Mirko Sotgiu: The Sicilian baroque, the strong taste of abundance
The Sicilian baroque, the strong taste of abundance
Photos by Mirko Sotgiu
Article by Claudia Patrone
The refined art to decorate daily life and urban sites, passes even through cooking, overcomes the senses and fill us with nostalgia.
In one day like this, I remember when we were children. We are the sons of the economic boom, and we have been so mollycoddled. I remember our Sundays: when we were wearing our Sunday best and we felt a little bit hampered; grand-parents’ home full of relatives that sometimes were too much intrusive; belly laughs and discussions; adult’s whispered talks that we pretended to not understand; the Mass celebrated on RaiUno channel in the background; the appetizers, which we ate just on special occasions. And the sweets. They were a must and were wrapped up with a beautiful bow, and we could serve them just if we promise to be very careful and to not stumble.
In one day like this, during our journey discovering Sicily, thirty-five years later, the memories are so vivid. I walk on the pavement, wetted by a February rainstorm, paying attention to avoid the damaged cobblestones. I look around slowly, to observe every little detail – on the balconies, on the walls, on the flight of steps – while a shy sun is lighting the colour of the ground, of the frontages, of the urban glimpses. It is the baroque which lives inside each of us.
We are all Sicilians then. This region so rich of landscapes and culture, of resources and identity, the real symbol of our country in the world. Especially these places, where we are today and that are defined an isle in the isle, the area of Ragusa and of Hyblaean Mountains, allow to Sicily to show to the rest of the world its universal Italian spirit.
So, we consider and we feel this itinerary, visiting the cities of the late baroque epoch, a part of the humanity heritage. Just because of its great evocative power.
The family. The warmth of feelings. The sense of celebration and the desire to feel special. The importance of ornaments. The passion for the tradition and a sort of deference that comes from nobility past. The aristocratic pride of origins. The sacred nature of form. The elegance of hospitality. These are the concepts that characterize this area, with its good sides and bad sides. So, if you would like to make a supposition you can imagine finding the elements that express the baroque identity in the volutes, the little cupids, the sophisticated lines and the decoration that you can see everywhere, in the shop window of the cake shops but even in the manners of the people. These elements seem to show, symbolically and maybe inadvertently, a modern take of baroque identity.
We have travelled by car all around, observing Hyblaean landscapes that are sometimes sweet and sometimes harsh and that slope towards the sea, which is not so far as you think but that you can leave down.
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Carobs, dry-stone little walls, cultivated areas, then suddenly the calcareous rock and the steep cliffs of Ragusa. The capital is situated in a panoramic position, and the orographic conformation has allowed separating the new city from historical and more suggestive Ibla, which are placed on two opposite slopes. They are united by the Valle dei Ponti.
There is a road that starts in the middle of the new town and arrives to that beautiful mountain crib. The road is characterized by hairpin bends, penetrating in that city which is rich of history and poetical views.
Not to be missed, halfway, the beautiful Church of Santa Maria delle Scale, but it is just one of the noteworthy religious and civil buildings. The baroque is there, is everywhere, and you can notice it meeting the gaze of a big mask, or watching one of the details that make this city a cultural heritage.
Ibla is full of baroque details, too, and it is dominated by the Church of San Giorgio, which is considered a real chief-oeuvre.
Also in Scicli we can find the elegance of the eighteenth-century style. In its buildings and churches we can see the late baroque, and here we can observe, wandering all around the city centre, how buildings of different epochs can be in keeping with that style. Here the baroque is a question of personality.
But it is the time to have a break! It is the time to go to Modica. It has the same urban development of Ragusa. In the “High” part of the city we can find the old caves where people live since the primitive age and that now are included in the new buildings. The “Low” part, in the valley, is actually placed in the old bed of two rivers, Janni Mauro and Pozzo dei Pruni. The city is known as the city of the one hundred Churches, and when you look at its landscape pointed by bell towers you think that legendary definition is right.
The baroque has filled our soul and our senses, we have recalled far memories and we have keenly looking for new details, thanks to this weird dance that has overcome us. But now it is the moment to talk about something concrete. The Modican chocolate is a great litmus test to live personally the baroque experience: it is a taste test, a way to please your eyesight but even the hearing and sense of touch.
It is a traditional food farming product and the specialized pastry chef of this area would to have the Indicazione Geografica Protetta acknowledgement. This kind of chocolate is characterized by an ‘unreachable taste’, and who tastes it feel to move closer to ‘the Absolute’. These words are by an excellent Sicilian personage, Leonardo Sciascia. The cold working process, united to sugar and spices without the addition of butter or any other kind of fats make this chocolate unique in the world. This ancient receipt has an Aztec origin, and it was transmitted to Sicilian people by the Spanish rulers during the sixteenth century. Since that century the Modicans pass it over from a generation to another, with a solemn sense of belonging. You can find this chocolate shaped in classical bars, which are matt, dark coloured with brown reflects and that has a granular and raw stiffness. This chocolate could be found even chopped, and it is used to prepare sweets and other cooking preparation. But the biggest surprise – that you can defined baroque, with any doubt – are the m’panatigghi, wonderful biscuits filled with a mix of beef fillet, Modican chocolate, almonds and sugar.
Well, if we think over the sweets of our childhood we do not remember a thing like this. Because we are not grown up on this great island. It is the strong taste of the Sicilian abundance.