Sicilians are a proud people. They seem to be blessed with a firm conviction that Sicily does things best, and will not hesitate to kindly prevent you from going off the rails.
I visit Agrigento, an ancient town on the southern coast of Sicily wedged between the rugged mountains and the sea. In the fifth century BC the Greeks built temples out of ochre limestone, and today the crumbling sun-bleached structures are called the Valley of the Temples. I think it is probably the most beautiful place in Sicily.
After a couple of quiet hours there, I stop off at a bar for an ice cream. “I’ll have a coffee and strawberry cone, please,” I tell the barista. “No,” he replies, smiling but firm. “Have coffee with chocolate, or maybe almond. Or I can give you strawberry with lemon.”
How could I have forgotten? Within these shores, you can no more mix a milk-based ice cream with a fruit-flavored one, than you can order a cappuccino after a meal. They are sins against the stomach and, in incontrovertibly Catholic Sicily, sin is taken seriously.
“There is an order to things here,” explains my friend Salvatore when I call him later, even though I know he will think the joke is on me. “Having dinner at 8pm, and not before, is something we look forward to. Drinking a cappuccino in the morning when your stomach is empty makes sense. There are rules of what to eat and when, and life is more comfortable for it.”
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