A Voyage in Search of Happiness

The Temple at Segesta. Photo by Trisha Thomas. August 30, 2014

The Temple at Segesta. Photo by Trisha Thomas. August 30, 2014

Dear Blog Readers– I had the honour of being invited to visit Sicily the last four days of August to take part in a book presentation in the medieval town of Erice. I accepted immediately not even knowing what the book was about because the only times I’ve been to the enchanting island of Sicily have been for work and I’ve always wanted to spend more time there.

When the book arrived in the mail, I was taken aback.  It was something I knew very little about.  The title, translated from Italian, is “The Voyage of the Romantics in Search of Happiness”, and is an in-depth look (over 400 pages) into the lives, voyages and poetry of the British Romantic poets by Italian author Luigi Giannitrapani.  At first I panicked and then scratched my head and tried to remember the last time I had read a poem by John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Coleridge or Lord Byron.  Fortunately, I had the entire summer to read the book, go back and read some of the poetry and prepare my questions.

More on the book and the presentation later. First a few words on how I was immersed in the incredible sights and culture of Sicily.

I arrived at the Trapani airport a few days ahead of the presentation and was met by my friend and author Lynn Rodolico (see Blog Post “Small Change – A Novel of Parenting and Love”).  She immediately whisked me off for a seaside drive and a visit to some interesting local sites.

A salt worker at the Stagnone Lagoon on the Salt Road between Marsala and Trapani, Sicily. Photo by Lynn Rodolico, August 29, 2014.

A salt worker at the Stagnone Lagoon on the Salt Road between Marsala and Trapani, Sicily. Photo by Lynn Rodolico, August 29, 2014.

On the Salt Road (Via del Sale) between Trapani and Marsala we saw workers using wheel barrows to haul salt crystals from saline flats.  The long pinkish colour squared off pools are interspersed with windmills that look like they came straight from Holland.  People have been producing salt here for centuries.  Apparently the salt flats were first established by the Phoenicians around 800 BC, and eventually taken over the by Normans, Arabs and Spanish.

A windmill at the Stagnone Lagoon on the salt road between Marsala and Trapani, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 29, 2014

A windmill at the Stagnone Lagoon on the salt road between Marsala and Trapani, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 29, 2014

Over my few days in Sicily, I realized everything seemed to have a dramatic history –changing hands between different populations who took control of that area of the Mediterranean. Near the salt flats we found a gorgeous group of pink flamingos hanging out enjoying the sunshine.

Flamingos along the Salt Road between Marsala and Trapani.  Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 29, 2014

Flamingos along the Salt Road between Marsala and Trapani. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 29, 2014

Lynn and I made several stops along the spectacular coast — in an around the mountain known as Cofano (which means “Trunk”) and which looks like a gigantic traveller’s trunk sitting on the edge of the sea just waiting to be opened to reveal all sorts of  useful items inside.

The view down to Scopello with the old Tonnara building and the rock formations known as the "Faraglioni". Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 30, 2014

The view down to Scopello with the old Tonnara building and the rock formations known as the “Faraglioni”. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 30, 2014

We hiked down to the Scopello shoreline where Sicilian fisherman once launched their famous Tonnara Mattanza, an annual Tuna catch–a dramatic, bloody event, rich with cultural traditions.  The fishermen no longer do the catch there but the old Tonnara building and boat launch are still there along with aging, rusty anchors from fishing boats.  Further on we passed through the forlorn town of “Purgatorio”  (Purgatory) which is famous for its red light that never changes.  We were lucky enough not to be held forever in “Purgatorio” by the red light.

A rusting old anchor once belonging to a tuna fishing boat outside the Tonnara at Scopello, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 30, 2014

A rusting old anchor once belonging to a tuna fishing boat outside the Tonnara at Scopello, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 30, 2014

Another stop was at the stunning Temple of Segesta, built in 430 BC by the Elymians (ok, I humbly admit I had never heard of Elmyians before I visited Segesta) It is a majestic Temple with 36 Doric columns.  And a short hike up the hill from the Temple is a spectacular Greek theater with a view out to the sea.

Trisha Thomas aka Mozzarella Mamma in front of the Temple at Segesta. Photo by Lynn Rodolico. August 31, 2014

Trisha Thomas aka Mozzarella Mamma in front of the Temple at Segesta. Photo by Lynn Rodolico. August 31, 2014

Since I am too lazy to do my homework here, I will quote the brochure: “The ancient city of Segesta, probably founded by the Elymians, was certainly the most important in the Mediterranean Basin….Segesta was destroyed by the Syracuse tyrant Agathocles (end of 4th century BC).  At the start of the first Punic war the city was reborn, allying itself with Rome…Settled by Byzantine, Arab and lastly Latin communities, the city was progressively abandoned from the Suevian period onwards.” (Ok, I already admitted I know nothing about Elymians, now I have to admit I have no clue what the Suevian period was, and who was Agathocles.  A quick google search reveals that Agathocles was the Greek Tyrant of Syracuse and the Suevians were an ancient Germanic tribe )

A Greek theater with a view out to the sea at Segesta, Sicily. (The little red spot is me, Trisha Thomas). Photo by Lynn Rodolico, August 30, 2014

A Greek theater with a view out to the sea at Segesta, Sicily. (The little red spot is me, Trisha Thomas). Photo by Lynn Rodolico, August 30, 2014

Despite my ignorance of history, I thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent temple and the striking Greek Theater.  There it suddenly dawned on me why all those British Romantic poets left the gloomy British climes to romp around the ruins of Greece and Italy in the sunshine in search of inspiration for their poetry.

The streets of the medieval town of Erice are not meant for heels! Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 29, 2014

The streets of the medieval town of Erice are not meant for heels! Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 29, 2014

Finally — up, up, up to the town of Erice, 750 meters above sea level.  I loved the oddly cobblestoned streets winding through the town making it nearly impossible for anyone in heels to walk around.  At the top of the town there is the Castello di Venere (Venus’ Castle) with its intriguing history. It was built in the 12-13th century as a Temple to Venus and became a destination for sailors from around the Mediterranean region.  In an unusual pilgrimage, the sailors made their way from the port, up the steep slopes to the Temple where they reached for the Goddess (of fertility and love) through the Priestesses, who were more or less “Holy Prostitutes” who, according to the brochure dispensed “sensuality and passion”.  Apparently when the area was taken over by Christians, they built churches at all the entrances to the town to dissuade the eager sailors from visiting the Temple of Venus.  I’m not sure how successful that endeavour was, or perhaps the visiting sailors covered their bases by kneeling before both the Christian and Pagan Gods.

The Venus Castle in Erice. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 29, 2014

The Venus Castle in Erice. Note the spectacular view down to the sea below. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 29, 2014

And finally on to the presentation, one cannot but be charmed by the utterly erudite Luigi Giannitrapani– although he is 80 years old, he exudes enthusiasm, energy and passion for his subject matter that leaves listeners much younger reeling in awe.  We met before the presentation to go over some of my questions and he filled me with delicious details of the lives and works of the romantic poets.  During the presentation the audience was enraptured as he described the lives and works of these men. First, I learned a lot about the travels of the romantic poets. They were not tourists — they were dreamers in search of beauty, of freedom, of truth– they did not want to arrive– the attraction was the journey, not the destination.  The Romantic Poets were intellectuals, narcissistic, egotistical, sometimes arrogant, infantile and naive– but each, in their own way, was a genius.

Me with author Luigi Giannitrapani at the presentation of "Il Viaggio dei Romantici alla Ricerca ella Felicita' " in Erice, August 31, 2014. Photo by Lynn Rodolico

Me with author Luigi Giannitrapani at the presentation of “Il Viaggio dei Romantici alla Ricerca ella Felicita’ ” in Erice, August 31, 2014. Photo by Lynn Rodolico

In particular, I loved all the details that Luigi shared both in his book and in his talk.  I didn’t know that Lord Byron was a “celebrity” poet equivalent of our Hollywood stars.  A sort-of George Clooney of poetic verse. When he went to France he had a carriage built that was similar to Napoleon’s pulled by two pairs of horses with inside a bed, a library, a chest with a set of porcelain dishes and his coat of arms emblazoned on the door. I loved Giannitrapani’s quote from Lady Caroline Lamb, lover of Lord Byron who said he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”

Samuel Coleridge wrote “Kubla Khan” after waking up from an intense nap (probably after smoking opium) and was busily writing what he imagined in his dream when he was interrupted by a guest who stayed for an hour and broke off his train of thought, impeding Coleridge from properly finishing the poem.

Percy Bysshe Shelley got kicked out of Oxford for writing a pamphlet promoting atheism. He later died on a shipwreck off the coast of Italy and his friend Lord Byron was called in to try to recognize the three bodies that washed up on shore a few days later.  Byron fished in the pockets of one cadaver and found the poetry of Keats in one pocket and the tragedies of Aeschylus in the other and declared that man was Shelley.

I have seen the gravestone of Keats (next to Shelley’s) in the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome on which is written, “Here Lies One whose Name is Writ in Water.” But I did not know about Keats’ miserable life fighting off illness and constantly in search of  love.  Luigi Giannitrapani gave us a moving explanation of his poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” — in which a Knight is left by a mysterious “Belle Dame” with a sense of alienation, desperation and fear.  Keats could be referring to his failures in love or his poetic inspiration that carries him away and then deserts him.

If Italian readers want to get a copy of Luigi’s book, it can be found on Amazon.com.

From high brainy thoughts about the romantic poets I have to descend to the stomach and mention the Sicilian food.  While these poets were pursuing happiness, by any chance did they find the time for some happiness-inducing food?   Sicilian food is fabulous.  Just to mention a few of my favorite items: ricotta-cream stuffed Cannoli, fried rice balls stuffed with meat sauce, mozzarella and peas called Arancini, the Siclian Cous Cous made with fish, the eggplant dish known as Caponata– but I will leave the description of these delicious items to the Food bloggers.

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This is when, where and why I have visited Sicily in the past for work. Many of these trips were before I started this blog, so there are no posts about them, but I am attaching some related posts and reports for anyone who is interested.

Palermo — Former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti’s trial on charges of Mafia Association (see Blog Post “Divine Julius – An Italian Politician“)

Catania – Mount Etna — Explosions and lava flows on Sicily’s active volcano

Lampedusa — various visits to this small Sicilian island for reports on the arrival of migrants (See Blog Posts “Lampedusa, Europe’s Port“….)

Corleone- A visit to this small town for a ceremony in which the home of a sequestered Mafia boss was being given to a group called a non-profit group called Libera (see Blog Post “The Catholic Church and the Mafia“)

Near Trapani–Donna Fugata — A visit to film the night harvest in the Donna Fugata vineyards. Here is my video report:  Sicilian Winery Harvest Grapes at Night

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Trisha Thomas

Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

33 Comments

  1. claude
    2014/09/06

    great article Trisha (admitting jealously that being able to have Sicily just next door is wonderful). Multi talented mamma.

    Reply
  2. claude
    2014/09/06

    great article Trish (admitting jealously that being able to have Sicily just next door is wonderful). Multi talented mamma.

    Reply
  3. Ciao Chow Linda
    2014/09/06

    Oh Trisha – You have me longing to return to Sicily. I’ve been to Segesta, Erice and many of the well known places along the perimeter of the island, but I want to go back and see all the things I missed and follow your trail – visiting those salt flats, the windmills, the faraglioni and immersing myself in the literature of the English romantics, who wisely found paradise in that beautiful island. And of course, I hunger for those cannoli and arancini and all the other great Sicilian treats. How lucky that you got to hear that talk and meet Mr. Giannitrapani. What a fitting last name. Now I’m going to click on Amazon to buy that book. My late husband took a class in the English romantic poets, when we were auditing classes together at P.U., and I have all his course books, so I can combine reading Giannitrapani’s book with the actual poetry too.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/07

      Thank you Linda. Lucky you to have seen so much of Sicily and eaten the fabulous food there. It sounds like you and I are in total agreement on what an enchanting island it is. It was a real treat to meet Luigi Giannitrapani and hear him talk. I admire they way he tirelessly pursues his intellectual interests. Do get his book, I think you will enjoy reading it. Also, the earnings from the book sales go to support a school for poor children in Sri Lanka, so that is another good reason for buying it.

      Reply
  4. Rochelle Del Borrello
    2014/09/06

    How wonderful! It’s great to hear you made it down to Sicily and for such a wonderful event. Where can I get a hold of that book?
    Rochelle

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/07

      Thank you Rochelle. I am envious of you who live there– next time I will come visit you! You can get the book on Amazon.com

      Reply
  5. Gwen Thomas
    2014/09/06

    What fun to delve back into poetry led by a charming and passionate intellectual. It is great to have a respite and think of something so totally different from work and family. I am reading a book right now – A Night in Buganda – Tales from Post-Colonial Africa by British poet Robert Gurney. While a different place (Uganda) and a different time (1960s) it takes one’s mind far away from present day life with snippets of experiences and lives in a different place and time. So glad you had this wonderful opportunity. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/07

      Thanks Gwen — I totally agree with you, it is lovely to get a respite from day to day concerns and escape into some beautiful reading.

      Reply
  6. Dorothee Thiesing
    2014/09/06

    Nice one! There’s always been beauty and still is in these dark times.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/07

      Thank you Dorothee — I agree, these are dark times, and it feel nice to grasp on to some beauty.

      Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/07

      Thank you Dorothee — I agree these do seem to be very dark times, and it is a relief to see some beauty in a moment like this.

      Reply
  7. Alan
    2014/09/06

    . . the location is enchanting! I know so little of Italy – shameful really!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/07

      You should visit Sicily Alan. I think you would love it. It actually has many similarities with Turkey with its incredible history and natural beauty.

      Reply
  8. Joan Schmelzle
    2014/09/06

    Definitely and enjoyable read. I have seen most of the places you visited in Sicily on two trips. Can’t remember if I knew the story about Erice and Venus or not. I’d have to find my journal because it is something I certainly would have written about.
    Also enjoyed some of the details about those poets, since I was an English major in college and read all of those you mentioned at least once. Of course, I have made the obligatory visit to Keets and Shelley in the Non-Catholic Cemetery at least two or three times. It’s been a very long time since I have visited the museum by the Spanish Steps, but it is on my to-do list for 2015. And, knowing me, I will probably head back to the cemetery. I am a great re-visitor of favorite places.
    Thanks,
    Joan
    PS Arancini are just about my favorite food. When I am feeling ambitious I make them since I have a recipe that also tells me how to freeze them!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/07

      Wow Joan — you know how to make Arancini! I am very impressed. I am sure I would make a thorough mess out of it. It is interesting that you have written about all these places in Sicily in your journal. I used to keep lots of journals when I was younger (before getting married and having kids) and now I see my blog as a sort-of public journal that helps me remember the places I go, people I meet, and interesting stories I cover. I agree the Non-Catholic cemetery is a must-see in Rome, and I embarrassedly admit that I never have seen the Keats and Shelley Museum at the Spanish steps in Rome, although I’ve passed it hundreds of times. I am hoping they will allow Luigi Giannitrapani to present his book there.

      Reply
  9. Walter M. Pressey
    2014/09/06

    Having become an avid follower of your blog subsequent to our trips to Bologna, Genoa, Faenza, Venice and Rome I can only say that I wish we had the benefit of your blog before our trips. They we wonderful, but you paint such a vivid picture that I am being drawn back. Keep up the great work!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/07

      Thank you Walter, I am honored that you like my blog!!

      Reply
  10. Paola
    2014/09/07

    What a gorgeous post – starting the the photos and stories of salt and ending with youthful Luigi. Sicily is one of the most glorious places in the world. Just lovely ❤️

    Reply
  11. Paola
    2014/09/07

    What a gorgeous post – starting with the photos and stories of salt and ending with youthful Luigi. Sicily is one of the most glorious places in the world. Just lovely ❤️

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/07

      Thank you Paola for your comment. Sicily is such an amazing place, I must get back and see more of it.

      Reply
  12. Nancy Rockwell
    2014/09/07

    Again, a wonderful post, with marvelous pictures! And of course the Romantic poets are special to me, the old literature major as an undergrad. You’ve given details I never knew – I did know about their protracted trips to Italy seeking inspiration, and about Byron’s affairs, but the image of the carriage, which I had not known of, is arresting, and I treasure it. And the picture of him identifying Shelley’s body – stunning. And the image in my mind of the Non-Catholic Cemetery – a regulation of the Catholic Church which is just plain silly, but has the lovely effect of letting them be buried near each other, as Englishmen, as seekers, and in ground made holy by their search.
    Now – a detail for you – the Greek word for Vestal Virgins, as the women in Venus temple were called, is a special word, not used for other virgins. It means ‘a woman who has not born a child’. These women could hold their temple posts until they became pregnant. One imagines they used a number of things to try to prevent pregnancy. They were held in esteem, socially. AND, this Greek word is the one that Luke used in his gospel to describe Mary. Not the other Greek words for sexual abstinence and unbroken hymens. So the emphasis is not on Mary’s vagina but on her uterus, not on her innocence, but on her fruitlessness. The Bible of course says she had other children, but the Catholic Church teaches she was abstinent for life.
    Luke, in using this word, has seen her as a priestess for God. I am not entirely comfortable with that image, and think the rest of Luke’s narrative really describes her as a prophet, comparable to Jeremiah or Elijah, her prophetic act being to bear this child (every prophet has significant acts) and also to speak out for justice, as the prophets do and she does. But I thought this detail would interest you.
    It is a hoot to think of the sailors doing a Texas two-step between the Christian churches and pagan temples! Thanks for that image. And thanks for showing a side of Sicily that I had not imagined. The basic images I have are of the Mafia and Sicilian pizza. Hmmm.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/07

      Nancy — What an fascinating comment. Let me first say that if you ever come to Rome, you must visit the Non-Catholic cemetery– it is one of the most beautiful spots in the city, quiet, tree-shaded and peaceful– in the old Roman neighborhood of Testaccio. My brother, who also was a literature major as an undergrad, was truly moved when he visited the Keats and Shelley graves there.
      Now, on to the fascinating things you have told me about the Vestal Virgins and the Greeks using a word meaning “a woman who has not born a child.” I was very intrigued by the Venus Castle and the women that people in Erice described to me as “Holy Prostitutes” — I thought this definitely deserves a post of its own. I will have to go back. I also wondered how these women could possibly not be getting pregnant all the time. Did they use techniques like the courtesans in Rome (described in another blog post) such as a half a lemon as a diaphragm? Plenty of lemons in that area. Also, I did a story once for AP on the cult of the Vestal Virgins in ancient Rome (here is the link to a version on youtube of my story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKgl3WrE5QI ) Now the way I understood things — and reported them — was that these women were held in very high regard in the society, however, they were buried alive if they had sex, which seemed a tad severe to me. Now I am wondering if the Vestal Virgins in Rome had the same meaning/status as the ones in Erice. So, they actually could have sex, but would be in trouble if they got pregnant. I will have to look into this.
      Finally, when you think about Sicily — forget the Godfather Mafia movies and pizza — didn’t see a single pizza place while I was there, and the true Mafia power in Italy, I believe has moved elsewhere now (closer to Rome).

      Reply
  13. Kelly
    2014/09/09

    I just love Sicily I’ve been three times and am eager to return. Your post made me homesick for a place I have never lived, if that is possible.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/09

      I am with you Kelly. I want to go back, and I would love to live in Sicily!!

      Reply
  14. Adri
    2014/09/10

    This post really made me smile. I feel like such a Matchmaker! I love that you and Lynne traveled together and how wonderful that you had the opportunity to meet the author. Those British poets were indeed the superstars of their day. I love the story of Byron’s coach. Thank you for that one. I bet the ladies loved it.

    I am so glad you enjoyed the food. I think Sicily is a traveler’s paradise. Did you perchance, while in Erice, go to Maria Grammatica’s’ pastry shop? Some day read her autobiography “Bitter Almonds.” It is wonderful.

    Again, thanks for this one – it made me want to journey to Sicily.

    Reply
  15. Jagoda
    2014/09/12

    Really great article! And such a nice place:)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/13

      Thank you!!

      Reply
  16. Barbara Landi
    2014/09/12

    On side of my family is from Sicily, indeed Corleone in fact. We travelled there 8-9 yars ago on a tour. Sicilia sta bellissima ma abbastanza caldo anche nel inverno (stavo li in dicembre)

    We visited some of the same places you did including Segesta and Trapani. Mi piace molto il nome “Giannitrapani”

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/13

      You are right Barbara, it is very hot in Sicily– but what a spectacular place!

      Reply
  17. lisa | renovatingitaly
    2014/09/19

    What a wonderful journey you took, I love seeing the photo of you looking so gorgeous. Such a fascinating place and the thought of these men (were there any women?) discovering Sicily just a joy.

    sending love as always,

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/19

      Thank you Lisa. No, there were not many women among the romantic poets. I asked Luigi about that. He said that two of the most interesting women in that circle were Shelley’s wife, Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, and Mary Shelley’s mother the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote “The Vindication of the Rights of Woman.”
      Thanks for the compliments on the photo, but you are the one who is looking splendid in the Carla Coulson photo shoot. Blog Readers, check out Lisa’s photos on carlacoulson.com

      Reply
  18. Allison
    2015/01/27

    So proud and honored that Mozzarella Mamma made it to my hometowns of Trapani and Erice! Loved reading your post :)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/01/27

      Thank you! I loved Trapani and Erice and want to go back and spend more time.

      Reply

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