Trog 4

Trog 2 is still to come.

Last night, we celebrated my partial recovery by drinking a bottle of Zibibbo.  The grape, otherwise known as the Muscat of Alexandria, is most often made into a sweet wine or even a passito.  Passiti, which go back to the ancient Mediterranean, are wines made from grapes left to dry on the vine.  Columella says the Carthaginian version was called Passum, a term that may be preserved in the Italian.  

Some years ago, my wife and I, joined by Chris Check, were doing advance work for the second Sicilian Convivium.  We were in Siracusa, on the island of Ortygia (connected to the mainland by short bridges).  We stumbled into what looked like a complete dump—I think the Italian term of abuse is bettola (dump).  The proprietor, seeing us study the menu, asked us to try anything we like, no matter how little.  It was a bit chilly but we preferred to sit outside in the clean air.  We ordered antipasti of seafood and asked for a wine recommendation.  He brought us a bottle of a white called Cyana—the name of a local nymph associated with the story of Arethusa, but, when he told us it was a muscat, I was incredulous.  Why not bring a White Zin?  He assured me it was a dry and very substantial wine.  We drank three bottles and stayed for a full dinner, which proved to be superb.  

When we brought the group, the joint was closed for repairs.  Just our luck, he had landed a grant.  A few years later, we returned and ate at the revamped Mare Azurro.  It was much more stylish, and the food was almost as good.

The Zibibbo, for which we paid 3.5 Euros (about $4) at the Penny Market (a discount supermercato in our neighborhood) was by no means as good as the Cyana, but it had that strange contrast of a heavy musky wine that has been made quite dry.

We “dined” out at the neighborhood pizzeria, Mythos.  The neighborhood in question is a short strip consisting of a coffee and pastry shop, a place renting fancy cars for weddings, a bar, a popular tourist restaurant the “Trattoria dei Templi,” and Mythos, where we had eaten pizza last week. I had stopped in earlier that day to find out if they were open that evening.  Of course, every evening.  At what time, I asked.  From right now till midnight, he replied as if mildly offended.  I did not bother to point out that the previous Thursday, when we showed up at 7:30, there was no sign of life, and we had to eat at the much tonier Trattoria dei Templi.

Life off-season in Agrigento is full of these petty disappointments.  The nearest good supermarket—the R7—has been “closed for inventory" for ten days.  They don’t bother to put out a note indicating when they will reopen or even a notice on their sign telling customers not to waste time driving into the lot.  It’s a lot like South Carolina—or Mexico.

Then there is the Medieval church of San Nicola, open from 8:30 to 1 and 4 to 7, except we have never found it open.  The church is across from the excavations of the Hellenistic and Roman Quarter, where there is a ticket-office and gate that have been closed since early November.  Upon inquiry we discovered that if we gave them several days’ advance warning, they might be able to send someone to open the gate for us.  

Most of Italy used to be like this as recently as 1990, but, while the progressive Lombards and Tuscans have accommodated themselves to northern schedules, Sicily remains on Mediterranean time, which is remarkably like Balkan time.  After a few days of this, you get used to these things and assume the Mythos staff must have had a perfectly good reason for closing the joint.

 Hostile reviewers on TripAdvisor routinely use the word bettola, but it is unfair.  It is by no means as dirty or messy as they complain.  And, while the kind waitress got our antipasto order wrong—and the seafood antipasto she did bring had no seafood but only panelle (deep-fried chickpea goo), mozzarella balls, a fried mashed potato something, and French fries (I don’t know why blue-collar Italians eat fries before a meal).  

The pizzas were good—especially mine, made with prosciutto crudo, chopped fresh tomato, and rucola.  (Even in Sicily they hardly ever use the Sicilian term arugula that leads so many Americans astray.).

I asked about wine…..

She said, sure, and opened a drinks cooler and pretended to search for real wines with a glass bottle, cork, label—you know—and, shrugging her shoulders—she brought out a two liter clear plastic bottle filled with red wine.  

“Il vino della casa?”


It proved to be a somewhat barbaric but tasty red.  I’ll buy it if I find it in a store:  Hint:  Wines in two-liter plastic jugs are usually found on the bottom shelf of cheap corner stores. 

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina