Sometime in the early to mid-October, we made it back to Siracusa and Gratitude and prepared for the final short leg of our summer cruise – Siracusa-Marina di Ragusa.
Having never been to Marina di Ragusa, we were unsure what would greet us when we arrived but most of our research of other blogs and internet searches indicated that at least two of our primary considerations would be met.
Settling in for a winter, we often try to achieve what we are unable to while moving from marina to marina all summer long. First and foremost, we look for a strong live-aboard community. We want to find a place where we can connect with new and/or old friends. We want to feel a part of the local community, as though we aren’t just passing through but rather actually making friends – impacting others and having our lives impacted. One never knows to what extent – large or small- we will make those connections at the outset. But here we are, nearly 2 months into our winter home here, and I am only now getting around to catching the blog up with our new home.
Within days of our arrival, we made friends with whom we have enjoyed meals, walks in the woods, and short breaks of tea and cake. This beautiful location has provided an ideal backdrop for our winter studies of Italian and just getting caught up on Jack’s 4th grade curriculum in general. We found a lovely Italian teacher who gives all three of us lessons twice per week. In addition to Italian lessons, Jack is taking sailing lessons twice per week and loving it. Through sailing, like many in a new sport, he has made even more friends – some of whom don’t speak English and of course, Jack is only learning Italian. Out of these new friendships a whole new wave of experiences is washing over us. As an only child Jack has had the liberty of having his own way more often than not. Now with new friends he is learning new lessons in getting along, working together, resolving conflict and sharing joys and experiences with other boat kids with whom they share so many things in common. As parents we are all feeling a bit adrift for the first time. So accustomed to living in a small space, all of us together 24/7 – it is weird to look around and find the boat quiet – no Jack in site – off playing with his friends. Laughing with the other boat Moms and Dads we have discovered we are all experiencing this same transition. In this community, the kids can scooter or bike ride or run and play on the rocks together for hours – just was we did when we were kids. It is completely safe, monitored constantly by another 100 or so boats with live- aboards on them. My heart is so full of joy that in the year 2020 my child can find several playmates to play out doors with, none of whom have cell phones or video games and all of whom have similar values and experiences to share.
We celebrated Halloween getting dressed up and the Marina slip holders embraced our children as though they had children of their own walking the pontoons. One lovely American (thank you Susan and Tom) even made home -made caramel apples, while on another pontoon, someone had set out a “bobbing for clementines” game for the children.
We shared our Thanksgiving feast – giving thanks for new friends; old friends -and family who were celebrating 4000 miles away, and in general just feeling profoundly blessed for the circumstances in which we find ourselves this year. 4 different countries were represented at our table this year. While I would have loved to invite several Italian families to join us – particularly our friends from Luise Yachting Agency who have done and continue to do so much for us, and Serena, our Italian teacher and her family, we were reluctant, due to the Covid measures in place. The families who were present were people with whom our children play ever single day and if any of us gets anything, be it a sniffle or worse, we are likely all getting it.
We have continued to cook with cookingintuscany.cc and loving it. Last week Jack and I, together with several friends from home, (Hi Jennifer, Tracy, and Anne) made Pasta Fagioli. Another friend from England just joined the club (hi Emma), and Alec’s cousin from Denmark is planning to join (hi Catharina). Today 2 other friends from the marina are coming to cook in our galley and learn how to make home-made pasta. It is so cool to be learning to make pasta, learning to speak Italian and living in our own home, all at the same time here in Italy. But also wonderful is that even during lockdown and spanning different continents we are able to connect with one another through food, glorious food.
Finally, the other criteria by which we choose a winter home is the availability of groceries and restaurants/café’s a bike ride away.
There are several grocery stores as well as a traditional Italian fruit and veggie market on Tuesdays, and while it isn’t like the typical enormous variety one may find in London or Miami, they are a wonderful example of what one should eat – very little prepackaged or convenience foods, limited crackers, cookies etc. but full of fresh and gorgeous fruits and vegetables grown locally – an delicious selection of cheeses and dairy -but what is made locally – not so much stuff from other countries. So, this brings me to a comment a reader made this past week on the blog:
She said that, and I’m going to quote her here “I found your approach and attitude slightly, yet embarrassingly, quite American.”
Reading an unbiased opinion from someone unknown to you gets you thinking. I doubt she is a regular reader because I have, on several occasions, mentioned our attempts – though not always successful- at trying to see things and enjoy things just as they are, without judgement. But clearly, despite one’s greatest efforts to not judge or compare, I guess we all do that to some extent. This brings to mind a favorite quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt – “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I’m really not sure which item I approached that was off putting or “American” – I’m guessing it was my comments about the cost of a cappuccino and Aperitivo in Portofino. Sometimes I share an observation which I believe may be helpful to cruisers following in our wake, just as I would do in a café talking about my experiences or traveling on a train sharing with other travelers what to expect in a given area. Sometimes I make an observation as a way of showing the ways in which I have grown over the past 19 months. For example, the lack of packaged foods was an early challenge for me to overcome. Learning how to make beans, pancakes, brownies, bagels, and now pasta, among many others was an opportunity to grow. When I talk of these differences it is not to judge them either good or bad – but rather to share how cooks and moms in Italy prepare food and feed their families differently than we do in America. And even when we do find ourselves back in America, I’ll likely continue to make food without any of the pre-packaged and convenience items I used to depend on entirely. Ill likely continue to hang my laundry to dry in the warm sunshine rather than have it consume vast amounts of energy spinning in a dryer. In any case, I appreciate the feedback and opportunity for self- examination.
But I digress…
Covid measures have been lightened (believe it or not) this week. There is a tier -system- as in many countries in Europe right now. Brilliant, really in that it allows for regions to be treated individually -based on the numbers in a particular citta or commune. Here in Sicily, we were in the Orange zone – restricted from leaving our individual city and all cafes, bars, restaurants and many shops all museums closed. Just last week we went into the Yellow zone which meant many cafes and restaurants opened back up, though they still must close by 1800 to table service and close entirely at 2200. All of Italy will be locking down with more strict measures for the Christmas holiday and day or 2 before and after. It is still uncertain what that means for us exactly. We have continued to enjoy walks and bike rides outside (with a mask) and take away pizza so good it should have its own name.
High on Alec’s list for a winter home is the availability of Marine services. We have found a boat yard to do some need winter maintenance. I would like to have this coincide with some trips further afield (an overnight trip to Palermo comes to mind). But while I view Gratitude’s trips to the boat yard for maintenance more like a spa vacation for the boat, Alec views it like a trip to the hospital and he likes to be there every minute of the day to supervise anyone who has their hands on our precious “magic carpet’.
A few of the items on the “TO-DO” LIST This winter:
Pressure Clean and paint the bottom
Detail entire boat
Replace all heads from Vacuflush to Tecma
Replace washer and dryer (the dryer has been out of service for several months and we are replacing the washer as a preventative measure)
Remove, replace, inspect all Generator exhaust elbows
Replacing all cushions and covers for outside furniture flybridge and aft deck. (The cushions and covers are original from our purchase nearly 3 years ago. The cushions are coming apart inside and it is time for them to be replaced)
There is far more to Marina di Ragusa in particular and Sicily in general than I am able or prepared to dedicate to this blog post. I’m approaching this post strictly from the standpoint of our winter home. Suffice to say, we will be making regular trips once Covid permits, to what we hope will be ALL of the 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the gorgeous Island of Sicily. On those trips we will be checking back in and giving more specific information from a tourist/ traveler standpoint. Stay Tuned!