Pace del Mela

by Andrew Stein

We leave Sciacca, but before heading to northeastern Sicily, we drive through the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento. Gabe and I really appreciate having Becky here because as she explains what we are seeing, we better understand the importance of the seven monumental Greek temples all constructed in the Doric style during the 6th and 5th centuries. These temples are considered the best preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece.

Valley of the Temples

Our second two nights in Sicily are spent in Pace del Mela (Peace of the Apple), and although that city’s name would be p’unny when translated into English, there is unfortunately no pun present in Italian. Calling Pace del Mela a small town is an understatement. With its population of slightly more than 5,000 and its one central piazza, this town felt like home. Gabe’s father grew up here until the age of twenty-two when he left for Venezuela, and Gabe has lots of aunts, uncles and cousins still here. From his annual summer visits while growing up, everyone in town still seems to recognize him. Their reactions as they greet Gabe and tell us of times past is what small town Sicily is all about. Although there are not many people of our age, there were still lots of kids full of energy, always ready for a delicious meal, and never refusing to go the beach. After meeting Gabe’s aunt and settling in with a large full smile-shaped slice of watermelon, we venture to the town piazza for some gelato. Unique to Sicily, we enjoy our gelati in a brioche. The brioche absorbed the cream and the sugar and was a perfect end to the snack. In talking with Gabe’s family, ordering the gelati, and just generally getting by, English is not a very popular language in Pace, so Becky and I are forced to use and improve our Italian.

Gelati in Pace del Mela

We eat a both very delicious and very filling dinner at Gabe’s aunt house. His aunt does not believe when we say that we are full, so by the time we stand from the table, we are probably full two times over. After dinner, I spend some time with Gabe’s aunt’s 3-yr old granddaughter, Katerina. We both sit on the couch, and Becky and I do a dramatic reading of Cappuccetto Rosso (Little Red Riding Hood) while she listens. Conveniently, when I say a word or phrase that I don’t understand, I get Katerina to point to the referring image or object on the page and learn a little Italian. After dinner, we venture to the slightly larger nearby town, taste a little more gelato, and walk along the coast before retiring for the night knowing that the next day would be busy.

Granita

We start the next day in the same bar that we had purchased our gelato the day before in the main piazza (there aren’t too many choices of restaurants). There’s a dish that gives kids an excuse to have gelato for breakfast, so I decide that I can use the same excuse. For breakfast, the three of us enjoy granita, ice cream, and brioche. While we are still on our sugar high, we continue on to Taormina. Other than having an in-use Greek theater overlooking Mount Etna and much of Sicily, Taormina is a charming town with a couple too many steps. It would be a surreal experience to watch a live performance in this Greek theater with its well-designed acoustics and fabulous vista. I realize that if my Sicily visit ends here, I would be more than satisfied, but there is still a packed 24 hours to go.

Greek theater in Taormina

We drive back to Pace del Mela for lunch with the cousins. Again, I play around with my Italian replacing the words I don’t know with their Italian-ized Spanish equivalent, which means making sure to end works in vowels and pronouncing certain letters slightly differently. While waiting for the finishing touches of lunch, Gabe gives me a tour of his cousin’s house, which is the same house that his father grew up in. He also tells me a story of when his grandfather was sent out to purchase some cement for house work but ends up returning with a brand new television, the first television in the town. As it was a rough time for the whole town, his grandfather set up the television outside of the house, which is located near the central piazza, and at least 100 people would come to watch together. In my short time in Pace, I already started feeling the history and the community among all its residents.

Lunch in Mela del Pace

After spending the hottest part of this 40 degree Celsius day at the beach, we return to Gabe’s aunt’s for dinner, and later join the entire town in front of the church for some sort of celebration. There is music, food, a little karaoke, and a lot of dancing. The diversity of ages all congregated on the dance floor can only happen in a small town like this one. As expected, everyone knows each other and we all have a great time.

Gabe and Katerina

Our last morning comes much too quickly as I feel so welcome and am not ready to leave all of Gabe’s cousins and family. They all wake up early to say goodbye and we enjoy a last granita and brioche together at the central piazza bar.