A few weeks ago I packed my bags, warned everyone that I’m going to return with an enviable tan, and boarded on a flight to Palermo, Sicily.
Sicily felt like a trip back in time.
We wake up and open the balcony door shutters, make espresso and sit outside basking in the sun. All of us – my travel buddy, I and the neighbours across the narrow alley, only a few feet away. A toddler is looking down at us from the balcony one floor above, shouting ciao on rotation for what felt like hours. Before flying to Sicily, I was warned that local men are aggressively flirty and persistent; this is how it probably starts.
It’s a sweltering hot Sunday. The streets of Palermo, even the elegant large avenues with their neoclassical buildings and liberty-style facades, are empty as everyone is at the beach. This is where we’re heading as well: after unfailingly substituting the most important meal of the day with the best tiramisu in the world and another round of espressos, we board on the train from Palermo Centrale to Cefalù, a small picturesque town located on the northern coast of Sicily.
When we arrive, the beach is dotted with colorful parasols, one can barely see the sand. Everyone around us sports spotless, deep tans. The women wear itsy bitsy teeny weeny triangle bikinis (remember, we’re back in time and high waisted deux-pièces haven’t made a come-back in 2018 yet) and men confidently prance around in bold, colourful speedos. We walk through the hesitating crowds until we locate our spot in the sun. Cefalù on a Sunday confirms that we’ve indeed taken a trip back in time and we’re still stranded there but we do not mind – life is simple. Uncomplicated. Beautiful. We swim in the clear blue waters, hesitantly jump off the high stone dock that marks the end of the beach – secretly judged from the teenage boys who are competing against each other on the slickest dive, complain about people around us complaining in Italian too loud or for too long, dive again, down cold beers, religiously reapply sunscreen, and solely exist. We stay until the sun sets, painting the buildings of the small town, an amalgam of Italian, Norman and Byzantine, but also Arab and Spanish influences, orange-pink.
After almost missing our return train, we’re back in Palermo to navigate the delicate choreography of crossing the streets. Thisis a sacred unspoken agreement between pedestrians and car drivers. There are plenty of zebra crossing around the city but there’s a catch: for the majority of them, there are no traffic lights. When I’m supposed to cross the street, you might ask. Whenever you feel like it. You look at the car coming towards you at full speed, the driver looks back at you (or so you hope), you take a deep breath and cross as if the road was clear. No, you channel your inner Beyonce and cross the street with attitude. Yes, you’ve read right – it’s all about the attitude here. Cross that street like you own it. Don’t show any fear, caution or common sense, this is how motorists spot the tourists; they can smell fear.
If you’re like me, you’ll probably be tempted to enthusiastically shout “attraversiamo” before doing so, because you’ve read Eat, Pray, Love a few too many times and that’s all the Italian you’ve mastered. It’s no longer a mystery why Italians are so religious; they literally need to say a prayer every time they cross the street.
To be continued (as always),