Thursday, January 21, 2016

Pomegrantes: My madeleine to La dolce vita & the Zeffiro Villa, Sicily

Pomegrantes. I had pomegrantes as a garnish this evening with some lamb tacos, and they had the amazing effect of the Proustian "episode of the madeleines." 

I traveled to Sicily in 2008, which is mythically linked to Persephone and the fateful 6 pomegranates that Hades tricked her into eating. 

As the snow storm clouds gather over NYC, and you can feel the freezing moisture in the air, I dreamily think of the beauty and warmth of Sicily. From 2008:

Persephone first crossed our path in Rome, freed as she was from the block of marble by the hands of Bernini only to be captured by Hades and forced into the underworld. Some legends say that she was playing in fields on Sicily when the earth swallowed her up.

When her mother, Demeter, the goddess of all fertility, goes after her, she deprives the earth of its ability to grow food. Hades relents to the mother, and says Persephone can go, if she hasn’t eaten anything; he then tricks her into eating six pomegranate seeds. Demeter still strikes a deal with Hades: Persephone will spend 6 months in the underworld, during which her mother is sad and nothing grows, and then 6 months on earth, and her mother is so joyous that the earth blossoms into spring.

From Rome we went to Sicily, and one evening entered a Fellini film . . .

It’s dusk in July in Triscina, a small beach town adjacent to the great Greek temple site of Selinunte. Pre-dinner cocktail hour is commencing on the patio of a house that sits at the end of a public beach of beautiful, fine white sand.

A man appears in frame beside a bareback horse. He slowly leads the appaloosa into the water, gently deeper and deeper, until they both cannot stand. Floating man and beast, as the sun continues to set.

Next a pair of men appear, one older, with white hair, dressed in white linen, and a younger beatnik looking man, with goatee. They stand together on the bottom step on the public access beside the house. The younger man takes out a sheet of paper, and reads something aloud to the sea. Then they walk on to the beach, and away from the house.

Original man and beast then emerge from the water, cross the short depth of the sand to the same stairs and ascend, leaving the line of sight.

As the party reassembles on the patio, an ultralight--one of the man-in-a-flying chair marvels--buzzes across the water line right above our heads. We wave at the pilot and he waves back.

And, CUT. That’s a wrap.

Only, we weren’t in a Fellini film (from the later art years). It just felt like it. We were on vacation in Sicily. Intriguing, extraordinary Sicily, and all this actually happened within 20 minutes one sultry evening.

I didn’t know what to expect in the great island of the south. As a city dweller I was so happy to be on the beach for a week. I rented the Villa Zeffiro from Gabriella Becchina, whose family makes the exquisite Olio Verde products from their olive grove in Castlevetrano.

Triscina does not see many Americans, nor even our British cousins. The southwest of Sicily has the strong African influence and the remnants of the great Greek civilization. In an homogenized world, it is still exotic, while the teenagers hanging out at night on the beach were beautifully eternal.
* * * *

Mary Taylor Simeti, who wrote the engaging Persephone’s Island, has her own take on the myth: “Persephone, the eternal expatriate, the goddess of unreconciled contrasts and alternate allegiances, chose to eat the seeds of the pomegranate, that she might enjoy two roles, two worlds.”

Nice idea, or just making lemonade from her abduction.


Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

Super post. Thank you. I am just about to place a small white stone filched from Selinunte - very small, about 5x5cm - in a dry stone wall I'm building.

Extraordinary beach happenings. The less prosaic the 'explanation' the better. No one was filming? It sounds like a scene from Commissario Montalbano.

More Sicilian Vespers another time?

M.A.Peel said...

Christopher, you Indiana Jones you! Thanks for the note. Yes, there is more to say about Sicily.