I have located a website in Alia that is well worth visiting. It is a local newspaper. The site is www.assarca.com. Also if you have a Google task bar, it will translate the Italian to English.
A Day in Alia
I, thought May 22, 2008, would, never come. This was the day we embarked on our trip to the Western Mediterranean. We were going to the homeland of my ancestors via the cruise ship Voyager of the Sea. The cruise started in Barcelona, Spain, went to Villefranche/Nice, France and Livorno, Civitavecchia and Naples, Italy. The last port of call on the cruise ,was Palermo, Sicily, and this was the reason we chose this particular cruise. We were to arrive in Palermo on Friday, May 29th at 7 o= clock am.
Well, A the best laid plans of mice and men@ as the saying goes showed its ugly head on our arrival in Palermo. We had arranged for a rental car so we could drive the hour +time to Alia, my ancestral homeland. When we disembarked, a call to the rental car place was to have our car delivered to us. After almost an hour trying to contact this place, we just gave up. Too much time being wasted for the limited time we had for our day in Alia. So after my son Todd spent some time A communicating@ with a taxi cab driver (Todd couldn= t speak a word of Italian), we were finally heading for Alia.
I have to say this, A God was with us@ . There is no way my husband, Jim, could have navigated through the streets of Palermo. Those people are the craziest drivers; they= d put New York drivers to shame. Between the cars and the scooters, I knew we wouldn= t make it to Alia. A little ways down the road Todd made the comment that he didn= t come to the mother country to die there. But in defense of our driver, Franco, I personally felt comfortable. He knew what he was doing.
We got a little ways down the road and out of Palermo when the car just died. The driver pulled over and played with the car. It started and we were on our way again. This happened three times and I was getting very nervous. I could see us being stranded half way to Alia and not get back to the ship in time for sailing. I asked him to please take us back. He said that he would call another taxi if it was ok. The last time the car stopped he was able to pull into a driveway and get the car off the road. This was when our luck changed.
We got out of the car and sat on the wall along the driveway. After a few minutes, a gentleman came to ask what was going on. The driver explained we were having car trouble and waiting for another taxi. We A talked@ as well as we could with Neno. He went in the house and came back with a large pitcher of water and glasses. Aren= t Italians the nicest people?
Neno saw my daughter-in-law, Shawn, and me looking at his artichoke plants, so he led us over to his garden. He had a beautiful garden, even had fava beans planted. Then we walked to the back of his property to look at his land. It overlooked the Sicilian countryside and was absolutely beautiful (see pictures on this link). We had to have pictures with our new friend. We got his address to send him a copy. It wasn= t until we were down the road that I saw that his name was Todaro. My ggg grandmother was Carmelo Todaro. I have to send Neno the picture and will send him a list of my Todaro relatives. Wouldn= t that be a coincident if we are kinfolks?
After about an hour, our new driver arrived. We were so lucky because Franco was a fantastic driver who was able to get us through the rest of our adventure with no problems. All this said, it was after 1 o= clock before we reached our destination. In most of the small towns in
Sicily, everything closes down from 1-4 in the afternoon.
I had stayed at the Villa Dafne in Alia on my trip there in 2003. I definitely wanted my family to see it and be able to enjoy one of the wonderful lunches they served, so we went there before heading into town. When we arrived, the place was locked; no one in sight. Well, I didn= t see Franco walk around back. Next thing I know, Lino the A head cook@ was opening the door for us to come into the restaurant. I can= t tell you how excited I was to be able to share a great meal with my family there. I knew how good the food was and how many different foods they served, but Todd, Shawn, Franco and Jim didn= t know what a feast they were about to eat.
I want to give all of you an idea of how great mealtime is in Sicily. First they brought us a carafe of wine and water with homemade bread and slice cheeses. Then, we were served olive salad, two kinds of eggplant, snap beans with finocchio, melted cheeses in olive oil and herbs, etc. I can= t remember all of the dishes but there were ten. Plates were removed and they came around and served us a plate of pasta. Then----we had a small steak and sausage. Then----we were served an Italian salad (they eat salad last). Finally, we were offered coffee and dessert. The dessert was to die for. It was cannoli stuffed with homemade ricotta and blueberries. Then we were served an after dinner drink. It= s called grappa. They serve it in a small glass and this is to help with digestion. It= s a clear drink and burns from the mouth all the way down to your toes. It was funny to see my family= s reaction when they drank it.
When we finally arrived in the town, only the bar was open. What they call a A bar@ is not like our bars. This is the main place in town to meet. They do have liquor there, but also sell newspapers, train tickets, cigarettes, gelato and fabulous pastries and candy. I was so glad it was open because I wanted to get some pastries. I ended up with a small platter of these Italian delights which I slipped on the ship.
We then drove through the town on our way to the top of the hill that Alia is sitting on. That is where one of the oldest structures in town is situated. It= s the Church of the Madonna della Grazie, which was dedicated around 1630. If your ancestors were from Alia, as were mine, they were baptized, married and had their funeral in this beautiful church.
It was amazing to me to realize that there is still a place that has not lost its identity to the past. In Alia, you will not see a supermarket, a Wal-mart or a McDonald= s. The people still live the simple life. There is a bread store where they can buy homemade bread or they can make it themselves, a butcher shop, a very small grocery store, a cheese shop (they make ricotta in a huge vat) and other small shops. People take the olives that they grow to someone who makes them into olive oil. On Monday in Alia, they have market day. Vendors come to town with their wares and set them up on the side streets. There are vegetables, linens, clothes, shoes, purses, etc. for sale that day each week. They still have vendors who sell their wares from horse drawn wagons.
If you= re planning a trip to Sicily, I recommend spending a day in Alia (preferably Monday to see the street market). Although Alia is a very small town, they have a small museum which has old tools, machinery and clothes on display. It was interesting to see these. There is a special attraction called Guppa Grotto. It dates back to the Phoenician times. The A village@ was carved into the mountain side and this is where they lived. It= s amazing to see. As with other old sites, I just can= t imagine how they carved this village into the mountain-side. A visit to the beautiful cemetery is a must. Located right outside of town, it has a park like appearance and the graves are above ground. There are pictures of the deceased on the graves. There is also a ceramic manufacturer in Alia. It has beautiful tile mosaics, basins and other kitchen and bathroom fixtures. On the main street, there is a small jewelry shop and a small accessory shop. Just remember that businesses and the town closes from 1-4 in the afternoon. Expect a long, late dinner. It= s nothing to have a two hour meal. They don= t rush through a meal. You= re expected to savor the wonderful food.
A good thing about Alia is they have the beautiful villa where you can stay and it= s located on a main road about halfway between Palermo on the northern coast of Sicily and Agrigento on the southern coast. You can probably drive from north to south in under five hours.
What started out on a bad note, ended up being a very special and beautiful day for my family and myself. I wish that each of you could experience going to the place of your roots.
Carole Macaluso Thomas
The Gang--Jim & Carole (Macaluso)Thomas
Shawn & Todd Weishar
Rome in the background
Shawn, Todd, our new friend, Neno and Jim
View of Alia from Villa Dafne
Streets in Alia
Church of the Madonna della Grazie
This is a picture of the cars we'll
be driving before long if gas doesn't stop rising!!!
Map of Sicily
This is a map of the homeland
Note Palermo, Alia and Agrigento
The roadway from Palermo to Agrigento is 121
Alia is about an 2 inches southeast of Palermo on this map