Sicily is already a faded footprint. There is no trace of the lava rock and ash that dirtied and bloodied my feet as I climbed Mount Etna in the flimsiest of sandals. It is hard now to imagine another person lying on my bed beneath the beautifully painted fresco on the ceiling. The poems of the paper machié girl suspended, swinging, beneath the vast moon have disappeared. The heat of the sun beating down on my skin as I walked across the marble piazzas are intangible memories. The noise of the traffic and trains outside my window in Catania have receded. Sicily has almost vanished, simply because I am not there.
Yet, the woman whom I watched most evenings ply her trade beneath my balcony stays with me.
The Street Walker at 10pm
I watch as she adjusts her black hair in the dusty rear window
Of a black escort van parked by the zebra, her fingers
Push, twizzle, curl and flounce.
She seems momentarily satisfied and turns.
Her high silver heels totter her step, legs carved
into tight fitting hot pants, she prowls
up and down. When a man in a white van stops,
there is no talk. She gesticulates.
Four fingers. A thumb.
He passes on. She returns to the escort, fine tunes
A hair, turns back to the flow, the roar of the cars,
I can feel the rhythm. Edgy as hell.
We were staying in Catania, the second city of the island on the South Coast of Sicily. On one of the days, we went on a single gauge train into the interior, around the foothills of Mount Etna. I couldn’t understand why the first half of the journey was pitted with black, jazzed lava rock with barely any growth yet the second half was an oasis of grasses, camomile, whin bushes, mimosa, lemon and orange trees, olive groves: a glory of colour and scent flooded the tiny dusty carriages. There were bells ringing at crossroads as we rumbled past, people worked in the fields, tended the land by hand. The pastoral scene looked like an impressionist painting. Massimo, who guided us around Mount Etna a few days later, told me that lava is full of nutrients, sulphur, copper, iron and after a hundred years, these nutrients feed the soil. The terrain on the first part of the journey was the result of the 2005 eruption. In another seventy years, it would be lush, if Etna does not erupt again in a major way. When we went up to the top of Mount Etna, the ground was rocky and black. It reminded me of a quarry. The terrain was like a moon scape – craters and peaks, black and grey. In the winter, it is pure white, and a skiing resort, with gentle blue, green and red slopes. It must be magnificent.
My two favourite Sicily days were visiting Ortigia, Syracuse and going to the Norman Castle built on lava rock at the edge of Catania. Ortigia is an island of alleyways, with an astounding white marble Piazza and Cathedral which I am sure is polished daily. We wanted to go by train but were given a bus ticket at the Statzione. The trains were not running. Massimo (our later guide) informed me that sometimes, in Sicily, it is simply too hot so that the train drivers get too tired!
My favourite meal of the holiday was after visiting the Norman castle where a man regaled me with tales of Cyclops throwing rocks. Lunch was huge, shiny, black mussels, a salad and a bottle of Sicilian white wine in a small café in a tiny square which we shared with fifteen Maltese holiday makers. Then back to the frieze for a siesta.
So, aside from the drinks in cafes, walks in the park, shopping in air conditioned stores to get cool, that was Sicily. Since returning two days ago, I have read the PEN Case Study list which is an immensely depressing list of imprisoned writers to try choose three or four to focus on campaigning for in 2020, immersed myself in a seminar on human values (we prioritised respect, social justice, freedom, and equality), participated in a new Peace IV project called A Cavan Convergence (what do borders mean), and went to see Float Like a Butterfly with the Cavan Traveller Movement which was charming. And I have been preparing for my two day weekend writing course, photocopying materials and planning the lunches. And so, Sicily has gone.
My next adventure is a marriage in Manchester the weekend after next. It is the first of the younger Fitzpatrick Clan to wed. Yes, life goes on, each day leading to another, and then quickly disappearing, however immediate and important we believed it to be at the time.