#17 Lightning fast week
passing through Messina
Have you ever had a week that went by so fast that it left you behind?
Well, that was me this past week. Or as I prefer to call it, the week that was.
I was ready for it; I was energised and planned out, ready to finish everything on my list.
Then I guess I put too much stuff on the list, so when the starters' gun went off, I got left at the starting line.
It was kind of like the time I was forced to compete in the 400 meters or whatever the race is called when you need to do two laps of the track. I use the word forced but rather was thrusted into the race. Because Catholic schools in Australia in the 90s meant everyone had to participate in at least two races during athletics day, which was torture to the non-sports orientated.
Anyhow, rather than choosing some other track and field event requiring coordination and skills, I thought, I'll take two laps; how hard could that be? No really understanding that a bit of training was probably required. To be honest, I had an excellent start. I was in the top three coming around the first bend but quickly got left behind, eventually pretending to get asthma before being taken over by those in the next race.
Luckily all of the races were swiftly run one after the other in various categories, I could blend in, and my terrible running was blurred into the background of the sports carnival day.
So this week has been about taking on too much, putting myself under pressure and dropping the ball.
But the good thing is that I can scale things down into smaller pieces, relieve some of the pressure, give myself a break and try again next week.
Please do not despair; let's hold one another's hands as we try to be kinder to ourselves.
This week's Sicilian postcard is from Messina.
Most tourists forget Messina. It's a place you pass through on the way to somewhere else. It is where you catch the ferry to the mainland, even the gigantic cruise ships that berth themselves next to the office buildings in front of the town hall, offload their passengers, who mostly choose to catch a bus to the nearby famous tourist town of Taormina. At most, a handful of tourists walk around the city and stop to see the elaborate mechanical astronomical clocktower chime at midday.
My husband used to make regular trips to Messina for work, it's the centre for many provincial government offices, so I know the city quite well. I could happily live in Messina; it's a beautiful city filled with history and sunny little side streets filled with beautiful shady trees along the side of the road—the historical centre which has been lovingly rebuilt after the 1908 earthquake and Tsunami. I particularly love the grand palazzi with their courtyards, archways and big front gates. Like the one in my postcard, peeking in makes me want to sneak inside, perhaps rent an office space or studio in these beautiful buildings and feel elegant and safely protected from the outside world.
What attracts me most to Messina is the unusual mixture of mythology and legend, which intertwines with the city's history to create an intoxicating and alluring tapestry. As is common in Sicily, history intertwines with mythology, legends and folklore.
The city on the Strait is Christian and pagan, old and new, historical and mythological. It rests between two worlds, that of man and that of mythology.
Messina is between the sea, and the mountains, separated from the rest of Italy by a strip of sea which seems easily traversed yet is full of danger. It looks tranquil, and the public servants are ordered enough, yet the laziness, corruption and apathy run as deep as the rest of Sicily.
The marine passage between Sicily and the mainland is one of the most trafficked strips of the sea in the Mediterranean; literally, all invaders have passed across the Strait and into Messina. Crusading French knights and Norman kings left Messina to fight holy wars in the middle ages. The black plague found its way to Europe from a ship in Messina.
The tip of the Strait seems to be reaching out for Calabria's coast on the other side of mainland Italy, which is trying to grab onto Sicily, just missing one another.
The spot in the shortest space between Sicily and Italy is to the north of the city between Capo Peloro and Torre Cavallo. It is here where the project for the Messina bridge was planned.
The idea for a Ponte di Messina has been tossed around since ancient times. Berlusconi arrogantly laid the first cement block in the 90's for
a massive suspension bridge some 3 kilometres long with two railway lines and a six-lane highway. A project that never made it past that first block placed by the controversial politician.
The Ponte di Messina has always been a source of political and environmental debate. It's been on the news again this week in Italy, as the far-right government is relaunching the project. What is it about the right and their need to build something big and pretty impossible?
Some say the bridge is needed to create a better connection to the mainland to improve the economy of Sicily, bringing in tourists and making it easier to transport goods.
Others don't want it at all because of its effect on the natural environment. In fact, on either side of the Strait where the bridge is projected, there are natural lakes and reserves filled with birdlife.
Then there is a genuine concern over seismic activity on the island. Sicily is moving further away from the Calabrian coast at an average of 1,5 centimetres every ten years as the island evolves and shifts geologically.
Today Messina is still connected to Italy by ferry and a curious train system that sees train compartments being loaded into the hulls of massive ferries. After crossing the Strait, the ferries offload the carriages one by one on the other side of the Strait in one of the most unique train journeys in the world.
Taking the ferry from Reggio Calabria to Messina, the harbour stretches out before you on an inlet off the Strait of Messina, shaped like a sickle. The ancient Greek name for Messina was Zancle or sickle city, which came from its unusual shape on the natural terrain.
During a night crossing of the Strait, the city's lights create a magical effect, lighting up the coast in a halo of light, sketching out the city in the nighttime sky. The ferry doesn't make a straight journey across to Messina from the train's final stop at Villa San Giovanni but instead curves around in a "U" shape as if avoiding an iceberg.
In reality, this indirect course of travel along the Strait is because of the strong currents which create powerful vortexes at different points along the strip.
There is a solid descending whirlpool in front of the Faro (Lighthouse) of Messina, which forces the ferry to swerve to avoid the opposing currents caused by the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas that meet directly in front of Messina. The two seas' bodies intertwine to create a dangerous combination that joins and repels simultaneously.
The currents flowing from the south to the north between Calabria and Messina change according to the sun's position, the moon's phases and the winds' strength.
The currents usually alternate every six hours, changing course or length; they are known to reach a width of 1000 meters. Other whirlpools are known and have been easily identified and recognised since ancient Greek times.
The vortexes at Messina have created the legends of the sea monster Scilla (Scylla) and the blowhole of Cariddi (Charybdis )Homer's hero Ulysses in The Odyssey recounts the dangers of crossing the tightest part of the Strait of Messina as a life-threatening and nearly impossible endeavour.
I hate to be long-winded, so I will stop here now.
I'll keep trying to write something worthwhile, well thought out and new here every week, perhaps more often if I get into the zone.
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Speak again soon.
With love and light from RDB
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