Modica: The Final (official) Stop on my Blog Tour

By Rick

July 7, 2014

visiting modicaOur arrival into Modica was as inglorious as it could have been.  An outdated iPhone app and my questionable sense of direction conspired to get us trapped within the ancient city walls.  Literally.

Our little FIAT Panda was firmly lodged between a church and an apartment building, with no conceivable way to turn around.  Even the nonna watching from her balcony could only shake her head in disbelief.  After inching back down the tortuous trail, we eventually righted our course and found our hotel in Modica Alta.

Yes, Modica has two city centers; a high one, and a low one (Modica Bassa, appropriately).  And therein lies the problem: relying on a two-dimensional map to solve a three dimensional navigation problem. I come from the Florida, the flattest state in the Union, where our only mountain is Space Mountain at Disney.  We don’t have these types of geographical dilemmas, so I was ill-prepared for the challenge.

Our friend Angela grew up in Modica and couldn’t have possibly imagined that her town’s layout could so easily confound a seasoned American traveler like me (ha!).  She had connected with us on Facebook and kindly offered to be our guide during our brief visit to her hometown.  She handled everything from restaurant selections, to gelato advice, to museum suggestions, to introducing us to the wonderful family who runs the historical hotel, Palazzo Failla, where we stayed during our visit.

How to describe Palazzo Failla?  I wasn’t exactly sure, so asked the owner, Signor Failla himself.  He looked around the lobby space, took a deep breath, as said with modest pride, “This place?  This is my home.”

staying at palazzo failla while in Modica

He meant it literally, and frankly it didn’t surprise me.  The way it’s decorated, the way it’s cared for, the family members working at the front desk…it does, indeed, feel like you’ve walked into someone’s home.  Especially on the upper floors, where common areas display portraits and keepsakes.  Dark wood furnishings and plush, comfortable fabrics give it a cozy feel.  And it’s actually easy to find if you know how to read a map (unlike me).

As homey as the ten guestrooms are, this is indeed a full-service four-star hotel, with all the amenities including a Michelin-rated restaurant called, “La Gazza Ladra;” a must for any serious foodie.  With our nine-month old in tow, we didn’t feel comfortable having dinner there (while their wine selection is top-notch, Demetra informed me that their “milk list” is sorely lacking).  However, we were lucky enough to have breakfast in their dining room, which like the rest of the property, is intimate and detailed.  The breakfast was delicious, only adding further to my disappointment that we didn’t join them for dinner.

The fact that La Gazza Ladra stands out in Modica is really saying something, as this town might have the highest concentration of great places to eat in all of Sicily.  The next day we met Angela and some of her friends at a very casual, but delicious osteria along the main street called, “Osteria dei Sapori Perduti.”  Simple food, but classic Sicilian recipes like: i cavatieddi ‘mpastizzati ccô chjuriètti, saûsizza e ricotta (I’ll tell you what’s in it if you don’t ask me to pronounce it—cavatelli pasta with onions, sausage and ricotta cheese).  Incredibly, all their pasta dishes were only € 6.30 and their second courses were from €6.30 – 8.80, and a liter of wine was €6.00.  This made me feel slightly less guilty when one of Angela’s friends picked up the check for the whole table.  (Grazie ancora, Giuseppe e Elvira!)

osteria dei sapori perduti in modica, sicily

In the near future, I’m going to write another article on just the food of Modica, including that famous (Mexican?) chocolate!

It’s a Dog’s Life

This is the story of a dog–but not just any dog.  At first glance, Italo Barocco might have looked like your average stray; a little dirty, his posture a bit slouched, but with those pleading eyes that pull at your heartstrings.  You might give him a whistle as you pass, or if you’re more bold, a pat on the head.  And for Italo, that would have been enough.  He craved human companionship above all.

A resident of the neighboring town of Scicli, he belonged to everybody in town.  And nobody.  In the mornings he’d follow the older folks to church, and quietly sit through Mass until the priest dismissed the congregation.  Later, he’d meet up with a few tourists that were sight-seeing for the day, and he’d be their private tour guide, leading them around from one baroque masterpiece to the next. Then in the afternoon, he’d arrive at the local primary school and accompany the children to their homes.  He went to every soccer game and participated in every religious festival.

Then in 2009, there was a terrible tragedy in Scicli.  A pack of wild dogs attacked and killed a young boy while playing with his friends.  The local council panicked, and quickly approved a law to dispose of all stray animals within the city limits.  Italo was brought in to be euthanized along with the rest of them.

the film Italo Barocco filmed in Modica, Sicily

The town folks were conflicted; at once grieving for the little boy, while at the same time distraught over the fate of their beloved mascot.  The mayor of Scicli stepped in and solved the problem.  He adopted Italo and brought him to live at his house.

Italo died in 2011, but his legacy lives on thanks to film director Alessia Scarso, herself a Modica native.  Later this year her film, “Italo Barocco” will be released throughout Italy, with hopes of an international release next year.  (Any film promoters out there?)  Initial screenings of the film have won her (and Italo) rave reviews, including this one from the Taormina Film Festival.  It’s a story for the whole family, and one that I personal look forward to watching.

Emergency Exit

This little Baroque corner of the island was the last stop on the Sicily segment of my summer blog tour.  Both my (Sicilian) wife Jessica and I agreed that it’s our favorite area.  There’s much to enjoy all over the island (and the country), but if pressed to pick one spot that offers the best of everything, I think it would have to be here.  Food, history, art, architecture, natural beauty, and warm people.  Yes, these things are found all over Italy, but the Southeast corner of Sicily seems to really bring it all together nicely.

a baroque church in Modica

Our time in Modica was largely arranged by our friend, Angela.  A very friendly, intelligent, energetic woman, who, like too many young Italians today, is over-qualified and underpaid at her job, and dreams of the bella vita in the United States.  Isn’t that ironic?  So many Americans wish they could come live in Italy, and so many young Italians would like nothing more than to leave their country for the Land of Opportunity.  Such is the color of other people’s lawns. (Here is the trailer of the film Emergency Exit)

By the way, Angela is a very qualified attorney, so any of my American friends who have connections in the law field, please send me an email and I’ll pass it on to Angela.  Grazie!

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About the author

Living in the Caput Mundi and trying to decipher Italian culture for the English speaking world.

  • “I come from the Florida, the flattest state in the Union, where our only mountain is Space Mountain at Disney.” LOL, Rick! As a fellow Floridian I know all about my states topographical deficiencies. Especially since I worked at the Magic Kingdom from 16-17 🙂

    Your blog tour looked and sounded amazing. Wonderful job documenting this! Boston is a great city but Bell and I already miss Europe and hope to live there again in the future. The grass is always greener yes, we just have to make the most of what we have at our disposal. Wonderful personal stories you’ve shared. Best of luck to Angela!

    • Thanks so much, Alex! Yes, it’s a constant debate in our house, too, about the advantages/disadvantages and I’ve come to realize that it’s impossible to make a practical comparison…it always becomes emotional (for us, anyway) and so we never trust our own judgments. Best of luck in your new home. Hope to visit you one day!

  • We had an opposite experience in Avellino on our way to the State Archive. We were driving down a crowded narrow street when, all of a sudden, we turned into a huge open boulevard. We drove down the boulevard, astonished that there were no cars. We only had to avoid a number of pesky pedestrians who seemed to think they owned the road.

    Oops! I promise to pay more attention to those NO VEHICLES ALLOWED signs in the future!

    • That hasn’t happened to me…yet. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time! (those pesky pedestrians) Thanks for sharing, Peter!!

  • Wonderful post, also about the Italians wanting to leave for greener pastures.There is a price to be paid for staying , the economies of Southern Europe are seriously mismanaged long term , but then there is also a price for leaving….. I left many years ago from Germany to California, have no real regrets, but there IS a price to be paid either way\ that all immigrants know about. Here in the US, we have that immigrant DNA.

    My husband from Spain and I from Germany love Italy, their food, their art, the tolerant people there and have never forgotten our many wonderful days in our youth with the Italian people. We much enjoy your blog, 70 and 85 respectively, and having lived in Italy for four years in the 60ies.. and have come back a lot. We are trying to get to Rome this or next year……we love your blog….

    • Sabine thanks for your kind words…and for your wisdom. Yes, you always give up something. It’s a matter of priorities, I suppose, and everyone must figure that out for themselves. Ciao!

  • Thanks, Rick. Lovely story about a wonderful part of Sicily. Fora few of us Americans, Modican, Scicli, Noto are all known to us as the home to the famous Montalbano. I have been watching it (and reading Andrea Camillieri) for years now and it’s helped me learn Italian! It was Montalbano that drew me to the area when ENIT sponsored events years ago. The food, people and incredible landscapes captured me then. (Especially when I visited the home where they film Montalbano every other year).
    I’ll be curious to hear what you say about the chocolate as it wasn’t much like normal chocolate to me.
    Thanks again!

    • Right, Montalbano is everywhere around here! Many towns have plaques in place where scenes were filmed. I’ve never really gotten into it, but I know that it’s quite popular. Thanks for the comment, I had forgotten to mention that!

  • Makes me think I won’t ever rent a car in Italy! lol, but on another thought, your post reminds me of a town in Florida called Seaside, which my family & I have visited often. They have a market there named Modica, after this place you talk about. I think the owners have a connection with the Italian Modica.

    • Funny you should say that, I was just telling my wife about Seaside…I’ve been wanting to visit there, although I had no idea about the market you mentioned. One more reason to go!

      • It was a favorite stop of ours, when walking or bicycling in the community. They import foods from Italy, and prepare deli sandwiches, etc. Have small amount of groceries available and fresh fruits and veggies. And for the kiddos, frozen ice cream treats and fruit bars. Seaside will always be a favorite of mine!

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