After just coming back from a one-week tour in Catania, Sicily, I can wholeheartedly confirm that the Mafia is not just an ongoing joke that happened to be the subject of a hit HBO series, but is in fact a dangerous and influential presence on the little island that somehow still belongs to Italy. From what I understood from the people around, they don’t even want to be part of Italy, and the mainland also has no desire to babysit its southern problem child. I must say, however, that it is a shame for a country which is an EU member, because I occasionally felt like I was visiting a third world country.
The streets were incredibly dirty, and the buildings were nearly crumbling from lack of care and maintenance. It was actually quite a pity for it is so historical and ancient, but all the beautiful churches and structures were gated closed and the marble stones blackened from corrosion and spotted with bullet holes. Seriously, bullet holes in a church? That’s exactly what I thought, but after walking through the streets (luckily I always had Ediz to protect me) I wasn’t in the least bit surprised. The men were extremely macho, grouped together playing cards or simply staring at people walking by. At several points on initial tour around the city, Ediz grabbed my arm and steered us back towards the center, since even he had a bad feeling about the surrounding streets. For sure as a tourist you wouldn’t be bothered, but then again we didn’t really want to take that chance, especially on our first day!
Although the overall impression of the city was not pleasant, there were several nice elements, including the Piazza Duomo in the center, and the Via Etnea which stemmed out from it (named after the active volcano which is situated just above the city). Tourists strolled around, eating gelato (which, by the way was incredible) and enjoying their vacation. One thing I find particularly hard about touring is being surrounded by vacationers while you have to get to work. We experienced this in Venice, having to walk almost an hour through dense crowds on the way to the theater, and in Sicily it was somewhat similar (thankfully we only had about a 20 minute walk). Via Etnea was also the main shopping street, and I know many of the girls in our company got some good retail therapy on the nights they didn’t have to perform. I was happy to dance in all 8 of the shows, as tiring as it was, for I knew if I let the flood gates open at the shops there would be no end!
One thing that Catania did not lack, and I’m sure Ediz will confirm this, is good food. We ate at a different restaurant nearly every night, and were never disappointed. From octopus salad to fresh antipasti, pasta alla norma (the typical Sicilian dish of tomatoes, eggplant and ricotta cheese), and even to horse meat, it was all delicious. Naturally, we always ordered un mezzo litro de vino bianco, costing a ridiculous 3 euros, but tasting much better than most 10 euro bottles we would buy in France (NEVER tell a French person that Italian wine is better, by the way). We were fortunate to have several performances starting at 5:30, which is an odd time for a show, but meant that we could enjoy a nice dinner at the normal hour, rather than after most shows which don’t finish until nearly midnight. I must say, however, that in Catania, that wouldn’t have been much of a problem. If there were another word besides “Mafia” and maybe “Dirty” to describe the city, I would have to say “Nightlife”. Afterhours, the streets became packed with young people, walking, drinking, smoking, or all of the above. Many bars and lounges put their tables out on the sidewalks and close off the streets to cars so that the entire city evolved into one long corridor of rocking nightlife. It was a drastic contrast to the day-time hours, when most things were constantly closed (I swear, there was one nice boutique that I wanted to go in the entire week, but not once was it ever open!) and the city has a dead, rather sad, aura to it.
Our shows of Cinderella went quite well, considering we had to do ten in only six days. There were eight performances, with the Catania Orchestra, and two general rehearsals. Several days were double shows, which were certainly difficult especially with a full-length ballet. Since it was the last tour of the season, it meant the final performances for several dancers who will be leaving the company. Always somewhat emotional, we gathered backstage afterwards to clap and cheer and give presents once the final curtain came down (for sure the audience was wondering what was going on back stage when they heard the cheers and applause).
While it was an interesting experience, we were all very happy to come home yesterday, although flying with Alitalia meant multiple delays and of course lost baggage. Driving into Monaco, we were shocked at how clean and organized everything was. Normally, I am not a huge fan of Monaco but last night I was definitely happy to be back. Now, two days off to unpack, clean, (Ediz has to attempt to revive his dried up flowers and herbs) and hopefully spend some time at the beach! Just one month until summer vacation, and I think we are definitely ready for it…