Friday, 7 December 2012


More rain and wind in the night, but it was clearing up by the time I awoke after a good long sleep. The climb to Castelmola yesterday took its toll on me. While sweeping the terrace of storm blown detritus this morning a three legged white 'n ginger cat came to inspect me, then scampered nimbly away when I acknowledged its presence.

After a couple of hours writing and praying, I went for my daily walk up and down the Corso Umberto. Yesterday was St Nicholas' Day. Today I noticed life sized santas had appeared outside two shops - one of them a tacky inflatable. Stylistically incongruous in this setting. I bought veggies in the covered market,  also piece of fruit the size of a small melon I don't recall seeing before. It has smooth yellowy orange skin, like a giant berry. Cut open, it has peach coloured flesh and star shaped marks radiating from its core, with tiny pips. It tastes like a cross between a kiwi and a peach, with similar texture. There wasn't a recognisable name on the box containing them, and I forgot to ask the man who sold it to me.

After yesterday I didn't fancy a long afternoon walk, so after lunch I went down to inspect the public cemetery, about a kilometre away. It contains what's known as Anglo-American cemetery with earth graves only, and monuments reflecting the occupants. Why it's not called the expatriates cemetery I don't know, as a quarter of those interred there are German. I found two Anglican retired clerics buried there, also someone from Porthmadog whose Celtic cross monument would be worthy of a place in Llandaff Cathedral's graveyard.

Most touching was the grave of a mother and three daughters who drowned themselves off Taormina in 1939. They were Jews taking refuge here from Nazi Germany, only to see the horror about to repeat itself when they thought they were safe. I read about this the day before yesterday in a book given me by Suore Tarcisia, which she wrote on the history of the Taormina Franciscan missionary community. I also found their little corner of the cemetery overlooking the sea, simply ordered and well tended.

They family were buried in a large plot, covered with an inscribed stone citing a verse written about them by a local poet. Either side are graves surmounted by crosses. The grave was chosen and paid for by expatriate well-wishers to defy anyone with designs on consigning these tragic victims to an obscure corner where they could later be quietly forgotten as a local embarrasment.

The point of this gesture has not been forgotten seventy years on. Many tombs throughout the entire cemetery have votive lamps burning before them, these days electrically powered. This facility doesn't extend to the older expatriate sector, but someone with a heart has run an extension lead from four storey tower block columbarium in the next sector, to power a light for this grave only. Recognition that this story still touches popular imagination.

On the way home I bought some post cards, wrote them, then walked to the Post Office where I queued for fifteen minutes to buy stamps. No stamp machines. The lady in the Tabac opposite the church told me they didn't sell them any longer. There was a guy in a wheel chair busking with blues style harmonica under the arch of the Porta di Mezzo, close to where the post boxes are situated. No post pox outside the post office! It seemed a strangely incongruous sound. However, when I passed by earlier in the day, I saw a Korean crew doing a photo shoot with a clothes model and an old fiat cinquecento in the Piazza. What amused me was her attendant with a hair dryer. His job (out of shot) was to make the girl's hair take off as she smiled to camera. Also incongruous.

To complete the day, before supper, I joined the Sisters for the first Vespers of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and a half hour's meditation to follow. Tomorrow, I'm told, is one of Italy's many Bank Holidays to honour the occasion. We'll see what impact this has on life in tourism town.

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