Friday, July 22, 2016

A Visit to the Bikini Girls

The toothpaste I bought in Spain is almost done, my laundry bag is bulging and I’m starting to make lists with deadlines in my little blue book. It’s time to go home.

Of course, the rhythm of travel from beauty to beauty has been its own kind of home and one I’m deeply grateful for. Haven’t had a bad day these five weeks of travel (not counting the luggage fiasco —and I’m STILL trying to find out from Iberia where my 2nd bag is!!) and Sicily has simply been scrumptious. But today our last full day of travel and then back to three more weeks of teaching before I get to lie down on another beach in Michigan.

So after yesterday’s visit to the horror show of current American politics, back to the storyline of the here and now. The day after the glorious concerts in Ragusa, we headed out to Agrigento via a detour to the interior. The landscape a touch of the Southwest, long vistas and large skies. First stop was Caltagirone to climb the 142 stairs with ceramic tile designs. (We have a more modest version on Noriega St. in the Inner Sunset in San Francisco.) The heat was already kicking up, but welcome patches of shade on the right side that made the ascent possible. It was nice enough, but nothing that need be on anyone’s “must see” list.

But not so our next place—the Villa of Casale outside the town of Piazza Armerina.
This was simply extraordinary. Room after room of exquisite mosaic tiled floors depicting scenes of ancient Roman life. Much about hunting, a section of bringing back wild animals (lions and tigers and elephants and rhinoceri, Oh my!) to Rome for the circus, music competitions, fishing scenes, mythological scenes (including Odysseus and the Cyclops—some of the epic story took place in Sicily) and the highlight, the women’s athletic competitions featuring the “bikini girls.” They’re throwing discus, playing ball, working out with weights and awaiting to be crowned the champion.

All of this viewable from platforms under shaded roofs (what a treat! no sun!). Upon entering, we saw a sign that said, “No photos” and then noticed everyone with their i-Phones snapping away. (Perhaps we misread it and it was no flash photos). I was astounded that people thought to preserve this villa over a 2,000 year span (in the U.S. in the 60’s, it could easily have been slated for redevelopment to build housing projects!). Then found out that it had been buried for eight centuries in a landslide and the mud and earth protected it from damage for over 800 years before it was rediscovered and re-constructed. 62 rooms, 42 floorings cover over 4000 meters, 120 million little pieces of tile using a rainbow of 37 colors, laid by teams of craftsman probably from North Africa (a stone’s throw away) working some 21,000 days. The estimate is that is takes 6 days to complete a square meter of mosaic. Talk about patience and perseverance!

Finally made it to Agrigento, checked in and met friends Jim Owen and Reshma at an upscale hotel restaurant looking out at the extraordinary better-than-Parthenon temple with a blood red full moon rising over another temple. Food pricey and didn’t like mine, but you couldn’t beat the setting. Including a lilting gentle pianist playing light Chopin, Besame Mucho and the theme from The Godfather. Later in the meal, I told him it was my wife’s birthday (not) and asked if I could play a song for her. He graciously let me play Embraceable You and I got some applause and a nice comment from him about how “he liked my touch.” So now I can add to my resume: “Performed in Sicily.”

The next day, we wisely decided to stay indoors during the heat of the day, then ventured out to a beach with actual sand instead of rocks and a living bikini girls cavorting in the refreshing waters. Around sunset, off to the next remarkable bucket-list-worthy tourist site—the Temples of Agrigento on a night tour. A good choice to avoid the merciless sun and the lighting was magical, aided by another full moon rising. I have been to the Parthenon several times, but there’s always construction and scaffolding. Here were the temples in their full glory and majesty, looking out to the Mediterranean Sea and worthy of every superlative you can think of to describe them. You could almost imagine the Bikini Girls playing ball in the courtyards.

Do I really have to go home?

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