I am lying in my hotel in Taormina, Sicily listening to workers speak Italian with a heavy Sicilian dialect outside on the street. I have a heavy heart and I’m absolutely drained both physically and emotionally. Even though I’m exhausted, I’m also feeling a sense of relief and release.
When I set out on this journey nearly six months ago my primary objective was to return some of Ray’s ashes to the birthplace of his Sicilian grandparents. I achieved that goal today.
The morning started out with a lovely breakfast on the terrace of our hotel overlooking the sea. It was cloudy today, but Mount Etna was lingering in the fog, no doubt puffing smoke and thankfully was in a good mood today. My friends (Ann and Mike) and I then walked to the Avis counter and picked up a rental car. With roadmaps plastered to the windshield and white knuckles grasping the door handles we set off up the slopes of that famed mountain destined for Linguaglossa, Monte LaGuardia, and Randazzo.
Linguaglossa is the birthplace of Ray’s Nonno, Rocco Raciti and we found it with no problem at all. It’s a fairly good sized, no nonsense town clinging to the slopes of the volcano. There are no tourists here and most of the men running shops don white aprons and have conversations on the street when business is slow…which is apparently most of the time. There is a monument in the town square, just across from the city hall, dedicated to soldiers lost. I was not able to find anyone with the name of Raciti, but I did find the name of Patane, Ray’s grandmother. I left some of Ray’s ashes amongst the roses at the base of the monument.
A few miles down the road is the little village of Monte LaGuardia. Ray’s grandmother, Maria (Patane) Raciti was born and raised here. Ray and I had visited this house before and I was able to find it in an instant. His great aunts, Caterina and Josepina who fed and entertained us one memorable afternoon are no doubt long gone but the house looked pretty much the same. In the garden I was sure the olive trees, grape vines, and artichokes were still thriving, but since this is someone’s home I didn’t dare intrude to take a look around. I will leave it to my imagination that the wooden table is still there along with the brasserie his aunts used to cook us an incredible meal by burning dried grape stems. It’s the kind of experience you don’t easily forget. In front of the house flowers were blooming. It was there, where those two short stout women greeted us with smiles that would brighten any gloomy day, that I left his ashes.
Randazzo is a bigger town and is known mostly because everything is built out of the black lava that is the primary material of the landscape. It is the main town in the area and where his grandparents would say they were from. Ray and I had visited here before and had been welcomed into the homes of cousins here. I chose the spot you see in the photo to leave some of Ray’s ashes because I recall his cousins having this view from their terrace in Randazzo. When we walked out there, his cousin exclaimed while opening here arm wide: “Que panorama!” “What a view!” Ray and I always used these words every time we happened upon a beautiful spot.
The journey since Ray’s death has been a long one for me notwithstanding the “scenic route” I took to get to Sicily today. But when I left this is what I wanted to do and I’ve done it. I now feel like every mile I travel is moving me closer to home. This trip has simultaneously fascinated me, stunned me, perplexed me, exasperated me, exhausted me, and thrilled me. For the most part I’ve done it on my own and of my own volition. I’ve proved a lot to myself, I’ve learned a lot too along the way. In my own way I’ve tried to share it with Ray. I’ve done all I can do. I have nothing else to prove to me or anyone else. I’m coming home.
Today is May 24th, Ray’s 65th birthday. Happy birthday Ray. I sure do miss you and it is no coincidence that I was here in Sicily today.