Archive for homour
Mordechai John James was a gentle man, but a man with a mission. God was coming to bring salvation to all those who flocked to his call. To that end Mordechai John James was going to erect a Gathering point for the chosen to congregate. The Rapture would follow and all those who believed in the Lord would live in a better place. The land that Mordechai John James owned was blessed and purification would descend on all who touched it. He had the materials. Good salvaged iron and sturdy strainers with which he would raise the hastily fashioned cross, to become a beacon, a sign for all who flocked to Calvary Hill, a sign of faith.
He set out to the little hillock out the back of his farm on Wednesday 18 January 2017, the year of our Lord.
He was bought in covered in blood. Frail, disorientated and somewhat smelly. Smelly from soiling himself both ways but a deeper smell from not having washed or, more exactly, been washed for several weeks, even months. A smell of despair. He had fallen, or more accurately tripped over his oxygen line after waking up on his favourite armchair, after watching his favourite show. He favoured car shows, reminding him of his own vehicular history of Hudson’s, Fords, Holden’s then more exotic ‘foreign’ machines ending in ‘o’s and ‘a’s.
The attending staff noted that he lived with his daughter and her husband and their six children. They later ascertained that the daughter was not altogether flattering about her father who she described as “dirty, smelly, perverted old creep who only cared about ‘things’ ; not about her and her life. The staff never really found out what the perversions were but she alluded to children’s TV shows and dolls. She had taken away his walking sticks and then his walking frame because he wandered and spread lies about her and her kids throughout the neighborhood. She (her name was Madeline, but call me Madds, she intoned breathlessly to the young intern), was a morbidly obese thirty four year old, world weary and worn out by her unemployed husband who used his procreative skills as a substitute for a lack of anything else. She dressed in enormous tents to hide her bulges but her bare arms revealed the concealed jelly jungle underneath, wanted the old man institutionalized ( her words were ‘put down’ ) but conceded that a rest home would do.
“so, I still get his pension?” she hopefully enquired while the nurse rolled her eyes.
“we think we can maybe get him back home to you after a suitable period of rehabilitation” the nurse rather unenthusiastically replied. “your father seems rather malnourished and we suspect that he may have a fracture and maybe an old untreated fracture which has affected his mobility.”
“ohmmmmh! What rubbish has he been spreading. Next he will be saying I’ve kept him tied up and fed him bread and bone scrapes” Madds countered, standing on one leg and rubbing her hands together in a painful fashion. Finally, after hours of careful explanation , diagrams, exhibiting of Xrays Madds responded with a petulant “whatever” and frumped out the exit to the geriatric rehabilitation ward.
Meantime the meteorological service was predicting a growing weather phenomenon in the oceans Northwest of Calvary Hill and the nearby city of Chance. They were talking excitedly about a weather bomb.
The technical term for a bomb low is “explosive cyclogenesis”. It’s a weather system in which pressure drops by at least 24 hectopascals in 24 hours, bringing high winds, large sea swells, torrential rain and lightening.
Mordechai John James struggled with the system he had rigged up to raise his cross. He chanted the Lords prayer, he recited John 3:16 , he tried singing Isiah 49. The rising wind blew his words to the south, toward Chance. Mordechai John James pulled and pulled, chanted and chanted, sang and sang.
The radiologist had the old man on the EEG machine. The medics had decided that he had sustained a small fracture but there were no signs of old breaks, only extensive muscle wasting. The old man was disorientated and a little confused but he was also dehydrated and it was unclear if he had been taking his prescribed medications. They wanted a look at his “head work” to rule out dementia or brain injury. This was the start of a long neurological journey. The skies were darkening outside but the old man’s future looked brighter as the first assessment showed normal activity.
A huge thunderclap overhead shook the ground around Mordechai John James as he strained with the last guy rope and finally the cross stood twenty metres into the Lords sky. A bright light suddenly appeared above Mordechai John James and he momentarily thought that his prayers, singing and chanting had been answered…
Post-strike symptoms can range in severity from cardiac arrhythmias to blown ear drums and a whole lot of pain. Consciousness can be lost anywhere from a few minutes to a few years. People suffer brain damage (because the brain literally cooks from the current) resulting in concussions and short-term memory loss. Victims commonly report numbness and weakness in the limbs, with temporary or permanent paralysis
Mordechai John James’s corpse lay smouldering on the back field of Calvary Hill. There would be no Rapture for him. Mordechai John James was d e a d!
An hour later Chance was hit by the same weather bomb. Fortunately city officials had stopped all electrical street cars and replaced them with diesel buses, warned citizens of potential flooding, made sure electrical companies were on high alert, and informed the citizenry of what to do in the likelihood of a disaster. The Chance hospital was struck by lightening at 10.58. The old man, still attached to the EEG machine ( but disconnected from the mains as the hospital safety guidelines mandated this) stirred briefly and then a beatific smile crossed his face.
Two weeks later Madds was summoned to the old man’s pre- discharge meeting. She had not visited since the old man’s admission and was shocked to see the sprightly, alert, smiling man wheeled into the ward without any oxygen tubes and holding a new iPad which he almost expertly tapped the keys. As the meeting progressed Madds was faced not only with the fact that the old man was coming home but was coming back to HIS home and she would now be a tenant. Seems that the old man had remembered legal papers that had been signed and witnessed when she and her brood had moved in and although she had technically become his carer she had no legal or financial interest on the house. As her anger grew with this increasing realisation the old man’s smile and tapping grew wilder and faster. He seemed to be typing some sort of list.
I was watching ‘The Way’ last night and I had some thoughts about the last few months. The Way is the Emilio Estevez film starring himself and his dad, Martin Sheen, and is based around the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St James, a pilgrimage that thousands take from France through to the Spanish coast. Its a story of a man (Sheen ) who has disconnected from the world and through the death of his estranged son, and the companionship of three fellow travellers, regains his faith in humanity. It was my second viewing, this time in Italian, so I could more read between the lines.
Some background. I have been living pretty much on my own for the last few years. Alison commutes to Christchurch most weeks for several days so I rattle around in a big house on my own. This trip has forced us back together about a week after she retired so there has been that but also having to be amongst new people everyday. It has been good for me and despite struggling with the language (particularly the further south we go) it has been a terribly rewarding experience. I have kept up links with NZ through this blog and I have joined Facebook and many groups where some very opinionated people have given their world views.
I have also encountered some lovely people who, despite never having met them before, have been friendly, gracious, welcoming and made me feel more welcome here than in my own country.
Why? Well I think a combination of things. Overseas I have engaged more with people, established eye contact, smiled at small things, touched, sought out new experiences. This attracts people to you. And not only Italians. On hearing a language I can identify I ask them if I am correct and that can always start up a conversation. This morning a man smiled at me , I nodded back, he saw my passport, we struck up a conversation, his wife joined on, Alison joined in and all of a sudden we learned of his holiday, their experiences, what they were doing etc. It had happened on a remote railway platform. We spoke to a young man with a bicycle who was lost. Turned out he was an Italian doctor cycling through southern Italy and he wanted to get off the road for a few days. We started talking and it all ended with an invitation to visit and stay with us in NZ . In NZ I do this to a lesser extent. Just get to where you need to be, do whatever you need to do, get out as fast as possible. Take my cardiac rehab class of 20 sessions. It was only part way through that I was informed that the physical exercise was only secondary to the purpose of the class. We were there primarily for social integration. Oh dear! How had I missed that? Di conseguenza be more open to people and engage more rather than being a hermit. And listen to what they have to say. And ask more questions of their experiences. And open myself up to new experiences. When I look back over these last few months the best things have been things that Alison forced me to do. I resisted, preferring my own safe insular world, but ultimately my fears and anxieties are holding me back from experiencing a much fuller life.
Anyway Ryanair got us to Rome where we were picked up by our suave, Mercedes driving chauffeur, who whisked us at 150 kph to our luxury apartment in Central Rome. So cooool. We should do this every stop but once in a while is affordable and a nice change.
Crowd watching at the Coliseum . Selfie hell. No5 only thousands of people taking selfies but getting whacked in the face with selfie sticks, selfie stick sellers pushing selfie sticks at you. Whoever invented them has made a fortune and should be taken to a quiet place along with the guy who invented that trumpet thing that wrecked a World Cup soccer tournament, put against a wall and be flogged to death with a Sedgway.
The family from Morrisville. Desperate to find a toilet at the Coliseum . You would think there would be public toilets where thousands of people visit but the only toilet is in a tiny pizzeria perched atop a hill about 300 metres from the place. Huge queues but I have been successful at sneaking into the ladies so did my business without fuss. We decided to have a pizza and coffee and a couple and their teenage daughter sat down beside us. I thought they were australians but turns out they were New Zealanders from Morrinsville. They have been in Holland, Italy and Denmark. Nice folks and their experience of Europe so refreshingly different. When they asked what foods Iiked most they kind of looked like they were a little bit sick. The only New Zealanders we met our whole time in Italy.
Seriously good food. Stopped off on Piazza Nouva and listened to live buskers for a couple of hours, watched street artists and all sorts of trikery by sidewalk artists. I now know how the suspended man trick works. Marvelous square. Indian in the air. How does he do it.Now, thanks to some serious thinking I worked out the only possible way it could ne done and found the props on the Internet. Then we wandered into Quirino restaurant where we enjoyed the best antipasto followed by grilled lamb chops and a salad to die for and Alisons saltimbocca was heavenly. Curiously Trip Advisor rates it poorly for the surly waiter and the incredibly rude and loud female owner who tore a strip off me for using my credit card then her head waiter for making me wait for five minutes so she could deal with me. I loved her.
Knees and hamstrings. Haven’t had a good couple of days of it as my knee and calf muscles have taken a pounding from Romes cobbled streets and the very poor walking surface which found me twisting my ankle and knee several times.
Its Goodbye bata bullets. A new pair when I left and with all the walking the insoles are destroyed, there are holes in the heels and sides, and…… they smell. I tried cleaning them by wading in the sea at Cefalu but they have just given up the ghost. Well done and well done me as my ability to walk everywhere was called into doubt before we departed. Those cardiac rehab classes were more than socialising then. Mind you I have a seriously sore right knee and I lulled a calf muscle climbing over a f3nce which has given me a day of grief in Rome.
A day of rest and reading whilst Alison goes shopping but she returns after an hour. Rome is not a shoppers paradise this time of year although I saw tons of things I could buy but well above my pensioners budget. A decent jacket for €400 is not something I can contemplate right now.
Beautiful apartment but dodgy Italian infrstructure rears its ugly head. Point one, I have documented the hot water situation. This morning, following the instructions on the wall, I could not get any hot water. Finally, after an hour of resetting everything, trying on vain to find the pilot light, I thress the instructions to the wind and followed my instincts. Hey presto! Instant hot water.
Next there is a sign in the bathroom DO NOT PUT ANYTHING DOWN THE TOILET. THIS HOUSE HAS A SEPTIC TANK WHICH MAY BACK UP. Now my limited understanding is that a septic tank will only back up if its not wmptied occassionally. I still have visions of my good friend Gordon up to his elb9ws in excrement after emptying his. AndbI am not going to deposit shitty toilet oaper in the wee bin to remind me what I have eaten last night. Cant see any obvious companies doing septic tank cleanouts and why a septic tank less than 5km from the capital of Italy in a built up suburban area. The house is relatively modern.
Then Alison turns on a switch and there is a loud buzzing noise sounding ominously like a short circuit. Another sign warns us not to run more than three electrical devices at the same time and that Italian households have a daily limit on tbe power they can consumme. This, in a country which has the highest uptake of solar power in the wo4ld.
And, door and gate locks – the bane of my life. Italians have this complicated three lock system which only seehs to deter the homeowner. Three to the left and then back one or two, or thre then righ5, left, right. We broke and jammed ( I should say I broke and jammed) three keys and were given numerous tutorials so as not to break, jam keys. Cant see why the old ,put key in lock, 5urn righ5, door unlocks cant work.
A huge storm in Mondello in the past few days. The bay is usually like glass and the colorful fishing boats bob up and down at their moorings. Much thunder and lightbning and then a tremendous downpour of rain which floods the streets. No water conservation here. Havent seen a water tank and when it rains you could fill a 3000 litre tank easily. Then the waves arrive in a strong (30-40 knot) NNW wind. Breakers crashing over the promenade, fishing boats bashing into each other, objects flying through the air. A day later it is only starting to die down but once the sun goes down you know that winter is fast approaching, although, I couldnt stay out on the balcony midafternoon as the sun was so hot.
We have a d3cent TV here so I have been indulging myself. Italian TV is crappier (if possible ) than NZ TV. Long out-of-date american crime shows, ancient american, french movies badly dubbed, endless shopping channels, really bad news channels which seem to be obssessed with immigration, earthquakes 9ten live feed cuts in one half hour segment and all showi g the same shot of a church crumbling), and advertising worse than any I have seen in any country. There are some gems though. I caught Vera Cruz with Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper, I caught a Scandinav8an comedy film which had many of the actors from a miniserues I watched called Jordskott, which was interesting and a car show which al5hough having the same format for each hour segment; man buys car; man shows all the defects in car; man takes car to mechanic friend; mechanic friend fixes car; man flogs off car at a profit or not. What is different is the show goes into a lot of technical stuff like how to remove bearings, how to do a valve gri d, how yo rem9ve rust, how to bleed brakes, how to replace a softtop, how to install an exhaust system – stuff that appeals to me rather than Jeremy and Co doing spinouts and abusing johnny foreigner. Also some d3cent music shows. We eat hed Mark Knoefler doing a show in London which I hadnt seen befoe and a documentary on Bobby Rush (dubbed in Italian)
I have a rabbit to cook tonight so am off to the village to get something to go with it. €14 -complete with head and eyes which I probably won,t use. Something Sicilian, I think.
Alison has today planned out for our last day here. We are going to visit Palermo. First to explore the markets, secondly so I can have some famous Sicilian street food, and lastly fix up a glitch with the incredibly cheap but devious Ryanair. We found out last night that we must have printed boarding passes to get onboard our Ryanair flight to Rome or will incur a €45 fine for each of us. We had been warned that this was a Ryanair trick to provide cheap fares then load them up with fiddly things
Ike this. Alisons attempts’ with Livechat only got us to the point where their wonderful new app would suffice but we have discovered this only applies to EU members. We have to print out a boarding pass and as we don’t travel around with a printer, and, Internet cafes with printers we can connect to are rare in Sicily we are hoping, by some miracle that Palermo will provide us with a solution.
The markets are a huge disappointment. Selling the same tat as you get on most beachfronts in Italy. The food stalls are better but as our home cooking days draw to a close not much to see. And the smells and rubbish are really offputting. Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor both say the Old Market is dead and gone and these are the places to be but I am increasingly questioning who these peoole write for. The Old Market has some cool bric a brac and the food is much more pleasantly presented.
Then, my next disappointment. I find my beef spleen in a bun but only served with lemon. Its not nice but I could see how with fried onion, cheese and lemon it could grow on me. A big thumbs down.
Then, we find a hotel who agree to print our boarding passes and presto , problem solved.
Palermo, a mixed bag. The city itself is dominated by Mafia built apartment blocks which are in stark contrast to those in Mondello which are characterised by the Art Nouvea villas.
The Art Nouveau villas characterize the architecture of the place, making it an important landmark in the history of international modernism . These buildings (many by the famous architect Ernesto Basile) are among the best examples of Art Nouveau in Italy and Europe.
Tomorrow all paths lead to Rome if Ryanair doesn’t spring another little Irish surprise and if the earthquakes don’t crack the runway in Rome or if …………….
Well the drive to Mondello was an experience. I sat in front and I can now see why Alison cringed when I drove the Saab. Narrowly missing wing mirrors and road markings, tail ending cars and suicide braking. Will we or will we not crash when we merge. I struggled to start a conversation but he spoke no English and was one of those men whom conversation when you are driving was ”bastardo, tetardo, fuck,”. Best concentrate on the sights. And they were many.
Can’t wait to try the food here. The street food is renowned and I am drawn to pani ci meusa (a sandwich made of fried beef spleen served with Sicilian lemon and caciocavallo cheese), yeah beef spleen. There are also sea urchins which I will definitely give a miss but lots of fish.
We had walked past it yesterday and glanced at the m3nu but all I could see was fish, fish, fish, so we moved on. A guy standing out from cooking on a two burner gas stove , surrounded by little dishes of seasonings, herbs and freshly diced vegatables. Trattoria da Piero. We woke late. I had tried the plug in gizmo to deter mosquitos but the fumes triggered an asthma attack so I had moved out to the balcony and woke to a thunderstorm and heavy rain avoiding the need for a morning shower. It is a bit of a problem showering and washing because one of the many ‘rules’ of the house is to turn off the gas water heater overnight or when we leave. Getting it started again is a bit of a hit and miss affair and twice I have started a shower only to get lathered up and the water goes cold. Trudging back out the balcony I find that the pilot light has gone out and I have to start all over with soap running into my eyes.
Anyway we trudge downtown around 1300hrs and I am prepared to give fish a go. Much to my delight there is meat on the menu but we start with an octopus salad. That the large pot on one of the burners turns out to contain three octopi simmering in a broth of stock liberally spiced and dashes of lemon. One is hauled out and dissected in front of our eyes, smothered in pepper , salt, lemon juice and olive oil, and that folks is your starter. Alison has the grilled sea bass and I , the Angus beef with one of the best simple salads I have tasted in a restaurant. To top it off the beef, oysters, fish , vegetables are actually bought off a truck outside the shop, AND, amongst all this the three staff take turns cooking, waiting, and entertaining the guests. The cook even pulls customers over to stir something, or look in a pot, or smell a jar of something just arrived at the restaurant. All very entertaining and the food is seriously good. I will be back and will probably be tempted to do fish.
What was interesting and he let me have a smell of it was a can of tonka beans, a South American member of the pea family which is dried and looks like a big coffee bean. He explains that he likes cooking with them (shaved) and they go well with fish. They are also put in ice cream and deserts. They are illegal in the USA and several top restaurants have been raided by the FDA. Apparently some Italian liqueurs contain the active ingredient is coumarin which the misguided food police believe is a blood thinner, hence the ban.
Last morning in Cefalu. We stroll up to the old town as the day climbs toward 30+ degrees and take our last coffee and pistachio treats for breakfast. I am tempted to buy that coppola that I spied earlier on but fortunately the shop is closed and I can only look longingly through the window at the poles of €25 hats. Later as we stroll for the last time down the waterfront and gaze jealously at swimmers taking an early morning dip I spy a similar hat for €10, but wrong size. We pay a last visit to the Superstore for refreshments for the train ride and I sit on the bench outside waiting for Alison and ponder on the begging. Sitting next to me is a young African man and his scam is to approach people who are struggling with their groceries and, for a small offering, carry them to the car or taxi. Earlier we were approached by the lesser form of an African guy holding out his hat and asking for money, he does this up and down the street, in shops, in restaurants, along the beach. A variation is a woman, usually with a baby doing the same thing. Then there are the (usually Indian) people selling crap, again along the beach or on the promenade. Yesterday the municipal police turned up and as the cheroot smoking officer with his low slung Glock, looked on, the vendors scattered left and right moving their stuff down alleys, into waiting cars or just over the wall onto the beach. There are signs everywhere warning of pickpockets and thieves on the treno notte but this barely legitimized and marginally tolerated begging seems to be the norm. And 90% of the time is fruitless. At least the masses who roam the beach offer something for your money. I figure they earn about € 160-200 a day, seven days a week, tax free. Not bad and this is the off season so it could be considerably more July- September.
Cefalu has been great. The beach is fantastic, the amenities only a few minutes stroll through the railway tunnel. The supermarket has everything. There are fruit and vegetable and fish stalls everywhere. The apartment, although north facing has a large balcony. There is a great bathroom and apart from nightly visits from mosquitoes good sleeping facilities. We could try harder to avoid them but it’s a luxury to sleep with all the doors and windows open and repellants smell so bad. The old town is fascinating, good eateries , and high end fashion shops.
She came out of the sea. Blue suit, my favorite. Pale. Probably not local. Stretched towel. Daughter, I phone, furiously texting. She shook off the sand, donned goggles, swam out an impossible distance. Glanced back. Had her lover returned. She had to pick up Raffeleo at 1339. Rush along the beach. All good. Change to swimwear agong. Stroke out. Don glasses. Dive. The sand is so white, the rocks so green. From out here she can see the beach. Stick figures. Closer, the men, leering at her, the women, envying her. Roffello arrives. “ Oappa is here. He has pizza’. The scheme ends.
Train journey to Palermo has its moments. We wait at the Cefalu train station, validate our tickets, we are leaving from platform 3 which is a trek across two lines. We have thirty minutes to wait in the now blistering sun and I idly consult the board and see that a train from Palermo arrives at 12.57 and one leaves for Palmero at 13.05. Alison and I first have an argument about whether it’s the same train (she it is, me it is not) much to the delight of the young Italian beauty sharing our platform seat. We consult the board and they are indeed 1291 and 1298, two different trains. I demand an apology which raises a smile from our onlooker and then the train from Palermo pulls in and suddenly the board changes and there is much station announcement in Italian, English and German I cannot hear because of some loud youths yelling and playing music. The train sits and both tourists and locals sit and then a guard comes running down the platform yelling Palermo, Palermo, and there is a mass scramble for seats on the very flash new train. I run up to the guard and ask Palermo and indicate that the train has just come from Palermo and is it possible its going back without going anywhere else. “si, si , Palermo” as he mimes a thumb back along the track. I throw my suitcase on board and see Alison stubbornly standing on the platform. I can see her little mind going “he’s wrong, wrong, wrong, and we have a bloody taxi waiting in Palermo to take us to Mondello, wrong, wrong”. Finally, her pride shattered she jumps on board and pretends that she can’t lift her suitcase up onto the rack in a vain attempt to make me feel even more guilty. She then sits and mutters under her breath how this is all going to turn to shit and we will be back in Messina and ……….. Actually I am a little concerned myself because I can’t see why a train would just retrace its steps like this but, much to my great relief, the train starts going to Palermo. And then… the loud youth from the station have populated our carriage and one of them has obviously got a boom box attachment for his cellphone and suddenly our carriage is bombarded by some really bad Italian rap. Despite dire warnings over the intercom that the railway police are on board and that all carriages are under police surveillance it doesn’t deter them from turning the crap up even louder. Suddenly Alison releases all her rage and ‘politely’ asks them to turn it down. And they do.
Lovely train ride and they get off at some dump about two stops on so we can enjoy the coastline and intensive agriculture on the other side of the tracks. I keep wondering about irrigation as Sicily does have a problem in that area and they don’t seem to store what little rain that falls.
Finally we pull into still bomb damaged from WW2 Palermo. It doesn’t look great. Some obvious rubbish problems (Mafia) and awful high rise dwellings. We are met by Carlo , our driver, who, for €15 is going to drive us to Mondello , on the airport side of Palermo.
Tchotchkes everywhere. It’s a beautiful old town, narrow streets, old church buildings, bells ringing every quarter but its also a tourist trap. Hundreds of shops filled with – well tchotchkes. Badges that represent something, sea shells, old fishing nets, and then high end stuff like Burberry child gear. I stop at a shop selling, amongst other things, coppolas made from old sacks. Quite beautiful to hold and look good on but € 25 is a little step for sackcloth. We find a space where the locals used to bring their clothes to wash. Long closed over but a fresh water stream that flows under the village to the sea.
Then its back to the beach. I must confess that we have a week pass to Lido Beach which allows us a parasol, a sun bed, access to the restaurant and toilet block and changing sheds. Yesterday we slummed on the public beach because my socialism would not allow me to enjoy the ‘private’ one. I say private but I fail to see how this all works. Apparently it’s the same in most European countries. Yesterday I was approached by a slight Asian lady touting a card and smiling sweetly. There is a lot of this on beaches. Guys with racks of baubles, selfie sticks, wallets, sandals, and umbrellas. You develop a thick skin and either “ no thank you or fuck off”. Some are very persistent but hey you are here to relax , not to be bothered with street shlock. Anyway, I could not work out what she was selling as she waved this brightly colored card about. Later in the day I saw her in negotiation with a young lady and it looked very civilized and not having the flavour of the other hawkers. We were lounging back on our beach loungers, adjusting our parasols, and thinking of that first martini, when she appears again. She is a masseuse and for €20 you get a 40 minute full body massage. Seems reasonable to me and I can tell you there is nothing like getting a full body massage while the sun beats down on you and the Mediterranean gently flows beneath your lounger. Only downside was that after I paid her she kept chanting ‘domani, domani, you domani’ which I thought meant I hadn’t paid her enough but quickly realized meant see you same place tomorrow. Unfortunately we have found a ritzier lido further up the beach so we may never see each other again. And she gives a good massage. Except when she pulls your shorts down to have a better go of your butt or, if a woman, asks you to rollover with fully exposed breasts, in front of 50 or so fellow lidoers, who don’t give a toss.
Very impressed by the politeness of some Sicilians. For, not the first time, a person in a supermarket queue, seeing my meagre buy, has ushered me in front of them. Rarely have I seen this in NZ. Also, people we have dealt with in shops or stalls will see us in the street and wave and boungiorno. Very friendly and touching.
Started off the day with the Guardian updates on the third and final Bledisloe cup. Why we have to rely on the Poms for up-to-the-monute commentary I do not know. The Herald and Stuff were about 49 minutes behind and Sky does not broadcast in your location. Why not! I’m still paying my bill. I listened to last weeks game in Catania from South African radio and then switched to Australian radio. Totally different game. The SA thought they were in with a chance but the Aussie radio told it like it was. Same this week. I checked out Aussie media and it was all about bad ref calls, and booing Quade Cooper. We do live in a parochial little world. I have tried to watch Italian football on a Sunday but not knowing any of the teams or players makes it hard and football is , at times, a pretty boring spectacle.
I started with tchotchkes and I will finish with them. Small, worthless, icons or tokens often sold to tourists. You will probably see them on mantlepieces, coffee tables, maybe pinned to a wall. Like those endless photos that are taken. Or when you get bqck to the office and someon3 asks how was the holiday. But they don’t want to hear your stories or look at your photos. They are YOUR memories – to cherish, to fall to sleep to. TCHOTCHKES.
So off to Mt Etna.
The Ferrovia Circumetnea is a 950mm marrow gauge regional train line in Catania, Sicily, Italy. It is privately owned and was built 1889 and 1895. It circles Mt Etna and is 110 km in length. The trains are diesel powered and relatively old. The track is steep in parts and two separate engines are needed for the steeper parts. I think they are essentially one unit with two driving positions for and aft and what looked like two six cylinder diesel engines which I would put at 300 – 400 hp. (Later research suggests they are 2 V12 Fiat diesels and 1300hp).
Fortunately for us the railway station is an easy 15 minute walk up the hill from our apartment, not signposted and hard to find but distinctive when you finally see it. As you see from my description above the trains are ancient, sparse and
uncomfortable, no AC (just open the window) and mostly no toilets, the FCV company that owns the line has also some more modern rolling stock but not for the tourists. We bought our tickets after much bickering from the waspish tabbichera as she insisted the time we were departing was not the tourist train. The line is essentially a workers commuter train and the tourst one only does three departures to do the whole circuit which takes 6 hrs plus the train or bus commuter from up the coast back to Catania , so a long day and the guides suggest you overnight somewhere on the way. We had decided to go as far as Andrano, hop off and catch a returning train. Unbeknown to us that really only showed urban downtown industrial Catania, some rural views and good south views of Mt Etna. After Andrano there is some stunning scenery although Trip Advisor has quiet a few ‘disappointing’ reviews. There were about five passengers aboard the smart little train when the guard came through and shooed us off onto another rather scruffy version, Never mind, we were off up a gradual incline and then into some different scenery. Many lemon and olive groves and an abundance of prickly pear (Enrica in Naples cooked us a Sicilian dish of prickly pear which was delicious. It grows like gorse). Much graffiti but also some encouraging signs of new housing moving away from 6-8 tenement blocks to two storied buildings. Then unexpectedly, we stop, as anothe FCV pulls alongside of us going back to Catania packed with students. We are shuffled out onto the platform, they are transferred to our bigger train, we board their smaller train and proceed on. Its now apparent that the train is struggling as the steeper inclines the poor old thing is barely moving with the V12 Fiat screaming at full revs. I wonder what is happening as the driver runs down the train at the next station and fiddles around in the rear cab. Looks like he is trying to start the other engine, but we move on. Finally at Val Corrente we draw to another stop where a little old lady comes out and hand cranks the crossing arm down. Everyone is dashing about with keys and instruments of repair or diagnosis and finally the driver lifts the engine cover right by our feet and here is the diesel covered Fiat doing absolutely nothing. Its not going, wont start, wont crank. He short circuits the starter motor to see if its an electrical problem which is accompanied by a great shower of sparks and I fear we are all going to go up in flames or he is going to collapse after being electrocuted. However we all survive and he gives jt another go, to no avail. I can hear the solenoid clicking which suggests that the ring gear or the starter motor are involved and you can sometimes fix this by bashing the solenoid with a spanner which temporarily fixes the problem but Antonella has not included these words in the basic Italian lessons and despite my best efforts at miming the actions he just ignores me and we are shuffled off tee train to await rescue. Two of the passengers just give up and wander off as if this is an everyday occurrence on the FCV line. The little old lady is looking on amused as I try to work out with the female passenger where she is off to and what her options are. We only manage to work
out where she is going (the end of the line) but I cant pronounce correctly the hellhole that Ancora (described in the Lonely Planet as a lovely little village but when we finally get there seems to be full of drunken men, screaming loudly at 1030am. ). Finally another train appears (the tourist train) which we hop on but that is filled with surly uncommunicative English people who you can tell by their pale skins and bad teeth. Everythings back to normal and we have a female driver who really rings the horses out of those Fiats. The track at times is tilted and she has really got the knack of accelerating through the curves as if she is driving a Ferrari at the Norenburg Ring. She also gives the two V12s a workout in the inclines and we are flying. I tried to record thus for Gordons Carriage with whistles and toots and frantic Italian chatter but my first playback shows it all very quiet. I may be able to enhance it when I get home and have better editing facilities. I imagined Gordons guests arriving to a three minute soundtrack of a real train – sure to get some comments. I really enjoyed this part of the journey but it ended to soon. We reach Ancora and find NOTHING. Apart from a seriously overmedicated psych patient (pill rolling, tongue rolling, shuffling gait, rigidity, the works) and a bar full of seriously drunk men. It being Monday it probably means their football team won yesterday and they are still celebrating, our it could be that this is like The Hills Have Eyes. Two English women have also got off and they disappear down a back alley telling us that the return train is 1130. We never see them again. Back on the return train and believe it or not we stop at Val Corrente , back up, change lines, while the little old lady hand crankthe barrier up and down, lines of cars are honking and yelling, AND WE HOOK UP THE ORIGINAL DAMAGED TRAIN AND DRAG IT BACK TO HOME BASE. All in a typical day on the lovely tourist FCY line.