It’s already February, my how time flies. I finally feel like I’m starting to get into a groove out here. Although now that I feel that way, we are prepping to leave for a month – about two weeks back in the US, and then a two week trip to Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Since my last post we’ve been pretty busy. Sean’s been working quite a bit, I’ve been taking my language classes in Catania, and we’ve been getting out and doing a lot of stuff. I’m also back into running, and can now run a respectable distance again.
My language classes have been really good. I’m still by no means fluent, but I have a lot better understanding of the language, and my ability to listen to what someone is saying without panicking that I don’t know the words has greatly improved. The class set up is really interesting. It’s at organization that is set up to help immigrants live and adjust, and the classes are free to anybody who wants them. I’ve completed the entry level class, which had me, three Spanish speakers, and three others who spoke some English, though not as their first language. Somehow, the teacher managed to keep us all on track and I think we all came a long way. It was fun meeting the other people – they were from Colombia, Austria, Ukraine, and Bangladesh – and nice to have a purpose for my mornings.
Sean and I have also been able to get out and do a few trips around the island. We did a beautiful hike with some people from the base down near Syracuse. The trail went through a valley with old cities up on the top, and a necropolis built into the cliff sides under the cities. The whole area is a nature preserve, and it’s beautiful.
A few weeks ago we went to the opera. The opera house here is the Bellini Theater, named after Vincenzo Bellini, a famous Sicilian composer. The opera house is beautiful and my lackluster photo doesn’t do it justice. The opera we saw was Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn), who was the second wife of King Henry VIII, before she was beheaded.
Just last night we went to Catania for the festival of Saint Agatha. Agatha is the patron saint of Catania. She lived here in the 200s AD and had pledged herself to Christianity. She refused to give up her faith for a Roman magistrate who wanted to marry her, and was persecuted. She was held in a dungeon and tortured, and had her breasts cut off. She eventually died in prison as a martyr. She is believed to protect the city from earthquakes and the eruptions of Etna. Her veil has been waived in front of the lava flow to prevent it from flowing into cities. The people of Catania love her – there are multiple churches dedicated to her, and the three day festival commemorating her martyrdom is one of the largest religious festivals in the world, almost a million people attend.
The festival has been an annual event for hundreds of years and they’ve been preparing for weeks. We didn’t go to the first two days, but my understanding is that there is a procession of candles, offerings, mass, parades, and lots and lots of fireworks. We got there around 2 on the last day, the city was filled with people walking around, tables set up selling sweets, and preparations for that evening’s procession. I don’t know the exact purpose and meaning behind everything, nor do I know what happened beyond what I saw (so many people….such limited mobility), but it was very impressive. They were covering the street for over a mile in sawdust. I’m not exactly sure the reasoning behind this, but I think it’s in part to prevent people from slipping (some of the things they carry weight over a thousand pounds), but also maybe to absorb some of the wax that is dripping from the hundreds of candles people are carrying around. Large, large candles. As the sun set, there were fireworks, and then they procession started. We were close to the middle of the whole thing, and people were packed in as far as we could see in both directions along the main road. Thousands and thousands of people. The procession started with eight candelore – big tall structures that commemorate Agatha. They belong to the different guilds of the city – bakers, grocers, etc. and have scenes from Agatha’s life. They are massive and obviously very heavy. They take quite a few men to lift them and they strain under the weight. After the candelore go by, all the people carrying the big candles go off in that direction. I’m not sure their purpose or where they were going….we were squished in like sardines and couldn’t move farther up the road to see.
Next comes a huge line of people dragging the Vara, the carriage with her relics. They are pulling on two ropes, which are hundreds of feet long, with the carriage at the end. As the carriage goes by, people are offering up their candles and bouquets of white flowers.