The sun beams at me across bleached walls and terracotta tiled roofs of old Palermo, Sicily. I arrived after dark last night, having taken a relaxing afternoon train across the country, my excitement building with every hour.
The morning gave me three hours to kill before my train, then a four-hour train trip, and during each, I wrote two blog posts to share with you – one about how comically bad my week off turned as soon as I landed in Catania, Sicily and how sometimes you gotta let yourself get uninvited from the party, hence my leaving 26 hours after arriving, and the other is of observation and thoughts as Sicily’s train tracks rumbled underneath me on my cross-island journey.
Thus, it will be a banner week for your reading materials, my beautiful minions.
Today, though, I have to just stop. Stop. Vivi nel momento! (Live in the moment.)
So I’m in sandals, shorts, t-shirt, and a light sweatshirt. On my right sits my big blue mug of stovetop espresso aka moka pot coffee, diluted 50:50 with water. On my left, the paper-wrapped baguette of the local sesame-studded bread, left for me yesterday by my hosts (along with fruits), which I’m tearing off by the fistful to gnaw on sporadically between pounding on keys. Nearby cooing pigeons shall feast on my crumbs later.
Of Fictions and Fantasies
When I began my journey as a nomad, I had many dreams, and most of them were about living the life in Europe. I wanted to have the Old Town experiences and live the real culture of these places steeped in time and memory, but as we all know, there are dreams and there is the reality.
I did get a quasi-Old Town experience in both Motovun and Rovinj, at the start of my journey. And in Split. But none of them felt particularly authentic. Many were breeding grounds for AirBNBs and the experiences didn’t have that day-to-day local flavour around them.
At some point it all starts to feel a little Disneyesque.
(It really says something, doesn’t it, that spellcheck recognizes “Disneyesque” as a word? It seems our small world after all has been hijacked by brands.)
But Disney stops here.
Setting the Scene
Down below me, men bark in Italian as they set up street stalls with fruit and veggies for the day’s selling. In the skies above, good and evil battle it out as a motley crew of dark grey and white clouds vie for dominion over blue skies. Surrounding us are mountains that, for thousands of years, made life in Sicily a beautiful challenge. Evidence of civilization here go back over 10,000 years. It’s as ancient as it gets.
And Sicily’s fertile land and year-round hospitable weather have made it the most conquered island in Europe. Today that presents in a populace that’s far more diverse than one would expect when they think of the Sicily from the movies. Here, you’ll find Blacks, North Africans, Spaniards, Asians, Greeks, Turks, Arabs. It seems every nation on the Mediterranean has had their go here. There are even ancient Albanian villages inland!
And me, I’m smack dab in the middle of it all.
The buildings around me aren’t ancient, but they still burst with history and its consequences. From my terrace, I see spires and domes that have dominated this cityscape for literally centuries. Here and there, a palm tree rises above it all, peeking out amidst narrow alleys that define inner Palermo.
Caught in a Moment
On this Sunday morning I’ve resolved to hang out until I finally hear my neighbour church’s bells toll. I suspect it will be soon, as it’s 10:18 am. As I only arrived last night, my intention this morning upon waking for the loo was just to take a look at the view then return for a much-needed sleep-in.
But I came out and couldn’t leave. After a while, I stopped resisting and realized there was no rush, I had bread to tie me over until lunch somewhere and I’ll never again have a first morning here, will I?
Vivi nel momento, Steffania!
I put the moka pot on the stove and cooked up my coffee, grabbed my sweater and my camera. Then I decided to resurrect a photography series I did briefly last year in Albania when recovering from my hysterectomy and trapped in my apartment – shooting scenes from my abode. Only this time I’m not trapped… I’m perfectly positioned in one of the most diverse and fascinating cities in the world.
Real Talk, Girlfriend
Lest you think my life is idyllic, I will tell you the two flaws to this plan.
One, these older buildings are breeding grounds for lung problems. Moisture damage abounds. Mould and spores and must are everywhere, and I can smell it in my apartment. I’m a bit concerned I may react with it, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay for what might be a once-in-a-lifetime living opportunity. Two, my size-22 ass has to climb 70 steps to get here – and they’re not the nice, gentle five-inch-tall steps I had in Sofia, Bulgaria, these are knee-punshing eight-inchers. Ice packs are in the freezer, at the ready to ease my pains.
But I’ve already begun walking a ton more in just Bari, Italy, and despite eating all my dreams and carboholic feelings this week, I appear to be losing weight. And-and-and, get this – after three YEARS-plus of playing nomad, a first-ever in my AirBNB kitchen: A salad spinner! [insert angel choir harmonizing]
Despite all the places I’ve been, all the things I’ve done, there aren’t a lot of times where I’ve actually sat awash in gratitude for what I’ve come through to get here.
So grateful. This, right now – Italy, Sicily, Bari, Palermo, all of this – is what I have fought for, for so long. This is the realization of so many dreams, so much grief and work and suffering and struggle. THIS. Vivi nel momento, indeed!
Earlier this week in Bari Vecchia, I spoke to a fellow nomad, a Dutch-born Norwegian fella, and we talked about how people back home think our lives are such bliss. We both agreed – the shit in life follows you. Leaving home doesn’t mean leaving your troubles behind. It means leaving your support behind.
And when life gets hard, people don’t want to hear it. They think you’re whining because you have this beautiful life of travel and how dare you compare yourself to their struggles. Only you’re all alone, thousands of miles from home, and every time you leave your house, you’re reminded of that, because no one speaks your language, no one understands you, no one is happy to see you, and you could disappear, and it wouldn’t matter one bit. There’s a harshly punitive and inescapable reality to that, and it’s something only the long-term traveller can understand.
But here, today, now…
It’s so fucking worth it.