Just before Christmas, my Irish friend and Cianciana buddy, Bernadette, asked me a question that she later put into an article for the Times of Sicily. What keeps you coming back? When I sent my answer to her, I thought to myself… this is a blog post! So here it is. What keeps me coming back.
Finally, here is my answer.
I’ve given this a lot of thought. I will try to make this as coherent as possible but if it doesn’t come out that way, my apologies.
Pablo Neruda wrote:
You start dying slowly
If you do not travel…
You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice…
Years ago, when I was a teenager, I visited Sicily for the first time and the seed was planted in my head. At that point, all I wanted was to go back. Then I saw the film Under the Tuscan Sun and suddenly I realized that it might just be possible to have more than just a visit. At that point I was busy single parenting, working full time, and finishing my masters degree. A trip up the street was out of the question, much less a trip around the world to find my Italian home. The idea never left my mind, however, and when I met Nick, I started playing with the idea once again.
To me, Italy represented romance and adventure. But, I had travelled and lived overseas before. Italy also represented an opportunity to learn – new language, new culture, new people. And as I got to know Nick and learned more about Sicilians and Sicilian culture, I saw that Sicily had something that I would never have the same way in Canada: community.
I moved to Vancouver Island in 1987 and it has taken me years to develop any kind of community here. My community is stretched over 100 km from the south end of Vancouver Island to the beginning of the central area. What this means is that if I want to connect with “my people” face to face, I might have to drive an hour or more. In Cianciana, the bulk of my community is no more than a 15 min walk away, or maybe just outside my door. I can walk from my house to the Trieste and it takes me 30 minutes because I am stopped by people in my community so many times that a 5 minute walk takes me 1/2 an hour. I love that I can drop by your house at anytime or you can drop by mine. I love that I have more friends in our little town of 3000 people than I do in our town of 80,000 even though I’ve lived on Vancouver Island for 28 years and Nick and I only have had three summers in Cianciana. I know that gossip is the main form of entertainment in Cianciana and that privacy has an entirely different meaning in Sicily than it does in Canada, but Nick and I have left our years of ‘drama’ behind us and we have no secrets. There is nothing we need to worry about hiding in our lives anymore.
And on top of all this is the beauty all around us when we are in Sicily. Vancouver Island is stunningly beautiful but the beauty of Sicily is different, more ancient – the colours of the hills and the sea, the ruins that blend into the land in such a way that that the history seems to grow out of the rocks, villages that cling to the sides of mountains. The cities in Sicily are charismatic. When I was in Venice, she seemed to me to be the Dowager Empress of the Adriatic but Palermo is different. Palermo is more like an aging, good-natured whore – friendly and raucous. Messina is like a muscled steveador; Syracuse and Ortigia are like the hot, bikinied babes stretched out on the beach; Catania is a young man out on the town to party with his buddies; Sciacca is an elegant woman; Agrigento is a loud immigrant, hawking his wares at the market. And all of these together create a lasagna of many layers and incredibly picante taste. How much more wonderful can a place be?
So, if I were going to put this all into a list, the things that bring me back to Cianciana every summer and the reason Nick and I want to spend six months a year there are:
1. Friends and community
2. Romance and adventure
3. Language and culture
4. Land and beauty
5. Cities and towns
This is far more than the paragraph you asked for. Hope that’s okay.
Say ‘See you soon’ to Cianciana for me.