Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Walk to Giardini Naxos

Winter loosened its grip a little today. No wind, no rain, but plenty of bright sunshine with a few clouds to enhance the mountains behind, and great blue expanses of sea and sky around and below Taormina. The beauty of the landscape is truly inspiring. Goethe loved the place. D H Lawrence lived here from 1920-23, in a villa not far from this church. Apparently it was here he got his ideas for writing 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'. Funny to think that St George's church was being built while he was staying here.

I rose and breakfasted early, and was out walking by nine, searching for a street market understood to be taking place somewhere at the edge of town. No advertising notices can be seen. Local inhabitants are the main users. They know the customary day. There's no need to promote it to outsiders. Most of Taormina's visitors are more interested in the fashion boutiques and jewellers which have ousted mainstream domestic retail from main thoroughfares. I'm keen to find a decent ironmonger's stall to buy a small extra pan for cooking. There are plenty of big pans, but one small isn't enough.

I walked up, and then along the 'circonvallazione' road, and discovered another side of Taormina - the extension of this hill-town in the late twentieth century, re-locating its indigenous population, so that the much older heart of the town could be re-vamped for tourist accommodation and retail, on which the local economy new depends entirely. Housing standards here are far better than those in the old town were, prior to renovation that's for sure. The streets don't give the impression of being forced on the environment, perhaps because their construction was piecemeal.

The layout design probably evolved in relation to landscape and land values, with that quasi-organic 'Greek village' feel repeated as in the old town. Set piece grand plan buildings in this context appear imposed on, rather than adapted to the setting. There are few open spaces in this district, and no new churches, not that any are needed. There is a large piazza with parking and a spectacular view of Mount Etna and its surroundings.  I was lucky with the weather, and got some of the clearest of many pictures taken so far. But, no street market.

Frustrated, I returned home and lunched on the other half of last night's confection - green lentils, an onion and two tomatoes recommended by the guy who sold them to me from his farmer's truck in the Piazza Sta Caterina: "ci sono buone da cuocere" he said. It was as tasty cold as it was hot, with the tomatoes having a pleasing consistency, like properly cooked red peppers, albeit a different taste. I must do that again.

To make the most of the sunshine, I soon set out for the other set of steps down to the SS114 main road, descending past the Hotel Monte Tauro, wedged into the hillside just below where the via Roma begins.  The steps come out a few hundred metres from the Taormina Giardino railway station, a fine building in the best tradition of high quality public building construction. It's a station that's so top notch it has an exhibition case containing several local archaelogical finds in its classy entrance lobby with original  bigileteria, one of the six of which is now working. There are multi-lingual ticket machines elsewhere. English is the second language when it comes to train announcements. How much is this homage to the American military presence in this region, as well as tourism, I wonder?

I walked the length of the neighbouring town, Gardino Naxos it is called. It was the site of the first Greek colony in Sicily with a settlement here in 734BC called Naxos after the island from which the settlers came. It is modern costal strip development as a tourist resort, on account of its decent beaches. There are still many small inshore fishing boats parked up however, and prohibitions posted on public notices about swimming from beaches where they go to sea. These are evidently important to the local restaurant economy and hospitality industry. No ironmonger's or cook utensil shops here, that's for sure.

Having gone as far as I could comfortably go in one direction, the return journey from the far end of Naxos beach was somewhat slower than arriving there, although the ascent to Taormina via the steps was none too painful. On my walk back to St Georges through town using the via Domenico I found a store open which sold pots and pans and a lot more. The small size pan I wanted was in stock but a top of the range model I couldn't afford. I'll have to wait until Saturday when new stock arrives.

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