Cascade II S2:E4

Jan 16, 2022

Where to begin? We have both been sick, probably with COVID though we can’t be sure due to our negative tests before Christmas and again yesterday. We now realize it was probably too early and too late to give positive results. Will has been trailing me by five days with hacking cough, occasional fever, and fatigue. We have definitely not been ourselves and as such, have retreated into our own worlds, which feels strange after so much connection over the past year and a half. Eating, grocery shopping, and getting outside as much as we have energy for has been the order of the day. We did share a new year’s day lunch outside with Bill and Nancy, and had a long chat in the cockpit with our neighbor Debbie, a solo British sailor/pilot, who shared her homemade mincemeat pies.

Still, we wanted to get to Syracuse, so we waited for some wind and took off on Jan 4 for a ten hour sail up the coast in two hops. Needless to say, going from more or less lethargy to sailing the high seas was quite an energy shift!

The winds were strong from behind with 3 – 4 foot seas, but the boat handled well as we surfed down waves, sometimes hitting ten knots! Arriving in Portopalo, we found our anchoring spot but struggled for some time trying to deploy the anchor with the windlass, despite our earlier lesson. We were about to resort to picking up a huge mooring ball in the fishing harbor (a definite no-no as Nancy said, “Don’t anchor over there!”) when Will finally figured it out. Not everything is obvious on a new boat. That night, starving and exhausted, we feasted on the most delicious spaghetti a la Bolognese I’ve ever eaten, prepared by Will. The next day the wind and seas were a bit more benign, and we had a glorious sail into Syracuse, with snow-covered Mt. Etna looming over the bay of the ancient city of Ortigia, its huge fort standing sentinel. It made me wonder what it must have been like for the Greeks to sail into the same bay back when Syracuse rivaled Athens in population and power.

The marina in Syracuse is tiny compared to Marina di Ragusa (MDR) with only about 30 slips and almost all the boats wintering over with no one living aboard. We did meet one couple—a Norwegian and a Czech—who like to come hang out on their boat although he has an apartment. Otherwise, it’s pretty desolate and not at all the feeling of the live-aboard community in MDR. The docks are quite exposed as well, such that the water splashes over them when the wind is up and the boat rocks gently with the swell. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!

The first day we had to explore was Epiphany, the twelth night of Christmas, the night the Three Kings brought gifts to Jesus in the manger. In Italy, they celebrate with stockings full of sweets for the children delivered by a witch. For us, it’s been an epiphany of sorts as well, as we wander the streets of this ancient city and reconnect with the larger world through place and time.

*     *     *

We walk the narrow streets and stumble upon the Temple of Apollo, a ruin in the middle of a large piazza with several Senegalese street vendors selling plastic sneakers. We turn the corner and discover a wonderful outdoor market with fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, and more, We buy pistachios, pecorino with pistachios, blood oranges, and artichokes.

We wander across the bridge past the fishing boats to Syracuse to explore the very protected marinas on the north side of the island of Ortigia. We are invited aboard a 50-foot sailboat owned by an Italian who speaks terrific English; for once we don’t have to struggle to speak and understand.

We meander into the old city and come upon the huge Piazza del Duomo, with hundreds of people milling about dressed in their holiday clothes. We explore the Chiesa di Santa Lucia, named after the martyred saint from Syracuse, who pledged herself to God but was nonetheless betrothed to a wealthy man. When she announced her plans of distributing her dowry to the poor, she was sent to a brothel to be defiled, but she would not be moved, even by a team of oxen. When the order then came for her to be burned at the stake, the wood would not catch fire. So she was stabbed in the neck, but not before her eyes were gouged out and set upon a plate; thus, she is the saint of sight and light. Well, I guess she does deserve a church or two given all she went through! I am struck that generations of Christians worship such violent idolatry, but I guess they come by it honestly with the ultimate idol being Jesus on the cross.

We come upon the Piazza Archimede with the Fontana di Diana, an elaborate fountain dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana surrounded by nymphs splashing in the water. Diana, the Roman version of the Greek goddess Artemis, is the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, fertility, and the Moon, daughter of Jupiter, and twin sister of Apollo, so yeah, a badass kinda gal.

And let’s not forget the Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer, and inventor Archimedes from Syracuse. This guy had most of mathematics and a whole lot of physics figured out by 212 BC when he died—calculus, geometry, pi, the infinitely large, the infinitely small, the lever, center of gravity, buoyancy, the screw pump, and mechanical pulleys, among other things. You just don’t meet guys like that these days, now do you?

Instead, as we lunch on caponata and pasta, we are accosted by a Senegalese clad in a necklace of colorful bracelets and several wooden sculptures he wants to sell us. We tell him we live on a boat and have no room for such things and engage him about where he’s from. “You know where I’m from,” he says with scorn. It turns out that in 2021, Italy accepted almost 60,000 refugees and asylum seekers. We try to tell him about Portland, Maine, which welcomes refugees, but after five minutes, he leaves in a huff, apparently offended that we wouldn’t buy anything, given his status. I am very sorry for your plight sir, but I didn’t ask for any trinkets.

On the way back to the boat after a long day, we walk along the water and come across the Fonte Aretusa, where the nymph Aretusa, the Greek patron of Syracuse is supposed to have returned to earth from the underworld. Because of her beauty, the river god Alpheus fell in love with her, but she vowed chastity in service to her goddess Artemis (see above) and asked to be saved. Artemis created a cloud around her so she couldn’t be found and eventually she turned into water. Meanwhile Alpheus turns into water as well and they merge. Hmmm, that’s not exactly how I wanted to story to end.

Along the public pier we see a large boat called ResQ People (click link if you’re interested), launched in August, 2021, in a humanitarian effort to rescue the many refugees who flee their countries by boat in the Mediterranean and often die in the process. Since 2014, 20,000 people have died at sea or are missing in their attempts to flee their countries to seek asylum. Since August 2021, the ship has rescued 225 men, women, and children. Thank you wealthy patrons of Florence!

From the ResQ People website

All this on Epiphany. It’s a lot to take in.

*     *     *

As the days pass, we walk through the new part of Syracuse, which feels dirty and unkempt with odd-colored buildings that offend my eye. Dogs poop on the sidewalks, many buildings are derelict, and garbage litters empty lots. We inspect the marina that was never built and learn from a local resident that “politics” was responsible, and the public money that was given was stolen. We learn from the lovely couple that runs the chandlery, and later from the manager that Marina Yachting, that Marina Yachting where we are staying has been without a license renewal from the city for two years, which explains why the owner is reluctant to put more money in it to keep it up—it could be taken away at a moment’s notice.

We visit one of the most acclaimed archeological museums in Europe, which takes us on a walk through time from “prehistory” to the Greek and Roman periods in Sicily where we literally watch technology, architecture, and humanity unfold, witnesses to human evolution—from the early vague resemblances of stone tools to iron blades, metal belts, and what look like safety pins; from vessels with the merest gesture of pattern to decorated vases with elaborate scenes of chariots and lovers; and from dwellings carved into hillsides to ruins of gargantuan temples and what were clearly cities where people lived and did business. 20,000 years of history in two and a half hours! We both agree we prefer the elegant simplicity of human design from the earliest examples, oh say, 4000 BC. On the other hand, the “modern,” machine-made architecture of Syracuse, such as the Basilica Madonna delle Lacrime and most of the buildings we saw in the new city don’t hold a candle to the small scale, hand-made ambiance of Ortigia.

We seek out a city library and are given a passionate tour of the works and artifacts of Elio Vittorini, the beloved writer from Syracuse. We read several pages of his anti-fascist novel, Conversations in Sicily for which he was jailed when it was published in 1941. The librarian asks to take our picture reading the book to post on Facebook. I guess they don’t get too many tourists showing that much interest.

And we have two of the best meals yet at a small tavern with six tables, La Gazza Ladra, where the food is slow cooked during the day by the owner and his zia and served from a display case at night: artichoke frittata, caponata, the best eggplant parmesan ever, subtly flavored meat balls, fried eggplant balls, indescribably delicious sausage, artichoke and potato soup, the most tender of pork roast, and biancomangare—a medieval dessert. What a delightful anomaly: no pasta or pizza! The Slow Food movement thrives in Italy and I want to learn more about it.

We spend a fascinating hour conversing with the Norwegian we met at the marina whom we meet by chance in a bar, aka coffee shop. Turns out he has spent his life as a documentary film maker and started an online magazine that reviews independent documentary films. He had just made an offer on an apartment and was on his way to see another, so we ask to join him, which is such a treat as we’ve been curious about the inside of these ancient buildings.

We watch one of his films and are intrigued by the ideas of this Norwegian philosopher who espouses ecohumanism, that is, a return to nature as the solution to all our woes as humans.

This interplay of man and nature, and man’s “head” and “heart”, clearly defines ecohumanism as a movement to address the failures in society . . . due to failures of presence, of personal connection with the all planetary systems.

We couldn’t agree more! We watch a very personal and passionate film called Sugar Blues created by his partner about the evils of sugar. We vow on the spot to eat healthier.

Which brings me to our boat, Cascade II, where on our second morning here has no shore power so no heat. It gets colder and colder as the day wears on, so we seek out an AirBnB to take refuge. When we arrive, the heat doesn’t work. Impossible, you might say, but true. After a couple of hours and the loan of a space heater, we’re finally warm again. OK, it’s Sicily in January, so what did we expect? Thankfully, on the following day at the marina, we run an extension chord to the boat, bypassing the broken electrical pedestal, and have power and heat once again. On our last day, we discover that the bridge connecting our pontoon to the main dock is broken so we must be ferried to our boat by dinghy.

    *     *     *

After nine days, we find we are ready to leave. Perhaps it’s too much city—where is nature among all this concrete? Perhaps we’re wondering what our place is in all of this Italian culture and history. We came here to explore a more lively place with a wider variety of people, culture, and events. To some extent we found that in the people we met and in osterias that offered grandma’s cooking. We experienced different ways of living, being, and remembering, and saw present day life set against the backdrop of goddesses, temples, churches, saints, geniuses, refugees, and everyday folk. Whether desired or not, so much of the built history of Italy remains, which provides an intriguing backdrop for exploration but at the same time appears to limit the possibilities for new expression and change.

I suppose you could say our epiphany is this: while we each have our own beliefs, history, customs, and lifestyles, we all share basic instincts and desires that bind us more than divide us. The rest is layer upon layer of societal and cultural conditioning and prejudice, which often leads to the many unwanted consequences of what we call “progress.”

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