Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: “To rage and mock is gentlemanly, to grumble and whine is not.” (The port at Sciacca, Sicily)

As we drive into Sciacca it starts to rain: the halfhearted rain of a Mediterranean spring, just a few drops dashing the windscreen. We’ve spent the morning under a bright April sun, processing the magnificence of Selinunte’s ruined Greek temples. So the little town of Sciacca, on Sicily’s south-western coast between Selinunte and Sicily’s other major temple site at Agrigento, is just like us: a little fish, coming up for air between two majestically slumberous whales.

Three o’clock. The town is quiet and shutters are down. Except at Sciacca’s harbour. Tucked inside city walls that date back to Sicily’s golden Norman era, at the foot of its plunging sea-front houses, one chipper blue and white vessel after the other chugs briskly in from the grey Sicilian straits towards the quay. Restaurant owners and wholesalers lean against cars and small fridge trucks, puffing energetically against the chill and waiting to see what the waters have released.

Not much: about ten to twelve small Styrofoam boxes are carried up from the deep recessed hulls. Prawns, langoustines, slime-trailing octopus, twitching mullets, mackerel, sardines, sea slugs, some hake and skate are displayed and handed over. No money changes hands. The punters load up and disappear into Sciacca’s small alleys, drifting nets are hosed down, fishermen pull off orange overalls and make their way into bars and cafés. They’ve been out since midnight, with little to show for it. They smile wryly, indulging my curiosity and incompetent Italian.

At the tourist office, my paltry language skills meet their match. I’m provided with a map and a single paragraph on Sciacca’s history. Although the town’s fishing fleet is the second largest on the south coast, the port and its small industries of fishing and boat-repair are evidently not considered an attraction. Sciacca prefers to emphasize its thermal baths, about as old as Selinunte’s Greek temples although in contrast to these, they have managed to stay in almost constant use. Tourists killing time between ruins drift across the town’s less obviously dilapidated seafront, past its “for-sale” 18th century villas and bare, sandstone churches.

I buy some canned sardines at the fish store. Local. But everything else, from the slabs of tuna and wrinkled bream to Norwegian salmon and green mussels from New Zealand, is from “fiori”: outside.

In the evening, we eat abundantly at a family-run fish restaurant in Marinella de Selinunte, unaccountably named Boomerang. Perhaps because its car park views encourage guests to turn their backs on outside seating and return to its welcoming  interior.

There is no menu, just centuries of ingrained, proud generosity. Seven courses of delicious, locally-fished products proceed to our table—merluzzo, spatula, sgombro, triglie, calamari, gamberoni, sardine—along with an orange-radicchio salad, a liter of wine, another of water, ricotta-stuffed cannoli about the size of a hand-grenade, coffee and a generous shot of limoncello. For 25 EUR per per person.

Feeling guilty but also delightfully and richly sated, we avoid discussion of disproportionate supply and demand, preferring to concentrate on another variety of potential disproportionality: the tip.

 

Eve Lucas

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