I’ve been hearing a lot of Italian and Sicilian over the past few days. They are lovely languages to listen to, even if I don’t understand much: rhythmic, fast-paced, and almost lyrical. It’s like listening to a song where you don’t know what is being sung, but you really like the melody. If you like Louie, Louie by the Kingmen, for example, who cares if the words are so slurred and garbled you don’t understand any of them?
One word you hear frequently in Italy and Sicily is “allora.” It often appears at the beginning of sentences, such as when a guy sitting at a table next to us the other day began his apparent order by saying “allora” and then launching into the selections for his table. It seems to be sprinkled liberally into many Italian statements. What does it mean? The Capo dei Capi and the Swiss Shutterbug translate it as meaning “so” or “then,” and it also can mean “well.” It’s a kind of Italian gap filler that gets the tongue going while the brain is still considering exactly what to say.
Imagine how much more pleasant listening to the English language would be if we all were in the habit of saying “allora” instead of “uh” when we were a bit stuck on what to say next!
Yesterday we drove from Scopello to Trapani, a town on the western edge of Sicily. We stopped at Trapani’s working harbor—filled with well used but well kept fishing boats—admired the green-topped dome at the harbor, and boarded a ship that was to take us out to tour the Egadi Islands off Sicily’s west coast. As we boarded the ship we had to remove our shoes, which were secured in a large canvas bag, because when we were aboard ship it was strictly a barefoot affair. I sat on the bow of the boat as it chugged out of the harbor, past rows of sailboats and the fortress-like building shown below, which used to be a prison.
Our first stop was the island of Favignana, also known as “butterfly island” because of its shape. We anchored off the cliffs for some swimming and snorkeling. The water was a bright turquoise—the kind of color you associate with the Caribbean—and was crystal clear. The cliffs were mined and worked in the past and are honeycombed with holes created for mining. Now the area is a recreational area and nature preserve. We splashed into the water, which was bracing at first but quickly warmed up, and swam about along with snorkelers and swimmers from other boats.
Our next stop was the town of Favignana. The entrance to the harbor is dominated by a medieval structure on top of a small peak, shown in the photo below. The structure, which once was a convent, was so high that it occasionally was shroud by a passing cloud.
We disembarked on the pier of Favignana, then explored the town, which includes a beautiful church, shown below. The church has a striking green dome, barely visible in the photo, that showed up brilliantly against the deep blue sky. There were many people out and about and we witnessed the “Sicilian siesta,” when shops close at about 1:30 p.m. and everyone takes a break.
Then it was back on the boat to continue our exploration of the islands. We stopped to snorkel into “lovers’ cave” on the coastline of Favignana, which was very cool. You swim into the cave then follow a kind of watery tunnel through the cliffside until you reach a rock and sand interior beach, where the cave opens up and the ceiling is far overhead. You need a torch to light the way, and there were many fish near the entrance to the cave.
Then it was back on the boat and a short ride to Levanzo, another of the islands. It looks like a Greek island as you approach. We pulled around the corner of the island to drop anchor for more sunshine, snorkeling, and swimming—and a fabulous lunch that included arancini, mussels, bread salad, prawns, and fresh anchovies, which don’t taste at all like the anchovies you find on an American pizza. It was all delicious, and a great capstone for a perfect day.