Smokey is what I call it. If I were a painter, the term would be called “sfumato.” Pronounced (sfoooomaaaatow)
In New England, the word we would is the word “veiled” or “vanishing” or “smokey” or “hazy”. I like sfumato more.
I heard it used once in Rome by someone who was describing the art technique of the da Vinci School of the Renaissance painters. Those who painted an object as if it was veiled slightly, or like a photograph shot in low light were know as sfumato painters.
Take the Mona Lisa, for instance. The technique was developed by Leonardo da Vinci and many Renaissance painters followed suit. Today, the Russian Impressionist use it a lot. Look at the Mona Lisa: you will understand.
That is how the sun rises in Sicily: sfumato style. It rises in this veiled and smokey manner, bursting a few moments into a brilliant clarity.
That fifteen minute window of the rising sun in the morning is my favorite time of the day.
My sfumato time. The barely glistening Sicilian sun has only a faint glimmer as it rises. As it awakes from a night’s slumber, it gently comes to life. Then in a flash it goes away. The eyes are the first to enjoy the sight.
The air at that time of the early day is sfumato as well. I just coined that description of the air. Really it is a combination of the air, the texture of the light and the smell of the morning sea that together in unity creates the image that burns into my brain every day.
There is no other place on earth that has this combination, I think. Sunrise in Sicily is a wonder of nature, and later in the day, sunset in Sicily is too. The Sicilian sunrise puts almost all the senses together: the eyes, the nose, the ears.
Since I never speak during this period, only the mouth isn’t used. Three out of four senses does the job just fine for me. Then suddenly, it goes away. The sfumato vanishes into daylight. As the sun rises, the haze clears and vision is restored with a brilliant clarity. It stays that way all day…until the sun decides to sleep for the night. For you see, the Sicilian sunset rivals the sunrise. Sfumato returns briefly at sunset too. I have witnessed the rising and setting sun in Sicily from many locations and many angles.
From the sea side to the valleys. From the mountain top to the plains. It is always the same: An endless video loop of profound beauty that has played repeatedly since the beginning of time.
I wonder how you will feel the first time you experience this. The Sicilian morning sun is compelling; like many hundreds of generations of Sicilians, it calls them out for a new day. Sicilians live for the day. Sicily’s history has taught them this.
I need an espresso to fully complete the effect. I need to tie all my senses together. My mouth needs to get involved somehow in the senitory unity taking place, and if I do not talk, I can at least taste. An espresso sipped in solitude…while the Sicilian sun rises…ties it all together.
During the evening, a glass of red wine is the able substitute. As I raise my glass later in the day to silently toast the setting Sicilian sun, I think of my friends in Rome…especially my friend Luigi Frare…the elegant and now retired barman at the exquisite hotel at the top of the Spanish steps, The Hassler Hotel.
“Alfred” he once said to me. “Do you know where the phrase “chin-chin” comes from as Italians toast each other?”
Since I did not, here is what he told me:
“When you pour a glass of wine and hold it to the light, the eyes appreciate its beautiful color. Nature has created a thing of beauty and your eyes enjoy the result” he said.
“When you gently twirl the wine around the glass and smell its wondrous bouquet, your nose and sense of smell also enjoy the sensation” he said.
“When you taste the delicious wine, even your mouth and its taste buds are involved and are happy” he said.
“But do you know what senses isn’t happy, Alfred?” he asked.
“Your ears. They cannot enjoy the wine.”
“So we say “chin-chin” as we toast so that all the senses are involved when we celebrate the vino.”
Smart man, that Luigi.
Thus, every night, as the Sicilian sunset sets, I hold up my glass of wine and I too say “Chin-Chin”.
I always say ‘Grazie a Dio” too.
I thank the original artist who created this scene, the Good Lord, and ask Him every night to protect her and her people.
I toast the Sicilian sunset…sfumato scene and all! Know what the best part is?
Tomorrow morning, when I get up from my evening slumber, the sunrise will be waiting for me again…for a very brief moment!
And then it starts again.
The “Sun Always Rises” is a passage from Alfred Zappala’s book “Gaetano’s Trunk“