Italian Generosity

Posted by Madeline on March 10, 2018 in Ragusa, Sicily, studying abroad

A few weeks ago, I sent a WhatsApp message to a family friend, Elisa, who grew up in Sicily to ask when a good time to visit the island is. Not directly answering my question, she responded that she would contact her friends in Sicily and other parts of Italy to see if I could stay with them! This first act of kindness at first made me nervous, if I accepted, I would stay with people I’d never met before -would it be weird? awkward? I was unsure. After she emailed her friends, one named Ubaldo emailed me about visiting for an event in his town (mentioned in my last post). The night before I left I started getting nervous. I was overwhelmed by his gracious offer to be his guest at a luncheon, a dinner party and being given a place to stay in his home –which even further, ended up being his own bedroom, while he slept on the couch.– That night I worried about receiving such acts of kindness, I’d never experienced such generosity, so I felt this pressure of worrying I’d be a burden, of not being able to repay him, and to be a good guest. My parents reassured me that the Italian culture in general is a welcoming one, they often will take friends of a friend as their own.
I first thought about making this blog post after my trip to Sicily this past weekend, where I stayed with another of Elisa’s friends, Salvatore and his family. I realized that I’m unsure if this type of hospitality and graciousness exists in US culture. Perhaps it does, but I’ve never witnessed or heard of it happening. I felt a need to recognize and share this because with both of my stays, I felt so well-cared-for and comfortable. I truly admire this aspect of Italian culture, and want to try to incorporate it into my own actions, to make others feel as blessed as these people made me feel. On the bus ride back to the airport Sunday, my heart felt so full thinking over the past few days.
The trip began with stress as Florence received it’s first snowfall since 2010. Since they don’t have great methods to deal with it, public transport can get messy. I went to the train station extra early in preparation for fewer and slower trains trains to Pisa for my flight. After waiting 1.5 hours, I finally got a train, and arrived to Pisa early for my flight by hours. Then, without explanation, my Ryanair flight got delayed an hour. I texted Elisa’s friend Salvatore right away because the delay would make me miss the last bus from Catania airport to Ragusa. He said he would contact his sister in law in Catania for me to stay there for the night! Again, I don’t think this would happen in the US.. When I got to the Catania airport, he gave me his sister in law, Alessandra’s number, who told me the bus stop to get off where she’d meet me. My lovely bus driver did not drop me off at the actual stop, so Alessandra and I called and walked around trying to find each other, with the added difficulties of my poor Italian, her not speaking much English, and it was dark! Somehow we found each other, greeted with a hug and two kisses on the cheek, and began the walk to her place. She had one daughter, Angela, about 5 years old, who was very sweet and brought me water and towels up to my loft (it was a very cool apartment!!) Alessandra had to leave early the next morning to take her to school and go to the gym, so I didn’t get to see her before I left for Ragusa. That morning, I wandered about the Catania fish market, Pescheria, and sat in the warm sunshine on the sidewalk contentedly eating a spinach torte I bought for breakfast.

Catania Pescheria Market


I continued from there to find the bus station, and first went to the train station where they pointed me across the street. Across the street, I had to ask someone else because I still didn’t see it, and they walked me to a point where it was within site. I bought my ticket for 11 since I’d missed the 10 am bus I’d planned on by about 15 minutes. I sat down and thought about how I’d figure out where the buses actually left from since I didn’t know that either! I tried asking the ticket man, but couldn’t hear him. Then an older, slightly strange man I sat near showed me the way. I was glad for that, but was annoyed that he talked nonstop to me in Italian, and did not pick up on my cues of not understanding hardly anything he said, even after I’d told him, “Solo parlo un po di italiano”! Thankfully he left after giving me a flower, a Rome magnet and his number, which I will not be using.
At last, I reached Ragusa where Salvatore’s wife, Stefania, met me at the station and drove me to their house. After meeting the rest of the family: Salvatore and two sons, Mario and Francesco, and having lunch, I saw Salvatore’s farm out in the countryside. Way up on a hill, he has 22 horses, a pig, a few cats and a dog. The view was incredible of the hills and fields all around and below.

Panoramic View from the top of the hill

Next, we went to the nearby town of Monterosso where he grew up. We saw his friends at the pharmacy and a bar, then went to a bakery to get bread for dinner and he got me chocolate biscotti (cookies) to take home with me! On the ride home, he let me try some of the warm bread and called me a “buona forchetta,” literally a good fork in English, which they call someone with a good appetite (I’d had a 2 course lunch with dessert, sugar coated almonds at his farm and now bread)! I took it as a compliment:)
For dinner, they had friends over to celebrate Stefania’s birthday that was a few days before. Two little boys of the families were very interested to learn about me and play chess! It was really fun to play and talk with them, and see how excited they were to spend time with me.
The next morning, Stefania, Francesco and I went to Ibla, the oldest and lowest (also called Ragusa Inferiore) part of Ragusa. We walked about the beautiful architecture and a small park, and went into a church. Afterwards we got gelato!
In the evening, Stefania drove me to the sea, 15 minutes from Ragusa. It was a calm night, slightly breezy, but comfortable with light blue skies. We walked right by the water on the sand, then back to a piazza where families were about with children playing and others watching on.

Piazza of the Marina di Ragusa

Stefania asked if I wanted gelato, and I said maybe I’d try a cannoli since I heard Sicily was the only place to get a true one! Boy was that a good choice, best cannoli I’ve ever had -usually I don’t even like them! Back at the house, Salvatore informed me that I’d be going with his nephew and his girlfriend to a party that night! He said I’d have appertivo (wine served with a light array of food) there, but I still got to try some of the pizza he and Francesco had for dinner:) One was arugula with prosciutto, the other: a Patapizza, pizza with french fries on top! Salvatore also poured me a small beer and gave me a pear and nuts from trees of his farm. His nephew, Mario, (a family name) and Valeria picked me up at nine and we headed to the bar/lounge. I met all their friends, and tried to speak slowly in English and asked a few questions in Italian. The language barrier was difficult, but I got to listen a lot and still talk about some simpler subjects! They poured wine, the appertivo buffet was set out, later we had cake, and the birthday girl opened presents. After, we stopped at a bar in the piazza of San Giovanni in the city center. I didn’t have anything since I didn’t want to risk getting sick as a guest!
On my last day: election day, Stefania went to vote in the morning. Once her and Salvatore returned, we left for a different beach, in the town of Pozzallo. We walked along the beach together and I picked up a few shells. Then we met their friend from the pharmacy (the same one from the other day) with her daughter and son. We got lunch at a shop near the beach and had Spaghetti Frutti di Mare and gelato afterwards, even though I couldn’t finish my plate!

Gelato with Olga

A perfect ending before we sped back to make my bus from Ragusa! We hugged and kissed goodbye, I thanked them, “Grazie mille per tutti!” and said I hoped to see them again. I wasn’t just saying that, I truly do.


Crazy Weather

Posted by Madeline on March 1, 2018 in Florence, studying abroad

This week has come and gone so fast, I think partly due to my trip Sunday to Monday morning. A family friend back home put me in touch with some of her friends in Italy. One of her best friends, Ubaldo, lives in a small village called Ripafratta, with only 800 people living there! He invited me for an event Sunday, “Salviamo la Rocca di Ripafratta,” to save a castle on a hill in their town that is deteriorating. A family owns this castle, but does not have the money for the high cost of reparations, so Ubaldo is the vice president of a group attempting to figure out how to save this site from destruction. After taking a tour of the town in freezing rain and wind, including a flour mill, underground water channel and church, we went to a luncheon nearby. A typical three course meal was served; primo, secondo and dolce. A man sitting down the table from me sang a few times randomly throughout the meal. Ubaldo informed me the man wasn’t drunk, he’s just like that! Later, the woman sitting next to me, Elena, requested him to sing for me. So, he looked me in the eyes and belted out some sort of love song, it was entertaining for sure! We headed back to Ubaldo’s house and had tea to warm up along with his neighbor.

Tea at Ubaldo’s house

The cold and snow that Italy has been struck with this week is apparently a wind from Russia that only hits every 5-7 years..lucky me!! The tea helped warm me up and Ubaldo lit a fire. His house was so cozy, bright and open with a mustard yellow living room, an arched doorway and pieces of art all about. We talked for a while, then left for his friend’s birthday party in Pisa. I had fun, but it was a little tough because they mostly spoke Italian, which I didn’t mind, but at that point I was tired out from the day!
The next morning, we woke up early, so I could catch a train back to Florence in time for class. We had coffee and a cookie that he said was nicknamed “ugly, but good,” which was perfectly accurate. We stopped at a cafe on the outskirts of Pisa for a cappucino and cornetto. We both got one filled with chocolate, yum! At the train station, we hugged goodbye, and I thanked him for all his generosity!

I was quite tired the rest of the day. In my Palaces class, we visited the Ospedale degli Innocenti funded by the Arte della Seta Guild and built by Brunelleschi. The Ospedale was the first orphanage built in the world, and it still functions today. They have nurses for babies until they turn 1, then they look for a family to adopt them. The museum held many pieces of art made for the Ospedale, often featuring the Madonna and multiple children around her, or referencing Herod killing many innocents in his attempt to kill Jesus.

It was cool to learn that girls were taught to read and write here, a rarity at that time!
In my Quarters of Florence class we saw the inside of the Duomo. My classmates and I were surprisingly underwhelmed..the outside is so ornate and beautiful, yet the inside was simply white and gray, with only the dome featuring a beautiful mural.

Besides that, I am now waiting to figure out whether my trip to Sicily will work with the snow we’re getting! As I write, it is snowing in Florence, and the government shut down all schools for the day. At home I would be rejoicing, but here, when it snows they don’t know how to handle it! I need a train from Florence to Pisa for my flight out of Pisa I might need a lot of luck today!