I'm Writing from Sicily, Where I've been Studying Italian While Taking Pottery Lessons and Hiking up Mt. Etna

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I'm Writing from Sicily, Where I've been Studying Italian While Taking Pottery Lessons and Hiking up Mt. Etna

I got up at 6 a.m. on a beautiful morning after getting a decent night's sleep after the culinary class the night before. I walked out onto the balcony of my hotel room and took in the view. The sun was just rising beyond the horizon, and the sky was ablaze with hues of purple and pink. It was the first time I had seen the Italian mainland, or more specifically, the Region of Calabria, on such a clear day.The airborne distance between Taormina and the southernmost coast of Italy is around 40 kilometers, and the morning vista over the Ionian Sea was just breathtaking.

I made the decision to wake up early in the morning and take a walk around the lovely town of Taormina before the hustle and bustle of the day began. I'm staying at Hotel Villa Nettuno, which is situated on Via Pirandello on the north side of town, just outside of the city's main entrance gates. Although the setting was calmer than I had expected, it was still just a few feet away from the very bustling Corso Humberto, Taormina's main thoroughfare, which was in a pedestrian area.

After strolling through the northern Porta di Messina, I arrived at a still-quiet square in front of the Palazzo Corvaja, which served as the site of the first Sicilian Parliament and is now the home of the city's tourist information center. Even though a few residents had already risen, taxi drivers were preparing for their first customers, while the pedestrian thoroughfare of Corso Humberto was still almost totally barren of people. Eventually, I arrived to Taormina's central plaza, Piazza IX Aprile, which has a vast panoramic terrace with views of the Mediterranean and Mount Etna. Aside from the two churches, San Giorgio and San Giuseppe, this plaza is anchored on the western side by the iconic Torre dell' Orologio ("clock tower"), which houses the Porta di Mezzo gate, as well as the famous Wünderbar Café. On this rather bright day, I could even see out over the majority of the volcano's crater. There aren't many vistas that can compete with the breathtaking panorama that unfolds in front of me from my vantage point.

My trip down the Corso Umberto continued to the western outskirts of town, where I walked through the Porta di Catania, the western city gate that bears the coat of arms of the Municipality of Taormina, which was the last stop on my journey. A little distance away, I found myself in a tiny park that had another stunning viewpoint point that overlooked Mount Etna directly in front of me. After taking in this breathtaking scene and attempting to imprint it firmly on my retina, I began making my way back to the city, this time via the Via Roma, a scenic route that runs along the southern edge of the city and high above the Ionian Sea's southern shore. It's no surprise that Taormina is such a famous tourist destination; the natural beauty of the town and the surrounding region is breathtaking, as well.

After an hour-long walk, I certainly earned my breakfast, which I had while sitting on the beautiful patio of the Hotel Villa Nettuno, where I also studied some Italian grammar before heading to the Babilonia Language School. Our class began on time, at 9:30 a.m., and our grammar instructor, Carlo, introduced us to the "preposizioni semplici," which are the contracted Italian prepositions that are generated by combining the real preposition with the article in the sentence. When it comes to language, prepositions are usually difficult to grasp, and Carlo calmly and clearly explained to us how to use the words "in" and "per" to represent time in various settings. Afterwards, we played a number of games to help us recall the proper usage of Italian prepositions, which was a fun and effective approach to learn and retain difficult language ideas.

I got another interview opportunity just before noon, and I completed it as follows: Fortunately, I was able to contact with Donatella Rapisardi, a local artist living in Taormina who gives part of the Pottery Decorating Classes for Babilonia students, thanks to Alessandro, the school's director. It has been millennia since Sicily has been a meeting place for people from all walks of life: the Phonecians; the Greeks; the Carthaginians; the Romans; the Byzantines; the Arabs; the Normans; the Swebians; the Spanish; and the French. Pottery has long been a significant craft in Sicily, and it continues to be so today.

When I first met Donatella, she was working at the nearby Hotel del Corso, which is located directly on Corso Umberto and where she was teaching ceramic decorating courses on the rooftop terrace with a stunning view of the Palazzo del Duca Santo Stefano and Mount Etna in the background. I couldn't think of a more beautiful setting for ceramic painting than Donatella's rooftop hideaway, which was blessed with beautiful weather and clear skies.

Donatella Rapisardi is a talented local artist who works in a range of mediums. She has won several awards for her work. She also serves as the director of the "Grupo Artistico de Perseo," a non-profit organization that organizes numerous exhibits and art initiatives across the city and the surrounding area. A total of five permanent artist members and a handful of additional linked artists are part of the organization, which is overseen by Donatella and her staff of coordinators. As an addition to pottery, Donatella also works with marble and other kinds of stone to make mosaics, as well as handling wood restoration projects.

According to her, the pottery decorating course begins with simple terracotta items, such as vases or tiles, on which students paint the pattern they intend to create. Donatella explained in her machine gun Italian that two different types of processes are used for pottery painting: "lavorare a freddo," which means that the pieces are painted without being fired, and "lavorare a caldo," which refers to painted pottery pieces that are fired in a kiln to preserve the painting.

When decorating pottery, students often employ traditional Sicilian colors such as blue, yellow, and green; nevertheless, they have unlimited freedom in terms of design and color selection. Donatella helps them through the process, provides ideas, and offers advice when the kids need it. She also pointed out that the tiles have many advantages, including the fact that they are lightweight and portable, as well as the fact that they provide an excellent surface for landscape photos.

Students from Japan and the United States are especially drawn to the course, which involves three courses each week and is taught in Babilonia. She went on to say that Japanese students are very exact and detail-oriented, as well as exceptionally skilled when it comes to putting beautiful painting on ceramics. Donatella concluded by saying : This may have something to do with their exposure to the popular Japanese tradition of calligraphy, which is now popular among young people.

As a result of this friendship, Donatella welcomes her pupils into her home for a food exchange in which Donatella prepares a range of Sicilian delicacies while her students prepare a variety of delightful delights from their home countries. She said that she continues to get letters from some of her former Japanese pupils from many years ago, and she looks forward to receiving international contact from her former students on a regular basis.

Donatella went back to Taormina some years ago after having previously resided in Umbria, another lovely area of Italy, and found it to be a place she appreciates and that stimulates her artistic expression. She also teaches children's art classes and works as a volunteer at a few local elementary schools. She walked me through a few pieces of art that had been done by students, as well as three of her own works of art. I expressed that I would have liked to have been able to visit her studio and view more of her own artwork. We'll see what happens next time.

Following this exciting side trip, another expedition awaited me: at precisely 2:30 p.m., eleven individuals gathered in front of the Babilonia Language School, ready to go trekking up Mount Etna, which has a top elevation of nearly 3200 meters above sea level. Peppe Celano, the supervisor of social events at Babilonia and one of the language instructors, was eager to take us on a tour of Sicily's tallest peak and an active volcano, which he described as "awesome."

As a matter of fact, Mount Etna had just recently erupted on April 30, but I was unable to see it due to circumstances beyond my control. Fortunately, the eruption only lasted a few hours, and one of my co-students was able to see the crimson lava stream at night! As a result, we would get a close look at Europe's most active volcano today.

All of the participants were transported in a small van and an automobile that Peppe leased for the occasion. Driving to the parking area on the southern side of Mount Etna takes around one hour and twenty minutes. We passed through little villages such as Giarre and Zafferana Etna, where Peppe said that the Arabs used to harvest saffron in the surrounding area, hence the name of the region.

A windproof jacket and a cozy sweater were essential because the day was gloomy and a little chilly. We parked our cars in a somewhat remote parking space and prepared ourselves for the climb ahead of us. The bottom portion of our ascent led us through a woodland region where the leaves were just beginning to emerge from their winter dormancy. It should come as no surprise that at approximately 2000 meters above sea level, the plant growth cycle is a bit slower, especially on a subtropical island like Sicily.

He went on to explain that the area's wildlife includes trees such as chestnuts, oaks, and birches, all of which have been around since before the last ice age. We traveled in single file down a steep, narrow route that was interrupted by many roots and stones, straight down a cliff with several lookouts, towards the famed "Valle del Bove" (Valley of the Ox), which was the location of layers upon layers of lava flows and is now a World Heritage Site.

Our steep trek continued for almost an hour, taking us from 2000 m in height to 2400 m in elevation, where we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the latest lava flows in the Valle del Bove. The volcano's peak region sprawled out in front of us like a giant swath of land. In our case, it was a side summit marked by the presence of a cross and a large natural shelf that served as an excellent posing place for our group photographs commemorating our ascent of Mount Etna. We stayed at the top of this side peak for almost half an hour, conversing with each other, taking photographs, and just enjoying our mountain experience.

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, three females-one from Switzerland, one from Germany, and one from Austria (myself)-raced down the mountain in under 20 minutes. Coming down was a lot less difficult than getting up, and virtually racing down this steep alpine trail was an amazing experience in and of itself. Following the arrival of all of the other mountaineers, we went off to explore a nearby vineyard. The "Murgo" vineyards, situated on the lush slopes of Mount Etna and only 15 minutes away, were a popular destination for our party, with many people purchasing red, white, and sparkling wines. After that, we had a lively debate in the van, and by 7 p.m., we were back at the school.

The next evening, after a little rest back at the hotel, a few of us gathered at a local pizza named "Trocadero," which was conveniently located near the Porta di Messina and where we were planning to have a great supper that evening. It was our final night in Taormina for some of us; I was planning to leave the next night to travel to Milazzo, while another person was planning an excursion to the Eolian Islands. For others, it would be their last night in the city. The majority of our group members were departing Taormina over the weekend, and we were all remarking on how much we had enjoyed our time there.

Everyone at the table spoke German: there were three people from Germany, two from Switzerland, and myself, who was born and raised in Austria. Since there are so many linguistic distinctions throughout the many German-speaking nations, everyone agreed that each of us needed to speak "Hochdeutsch" (Standard German) in order to be understood by the rest of the group. We all speak very strong dialects that would be almost unintelligible to German speakers from other parts of the country, but we make do by speaking the mainstream form of our language. This opportunity to interact with other Europeans was quite beneficial to me. After more than two decades in Canada, I seldom come into contact with German speakers, so the opportunity to share a pleasant lunch while conversing in my own language was a welcome pleasure.

Because I had previously gone on an hour-long walk around Taormina before breakfast, followed by another stroll through town to see Donatella, the ceramic decorating artist, and topped it all off with a short but rigorous trip up Mount Etna, I was exhausted by 9:30 pm. After all, tomorrow was going to be my final day in Taormina, so it was time to get some rest.

One thing is certain: when you come to Taormina for language study, you will not be bored in the least.

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