There’s a throwaway remark in the first Inspector Montalbano book The Shape of Water which suggests that rather than Sicily wanting to be independent of Italy, the rest of the country would be happy to be shot of the island.
Well, I am on the side of Sicily.
We’ve just returned to the Italian mainland after a couple of weeks touring Sicily, Malta and Gozo, and after only seven hours on the road, I remember now why I struggle to get Italy.
It is the blokes. Oh some of them are as nice as pizza pie, cheerful, polite and helpful, even when they can’t understand my thick Scottish brogue.
But most of them are still Mama’s little boy, their petulant swagger only getting more staid as they age.
It started badly on the ferry to Naples, when I ordered two glasses of Prosecco to celebrate St Valentine’s Day.
“When was it opened?” I enquired politely when one of the two barmen starting pouring from an already corked bottle.
You would have thought I had called his mother a puttana. He looked at me with venom in his dark brown eyes, poured a little in the tiniest flute, and passed it to Nigel to taste.
“I will try it,” I insisted. More venom as he grimaced and handed it over to the grumpy old woman who had clearly maligned his machismo, or whatever.
The wine was fine, if ridiculously over-priced, but I didn’t order a second one. I doubt if I would have been served.
This morning we drew up at a sosta (camperstop) across the road from a blue flag beach, next to a delightful local restaurant, complete with boxes of local oranges on sale for only €5.
The pitch was covered in trees, there was no electricity or showers, and the one WC was pretty basic, but it was a great location, and we can manage fine for a few days without electric hook-up
“If we stay a couple of days I could make some more of my orange jam,” I thought, already savouring the smell of the citrus cooking in the van.
The late middle-aged owner was enjoying a coffee with his wife in the restaurant. He didn’t smile when we said buon giorno.
He shook his head, and grimaced when Nigel asked “parli inglese?”
“I do,” smiled the cheerful young woman behind the bar.
Nigel asked, very politely, how much the camperstop was per night.
“20 euros,” he muttered. He understood that question.
“For one night or two?” asked Nigel, increduously.
“One,” translated the young woman.
“It’s too much,” said Nigel.
The owner shrugged. He couldn’t care less. We left.
We are now sitting in another sosta. It is nothing more than a storage facility for speed boats and motorhomes, and an old tractor, but we had got fed up dodging the potholes and bad drivers, so decided to stop for the night.
We are the only people here, except for the “guardian” who lives in a garden shed, with only a couple of tiny caged singing birds for company.
According to our bible, the Camperstop 2017 app, this sosta has it all…showers, electric hook up, toilets, all the facilities you would expect for €15 a night.
The toilet and “shower” are in a small hut which is clearly the domain of the “guardian”…I have seen better sanitary ware in Malawi villages.
There is electricity, but we are about to get locked in for the night, to protect the €100,000s of leisure vehicles we’re parked next to.
Did the fake advertising bother the owner when he drove up in his shiny black 4 by 4 to collect his cash?
Not a bit of it. He winked at me as he trousered the euros, and jumped back into his expensive car.
“Ciao,” he laughed.
Sicily may be the Mafia’s alma mater, but give me the rugged island with its centuries-old lemon groves, smoking volcano and gangsta taxi drivers over the petulant mainland any day.
Time for a glass of red I think. Cin, cin.
I have come rather late to the wry, dry Inspector Montalbano. I love him already, after only one novel. I start the second one tonight. If you haven’t read Andrea Camilleri’s detective novels, which are set in Sicily, then start now.