Electronically Serving Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel, & Rosemead


This is the first in a series of articles  about southern Sicily, chiefly the interesting town of Agrigento that we visited in the 1990s.


By Charles N. Stevens

From my airplane window Sicily’s mountain ranges appear to rise suddenly out of hazy low clouds. A few moments later we skim in over the sea for a landing at Palermo, the water beneath us blue green near the shore, white waves blasting the rocks.

Dominating the landscape is Monte Castellaccio, a magnificent cloud-capped peak reaching for the sky, appearing more like a fantasy than a real mountain.

We leave Palermo for a two-hour bus ride to Agrigento on the southern coast, a trip that will take us through the heartland of Sicily. Having been “set down” in a new place, I decide to let Sicily present itself to me as the miles go by. My eyes will see what they have never seen before. I sit in the comfortable bus seat, letting the country’s images run through my mind, writing nothing about them until I’m in the quietness of our hotel room.

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I’m surprised about how hilly, even mountainous, Sicily is. No matter where we are, hazy mountains rear up in the distance or slate-blue cliffs plunge down into the sea. Watching the farmland pass by is like turning the pages of a book. Because of the countryside’s uniqueness, I feel somehow that I’m in a movie, that I’m swept up into a travelogue that I had been watching on television.

Gray-green olive trees grow in orderly rows, the earth furrowed and tilled around them. Some survive wild and isolated near streams or on hillsides. Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Italians have been growing olives in Sicily for centuries. The trunks of the old trees are thick and twisted, like heavy gray ropes braided together, sometimes with holes and spaces between the ropes where the sunlight comes through.

Small vineyards follow the contours of hills or descend in tidy rows down the slopes, their leaves golden with autumn. With many leaves dropped, the vines’ black branches, twisted and contorted with age, are revealed. Pale green paddles of prickly pear grow tamed and thick in fields or as fences or small plots around farmhouses, the paddles covered with reddish cactus apples at their edges. Some farmers grow fields of artichokes, the fountain-like sprays of their great leaves contrasting with the darker earth. Freshly plowed fields are sown with wheat, the earth laying barren and brown. Vegetable farms abound, alternating with darker groves of oranges and lemons.

The natural vegetation of Sicily is gone, most of it cleared for farmland or for burning hundreds of years ago. Only vestiges of it survive along the streambeds. Farmers planted eucalyptus from Australia as wind breaks and fence barriers rather than using native trees. The land appears dry and rocky, almost bleached and pale except on the farms and on the hillsides where the first rains of autumn have stimulated the first scant growth of grasses and weeds.

Small plots of land with crops surround the farmers’ houses, most of which are constructed of concrete, and supported flat roofs, some of which are equipped with low walls for collecting rainwater. Some of the houses have Spanish tile roofs. The much older farmhouses, all of them built with field stone and low-pitched roofs of tile, still exist, but many of them have gone to ruin, their walls crumbling, and their roof beams bared like old bones. Most farmhouses are built on hilltops or rises.

Each town we pass is clustered on the top of a great hill, some on very precipitous slopes. During medieval times towns had been built on high hills for protection against enemies. Some towns had been surrounded by walls. The town centers have not changed over the hundreds of years. Today many apartment complexes and houses have been constructed down the flanks of these hills, the fear of attack long gone.

Sicilian roads are good, many of them using long bridges or viaducts built on picturesque high Roman arches, to span valleys, and tunnels to bore through mountains. High up on the bridges we look far down on hundreds of farmers’ fields and the roofs of their houses. We also gaze down on concrete flumes that carry irrigation water to the farmers’ fields and orchards.

We’ll soon arrive in Agrigento.

MONTEREY PARK AUTHOR PUBLISHES 4th BOOK – Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s:

Charles “Norm” Stevens, a 43 year resident of Monterey Park has recently published his 4th book: Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s. This is the story of a young boy growing up in Inglewood, California in the l930’s. This was a time during the depression when unemployment was affecting many and the banks were closed, while the clouds of war were gathering in Europe. But he was lucky enough to be raised in a loving family, the power of that love reflected throughout his stories.

Stevens is the author of three previous books about his experiences during WWII:

An Innocent at Polebrook: A Memoir of an 8th Air Force Bombardier (Story of his 34 bombing missions from his base at Polebrook, England over Germany and France)

The Innocent Cadet: Becoming A World War II Bombardier (A prequel to the first, telling of his training in the U.S. before going overseas into combat.)

Back from Combat: A WWII Bombardier Faces His Military Future from Combat: (This book details the time from when he returned from combat in England until the end of the war.)

He is known to the readers of The Citizen’s Voice as the author of Travel Log Articles including “Cruising the Rhine and Mosel”,” Best of the West”, “In Search of Snow” ,  “From Paris to Normandy on the Seine”, and “Exploring New York”.  He is retired, having taught for 32 years, primarily in the Montebello Unified School District.

Those interested in purchasing an autographed copy of any of his books, may contact the author at 323-721-8230 or  Normstevens24@gmail.com.

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