Today we had a bit of a climb to get to Ragusa. If you look up Ragusa on good ol’ Wikipedia it says that the town is located on a high hill. I will tell you, from someone who got here on a bike, they weren’t kidding!
Along the way, we stopped at an olive oil press. It was interesting to see not only the process but to visit with the local farmers. I have visited several olive growers – I wonder if this is the correct term – over the years. This was a family-run operation that spanned three generations. While this may not seem like a very long time in Italian terms, they have established themselves as providing a superior product. Indeed, when we did the tasting the olive oil was delicious, genuinely delicious. There was a savory flavor to it that I had not previously tasted. In addition, there was a spicy aftertaste. If what I could bring back with me to the states was not limited on I would have purchased several liters.
As we approached where they were bottling olive oil we passed through olive orchards, walnut groves, and almond trees. As we rode along I stopped to look at an oak tree. It was standing there in the middle of a field with a hill far in the background. As I stood there it struck me that this is the place from where my maternal predecessors came. This is the land of my ancestors. I wondered if some family members from past generations had walked over this ground, had they looked on these same hills. I admit that I had a lump in my throat, and a tear in my eye. There is a tie between the blood in my veins and this land.
After the olive oil tasting, we pressed on to Ragusa which dates back to the second millennia B.C.E. Think of that. The town in which I am writing these lines has been inhabited by human beings for four thousand years!! Imagine the eras through which this town has passed from Greek Colonies to Carthaginian, to Roman, to Byzantine, to Arab, to Norman… I cannot help but wonder what life must have been like for those who first lived in this town. What the universe must have seemed to the people back then, filled with powers for which they had no understanding, forces that they personified in gods who had to be appeased through ritual. It was an existence of superstition and fear of the unknown. This evening I sit here typing on my laptop connected to the world, a world that was unknown to them.
Similar to Noto, Ragusa was destroyed by the 1693 earthquake, killing 5,0000 people. As they did in Noto they rebuilt creating another Baroque city which was the prevalent architecture of the time. It was at this point in time when the city divided into Lower Ragusa (Ragusa Inferiore) and Upper Ragusa (Ragusa Superiore) to which most of the population relocated.
Ragusa during World War II exemplifies so much of Sicily during this era. Governments of the north were typically unpopular. This was especially the case with Mussolini’s fascist regime. There was no great love for him or his government on the island. First the fascist, as did many from the north, have a prejudice against Sicily. When Mussolini started rationing food Sicilians, who were also going without, had their food shipped north. Sicily was the last part of Italy to receive food assistance from the government in the north.
Despite their failings in many other areas, the fascists were very effective in dealing with the Mafia, but it was through brutal policies that alienated the Sicilian people. Policies that in many cases turned the people’s hearts from the fascists to the Mafia. If you study American history, you will find that during World War II the Mafia worked with American forces to combat Hitler and Mussolini. The Mafia did this because under those totalitarian regimes they were losing power.
This evening as I sat in the Piazza Duomo, I did not think of any of these things in the past. We found a wonderful little restaurant, La Piazzetta. Restaurants such as this make this trip to Italy all worthwhile. For dinner, we enjoy ravioli made in a fashion that is local to the area. The filling was sweet ricotta cheese, but the sauce was a savory pork sauce with nice big chunks of meat. The contrast between the sweet and savory was so appetizing that I came very close to ordering a second serving. Afterward, I was speaking to the waitress, who was a very sweet young lady that wanted to speak in English so that she could practice. As we were discussing the food she told me that she had made the pasta that morning. If we were both not married I would have proposed.
So now, with a full belly, I turn out the light.