November 19 2010
After three days in Sicily I was ready to meet the “men of honour”. Or at least to lay eyes upon them. Our stay at Orient-Express’s newly restored Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina had been something of a disappointment. No horse’s head in the bed, no overtones of menace: on the contrary, service had been warm and friendly, cooking authentically Sicilian, and the traditionally furnished rooms charming with their outlook across the bay towards snow-capped Etna. It was not what I had anticipated after rewatching all three Godfather films.
“I know a place. Come with me,” muttered my friend Giulio in strangulated tones worthy of Brando. The place was Savoca, a small but inexplicably prosperous village high above the eastern coast, not far from Corleone. Our destination was Bar Vitelli. It had enjoyed a certain reputation long before the arrival of Francis Ford Coppola and his film crew to immortalise it in 1971. The bar’s tiny interior has altered little since, with ancient magazines and a collection of vinyl 45s providing the principal decorative features. Only the shiny espresso machine looks new. In the hall hangs a photograph of Don Corleone’s “family”.
It is an atmospheric place to enjoy the bitter digestif, Amaro Averna, although I prefer the granita lemoni, a homemade sorbet infused with limoncello and reputed to cool tempers. In high season visitors poke their noses in but soon retire to the more touristic café opposite for their refreshments. Thus we sat alone in the shady garden at the table where Michael Corleone asked Signor Vitelli’s permission to court Apollonia.
Next door, lace curtains twitched and there was a sense of hidden eyes upon us. It seems doubtful that a more authentic place to experience a brush with the old Sicily survives – or a more aromatic granita.