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Hello From Sicily – Italian Studies, A Pottery Lesson And A Hike Up Mount Etna

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  • Susanne Pacher
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    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2007

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      Susanne Pacher

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      Article Title: Hello From Sicily – Italian Studies, A Pottery
      Lesson And A Hike Up Mount Etna
      Author: Susanne Pacher
      Word Count: 2056
      Article URL: http://www.isnare.com/?aid=171610&ca=Travel
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      ================== ARTICLE START ==================
      On a gorgeous morning following a good sleep after last night's
      cooking lesson I woke up at about 6 am and stepped out on the
      balcony of my hotel room. The sun was just coming up, and the
      sky was filled with shades of purple and pink. Far away I could
      see the outline of a strip of land: the Italian mainland, more
      precisely the Region of Calabria, was visible on this clear day
      for the first time. The aerial distance between Taormina and the
      southern tip of Italy is about 40 kilometres, and this sunrise
      view across the Ionian Sea was simply gorgeous.

      I decided to get up early and take a stroll through beautiful
      Taormina, before the hustle and bustle of the day would kick in.
      My hotel, Hotel Villa Nettuno, is located on the north side of
      town on Via Pirandello, outside of the city's gates. I really
      enjoyed the location since it was quieter and yet just steps
      away from the amazingly busy Corso Humberto, Taormina's main
      street in a pedestrian area.

      Having strolled through the northeastern Porta di Messina I
      reached a still quiet piazza in front of the Palazzo Corvaja,
      seat of the first Sicilian Parliament and today the location of
      Taormina's tourist office. A few of the locals were already up,
      taxi drivers were getting ready for their first fares, while the
      pedestrian street of Corso Humberto was still almost completely
      devoid of people. I reached Taormina's main square: Piazza IX
      Aprile which features a large panoramic terrace facing the
      Mediterranean and Mount Etna. Two churches, San Giorgio and San
      Giuseppe, adorn this square, and the famous Torre dell' Orologio
      ("clock tower"), featuring the Porta di Mezzo gate, and the
      famous Wünderbar Café anchor this public space on its western
      side. I could even see most of the volcano today on this
      relatively clear day. There are not many views that compare with
      the beautiful vista that spread out in front of me from this
      lookout point.

      My walk on the Corso Umberto continued to the western edge of
      town where I passed through the Porta di Catania, the western
      city gate featuring the coat of arms of the Municipality of
      Taormina. From there I walked to a small park which features
      another beautiful lookout point that faces straight towards
      Mount Etna. After absorbing this gorgeous picture and trying to
      burn it permanently into my retina I started to make my way
      back, this time along the Via Roma, the picturesque road on the
      southern edge of town high above the coastline of the Ionian
      Sea. No wonder Taormina is such a popular tourist destination,
      the physical beauty of this town and the surrounding area is

      Well, after this hour long walk I definitely deserved my
      breakfast and reviewed a bit of Italian grammar on the gorgeous
      terrace of the Hotel Villa Nettuno before I made my way to the
      Babilonia Language School. Punctually at 9:30 our lesson started
      and our grammar teacher Carlo familiarized us with the
      "preposizioni semplici" – the contracted Italian prepositions
      that are formed from a combination of the actual preposition
      together with the article. Prepositions are always complicated
      topics in any language, and Carlo patiently and succinctly
      explained to us the usage of "in" or "per" to express time in
      different contexts. We continued with a variety of games to help
      us remember the use of Italian prepositions, a fun and effective
      way to learn and retain complicated linguistic concepts.

      Just before noon I had an opportunity to complete another
      interview: Alessandro, Babilonia's director, connected me with
      Donatella Rapisardi, a local Taormina based artist, who provides
      some of the Pottery Decorating Classes for Babilonia students.
      For millennia, Sicily has been at the confluence of cultures:
      the Phonecians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines,
      Arabs, Normans, Swebians, Spanish and French have all left their
      imprint in this culturally rich area, and pottery has been an
      important craft in Sicily for many centuries.

      I met Donatella at the local Hotel del Corso, right on Corso
      Umberto, where she offers pottery decorating classes on the
      rooftop terrace with a perfect view of the Palazzo del Duca
      Santo Stefano with Mount Etna as a backdrop. The weather was
      gorgeous, the sky was blue: I cannot imagine a more scenic
      location for pottery painting than Donatella's rooftop retreat.

      Donatella Rapisardi is a gifted local artists who works in a
      variety of media. She also heads an organization called the
      "Grupo Artistico de Perseo" which organizes various exhibitions
      and art projects throughout town and the entire region. The
      group consists of five permanent artist members and a number of
      other affiliated artists that are coordinated by Donatella and
      her team. In addition to ceramics, Donatella also creates
      mosaics using marble and different types of stone) and handles
      wood restoration.

      She explained that the pottery decorating lesson starts with
      plain terracotta pieces such as vases or tiles on which students
      apply the design they wish to paint. Two different types of
      processes are used for pottery painting, Donatella explained in
      her machine gun Italian: "lavorare a freddo" means that the
      pieces are painted without firing them, and "lavorare a caldo"
      refers to painted pottery pieces that are fired in a kiln to
      preserve the painting.

      Traditional Sicilian colours such as blue, yellow and green are
      often used in the ceramics decorating process, although the
      students are completely free to create their own design and
      colour choices. Donatella guides them, makes suggestions and
      gives the students advice when they need it. She also explained
      that the tiles offer an advantage since they are easy to handle
      and transport and they offer a great surface for landscape

      The course includes three lessons per week, and is particularly
      popular with Babilonia language students from Japan and the
      United States. Donatella added that Japanese students in
      particular are extremely precise and detail-oriented and very
      gifted when it comes to applying decorative painting to pottery.
      This may have something today with their exposure to the popular
      Japanese tradition of calligraphy.

      Often Donatella's students become her friends and she invites
      them into her home and does a culinary exchange: Donatella will
      create a variety of Sicilian specialties while her students
      prepare various tasty treats from their home country. She
      indicated that to this day she receives emails from some of her
      Japanese students from years ago, and she enjoys it every time
      when she receives international correspondence from her previous

      After having lived in Umbria, another beautiful region of
      Italy, Donatella moved back to Taormina several years ago which
      she really enjoys and which inspires her creativity. She also
      teaches children's art courses and volunteers for some local
      schools. She showed me a couple of pieces that had been
      completed by students and three of her own works of art. I
      mentioned I would have loved to see her studio to see more of
      her own art. Maybe next time.

      Following this interesting side trip another excursion was
      waiting for me: punctually at 2:30 pm eleven people were
      assembled in front of the Babilonia Language School, ready to go
      hiking on Mount Etna whose summit is located at an altitude of
      over 3200 m. Peppe Celano, Babilonia's social activities
      coordinator and one of the language teachers, was ready to
      introduce us first-hand to Sicily's highest mountain and an
      active volcano.

      As a matter of fact, Mount Etna had just erupted a few days ago
      on April 30, but unfortunately I did not see it. The eruption
      was only a few hours long, and one of my co-students saw the red
      lava stream at night! So today we would see Europe's largest
      volcano up close.

      Peppe had rented a small van and a small passenger car to carry
      all the participants. Our drive to the parking lot on the
      southern flanks of Mount Etna took about an hour and twenty
      minutes. We drove through local towns such as Giarre and
      Zafferana Etna where Peppe explained that near this area the
      Arabs used to cultivate saffron, hence the name.

      The day was overcast and rather cool, a windproof jacket and a
      nice sweater were definitely in order. We parked our vehicles on
      a rather isolated parking lot and got ready for our climb. The
      lower part of our climb took us through a forested area where
      the leafs were just starting to come out. Not surprisingly, at
      almost 2000 m of altitude, the plant growing cycle is a little
      slower, even on a subtropical island such as Sicily.

      Peppe explained that the local fauna includes chestnut, oak and
      birch trees which have all existed here since before the last
      ice age. We walked single file along a steep narrow path that
      was punctuated with many roots and stones, right along a
      precipice with many lookouts towards the famous "Valle del Bove"
      (Valley of the Ox), site of layers upon layers of lava flows.

      Our steep hike continued for about an hour and took us from
      2000 m in altitude to 2400 m to an area with a perfect view,
      facing the recent lava flows in the Valle del Bove. The summit
      area of the volcano stretched out right in front of us. Our area
      was a side summit designated by a cross and a broad natural
      ledge that our group used as a perfect posing area for our group
      shots of our conquest of Mount Etna. We spent about half an hour
      at the top of this side summit, chatting, snapping pictures and
      generally enjoying our mountain adventure.

      On the way down three ladies, one from Switzerland, one from
      Germany and one from Austria (me) raced down the mountain in
      about 20 minutes. Coming down was a heck of a lot easier than
      going up, and almost sprinting down this steep mountainous
      pathway was rather exhilarating in itself. Once all the other
      mountaineers arrived we set off to visit a local winery. The
      "Murgo" vineyards were just about 15 minutes away, located in
      the fertile foothills of Mount Etna and many people in our group
      bought red, white and sparkling wines. An animated discussion
      followed in the van and by 7 pm we had arrived back in the

      After a brief refreshment back at the hotel, a group of us met
      at a local pizzeria called "Trocadero", right next to the Porta
      di Messina, where we were going to have a nice dinner. For some
      of us this Thursday evening was our last night in Taormina; I
      was going to leave tomorrow night to go to Milazzo while another
      person was going on an excursion to the Eolian Islands. Most of
      our group members were leaving Taormina this weekend, and we
      were all commenting how much we have been enjoying our

      Everyone around the table was a German speaker: we had three
      folks from Germany, two from Switzerland and myself, originally
      from Austria. Given the linguistic differences throughout the
      German-speaking countries, we all mentioned that each one of us
      has to speak "Hochdeutsch" (Standard German) in order to be
      understood by the rest of the group. All of us speak fairly
      strong dialects that would essentially be incomprehensible to
      German-speakers from other regions, so we get by, speaking the
      standard version of our language. For me this exposure to other
      Europeans was really enjoyable. Having lived more than 20 years
      in Canada, I hardly ever come in contact with German speakers,
      so this experience of enjoying a nice meal, speaking in my
      mother tongue, was a definite treat.

      By 9:30 pm I started to get really tired since I had already
      gone on a one-hour walk through Taormina before breakfast,
      followed by another walk through town to meet Donatella, the
      pottery decoration artist, capped off by a short yet strenuous
      hike up Mount Etna. And tomorrow was after all going to be my
      last day in Taormina, so it was time to rest.

      One thing is for sure, when you come to Taormina for language
      studies you definitely don't get bored.

      About The Author: Susanne Pacher is the publisher of
      http://www.travelandtransitions.com, a web portal for
      unconventional travel & cross-cultural connections. Check out
      our brand new FREE ebooks about travel.

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