference to the actual, real, bonafide Oscar we spied sitting in a nearby case. This Hollywood icon was awarded to the then-boy actor from Chiusa Scalfani by the name of Salvatore "Totò" Cascio for the world renowned Italian film (and one of our favorites), Cinema Paradiso! Mr. Cascio actually owns the restaurant and resides nearby. Wow.
We indulged in a sumptious antipasti plate chased with wine, of course, while we perused the extensive menu. Unordered by us, another half liter of wine arrived at the table.
The server smiled and pointed to the earlier noted gentlemen who had obviously overheard our conversation in Italian regarding Sal's story. We extended a warm smile their way accompanied by hearty "Grazies!", which of course lead to some wonderful conversation with these new-found friends.
The father-son duo were from Chiusa, but the son was now living in America and had returned for a visit. We exchanged brief backgrounds, even photos, along with some laughter and mutual congratulations on where we each stood in life at this sweet moment in time. Che bellissimo momento in Sicilia!
As we ate and drank...and ate and drank...we were introduced to the beautiful, husky-voiced brunette currently leasing and operating the restaurant, Giusy. She spoke a bit of English, and immediately found a kinship with Sal and Winnie; maybe not of the DNA variety, but definitely of the heart and soul variety.
By the time our lunch concluded, personal particulars had been exchanged, a dinner meeting with Giusy and her friends who might help in locating Sal's kin was set, and the next several days of the Vetranos adventures in Chiusa Scalfani planned under the loving command of this new angel of a friend.
*Author's note: I've asked Winnie to supply me with some details from the days they remained in Chiusa Scalfani, and I'll share those in a new post as the conclusion of this beautiful homecoming for Sal as soon as they're received.
The hour was getting late, and Marty and I still had to navigate northeast to Palermo. We said confident goodbyes for now to Sal, Winnie, and Giusy, knowing full well that the days awaiting were destined for pure wonderful!
Our expedition to Palermo was, again, fraught with technical misguidance, but also granted us a stellar drive through magnificent countryside, draped now in late day light and a softer mood. Meravilgioso!
** The following series of photos were taken through a car window with my iPad. The last two that look like paintings are NOT, incredibly so! And they're not edited...I guess the poor focus through the glass, combined with the motion of the car resulted in this effect. And I love it!!
Nightfall scooted us along and dropped us at the doorstep of the Cinisi 89 B&B located in the small community of Cinisi, just outside of Palermo. A lovely peach-toned villa, the Cinisi 89 is family run, generally by the cordial Professore Gaetano Palazzolo, who happened to be away on business in Milan during our one night stay. But oh... yet another delight at this unforeseen junction of planned versus serendipity!
Gaetano's lovely mother Grace checked us in before departing with her young granddaughter, making sure we had all we needed, as well as arranging for her husband, Pippo, to accompany us to the airport to return the weary blue Panda as soon as he arrived at the house.
Our comfortable room was beautifully clean, spacious, and opened onto a covered porch with a view of the nearby oceanfront. Brief unpacking accomplished, I spent a few quiet moments communing with the setting sun.
In making acquaintance with the home, we noted the exquisite iron work that graced the interior, as well as a number of metal sculptures of varying size.
Our curiosity was satisfied later that evening when Pippo found me admiring some small works of art in a cabinet outside our room. As the next 45 minutes revealed, he is a skilled and well-known artist specializing in iron work. Pippo has practiced his craft since he was a teenager, and even offered a look at one of his first pieces, an ornate umbrella stand.
Pippo lovingly showed me around, doing his best to explain in a level that my halting Italian could understand, the various pieces -- many practical, others ornamental -- as well as the message his sculptures were conceived to convey. Age had not dulled the obvious passion for his art, and the delight in his sparkling eyes made me smile. Likewise, he found a satisfying audience in me and my admiration and joy at his works.
Marty joined us towards the end, and Pippo even invited us into the private quarters of the villa he and Grace shared to show us the family photos hanging patterned like a quilt of love on the walls. We saw his photo as a young man in uniform, of Grace as a smiling, shy bride, of his son and daughter growing from infants to adults, and now ... the grandchildren that light up their lives.
I shake my head in wonder even as I type this post at the many special, unsolicited, heartwarming, and precious gifts such as this that our travels have brought. I am humbled and so very blessed.
The next day's dark before dawn reunited us with Pippo one more time for a ride to the airport and the beginning of the ending of this incredible journey.
Arriverderi and noi ti ringrazio, Sicilia, for sharing your numerous beauties, your mysteries, your culinary delights, and your warm people with us. Each moment was amazing, and may we find ourselves setting foot on your ancient, vibrant shores once again some day.
Paula A. Reynolds
Lover of travel and life's many other blessings!