Sunday, March 05, 2006

Middle of the Night Anxiety in Sicily 3.5.06

It’s 4 in the morning. I can’t sleep so I decided to just get up and come down the hallway into the front room and catch up on my writing and maybe just put down on “paper” my thoughts and perhaps be able to let go of them. Since it is Saturday night, all the young people – 20- and 30-somethings I suppose, although I can see a few older people too – are hanging out. I don’t really hear this most weekend nights because our bedroom is in the back and it’s pretty quiet except for the occasional noisy bunch going down the side street behind our building. So this is kind of a big surprise to me that at 4 in the morning they are still out partying. There are definitely lifestyle differences here that may exist in the states but that I as an “old” person am simply not aware of. Like hanging out with your friends, drinking, eating and talking as if it were the middle of the afternoon, until the very wee hours in the morning. There’s a term for this time of day that we studied in our class in Perugia and I cannot now remember how to say it that means I stayed up really late last night. (Do any of my readers know what I am talking about? Can you remind me how to say that?) It’s after 4 now with no signs of anyone heading home yet. Then what do they do? Sleep until noon? Two? Four?

What really bugs me, and makes me aware of these late night Saturday night soirees is th litter the next morning. The piazza will be littered with trash, which then the cleaning crew for the city will come around and pick up and by 9 or so you would never know this had occurred. Mostly. That these young people will just leave their trash out for someone else to clean up is something that used to drive me nuts in Perugia and I never enjoyed being out very late at night because that beautiful piazza where the lovely Fontana sits beside the Cattedrale would be littered with trash that, again, in the morning, the city workers would come by and pick up after. I guess it’s a sort of symbiotic relationship and job security for the street sweepers but it seems to me that the cities could save money by making these young slobs clean up after themselves and not treat these cities like a big garbage dump. It really shocks me that this is permitted and it’s one of the things I don’t like about being in Italy. It makes me cringe to see some people – and not just kids – simply drop their candy and food wrappers, tissues or empty cigarette boxes on the street as if it were nothing at all, often with a trash can a few feet away. I have mentioned this before, but sometimes I take a plastic trash bag out and pick up some of the debris that makes its way onto the beach. It makes me feel better not to have to look at it and I feel I am doing my little bit for the environment.

That’s the other thing I’m worrying about. What will my family think? Will they notice the litter on our beautiful sandy beach? Will I have to defend it by saying that we imagine in the summer months they have a clean-up crew, for surely they must with all those people here, but that in the winter they must not feel it is enough to bother about. And so I can’t sleep.

Our little town of Marina di Ragusa, during the week, during this time of the year, is very, very quiet. Tranquil. This town is really a summer place. People who live in Ragusa and the surrounding area have summer homes here. There is a year-round population of around 4,000 people that we are told swells to 40,000 in the summer, July and August mostly. And it’s understandable really. It’s a lovely place. There are many coffee bars, gelaterie and restaurants, many open only in the summer and the beach is a long and sandy stretch. It’s a perfect place to spend the hot summer months, basking in the sun and cooling off in the sea. There is a bar right below our building but during the week it’s pretty quiet. Elio tells us that during the summer months it’s like this every day and night. We’re glad we won’t be here then.

That’s one of the things I’m thinking about tonight, when my daughter comes – and she arrives on Wednesday (yeah!!) I hope it doesn’t disturb her sleep on the weekend nights. The bedrooms are in the back and I normally don’t hear it so I hope she won’t either. Of course that is also one of the things I am thinking about, the guests who will be coming soon. Jessica arrives on Wednesday and two weeks later, her friend Michelle, will join her here for a week. Then in April my brother Fred, his wife Elaine and my cousins, Jim & Evie and Andy & Marnie, have rented a house along the beach on the other side of the town (where it is more quiet).

That’s the other thing I’m worried about. Have I planned well? Will they think this place is as nice as we do? Will they wish they had spent their whole vacation in Taormina or Trapani or Palermo? Will they like Modica as much as we do, and Ragusa Ibla? Will they find Caltagirone charming and what will they think of Scicli? Will they enjoy the little stone walls and countryside as we do and enjoy this quiet little city with its tiny central piazza and the little shops that surround it? It’s not glitzy like Taormina, which we saw this past week. We are right on the sea, so we don’t have the breathtaking views from above to it like it does there. There is no Greco-Roman theatre in our little town or major monuments. Mostly it’s just a sweet little quiet place where we have enjoyed spending our time and hope they will too. Of course, there are many, many interesting places we will want to go. Our days will be full of showing them as much of this island as we can. We have found it fascinating and beautiful. Even as we have felt very much like outsiders. Partly that is just because we don’t work here. We don’t own a home. We don’t have reason to interact with the local people, except for the shopkeepers and some of them talk with us, like Salvatore in the coffee bar and the old guys in the piazzas. But we are very much an oddity we think to these people who sometimes think we are Germans on vacation and I’m sure if they have noticed us, they wonder why we are still here. Partly it’s a language thing. Although we can get by with the things we need to do, we still struggle with the language, with comprehension. Watching the news, we only catch part of what is said and only understand a bit.

It’s almost 5 now and the party shows no signs of abating. Unbelievable. It’s just a different use of time. Like the whole schedule of eating. Italians, as far as we can tell, have their “breakfast” (espresso or cappuccino and a cornetto – a cream, chocolate or marmade filled croissant – or some variation of this) in the morning when they get up. They don’t seem to linger over this, it’s just a have it and be done. But then it seems later in the morning there is another coffee, perhaps another brioche or even one of the filled piadini (similar to a calzone I guess, but not as doughy) or a slice of pizza to tide them over until lunch. There is no such thing as the “all you can eat breakfast.” Restaurants are not open all day except for the coffee bars with the ready-made sandwiches and pieces of pizza. Which reminds me of a strange thing we have seen here in Sicily: pizza with French fries on top! I am not kidding. I have no idea where this came from, but they do it. We haven’t had the heart to try it. We have seen on a menu, the Pizza Simpson so we suspect that this has something to do with Bart Simpson, but we don’t know this for sure. If you want to have lunch at a sit-down restaurant you may not be able to do this until 12:30 or 1pm and then they will close by 2:30 or so. If you are hungry at 4pm, you better just have a snack at a bar. Dinner will not be served, restaurants will not be open until 7:30 at the earliest and Italians will only be arriving well after that. When we go to eat at that hour, we are usually the only ones in the place! But we have noticed that around 5pm (at least here in Marina) people are all snacking. They are stopping by the gelato place, everyone’s eating an ice cream cone or cookies or some sort of snack. So of course they aren’t hungry for dinner at 6! They do seem to have a habit of little snacks all day long. I went down to Salvatore’s yesterday morning early around 8 because Bob was sleeping still and I didn’t want to make a pot for myself. I sat outside, ate a cornetto con marmelata and just wrote in my journal and lingered over the cappuccino, savoring the frothy top and slowly sipping, stretching out the experience. Three men came into the bar. They ordered espresso. Salvatore placed three cups in front of them. They socked it down, paid their money and left! This is the way we have seen Italians drink their coffee! It’s not a leisurely experience, unless it comes at the end of a meal. Then they will sit and relax and take their time. But the middle of the day jolt just cracks me up. We’ve seen everyone from business men in suits, workers on break or police officers (not unlike the cliché of the American cop and the donut shop) all of them, just go in, slam down a coffee and leave.

Which reminds me of a story we read in the paper recently. We try to read the Italian paper sometimes, to practice our understanding of the language and to try to see what is happening in the world around us. There was an article about Italians and insomnia. It talked about the large percentage (around 40%) of Italians who complain of insomnia, partly putting the blame on their noisy neighbors. They toss and turn; they drink teas that are supposed to make you sleepy; they watch TV etc. etc.; doing all the things people who can’t sleep anywhere do to try to fall asleep. Bob and I looked at each other and thought, well, if they didn’t drink so much coffee (and coke too, which is very popular) or eat so much gelato or chocolate, which they seem to love, or eat such late dinners (followed by a coffee!), maybe they’d be able to sleep at night! It didn’t seem to take a rocket scientist to come up with this conclusion but I guess it isn’t for us foreigners to tell them they should change their lifestyles! But it does make you think I guess.

Anyway, maybe that’s why they are still out in the piazza at 5:30 in the morning. They can’t sleep. And now neither can I. Maybe I should try some herbal tea.

Sleepless in Sicily,

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