“Siracusa — the most beautiful of all Greek cities” — Cicero

The coastline of Ortygia, the island connected to Siracusa.  This was one of my desires in coming to Italy — blue Mediterranean sea stretching to the horizon, under a warm sun.
Would Cicero say the same about Siracusa today? I think not. His comment made me wonder what the city must have looked like in the days when Plato taught there, and Aeschylus came to write plays. That was before it was destroyed by earthquakes in the 1500s and 1600s, and more recently damaged by WWII bombing. Today, our bus from Catania rolled into the city along narrow streets, with a mix of yellow/ochre and gray modern and post-war apartment blocks, uninspired signs and plantings, and crowded industrial and commercial areas. We made our way directly to Ortygia, the small island that holds much of the city’s history. Barely a hundred yards off shore (and connected by a couple of bridges) it also seemed a bit rough around the edges, despite the elegant baroque buildings in the piazzas.
Yachts lined up at dock on Ortygia. The one at the far left is the Force Blue, registered in Georgetown, Cayman Islands. Always nice to have your yacht where your money is?
Wildlife? Not a lot. Pigeons, fish schooling in the water of the harbor, a few gulls (remarkably few), and the skinny but clean cats. The cats in Athens and Spain were well-loved and sleek. Those in Jerusalem were skinny and cautious. In Italy, they seem to be clean, thin, and not much interested in being petted.
Pigeon in a fruit box at the Catania market.
An Ortygian street.  We liked the juxtaposition, on the balcony, of the laundry and satellite dish. At the end of that street is the Mediterranean Sea; that’s another thing in its favor.
History for the day — Regina trying to stay alive while crossing Archimedes Square. The mathematician/scientist was a citizen of Siracusa; in 212 B.C.E., the invading Romans ordered that he be left alone because they considered him an important asset. A soldier missed the order and killed him anyway. A museum dedicated to his work is on the square.
The fountain commemorates the myth of Arethusa. She was trying to escape the unwanted attentions of Alpheus, so the goddess Diana turned her into a spring.
Note on being a pedestrian in Italy — it takes a lot of nerve. Although there are crosswalks, they don’t mean that the cars/motorcycles/buses slow down for pedestrians waiting on the sidewalk. No, you must step forward into the traffic and believe that the cars will stop for you. They do, inches away, but not until you take the first few steps. Also, you are well advised to be cautious and calculate their speed and stopping range before you risk your life. Usually we wait until we think we could get across anyway, but there are places with steady streams of traffic where you could wait until 2:00 a.m. before getting a chance to cross.
The flag of Sicily, adopted in 1232. The head in the center is Medusa’s (I haven’t found an explanation of why). The three legs supposedly represent the triangular shape of Sicily (they are found throughout Europe in other contexts), and the wheat ears represent the crops that were considered one of Sicily’s main assets. The red segment represents Palermo, and the yellow, Corleone, the two cities that formed a confederation to fight the Angevin rule during the late 1200s.
On a completely different note, we spent an hour at the Catania fish market this morning, and another half hour at the Ortygia market in Siracusa. These, more than Campo di Fiori in Rome, seemed to capture the spirit of traditional markets. At every turn, someone was doing something — weighing out the bucket of sardines just off the boat for a cluster of eager shopowners; cutting and cleaning sea urchins, whisking the flies away from the hanging meats, pushing the escaping snails back onto their trays, slicing up a prickly pear fruit for a customer, or just sharing the day’s stories. We saw plenty of vegetables that were entirely foreign, lush fruits, scented spices, cheeses, breads, innards and outers of meat, and fish of every description. There are way too many photos to include; here are a couple of the most interesting.
Guys lined up along a railing looking down to the market area (Catania) about six feet below them. Most of the people in the market — vendors and customers alike were men in the early hours; a few housewives and female tourists started coming through around 9:00 a.m.
Men cutting sea urchins in Ortygia. Sicilians seem to specialize a lot. Small shops often have only one or two types of items. These men, and others, at the fringes of the markets had just one thing to sell – snails, or mackerel, or sea urchins. [Sorry about the blue tones; my camera settings are still a mystery to me at times.]
Green olives at the Catania market.
Mt. Etna at sunset this evening, with a little cloud cap.
This evening’s wedding, with bride and groom in the Piazza Bellini. We saw them earlier going into Teatro Massimo Bellini, the opera house, presumably for the wedding and perhaps reception.
The street below our apartment this evening. There’s live soccer on TV, and our bar is now a sports bar. In one of the piazzas nearby, another bar had set out couches and tables, and a big screen with a movie showing on it – an outdoor movie theater of the classiest sort. This was our bar at 8:45 p.m. At 10:45 p.m., the scene was much livelier; by 11:45, even the heavy doors to our balcony don’t drown out the crowd’s liveliness.
We should have mentioned yesterday that while we were flying to Sicily, Anthea was headed on a harrowing journey back to Seattle. Although her plane was supposed to leave an hour before ours, it left two hours late, causing her to miss the connection in Heathrow. The good side? She was re-booked onto a flight that took her through Vancouver, B.C. and got her home two hours earlier. The downside? It was another tight connection in Vancouver, requiring running (those zombie run training sessions came in handy), and the Canadian security confiscated her TSA-approved multi-tool. She was happy to be back in Seattle. Her post here sums up some of her perspective on Italy vs. the Northwest [http://runonthewater.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/of-coffee-cups-and-caprese/].
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