Catania, Sicily, September 16, 2013

The view from our balcony at the Hotel Trieste — looking west; setting sun.
We like this life — a black limousine picks us up in front of our Rome apartment, and whisks us to the airport. There’s no one ahead of us at checkin for luggage; the security line has half a dozen people, we keep our shoes on and sail through; we get espresso and a comfortable seat to read while waiting for the plane. There are plenty of empty seats on the plane; the ride is short and the skies smooth.
We get to Hotel Trieste in Catania and find welcoming people in a picturesque place who speak fluent English (actually, Alice has a solid grasp of American idiom. She said that her (British) English teacher despaired of her. “You should imagine you are going to tea with the Queen!” But Alice didn’t think that likely). They give us comfortable clean, spacious rooms with a charming balcony and street view, and air conditioning, and start to work with us to make arrangements to get to Mt. Etna (which is now erupting so that we won’t be able to go to the top), to Siracusa, to places in town. Their cute, 4-year-old twins dart into the hallway now and then (the family lives in the hotel; her parents were visiting for a few days).
After late lunch/early dinner, we explored, looking for gelato, cannoli, coffee, and chocolate. We found the cannoli at I Dolci di Nonna Vicenzia, which also had fabulous cakes and marzipan.
We need to talk about St. Agatha, who has shown up a couple of times in our week in Italy. She was a Catanian young woman who was a Christian martyr in 253 C.E., imprisoned and tortured because she refused the advances of a Roman prefect. Her breasts were cut off, so she is usually portrayed carrying them on a plate. In her honor, small cakes called “minni virgini” or “Cassatini Siciliani” are sold, year round, and especially near her feast in early February. We saw a church dedicated to her in Rome with a dozen or heavy satin and bejeweled dresses displayed around the sides of the nave, in which her statue is dressed and carried in procession. Catania does the same, with a several day celebration.
Here is a statue of St. Agatha in the front, to the far right (no I don’t know about the woman with the skull). She is a patron saint of breast cancer patients, fire, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. The Catanians appeal to her when Mt. Etna begins to rumble).
 The “minni virgini” cakes in the window of a fancy pastry shop, on the table near the bottom at the left. The store also had excellent cannoli, which Regina devoured.
One web site with stories of St. Agatha mentioned that the Catanians honor breasts, and in one of the street side shrines that we passed in the evening, we found the Virgin Mary suckling the baby Jesus, a picture that surely would not be accepted on the street in many  U.S. towns.
Still along the religious lines, we spent a little while in the cathedral that is dedicated to St. Agatha. Its foundations were laid in 1078; it was destroyed by earthquake and subsequent fire in the 1100s, and again by an earthquake in 1693. Parts of the earlier foundations are preserved in the floor of the current church, which is all Baroque, but uses some of the columns salvaged from the Roman theater. One essential feature of Baroque seems to be gilt angels.
From there we made our way through the city headed for the sea.  We passed through a somewhat shaggy park, with long grass, sagging plantings and headless statues. But the people there were enjoying the warm evening with the full moon rising.
A group of men were playing cards, while other people sat on the benches. The guy in the center with the cigarette and cards seemed to be the important person.
We followed along with a cluster of tourists headed through the park back to the cruise ship docked nearby, and caught a glimpse of the fullish moon rising about the fountain.
We turned up a street alongside the dock, and found a working class area, rough around the edges, with small stores. One sold only ropes and cords for the fishermen; another cleaning supplies; another fishing gear. The cavernous gray car repair shop stood open to the night, and at a bakery, the old baker himself came out gaunt and stubble-faced to take our coins for the evening’s last breads.
We came out from that area through the fish market that was pretty well shut down for the night. On the walls of the buildings that ringed the area were a series of faded paintings advertising meats for sale: poultry, cows, horses. Notice Mt. Etna, steaming in the background.
But no chocolate, so we walked over past the city square and found a broad street set aside for pedestrians. The stores were bright and modern, clothing and jewelry, higher-end bedding and shoes. Again, no chocolate. The retail areas seem to be very specialized. We did find gelato though, and since it had been several hours and a lot of walking since the cannoli, indulged in that.
A view looking up the shopping street toward Mt. Etna; 8:00 p.m. (on a Monday night).
The view from our window at 10:30 p.m. (still going strong at midnight). A bar has opened, with tables in the street just across from our hotel; music, voices, all of the fun of a warm Monday night and a lot of alcohol. Note the sign that says “American bar;” the landlady explained that American bars open only in the evening, serve only drinks (no food), and play music. Italian bars serve coffee and food in addition to liquor, and are open all day,
Those are our Sicilian adventures for the day. The landlady has arranged an Etna tour for Wednesday. Tomorrow, we will check out the fish market, get breakfast, and then take the bus to Siracusa.
An elephant carved from black lava stands on a high pedestal in the main square in front of St. Agatha’s cathedral. One source suggested that it was originally prehistoric, but done over in the Byzantine era. Its job has been to protect the city from natural disasters; it hasn’t been entirely successful.
Down-at-the–heels neighborhood park with fountain, card players, and people enjoying the evening.

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