The real Sicily is different than in books

June 26, 2011, 5:51 PM Italy time

A table in the living room in Taormina, Italy

There are two gates in Taormina that mark the city boundaries: Door Messina and Door Catania.  The city is a huge tourist town and it is easy to see who is here on vacation.  I am convinced now that people who say they have been to Italy are slightly full of shit.  These people who vacation here have not been to Italy; they have been to America in a different time zone.  They wake up and speak English with each other and then talk to Italian workers in English and the Italians who work at these tourist places speak English back.  They eat at restaurants meant for tourists and order pizza even when the pizza sucks there.  They take the wire way to the beaches and pay too much for coffee.  They think that all of the Italians are fashionable and marinara is tomato sauce.

But I get to see the real Italy, or at least, the real Sicily.  The Ambra family is ruled by women.  There are three sisters and one is married.  They own a jewelry shop in town and do not have cell phones.  Hermano, the youngest son is eight years old and Luciano is eleven.  Hermano likes to show me short cuts in town.  These short cuts involve hundreds of stairs, people’s backyards, and a million alley ways.  When they have plans to meet somewhere, they organize them beforehand, and then show up.

They are planning a surprise birthday for the husband; I forget his name.  They organize who is bringing what food and have all combined money to buy him a computer.

This family does not have a computer.  We ride around on a motorcycle and take turns.  The mom will take me first and then go back and pick up Hermano and Luciano.  There is a crazy old lady who is friends with everyone.  The houses smell like the old Oakland house.  Being afraid of bugs is not an option: you walk through uncharted and unkept land every day.

The beach doesn’t have sand.  It has smooth tiny rocks.  Hermana (I don’t know if I am spelling her name right) jumped in immediately.  She is the most free and uninhibited person; an epitome of Sicily.  The water was way colder than it was in Pasteum and I stood at the bank.  Every time a wave came, my feet buried a little bit deeper.  The rocks do not have the same support as sand does.  Pretty soon I was off balance, practically falling over.  Hermana told me that there were rocks farther out and it was easier to stand.  Basically I could either keep falling or jump into the cold and get used to it.   Great metaphor right?  I thought so.

I feel different about the trip than most people who go abroad would because this is different than just exploring Italy.  This is being completely submerged into a completely different way of living, thinking, and communicating.

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