One week away hardly seems fair. Surely, a mere 10 days or less cannot do justice to a place? And this is right, of course. However, there are some holidays, sojourns and adventures where you walk, or run into the departure lounge with a feeling of renewal, invigoration and nostalgic longing for the comforts of home. We are all, to an extent, home-bunnies, but there are some escapades that ignite the domestic yearnings more.
Sicily was not one of them. I have always loved and revered Italy; the food, people, culture and history. It’s a unique country that exudes life, love and flavour. A country of chaos and noise, sex and romance – it’s a country that’s richly pigmented, whichever way you look.
On this occasion we looked to the south. Like so many countries, there’s a clear north/south divide and in Italy, the cultural nuances of the north are completely disparate from the southerly neighbor. This dissection extends to the language, people, culture, food and history. In fact, Italy was a country divided until 1871, far later than other European counterparts.
This historical disunion continues to trickle down into modern day and the result is this: variety and assortment. This is a unified country, but additionally each region is fiercely proud of its individualism. Meaning, while vacationing in the north you’ll enjoy the culinary delicacies of vitello tornato, tiramisu, ossobucco and saffron risotto – a gastronomy menu that you’ll not witness in the south. Rather, as you venture beyond the River Po you’ll discover arancini balls as big as your fists, ricotta infused cannelloni and an abundance of fresh seafood.
It’s not only the gastronomy that differs, but the language and daily nuances. Lunch time is a set practice in the south, with three hours reserved for the occasion. Everyone eats, sleeps and rises later, while the northerners adhere to a more strict timetable of 9-5. The north is driven by modern industry, the south by agriculture. Naturally, there are disparities.
This quintessential difference was brought to light one night while in the piazza at Licata. Licata is a bygone Sicilian seaside commune which boasts a plentiful fishery industry and a delicious gelatissmo. During the day, in the full abundance of summer’s heat, the town closes. People rest, no one ventures outdoors and the shops remain firmly shut. This is a town that lives for its night.
It was midnight and the piazza was a flurry of social activity. Youths in sky high heels and short fuchsia dresses paraded brazenly around the ancient square. Their chunky, golden crosses and Madonna and Child insignia’s were pocketed between their open bosoms.
Men, with slick quiffs and strong cologne, lit up cigarettes and starred. Elderly widows, dressed in black lace gossiped emphatically amongst each other. A few nuns in their habits were smoking and playing cards, and three farmers with flat caps were singing.
Limbs and arms were emphatically thrown around, the art of the gesture being such an ingrained practice to evoke and stimulate conversation. People stopped every few seconds to greet one another. A kiss of the cheek and they were off once again, peacocking their way around the square.
It was as if on set of a Fellini film; utterly romantic and prototypically Italian, with underlying drama and tension.
And this is the quintessential difference. The north has moved with the times. Its adopted technology, industry and bluntly, keeps the economy alive. The south? They’re proudly rooted in the romantic stereotypes of a bygone past.
Life, food, laughter, love, god – these are the backbones to their way of life. It’s simple and refreshing and is a life without (on the outset) stress and pressure.
And frankly, who wouldn’t want to live like that? I hanker for these simplicities. And for that I approached Catania airport with a heavy heart and a restless head.
London (my adopted home) is a wonderful city, but it’s a stressful and anxious place. Take me back to Sicily any day.
For, as D.H Lawrence so adequately put: ‘Anyone who has once known this land can never be quite free from the nostalgia of it.’