In fact, very few people who live outside of the places I go to have heard of the places I go to. In Poland, very few people knew where Żory was. I had to say that I was south of Katowice, or near the Czech border. Outside of Poland, I had to use Kraków as a reference point, since even fewer people had ever heard of Katowice. Now, I’m in the lovely little village called Villafranca Tirrena (veel-ah-frahn-ka tee-ren-ah), and I’m in the same boat as before.
Villafranca Tirrena is so small that it was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to get here. I ended up flying from Detroit to Rome, Rome to Palermo, and hopping a train that would take me the entire length of the island of Sicily. I would love to say that it was a wonderful little tour, and that I saw all of the little towns and villages along the coast of northern Sicily. Alas, I slept not a wink on the flight from Detroit to Rome, and I zoinked out pretty quick once I got on the train. I woke up once when the ticket taker came by, and once more when I had about four towns to go before I got to Villafranca Tirrena. In all, the trip took about three and a half hours.
Flying into Palermo was the cheapest option, but not necessarily the most straightforward option for someone going to Villafranca Tirrena from the United States. This is, simply, because Villafranca Tirrena is clear on the opposite side of the island from Palermo. In fact, it’s almost to Messina, which is a hop, skip, and a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland. In my head, it was a shorter trip between Palermo and Villafranca Tirrena, probably because of what I like to call I’ve-taken-road-trips-in-the-US Syndrome: I look at a map of Europe and say, ‘Oh, that country’s a lot smaller than the US, so it must be faster to travel around.’ By and large, that’s true, but that doesn’t change the fact that Sicily is roughly the size of Massachusetts, and the train stops every few miles down the road so as to service every little town on the coast. Believe you me, there is a new town every few miles down the road. The train was constantly speeding up and slowing down; there was hardly any cruising. I do not exaggerate, nor set down aught in hyperbole. I went for a run this morning, and I ran through two different villages in a matter of four and a half minutes. There is a plethora of little towns and villages all along the coast, and each one is separate from the other, even if they don’t look it.
My new boss picked me up at the train station when I got in, and took me for some traditional Sicilian food (arancini, anyone?) before dropping me off at my new apartment. Upon inspection (which occurred the next day, after sleep and a shower happened), the new apartment is less than a block away from the beach and is very close to several bars and cafes. Also, several other villages.
Thus far, Villafranca Tirrena seems like a very typical Sicilian town. It’s snuggled between the mountains and the sea, with cafes and bars dotting the seaside promenade. There’s an undeveloped lot with a horde of kittens running amok – I think Flannery needs a little brother or sister, don’t you? Maybe an Ernest or a Charley. There are plenty of pescherie (pes-kehr-ee-eh; the fish version of a butcher) around, along with seafood restaurants. The people talk fast and they talk loud. Oh my goodness, do they speak loudly.
I took Italian in college and spent some time in Rome, but I’m a bit rusty, and not even when I was in practice could I speak (or listen) as quickly as a native Italian speaker. It seems to me that Sicilians speak particularly quickly, and there seems to be an inverse connection between speed and volume. Whenever someone slows down so that I can understand, they also start speaking louder, until they’re almost yelling. Don’t get me wrong, they’re incredibly friendly and extremely polite. It’s just that everyone in a fifteen-foot radius knows that I didn’t understand what the lady at the counter said was on the focaccia I was trying to buy. Even so, she helped me understand my lunch order, and I ended up with some tasty food, so I suppose everything worked out.
So, I’ve found my way around, I’ve ordered some food, and I’ve bought some vino. This adventure seems to be off to a good start, no?