Part L: Italian Language School, Syracuse, Sicily
Syracuse at Night, Sicily
Syracuse at Night, Sicily

Oggi e nuvoloso e piove. Ha! One Italian lesson and I'm already conversing like an old pro. At least it is a different way to say “today is cloudy and rainy.”

We have decided to expand our woefully inadequate language skills by taking a few Italian lessons in Syracuse. Our teacher was not the dour woman we met when we signed up for the course—a formidable person who threatened to speak no more English once our class began—but rather a vivacious Italian woman named Beatricia. She was extremely kind and lively, and if you believed the Bravissimos she sprinkled liberally over our faltering attempts to pronounce even the simplest phrases, you'd think we were born speaking Italian. But Roma was not built in un giorno, as they say, and a small bit of progress was made.

Syracuse by Night, Sicily
Syracuse by Night, Sicily

I knew this was true the next morning when I went to pick up the morning pastries at the bar I have been favoring. I attempted to use some of my beginner's Italian phrases to place my order. The woman behind the counter paid me the great compliment of pretending to understand what I had said. Of course, since I was a repeat customer, she probably knew what I wanted by now without me saying a word.

Our second Italian lesson was early this morning (9:00 AM) and we spent another ninety minutes wrestling with ways to ask simple questions (and offer responses to the same). What color is your hair? What color are your eyes? What is the weather today? What job do you do? That sort of thing. I don't know how useful these phrases would be in routine conversations (how often do you ask someone what color their hair is?), but trying to remember the verb forms and matching the correct articles to the nouns is surely helpful.

Syracuse by Night, Sicily
Syracuse by Night, Sicily

We were out of school and ready for action by lunch time. Our plan was to cross the bridges and return to Syracuse, in search of the catacombs beneath St Lucia's church. Unfortunately, just as we stepped out the door, the rain began slushing down upon us. Was it worth taking a long walk and getting soaked? We decided not and moved to plan two.

At the far edge of the Piazza Duomo, there is a sign for a tour of the cellars built beneath the city. Evidently, during the Second World War, the people of Syracuse and Ortigia used these ancient, connected cellars as a bomb shelter during Allied raids. As far as we can determine from the sign, you can take a tour that crosses beneath the city and ends at the harbor. This seems like a worthy activity when it is raining above ground. Unfortunately (how many times have I used this word in connection with our stay here in Syracuse?) the shelter was closed, a gate of steel bars padlocked across the entrance. We decided to try again later.

Storm Clouds Gather in the Late Afternoon, Syracuse, Sicily
Storm Clouds Gather in the Late Afternoon, Syracuse, Sicily

Most miserably, the shelter remained locked all day and we never did gain access. Another attraction unexplored, much like the vast Jesuit church that stood securely locked the entire week we were in Ortigia.

For our last evening in Ortigia we returned to the curiously named Zsa Pizzeria, the girls' favorite pizzeria. When we passed through the Piazza Duomo, a little boy threw a stick at us. Not very friendly. He should receive a stern talking-to from the local tourist board. The little nipper was probably no more than three, and he seemed to be heaving his stick at everyone who passed. He probably wasn't making an anti-tourist, anti-American political statement.

Don't get me wrong. The people we've encountered in Ortigia have been overwhelmingly friendly, and the merchants have been patient victims of my attempts to stutter out Italian sentences. The chap who runs the local internet cafe/art gallery was especially amused by my request for una hora di WiFi. I'm sure this isn't proper Italian, but aside from grinning widely, he never let on that I hadn't just produced a perfect, idiomatic sentence.

Duomo, Syracuse, Sicily
Duomo, Syracuse, Sicily

Ortigia, the historical center of Syracuse, has grown on me. I still don't think much of the rest of Syracuse, which looks like the seedy part of any American metropolis, but Ortigia has a Mediterranean charm. Its winding streets and narrow alleys appeal to my aesthetic sensibilities. If I didn't know that I was going to live out the rest of my days in Venice, I would certainly place Ortigia on my shortlist of possible future homes.

The Church of Santa Lucia, Syracuse, Sicily
The Church of Santa Lucia, Syracuse, Sicily
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