The Flotsam and Jetsam of Culture New & Old

Ciao Tutti!20190928_082245

Today, we left the lovely little town of Scicli moving on to Agrigento. As we pressed on to our new destination I noticed something that reminded me of the day before, trash. As we rode along to our destination I was overwhelmed by the garbage, not just litter, but garbage that was just about everywhere you looked. To be fair, I should point out that this was not limited to just this area of Sicily. On the first day of our ride, I noticed that there was a good deal of trash along the road. At first, I wrote this off as unique to the area through which we were riding. Unfortunately, this continued for our entire trip. I am sad to say that many areas were so filthy that the sights and smells were revolting.  Even in some of the most remote areas, there was litter, the plastic flotsam and jetsam of our industrial age.

As anyone who has read my writing will know, I love Italy. While this is my first excursion into Sicily, being the home of my maternal ancestors it has a special place in my heart. I am loth, therefore, to criticize it. Yet, in the interest of honestly describing my experiences, I feel I should warn the would-be traveler on what they will encounter when visiting Sicily. A lot of garbage and filth along the roads and streets of Sicily.

I mentioned this to an Italian friend. I told her how another friend of mine who was raised in Germany had once shocked me by claiming that his family saw Italians being dirty. At the time, I argued with him, but now that I see Sicily I can see where they might have gotten that impression. My Italian friend, however, countered that if you went into the homes of most Sicilians, they would be spotless, but the obsession with cleanliness ends at their doorway. They do not see the public streets as their home, at least to the extent where they need to keep it clean. It is a shame.

The distress I felt on this day was somewhat blunted by what I had witnessed the previous day while in Modica. When we arrived there was a large protest. As we approached the town from the hills above, we looked down to see a large mass of people moving down the main street of the town. At first, I thought it was some sort of labor dispute, but it turned out to be a protest against global warming. Most of the protestors were high school kids and younger. Many carried signs sayings such as “save the earth” or “make love not CO2”. I especially like the latter which is reminiscent of the protest signs of my youth.

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Now I would like to say that seeing this protest gave me hope for the future, but as I said my concern was only somewhat blunted. I thought to myself that surely when these kids take over they will correct the mistakes made by my generation. They will dedicate themselves to cleaning the air. They will get the garbage off the streets. They will be more conscious of their impact on the environment. Unfortunately, I am not at all sure of the sincerity of many of the marchers. One little guy made me laugh. Apparently he saw his mother stand on the sidewalk watching him march past. “I want to go home!” he moaned to her as only a kid could do. “Stata Zitta!!” she said wagging her finger at him. I wondered if this were some sort of school organized excursion where the kids were motivated more to get time off from school than concern for the environment.

Only the future will tell. Hopefully, these kids will take more pride in their home land than their parents have.

When we arrived in Agrigento we toured the Valley of the Temples. In my book, Italianità: The Essence of Being Italian and Italian-American, I note how Sicilians say that they were Sicilian before they were Italian, that they are quite proud that their history as a people. To be sure they are unique, an amalgam of so many cultures who invaded the Island. As you explore Sicily, you can this Sicilian inheritance. Of course, one of the groups that have had a significant influence on Sicily were the Greeks. This can be especially seen in the Valley of the Temples. Within this one valley are the remains of seven Greek temples; Temple of Concordia, Temple of Juno, Temple of Heracles, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Temple of Coast and Pollux, Temple of Vulcan, and Temple of Asclepius. Each of these was in various states of repair, adapted to various uses throughout the centuries. The temple of Concordia, for example, was converted into a Christian church in the period of the late Roman empire. Interestingly, the valley of the Temples is not in a valley, but on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean.

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In the past, when touring with friends, they have lamented at some point that after the third or fourth view of ruins one collapsed wall seems not all that much different than the next. Now, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that at times, after a long day of riding with the relentless Sicilian sun beating down on me, that I have fallen prey to this same sentiment. However, to quote Aragorn, not this day. I stood on the hilltop next to the temple of Juno looking out at the green hills and the blue Mediterranean beyond feeling that I stood on hallowed ground. What hand-carved these stones? Whose feet trod these paths?

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We walked from the Temple of Juno to the Temple of Concordia. Alongside our path were the walls of the ancient Greek city of Akragas, a major colony in the Magna Grecia era. Akragas, in its prime, was the largest and most prosperous city of the Mediterranean. It is said that Daedalus, Greek inventor and creator of the Labyrinth, after his ill-fated escape with his son Icarus from the King Minos of Crete built not only the Temple of Apollo but the city itself. There is no evidence to support this claim, but it seems our friend Daedalus continues to pop up throughout this trip. As you will recall, it was also said that after his escape he had settled in Noto which we had visited earlier on this trip.

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As I said earlier the temples are in various states of repair. The best-preserved is perhaps the Temple of Concordia. It was saved by being converted into a Christian church as noted above. As you look at these temples, especially the Temple of Concordia, you get a sense of the ingenuity of these people. The manpower to place these stones, to erect these structures, must have been enormous. Even if they had been built in the modern era, they would have been impressive, much less to consider the effort required in the 5th century B.C.

I must come back here someday when I will have time to explore this valley in greater detail.

For more on the Greek influence on Italy read my book Italianità: The Essence of Being Italian and Italian-American.

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Ciao Tutti!!

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