A Sense of Place

I have been touring around Sicily with my father for the past 10 days, and I am realizing that like wine, we too shape our identity from our place of origin.  I am Stefanese, well at least in part, and now I know what that means. I have long believed in visiting the place of origin of a wine, so it should not be a surprise that my own sense of self would work similarly, but sometimes I am a little slow on the uptake.

Over the course of our ten day trip to Sicily, we talked with a lot of people and made many friends with whom I will keep in touch. The people of Sicily are warm, inviting and so generous, willing to talk with us, to hear our story about our own history and to patiently wait while we tried to speak Italian, always complimenting, "Brava!" That feels good, even if you are fully aware of the reality that you can barely speak the language.  With each person, my excitement grew.  Everyone was so excited for us, genuinely expressing the importance to see where you come from. This is an idea that is so commonplace to them, and with each person, I had increasing sense of its importance.

Nearly everyone said, "Ah," with great emphasis,"si, Santo Stefano di Camastra, si!" Then a series of other questions would follow about his name, our names. "Salvatore, Maria, you are Italian!"  And, then they would wish us good luck in finding the papers we were seeking with an embrace, a kiss on each check, and a solid hand shake, followed by several salutations.

We planned our trip to Santo Stefano di Camastra at the end of our trip, only because of the convenience, but with hindsight (always) I should have gone there first. It is only after getting there, that I understand its significance, which is admittedly a bit difficult to articulate, so I will just tell you the story as it went.

After an early morning walk to welcome the summer sunshine in Chefalú, Dad and I took off for Santo Stefano di Camastra, with a mission: get Grandpa's birth certificate.  We arrived at the Municiple Office with a copy of a certificate of marriage but little else, and I have already explained that we have about ten Italian words between us, right?  This was surely going to be a challenge.

There were three women working, and they began to argue about where we should be, what they could or could not do, and what we needed, most of which I could not understand.  What I gathered was there was some confusion about Salvatore's birthplace and the spelling of his last name, so one woman wanted to simply send us elsewhere, but as luck had it, her counterpart argued with her, which finally resulted in the first one giving up and handing her the papers with a shrug that suggested to me "well, you go ahead then, I am done with this."  Our hero then went to work, searching birth records...and there was a brief period of concern, but she found it!

I realize these are nearly illegible, but I was so excited that I nearly took my pants off over my head (thank you Woody Allen for this expression!)!! Seriously, I was clapping and saying "Brava, Brava! Grazie!! Sei molt gentile!!!"  And, my Dad was so happy--"see, he said, see, this is where we are from!" I think he meant both, "see this," and "si," which is his new favorite thing to say, and "Si, Papa, I see!"

After nearly climbing over the counter to hug our new hero, we needed nourishment, pranzo! Si, andiamo!!

Two very happy Stefanese's!!

We had met some nice gentlemen in a wine bar in Chefalú the night before, who said that we must eat lunch at Ristaurante Manueliana, so we headed down toward the water to find it.

The restaurant is simple on the outside, but it is elegant and welcoming inside, with carefully placed decorations, wine bottles, potted herbs on each table, beautiful cloth table linens, and the lovely Eliana to great you on arrival.  She grasciously helped to select a delicious regional white wine for our lunch, and her selection was perfect with their local fare, she complimented my Italian, and she brought us some fresh anchovies to enjoy as we selected our lunch. Perfecto!

The menu is full of wonderful  local fresh fish and vegetables, and the preparation, all done by Eliana's husband Manuel, was excellent.  Perhaps the moment was just so good, we were so excited about our success, but I think it was the best meal we had in all of Sicily (and there were a lot meals!).

I opted for Dad's usual, fruits de mare, and it was perfect, so fresh and simple.  My Dad, a bit more adventuresome than I, got the pasta with squid ink.  Wow, intense in color, texture, and in flavor...not to mention if you know what it is...(that's right, the black stuff from inside the belly of the squid:/), but it was delicious! Then, of course, a Secondi, which we now know to split: Calamari! So lightly battered and perfectly fried so as to seal the fish not to saturate it with oil.  It was all so good, so satisfying, and our host so delightful, friendly, and fun.  We told her our story about Grandpa Salvatore Cianciolo and Grandma Maria Galiano, and she was so excited for us.

"You are Stefanese," she said, "Not Italiano, not Siciliano, but Stefanese!!"

All of this was music to Dad's ears! Oh, and the cannoli--seriously, the cannoli in Sicily is just something different than the dessert of the same name at home, because of the sheep's milk ricotta and, I suppose it sense of place!  And, Eliana's desserts were exceptional!

Mille Grazie, Eliana, mia sorella, we will see you again in Santo Stefano di Camastra!

And, for all of you reading this, buy a plane ticket just for the meal at Manueliana's, and tell our people we say Ciao!

L'angolo diManueliana's