I made the decision to leave Taormina early. As delightful and beautiful as it is, I had taken what I needed from the top of the mountain. It was time to move on. I decided to go to Catania; a place I had visited for brief moments, transitioning to other areas. Catania is on the east coast of Sicily about 30 minutes from Taormina and sits at the foot of Mount Etna. Mount Etna is an active volcano and the activity of its southeast crater has been increasing since February of this year. This has been a journey of introspection with much insight to be generated. That said, it was time to breathe a little fire into this light.
Wandering around Catania I fumbled my way down an alley near the Piazza Duomo. There was a penetrating odor of seafood that drew me down the volcanic rock stairs and into the Pescheria, Catania’s ancient open-air fish market.
It was a stage of fishmongers shouting and haggling with the local customers. It was both raucous and enticing. I couldn’t get enough of it. Stalls selling an array of interesting seafood chaotically filled the area, boasted proudly by gesticulating fishmongers. I found myself at a table near its center, under the ceiling of colourful umbrellas for lunch.
I ordered a gigantic bowl of mussels, mixed fried fish and their house specialty, ‘tentacoli di polpo’ which is essentially octopus tentacles coated in popcorn.
Before the day ended, I received a message from a man I met at the start of my trip who is originally from Catania. Being a fellow food lover, we spoke often about Italian food. He professed to make the “best Carbonara” and insisted I try it one day. I had planned to leave the next morning to Paleremo, so pasta making would be out of the question. However, we were able to meet for breakfast the next morning. He asked for the address of my flat to meet me. I told him and he exclaimed, “What? This is crazy! This is the building my father used to live in, my grandmother’s flat, the place of my childhood! This is serendipity!” His eyes lit when he arrived and I could sense his busy mind lighting up with memories that scanned every inch of the building. He pointed to the original holes of his family’s door plaque. From there he led me around his city noting the Baroque-style churches and architecture.
He provided commentary about the various eruptions and earthquakes that have destroyed this city only to be rebuilt. A city of resilience. It was a private tour I could only get from a passionate local.
It was time to catch my train and so we said our goodbyes. The rain started to pour heavily and thunder threatened. Once at the station, I scanned the list of departures and wouldn’t you know it…all trains were running, except mine. Mine was cancelled. I texted my friend Antonio who replied promptly; “It is the design of fate! I must make you Carbonara!”. I hesitated and considered the options. This wasn’t on the agenda; this wasn’t the plan. Perhaps I could take a bus instead. Then I heard his words play again “It is the design of fate”. And so it was.
Antonio is not a chef. He is a lawyer. But if he practices law with the seriousness and passion that spilled out of his kitchen while he made pasta, then I suspect he is a successful one. He began… I watched quietly and attentively. With a slap of his hands and a skip in his step he made his way to the fridge and pulled out three eggs. He separated the yolks and began to whip them.
He took a moment to slice up some Italian cured meat and gestured to his cheek then his jowl. “it must be this not this”. Pork cheek it is… note taken. He then grated an enormous amount of Pecorino Romano into the egg mix. He whipped it again. Back to the pork lardons. He removed the pork from the pan and took the excess fat and poured it into the egg mixture.
“This is what makes it creamy” And it was just that, silky and creamy. He boiled some pasta al dente. He was upset he did not have time to make homemade pasta. I forgave him☺ He added some pasta water to the pan and then added the pasta – he had it all timed out by the minute. He then gently rolled the creamy mixture over the pasta. He delicately combined the ingredients until thickened perfectly. A marriage of fat and starch. Boom. “This is the real Carbonara!” he declared proudly with another slap of his hands while mumbling emphatically in Italian.
You had me at ‘pork lardon’, I thought. We sat at his beautiful dining table lit by the ornate chandelier suspended above. He looked at me nervously and gestured for me to take the first bite. “I am nervous…cooking for you is different. Your passion for food is different”. I pierced my fork into one of the perfectly cooked tubes of pasta and mopped up as much creamy sauce as I could while adding a piece of pork to the scoop. In my mouth it went. “Mmmmm” “wow” I exclaimed. “Really?” he asked. “Really”, I assured him. It was, without a doubt, one of the best carbonara sauces I have had.
It was a wonderful afternoon discussing food and other aspects of our lives we deemed important, like being a parent. As well as being at an age where we have abandoned the templates and instead followed our bliss towards the aspects of life that, like Etna, keep the internal fire alive.
It has been yet another extraordinary adventure dear readers, that brings me to this final post. And what will I take from this one? In addition to the extra carry-on full of Italian shoes, I take the awareness that one can hold a vision but it is important to not let the vision become a fixed agenda. Agendas thwart the natural unfolding of what it is we are meant to experience and learn. For me, the learning also continued to be about perspective.
Perspective that came with climbing mountains in the dark; with soaring high above the fairy chimneys in the open air; climbing ancient stairs while reflecting on the wisdom of those that walked before me.
All of these moments allowed me to look down and see things differently. Different from the story limited by my agenda. With clarity. And in that vein, to let go of that which does not serve me. To “make space for the banquet that awaits me”.
Our stories can be greater than our agendas and even our visions if we let them be.
Don’t get me wrong, travelling alone has had its moments. Being alone, seemingly hijacked by the not so helpful thoughts and self-limiting beliefs. But if one is alone while being mindful, all that needs to change becomes illuminated.
And one more thing… our stories don’t have to fade with age. I believe we become brighter and more courageous with the passing of time… if we don’t get in our own way. And I intend to do just that.
Now I am going to put away the laptop and finish the days being as present as I can be. Thank-you for following and reminding me that our journey, although unique to everyone, is always one shared.