Sitting at the only bar’s table of Savoca square on a January morning can be a unique experience for the ones who have never visited this spot of Sicily before.
The scenario that is opening in front of my eyes is the most realistic version of a painting where two green dotted mountains disclose the quiet, blue waves of the Ionian Sea, as two big silky curtains would do in a Georgian living room.
As a born and bred Sicilian, Savoca is one of my first personal suggestion to those ones completely new at this island, if they really want to get in a nutshell what it is all about.
It’s not only for the breathtaking view, from the peak of the hill where this village is located, just 10 minutes driving from the shore. It’s not only about the rosemary, basil and lemons plants surrounding me and the hundreds of scents which caress my nose like colorful butterflies. It’s not only about one of the most famous (and dreadful) wedding proposal of the history of Hollywood.
What really makes this place unique – already awarded as of one of the most beautiful medieval hamlets of Southern Italy – is the rendezvous of art, history, and cinema which create the magic, here synonymous of ordinary.
While tasting my lovely lemon “granita”, a masterpiece of sweet which can be found only in the Western Sicily, I leave for a moment my floating thoughts to join a more proactive conversation with my dad, who lives 15 minutes driving from here, and Mr Alfio, who has been living on this edge for all of his 72 years.
Mr. Alfio used to own the coffee shop known as Bar Vitelli, which was used as the set for several scenes of “The Godfather”. Many parts of the trilogy were filmed in Savoca but the wedding proposal for Apollonia, filmed just outside the main door in 1974, is recognized as one of the best examples of “respect” and “family tradition” on the movie’s style.
“What really made me happy when I was 5 years old was trying to make espresso for people coming to the counter – was not that easy due to my height, but I was managing it anyway by standing on a chair!
I loved listening to the stories of our customers. Farmers, fishermen, the only doctor we had or the major, who used to come more often during his political campaign days.
Today, I can say I am still happy to come here because I love talking to people and tourists but it’s all about the past coming back to life for me, nothing more”.
His voice raises a bit too much when saying this last sentence, making me think that giving away this space wasn’t easy for him, nor wanted. I also noticed someone from the staff carefully listening from behind the curtains. Yes, this is Sicily too!
His thick wrinkles around the forehead gently start to soften, forecasting that a dusty joy is about to emerge.
“Francis Ford Coppola himself baptized this place as Bar Vitelli. He was in love with this spot and with my lemon granita. Once I think he had 10 in a day: the heat was kicking and he was simply going nuts! He told me that he would have cut his beard if the sun had turned into rain. Of course, it never happened! “
Despite Alfio’s stories, the tiny bar today resembles more a museum than a place for food or drinks, which I would suggest only to the Godfather’s fans – the bar in front is actually much better and very good value for money too!
Bar Vitelli is now composed of only 3 rooms, two of which covered with pictures showing the making of the movie. Each picture fills a dark brown framed wooden spot.
In a smaller room, just next to the toilette, lots of signatures and pieces of torn notes written from the main actors wrap the space, including Al Pacino and Coppola himself.
Mr. Alfio is right when talking about the importance of “The Godfather tour”.
Especially in August, the small, rocky medieval cobblestones which conjunct the bottom of the hills to the village – and further till the terrace where we are now – they are busy with big buses full of excited tourists who come from Catania or Messina, the biggest city nearby. Tourists can come from everywhere, but if there is an American in the nearby, you can be sure he will make a stop up till here. One return ticket to the city is just 15€.
“Savoca was one of the main set in all its parts for the movie, especially from scenes shot in the countryside. However, I can remember in the past people fighting for grabbing the spot of Michael Corleone as first, which is that table over there” – he explains by pointing the sit with his tired walking stick. He later explained they were locals and not tourists – so not really a big surprise for me!
January is a quiet month for tourism, though a couple just arrived when I am about to leave.
While going down from the small street to get the car back, I can’t stop looking again at that glimpse of the deep blue of the sea, making its own space among the two green, big hills which will always be like majestic natural curtains to me.
As a drizzle of rain starts to fall, I am already fantasizing about the next time I will be back.