We are on an island.
A big one.
A place where streets are broken and the trunks of olive tree trunks are, in some places, more than a meter in diameter. There are cows the color of coffee with milk and milk with coffee. In abandoned lots. They are stunning, queste mucche, attualmente.
There are expanses of grasses. Of more abandoned buildings. You can tell the economy has not treated them kindly. The sky is large here.
I have counted at least four colors of bouganville.
And towering blooming prickly pears, way over our heads. And beautiful but molto pericoloso oleandro.
When we arrived it was a lot of drama to try to find our car. But there, in Sicilia, we knew to expect drama.
We expected drivers to pass us in the same lane, to weave about and that — just part of the culture.
We had about an hour drive South — landing at our home base — an agriturismo. A restored ancient building in the middle of nowhere but near the sea. They grow their own vegetables in fields surrounding the property. There is a beautiful pool — but it is still too cold and not yet the season.
Around us there are lemon trees everywhere. And almond trees. And oranges. On the playground there is an olive tree which, the owner tells us, they brought from 700 chilometri away…it is 600 years old.
She brings us her olives to taste. They are green and quite distinctive. Come sono fatti?, I ask her. How are they made? She takes them from the trees and puts them in jars with salt — and a bit of a type of aroma — either lemon peel or hot pepper or garlic or rosemary. And just leaves them….for at least six weeks — even more. They are amazing.
We rest a bit and go exploring. To the local Lido — a sort of beach club. There are locals in the sun, everyone over the age of eighty. They are in bathing suits, leathered. I am wearing wool. It is still a cold day, but sunny.
For dinner we decide on a boat launch. No, we were not on a boat…but we went to a little place at a location where boats are launched. We arrive early to see the fishermen coming in small motor boats from points in the cove. They are carrying a white grocery bag. Five minutes later these same fish were presented to us on a plate. Which one do you want?, we are asked.
Questo. This one.
This sea bream, orata, was steamed and served with lemons, salt, olive oil.
It was perfect.
We watched the sun set, chilly — but looking at boats, at the still-active volcano of Mount Etna in the distance, looking at the island of Ortigia across the cove.
We are up early, again. Headed to Ortigia. To get there we drive the broken streets, past more fields of oranges, lemons, almonds… red poppies and Queen Anne’s Lace still grows on this side of the world on the side of the roads.
This interests the nerd in me.
Dried thistles and artichokes, spent now, making way for summer…which, in time, will arrive.
We pass broken structures. Broken buildings.
Ancient broken everything.
The older, the more broken, the more beautiful.
In Ortigia there is the Temple of Apollo. Absolutely ancient. Absolutely stunning.
Why, oh why do we not gasp with joy to see an ancient man or woman in the same way we gasp to see the ancient in stone?
Why do we not greet each other with, “Hello you gorgeous, beautiful old thing!”…? Because what is left of the stones…and what is left of us, after a time…is called “Ruins”…it is ruins….because it has survived.
Some days we are all in ruins. But to be in ruins means we are still here. It is impossible to get to a certain age, in certain respects, without being ruined.
We are all ruined.
Ruins are devastatingly beautiful. They are devastation itself.
This is what I am thinking as we make our way to the Fontana di Diana (yes, everything is Greek)…after a bit of a walk about we settle for lunch. But you know…we make a big mistake. Nothing is always perfect. And my lunch is inedible. But that is fine. We retool. I know for sure I want to buy pistachios at the market.
So we walk over there. I am choosing my pistachios while our merchant is throwing cherry tomatoes at his friend across the way. For sport. And twenty meters down is the perfect lunch. So simple…also, right from the sea. And cheap.
We explore nearby towns, we end up on a narrow dirt road on the side of a mountain, the drop off almost straight down.
And then there is rain. A lot of rain. Coming up from Malta, they say.
I am not in perfect form. We are a bit limited in our ability to explore. And I judge myself because of it.
Do we judge the Pantheon because it is chipped, because its columns are broken?
The ancient theatres are marked with holes from rain, from use.
I have holes from storms. I have holes from overuse.
A recurring theme, I know…but reminding myself of beauty in brokenness.
We explore a bit of the coast — we are particularly interested in the WWII bunkers…there are a thousand of them. Built…originally, to provide protection for Italian and German forces when they expected an American invasion — an invasion that did not come to these parts.
Holding tight to their position. To their land. To their sea.
For some reason — this fascinates us completely.
Here, on Sicilia — it is about the sea. It is about making use of the land. Being part of the land. And when the land breaks…you don’t forsake it. You continue to value it and regard its beauty. Whatever is in ruins, is gorgeous.
Time and wear puts us — as well —in ruins…in beautiful, devastatingly beautiful, ruins.
And we are gorgeous.