Back in Gritty, Gorgeous Catania

Looking down the street towards Catania's Duomo. November 12, 2016. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Looking down the street towards Catania’s Duomo. November 12, 2016. Photo by Trisha Thomas

I went back this weekend to the gritty, vibrant, gorgeous city of Catania, Sicily for another story on migrants. After a week of feeling despondent about the bitterness of the US elections, it was a thrill go back and breathe in the city’s energy. Catania has been conquered and ruled by Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Normans and the Spanish. It has been devastated by earthquakes and covered in volcanic ash from nearby Mount Etna but nothing seems to faze the plucky, gregarious Catanesi. In more recent times they’ve opened their ports to tens of thousands of migrants arriving from Africa. The Catanesi are friendly, funny and fatalistic about life.

Here are a few photos from my trip.

Most of the city’s buildings are classic baroque style with exaggerated florid details such as the funny looking masks on a grime-covered balcony.

Street scene in Catania, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas, November 12, 2016

Street scene in Catania, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas, November 12, 2016

Balcony with funny baroque masks in Catania. Photo by Trisha Thomas, November 12, 2016

Balcony with funny baroque masks in Catania. Photo by Trisha Thomas, November 12, 2016

Saturday morning I took a walk around the city and as I headed into the Piazza Del Duomo with its famed elephant fountain I could hear the yelling from the famous “La Pescheria” fish market below. The place was packed with tables and men haggling. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be living and dead seafood – squirming squids, wriggling eels, gigantic tuna, shrimps, prawns, clams, mussels – you name it, it was there. I found this man selling live eels which he pulled out of a tub with a cloth and weighed on a bronze scale.

Man selling live eels which he weighs on a bronze scale in Catania's "La Pescheria" fish market. Photo by Trisha Thomas, November 12, 2016

Man selling live eels which he weighs on a bronze scale in Catania’s “La Pescheria” fish market. Photo by Trisha Thomas, November 12, 2016

Sicily’s Catholic heritage permeates Catanese society—from the baroque churches to the garden statues of the Madonna sold for 5 euros on the street.

Madonna statuettes on sale for 5 euro on the street in Catania. Photo by Trisha Thomas, November 12, 2016

Madonna statuettes on sale for 5 euro on the street in Catania. Photo by Trisha Thomas, November 12, 2016

I also liked this little Madonna at the corner of the parking lot keeping the sleepy, elderly attendant company.

A Madonna with some Christmas lights and some plastic flowers at the corner of a parking lot in Catania, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas, October 7, 2016

A Madonna with some Christmas lights and some plastic flowers at the corner of a parking lot in Catania, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas, October 7, 2016

Wherever you go in Catania, people are selling things on the street.  Here are some women in their bedroom slippers having a lively chat with the fruit and vegetable seller in the street in a photo I took from the balcony of my hotel room.  They were speaking in dialect so I could not understand but they were having a fine old time laughing and flirting.

Women in their bedroom slippers having a good chat with the fruit and vegetable seller on a street in Catania. Photo by Trisha Thomas, October 6, 2016

Women in their bedroom slippers having a good chat with the fruit and vegetable seller on a street in Catania. Photo by Trisha Thomas, October 6, 2016

And here are a few items you can find on sale on the street in Catania.  “Fascio” in Italian means a bundle, but in slang it means a fascist.  I found these “fascio” on sale for 6 euros.  I am not sure what the leaves are, but I think they might be bundles of artichokes.  If any blog readers know, please fill me in.

A "fascio" or bundle of something green on sale on the street in Catania. November 12, 2016. Photo by Trisha Thomas

A “fascio” or bundle of something green on sale on the street in Catania. November 12, 2016. Photo by Trisha Thomas

The purple cauliflower is a lot prettier than the “fascio”.

A symmetrical line-up of purple cauliflower on the street in Catania, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas. November 12, 2016

A symmetrical line-up of purple cauliflower on the street in Catania, Sicily. Photo by Trisha Thomas. November 12, 2016

And I have to conclude with some street food.  I actually met this guy on my last trip to Catania in October.  Salvatucci Ballerina sells artichokes stuffed with onions and garlic roasted on a grill on the street.  The price is one euro each.  “Salvatucci is like saying ‘little Salvatore'” he explained to me, adding, “and Ballerina is little dancer.”

“Please use my name and write that this is a specialty of Catania,” he said as he did his own little dance around the smoking grill.

Salvatucci Ballerina roasting artichokes on a grill on the street in Catania, Sicily. October, 2016. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Salvatucci Ballerina roasting artichokes on a grill on the street in Catania, Sicily. October, 2016. Photo by Trisha Thomas

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.

16 Comments

  1. Alan
    2016/11/14

    . . love it – wonderful, uplifting images of life instead of doom, gloom and death! To paraphrase some biblical chap – ‘In the midst of death we are in life!’ Bundles are globe artichokes, by the way.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/11/15

      HA HA. So they are artichokes. I should have bought some! Thanks Alan.

      Reply
  2. Sue poulton
    2016/11/14

    Loved the pictures, sure depicts a different culture as have certainly seen in earlier blogs. Loved it and thanks so much.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/11/15

      Isn’t it funny how Catania is such a different world from Rome. Glad you liked it Sue.

      Reply
  3. Debra Kolkka
    2016/11/14

    We loved our trip to Sicily this year. We missed Catania…next time.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/11/15

      Next time you must go. Catania is fascinating!

      Reply
  4. Joan Schmelzle
    2016/11/14

    Hi Trisha,
    Thanks for a reminder of a place I enjoyed visiting, I think, nine years ago. It was also a break from the last week and the newsletter stories I receive and read too much that makes me unhappy. But I still think I should read too many of them. At least I don’t watch TV news.
    Anyway I can’t remember many details of Catania without my journal or pictures. However, sitting right in the front is a curio cabinet I have a little black elephant about an inch high plus a bit of trunk. It’s modeled after the fountain and is made of volcanic material.
    Thanks for something besides the news.
    A presto, Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/11/15

      Glad I was able to give you something beside the news. I am overwhelmed with it myself. I am curious to know what Catania was like nine years ago. I am sure it is changed a lot.

      Reply
  5. elizabeth
    2016/11/15

    Thanks for the escape, Trisha! Love the photos and description.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/11/15

      Thank you Elizabeth!

      Reply
  6. Ciao Chow Linda
    2016/11/16

    Yes, those are artichokes. Funny, the only time I was in Catania, I saw a truckload of artichokes for sale too. I was just driving through though, and your post makes me yearn to go back to Sicily and explore Catania. Those eels bring to mind Christmas eves of my youth when my parents and grandparents would buy live eels from the Italian market in Philadelphia. Glad you got a respite, albeit short, from the doom and gloom, Trisha.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/11/20

      Oh yes, my mother-in-law always serves the eels (capitone) on Christmas Eve. Definitely not my favorite Italian dish! But Catania is one of my favorite Italian cities and that fish market is quite an experience!

      Reply
  7. Tracy O'Leary
    2016/11/17

    Great blog on Catania! Love the pictures, a real snapshot of everyday life there! Made me quite nostalgic…I lived there for 7 years when I was in my twenties. It was quite different then… Now I’m married to an Italian and living in the north of Italy, another world from Sicily!!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/11/20

      I wish I could have seen what it was like when you lived there. Must have been very special, and yes, very different from northern Italy.

      Reply
  8. freddy
    2016/11/21

    I am an Italian living in Austria.
    My mother came from Palermo and still today I can understand possibly 90% of the dialect.
    Old memories of rare trips to Sicily. In the today world of “politically correct”, “competitiveness” and “sales online” I think that simple life we see in these pictures brings us back to a more human life where people were really “talking” to each other.
    A propos, I advise to see the movie “Mediterraneo”. I am sure you will enjoy.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/11/23

      Thank you for your comment Freddy. I have seen the movie “Mediterraneo” and I love it. Yes, I agree — much nicer to buy your fruit and vegetables on the street, or haggle with someone at the fish market than buying things on-line or going to a giant supermarket like Costco. Ah, the good ‘ol days.

      Reply

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