Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Perricelli's go to Sicily

Sicily!!! My gosh what an adventure. My wife and I traveled to the Mediterranean to visit the Italian island with my mother, father and sister for 8 days to celebrate my folks 40th wedding anniversary. Some of my family is from Naples on the mainland but most of my lineage is from Cattania, Caltenassetta and San Cataldo, Sicily. We got to visit these towns and literally feet the magic. We saw my mothers maiden name on a nearby shop and enjoyed some pizza from a local bakery which was very similar to to they style of pizza my grandfather, father and I make. It was really fun to see that and have a taste. Buonissimo!

Sicily is totally beautiful and blew my expectations away. We flew to Palermo, met up with our guide Alfie and headed straight out after an 8 hour flight from New York's JFK (got up at 4 am to catch our flight from Minneapolis). Being in the airport I could practically feel Italy and got excited as we were surrounded by Italians and the sound of the language. It seemed like we were at a big family reunion with distant cousins.

Sicily is very mountainous, there are towns in valleys, sides and on the very top of mountains. Lots of palm trees and cactus. Very similar to California and Mexico. Quite hot in the mid 90's this September. All sorts of hazel nut, almond, pistachio, fig, peach, orange and olive trees. Plenty of wine vineyards. We zoomed around the city in a private passenger van, caught the sights in the historical area including beautiful church, a catacomb full of hanging skeletons and had our first taste of Sicilian food at a trattoria on Mondello Beach. Straight away we did it up with a Prosecco, pasta, aracini (a delicious large fried rice ball with meat, sauce, onions and peas), seafood and local wine. Stray Sicilian cats crept by once and awhile and we saw them throughout our visit. This was a great first meal.

From there we traveled east to Castel De Tusa and the medieval town of Tusa up above. Strolled through town as we seemed to be the only tourists around and hung out at a little deli for a panini and a beer. Then it was off to Cefalu near the water for another walk through town and a swim in the Tirreanean Sea.

Our guide Alfie Orlando
Day 3 found us in the port of Messina, from where you can see Italy's mainland, to watch an amazing clock turn noon with a Negroni cocktail, antipasta and an excellent pepper pasta in the town square, then over for a cannoli at a nearby bakery.

We drove up and up and up, winding and zig zaging to the little town of Savoca where some of the movie The Godfather was filmed. They shot the wedding scene here, as well as a scene at Bar Vitelli that we took a little break at. Again, we were the only tourists up here, it was totally peaceful and beautiful and got to hang out with some of the people that were actually in the movie. Another plus to having a guide was that not only do we travel to places not very many people visit but also that he's there to tell us the history, help with the language and have conversations with locals.

Taormina is a beautiful seaside resort town. We enjoyed a cocktail at the famous Wunderbar, had pizza for dinner, people watched and walked through town at night. Toaromina, Messina, Caltanassetta and Cattania were notably hip on fashion. There's clothes shops everywhere and people especially like to get dressed up in the evenings for a stroll. Italians love there shoes and it showed. Mostly high heels and wedges, short skirts and dresses on women. The men donned high collared polo's and thin pants often colored solid red, purple, light blue or white. Also the Sicilian football team's colors are black and pink, so a man in a pink shirt was frequently seen.

We visited Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano and had the most delicious lunch way up there that seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. Stripped bare trees and crumbly volcanic rock surrounded the place where we ate and just next door they were rebuilding from where the lava had totally engulfed the previous structure from a recent eruption. This was the best meal ever. I exclaimed that I was in "gastronomic ecstasy" with a truly wonderful tomato sauce macaroni and a BBQ dish with a delightful red wine.

The typical day was breakfast at the hotel, then a hop in the van for fast windy road traveling to our first destination. A walk about town with a cocktail or espresso at a little bar, back to the van for more travel and another walk through town or a swim in the sea. We saw many Norman castles and strongholds (1100's) and visited very old churches and Greek ruins dating as far back as 585bc. Lunches were around 2 or 3pm and we ate dinner at about 8:30, 9pm usually. These were big events. Dinners finished with lemoncello's, the popular lemon liquor, often on the house.

We were in such awe by the sheer beauty of Sicily and how delicious and fresh the food was. Everywhere we looked was good enough for a postcard. Every little narrow ally with hung clothes, smells of Parmesan cheese, flowerpots and cobbled streets was SO Italian. Most of all it was fun to be together as a family and to actually be in the towns where my relatives lived. I think we'll be back.

The plane trip home was exhausting. We flew from Palermo to Naples (45minutes), then sat in the plane, on the tarmac for 3 and a half hours(!!) before taking of tho New York. This time it took 10 hours and Air Meridiana was not the greatest. Lot's of the amenities on the plane didn't work, like my seat that wouldn't stay in the upright position or the tv screen built into the seat that flickered. The flight attendants and everyone on the plane spoke Italian. We got back to the USA as everone applauded at touchdown. Coming in 5 hours late we missed our connecting flight to Minneapolis so we had to grab a hotel room and catch the first flight back to Minnesota in the late morning. Whew, what trip and well worth it!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fat Rocket!

I finished building an effects box for my guitar. I call it the Fat Rocket. It's the BYOC Large Beaver, a clone of the classic Big Muff. This distortion pedal has been around since the early 70's made by ElectroHarmonix. You'd be familiar with it if you've heard Pink Floyd, Dinosaur Jr and The White Stripes among countless others. It's a very thick and heavy guitar tone with lots of sustain. My first build was the BYOC Fuzz Face clone (see earlier blog post) and loved not only the sound of it but the experience of building it as well. I haven't had a hobby like this since I was a kid building lots of airplane models. It's great to get back into something so detailed. Something my mind can be present with. To be focused on something, to zen with.

Although easy to lots of builders, this one was just a step more complicated than my previous build. I started with preparing and painting the case first. I had never done this before. My other one I covered in fuzzy fabric, this one I spray painted red layers on, over and over again. Then I figured out a design and got some stickers of a fat looking rocket and some gold stars to put on there and hand panted the name I came up with. Very steady hands!! I had the words painted on there so nicely until I tried to make one final touch with one of the letters and a big drop of paint fell from my paint pen onto it. I was so upset!! Why did I have to perfect something that was already good! Ugh. I quickly had to wipe it down and spray paint over it. In my rush I completely sprayed my hand that was holding the case. Even after trying to wash it off, my hand looked like it had been bloodied after a killing for a day or two.

While this stuff dried I started soldering the components to the board and then added the pots and jacks. You can build this to the Ram's Head or Triangle versions of the Big Muff. I went for the Ram's Head. The trickiest part was wiring this thing. It took a little while to get my soldering skills up to speed too. Some of my first soldering attempts were pretty sketchy and I knew that if this thing didn't work, that was probably the problem to be looked at. I worked on the pedal on and of and in bits over a couple of months.

And then I finished it. ooohhh ... will it work?...what will it sound like?...what's going to happen? I got all excited to plug it in and step on it! Plugged it in. Turned on the amp. With it off, I got clean signal going through it. That's good. Then, the moment of truth, I strummed a chord and hit the switch and POW!! We have lift off!! It worked!! What a great feeling. It really sounds good.