All Around Etna, Pillar of Heaven

January 5, 2012

Well, Mount Etna–Pillar of Heaven, as the Greeks called her–is spewing her ash again as I write this. First blast of 2012. Clouds of smoke are visible all the way down here.

We toured around her just last week. Small puffs of smoke, like breaths on a cold day, blew from her crater into the gray-blue sky. She looked breathtakingly serene then, but there’s always more than meets the eye in Sicily.

Vulcan, god of fire, was tink-tinking away in her burning bowels.

Mount Etna in December, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

How odd to live cheek-by-jowl with such a force of nature.

Stone homes–still inhabited–nestle against the black scabs of lava that are etched like witch’s fingers down her green shoulders. Some homes, like the one below, are just a distant memory.

Ruined House in Lava Field on Mount Etna, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Lava fields outside Randazzo

Randazzo, closest to the summit, is a dark town on the north slope built entirely of lava stone.

Church in Randazzo, Sicily, a town near Etna, copyright Jann Huizenga

Church of Santa Maria in Randazzo

Scene in Randazzo, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Center of Randazzo

In spite of the danger, Sicilians feel an intense affection for Etna, identifying deeply with her volatile nature.

The boys in Randazzo deck themselves out in black–to match their surroundings I presume–and behave just like Etna, puffing great rings of smoke into the sky.

Boys in Randazzo, Sicly, copyright Jann Huizenga

Scene in Randazzo

Does your life lack excitement?

Here’s a house for you. It’s just under Etna, and for sale!

House for sale under Etna, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga



Tips for tourists: Wine tours and trekking are favorite past-times around Etna. The north face of Etna is a gorgeous place to drive around–full of vineyards, baronial manors, and mountain panoramas, but when you get to down-at-the-heels Bronte (home of the famous pistachio nut), the roads become trashy–especially shocking to see in the presence of this great natural wonder.

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Persimmons & Pears

October 26, 2009

It’s persimmon season in Sicily. The hawkers are plying town with truckloads of ripe persimmons—fruit of the gods, according to the Greeks, and guaranteed, according to my hawker, to put a blush on your cheeks, thicken your hair, double your energia.

The roving vendor parks his truck smack dab in front of my portone and starts shrieking “Cachi!” (pronounced like khaki, but with the accent on the last syllable in Sicilian). Housewives rush out in their slippers.

Persimmons have scared me ever since my husband and I each yanked a pretty yellow fruit off a Montenegrin tree a quarter century ago and greedily bit into the under-ripe flesh. One never forgets that nasty cotton-mouth taste.

But I’m learning. I bought these four persimmons yesterday. The two in the foreground are not yet ripe, the vendor warned. Non mangiare adesso!


They need to turn from a yellowish/pumpkin-y color to a reddish/tomato-y hue, (like the two in the background), and they should develop a black spot or two to indicate they’re ready to eat, or so said my Sicilian expert.

I’ve just eaten the persimmon with the black spot on it, and it was so incredibly sweet and soft I practically drank it down. Liquid fruit. The opposite of cottony.


Pears from Bronte—a town on the flanks of Mt. Etna and famous for its pistachios—are also in season. They’re tiny and soft and sweet and I eat three at a time.

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