Visiting Sicily had been my dream for a very long time. I don’t know what the attraction was as I didn’t really know much about the island except it was warm for most of the year and was the birthplace of the Mafia. I didn’t even know much about the food except two famous sweets – Cassata and Cannoli – I’d grown up eating. It most definitely couldn’t have been the language because I remember the mother of a boy I went to school with, who, in the few times I met her, always talked to me in Sicilian which sounded like gobbledygook and not Italian at all. Despite initially knowing very little, what I have found in the six weeks I’ve been here is that her true beauty – which far surpasses all the magnificent baroque churches and hilltop towns, her wind-swept southern plains and gastronomical delights – lies within her people.
People here are interested. Kind. Helpful. Okay I’ve only been here for a few weeks but my experiences have ALL been good. Immediately after arriving at our rented apartment in Modica my friend John and I ventured out exploring. I’d already learned that a way to combat the blatant stares you receive from Italian men is to unnerve them by saying hello. It’s a strategy I’d learned from my friend Sam who used to live in India and it has been working a treat. A simple hello is always received with a friendly response and most times with a smile. We would have been only about 50 metres from our door when we met an elderly man on the road. After the initial hello, and when he found out where we were staying, he said that if we needed anything at all that we should just come knocking and he would be only too happy to help – how lovely.
The following afternoon, as we were returning to the apartment, another elderly gentleman, one that lived below us and who looks a bit like Clint Eastwood, began frantically waving at John for me to stop. I honestly though we were in trouble for something that I couldn’t remember doing, however he emerged with a pair of binoculars which he said we could borrow while we were here to take in the magnificent view around us.
In just a few days I’ve gotten to know the shop assistants in the two grocery stores in the village and am now greeted with friendly smiles and engaged in conversation on a daily basis. After only meeting her once, Luana, the young girl in the supermarket, stopped us for a chat as we passed the bar she was in one evening. And in the general Alimentari store (which is just like a little supermarket) the other shop assistant is just as friendly (and better looking apparently). Going in there one day for Parmesan she asked if we’ve ever had it with a cured meat called Bresaola. She immediately began cutting some slices to which she also added some shaved Parmesan, a little chili oil, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. ‘Try it’, she said, ‘it’s delicious’. I left with more groceries than I’d originally intended but we certainly had a feast that day for lunch. I’m so torn between the two shops now, and not wanting to be disloyal to either I’m buying half of what I need in one and the rest in the other. Sad I know. I’d hate to think what I’d be like in another month – sneaking around the back streets with my shopping trying not to be seen. A special mention has to go to the man in the fruit shop who didn’t want payment for the onions I was buying the other day. I still don’t know why I got them for free – was it because I was after red ones and he only had white or because that’s all I was buying and it didn’t warrant him opening the till? Either way I was very grateful.
I’m sad to be leaving Sicily. I feel really blessed to have met all these wonderfully warm people in the short time I’ve been here. I know I’ve only scratched the surface and can’t help but think of the friendships I might form if I was staying longer. The Sicilians might be the unemployed country cousins of the south, but they seem to me to be the happiest and most generous, with the most love to give. I can’t wait to come back.