Friday, 21 December 2012

O Oriens - Winter solstice

Well, the world didn't end today as predicted by Mayan calendar interpreters. "Nobody knows the times or the seasons" said Jesus, whose common sense on anxious matters is still widely disregarded.

Four ladies of the church congregation arrived at ten, decorated the church and set up the nativity scene on the north aisle altar table. It's a Sicilian 'praesepio', portraying in miniature figures the whole of a village, with the Holy Family right there in the midst of everyday life. My first photos are not very satisfactory, so I'll have to make an effort to figure out how to get the best results out of the two cameras I have with me.

When we went out to the shops, a crew of men were unloading logs from a truck in the largo Sta Caterina to build a bonfire 5-7 metres from the church steps. There was nothing by way of publicity to say what occasion this was for, or when. But, today's the shortest day Winter Solstice - so maybe this is an old pagan hangover I thought, equivalent to a St John's day bonfire on Midsummer day? Intriguing.

While Clare went hunting for things in the whole food shop at the far end of the Corso, I went to the covered market, having discovered there yesterday the only fresh fish counter I've found hereabouts. I bought a handsome fish called a 'palamito', eight hundred grams of it for eight euros. The fishmonger not only filleted it for me skilfully with a huge knife, he wrote the name of the fish on the brown paper wrapping with a smile after I enquired about it. Whilst everything on the slab had its price, names were una altra cosa. The locals know, but vendors here welcome curiosity.

Lots of small boats are parked on nearby beaches. Every night we see a handful out there fishing. Where do they sell? My speculation is that they supply directly to hundreds of restaurants within sight of shore, either up here at 200 metres or down there at sea level. The theory test will be when hotels fill and restaurants re-open in the next few days. Then, there should be many more boats out fishing in-shore.

Before lunch we  toured the town's major hotels with a revised Christmas services poster to replace one distributed last weekend, which forgot Christmas Day. I failed to keep the promise I made to myself that I'd prepare necessary vocabulary for this before leaving home, but somehow, without lapsing into any other language, I rejoiced to make myself understood. It's a mystery to me confidence doesn't evaporate and such flawed communication works. Somehow, stuff I learned thirty five years ago when we had a Torinese lodger in St Agnes Vicarage still works. Italian is such a lovely language, so musical, I love it.

Today was mild with rainy spells (plus the odd rainbow).End of afternoon, we headed uphill, climbing the steps leading to the via Crucis climb up to the Sanctuario della Madonna della Rocca. We got half way up, then rain and approaching darkness prompted us to decide that discretion was the better part of valour. A little damp, we arrived home and I cooked supper. One of the two fillets from the palamito I bought earlier proved enough for both of us. It had flesh with a taste similar to that of mackerel, but less dense and oily. Perfect, quickly fried with a mere suggestion of garlic to flavour the pan rather than the fish.

After supper I walked up to the Corso to see if the bonfire was alight, but no - my speculation was ill founded. An enquiry in the restaurant on the piazza Victor Emmanuele opposite revealed that the pyre will burn Christmas Eve. An efficient town service crew prepared a very neat stack of wood, on an insulating base of local black volcanic soil four days in advance. No doubt the presence of this preparation will attract interest from visitors in the next four days. Well done Taormina!

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