I’ve always been challenged by the mountainous landscape in Sicily.
The boundless slopes disorient me, I have problems finding my bearings and the horizon is blocked out by them.
When I go hiking down steep hillsides I am constantly holding on for dear life, grappling white-knuckled onto the flimsiest blade of grass. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sprained my ankles or fallen ‘head over arse’ for a lack of balance.
My part of Australia (Perth) is very flat with a small range in the distance affectionately and condescendingly called the ‘Darling’ range (actually it’s named after someone rather important). So I am used to seeing more sky than land on the horizon, at times I feel a little stifled by all of these Sicilian peaks surrounding me.
I’ve been here for more than a decade but I don’t think I will able to accept them. Locals barely notice their mountains, never see the danger of a steep drop, happily detour around landslides in winter, curiously enough Mt Etna is hardly mentioned in even the greatest Sicilian literature even if a novel is set in the foothills of the Volcano near Catania, it’s simply ‘Mongibello’, a minor character in a sea of personalities.
I agree with D.H Lawrence when he described Sicily’s landscape in his 1920’s travelogue Sea and Sardinia as a ‘peaky confinement,’ preferring the open landscape of the island of Sardinia. The mountains here are repressive and Lawrence is right to complain about the sense of suffocation. I too need ‘room for my spirit: and you can have all the toppling crags of romance.’ Take the mountains and give me some space!
I’m convinced the landscape is evolving before my very eyes, every time I look up I see something different. Entire houses leap out at me, old country mansions suddenly show themselves and I’m constantly asking my husband: ‘Hey has that always been there?’
There is no way of appropriately describing or photographing the summits they are so immense and vary from day-to-day. The sunlight of every different season gives them endless idiosyncrasies.
I really should be used to the ranges but I am still afraid of them and the one car width wide mountain roads, carved out of ribcage on their sides, with only a flimsy guard rail (sometimes not even that) separating you from a certain death plummeting down the rest of the precipice if you were you to swerve or be hit by an upcoming car.
My Sicilian man still asks me:
‘Why are you still so afraid and uncertain?’
‘What happens if you meet another car?’ I ask.
He nonchalantly answers: ‘Someone backs up and lets the other pass.’
Oh great that means reversing down a mountain road and plummeting to my death backwards, at least I won’t see death arriving.
An old friend of my husband did exactly that, well not backwards or to his death. But he swerved to avoid a truck along a curvy highland road near to where he lives, his car leapt over the railing and the driver door flung open (of course he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt as thick-headed Sicilians don’t do safety devices.)
He was thrown out of his four-wheel drive car falling through the branches of some chestnut trees and finally landing in the arms of some small hazelnut boughs while his car continued to roll down to the base of an abandoned gully way, way, way below the road.
Thank goodness he was stoic and tenacious enough to simply dust himself off and climb back up to the road as his cell phone was left resting with what was left of his car. With blood pouring down his face from a 30 stitches wide gash on his scalp he walked home and called an ambulance. The bits and pieces of his car were recovered and sold for spare parts ten days later.
And my fear of mountains was reinforced.
As if this wasn’t enough, my phobia of mountains was doubled this year thanks to another accident which hit closer to home. My sister-in-law took a tumble with her car this January while moving to the side to letting another vehicle go by, she was thrown out of the driver’s door while her car cartwheeled further down the mountain. She was conscious and managed to call for help, when I got to the scene I saw all of my worse nightmares.
After being airlifted to Messina and a month in the hospital and another month convalescing at home she has made a good recovery. Now I refuse to drive on these mountain roads and am constantly gasping when my husband gets a little too close to the edge.
Thanks, Sicily for the lesson.