Thursday, June 22, 2017

6/22 -- Explore Ortigia, Drive to Catania

We would like to note the untimely passing of our wonderful daughter-in-law, Diane, early this morning. We are immensely saddened and send our love to her mother, husband, and two children.

Our adventure this morning was on an island in Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian), Ortigia. It is the site or early Greek settlement in Sicily, starting in the 700s BCE.This is the birthplace of Archimedes and Saint Lucia. We started our walk by crossing a new bridge, dedicated to Saint Lucia, and opened in 2004, when her body visits Ortigia on its regular journey from Venice every 10 years. The Syracusans would like to have her back since she also died here, but that has not worked out so far.
The reddish house was built in the Venician syle.

This a new 5-star hotel which was supposed to open last March,
then was slated for May or June, but is not ready yet. Natale
said, "maybe September?"
Our guide, Natale, pointed out the remains of the original Greek wall as we started our walk around the island. On the map, it looks pretty big, but the streets are so small, you can walk the length of it pretty fast.Our next stop was the Temple of Apollo, which was built with columns of single stone blocks vs. the stacked drums the Romans used. Natale called it '"monolithic style". In later years, parts of the temple were used as building materials elsewhere in the city.
Wall ruins

The two front columns are most clearly from a single block.
Like other places we have been, the streets are pretty narrow to limit the sunshine and heat. On the first day of summer, it was nearly 90 here, so you can imagine what August must be like.Isabella had told us earlier that the tour guide business dries up in July and August because of the heat.

The Duomo or Cathedral was interesting in that it was mildly baroque outside but much more austere inside. In the same square is the Church of Saint Lucia, which famous for its Caravaggio  painting of "The Burial of St. Lucia". Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside.
The Duomo
Very simple interior compared to other
baroque churches
The columns are especially plain.

Exterior of S. Lucia church
We continued our walk to the other side of the island, stopping at a spring that was the reason the Greeks picked the island to get started on. A source of 'sweet' water was tremendously important. Then it was lunch time with some free time, so we chowed on pizza (only our second one here) and went to the Leonardo Museum, which has scale models of many of the machines he designed as well as a few from Archimedes. Again, no photos were allowed. There were explanations of each one in English and visitors are allowed to operate some of them too.
The spring is on the waterfront.

Dedication statues
Fountain in Piazza Archimedes
Above and below: yachts in the harbor. Even though the
one above has a helicopter, we would be inclined to chose
the one below for its sleek lines.

Next came the boat ride -- we chugged out into the Ionian Sea and explored some of the grottos along the coast. Given the heat, this was the best part of the day.
To slip under this low bridge, the captain lowered the canopy
and all those of us underneath ducked down under it. Jim
slid to the back of the boat and caught this view.

Grotto of the birds

The stone in the middle is called the dolphin

Above and below: Sailing  into a grotto to get a better look.

Lover's grotto, based on the shape of the rocks.

Turtle rock: purple with  a white head.
While this is officially called Elephant Rock, our boat driver
thought it looked more like a gorilla interacting with a lion.

Going back under the low bridge, I took the back seat too, but
still had to duck.
Then it was off to Catania where we will finish our trip. We got a short orientation walk around the hotel and then learned about immigration challenges here and heard the harrowing story of a 17 year old Nigerian girl whose family circumstances led her to try to come to Europe to help those at home. After a number of awful events, she  made it here, and is in a good place, but said she would not do it again.
As we searched for an ATM that would accept our card, we
found this!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

6/21 -- Life on a Farm

We headed to the countryside today to meet a farm family and experience some of their responsibilities for the day.

Our big bus had to cross this very narrow bridge:
he had less than a foot of clearance on our side.
The farm complex. The things that look like white and tan
garage doors are reed curtains on an open air patio where we ate.
Mama pig and her piglets
We met the parents and one son/girlfriend pair along with two grandsons and three neighbors. We started off with introductions, and then it was time to work.

The first chore was making bread. They used a sourdough starter and enough water and flour (one they harvested) to make 15 loaves, which lasts the extended family a week. It was initially kneaded on a low table set between chairs so that mama could press down with her upper body instead of just her arms. Once it started looking like bread dough, they shifted to a simple two-person wooden machine where one person sits and folds the bread and the other lifts a lever over the dough and presses down. It takes 10-20 minutes of that action before the bread is ready for shaping. Several of us helped with the mechanical kneaded, and working in pairs with the lever proved quite effective. Then we shaping the dough, but it was tough to get it smooth with only one crease. The bread is cooked in an old-style wood fired stove with almond shells thrown in for flavor (they raise almonds too).

Frederika explaining the kneading machine.
Jim raised the bar high and pumped it really fast. I have a video
that I have to try to upload.
I tried my hand at it too.
Then it was time to shape the loaves. People
here must have been shorter when this format
was devised.

Next, it was time to make ricotta and farm cheese. Two hours before we arrived, milk and rennet was added to a big barrel along with hot water. The resulting liquid was removed and discarded, leaving the curd. More hot water was added and a rounded implement was used to break it up. Then the water is removed again to another container and strained to catch any curd. The curd that remains is put into slotted containers filled to overflowing and the excess liquid is pressed out by hand through all the little slots in the container. When it is pretty dry, it is inverted, removed from the plastic and replaced upside down in the container for drying. In a week it is cheese. They also can add flavorings like basil leaves in layers to add interest to the cheese. The whey in the other container is left alone to become ricotta.
Removing excess liquid.
Stirring up the curds and whey after adding boiling water.
Pressing out the excess liquid to make cheese
The inverted cheese. The markings on the mold are from the
drainage slots in the plastic container.

Meanwhile, others were in the garden picking lettuce, tomatoes, celery, and cucumbers. The rest of us were setting the table for 27 diners. The bread was split and drizzed with olive oil and basil, and the grill had been set up outside and finally it was time to eat. We had the salad, bread, and ricotta we made along with homegrown olives and grilling chicken and sausages, washed down with red or white wines. Dessert was a choice of homegrown fruits like peaches, plums, and itty bitty pears.

Our last duty was to try milking a cow, and I am happy to report that I was competent (especially as a dairy state native, who had never milked a cow before).

Back in Ragusa, it was time to pack for our next city, Catania.