I am a Bollywood dancer, based in London, performing in a late-evening gig in Modica, a Baroque city in the Ragusa province of Sicily, famous for its Aztec chocolate. Globalization doesn’t get better than this.
The gig is part of a month-long summer festival in Ragusa, and the band – one of the many international music groups invited to Sicily each year – is performing in a cobbled courtyard, surrounded by bougainvillea bushes and shirtless Italian men lugging heavy equipment around the improvised stage. A few band members are stuck at the local airport, trying to convince the authorities that the musical instruments lost in transit are kind of important. The rest of the band is doing a late sound check. I am sitting in my flip-flops and a tatty skirt in one of the chairs set in neat rows for the audience, eating pasta salad and mozzarella, drinking cheap red wine that tastes vaguely of rose syrup.
An elderly Sicilian man and I are trying to have a conversation in a mixture of Italian, English and mime. He asks me what kind of dancing I do. “Belly dancing?” he says, doing a not-unrealistic belly thrust. “Lap dancing?” I shake my head. “Bollywood dancing,” I say.
This is our second night in Sicily. We spent the first in the seven-hour drive from Palermo. Our coach wound its way through the curves of Sicily, passing towns situated on top of mountains and nestled in the valleys. Palermo is a big city, with bustling motorways, steel-and-concrete buildings, glamorous real estate, Starbucks, and billboards for Visa credit cards. But as we drove out of the city the landscape changed dramatically. Dark, craggy rocks jutted out into the sea; baroque towns with white buildings piled close together, veined by hidden alleyways; tall towers and ornate churches crowded close to snazzy glass-fronted shops and local patisseries.
The morning of the gig, I visited one of the must-see sites of Modica – the Cathedral of San Giorgio, which was rebuilt after the earthquakes of the seventeenth century by the architect, Rosario Gagliardi. Next on the list was the beach. A twenty-minute bus ride from Modica was Donnalucata, a small fishing village along the Ragusa coast, with cafes speckled along the expanse of white beach, serving fresh tomato-and-mozzarella salad. Despite the fact that I speak about five words of Italian, and most local inhabitants spoke little English, I found people easy to talk to and always willing to walk you over to the nearest ATM or café.
On the evening of our gig, our late musicians finally arrive, and we went on two hours late. Despite the lateness and the cobblestones, the audience danced bhangra with us.
The next day, there is only one thing left to do. Buy a ton of Modican chocolate. It is an Aztec recipe, where the cocoa is ground on a Mexican metate, or lava stone, and cooked on a grill heated to under forty degrees Celsius so that the chocolate retains a grainy texture from the half-melted sugar. I may not know much Italian, but within minutes I can tell the difference between the various flavours of chocolate. Mandorla (almond), arancia (orange) and zenzero (ginger) are my favourites, though I’m not entirely convinced by peppercorno, which seems to be a local speciality.
I lug my chocolate and my souvenirs back to my gorgeous bed and breakfast, a white building, with artistically unplastered corners, stone arches, and curly gold railings that are characteristic of the city. And too soon it is time to go home.
Written by Amita Murray
Photography by Tom Marriott