Decided to first tell you about last night's dinner. We ate in this elegant dining room and had an exquisite meal. Our appetizer was marinated (almost pickled) mushrooms with thin slices of cold veal and salad greens. This was followed by a roll of freshly made lasagna with mushrooms and a ground bee topped with freshly grated strips of cheese. Next came tender veal with gravy and...(you guessed it ) mushrooms. See a pattern here? Our dessert was a cheesecake. The major difference between the west coast of Sicily and central Sicily in the meals has to do with the entree - big on fish on the coast and meat in central. The mushrooms were just a tasty extra. The villa was extraordinarily set in a beautiful field in the upper hills hidden by a eucalyptus forest.
There is a very narrow, rutted dirt road leading to it. This morning a car had to back up about 150 feet to find a place wide enough to for us to pass. Today we went to Villa Romana del Casale, home of the ruins of an extraordinary Roman villa. Constructed in the middle of the 4th century AD as a hunting lodge, it was completely covered by a landslide. Archeologists discovered the only record of the villa in an ancient registry and so began the fifty year excavation. There is still excavation going on today. Twentieth century evacuations have revealed some of the finest examples of Roman mosaics in all of Europe, with scenes ranging from Homeric escapades to depictions of early life. The villa was huge with a set of baths - hot, tepid and cold in the public rooms along with massage rooms and gymnasiums. Water constantly flowed from the river through aqueducts and where heated by servants tending hot fires 24 hours a day. Behind the public rooms was an apartment for important guests. Each of the rooms in the villa had mosaic floors depicting the room's usage through mythology, parody or activity. In the center of the villa was a 200 foot long mural showing ships going to either Africa or India to collect live wild animals to bring back. Not all were actual animals though, for example in India they captured a griffin which is mythical, or so we have been taught to believe. Rooms where any sort of competition was held, even in the children's rooms always ended with a champion and the women weaving crowns. After the long corridor came the basilica or administrative meeting place. To modern people, the word basilica means a church sanctuary, as in St. Peter's, but in the days of the Roman Empire it was a seat of government where laws and judgments were made and acted upon.Our next adventure took us to Chiaramonte for lunch. Roads in Sicily, except for the highways, are narrow and winding with lots of tight curves. This trip was no different except the road wound higher and higher until we were about 2,500 feet above sea level. Now I usually do not get carsick, but today was a little touchy. Had a headache when we finally got there. We must have done seven or eight really tight hairpin turns getting to the top. Then after lunch we had to do the same thing to get back to the road to Ragusa. So here we are in a city perched on the side of a long steep hill, think San Francisco, ready to take on the town tomorrow. In the meantime, I am going to have a good night's sleep!
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