FCI 031 – Eastern Sicily Highlights with Saskia Balmaekers
“What was that?” I asked the waiter at my hotel, after my silverware vibrated, then shook violently, then fell off the table.
He shrugged. “Oh, it’s nothing—just Colapesce trying to get comfortable.”
“Well, can you ask him to be more careful? He nearly spilled my cappuccino!”
I was joking with him, of course, as I’m well-acquainted with the particular folktale that he was referencing. Legend, religion, and superstition are never far apart in Sicily—but none of them are taken too seriously.
The Sicilians claim that their ancient Trinacria (three-point island) was born from a precious gem, fallen from the crown of The Lord, and then supported by three massive undersea columns.
Then about 800 years ago—practically last month by Sicilian standards—a humble fisherman’s son named Colapesce was diving in the waters off of Messina. While underwater, he noticed that the column of Pelora, on which the Northern cusp of Sicily leans, was cracked and ready to crumble. Fearing that at any moment his beloved isola might sink, he stayed down there—transforming into half-man, half-fish—to support the pillar on his own shoulders.
Nowadays, when the island experiences seismic tremors, it’s said that Colapesce is merely readjusting his position to get comfortable. So hold to your coffee with both hands, my friends.
Eastern Sicily Highlights
Saskia Balmaekers was one of the other “survivors” from our odyssey to the Aeolian Islands last October. We were reminded of this legend of Colapesce as we enjoyed a sublime seafood meal at Rosso Divino in Taromina. Our lunch table sat next to a series of painted mosaic tiles depicting the story of our aquatic friend, and the staff was only too happy to recount their version of the tale to us while we waited for our first course.
During our conversation on the podcast today, which took place during our blog tour in October, we discussed, among other things, the pleasures of dining in Sicily. It started with the wine; a mineral-rich white Catarratto, Etna D.O.C. harvested from the slopes of the simmering volcano. The perfect complement to our seafood pasta dishes.
Saskia is one of those travel companions who always makes a trip more enjoyable with her knowledge and passion for all things Italian. All I have to do is mention a local dish, a semi-famous work of art, or an obscure event from Italian history and Saskia fills in the rest of the conversation with limitless detail and illumination. She’s almost like a walking guidebook.
Actually, that’s a really good metaphor in this case since she written more guidebooks on Italy than Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, or Rick Steves. The only reason you don’t have her books on your own shelf is because, well, she writes them in her native Dutch. Unfortunately for us.
Saskia fell in love with Rome when she visited the Eternal City for the first time in 1998. She went back two years later and decided to study Italian, to experience more of the Italian culture, to discover more Italian stories, and to actually live in Italy for a while.
She first finished her studies in the Netherlands, at the University of Tilburg, before heading to Florence to study Italian. When she came back to Amsterdam, she worked in the publishing industry – introducing Sudoku to the Netherlands and working as a marketing manager for children books and travel guides.
Since her friends were always asking her advice when traveling to Italy, she started ciaotutti.nl to share all of her Italian stories. She published the first post on February 1st, 2010. After almost three years, her blog was so much more energizing than her “normal” work that she began to dream of traveling more often to Italy.
So in December 2012, she decided to quit her job and to dedicate all her time to Ciao Tutti – and thus to Italy. Since then, she travels throughout Italy often, and with each stay she is more in love with the country and its people.
Once again, I’d like to give a big GRAZIE to Saskia for being on my podcast today, and sharing her passion for Sicily with me. If you’re planning a trip to this region full of legends and myths, saints and sea monsters, make sure to follow her on social media where she posts in English. And starting on the February 21st she’ll be devoting more of her content to Sicily specifically.
Also, be on the lookout later this year for a collaborative guidebook on Rome between Saskia and yours truly. We’ve been talking about it for a while, but one of us has been a little slack in moving forward. (Hint: it wasn’t Saskia)
Finally, if you should find yourself traveling in this part of Italy, try not to worry too much if the you feel a tremor—or if your ferry boat is late or your hotel room isn’t ready when you arrive (it will happen, trust me). Take it in stride like the Sicilians. Order a glass of wine, and have a bite of focaccia or an “arancino.” Then think about poor Colapesce at the bottom of the sea, who has a lot more weight on his shoulders than you.