Italia: A Travel Guide for the Culturally Illiterate pt 2

by Roxane Hudon

 

Siracusa

 Arrive with a very limited knowledge of the history and culture, but be aware that something happened with the Greeks and the Byzantine Empire and the Bible and Archimedes and that’s surely why the city is so beautiful and Greek-like, like the movies, with the crumbling white architecture, and stuff, amongst other things. Find your ideal vacation flat somewhere amongst the narrow alleyways of Ortigia and tell friendly, young Vittorio to stop cleaning the place, because you’re sweaty and you need a shower and this is how you speak to men you find attractive. 15 per cent of the time this reverse charm tactic seems to work, keep it up. Stand amidst the cobbled piazza, slurping on your lemon granite and smiling stupidly, because a busker is finally playing that tune, a crowd of French tourists wearing Il Padrino t-shirts are throwing coppers in his direction and no one cares that this is a World Heritage Site, except for you, of course, because you walked along the winding highway looking for the entrance to the Necropolis, but ended up standing on a fence trying to look down at it when you realized you had to pay to get in. You rather spend the big bucks on what matters, like going on a boat with a bunch of pasty Dutch people and a very tanned captain who really doesn’t give a shit. But wait, at the appropriate moment, when you’re riding the waves, and the sun’s hitting you the right way, and you’re all laughing euphorically, that’s when he pulls out the big guns and “O Sole Mio” starts blaring and you’ll probably remember that moment more than any World Heritage Site, because you’re simple, but content.

Later, when you’re watching the giant yachts and wondering who could possibly own “Vive la Vie,” you’ll most likely try to hit on the crew who crawl out of the boat and make their way to the table right behind you, because you just want an “in”. “Le luxe, c’est un choix,” insists your friend. That’s when you’ll make “the pact,” to Google “working on a boat” when you get back home, because, let’s face it, it is the only mode of transportation on which you can get away with saying ridiculous things like “we are so free” and “life is beautiful” and “fuck everything” with complete sincerity. You could never get away with saying that shit on a train. Vive la vie en crisse.

 Catania

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Get lost right away, because no one knows the street names or where you are anyway and no one wants to help; they know their city looks like a post-apocalyptic version of Miami and they want you to discover it for yourself. Fuck ‘em; circle around the train station for a really long time and don’t let anyone stop you, it’s nice here. Francesca and her mamma will pick you up and give you some pineapple juice eventually. Visit the area of town that is at the complete opposite end of where anything interesting is happening. “C’est la vraie vie,” insists your friend and real life isn’t always beautiful. Rest, you’ve got a volcano to visit in the morning, no one likes you and you’re breathing in garbage.

Etna

Mount Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, 10, 922 ft high, “should we wear shorts?” No, choose something “urban casual” instead, comfort is key when you’re breezily walking up a large volcano while the very prepared German and French tourists, with their North Face jackets and their walking sticks, take the cable car to the top. You’ve got your crisps and water bottles, and plus, you think it’s kinda funny to climb a volcano looking like a douche.

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“Because I thought it was funny” probably explains most of the actions and decisions in your life, including and especially the sexual ones, so why not climb a volcano? The staff at the top are ready for idiots like you and will rent you a winter jacket for 2 Euros, because, of course, you shouldn’t wear fucking shorts, you’re at the top of one of the tallest volcanoes in Europe. Run around yelling “WE’RE ON THE MOON!” and singing Carly Rae Jepsen, pay 17 Euros to get back to the bottom and immediately exclaim “We climbed a volcano, lol, mega lol!”

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 Taormina

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Leave Catania just as you found it: in a total mess, with vague memories of a biker gang in a bar, insults and storm-offs. Sit on the opposite side of your friend on the bus, with no knowledge of where you’re going, except that it looked pretty and that you hoped the hour-long ride would force the hangover to dissipate and make you forgive and forget. When you’ve finally dozed off, after looking out the window for a bit, in a still half-drunken, self-hating daze, your friend will nudge you and point at where you’ve arrived. Turquoise waters, pebble beaches, luxury hotels, rich middle-aged couples with cardigans wrapped around their necks keeping their big, slick heads in place, walking slowly hand in hand, because time is money and they have enough of both to wander and look and spend and eat and be romantic and buy a good time. This is Taormina, Sicily’s Monaco, the glitz and glamour have been waiting for you and everyone agrees you don’t deserve this, as “Bittersweet Symphony” plays somewhere in the background and you stumble off the bus, giggling madly in disbelief and high-fiving like delinquent twelve-year olds who’ve just gotten away with some form of mischief. You can’t afford it, you don’t deserve it, but somehow you find yourself lying on the beach, watching the impossibly beautiful lifeguard Cristian, dramatically diving in the waters in front of you to save a plastic bag. You don’t deserve it, you can’t afford it, but somehow, no one will let you starve and here you are, belly out, sunburnt, scraping the bottom of your purse for another litre of beach wine, promising anyone and everyone around that you’ll never complain about anything again in your life ever and you’ll pay the world back eventually after one last laugh in the sun. Just one. If this is what bad credit looks like, then who knows why your mom keeps warning you against it, because here you are, in Taormina, waiting behind a man taking out 2,000 Euros at the bank. C’man, just give us a fiver and we’ll spend it wisely, on two 2.5l bottles of vino to keep us hydrated while we watch the orchestra follow up a Frank Sinatra medley with a superb performance of Ennio Morricone’s theme song for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Bad credit sounds like a pretty lush spaghetti western from where I’m sitting. Don’t forget your empties when you leave to catch an impromptu performance of Careless Whisper by an Italian Bruce Springsteen on the sax, because Taormina’s one skater boy will roll up to you and warn you that 1) you left your bottles behind and 2) you don’t drink cheap wine in Italy and then he’ll skate off before you have the time to respond “But I’ve got bad credit!” This is Taormina, leave before they realize you’ve been doing it cheaper than “on a shoestring,” before they close off the snake pit you’ve been cutting through to get to the beach and start charging 20 Euros for it, for the ‘Special Adventure Trail.’ You can come back when you’re rich, but you’ll definitely not have as much fun.

Palermo: The End.

IMG_5247This is the end, you have no choice than to book the “9 Euro Special Deal for Women in Mixed Dorm” hostel, which doesn’t sound promising at all, but, as usual, it’ll probably be funny and you can spend your last monies on a giant fish platter and one last street dance party. Salvi is business-savvy, he’s turned a regular bedroom in a flat into a “hostel.” He’ll insist you call him later to meet him and his friend for drinks, which you’ll try avoiding by telling him random words in English he may understand like “lady drinks” and “please no.” You should probably stay elsewhere, but you won’t, because this, this is pretty fucking funny. Since everything in your life is a joke, when you think you’ve avoided the situation, you’ll end up bumping into Salvi and his friend Guiseppe, ready to party. Of course, this means you’ll have to accept their invitation to go on a motorcycle trip in the morning, because it was probably meant to be, and if you’re going to die, may as well be in a motorcycle crash in Sicily, rather than a cancer bed in Canada, is what you’ll always say from now on.  Roxane Hudon: lived moderately, died epically.

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Sleep with one eye open, because Salvi’s sleeping two beds away and he’s unpredictable as fuck, but agree to climb on the back of his gigantic motorcycle the next day anyway, because it’s all fun and games until you get to the highway. Sure, Salvi, go as fast as possible, feel the fear, hang on to Salvi, he may be rubbing your hand weirdly, but, fuck it, you’re Vin Diesel! Carpe Diem! Live Free or Die Hard! Play games with your life, so far, you’re always the winner! Stumble off, traumatized, feeling your neck, because you’re pretty sure your head snapped back and the wind tried to drag you down, but no! There are still jokes to be had! Hit Vucciria one last time, you love Palermo and you don’t give a shit anymore either. Don’t argue with anyone nicknaming you “Glasgow Rangers,” because a man with a strange pseudo-American accent and a basic knowledge of every language on Earth will inform you that “you don’t know who you are, until you lose who you are.” He must know, after all, he’s not from anywhere, but a “citizen of the world” who’ll buy you flowers from the Bangladeshis on the street. Maybe, in a few years, if you keep trying really hard, you’ll be him, a self-proclaimed “citizen of the world,” with a great tan, no purpose but your “art,” amusing visitors with your half-chewed ideas about life, love, language and the spontaneity of purchasing flowers for complete strangers. Relax man, go back to Glasgow, satisfied and happy, and give it an hour before the self-deprecation, dark humour and rain washes away that hippie bullshit, but remember, when you’re pouring those pints and staring at an empty bank account, remember Palermo. T’es pauvre, t’es conne, mais tu sais vivre en crisse.

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