It’s hot. But the light is still pale, as we glide along the sticky tarmac that continues forever. When I say forever, I mean: this is taking a really long time. I’d like to romanticise myself enough to say I don’t get bored of the open road, and - I don’t. But I am beginning to wonder where the turn is. Sam says keep going and so we do, but Ben’s sat-nav says something different.
I don’t really mind.
Blue, yellow, red, pink, blue. The fisherman’s stone was orange. This morning I could see no one, and that was a relief. This morning I sharply inhaled the fresh sea air that had mingled overnight with the stagnant heat of the previous day. The noise, the sweat of hundreds of brown bodies dispersed (eroded?) and replaced with salt. Salt and - what is that? Jasmine? Oranges?
It doesn’t really matter.
I’m in the car now, and the engine strains against the incline of the dusty hill it must defeat.
The car swims along the coastal highway. The sun, rising shyly from its watery bed paints the long grass in a golden haze. The sky is a gradient of blues - deep, like you could accidentally fall inside the light, and find yourself quite content there for eternity - and purple, closer to the mountains. The mountains are the giants who watch us sail by in our shimmering red metal ship. One of those anonymous cars from hire shops. On the adjacent horizon, the light seems to be rising from the sea like water vapour, in unison with the sun. I feel peaceful. As the day materialises, the surrounding fields and shrubbery shape shift, hazy at first with the blue touch of dawn and more yellow still, until their geometry hardens against the blackness of their shadows. If I squint my eyes, I see brutal shapes in the softest of subjects - trees, grapes, sparrows. We’re moving too fast for me to focus on them individually, but I’d like to see what becomes of them frozen in the yellow clasp of morning sun.
It’s hot. Ben says to turn right - no, left! There’s no left turn, so right we go, and follow the tarmac through a cluster of pine trees. At least it’s cooler now. Not for long.
Sicily is a funny place. It lives its own archetype. The Mafia are in a fight with the woman whose house we’re renting. She won’t sell the property to big business men who want the fisherman apartments to be turned into a luxury hotel. The Mafia response? Five boats brimming with glazed men and toasted bikini-clad women, spraying champagne bottles over each other. They jumped up and down on the deck and splashed into the cool sea in time with Euro-techno blasting from the boats’ internal speaker system. One by one, and up again, a spinning wheel of undistinguishable bodies. Two days of partying. It was dazzling.
I see a lot of manicured fields from my window. Lines of orange or yellow or purple. Apparently three fourths of all Sicily’s land are used for agricultural purposes. My surroundings concur with this information. I think about all the lemonade I’ve drunk in my life; all the oranges I’ve quartered, the oil I have fried with and the red wine I have gulped. The good stuff is always Italian. There is a Mediterranean fantasy attached to Sicily - it is the fantasy I inhabit when watching, mouth parted in awe, the sublimity of this morning’s sunrise. There is purism in fantasy. To inhabit this world is to refuse the idea of disappointment; It is to actively reject the depravity of reality. It is liberating, but not sustainable.
I am told we are close. I think we have passed less than a dozen other cars on our hour-and-a-half journey, but I may have been distracted with talking to notice any others. I don’t really know what to expect. Encroaching on my eye-line is a large metal triangle pointing upwards - now it has arms, now a core and legs, grounded in the red earth.
As I walk through this desolate town, I try and inhale the scent of the dried yellow grass; the dust piled on slabs of concrete breezeblocks, littered amongst the carnage of forgotten green. My eyes and ears and nose are alert – I don’t want anything to pass me by in this functioning graveyard; although I believe this would be hard either way. Nothing seems to be moving. The sun is starting to get hotter, reverberating off the pavement and yellowed plaster walls.
I walk over to a large spherical object – it is smooth and white, and its shadow gives us respite from the heat. It looms over an empty concrete amphitheatre that’s circular structure follows the base of the 16-meter high ball.
It’s a Sunday.
They call this the Mother Church of Gibellina. Where are the people for whom this structure was built? The concrete pews are violent, but their brutality seems to drip off the curvature of white that reigns dominant in this space. When I call out, my voice echoes.
We’re on a hill. I walk through the stone maze that sits behind the amphitheatre to the farthest point it allows me. From this height, I can see the new town. It doesn’t make any sense.
Sam discovered this place through a Bottega Veneta advert. Luxury Italian Goods. (Always Italian).
I clatter through the clutter. I am noisy, but that is only because everything else is silent. With each step forward, I feel further from actuality. The streets are half finished Lego projects. Each building looks different from the next, as if the creator built this town as a trial for another.
The people who live here don’t matter; the people who live here don’t live here. At least not as far as I can tell.
Now I am walking through a narrow orange plaza, fenced by symmetrical pillars with a contiguous looking-tower atop the long stone. Now I am walking past a closed bar. Behind the numerous blue plastic chairs and tables scattered about the sidewalk is a life-size vinyl print of a tropical beach, complete with palm trees and coconuts. I cross the street to a large green sprawl. I guess at one point this was meant to be a park. Nobody has picked the fruit off the short trees, and now the smell is rancid. At my feet are piles of rotting oranges, deflated and putrid. The dark sap that oozes from them has attracted flies.
Nearby stands a discoloured sign for a playground, the flaking paint revealing a rusted base. The five cartoon elephants, dancing around the yellow text, are ominous. The human form of their torsos and long trunks swaying in time with their silent song unsettles me. I keep on walking.
I reach a glass tomb further along the road, sheltered by the surrounding larger trees. Inside is the stone figure of a male saint. His hands are held in prayer, and from his cold fingertips hang pink rosaries. White magnolias rise from his chest and envelop the neck. The body itself appears to be rising from an orchard of green ferns. I guess the glass acts as a green house, too. The whole town feels like it exists within itself; the heat that chars the pavements curling upwards towards an invisible glass barrier. The heat descends again. This sweltering cycle is wearing down the cement and plaster with each turn.
It is late now. I am happy that we are leaving.