Cefalu, Prosecco and the Tyrrhenian Blue Sea

IMG_2592Sun hot on our backs, we strolled up  from Isnello—

Fortified with espresso and chocolate,  we climbed

the limestone mountain, chatting as we went, stopping

twice to pass around the trail mix of salty nuts and raisins,

chased it down with water from our

many times refilled plastic bottles that grew crinkly with each

day we  walked the Sicilian countryside. Gorp

Never tasted so fine as on those trails– I confess to being

A bit obsessive about collapsing, then reopening my aluminum

Trekking pole, very confident when the path was, luckily,

smooth, then leaning on the pole hard when becoming a

Three-legged creature worked better than staying a biped.

We walked around sharp bends, through overgrown brush, past asphodel

–I tried  in vain to remember the poem Asphodel that Greeny Flower—

We saw the acanthus flower, the blueprint for Corinthian

Columns, an elaborate floral construction supported

By an ambitious green stalk. I remembered them from

art history, those  leaf- layered,  ornate capitals.

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We stopped for our picnic in Piano delle fate,

A name suggesting magic, calm– a peaceful vale.

But instead, we heard the roar of engines as the

Targa Florio rally zoomed past us—we ate three

Succulent salads Martina had prepared, sliced the

Charcuterie and the Sicilian cheeses, poured local wine

Into real glasses, sat on flat cushions on the grass, talked

–when the sounds of race cars accelerating,

squealing to a halt on the road just meters away

didn’t drown out all else. We extended our repast as long

as we could. It was time to retie our hiking books, shoulder

our packs and get on to Cefalu, and to the sea.

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But first,  we stopped at the sanctuary at Gibilmanna,  ducking

out of the hot dry day into the white marble cool of

this holy baroque place, one of Gregory the Great’s monasteries,

then ruins, then hermitages, then a reconstructed church– like

all of Sicily, this edifice survived conquests, invaders, was

reinvented time and time again. Inside it was so cool, I wanted to

stay there all day and ponder all this. Instead, we ventured

out into the arid courtyard, into the hot sun. Three of our members

rode in the van to Cefalu–their bodies craved a respite.

Onward, I thought.

Easy enough, this last walk appeared to be, as we ventured

Away from the sanctuary and its cool white marble

Off the paved road and down a rock-encrusted dusty lane.

Then the grasses were more profuse, taller, fuller, brushing

Against our legs, our forearms. We became quiet then, endeavored

To keep up with our leader, we might glance at the back yard of a villa

At a small garden, mostly flowers. Then more

Lemon trees, olive groves– we walked along a defunct

Game preserve, its fence still standing, opposite villa after

Villa where no one seemed to live, though occasionally a

Dog barking told us some human must be around.

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The road disappeared, we were on a path, overgrown, wild, with

Flowers of yellow, pink, white, the path so narrow we must

Trampled the flowers sometimes, the tall grasses ambitious

To take over the narrow path entirely. My legs began to

tell me I would never make the last four or five]kilometers,

but I kept thinking how I’d  unlace and pull off my boots and socks,

Immerse my feet in the Tyrrhenian Sea. That was hours

Away, and we walked on, reached the point where we could see the

Roofs of Cefalu, the city  I’d  seen only in photos, red roofs and

Cream colored houses, thin ribbons of streets leading down

To white beach and the sea. I thought of it as Mediterranean

Blue like the crayon in the 48 Crayola  box, the one with

Risers built in so that the new crayons stood like glee club

Singers in ascending rows. No–it’s Tyrrhenian blue, I said,

And walked on. We were sweating now, it must have

been after four, but the heat rose from those

hills of wildflowers and tall grasses. I felt my left instep

tweak a little, decided to ignore it, trying hard

to keep up with Charles and Phil, just ahead of me, single file.

I went into a sort of trance state, looked down to be sure I was

Walking where I should be walking, but no longer thought

About my feet, the heat, the sweat dripping down from

Forehead to chin. We descended this grass-crammed hill

and reached the paved road. Another forty-five minutes,

Stephen said, though Cefalu and the beach were so far away

I hardly believed him. We came onto a street of beach houses,

Backyards, fences, signs — terreno in vendita.

Just when the day was so hot, the sea so distant

that I was near giving up, we came upon a cherry tree,

low branches, every one stuffed, it seemed, with ripe

sweet cherries. We picked them by the handfuls, ate them,

juice running down our chins, we passed them around,

came back for more, swigged the last water from our

battered plastic bottles. One more hill, up, up, then

slowly we began our final descent. I won’t

bore you with how long it took for those with bruised black

toes, blisters, twisted ankles, aching feet to finish

the  trek. But I can tell you this—

The waters of the Tyrrhenian sea were the finest I have ever

stepped into. I rolled my pants up above my knees, tread

carefully around the slick rocks, pushed my feet

into wet Tyrrhenian sand. I felt such triumph —

Martina stuck bottles of Prosecco into the water

To keep them cool till all of us had gathered on the sand.

I cupped my hands, scooped up the sea, bathed

My face and arms with the blue water, the same

Sea the Phoenicians, Normans and  Carthaginians

had sailed.  Martina popped open the Prosecco.

The wine fizzed in my mouth, I held out my glass

for seconds.  I hadn’t felt such an endorphin-fueled rush

Since childbirth. Anything after this—the superb dinner

posh hotel, slower pace—was sure to  be a  letdown.

Di piu, per favore, I said to Martina, and

She refilled my glass to the very brim.

That night we would feast, at an outdoor osteria-

At long tables, we would delight in the  pasta, sea bream, contorni,

And we would toast one another—to fellowship, to reaching Cefalu,

And to the perfect, eternal blue Tyrrhenian sea.


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