Drinking Coffee in Sicily: An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse

Scopello rocks
coffee cup
Travel and coffee, an excellent combination!

I never used to drink coffee.  In fact, when I was younger I couldn’t even stand the smell of it. Especially when some liquid residue of brewed coffee sat for hours or days on a burner in a workplace break room. But I bought the family an espresso machine for Christmas a couple of years ago and now I am as addicted to the holy bean as anyone.

When traveling, I don’t desperately need a cup of joe as soon as I get up. I can eat a leisurely breakfast and then seek out a café for my espresso and latté caffeine fix. In a pinch, I will go to Starbucks, but I think when overseas it is much better and nicer to find a friendly local place frequented by the natives.

Scopello view
The countryside near Scopello in Sicily.

I recently spent some time touring around the northwest corner of Sicily, just west of Palermo. I stayed in a villa out in the beautiful Sicilian countryside. The fields were full of olive trees and vineyards in one direction, and I had a delightful view of the Mediterranean Sea in the other direction. I ate breakfast every morning on the pool deck outside the house, but since there was no espresso machine (and I refuse to drink brewed coffee), I had to venture out by car to get a latté.

Scopello view of sea
View of a bay on the Mediterranean Sea near Scopello. No sand!

I found a small town called Scopello a few kilometers up the road. Scopello was built in the 16th century on the site of an older Moorish settlement.  The rocky coastline near Scopello is phenomenal with its crystal clear turquoise sea, beautiful bays, and jagged cliffs.  Scopello is located near a nature reserve called Zingaro, which is one of the finest and unspoiled areas of the Mediterranean. Near the town on the Mediterranean coast is an old tuna factory, where tuna was processed up until the 1980s. This region is certainly one of the most beautiful areas in Italy.

Scopello rocks
The famous rocks and old tuna factory of Scopello.

There was a small café in the main square of the town. I wandered in to practice my feeble Italian language skills.

Scopello cafe sign.
A cafe sign in Scopello.

“Un café con leche por favor,” I said to the grandmotherly woman behind the high counter. The old woman was clothed in traditional Sicilian country garb.  She was timeless. What year is this? Being in this town, in this café, with her behind the counter it could be 1850, 1950, or yesterday.

She stared at me with a blank look on her face. Shoot! That’s Spanish. I’m not in Spain. What am I thinking? I have to try again to not look like a dumb American tourist.

Scopello piazza
The Scopello piazza, with the cafe in the background, and a centuries old water trough.

“Un café au lait, s’il vous plaît,” I said.

The blank look had not changed on Grandmama. D’oh! That’s French, brain. Wrong language, wrong country again. What is my problem mixing up what few words I know in Spanish, French and Italian? I loudly cleared my throat and started over.

“Un latte per favore,” I said. I tried to clearly enunciate this phrase so she would understand my request.

Grandmama nodded her head and replied in English: “Yes, sir. A latte for you. Would you like any pastries with that?”

“Uhhhh, yes, please. I would like a chocolate filled croissant.” (They are my favorite).

Scopello baglio
The 800 year old “baglio” of Scopello, an agricultural estate headquarters.

I went into the café in Scopello each of the next few days. Each day I asked Grandmama for un latte e un cornetto al cioccolato. She would smile and rattle off a monologue of Italian back at me. I would not understand anything she said. I would simply nod my head like an idiot and smile back.

One day Grandmama was missing. Maybe it was her day off (I hope she hadn’t died during the night). A burly guy in his mid-30s was behind the counter. He had a New York Yankees baseball cap on his head.

“Un latte e un cornetto al cioccolato per favore,” I said to the man. He looked at me intently and then smiled.

“Sure, man. Coming right up,” said the guy in a strong New York accent.

Scopello chair
If you hang it on the wall you can call it art!

We got to chatting. Of course, he was from New York City; the Bronx in fact. He was born in Sicily but spent many years in the Big Apple. He was probably related to Grandmama somehow and came back to the ancestral home to help out in the café. He was a big Yankees fan so we talked about baseball and why Alex Rodriguez is such a jerk.

His name?

Michael Corleone III

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The Lost City of Ephesus

Temple ruins in Ephesus

Our new friend Giljan was eager to show us around the ancient ruins of the lost city of Ephesus in Turkey. Sure, it was her job as tour guide, but she was young and fairly new at her job and was still enthusiastic.  She kept mixing up the apostles John and Paul.  I cut her some slack considering that she’s a Muslim.

She met us at the port of Kusadasi and her driver took us 20 minutes inland to the entry gate high in hills near the city of Selcuk.  Ephesus was a thriving metropolis of approximately 250,000 people in the first century A.D.  It was largely destroyed by a massive earthquake and the ruins of the city were covered by dirt for centuries until partially excavated in the 20th century.

Temple ruins in Ephesus
Excavated temple ruins in Ephesus, Turkey

Entering the high gate and walking downhill through the main street of the town was awe-inspiring.  The wealthiest people of the time lived in a sophisticated fashion with many conveniences. Some of these people lived in fancy condos built into a hillside.  The walls were covered with painted scenes and the surviving floor mosaic patterns were very intricate.

Excavated remains of ancient condos in Ephesus
The ancient condos had painted walls and fancy mosaic floors

The leaders of the city owned slaves.  Of course the slaves did all the work, including cooking for the leader’s families.  Most of the condos did not have kitchens.  The food was “take-out” food prepared elsewhere and delivered by slaves.  The condos had private bathrooms for the women with indoor plumbing.  The men went down the street to a communal bathroom.  In winter, slaves were commanded to sit down and warm up the marble of the cold toilet prior to the master’s bowel movement!

toilet seats in Ephesus
Warm my seat for me!

One of the most important buildings in Ephesus was the library.  The library contained thousands of scrolls with all of the knowledge of the area.  In Roman times, Marc Antony pillaged the library by shipping all of the scrolls to Egypt as a present to Cleopatra.

library facade in Ephesus
The facade of the Library in Ephesus

Since Ephesus was such a large city, it was the major trading center for the entire eastern Mediterranean region.  The marketplace was a bustling place where goods were bought and sold from all over the ancient world.

Market gates in Ephesus
Gates to the marketplace in Ephesus

Just down the street from the market, a woman’s footprint is etched into marble on the side of the road.  It is the image of left foot, and there are two intersecting lines above it.  Farther down this road was the port of Ephesus on the Aegean Sea (the Sea is now eight kilometers away due to falling water levels in the Sea over the centuries).  Sailors and traders would leave their ships and walk up this road to the big city.  The footprint informed them that the brothel was on the left side of the road up ahead by the intersection.

The great amphitheater where Paul preached as described in the Bible is near the end of the road in Ephesus.  The amphitheater holds 25,000 people and is still in use for concerts.  They only allow classical and jazz now.  A few years ago a rock concert was held and vibrations from the loudspeakers caused a small landslide of part of the upper portion of the ampitheater.  That’s rock and roll!

Great Ampitheater in Ephesus, Turkey
The Great Ampitheater in Ephesus where Paul preached

After the tour of Ephesus we stopped at a outdoor café for a traditional Turkish lunch.  First came various salads with fresh bread, followed by grilled chicken skewers and meatballs.  Desert was a plateful of fresh fruit.  Giljan told us about her city of Selcuk and attending a university quite far away.

“Would you like to see how Turkish carpets are made?  They are a specialty of this region.” she asked.

“OK. I have no idea how that’s done.” I said.

We were driven to a local weaver’s co-operative where rural women were taught how to weave carpets.  A first demonstration showed how silk is harvested from thimble-sized pods.  The silkworm eats the leaves of a Mulberry tree and spins silk into a pod.  It must be an enormous amount of work for the silkworm.  The pods are harvested and put into a bath.  A worker teases the pod with a brush to get the outer silk thread of the pod.  A dozen or more of these first threads are gathered into one starting point and hooked to a spinning machine.  The spinning machine unravels all of the pods at once and combines all of the individual threads to make silk yarn.

The silk yarn can be dyed and are then woven by hand on a backing matrix of threads made from cotton or wool.  The work is typically done by a woman who sits hunched over the loom for months on end to make a single carpet. The price of the resulting carpet depends on the complexity of the pattern, the material used (lamb’s wool, sheep’s wool, goat’s wool, or silkworm), and the density of the weave.

making carpet in Turkey
This woman is making a carpet for me

Back at the port, as I was walking through the shopping area, I noticed this sign.  I’m not quite sure what it means!

Turkish watches for sale
I'll take two in case one breaks
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