Thursday, 29 November 2012

Arrival in Sicily

The Palermo flight was full to the last seat. An unusual amount of luggage had to be stowed under seats, as overhead lockers were crammed tightly with regulation sized cabin bags. Even after boarding, some slightly oversized bags which had escaped consignment to the hold during the departure lounge appeal were extracted and sent below. Neverthless, we took off on time and landed five minutes or so late, due to navigational changes to avoid turbulence en route. That didn't dispense us from quite a bumpy ride for the last forty miles into Palermo. The captain explained it was due to "windy conditions, and the big rocks that cause turbulence in the vicinity of the city".

From take off until the last bumpy stretch, we flew over unrelieved cloud for nearly fiteen hundred miles, but as we made the final descent, the cloud broke up spectacularly into large dark grey lumps. Through it, the last orange and yellow glimmers of sunset in the clear sky beyond were visible to the west of us. As the plane turned off the main runway after landing I saw, straight behind us over the runway, the full moon in a clear sky dotted with clouds. It was most moving. I started singing to myself: "I'm being followed by a moon-shadow ... (Cat Stevens), because it popped into my head as we were rolling toward the terminal.

I walked out of passport control just as my bag was passing on the luggage carousel. Within minutes I was on the shuttle bus on my way to the city's bus station. It was rush hour, so a twenty minute trip became an hour and five minute exercise in traffic queuing, so I missed the seven o'clock to Catania. I had an hour and half's wait for the last bus of the day to make the two and three quarter hour bus trip by moonlight along the Sicilian mountain autostrada to Catania. There at the empty bus station, I was met by a taxi arranged by the church for the final leg of the journey to Taormina.

We arrived at St George's Anglican Church at midnight. The caretaker Signor Salvatore and his wife Mima welcomed me and showed me around the apartment and church. Finally, after nineteen hours I come to a halt, and through the apartment window I can see the sea shore below me. We must be 200 metres above sea level here, and the drive uphill from the autostrada, down near sea level, was two kilometres. It's another two kilometres to the top - the hill town of Castelmola, which seemed suspended over us in the dark as we drove uphill.

The entire coastal region is urbanised both horizontally and vertically. The mountainside seems to be a series of built up layers linked by tunnels and winding roads. From up here I can even see the votive lights attached to the walls of several rows of columbaria that make up a local cemetery, embedded in the hillside. I'm too thrilled to sleep yet. None of the photos I take, after labouring over the settings and taking long exposures, can do justice to this particular urban nightscape. Roll on dawn!

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