Tuesday 4 May 2010

Off to Catania

Souvenirs from Sicily, part VIII

We are still in the year 1987, still in October, with my friend Brigitte and I still on Sicily.
The next leg of our (more or less) round trip will be Catania - almost at the opposite end of the island from Agrigento, on the East coast.

As with all the places we've seen before, I know next to nothing about Catania, and so I have not really an idea of what to expect.

Brigitte says we can stay at a cousin's of Nunzia, who so kindly put us up in Porto Empedocle.
Anna - that's the cousin, same name as Nunzia's daughter (Anna being a very common name in this part of the planet) - shares a flat with two other girls, and we can sleep in their living room.
The family looks at Anna with a kind of puzzled pride; in 1987, it is still rather unusual for a young woman to go live somewhere else for an additional education and work, and not simply stay home until she gets married and then move in with her husband (and, more often than not, his parents, some younger siblings as well as unmarried or widowed aunts and uncles). Of course, not only for economic reasons but also in terms of moral and honour, it is important that said young woman does not live on her own, and so Anna, who works at a bank, shares the flat with a teacher at a Catanese high school and another girl whose job I have forgotten.
But - we're not there yet, are we?
First, we have to cross the island, and we do that by train.

It is October, yes, but the sun is still powerful during the day, and when our train takes several unexplicable stops along the line, out in the middle of nowhere, it gets almost unbearably hot and stuffy in our compartment. I remember being fed up because I have finished the book I was reading, Brigitte is not at her most talkative today, and I can't talk to any of the other passengers since I am not yet fluent in Italian or Sicilian, and none of them speaks any of the languages I know.
So I stand at the open window, leaning on my elbows and letting the sun shine on my already tanned face, which makes it even hotter, but at least I do not have to breathe the stuffy air from the train.

Eventually, the train pulls into Catania; whereas I really have no clear memory of how we get from the station to the flat, I am quite sure that Anna and her fidanzato (= fiancé; every good Sicilian girl above 15 has to have one, or else she will be regarded as an oddity) pick us and our heavy bags up in the young man's car.

The flat is in what here is called a condominio, i.e. a rather tall apartment building, in a quarter that, to my eyes, looks chaotic, but really is quite average and considered middle-class here.
There are balconies everywhere, wooden shutters and blinds, washing on an intrinsic network of lines criss-crossing between the balconies, and, most of all, there is traffic - a LOT of traffic.

We make it to the flat and up the stairs and are introduced to the other two women.
The one whose job I can't remember has light brown hair pulled back into a curly ponytail; sadly, I can neither remember her name nor anything else about her.
But the other one...!
If at the outset of our journy we met The Bluest Eyes of Genova, we are now for sure standing in front of the Venus from Catania.
Maria-Pia is without exaggeration the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my 19 years on this planet.

Her wavy brown sunkissed hair cascades halfway down her back and comes to rest very attractively on her pretty shoulders, framing a beautiful face with big dark brown eyes, an elegant nose and luscious red lips that smile at us in such a friendly and charming manner that we instantly feel welcome here, not only by Anna who by default has to put us up since Nunzia, her older cousin, has pracitally ordered her so.
If I was a man, I guess I would have fallen in love with Maria-Pia there and then. But since I am neither a man nor have any homosexual inclination, I can nothing but admire such jaw-dropping beauty, probably gawping at her in a most embarrassing manner.

Preliminaries over, we settle for a cosy evening at home, with the girls cooking for us and listening to our adventures so far on this trip (of course they get only to hear the version Brigitte decides to share. She later tells me she omitted the episode on the bus as well as the fact that we let strangers pay for a meal at a restaurant in Mondello).
I learn that Maria-Pia, the teacher, is not only stunningly beautiful but also blessed with extraordinary intelligence - can she be real? She is not just any teacher, but actually professor for mathematics at a private school not too far from the condominio.

After the meal, we help clearing up and washing the dishes, and when the other girls retreat to their bedrooms, Anna stays with us for another hour or so, making sure we have everything we need and are comfortable on the makeshift bed in the living room.

She shows us the computer printouts her fidanzato has made for her (remember: this is 1987!) - an extremely kitschy picture of a rose (it is composed of letters, like the "pictures" we sometimes produced at home on our ancient typewriter, of cats and bunnies and flowers) and a heart and her name intertwined with the rose, plus a second one representing Jesus and a heart in flames, again adorned with her name.
Anna is very proud of the fidanzato who gives her such romantic tokens of his love for her, and both Brigitte and I duly smile and admire the printouts.

Funny, isn't it, how I remember such things but can't for the life of me think of the third girl's name?

(All pictures here are, again, not my own.)

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