01/21/2014 10:27 am ET Updated Mar 22, 2014

So, Here I Am in Sicily... What Now?

Carlo A via Getty Images


Saturday, January 18th -

I've been on the island of Ortigia, in Siracusa, Sicily, for over a week now, have found and moved into a lovely apartment, met some terrific folks (especially my landlady, Giuseppina, who lives downstairs -- she and her brother, an MD Alzheimer's researcher at Columbia, own this beautifully restored palazzo, dating from the 19th century with evidence of 6th century parts, overlooking the sea), and have begun to find my way around. Giuseppina is very (and understandably) proud of her true Sicilian heritage, and she teaches English at a secondary art school in Siracusa. She has lived in London for about 10 years and now lives in this beautiful place by choice in the midst of a huge circle of friends. She is, as one of my friends aptly stated, a 'jewel,' and has been a wonderful guide for me. Again, I really lucked out, finding this apartment and this friend totally by chance.

And yet, this is definitely one of my self-imposed transitions, and I am finding it hard and, in spite of meeting many warm and wonderful Sicilians, lonely (and quiet, especially after the wonderful busy-ness and stimulation that is Florence). I know I have to get myself comfortable here, to find my way around and my 'rhythm', and I am really lucky that Giuseppina has, generously, introduced me to her friends and her world. The other night we went out for an evening walk ('passeggiata' -- an important tradition for all Italians!) and I met her pharmacist, her news agent, her vegetarian restaurant owner-friend, her gallery-owner friend, her bookstore owner-friend and a few others on the street. In addition, she directed me to a manicurist at her parrucchiere (beauty salon) -- life is good! I went out with her for an 'apertivo' (pre-dinner drinks and nibbles) to meet a bunch of other locals -- again, I am so very lucky to have found this gorgeous apartment and this gorgeous woman.

I sit here overlooking the sea, where the sun shines daily (after, perhaps, some morning rain); the apartment is really great (sleek and immaculate and welcoming), except for the many (I haven't yet counted them) steps up to the second floor (really the third floor here), which I manage to climb slowly a few times a day... sigh. I don't like the beating my body has taken here on the old stones (Florence was really tough on my previously bad knee and all, especially with the complete uneven-ness of the cobblestones everywhere, Sicily seems much more smooth in that way), and am trying hard to stop whining. Alex and June helped me find really good and stylish (of course!) walking shoes when they were in Florence, and I have decided, sadly, to acknowledge my limitations and go slowly... oh, well... I am getting a lot of exercise, though, and somehow my body, in spite of the pasta that abounds, deliciously (oh, the spaghetti con vongole!), while getting a bit rounder, I think, still fits into my clothes and some of them are even big on me... things are changing!

And -- update on Sicily -- 'what the **** am I doing here?' has been going through my head the last few solitary days. Since I do hate transitions, and do appear to keep setting myself up for them, I kind of expect this 're-adjust' time, but still... I loved Florence so much with all of its craziness and hectic-ness, and with so many nice people I had befriended (huge ex-pat community, which was very welcoming), and now I find myself alone once again (OK, I know -- I did this to myself!) and feeling lonely. Yesterday was overcast and gloomy (but warm) for a while, and I got myself really tired and sad.

I have had a few important successes recently, each of which filled me with joy:

1. I found out where to take my trash
2. I found the daily outdoor farmer's market (complete with veggies and other stuff and incredible looking fish, too.)
3. I found an incredible lunch place (four tables) that had been recommended and had an amazing lunch (maccarone in pumpkin sauce with baby shrimp and ruccola). Thankfully, I walked up and down stairs many times and walked all through the city afterwards.

And now, on Sunday morning, I am feeling more confident and more 'set' here in Ortigia, and believe that I have 'landed' in the right place for me for now. Ortigia is a beautiful little island, full of winding alleys and lovely old buildings and artisans and quirkiness. In the past few days I have really expanded my world and have met a terrific couple from Canada (who bought a gorgeous apartment here three years ago), a yoga teacher (hooray!) and her partner (an Englishman who sailed her a few years ago and has stayed) and an English writer; I hope to get to know each of them better in the near future.


Sunday, January 19th -

Today I went to the Sunday market (supposedly the best one of the week because the vendors are the growers or bakers or cheese-makers in person) to get 'the best ricotta in the world,' among other things. After meeting a couple of new friends by chance on the street, I walked around the market with them, getting advice on what to buy (simple advice: 'Only buy what is in-season now!'). The oranges and lemons, as I had heard, are absolutely incredible and plentiful and inexpensive; I have never had such juicy or sweet lemons, and I just learned that some of the oranges are good for salads and some aren't, and that I have to be careful not to mix them. I did, however, commit a mortal sin by buying some zucchini, even though I was warned that it wasn't the right month for it. I have so much to learn.

And the ricotta choices abound -- 'normale' (used for spreading on bread or even eating with only a coating of olive oil in true Sicilian style), or baked (and re-baked -- making it more solid) or 'salata' (salted, making it most firm and most enduring). I never knew ricotta and may have developed a new addiction -- without any additives, the flavor and the texture are truly heavenly!

So, Ortigia is feeling like 'home' and, even without feeling the need to venture too far away yet, I am happy to be here. Sicily does promise many beautiful sites I do want to visit (hopefully, with friends); now that I am more comfortable in my surroundings I will figure that out soon. My loneliness will, probably, always be present for me; after all, I didn't envision or script myself alone at this stage of my life, but here I am, and here I am feeling fortunate in so many ways. The concept of community is so very important, and now that I have begun to create one here, I have a lot to look forward to. I learned that the 'best pizza on the island' is available today (the pizzeria is only open on Saturday and Sunday this month), that there is a wonderful language class (with different levels and a diverse population) available, that I can practice yoga with my new friend -- life is, after all, still very good!

Off to pizza... oh, Italy!