Sitting on the bumpy, stony Sicilian beach I soak up the eccentric backdrop. Apart from my unfamiliarity with finding myself at the seaside in August, the Australian summer not starting until November, the seaside seems distorted. This isn’t a beach; it is a rock mine, full of large pebbles, boulders and blocks of concrete dropped along the coast to create artificial barriers between the shoreline and the eroding sea. You can’t dive into the water without putting yourself in danger of serious concussion or spinal injuries, there are endless craggy boulders skulking under the water.
Walking down the ‘beach’ my shoes are filled with pebbles. As I spread out my towel, my body is roughly fondled by the intruding stones. How I wish I could be cushioned by the sand like on Australian beaches and let my feet bury themselves under the fine grains. I laugh at the absurdly awkward shore line. Apart from a total lack of sand, there isn’t the convenience of a single shop or public toilet. It is harsh, rugged and rustic.
Putting up our beach umbrella, I sit and begin to smear myself with sunscreen, as is the standard procedure for people with milky coloured thighs left unexposed to the sun during winter. In Australia the sun is another danger to protect yourself from, an Australian doesn’t got to beach without sunscreen nor do they go walking in long grass without boots or check their shoes before they put them on to look out for poisonous spiders. I look around to see at least half a dozen women roasting in the sun, I can almost smell the odour of barbecue meat.
Italian women take an enormous risk during the summer, turning themselves the colour of roast chicken. The tanned look is very fashionable and according to popular logic; the darker you look, the healthier you are. Obviously they are in denial about skin cancer.
We’ve come down to the beach with my husband’s sister R, my other sister-in-law A and her children. We meet up with some other friends including an Aunt and Uncle of my nieces and other cousins of theirs. All the kids jump into the water without sunscreen. Here the sun doesn’t seem to be so harsh, you can easily stay out for a few hours and not burn to a crisp. I have been taught to stay out of the sun as it is a real hazard to abuse your time on the beach. For me getting burnt too often means an elevated risk of melanoma later on in life.
All my female companions are in bikinis and I am in a full piece bathing costume complete with short pants to cover myself from the sun and hide my flabby stomach. It’s strange to see so many women in bikinis. Usually those whom I’ve seen wearing a two piece bathing suit have the figure to pull it off and everyone thinks I’m being timid.
I’ve always been self conscious about exposing my body at the beach, I’ve never been part of that tall tanned beach going Ozzie set. I’ve never spent an entire summer at the beach, neither am I the athletic type. So it is odd to see everyone in a bikini even if they are over weight. These conservative Sicilian women, usually cover their bodies so carefully and fashionably during the year, in the summer they easily strip down without a second thought into the minimum of beach attire. They abandon themselves to the ideal bohemian fantasy of summer, without looking at themselves in the mirror.
The company on the beach is easy-going and I try to soak up the heat and acclimatised myself to my new home. My husband and I haven’t talked about when we’ll go back to Australia and for now I’m resolved to do my utmost to get used to living here.