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Tips for visiting western Sicily

Here are some tips gathered from my trip last fall to western Sicily:

* Pack cottons and sunglasses. Summer lasts six months a year and is hot and uncomfortable.

* Expect almost everything to be closed from 1 to 5 p.m., when Sicilians take cover from the furnace outside by clamping their windows shut and pulling down the shades.

* Read "The Leopard," Giuseppe di Lampedusa's elegy to the waning 19th century in Sicily; "The House by the Medlar Tree: I Malavoglia," a gaunt little classic by Giovanni Verga about the island's hopeless poor; "Fire Under the Ashes," James McNeish's 1965 biography of Danilo Dolci, the Gandhi of Sicily; "Last Godfathers," an all-too-vivid history of the Sicilian Mafia, by John Follain; "On Persephone's Island," Mary Taylor Simeti's ode to the natural rhythms of the island; and every mystery novel by Andrea Camilleri, featuring the Sicilian gourmand and gumshoe Salvo Montalbano, that you can get your hands on.

* Be mindful of the stories they tell, but don't be paralyzed about what people say about the dangers and hardships of traveling here. Western Sicily is laced with ultra-modern superhighways and beautiful back roads.

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