Sicily: Pine Nuts, Raisins and Breadcrumbs
On the plane from Lyon to Rome, I had a little conversation with the man seated next to me. I don't know how we got on the topic, but he implied that mankind was in trouble. He seemed like a very nice man, even if his outlook was rather bleak. In a low key reserved Italian kind of way, he cited dates and events, everything organized in his mind. Maybe he had lost some money in stocks, I thought. His clothing was made of rich wools in dark tones, and his straight black hair was speckled with grey. He presented an interesting picture, but not one of a business man. I asked him if he was a history professor. He seemed to have lots of facts memorized.
He halted, looked mysterious, and with a strange muted flair that took me aback, he stated that he was a researcher of sorts. 'What is it that you research?' I asked. He again paused as if to be careful not to give too much away. He said: 'The Church. The history of the Church.' It was then that I realized he must have been a priest. Maybe I was talking to someone even more important than a priest. On his way back to the Vatican, a researcher of church history, it was exciting. What was he doing in Lyon? My imagination was running wild, but I didn't want to pry.
I changed the subject and told him I was very interested in Italian food. 'Well, in Sicily, you won't get Italian food', he said, again serious, probably thinking about the secret masonic miniature stone missing from the puzzle he had finally brought to penultimate fruition, hidden in the concealed chamber accessed from that little chapel off the cloister in a church in Rome. 'You will get Sicilian food.' He smiled, I smiled.
A shift in cabin pressure got me thinking of something completely different. He seemed to have a little gas problem. Wafts of mild odors of stomach upset were coming from him. I felt a little sympathy for this somber character, and silently hoped things would work out for him. I was pleased to simply have met him. The plane landed, and he disappeared into the crowd before I could get his name.
Arrival to Palermo on the island of Sicily from Rome. I realized that it wasn't the ponderous priest that was stinking after all. It was coming from my bag. It was that loaf of Epoisses that I had decided to bring as a gift to Judy Witts Francini, the diva in charge of Divina Cucina, normally out of Florence but doing a week in Sicily that I simply could not pass up. To say that she is a fellow food enthusiast would be an understatement. This woman has been there and done that all over Italy 15 times over for the last 25 years. They serve a dish and she explains in detail what makes it prepared right there, in contrast to how it is done in a half a dozen other regions of Italy. She is a mine of information. I knew I was going to be in good hands. I wanted to come bearing something good, but got a little carried away... Wrapped in two ziplocks, fumes still escaping, it called to everyone within a 3 foot radius of my carry-on. It never stinks like this until I take it out of its element. Why do I never learn? Why do I always think that someone forgot to change a baby's diaper or has a gas problem? My obsession with bringing the best of France to friends in far away places is really out of control sometimes, I fretted. My heart was in the right place, anyway. I sat next to an old man on the bus, and he shifted nervously in his seat all the way into town. The bus driver on the shuttle from the airport turned on the air and commenced to gesture grandly and lecture to each and every driver in a language even I could understand even though I don't speak Sicilian (or Italian for that matter).