Welcome to The Blissful Adventurer, my name is Michael Housewright and I am offering a number of previous pre-blog blogs that I have written over the years, including this gem from my experience working in Sicily in 2006. I am not sure who my audience will be as the blog develops, so welcome and leave me a comment if you enjoy what you read. "Now watch this drive..."
Italy has been THE destination in Europe for almost a decade now, and while the hills of Tuscany still hold the allure for most travelers, I decided to dive into the deep south of Sicily on my most recent Italian adventure to see if I could find an Italy a little more hidden and perhaps a bit taboo. I was longing for crisp suits and fervent gesticulations, I was not disappointed. I spent the month of May in Sicily, working on my Italian (and Sicilian), riding bikes through the fertile crops of oranges, grapes, almonds, olives, and finally driving back to my home base south of Florence. In this month I discovered a lust for life like no other, where the drama of day to day is simply; day to day.
While driving back from Sicily to Tuscany it dawned upon me that sugar might be the most powerful food on the planet, and certainly in Italy. In a Europe that constantly labels Americans as the fat people of the world, I cannot help but notice the copious amounts of sugar advertised, consumed, and habitually worshiped in Italy. Nearly every street corner, every billboard, and practically every other shop advertises or vends something containing enormous amounts of sugar.
For many years, the balance of not eating between meals, the common daily exercise of walks up steep hills, and the quantity of olive oil, wine, and other healthy foods consumed, allowed Italians to balance their sugar intake and remain lean. Today's Italy is replete with scooter riding youngsters consuming gelato, pastry, and sweet coffee at every interlude. Italians, especially the young, have ballooned to sizes not seen since my last visit to a southern Mississippi Sam's club. Italy is getting fat, and they also have malls now, complete with mall rat kids in fad laden faux designer clothing, walking about like some Southern California of my early 80's memories. Of course, as I sat there in the mall happily ingesting my Big Mac and fries (don't roll your eyes at me) looking into the sun-glassed shaded eyes of those 15 -20 years my junior, I thought to myself, perhaps it ain't all so bad. I can get all soap boxed up about the dereliction of man based upon some hack like, half retention of Fast Food Nation or I can think about the idea that a little balance goes a long way in living pretty well.
Let's face it, it is the ruts of life that make us sad, unhealthy, and bogged down in the doldrums of choices we make when we feel we have no choice . In actuality, it is this mind pause, called routine, that draws us to safety, and the feelings of brain calm we feel safety creates.
All of this being said, it is with great pleasure at how difficult it all can be that I begin my real account of investigating this amazing, beautiful island, that neither Genghis Khan nor Ronald McDonald could assimilate completely into the world's in which they, through siege or subliminal advertising brought to the beautiful shores of Sicily.
I begin by recounting a story told to me by a tour guide in Taormina who spoke broken English and actually claimed to hate children. Well, I am not sure she claimed it, she just spent the better part of the tour yelling at kids in other groups for making noise while she talked into her megaphone. Nevertheless the story goes like this. The Romans were poised in Calabria (mainland Italy’s most southern state) for over 50 years awaiting the death of a great Sicilian King. Upon news of his death and a subsequent Sicilian alliance with the Carthaginians, the Romans came across the straits of Messina and sacked Syracuse. For the next 2 millennia, Sicily has risen to the challenge of all invaders and melded them effectively into the bounty of the land, the siren calls of her sea islands, and the musicality of language like none other in Italy. Sicily stands majestically under the mountains of fire which at any moment could bring a lava filled interloper to any room in their homes, yet they go about life as if it were going to be forever.
At the same time when my friend and I returned to Ragusa near the end of our Sicily adventure, to discover three people had died in a small plane crash at the airstrip where we were staying in an apartment, it was amazing to see how affected the people were. I would equate the behavior as one of innocence, like that of a child who learns about death in way that is suitable for his/her understanding. Some were dismissive and playful as the story was sad, “things are worse elsewhere” one blue tooth headset wearing waiter stated (he wore it all evening as he worked, in a perfect suit of course), some were shocked to the point of mindless rambling, and most were simply out of sorts as to wonder why and how someone so skilled, could actually die, as the pilot apparently died from a maneuver even a nascent pilot would be able to complete with aplomb. In essence, the end of life is so telling, to a people whom life is so fervent. While we are all detached at times from death, and affected dramatically by it at others. It is the way in which the Sicilian lives without fear that it will end, without a pervasive sense of hiding from life that is so interesting to watch. Sicilians smoke, drink, eat, argue, shout, drive, lie, and sometimes, even work as hard as any people I have ever encountered. As I reflect on a journey I am ill afforded the luxury of recanting in great detail for this article, I know I am fortunate to have been a part of this land that conquers the conqueror and invigorates the passion for all things alive, even in death.