Once I had my stay at Il Limoneto all sorted out, I started looking at how to get to the various places I wanted to visit in the area. One of them was the Val di Noto, about 40 km to the south. It is a collection of towns that, like Catania (In Fin dei Conti – All Things Considered, June 20, 2015), were rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693. The whole area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as ‘an outstanding testimony to the exuberant genius of late Baroque art and architecture’ and ‘the culmination and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe’. Two highly valid and reasonable criteria for the area being included in the august list. I just wondered about the criterion that has to do with the entire area being ‘permanently at risk from earthquakes and eruption of Mt. Etna’. In any event, assuming that while permanent, the risk was not imminent, I intended to visit some of those towns.
I had already visited Noto, the town the valley is named for, on my first trip to Sicily, but that was ten years ago and I had started in Palermo, and made my way around the island in a counter-clockwise direction. This time I was starting in Siracusa and heading clockwise.
While I was looking for the best route from Il Limoneto I stumbled across a festival I had never heard of before – l’Infiorata. In towns across Italy, artists cover the streets with flower petals in a kind of floral version of stained glass. Noto’s Infiorata was considered to be the best of them all. On Friday night, Via Nicolaci, the lane with the most incredible balconies I had ever seen, would be closed to the public and the artists would begin.
All Saturday and Sunday visitors from all over Sicily and abroad would come to admire their work and on Monday, the local children would rampage through the flowers in a ritualistic portrayal of renewal and destruction. The fact that the children may not be aware of the symbolism apparently takes nothing away from the energy with which they fulfill their role.
Most Infiorate are held the Sunday of Corpus Christi, nine weeks after Easter, which means that the dates vary from year to year. But in Noto, the date is fixed – the weekend of the third Sunday in May. I nervously checked my dates. I was in luck. I had arrived the Thursday before the festival.
I would have loved to watch the artists at work, but I was not keen on the idea of having to make my way back in the dark along unlit, and what were probably unmarked, country roads. Instead, I decided to get an early start, leaving before breakfast, in the hopes of beating the crowd. As it was, driving through the labyrinth of Noto’s narrow streets – many of which, despite the senso unico (one way) signs, were being treated as two way streets by the local drivers – was nerve-wracking enough.
The next one had me – and the people standing next to me – stumped. It was called ‘La cara de la dansa‘.
In Italian cara means ‘dear’, as in cara mia (my dear). Since Spanish is so close to Italian, I figured la cara de la dansa was ‘the beloved dance partner’. But what were those splotches between the two dancers and what was with the tail-like protuberance hanging from the beloved’s dress? Maybe you saw it right away, but it took me a while.
The final image was a salute to the Sardana, a traditional Catalan dance, and powerful symbol of national pride.
I walked up and down both sides and then, before things got crowded, headed back to my car. Not a moment too soon. A trail of cars, some of whose drivers could not resist the temptation that the lane leading out of town presented, was already snaking its way up from the valley below. Time to head to a seaside village Dora had told me about. By the time I got there, it would almost be time for lunch.