It might seem odd, but for a country which is, insert super useful info here, a peninsula, I had never associated Italy with the sea. Or, more precisely, the sea was never the first thing I associated it with, nor the second, and probably not even the tenth. Somewhere in my heart of hearts I knew Italy has plenty of seas, but more immediate realities such as football and pasta always seemed to obscure this fact. Since I am not a big fan of over decorated churches, putti and Biblical themed paintings either it might be so that two of the main elements in Italy’s tourist image were lost on me almost completely.
I did notice the sea at Venice, it’s hard not to, but it was yet again more of a backdrop for perfect shots of boats rocking gently on the waves or the source of the blessed breeze which cleans away the canal funk when it gets too intrusive. Rome, on the other hand, pretty much pretends not to even have a sea, and tries to conquer you with more elemental things such as how it was the capital of this giant empire which shaped the world as we know it. Other times I visited Italy I was mostly land locked, which you can do quite successfully in the North, where in winter I would peer on the snowy peaks of the Alps and it made total sense to me that Italians would be great skiers, but I got slightly surprised when it dawned on me they were good at swimming and water polo too, though with the latter seas don’t seem to be a prerequisite, as Serbia and Hungary have proved it plentifully.
So this being said, while I do not wish to minimize Italy’s momentous accomplishments as eye candy and tourist bait, when I think of seaside holidays, I flash forward to a sun drenched Greek island and get stuck at that. I would therefore have been more than happy to do a repeat performance this year too, but the blog’s alternatively lazy or industrious co-photographer demanded that we boldly go where we haven’t gone before, so after excluding several shores which we have already explored, we ended up with Sicily. I promise to keep Greek parallels contained as much as possible, but I could not help but notice how one of the seas washing Sicily’s shores, namely the Ionian, is what I would decidedly consider a Northern Greek sea, hence with the likeliness of some weather disturbance in early September, but then again travelling during high season is worse than death and scattered showers bundled together. And scattered showers we did have for a couple of days, with the bonus of observing how insular weather is basically on fast forward, with undisturbed baby blue skies being suddenly overwhelmed by heavy clouds setting up the scenery for a minor biblical deluge, closely followed by yet another bit of ridiculously radiant and hot sunshine.
Since I promised I wouldn’t do many Greek parallels, I will now mention how one fundamental difference is that Sicily does cater for a lot of domestic tourism, as opposed to Greece, where local travelers are a rarity. My super scientific work of lying on a chaise longue and listening to banter around me (you can do a lot of that in Italy provided you’re familiar with a couple of regional dialects too) led me to assess that almost, if not more, than half of those on the beach were Italian, mostly coming from the North. This entailed a couple of things-mainly that almost without exception their tone when talking about the South in general and Sicily in particular was condescending and they made some sort of excuse for why they are indulging in southern seas at all, mostly themed on how ‘il nostro mare’, their sea, is cold, possibly a bit dirty-ish, industry and all, and the beaches not so sandy. The logical jump would have of course been that all in all, the Sicilian sea is better, but this was not voiced quite as clearly as one would have expected.
I will come clean and say that distrust of the Mezzogiorno was somewhat built into me as I learned Italian- just as learning Finnish will come with the Easter egg of disliking Swedish for no good reason at all besides some historical animosity which you were not part of at any level. Mentality wise I do however feel alienated from most Mediterranean people in general, and the loud and seemingly senseless but sometimes borderline menacing interactions they have, so it was hard not to jump on the bandwagon, but hopefully I did my best. Being Romanian, and therefore not having high levels of popularity either on account of similar bad press around the lines of stealing local jobs and the likes, might have made me more understanding of the South’s trials and tribulations- one odd adventure was when the host in our Venetian accommodation, noticing my accent, remarked I was not from around those parts. Well, no, I am Romanian, I said, waiting for her reaction. Oh, no worries, at least you’re not from Naples, honey. I assume she meant it as some sort of a compliment, so I tried not to convey just how insulted I felt both on my own behalf- and that of the city of Naples.
Knowing the local language of course shapes one’s experience- you see, or more exactly hear more on some level, but you also see less on another. You also come with different preconceptions, maybe of the worse kind- you assume you know some things as a fact because of your status as an almost insider. There are positives as well though- if I started by saying how Italy was not necessarily a sea country for me, in Sicily I came to the odd realization that I have an immense wealth of sea related terminology, mostly learned unconsciously from the news reports I was religiously watching in my teens- I was waiting for the football, yes. I will therefore try to bring it all into balance for a hopefully (almost) objective and useful travel account in the next installments. Until then you may revel in the first batch of shots, which include the Etna, the resort of Giardini Naxos, Taormina and two rebellious Sicilian cats.