I, like the rest of the world, am on tenterhooks. What could be more exciting than waiting for the arrival of the Royal Baby. Here in Italy, people are ‘aghasto’, column inches set aside for pictures of il Royal Bambino, etc. It’s quite odd: we left Blighty on the morning of the Royal Vomit and we’ll be returning unnoticed as the UK’s attention is distracted by some similarly less-worthy event – the Royal Plop.
There is an upside: that world-famous sex-tourist, Herr Pope, will see his visit to the slums of Rio go largely unnoticed too.
Yes, we spent the last 7 months on the island of Sicily and it’s time to move off again. We’re in a town called Tivoli at the moment, on the outskirts of Rome, readying ourselves for a return to decent ale, Asda, fish ‘n’ chips, cheap analgesics and responsible driving. OK, I know, you’ve just driven half a mile and met every incompetent driver in the world who could all take advantage of learning a thing or two from your impeccable road skills but, trust me, it’s nothing compared to the utter stupidity, ignorance and arrogance of the drivers here. The driving test is quite tough, according to my students, but who bothers to take it when you can slip the examiner a few Euros…?
However, there are some plus points. Here’s our wrap up of the idiosyncrasies and pros and cons:
- Amazing trees
- Fantastic scenery on the island as you travel across the mountains.
- The most amazing road engineering, from Palermo to Messina, dozens of tunnels and heart-stopping viaducts. Beautiful hills and perilously-perched hilltop towns.
- Almost continual sound of emergency vehicles in Palermo (and Naples)
- Some delightful students – offset by the predictable teenager group, containing the least-interesting people in the world with unwarranted angst (a title previously held by my teenager group in Vietnam).
- Guys driving with left arm dangling from the open window, I mean, how macho is that?!
- Passagiata – the curious habit of emerging from your afternoon stupor to parade down the high street in your finery, stopping to exchange perfunctory tittle-tattle with the dudes you saw yesterday.
- Dog crap. On the way to the school, I used to sing that old Eddie Grant classic: ‘I’m gonna slide down through, Dogshit Avenue, and it can’t get much higher’. A real Palermo problem.
- Dinky men, gathered around central town areas, always reminds me of Munchkin Conventions. Unsurprisingly, ‘Small Man Syndrome’ is the country’s biggest health-hazard.
- Small supermarkets
- Savoca – scene of the Godfather, Part 1
- Gelaterias. Pasticcerias. These places are so popular it is quite normal to find yourself unable to eat anything other than cakes and ice cream at tea time. Restaurants close when we Brits are the hungriest (6 – 7 pm), leaving one with no choice other than to get fatter.
- The sfinciona man, shouting from his tuk-tuk every morning, selling this local foodstuff (a pizza-like bread cake).
- Great pizzas (but also some of the worst in the world – tourist rip-off mode)
- The students’ hilarious confusion with the words ’kitchen’ and ‘chicken’. ‘Yeah, we spend a lot of time in our large, modern chicken…’ etc.
- Espresso coffees – what is the point of these?!
- Delicious, filling cannoli. Gorgeous tomatoes. The ubiquitous aubergine – the ultimate definition of disappointment. Pistacchio (pronounced ‘pistakio’) and capers. 1 metre-long zucchinis.
- POTATOES! Yes, we thought that Italy was all about spaghetti and tiramisu but, no… the preferred antipasto of our students was invariably the potato-based pot pourri of chips, croquets, panelli (small, fried potato cakes) and cheese balls – a thoroughly British booze-soaker.
- Breakfast – no eggs! Lots of cakes and pastries – why aren’t the Italians huge gutbuckets? (Actually, looking at some of the kids, things are heading that way. ‘Blobbo Bambino’ is on the rise.
- Nutella, in everything. Aisles full of the stuff in supermarkets.
- Our curries at our parties – phenomenally successful with our students!
Since, we left Sicily we’ve visited a couple of really interesting places:
Situated in the foot arch of the boot, this is an extraordinary place. Two valleys bisect the town full of old stone houses (‘sassi’) where the locals used to live. Nowadays, they are trendier places to live but the areas are home to the largest collection of kestrels you’re ever likely to see. We counted over a hundred.
An amazing Greek ruin – home to the emporer Hadrian – the ‘Wall’ guy. He had a huge villa here. Apparently, he was quite depressed – what a wuss!