#57 Chiuso per ferie
Closed for the holidays
Sicily at the end of August is a fiery ball of heat, humidity, mosquitoes, and desert winds whipping up from Africa. We arrive in Sicily in the final month of Summer; my husband decides to take a couple more weeks off work; to rest and get over jet lag.
It’s the time of year when stores close their roller doors and put up their ‘chiuso per ferie’ signs and go away on holiday until September.
Italy shuts down at this time of year, as most people take their annual vacations. So it is pointless to return to work when most offices are closed anyway. We head down to the beach to relax and find relief from the heat.
Sitting on the rough, stony Sicilian beach, I soak up the exotic backdrop. It feels unfamiliar to find myself at the seaside in August, the Australian Summer not starting until November, and the whole shore seems distorted.
The beach; is a rock mine, full of large pebbles, boulders and blocks of concrete dropped along the coast to create artificial barriers between the shoreline and the eroding sea.
You can't dive into the water without putting yourself in danger of severe concussion or spinal injuries; endless craggy boulders are skulking under the water.
We've come down to the beach with a large collective group of in-laws, friends, cousins, aunts, nephews, nieces, and children. All the kids jump into the water without sunscreen. The sun doesn't seem to be so harsh here.
Here in Sicily, you can easily stay out for a few hours and not burn to a crisp, unlike in Australia, where a few minutes of the extra sun gives you guaranteed sunburn. I guess Italy is far away enough from the hole in the ozone layer to worry about the risk of melanoma.
All my female companions are in bikinis. I am in a whole-piece bathing costume with short pants to cover myself from the sun and hide my flabby stomach.
It's strange to see so many women in bikinis. Usually, those I've seen wearing a two-piece bathing suit have the figure to pull it off, and everyone thinks I'm timid.
Italians hold their right to a seaside holiday as dearly as their right to vote. It is a sacred privilege. Those who have left Sicily to work in large industrial cities like Milan and Turin return every Summer for their obligatory beach time.
Those who live in Sicily don't work very hard during the year. At least by European or Australian standards, relax and spend summers by the sea as rigorously as those who fully deserve a restful holiday.
Beach-going is exceptionally fashionable, as it was once enjoyed only by the rich and famous. Today everyone takes a turn on the catwalk at the Italian seaside. Even on our small isolated strip of the Sicilian coast, some people have convinced themselves the world is watching them.
Women are dressed in seductively draped sarongs, strategically exposed tattoos, the latest bug eye-shaped fashion sunglasses and occasionally freshly styled hair and makeup. Everyone is ready to roast their abundance in the Siculu sunshine.
After a bit, I decide I've had enough and dive under the water surfing a few meters further from the group. I pull my head up, wave and with a leisurely breaststroke to reassure everyone I'm fine and just want to swim.
The difference strikes me even in the sea waters. Here it is warm, calm and shallow. The colour, too, contrasts what I'm used to; it's a dark aquamarine that gives it a sinister quality.
I'm used to seeing clear blue water and constant waves of the open ocean. The mountains taper towards the coast before reaching a slight stretch of abandoned orchards that meet the grey stone shoreline.
In the water, I lie on my back, floating and letting the motion of the gentle waves take away the building tension in my body; closing my eyes, the splashing sound fills my head. I gently breathe in the relaxing salty air of these end-of-summer days.
I lie out in the sun out of the water to dry off. One of the beach gossips comes and sits by me, not so much out of friendliness as curiosity. Until now, she has mostly ignored me, convinced I speak little Italian like most others. I notice she is fidgety, dying to say something to me. She starts a conversation, and I try not to stare at her teeth.
She asks me about my family in Australia. I give her the standard responses, short and polite. Satisfied by the information, she pauses as if thinking about what to say next and quips:
"I bet your mother is crying her eyes out right now."
I stupidly say, "Of course," not knowing how else to respond.
She jogs off before I can think of a sharper reply to her insensitive observation; obviously, that's the dig she was dying to say to me. I find myself suddenly filled with a sense of dread, imagining my mother sitting in our kitchen back home weeping.
I fill my hand with rocks and squeeze them in my fist before throwing them into the water.
Looking at the imprints left on my pale hand, I feel desperate and homesick.
Coming to live in Sicily was never my plan. I find myself here after a whirlwind affair, unsure how it happened so quickly.
Such were the first days of my life living in Sicily.
Hard to believe that more than 20 years have passed since this first bitter-sweet August living in Italy. Since then, so many things have happened, and a large slice of my life has been lived within the changing seasons of the Mediterranean. Some are good, others not so good.
August remains my favourite month in Italy when we all collectively take our time to recharge. When the days are warm and filled with time to spend by the sea, there are many parties, concerts and events to behold.
The season is filled with my favourite tastes and sensations. From floating on the waves as the sea massages away my stress and anxiety to the smell of Basil left behind on my hands after I shred a few leaves to flavour whatever summer salad I'm making for lunch.
As I make the most of the end of Summer, I offer up these words as a bit of prayer to acknowledge the difficulties of the past, appreciate the joys of this moment and welcome the newness of the upcoming future months.
I hate to be long-winded, so I will stop here for now.
I'll keep trying to write something here as often as I can.
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