Souvenirs from Sicily, Part I
The year is 1987, the month October.
I am 19 1/2 years old, soon to be a properly trained Librarian, and my best friend at librarian school has suggested we go on holiday together: two weeks or so on Sicily, and a few days in Florence.
All that on our meagre apprentices' budget.
No problem - my friend has friends on the island where, she says, we will be welcome not only to stay for several nights, but also well-fed.
Plus she is fluent in Italian (although heavily stuttering in any language), and I am confident enough in my own abilities to cope with a language I have never studied, but know a few basics of through French.
First things first - how do we get there?
Back then, flying was out of our reach. Connections were not as many as today, and tickets were very expensive before companies like GermanWings, EasyJet and RyanAir appeared.
Trains? Entirely feasible, but not very appealing. It is, after all, roughly 2.000 km from South Germany to Sicily.
Let's travel in style then, we decide, and approach the island by ship.
And so we board the train in Heidelberg, where my friend lives, and rattle along to Genua (Genova), where we intend to book a passage on one of the big white ships that regularly do the route Genua - Palermo and back.
Each of us is carrying one big bag (mine is of yellow nylon, hers is a rather unstylish rucksack in rusty red) and a rather unpretentious handbag (mine is of acquamarine-coloured nylon, hers of brown leather).
Brigitte's good advice is not to take anything with me that makes me look rich - easy, since I do not possess anything that could make me look even remotely wealthy.
The pair of us get off the train and find our way to the huge harbour. Genua's sea port is one of the biggest on the Mediterranean, it is a heavy-duty area with industry machinery and matching sounds and smells. But, undeterred, we weave between the huge machines and containers to where the ticket office is tucked away in a tiny, box-like building. And there, we have an apparition.
Behind the counter, a thick glass panel between him and the rest of the world, resides the owner of the most incredibly blue eyes we have ever seen in our whole 19 1/2 years (mine) and 25 years (Brigitte's) of life. Those eyes are set in an extremely handsome, well-cut tanned face, topped by sunkissed light brown floppy hair. The whole room is illuminated by those eyes alone, and boy does he know it!
The smile young Mr. BlueEyes flashes at us reveals perfect white teeth, and the knowing twinkle, fully aware of the effect he has on us (as on probably every female and some males that have entered the small office before us), is not only visible in his eyes, but also audible in his voice.
Somehow, Brigitte manages to book our passage and pay for our tickets. The episode can't have lasted more than a few minutes, and yet I remember it so well: The tight grip of Brigitte's hands on the edge of the wooden counter, my slightly wobbly knees and an ever so tiny spell of dizziness each time I look (or, rather, stare) at that face with those eyes.
We stumble from the office, dragging our luggage along, and do not speak until we have reached the corner and are out of sight.
There, we drop the bags on the ground, look at each other, eyes still wide with astonishment and wonder, and simultaneously say: "What was THAT???"
An apparition, by all likelihood. Men so beautiful do not exist outside hollywood films and glossy magazines. And yet, right here in this modest ticket office in the port of Genua, we found the bluest eyes. Ever.
(More Souvenirs from Sicily will follow)