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  • Writer's pictureGergana Lambreva

Finding meaning, in Modica

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

'You can be the story... Or you can be the storyteller.' - Joseph Pepe Danza

I wander the maze of tiny lanes and layered steps, an air of calm has settled here. Especially in the early evenings. If I slow down and really listen, I can hear low TV sounds rolling out of a window. On the opposite side – Bocelli is played ever so softly, few steps down, the clutter of plates and pots indicates dinner time. Almost nothing can be seen through this architecture yet so much can be heard and felt.

I can stroll these tiny lanes for hours, after dusk and still feel safely held by this peaceful old town. I feel content here.

In front of my eyes, sweetly restored, filled with life homes stand hand in hand with dilapidated ruins. Some of them - already taken back by mother nature.

People seem happy to live amongst these crumbling walls. In fact, life thrives here.

I’m reminded of how similar this is to our innate human condition – we layer light with darkness within, like a rich Italian lasagna.

Both wrecks and wholeness make up our inner landscape. There are parts of ourselves, we are familiar with and have spent a lifetime polishing and perfecting. Then there are those who are raw, hidden or seriously underdeveloped.

Yet, we need so little to thrive...

So, strolling through, I see my own nature displayed all around.

This town seems to reflect me perfectly.

In the heart of it, I’m staying, perched atop some ancient roofs.

Those narrow lanes and steps, winding beneath my little balcony - feels like I'm staying in a masterpiece.

My friend Andrea created this space - Modica Old Town Rooms, 8 years ago. Today it's the top-rated guesthouse in town. He has such a flair for location and that clean, stylish comfort, that is his favourite signature.

In fact, the whole city exudes this soft energy of contentment and comfort. Local people are relaxed in attitude and open in spirit. They speak to me generously, eager to help make the most of my visit and I see genuine warmth in their eyes.

I stroll past the numerous little shops - there is chocolate and art everywhere.

Modica and Mexico are the only two places in the world where chocolate is still made using the authentic, traditional method of the Aztecs. Each bar here is handmade - the process was never industrialised.

So many come, specifically to try this exquisite delicacy. The myriad of exotic and Mediterranean (all-natural) flavours makes it hard to simply pick a few bars.

My favourites are – orange peel, jasmine, pomegranate and vanilla. Of course, I had to try them all, before I settled on these.

How else can we pick a favourite?!

Right now days are hot but nights are heavenly.

During one of those balmy evenings, I climb up to the highest point, so I can see the city light up. Exactly at 8:30pm each night, it turns into a giant Xmas tree. The view is mesmerising.

I stay there, with my jaw dropped, not moving for a long time. I also can’t help but reflect on the city’s interesting history at this point.

It was completely destroyed by the devastating earthquake of 1693. Fully rebuilt within the next century, it stands in all this glory, till today.

Destruction and creation. The two sides of the same coin. We dread one and seek the other. Yet, they walk together...

Later, in 1902, its lower parts were ravaged by a flood. This led to the river running through it, to be redirected and the main road (Corso Umberto I) was built in its place.

So, where I walk each day, used to be a river flowing into the sea.

Going with the flow – always easier, when in the direction of the sea - don't you think?

Modica also consists of two distinct urban centres, "Modica Alta" (Upper Modica) and "Modica Bassa" (Lower Modica). The older upper part is perched on the rocky top of the southern Ibeli hill, the lower part is built on the lower slopes and valley below.

The walk down from Modica Alta to Modica Bassa reveals vistas of the lower town and involves hundreds of steps - not many attempt the reverse journey on foot.

As I pant my way up the 300 steps to St George’s Cathedral one early (yet already hot) morning, I realise how aptly this reflects our own psyche (think Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ and his epic descend into the Underworld).

During the course of my own ‘dark night of the soul’, I’ve found it so hard to ‘walk up the hill’ at times, to my own truth, my own authentic expression and unique way of being and living. Just like here, in life, descending is easier. It comes signposted with expectations, norms and conditioning.

But if I make the effort to climb up, panting or not, then….. Ah….., those vistas!

I marvel and I stand in awe of this unusually captivating landscape, my heart overflowing with wonder.

In other words – I feel alive!

And again, isn’t it the same in life?

Magically, on my last evening here, I find myself atop another hill, in a home, which I may have only seen in a dream before. Eating, drinking local wine, mostly laughing, with these beautiful, open-hearted people that I have met here.

And as the night unfolds, that familiar soundless knowing that creeps up on me from time to time, is here again. On this occasion, it says something like - Life is not only about the places we discover and the ‘hills’ we climb (this may be a no-brainer to you but I do need the heed).

It is, most of all, about the people we meet there and the experiences we create together!

Thank you, Andrea, Anna and Fabio, for the amazing times and thank you Sicily, for all the beautiful connections that seem to have awakened (and redirected), the Life in me, once again!

What else can I say?

È una semplice storia d’amore.

If you find yourself headed here, some of my tips may be helpful:

  • Take a ride on Trenino Barocco (try both the red and green trains, they cover different routes). I took the green twice because I loved the music and stories so much.

  • Try all chocolate flavours before you pick a favourite, as some will surprise you. But if you’re as sensitive to cocoa (note – this is pure, raw chocolate!), don’t try them at night (unless you want to substitute sleep for something....... very different).

  • Go shopping at Il Viaggiaroba. Beatrice, the girl who owns this gem of a shop, has created a beautifully unique collection of clothes, bags and accessories, from different designers. As she says - 'here, 'handmade' is a must & beauty is always refined, never trivialised'. I’ve not felt like I want to buy the entire shop before and I've come here every day.

  • Eat at A Putia ro Vinu – fresh & delicious local dishes in a quaint little lane off the main street. Busy for dinner but peaceful at lunch. Try whatever you like but do try the traditional Sicilian cannolo (or two) here.

  • Most of all – enjoy every moment! Fully.

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