A Roman guard on a motorcycle buzzed by with his skirts flapping, spraying us with dust from the road. Two days later, Pasquetta, Little Easter, dawned delicate pink, dainty as the inside of a seashell. Our final day of itinerary had us heading west for the hills to a festivity at a monastery, San Martino delle Scale. The outskirts of Palermo fell away; stone buildings here and there dotted the road. So when I spotted way up near a rocky summit a zigzag of new buildings—chunky boxes—teetering, I pointed.
Maia shook her head. No one lives there. She rubbed her thumb and fingers together, a muscle in her jaw pulsing. The twisting road dipped into a pine forest. Wisps of bluish smoke floated through the trees.
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Hours are required to prepare the coals, to heat them red hot, to let them cool to white before burying the carcioffi. Maia left the car next to a cream-colored stone wall which enclosed the monastery. We followed a path alongside, her walking shoes clacking against the caked earth. As if someone had suddenly turned on the volume, we rounded a bend and came upon a slew of folkdancers, singers, musicians in a clearing.
Accordions bellowed, tambourines shimmied, mouth harps twanged.
Someone kept spinning a painted vase high into the air and catching it, again and again. Compared to the somberness of the previous celebrations, this was all gaiety and frolic. The resurrection had occurred, the weight lifted, Lent ended, and vases flew. I had a little donkey, very dear, and then they killed him, my poor donkey. What a beautiful voice he had, like a great tenor, donkey of my heart, how can I ever forget you?
Antique wooden horse carts painted in every bright color—the famous carretti siciliani that my grandmother of course had a two-inch version of on her windowsill—stood in a circle. The workhorses, all gussied up in magenta and green plumes, mirrored cloth, tassels and fringes, stamped and shook their heads, ringing little bells, raring to go. We moved in closer. Scenes of fierce battles and angelic visitations, dragons and steeds, paisleys and dots and portraits of saints, crowded every inch.
Hell had no vacancy. Creatures jammed every possible spot. The drivers, wearing black caps and red pompons at their throats, cracked their whips and the wheels began to creak. Children in day-glo parkas, pinned in next to their grandfathers, peered over the sides. One cart, festooned with wildflowers and shafts of rye, carried a cage of songbirds and a wooden wine cask.
The Best Women's Travel Writing True Stories from Around the World by Lavinia Spalding
A man following behind turned the spigot to dispense white wine into plastic cups a little bigger than thimbles, which he offered to everyone. And powerful as all get out, especially at The cart circled around again. We each accepted another thimbleful. This one went straight to the brain. All daytime wine drinking had to stop tomorrow, I affirmed.
The circle being of modest size and the cask being full, we had a few more refills. A priest wearing black-rimmed glasses clambered onto the cart, blessed the birdcage, reached inside and grabbed a few frantic, petite birds. He released them to the sky. They chirped deliriously and fluttered above our heads. He clutched another wriggling handful, and more birds swirled up into the sunshine. The crowd let out a cheer. I followed her lethargically, heated up from five tablespoons of super-concentrate.
Mass was in progress. Maia motioned that we squeeze in along the back wall onto the dark wooden benches. The congregation, mostly women, mumbled in response to the hypnotic Latin. Then a Gregorian chant, which fell and rose like a tide, reverberated from wall to wall. I sat marinating in the Gregorian scale, trying to decide whether it was more major key with a minor overlay, or minor with major.
Could there be such a key, neither major nor minor? The smell of something baked had swung out into the piazza like secular incense. Good thing we nabbed the last empty table at the trattoria. Pasquetta frolickers and all their relatives jammed three dozen tables which the waiter worked alone. After forty days of Lent, they were starving and clamoring for his attention.
Even my stoic cousin sighed in relief when he finally showed up with the carafe and wineglass stems laced upside-down between his fingers, and leaned down to be heard over the din. Pasta al Forno San Martino. I shook my head, trying to prevent the sight in front of the butcher store two days ago from returning. I nearly hollered into the racket.
The kind roasted underground, right? My brother-in-law and I stayed up last night making the pit. No first plates to begin with for you ladies? No, but Maia pleaded for some bread before he raced off. We were grateful, desperate really, when he slid a plate of rounded rolls onto the table. My cousin grabbed one, tore it open. The crust cracked defiantly, curls of steam exhaled.
Its dough, stretchy, gave way, smooth and moist, flecked with bran. Two thousand years later the bread kept breathing, body and soul. How could a dough kneaded from them not effortlessly grow? Punched down—large and little gasps of air imprisoned inside—would it not triple in volume? Beaten down again, yea vanquished, would it not rise a second, a third time? Brushed with oil of olives from sacred groves, would it not meet its mysterious destiny—raw to cooked, matter to spirit—sealed inside the fiery oven, the rock rolled into place?
This much you could—I did—taste in one mouthful. If a bite could bind a person to a place—to ensure becoming a part of it—this one bound me to the island. I was here for the duration. Hey, not all the pieces sparkle but they all shine and let's be honest, what's best for someone isn't always best for others. But you know what? You're bound to find one or two in this collection that will define the term for you.
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The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008: True Stories from Around the World
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Amazon Music Stream millions of songs. Amazon Drive Cloud storage from Amazon. Alexa Actionable Analytics for the Web. AmazonGlobal Ship Orders Internationally. Amazon Inspire Digital Educational Resources. Amazon Rapids Fun stories for kids on the go. Amazon Restaurants Food delivery from local restaurants. What else did we really need? A pilgrim I met along the trail, a young British woman, told me that she had begun the mile journey carrying a pack full of clothes and books and hiking accoutrements.
But as she walked she discarded things one by one, and then in great heaps and bundles, leaving them with locals she met in towns along the way. The more things she discarded, she said, the happier she felt—the simpler, and somehow more meaningful, the walk became for her, unburdened by the physical and psychological weight of all of those objects. And then there was that element of the unexpected. To name a few: As for Hannah and me, in the end we stayed three days in Finisterre. In the afternoons Hannah toddled on the rocky beach, or next to the white walls that ran along the tourmaline bay.
Each evening as we ate omelettes and calamares with spongy chunks of bread at a restaurant overlooking the water, I would decide to stay another day. I was happy to be away from the crowds in Santiago. Finisterre by contrast was so tranquil, with its views of ocean and mountains. The people were gentler there too, more open and friendly, compared to those in some towns along the pilgrim trail, the inhabitants jaded by the constant parade of foreigners.
I felt utterly at peace there with my daughter, moving in and out of our days. All too soon the pull of commitments back home and an unchangeable airline reservation forced us to board the bus back to Santiago.
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She wagged her finger at me—a squat, apron-bedecked sage. And then She tells Her Son what to do. And He does it. She scrunched up her face and burst into nasal laughter. After living in the U. Apart from the bed, the room is nearly bare except for an unstained wooden desk and chair that I bought literally off the back of a carpenter.
The lack of seating is the excuse for my ex-sort-of-boyfriend, Baruc, to sit next to me on the flowered sheets. I gaze at his dimpled half-smile and remember all over again how his manicured hands used to make my skin tingle. Baruc was my first friend in Oaxaca, the one who taught me Spanish and Mixteco, the first to invite me to an indigenous festival and feed me goat in mole sauce. The fruity smell of his shampoo brings back the magical feeling of exploring a new land. Once we finish drafting the interview, I resist the urge to sink into him, and instead ask the question that could send him running from the room.
He stares at the ceiling, uncomfortable.
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All the English teachers come for a year or two, then they leave for good. The culturally appropriate place for unmarried sex was a dark alley, involving a skirt furtively pushed up, no mention of condoms, and often, a belly mysteriously swelling a few months later. But two adults spending all night in a real bed, using birth control, maybe even showering together and lounging around naked—well, that was just morally depraved.
After a long pause, he continues.
The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2008
His three brothers have been working as undocumented immigrants in Chicago since they were teenagers, risking desert crossings every few years to come back for visits. There seems to be an agreement that Baruc would be the one to stay. After all, he has a college degree, accounting job, and even his own car. The exodus of young people to Mexico City and the U. His mother always treated me with polite reserve, never affectionately calling me Laurita, as my other local friends did.
I might have stayed with you. I have to run some errands for my mother. In the past, the pattern was familiar: I imagined his obstacle to commitment was another woman in a dark alley—but I never suspected his mother.