There are moments when emotions take over. We have been welcomed into the village like rockstars. Where are you from? They ask. Australia, we reply. Ahhhhh. They nod but they look a bit confused. With exception of one of us we are all blonde or blond-ish, and Carmel explains blonde hair is like a magnet among the brooding and sultry machismo of the Sicilian men. We are watched in the street, but it’s not threatening. We wonder where the women are. Men hang about. Gina was photographing in Chiaramonte yesterday and she asked an old man if he could move a bit to better her shot. Sitting surveying the street scene, he told her, ‘I’m busy. I am a busy man.’
We are all acutely aware our experience of Scoglitti would not be as personal, nor as rewarding as a run of the mill tourist. The beauty of the Sicilian Food Tour is our entree into Sicilian family life via our tour head, Carmel Ruggeri.
We are to go on a boat ride, but Carmel tells us Sorry, guys. The motor’s broken. So instead we are visiting Carmel’s Nonina Matilde, who is 92.
Nonina is beautiful. She welcomes us into her house, which has double doors directly onto the street. She smiles and welcomes each of us, taking our hands gently and almost whispering bonjourno. I can see the tapestry of a happy life here. Family photos, an immaculate interior and the warmth of little vignettes on tables and bench tops and walls.
We are taken through to her fragrant courtyard garden. There are potted plants including lilies, lush basil and lemon verbena. Carmel sits next to her Nonina, who has been like a grandmother, although she is a great aunt. The hold hands and touch each other, and we all begin to cry as Matilde strokes Carmel’s face. She shares her nougat recipe and in intricate detail describes how she assembles a lasagne. Five layers. Ricotta, provolone, and parmesan, basil, a pork and beef ragout – no white sauce.
Matilde recalls the Second World War in Scoglitti, when the Germans occupied the beach for six months. Food was scarce, and what food there was, was taken by soldiers. it was a frightening time. From here to the next town, the road was lined with dead bodies, she says. We all cry. Carmel has difficulty saying goodbye. Tears are running down her face.
It is Sunday, and the church bells ring in town. We drop into the local church, where there’s a communion and a couple of us sit out the front first watching the men in shiny suits come in and out for a cigarette. Sunday draws families and the town together – and everyone is out in their Sunday best. (The interpretation of which varies; there are boys in scout uniforms to a girl in a short black skirt and a teal sequinned top.
After a stroll along the beach, we head up the hill to Carmel’s family. We’re treated to a wholesome Italian family lunch under a shady pergola next to their orchard. The pizza oven is simmering, a white table cloth is rolled out with flair. I figure it’s been done before. There are paper plates, but they’re pretty and match the light rose we are drinking. We assist in the making of pasta on broad flat timber boards on top of the kitchen table. It’s hot and we are perspiring but we’re all soaking up the Italian chatter and banter. There’s something melodic and soothing about it, despite the decibels probably matching a football game at the MCG. It’s all about connections and I am left pining for my own family and realise we are not too bad at this sort of thing ourselves.