Life in this little tourist village is a lot like it is everywhere else, as far as I can tell, just slower. On our first night we sat in the main square with a drink, a pizza, and a salad. While I can name a dozen better pizza places in New York between 7th and 8th streets, that was certainly not the point. We were sitting in a Sicilian piazza, drinking beer, watching the sunset, and all was very right with the world.
We watched two little boys who came with the restaurant get jiggy with an electronic dance mat until their mother pried it from one of the wailing little boy’s sorrowful arms. Kids are kids, no? And there are most certainly great charms to living the lifestyle of the Forza d’Agrans. On our two minute commute to the main square through what qualifies as Main Street – a winding alleyway that runs the length of the village – I’ve noticed a very, very old woman who lies in bed looking out at the sea through her door, which has been ajar every time I’ve walked past it. Her skin is color of ash, and my guess is that she won’t be with us for long. All day long someone sits at the foot of her bed – I’m guessing mostly family members, but probably friends as well. I’d bet my last money that she was born in this village. As I said, the door is always ajar and she can look out at the hills and the sea, which I’m sure makes her happy. It would make me happy, that’s for sure. Beats the crap out of an old folks’ home if you ask me.
The grandma who runs one of the two little markets here is unfailingly nice. I think she finds it cute that the man is doing the food shopping. The woman who runs the other market (unlike the guy with the synagogues, I go to both) is even nicer. Today, she packed up an armful of leafy greens and stuck it in my bag. It’s organic, she told me, and she grew it herself in her backyard. I am to boil it in salty water for ten minutes and serve it with lemon and olive oil, and I will.
Our first proper dinner in town was an entertaining affair. We picked the only restaurant that had any diners in it, more for the ambiance than any effort at crowdsourcing. There’s nothing stranger than being the only diners in a restaurant in a tourist town in low season, so we decided on a place called Osteria Agostiniana, which was a relative hotbed of activity, with four or five tables filled. At this place, you can pick three courses for 35 euros or two courses for 30. Something deep inside us told us to start slow and go for the two courses. Well, two courses my patootey. The first “course” was actually an array of about seven or eight dishes. There were some beautiful oysters and a tuna caponata with an agridolce (or sweet and sour) sauce that was very good. We had marinated shrimp, a salad of arugula with some kind of fish, octopus salad, at least one version of baccala, or dried salted cod, and a bunch of other stuff. It got so bad that the waiter started stacking dishes on top of other dishes like a house of cards. Who eats like this?
We did as well as we could with that course and after the briefest of intervals, part two came barreling in. There was a different kind of baccala, a really goofy “cocktail” of sweet little bay shrimp that had been drowned under about a quart of thousand island dressing. There was calamari, more tuna, fried anchovies, and some very strange croquettes of some kind, among other things. The stars of the course were four gigantic head-on prawns that had been simply grilled.
Then came the entrée, if you can believe it. It was a really nice whole grilled fish served with a lovely peppery olive oil. The astonishing thing is that the couple across from us got the three course menu, which also included a pasta course with enough linguini a la vongole to choke a horse as well as some kind of ravioli and god knows what else. These people are surely dead by now.
For 30 euros, we also got a bottle of wine, dessert (a frozen limoncello slurpee, a basket of cookies and biscotti, some ice creamy tiramisu-ish thingy, and a couple of cannoli, and, inexplicably, peanuts in the shell), and all the after dinner drinks you could guzzle. For that, they just drop a half dozen or so bottles on the table and let you have at it.
I was quite taken with the amaro, and I now know why the hipsters seem to put it into half the fancy cocktails they whip up in Brooklyn – it’s herbaceous, a little sweet, and goes great with whiskey. When I get home, I’m adding a bottle of this stuff to my collection.
The whole thing was more than insane, and not how we usually eat – it kind of felt like the Sicilian buffet on Circus Circus Cruise Lines, if such a thing existed and let’s hope they don’t get any ideas. I’m surprised more people aren’t medivac’d out of here. The thing is, the place is pretty much always busy. I’d chalk it up to insane gluttonous tourists, but there were a bunch of Italian people in there as well. If you cut through the sheer volume there were enough winners to make you happy. If they’d let us, I’d go back and have the grilled shrimp, the grilled fish, and a plate of linguini with clams. But I can see the headwaiter’s shocked expression now, “You don’t want the Trough of Sicily? Impossible!”
And then we staggered out of the joint into our little ghost town, which was shuttered up tight by the time we escaped our Sicilian Fiesta. Even the old lady in the bed had called it a night.
We managed to stumble home and flop onto the bed, where as luck would have it that cinematic masterpiece Gigli was on. Imagine our delight! Fortunately it was dubbed into Italian, and thus it made much more sense.
And now, for no particular reason, a few more photos: