Our First Winter in Sicily
When Marco and I decided to split our time between the U.S. and Sicily, one thing I wasn't quite prepared for was the whirlwind experience of traveling. The last couple months we may have gotten more than we bargained for.
Of the three months we spent stateside, we made a one-month visit to see my family in Colorado and help out after my dad's knee replacement surgery (it went great and he is doing fantastic!). We also made three visits to Connecticut to see Marco's father. And we got new health insurance, which meant two months of me working with my doctors to get the medications I rely on to function covered. In the end, we got what we needed all around. (As I write about on my personal blog, I live with chronic migraines and a couple other conditions, so healthcare is a big deal for our household.)
But let's just say we were ready to return to a more settled, quieter life here in Melilli.
Or what we thought was a quieter life...
Storms, Earthquakes and Puffy Jackets, Oh My!
Our first three weeks back here in Sicily proved that a quiet hilltop village is not always so quiet! We've had a run of adventures that could rival any romantic comedy plot.
Bundling Up for Sicilian Winter
This is the first winter we are spending in Sicily, so we arrived very curious to see what the experience would be like.
We'd heard that, once the temperature outside hits 50 degrees Fahrenheit (or 10 degrees Celsius), Sicilians are known to throw on their puffy jackets, wool scarfs, and wool hats. Living in NYC, where it's generally frigid for months on end, we thought this was hilarious. By the time the weather warms up to 50 F / 10 C in NYC, people are ready to put on T-shirts and lounge in the park.
But it didn't take long being in Melilli for us to fit right in. Because we finally discovered WHY people bundle up.
Those lovely stone houses that remain miraculously cool in summer? Well they remain cool in winter too!
Say it's a sunny day out, lovely warm weather (warm, not hot, sort of like spring in the northern U.S.). But indoors, it feels like the depths of winter. Those beautiful stone and tile floors? Wow, do they hold onto the cold.
So when you're getting dressed to go out, you put on EVERY SINGLE LAYER you own because you imagine it must be colder outside! Then, you step out and within 15 minutes you're sweating.
After three weeks, we are finally adapting to the weather. When we heat the house, we focus on one room at a time. Our friend and neighbor Rosanna taught us how to use our air conditioning units for heat. We also have space heaters. I even bought a "house poncho" to keep myself warm (basically, a wearable blanket). I'm hoping to grab some fleece pajamas at this week's outdoor market.
And, when we go outside, we're learning to wear layers that we can easily take off!
A Raucous Winter Storm
A week or so after we arrived in Melilli, a storm passed through. For two days, rain pounded the shutters. Wind rattled anything not nailed down (and even some things that were).
We quickly learned that the inner glass doors and windows (that the shutters cover) are NOT meant to be waterproof. Instead, to keep out driving rain, you need to close the shutters up tight. Which means no light coming in. Which gets even spookier when the power flickers on and off!
Luckily, we'd recently gone with Rosanna to pick up holiday decorations. I'd found these lovely tabletop battery-powered trees. As the storm raged outside, I moved the trees from room to room with us for cozy ambience.
Then, whenever the power cut out, the trees kept the room lit. Saved by Christmas decorations!
After two days, the storm began to ease. But the disruptions were only getting started. That evening, we got a warning that the water might get disrupted. So we filled up all the bottles in the house with water and figured that would do the job.
The next morning we awoke to learn that, yes, water was cut off for the village. On Melilli's Facebook page, the municipality announced power outages had affected the pumping station and they were hard at work getting it fixed.
No problem, we figured. We had drinking water and power. We could easily skip showering.
Oh, yes, it starts out easy. But eight hours into a water cutoff things start to change. You realize all the things that require running water: washing dishes, washing clothes, flushing toilets, boiling pasta. I messaged with neighbors, cousins and friends in the village, all of us hoping the water would come back soon. I stalked Melilli's Facebook page for updates, and practiced my Italian reading all of the frustrated messages about the lack of water.
Night fell. There was still no running water and we ran out of drinking water. So Marco and I bundled up (Sicilian style) and headed out to haul water home by foot. One downside of living at the top of a hillside village is carrying cases of water up all those hills! Luckily, the view was beautiful.
Of course, once we arrived home with our haul of bottled water, the tap water was partially restored. Though we waited until the next day to drink it.
The very next morning, after Marco made coffee and my first cup of tea, our gas bombola ran out! In the historic center of Melilli, there aren't gas pipes. Instead, you buy a gas tank, called a bombola, that sits outdoors and is connected into piping for any appliances that use gas. For us, that's our hot water heater and our stove.
Thus, as I went downstairs to make my second cup of tea, I discovered we had water but no way to heat it. At 9am, I called the business that delivers the bombola, and they said they could come that day but "piu tardi," meaning later. I figured I could work with that.
The new bombola arrived earlier than expected, around 1pm, but oh my gosh, I spent those four hours dreaming of hot tea.
Wait, There Was an Earthquake?
Luckily, this part of the story is very very brief. There was an earthquake the other day and we didn't even know until Rosanna texted us!
We are grateful there was no damage to the village and that everyone is safe. Phew!
Living in Historic Sicily: Always Be Prepared
After this series of misadventures, we learned something important about living in a centro storico in Sicily: always have backup plans.
So, now we have a stockpile of drinking water and a small electric kettle for caffeine emergencies.
And Yet, the Peace We Feel Here is Indescribable
Despite all of our misadventures the past few weeks, there is something indescribable about the sense of peace and welcome we feel here in Melilli. The rich history envelopes you the second you walk out your door, along with the beauty and traditions. Every stone seems to have a story to tell.
On December 8, we witnessed the procession of the festival celebrating the Immacolata Concezione, the immaculate conception. The faithful carried a statue of Mary through the narrow streets, followed by a marching band. Residents emerged onto roofs, balconies, and streets to witness the statue's passage. Filled with a sense of awe, Marco and I followed the procession for several winding blocks.
We're now making a list of the traditional Natale, or Christmas, events we want to check out, including the local living nativity!
As hoped for, the weekly outdoor market is filled with delicious seasonal produce. Persimmons. Pears. Citrus. Broccoli and cauliflower in every variety imaginable.
And today, as the sun shone and the temperatures rose, we decided to take a walk out into the countryside. The day was clear and Mount Etna's snowcapped peak shimmered above the village. The impossibly blue Mediterranean matched the sky.
It was magic.
P.S. The cowbells!!