My first steps on the path to the Marianelli Beach awaken and enliven all of my senses and I am captivated by the culinary potential. Although it is December and a bit chilly, we still come across fresh oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, prickly pear cactus fruit and wild herbs of oregano, sage, rosemary and fennel. Sicily is considered one of the areas with the highest vegetal biodiversity in the entire Mediterranean area and is home to one-third of Italy’s organic farms so very little is imported. Very exciting for someone who loves organic, local food and exploring cooking new cuisine.
I entered into this voyage with no prior Italian language skills (let alone Sicilian which has many dialects of its own depending on your location) or any knowledge about the island and the culture. Just a trust that my friend Julian and I have a flow in companionship, make good traveling partners and this is his fourth visit to Sicily so I have his guidance to get us started.
This is my first attempt at a blog and I kind of like that it is a style that allows me to write in an informal conversational manner to develop a relationship with the reader. Of course there are travel blogs that provide details of where to go, what to do, but my inclination is to write more about the natural environment, culinary delights, spiritual development and the emotions/feelings that arise when traveling to a foreign country. Let’s stick to nature for the first round before we dive into the depths of samsara.
Our housesit gig has placed us on an active agro-tourism farm that has been renovated to offer 6 rustic- style hotel rooms and a restaurant/bar. The main crops harvested are wheat, almonds, olives and citrus fruit but because they are closed for the winter, our main task is just to keep an eye on the place for security purposes. Wow! I was preparing for 4-5 hour work days in exchange for our room but I will gratefully thank the powers that be for providing a true rest opportunity for my body worn tired from a busy season of fire mitigation.
Every area has its own unique flora and fauna and the Marineddi farm (Sicialian family name for Marinelli) is located within the Vendicari Nature Preserve on the southeastern coast of Sicily on the Ionian Sea. What better place to explore the wonders of nature than in an area being protected for its biodiversity and being allowed to be wild? On first exploration of the seashore, I am most intrigued by these fibrous spheres strewn along the beach. Are they from a tree or plant? Did some animal receive the gift of shitting out perfect spheres? Breaking one apart, there are no seeds or other material to indicate it’s from a tree and it certainly doesn’t smell like manure. They have a fibrous content that is consistent throughout the sphere regardless of size. They remind me a friend’s felting project gone wild.
A day trip to Tonnara of Vendicari (ancient tuna fishery) and Beach has me convinced this “new to me” item of nature must come from the sea as there are thousands cast amidst the seaweed and dead bamboo. My research excites me from a mythological and environmental perspective. These spheres are called “Posidonia Speroids” and come from the plant “Posidonia Oceanica”. This is commonly called Neptune Grass and is considered “the lungs of the Mediterranean”. The sea grass grows in meadows that absorb carbon dioxide in the water and helps to slow down the impact of global warming. In the fall, these meadows die back and the grass fibers get caught in the ocean currents. The motion of the waves helps them form their circular shape and their presence is a very good sign as it indicates clear and unpolluted waters. Poseidon was the Greek god of the sea and other waters and his Roman equivalent was Neptune. Someone is looking out for these waters...time for a swim!