Because of the wind, our tour guide announced, we wouldn’t be able to take a cable car up Mount Etna. I was glad. As apprehensive as I was about this trek up the Sicilian volcano, Italy’s largest, I especiallywas especially not looking forward to dangling inside a basket built for four. Not that the bus ride to the base camp was a joy. The road that wound along the volcano, – which, I should mention, is still active, and there was smoke billowing at the top that very day – was quite bumpy. At the base camp, to which we would have normally taken the cable car, we were given jackets and then led to smaller busses which would take us further up.
Mount Etna is about 11,000 feet high. We were taken to the base of one of the craters, maybe two-thirds of the way up. That adventure comes to mind because of our cover story about New Orleanian Chris Cannizzarro’s climb of Mount Everest. I don’t mean in any way to equate the skill and danger of Cannizzarro’s climb to our bumpy ride up Etna. However, for a guy such as myself who has spent most of his life below sea level, our modest climb makes me appreciate how daring it is for those who reach the world’s highest peaks.
Once we got to our destination we stepped out of the bus. I looked around and quickly knew that there was only one thing I wanted to do: get back on the bus. It was cold and windy and the surroundings of frost-covered rocks were like walking on the moon.
By the time we were on the way down the wind had subsided, so we had to take the cable cars. Except for briefly stopping a couple of times, leaving us suspendsed, the ride was not bad, partially because I could see civilization below.
I guess I did feel a sense of triumph when we reached the bottom. I was glad I had gone up, and I was glad to be back. I was especially glad of what came next – lunch. It was there that I discovered Etna’s true charm.
An agriturismo is a type of restaurant connected to a farm where the produce is served fresh. We were at such a place. Sicilian cooking is so wonderful because of the generosity from the land: the tomatoes, the olives, the grapes, the corn that feeds the animals to provide great cheeses and meats. Culinary Sicily influenceds all of Italy and Italian cooking influenceds the world. And why does Sicily provide such a great bounty? Because of the rich volcanic soil created by Etna. In a sense, there’s a touch of Etna influence in every pizza, panino and pasta topped with red sauce placed before us.
As we dined, we could see Etna with its cloudy crown in the background. Blessed are those with the determination to climb high. I will gladly lift a glass of wine from the valley to them.