Pass the salt, please.
Really now...where would we be without salt?? Considered a necessary condiment in our day and age, its value rivaled gold in pre-refrigeration days. The history of salt as a religious, commercial, and monetary element is fascinating! However, I'll spare you the reading unless you choose....but this little article is worth its salt (ahem) to any fellow factoid nerds.
Here's the story of our salty encounter in Trapani...
The trajectory for this day took us due west to the coastal areas of Trapani, a broad expanse of flat, marshy terra cradled by the Mediterranean and her high salinity. History abounds here, like in most of Italy, but uniquely so due to the importance this area once held (and still holds, just in smaller proportion) as a major producer of sea salt. Add to that the once strategic location of the harbor, and these salt flats have historically been a valuable peace of real estate.
Trapani's belly also nurtures several salt mines, but there is an indisputable quality found in good sea salt, and the culinary demand remains strong.
Blessed with yet another morning of robin egg blue skies tickled by warm fingers of breeze, the little harbor seemed to shout a hearty Buon giorno to our gang of 6 as we strolled toward the dock that berthed our awaiting vessel.
The evening before we'd booked an excursion up and down the coast on the motonave Penelope (pronouced Pehn-neh-low-peh in proper Sicilian), a motorized catamaran whose mission was to haul tourists up and down the coastal waterways of northwestern Sicily.
Captained by a crusty but kind ol' feller and first-mated by a burly Sicilian who looked like he stepped right out of a Popeye cartoon, we obeyed captain's orders and boarded efficiently. My first impression was more along the lines of "Uh oh...crowded tourist boat and that's about it...", but fortunately I was at least partially wrong. It was a bit crowded, and we were all tourists; however, the coastal views we would be treated to as we navigated the steely blue waters west rated five-star spectacular.
Tuesday morning's breakfast found us in collective quorum on making today's touring a bit less hurried in nature. We opted for a day as urbanites in the seaside town of Cefalù, a fairly short drive east from Castellammare.
In today's Italy, Cefalù is a favorite beach vacation destination, as well as one of a handful of towns with a special designation for their cultural, historic, and artistic offerings. Cefalù guards its origins fiercely, though, and no one is quite sure of just when this community first appeared on history's map.
Historians do note, however, that Cefalù is mentioned admirably by Pliny and Ptelomy (remember those names from world history?), and most likely was established towards the end of the 5th century BC. Yep, it's old. And like most of Sicily, it enjoyed coerced cohabitation under various rules including Greek, Byzantine, Roman, and Arab.
What a brilliant Sicilian morning we arose to! Quite possibly the turquoise blue of the Mediterranean pours itself into the skies above, thus creating the azure canopy that greeted us. Whatever - the morning sky was mesmerizing!
Just as we finished munching on a fine array of breakfast choices provided by the hotel (and shared with about 1,000 bees out on the deck -- "So that's why no one else was out here!!"), our friend Rossana from the northern Italian town of Cremona, her niece Greta, and Greta's boyfriend Alessandro arrived. They would be joining us for this week of exploring a slice of Sicily: the first time here for them, as well. Greta and Alessandro spoke little, if any, English, so our acquired Italian would sure get a welcome work out!
Sal and Winnie joined us shortly thereafter, and a little caffè and chat concluded with plans to journey southwest to the ancient theatre and temple in Segesta.
Segesta's recorded history begins in 500 BC, but archeological evidence points to an earlier settlement called Egesta which was established by the Elymians, one of Sicily's indigenous cultures. Experts believe they arrived on the island from Asia Minor somewhere around 1200 BC. By the time the temple was built pre-460 BC, the Greeks had assimilated themselves with the Elymians.
Author Vicenzo Salerno writes a great little article on this topic, which also includes an interesting blurb (at least to us history geeks) on a DNA study tracing the origins of 21st century Sicilians.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not for the life of me find an Italian long-lost ancestor to claim as an olive branch on my family tree. Lots of good folks, but not one, single Italian.
But this trip does entail a journey to a homeland; to a small town of about 3,000 inhabitants named Chiusa Scalfani, perched on the hills of north-west Sicily . Not much of note happens there as the residents make a simple life in agriculture and textiles; however, it looms monumental in the mind of a certain pilgrim, of sorts, accompanying us on this trip. Let me briefly tell you the background story of our 84 year old friend, Salvatore Vetrano...
Paula A. Reynolds
Lover of travel and life's many other blessings!