Sunday 31 October 2010

"Tu es une fille avventurieuse!"

(This is, finally, the continuation of my "Souvenirs from Sicily" series; it is part XII, and the continuation of this post.)
Come back with me once again to the month of October, to the year 1987, to Catania, a big bustling city on the Mediterranean island of Sicily.

My friend Brigitte and I have now been here, enjoying the hospitality of Brigitte's friends at their flat, for several days. So far, we have done some sightseeing, attended a birthday party and I have spent a morning at school, talking to a class of students learning German.

What's next?

Next is something that has been arranged for us during Maria Pia's birthday party: an evening out with some of those who were present at the party.

Back then, my Italian was limited to a few words, so I had not known anything about the arrangement until shortly beforehand, when Brigitte informed me that we were going to be picked up by a friend of Maria Pia's in a bit, and would be driving out to Aci Reale, a smaller town on the Sea front in the greater Catania area.

Getting out of the bustling city with all its noise and dirt was quite welcome; I remember how everything was constantly covered in black dust and a cloud of car emissions was hanging over the place every day. Mind you, this was before catalysators for cars were invented!

One morning I made the mistake to go out on the balcony barefoot, to have a look at the city in the morning sun; when I came back into the room, I left dark grey foot prints on the floor - in spite of the girls sweeping the balcony every other day or so. And every time I washed my hair in Catania (which was almost every day), the water in the sink was a mucky colour which made you not want to think about all the stuff you'd been breathing all day.

The evening came, and so did Maria Pia's friends, ready to pick us up.

We all piled into one car; I can not be entirley sure but I guess there were six of us; Brigitte, myself, Antonio, Gaetano, Anna and her fidanzato (fiancé) whose name I have forgotten.

Does the name Antonio ring a bell?
If you have read "Maria Pia's Birthday Party", then maybe you remember that he and Brigitte met at that party for the very first time, and got married years later. In hindsight, I am quite sure that Antonio was smitten with Brigitte even back then, and maybe it was he who engineered this evening out so that he would get to see her again before the two of us would be leaving Catania and travel back to Germany.

It is probably an unspoken rule the world over and not just valid on Sicily that, when you go out with friends, you try and make sure to get an even number of boys and girls, unless it is a "girls only" or "boys only" affair. We were sticking to the rules, and assigned to me was a very healthy-looking, relatively tall (for a Sicilian) man with black curly hair named Gaetano. He was also the driver (and probably the owner) of the car, and the only one to speak French in a manner that allowed for a conversation.
As I have mentioned before, back in 1987, I did not speak Italian yet, but my French was quite good, and so I welcomed the possibility to speak to someone else than Brigitte.
Gaetano was wearing what in those days in Germany we would call a "Popper" outfit; in other parts of the world, I guess you'd call it a "preppy" or "Sloane Ranger" type: cloth trousers with a front pleat (no jeans!), a polo neck shirt and a cashmere jumper casually slung around his shoulders. The jumper was of a shell pink and looked (and probably was) very expensive.
Well, this was the upper middle class of Catania's young, well-to-do intellectually inclined set of young people, so it is hardly surprising that I felt a bit underdressed in my pair of jeans and some t-shirt or other (funny, isn't it, how I can remember exactly what Gaetano was wearing, but not my own clothes).

Aci Reale (often spelled Acireale) is part of a small set of towns neatly lining Sicily's East coast just out of Catania: Aci Reale, Aci Castello, Aci Catena, Aci Sant'Antonio, Aci Bonaccorsi and Aci Trezzo. These communities have their name from the river Aci (Sicilian: Jaci; in ancient times known as Akis or Acium).

To get from Catania to Aci Reale by train takes about 10-15 minutes; by car it takes somewhat longer - the reason for which is obvious if you look at this picture, showing the typical traffic on one of Catania's main roads leading in and out of the city.

Of course, we take one such road, and a hair-raising drive ensues, with what is actually a four-lane road made into a six-lane one by all those drivers who are convinced that they have to be there first, and fast!
Strangely enough, nothing happens, no accident, just what our hosts assure us is the normal chorus of car horns, and we arrive at the port of Aci Reale all in one piece.

There, only few other people have chosen to walk, and the relative peace and quiet of the small harbour is welcome.

We stroll along the harbour walls, and to have a better view of the Sea, I climb on the rocks that line the quai. Gaetano watches me and says: "Tu es une fille avventurieuse," * which I find rather funny because to me, this is simply something I habitually do when my view is blocked by a wall of rocks and not something I would consider to be adventurous in any way, but of course the girls he usually accompanies for walks all wear high heels and pretty dresses and would not dream of scrambling up some rocks only to have a better view.
Not much else I can remember of that evening.

I suppose we went for dinner somewhere, and it must have been then that Brigitte and Antonio exchanged addresses, because we did not meet this very kind group of people again; only much later I learnt that my friend had begun to receive letters from Antonio which eventually lead to the two of them getting married and having three children.

For us, the time had come to say good-bye to Catania.
* "You are an adventurous girl."

(All pictures found on the internet, not my own.)

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