Foreigners in Acireale – the EVS project

It has been almost four months since we arrived in Acireale, Sicily – the small, cozy, Etna-shaded, azure colored spot in the South of Italy and the headquarters of our EVS project.
And while I am trying to post a blog entry on WordPress every couple of weeks, it is about time to share some thoughts and feelings also with Mistero Buffo followers and members about the joys, challenges, perks and peculiarities of being a Northern Europe citizen, living in Sicily.
First of all, it is true that even here, in Acireale EVS is alive and well. Joining this year-long project has provided an opportunity for us to contribute to the work of Mistero Buffo – a cultural place and platform that many of the locals don’t even know exists.
And by “us” I mean myself – Dārta(Latvian) and my co-volunteer Anikó(Hungarian).
Nice to meet you all.

This project has given me another year for exploring the dimensions of art, music and writing and an opportunity to find ways how I could incorporate it into the everyday life of Mistero Buffo. And it has given Anikó a platform for her ideas and a chance to become fluent in Italian, and eventually – become Italian – which she is eagerly going for.
To keep the record straight, since our arrival we have experienced and taken part in multiple international/ multilingual/ cultural evenings, movie nights, karaoke night, an international short-film festival, concerts and even the Acireale Christmas market. There was a trip to Rome and several weekend trips to different cities of Sicily. So huge thanks goes to the people from Mistero Buffo who got an idea, an inspiration, an inducement to drag us out of Acireale and show the beauty and diversity of this island.
I myslef have had an opportunity to play and sing in two low-key gigs, and in the future we might organise more pop-up concerts like that.

Benvenuti al Sud!

We arrived in the beginning of October – and what an October that was! The tree leaves in Latvia had just started to change color from green to yellow-orange-red and the temperature outside was +11° C, but after a 4 hour flight that felt more like time travel to me (due to some extreme temperature changes), I arrived in Catania Fontanarossa, + 30° C . I was greeted by two wonderful Italian girls, who seemed quite confused and not completely prepared to meet a person who doesn’t speak Italian at all. Despite that they were more than kind.

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We celebrated Anikó’s birthday at the beginning of November by going sunbathing and swimming in the Ionian Sea.
We greeted the end of November with a granita.
And we finally awaited the change of seasons somewhere around Christmas.
To answer the question that has been on everybody’s minds and tongs for a long time: Why did we come here exactly– to Sicily, to Acireale? I have to say just this – for a foreigner like Me Italy is Italy with no specific separation between South and North. And it was a dream. Going south would only mean that the people would be more warm-blooded, the sun would shine brighter and the colors would be more vivid. Now, of course, I am starting to notice the differences.
Anikó asked me once if I could imagine myself living in a place like this for the rest of my life, and I thought: I could and I might be extremely happy to do so, but I would miss Latvia too much. After three months even the most enthusiastic ones can get a little bit homesick.

Cultural differences

One of the first and most unignorable things in Sicily was the native way of communication. And I knew this before coming here. It is the liveliness that accompanies every conversation, gestures that are almost like a second language – happening simultaneously with the spoken word. And, no doubt, the way of dealing with problems.
If making a joined decision in a group seemed hard enough in Latvia, compromising here, in Sicily, seemed almost impossible – it would be accompanied by loud decision exchange, speeches happening on top of each other and many different arguments – connected or non-connected to the topic of discussion. But at the end everybody would say Va bene and move on to the next topic like nothing happened, while I would be sitting there speechless – like the lightening had just struck a tree that I was sitting on.
Another phenomenon that now just seems ridiculous, but felt quite confusing at the beginning is this manner of behavior – how people just strip you with their eyes. A huge cultural difference, you see – because it is considered rude, an invasion of privacy, a creepy thing to do or at least an invitation to say something where I come from, but not here. Here the eyes linger on whatever or whoever is in front of you.

Italian drivers have developed an extra sense of knowing when to hit the brakes or honk without actually seeing the walker, how to park in places smaller than their cars and to drive in two-way streets that would be considered too small even for one-way traffic. This will be something our families and friends will have to face and accept in an accelerated manner, when they will come to visit. It took me a couple of weeks, but they will not have that much.

The trip to Rome

November was flying past us and before going to Rome in December, there was Magma – an event that some of the locals are looking forward to for the whole year.
And truly the taste of Magma was intriguing – extraordinary people, interesting stories dressed as short films and animations in a three day long journey that started with a broken key and ended, in my opinion, one week later… in Rome, when we met one of the Magma directors there.

 

We got invited to Rome for a celebration, a feast, a day together with other EVS volunteers all over Italy to commemorate 20 years of European Voluntary Service. At first the deal was that only one of us can go and it took us a split of a second to agree that we’re both going, even if it meant that one of us would have to spend a day on our own in Rome. But everything always falls into right places somehow and we both went as representatives of Arci Babilonia a.k.a. “Mistero Buffo”.
We were supposed to leave just for a day, but it ended up becoming a four day trip due to some expected and unexpected changes – a delayed flight that prolonged our trip by a day, and a wish to discover Rome once more.
I have to say – traveling with another person can have two scenarios: Nr. 1 – you close the whole world out; Nr.2 – you let everybody in. So traveling with Anikó meant being invited to a press conference/ film premiere; getting to know an Italian workaway enthusiast on his way to Mexico; walking miles and miles… or taking the metro every day like it’s no big deal (though it is for a Latvian like myself), inviting ourselves into a Sicilian restaurant that was closed and getting to know the owners because of that (a guy from Germany and another guy who happened to be from Acireale), and much more…
Meanwhile our little Acireale experienced a makeover…

  

Christmas in Sicily

We, northern people, tend to envy southerners, but the truth is – we are the ones who can walk around bare feet, wearing just a T-shirt at home for 3-4 months, while it’s snowing outside. I told this to Licia, expressing my incomprehension, but she shared an opinion of her own, that I do not understand – It should be winter inside and out, not the other way around, that is the natural way. This could be mentioned as a cultural difference as well.

   

One of the most crucial Christmas “ingredients” at my home has always been the tree. And it’s not just about the tree itself, but the combination of wooden smell, some broken conifer needles, candles, tangerines and grandma’s patties. It is the shadow of the branches – illuminated by a soft light, coming from the Christmas lights.
But here, in Acireale, I did not find a single place where people would sell nicely packed… or unpacked Christmas trees. Not that I really, really tried…but I guess for me being used to having these spontaneous Christmas tree markets on every street corner and square, made it hard to understand – why is it so?
On the other hand the Italians do have il presepe (the nativity scene/ Bethlehem) everywhere, and, well, the tree might not be the most religious of Christmas symbols, so it might even make some sense. But since the Baltic States are considered to be the birthplace of Christmas trees, my love for them was justified.

A white, white New Year

The Sicilian landscape during winter time usually does not change that much. Whenever there’s sun – a new season is introduced. Having the Sun changes everything, you see, and whenever snow was mentioned, Sicilians tend to answer with: “There is snow on Etna as well.” (It made me smirk every time.)
Not that it changes anything for a person who isn’t used to living next to a hill, not to mention a mountain or even a volcano – in my imagination there would always be snow at the top.
But this year was different, even the locals admitted that these few days at the beginning of January that we had here, when temperature almost dropped below zero, were an anomaly. And all of us volunteers from Eastern/ Northern countries – both here and in Catania – enjoyed it a lot. I was told that it might get chilly here in Sicily, but no snow had been seen for years, so the year 2017 will go down in history.


I have to say that we are lucky to be based in Acireale. Even though sometimes I miss the urban fuss, Acireale is not a small town – not in a sense I would describe a small town, it is full of life, but has the potential and ability to calm down, when it’s needed. That is why I would not change it for any other location.
Thank you for reading and come and visit us in Mistero Buffo!

Posted in Diario SVE.