They raise their eyebrows and smile appreciatively. Not many Americans would ever choose my neighborhood, which was originally built in the Middle Ages and boasts narrow cobblestone streets barely wide enough to fit our Honda Civic.
“You live near the castle?” they repeat, smiling. “The Campinole neighborhood?”
And I do. Living in our neighborhood isn’t always easy. Our car has lost a lot of paint as we have learned how to drive and park on streets meant for horses and ox carts. We’ve shivered through the winters in a house without any heating system. We often feel out of place and isolated in a neighborhood that is entirely Sicilian (and mostly elderly). Many evenings our dinnertime conversation is almost drown out by drumbeats outside our front door as the neighborhood’s musicians practice for the annual Medieval festival.
But for all its quirks, this neighborhood is impossible not to love. The faded buildings and cobblestone streets are so quintessentially Italy. The old women with their shawls smile from the windows, the old men pause to greet Lena (“ciao, bella!”) on their walks to the piazza. There is a closeness, a real spirit of the neighborhood, which comes from its endless preparation and hosting of the Medieval festival every summer. All year round the youths practice their baton twirling, their dances, their drum routines, their flag throwing. For a week every August the whole island of Sicily knows about Motta Sant’Anastasia, and the best performances of all happen just outside our house in the piazza in front of the castle.
Last week Lena, Gil, and I went on a walk on a windy afternoon and ended up inside the castle itself. I only visit the castle every 6 months or so, even though I look at it every single day outside my front door. In the photo on the left above, our house is the yellow one, and the photo was taken from the castle’s window.
The castle was built in Motta when the Normans invaded Sicily, and the costumes and artifacts inside the castle are from that time period. I love watching the informational video with our visitors because it reminds me of the generations that have lived on the edge of the cliff for centuries before my little American family took up residence here. In the castle there’s even a dungeon (above right) with a true story of a rightful duke who was thrown into it!
Stairs (and stairs and stairs) lead up two more levels to the top of the castle, where there are beautiful views of Etna over the valley (above right).
And finally, more mannequins in Medieval garb and more beautiful views from windows. What an amazing privilege to live in such a place, where we have gelato in the piazza, a volcano across the valley, and a castle right outside our front door!