Sunday, 20 September 2015

La Terra dei Malavoglia

"...di rompersi la braccia e la schiena tutto il giorno, e arrischiare la pelle, e morir di fame e non aver mai un giorno da sdraiarsi al sole....un ladro di mestiere che si mangiava l'anima" ( break your arms and back all day, to risk your skin, to die of hunger, to never have a day to lie in the sun...this thief of a trade, that ate the soul).

- Giovanni Verga, "I Malavoglia"

To English-speaking readers, Verga might be most famous as the author of Cavelleria Rusticana; later, of course, the subject of Mascagni's opera. However, I Malavoglia (in English, 'The House by the Medlar Tree') -  recounting the struggles of a family of fishermen in 19th century Aci Trezza, a small village near Catania in Sicily - is generally reckoned to be his masterpiece,

   Indeed, on entering Aci Trezza one is greeted by a sign stating "La Terra dei Malavoglia" which - given the unrelenting misery of the book - I would have thought akin to the Siberian tourist board deciding to publicise their country as "The Land of the Gulag Archipelago".

   Because there is misery aplenty in I Malavoglia. It's a brilliantly written novel, and - if you have an interest in Italian literature - you should certainly read it, but be aware that even Thomas Hardy would probably have thought it too depressing. And, with its emphasis on the rural landscape (not to mention occasionally making one want to bang the characters heads together), it frequently reminded me of Hardy. The difference being that - unlike Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead -the Malavoglia  aren't brought down by the constraints of the social, political and class boundaries of the day. They're brought down by the innate capacity of people to be horrible to each other. Visconti filmed a loose (and more overtly political) adaptation, La Terra Trema, in 1948; and he too, is remembered with a piazza and bar (with splendid negronis!) named after him.

Now I may have made Aci Trezza sound rather grim, but that would be unfair. It's a lovely place. So lovely we asked our landlord, upon leaving, if we could make a booking for next year. We were even polite about his dad's home-made almond wine (not actually bad, but we did wonder if perhaps it was supposed to be used as a salad dressing instead of drinking it).

   This was our first visit to Sicily since 2002, and it was good to be back. We did a lot of swimming. We did a lot of lying in the sun. We ate a lot of fish. We ate a lot of granite. We ate a lot of arancini. Actually, now I think about it, we did quite a lot of eating. We also drank quite a few negronis. Indeed, I thought about compiling a list of 'great bars for negronis in Aci Trezza' but maybe that will have to wait.

Anyway, here are some photos.

This is the basalt Norman castle in nearby Aci Castello. Note the beach club in the foreground and the slightly ramshackle wooden scaffolding that is holding it up. There are many such clubs in the area, entrance fees are very reasonable (possibly varying in direct proportion to the solidity of the underlying structure).

Here's a view of Aci Trezza from Aci Castello.

And here's an image from the festival of St John the Baptist, patron saint of Aci Trezza, which took place on our last night.

It was a good week. We'd forgotten how much we loved Sicily. I'd forgotten that I was actually capable of enjoying a holiday on the beach, with the result that it took me the best part of the week to acclimatise; a week that I spent immersed in the miseries of the Malavoglia. 

Until next year! There is still, after all, that list of bars to compile...