Sicily was not what I expected. Intellectually, I know that Europe is not all cobblestone streets and old-world charm — I know that off the tourist path there are suburbs, industrial zones, and boring stretches of featureless or unattractive landscapes, just like anywhere else. But still, Sicily was not what I imagined. We visited a number of picturesque, charming towns along the eastern coast, as well as a string of lovely clear-water beaches, but overall, Sicily (or at least the parts of Sicily we visited) was not a place that knocked me over with its charms, or with its natural or urban beauty.While I was going through the photographs of Sicily that I posted on Facebook, I realized how complicit I am in showcasing only the white-washed, buttered-up, photo-shopped version of reality that social media tends to portray at the expense of actual reality. In my photographs of volcanic-rock clear-water beaches, you don’t see the piles of litter piled up unattractively on the periphery of the beach. My cousin’s Sicilian husband told us that unfortunately, many Sicilians have the mentality that while their houses should be pristine and well-cared for, public areas are don’t matter. This was evident throughout Sicily. I was surprised by the amount of trash and litter everywhere, and by the lack of attention given to public spaces. (In all fairness, I think a visitor to New York City could say the same thing — when I was there last month, I noticed the mountainous piles of trash bags in front of restaurants and commercial lots for the first time).
But back to Sicily: In my photographs of seafood, pasta dishes, cappuccinos and pizzas, you can’t possibly know this is the only kind of food you can get in Sicily. Want Thai? Mexican? Indian? It’s hard to get, as far as I could tell. And while the food is superb — fresh, preservative free, beautifully presented — once in a while you crave something a little more…international, or diverse. And those beautiful, ancient mountain towns? They don’t capture the poorly maintained, narrow roads you need to take to get there, or the complete lack of side-walks in the parts of Sicily we visited. While you might be able to walk around your 10-block town (which mostly look like warm-weather Colombian pueblos, but less developed) you can’t really walk beyond your town unless you want to risk getting hit by a car.I might have loved Sicily ten years ago. It’s undeveloped — or at least underdeveloped — and it’s ancient, hodgepodge, mountainous, abandoned, mysterious, bewildering, enigmatic and cloudless, with an 11,000 foot active volcano looming over and anchoring the island to its fateful position somewhere between Europe and Africa. And I think I could grow to love it if I spent real time there, but after a one week vacation, I left Sicily feeling unsettled and confused, and I’m not entirely sure why. Syracuse was probably my favorite place in Sicily. The old section, Ortygia, has a hunted, dark quality to it. Maybe it was the low, ominous clouds (clouds being a rare site during our trip) or the slowly crumbling buildings, but Syracuse felt secretive, and maybe a little bit sinister, to me. Of course, this could have been because my sister told me about, Siracusa, a murder mystery she read before the trip, which takes place in Syracuse (and which I read on the flight back home), but here I felt tethered to the past in a complex and meaningful way, and where I would have wanted to spend more time.
Categories: International Travel