Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lo Stagnone--The Blue Lagoon of Sicily

Fabrizio racing us to Motya
When my sons were very young, (and still now that they are grown men), a favorite pastime  of ours was to kayak in the lagoon "Lo Stagnone," near our home in Marsala.   Our excursions into the blue waters were always an adventure as we explored the four islands found in the lagoon. As we paddled, I filled their imaginations and hearts with stories of their illustrious Phoenician and Greek ancestors who once loved these same waters.   
Carlo kayaking with a friend
Lo Stagnone has a special place in my own heart as well. As a child, my summers were spent exploring it shores with my cousins.  Because the waters of  Lo Stagnone are warm and shallow (about a meter deep with a few rare spots of up to 3 meters), the children were allowed great freedom in playing and swimming  there. During my childhood, Lo Stagnone was a kind of treasure chest, filled with every surprising and unusual form of sea life-- mollusks and clams and sea snails; tiny keyhole limpets attached to rocks, which we ate raw; velvety red sea hares that left a trail of indigo ink when touched; and the ubiquitous sea cucumber which would send us into spasms of laughter watching its escape.

Sometimes on Sundays my aunts prepared "pasta al forno" a delicious baked pasta of the region, and along with my uncles and cousins we would picnic along the shores of Lo Stagnone.  While the aunts prepared the makeshift table, my uncles would go fishing with the children.  Fishing consisted of walking along side a small row boat or “varcuzza”, toward Motya. The water never reached higher than their waists. As the children collected mollusks, they collected "ricci" or sea urchins, which is a delicacy in Sicily that is eaten raw in the shell with lemon and scooped up with crusty bread.  The sea urchins of Sicily are very small and reddish or often blond in color and extremely sweet.  My uncles also collected exquisite little fish called "triglie" that were later roasted in a makeshift pit on the sand, as the main course of our rustic picnic.

"i ricci"
I remember that era as a time of plenty.  Since then, the world has grown and changed and while new appetites have been satisfied in my own life, I have never again experienced the sheer unquestioned bounty of life as I knew it then  and the carefree delight of those simple days of childhood.

Today Lo Stagnone is a protected reserve and visitors may swim or use flat-bottom boats but fishing is no longer allowed. With progress (and heightened tourism) came a need to protect its fragile ecosystem for future generations.
An ariel view of Lo Stagnone.
containing four islands: 
Motya, Isola Grande, (called Isola Lunga) ,
Schola, and Santa Maria
I would add a post-script here. It is  quite interesting to me that life has brought me full circle in so many ways.  Today my husband and I live on edge of one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world. Each morning we step outside and breathe in the salty marsh air, the very air of Lo Stagnone--a fragrance that is seared in my soul--and I smile in recognition.
Ciao a presto!

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