It was seven summers ago that I visited Sicily, Italy, for three weeks. At the time, I was doing a master’s study in Yorkshire, England, and one day, I learned about an interesting math graduate summer school to be held in Catania. Something about the event advertisement spoke to me, and I quickly signed up to participate. That was the beginning of my little adventure.
I had never been to Italy, or any Mediterranean country before. As much as I was excited, I was also nervous about travelling alone to a place where I did not even understand a single word. I purchased a thick tourist guidebook about Sicily specifically, and studied the pages thoroughly until the very moment my feet landed on the premise of the Catania Airport.
Once I got there, however, my tension eased. There was nothing to be scare of. Peaceful, ordinary lives were unfolding for both the locals and the travellers alike, and thanks to my meticulous reading of “how to get a proper cab at the airport,” I was able to find a not only official, but also very kind cab driver, who brought me safely to my lodging while trying to tell me about the streets we were passing by.
The summer school lodging was part of the university’s research facility. It was a new building, and I shared a clean room with another participant. She was a student from Trento, Italy, with shiny expressive eyes. We somehow shared childlike nature, perhaps even kindred spirits, and within the first few days, we became great friends.
Most of the participants of the summer school were from Italy, with a few from other countries. I was one of those few people, but because my roommate was very sociable, I ended up spending most of my time with her and other local Italian participants, immersed in their daily routines and adventures.
It was through them that I got introduced to a daily breakfast routine at one of the university’s coffee bars. One morning, my roommate told me that she and other participants were planning to have breakfast at a coffee bar where they could eat something called granita.
“It’s a typical thing in Sicily,” she explained to me eagerly. “You should also come and try it!”
I had no idea what this granita thing was, but her enthusiasm got me curious. I followed her to the coffee bar – my first experience of a local Italian coffee bar. My roommate kindly ordered for me the exact same thing she was having. A coffee (i.e., espresso), granita with a bread.
When the order arrived, my eyes became round with surprise. The bread had a mountain-like shape that reminded me of Mount Etna, and its top part could be detached from the main part.
“You put the granita in here,” my roommate told me, and I scooped up a generous amount of granita – which looked a bit like ice cream though it wasn’t of course – and poured it in the hole of my bread. I then took a bite.
No words came out of me. Instead, a huge smile spread across my face. Oh, how delicious it was!
I then took a sip from my coffee. Nothing could have been more satisfactory than this heavenly combination.
From that day on, it became our breakfast routine. Every morning, we marched to the crowded coffee bar, stood in front of the counter, and one by one, we asked for the same thing.
“Un caffè e una granita con brioche, per favore.”
Then we all sat at one of the tables on the terrace, looking over the – the parking lot and other buildings, helping ourselves to our granita breakfast. The scenery was not of the most gorgeous kind, but sitting here with my heavenly breakfast, I felt like I was the queen of this world. While my friends chatted in Italian, I took another bite from my bread with granita, another sip from my coffee, and closed my eyes. What a dreamy breakfast. And I sighed in happiness.