Persephone's Island

So there's no malls, no McDonald's, no Macy's. The movie selection is pretty grim, and so's the restaurants. Houses have no air conditioning, no dishwashers, no closets, sometimes no cabinets. Driving can be a scary experience.


Look around you. A summer sunset, that perfect time of day when the air is still and soft, soft as a mother's cheek. The dead fields, so harsh during the midday, are turned spun gold by the setting sun. It's quiet, peaceful, a time to stop and be yourself, a time for family.

There are times when you simply must stand still and consider what an exquisite place this island is. No, it's not home, what you're used to. But it's beautiful in its own way.

Stop. Open all your senses. Let go of all your biases. Each season has its own magnificence: take time, even it's only a few minutes, to take in Persephone's island.

L'Automno (Fall). Slipping slowly into coolness, green spreads across the hills. Walking through the vineyards, the heady sweet scent of ripening grapes and sharp acidic tang of rotting, fermenting fruit is overwhelming. The lizards that putter along the back roads are piled high with artichokes. You discover that without tourists, Taormina is a lovely place to visit. Don a sweater in the evening and eat outside at a restaurant, near the pizza oven. The scent of fresh-baked pizza and burning olive and orange wood curls around you; the sharp slap-slap of the dough play counterpoint to the murmur of family talk. Take a walk under the rustling eucalyptus trees and enjoy the stars, newly clear from the summer's haze.

L'Inverno (Winter). It comes slowly, a reluctant visitor to this sunny island. As it rolls into late November, the oranges and lemons begin to swell, until the orchards hang heavy with their bright jewels. Along all the street corners in downtown Catania, the vendors are out in force, selling roasted chestnuts from their steel cans that smoke a delicious odor of nuts and charcoal. The markets begin to be full of Sicilian arance (oranges), delightful little clementines, and, into late January and February, fantastically sweet arance sanglante (blood oranges). Winter grows deeper, and rain falls on the plains, sometimes turning the landscape grey and chill. The volcano towers in sharp relief now, crystal-clear with its blanket of snow. Even when the volcano looks like a black-and-white photo, the mountain towns have a stark elegance, all silhouette and crisp contrast. On the clear, cold days, you revel in the bite of wind on your cheeks, the sun only a pale shadow of its summer self.

La Primavera (Spring). Persephone's season! Joyous and clean and beautiful as only a young goddess of mythology can be, spring is a true revival of life in Sicily. The island has been soaked with rain and leaps out with a full-hearted burst of green-growing enthusiasm. The feilds are rampant with wildflowers: shy purple blooms, bossy yellow daisies, shiny lipstick red poppies. The plains of Catania float on a sea of white citrus blossoms. You discover that being outside isn't so bad after all, that the sun feels so good on your face. As the weather warms, the families' grandparents begin to re-emerge to take their seats outside their doors and cafes and watch their world go by in perfect order as it has for so many years. Winter-cool weather warms, as Persephone's fleeting season slips away into summer....

L'Estate (Summer). Heat, heat, and more heat! A baking heat, heat that beats on your head, tangible, solid rays. Haze descends to cover the mountains rimming Catania's plains, fading them to painter's shadows. Etna's no longer a hulking brute, but a smokey backdrop. It's the season of the scirocco, a nasty, sand-filled wind that blows up from the deserts of Africa; the season of spectacular thunderstorms; the season for icy treats of creamy gelato and fruity granite, and for enjoying a day at the beach. You discover there's a reason for riposo, and await with eagerness the relief of cooler weather.

The seasons are only one aspect of the Trinacria. The island's richness encompasses its heritage, its history, its culture, and perhaps most of all, its people. You'll never meet a more kindly and hospitable people: open your heart and you might gain yourself another family.

Open your heart and you might gain yourself another home.

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Copyright 1997 by Jennifer Tyson