“How would you summarize our first 6 months here?” – I asked to Anikó on a sunny April morning while sipping a cappuccino con latte di soia in Piazzetta Garibaldi.
“Well, it was definitely full of changes,” she said.
And indeed it was – diverse, colorful, sometimes adventurous and challenging, but definitely a period of self-realization and personal growth. We had the chance to organize international evenings: Hungarian night with specific dishes, a comprehensive presentation and dances, an Indian night with Indian food, henna, mandalas, lanterns and Bollywood. I started a project of my own – a Mandala course that challenges me to learn more and do more, because my students got as good as I am after only 3 lessons. And while Mistero Buffo is a place for us to carry out our ideas, it wouldn’t be the same without the people. People who share the afternoon hours with us, people who come up with ideas to travel – go hiking in the jungle-like forests, searching for mountain caves, go star-gazing or lava-gazing in the middle of the night, visit towns and cities etc., etc.
And at the end it all depends on you – how you see things, how you see people around you and what you bring out of it.
There are some experiences though that left a print in my mind more than others, so here are some thoughts:
San Sebastiano, Carnival and the magic of Siesta
Weather we wanted it or not the walls were trembling and the dissonance between pyrotechnics and “battle cries” – Viva San Sebastiano! was overwhelming. The statue of the saint was brought on a high pedestal through the city for 12 hours by a handful of devotees, who were making a sacrifice by not wearing shoes. And this is where it got strange – they were having a dozen of socks on instead. Each stopover at a church or a statue of another saint was accompanied by fireworks and celebrational details like songs played by an orchestra or confetti. And, trust me, for our taste there are un sacco di chiese in Acireale.
Nevertheless it was a celebration when friends and family had the chance to get together, go on the streets, eat nougat, toasted chickpeas and chestnuts, buy helium balloons and cotton candy for the little ones and spend some time surrounded by the idea of tradition. And we all have that in our countries, in our own nations – a festivity that would not make much sense to foreigners, but would mean a great deal to us, and I value that.
An exciting fact to mention is that after Christmas and San Sebastiano the decorations on streets changed again to welcome the colors of Carnival.
One thing is true for sure – I have learned to love siesta, and more vividly it showed during the carnival, when for one and a half weeks Acireale was the center of the party. A carnival is the Roman Catholic way of letting off steam before 40 days of lent – marking the time till Easter, so there were always people on the two main streets, music playing on the speakers throughout the town and confetti – confetti everywhere! But for my surprise, again, siesta is something that has rooted deep in the characteristics of an Italian – willingly or not around 13 the streets cleared out and a breeze of fresh air blew through the town. Almost everyone except for the tourists sought refuge in their homes when the siesta hit –to rest, to eat, to fix the costume… so that they could return to the feast in the evening. And now I am sure – siesta is definitely not just a heat thing. It’s a national value, at least here, in Sicily. And seeing our town like this – peaceful and calm – even during one of the busiest weeks of the year gave the sensation of hope and relief.
While walking through the streets of rain-glued confetti, covered masquerade stands and brightly illuminated candy stands and listening to a musician doing a sound-check in the empty Dome Square, I decided that I will miss this.
Not always the appearances are deceptive
One of the most vivid cultural disparities I have experienced so far took place during an evening visit to Catania. We got the chance to attend a concert of a Sicilian folk band called iBeddi – “the beautiful ones”, and I was absolutely dazzled by the fact that the musicians were changing instruments like socks – sometimes even multiple times per song. Instruments that I have or have not seen before. And while it was a folk concert the setting was quite amusing and, well, shocking for that matter.
First of all, it was held in a nightclub/ concert venue/ bar/ disco; and the moment when iBeddi stopped playing, a DJ took over instantly. The public changed drastically and even though I said at the beginning of the concert that “I have never seen so many heels at a folk concert”, I had never seen the scenery of an Italian night club as well.
The high point and the second part of this spectacle took place in the ladies room. While I was waiting for Anikó, a girl came in and stood next to me (we had a huge mirror in front of us) – the contrast was unbelievable, and I could see on her face that she found the reflection as amusing as I did. My color explosion outfit, hippy-like hairdo, sneakers that had seen several countries and the facial expression of “what am I doing here” in contrast of her 12 cm heels, almost no clothing, hair that had experienced more product and ironing in that one day than mine had ever seen, and a thick layer of makeup accompanied by undoubtable facial expression of “what is she doing here”. At least that one thought we shared, so we (me and Anikó) left with a certain wish to leave.
To prolong the sensation of unbelievable contrasts after we had left the venue, our friends brought us to a “place next door” – an ex-Arci place, a café, a cultural center, a free library, a place to meet people who are like-wise minded, free spirited, art and culture driven, and, most important of all (in that particular evening, anyway) – offered mulled wine at the bar. We were brought to Gammazita – a place that clearly resembled Mistero Buffo in interior design and the overall vibe, but was filled with various people. As I turned to Anikó, to express the excitement and a wish to come back one day, she said “I think it’s too hippy for me”. And there it was – the main difference between me and her, between Gammazita and Mistero Buffo – and, well, I am somewhere in the middle, I guess.
Nola – the home of a colorful snail and a Ukrainian food shop
As one of the latest experiences we had the on-arrival training for volunteers who had just started their service. We received an invitation to go to Nola, and, yes, you read it correctly – On-Arrival training – a formation you get to participate in a couple of weeks, maximum some months after arriving in the project location. I know, I know – Italians love to be late and I have gotten used to it, but this was a bit funny. Anyway the experience was amazing and we got to know people from all over the world who are doing European Voluntary Service all over Italy.
We arrived at a very nice hotel at the middle of nowhere also known as Nola – a town 40 minutes from Naples, but the hotel had lanterns with crystals on the ceiling, and an outdoor swimming pool. And this was the moment where I saw that Anikó’s low of attraction theory sometimes works – she was convincing me to bring my swimming suit, because “We will go swimming!” she said. She did not know anything about the hotel, about the location, about the week plan, but she was sure about this one thing. And so we did. The schedule was intensive – 4 hours of EVS related lessons and 4 hours of Italian lessons every day accompanied by various activities in the evenings (nighttime) but on Sunday we got the chance to visit Naples.
“We reached a narrow street that seemed to belong to the pastry shops, pizzerias, fish markets and other customer-driven enterprises, but was still decorated by drying laundry on every single balcony of the tall buildings. Water flew down the street and you could see that it is leaking from the buckets filled with octopus and mixing with the laundry water that an old lady carelessly poured out on the street. On this background there were pedestrians – scholars, workers, tourists and locals, making their way up or down the street, and cars, of course, driven by people who have given up a long time ago. That was not the rule in Naples, not at all, but this street was special. The rest of the city was shaking from the sound of car honks.
Pastry shops were putting cornetto’s and other breakfast foods directly on the streets in glass cases to draw the attention of potential customers, so the smell of freshly made pastries filled the air and came down from the mountain-like street, making Naples smell like sweetness and freshly baked bread.”
Naples was beautiful, but it reminded us of Sicily, and it seems that this island has rooted in us so much that even while searching for a real Neapolitan pizza in a not-so-touristic place, we ended up reaching the end of Via San Sebastiano and finding a nice and cozy restaurant called “Bellini”. Coincidence? I think not.
Six months have passed in a moment. I looked at the calendar on 2nd of April and told Anikó: “Today is officially the first day of our last 6 months in the Sicily project.”
Shocked and discontent she looked at me and waved the thought away with a single phrase: “Let’s not think about depressing things right now.” And indeed, let’s not do that. In the meantime – come and visit us in Mistero Buffo! Ciao!