I’m convinced the sunshine in Sicily has its own remarkable quality. Every time I find myself visiting my native Australia in the summertime, I remember how harsh and unforgiving the sun can be; there is a reason Australia is known as the sunburnt country.
Summer in the Mediterranean is hot and humid but the sun isn’t as harsh. When I first moved to Italy in 2002, I noticed how common it was to sit in the sun and bake yourself; even children didn’t bother to put on sunscreen. In Australia, this kind of lacklustre approach is a death wish.
Sicily is very far away from the hole in the ozone layer, and it’s not the end of the world if you forget to refresh your sunscreen. While visiting Australia in the summer, I spent five minutes extra lying on my stomach with my legs poking out in the sun to finish off the book I was reading and roasted the back of my pasty white legs. I couldn’t sit for a few days without being reminded of my mistake.
I’ve heard of Australian ex-pats getting back to Australia, heading to the beach and forgetting sunscreen and ending up burnt to a crisp. In Europe, this isn’t an issue.
This month is the beginning of the beach-going season in Italy. Now more than ever, Italians are valuing their holidays. With the usual waning of the flu-like Corona, they will be taking advantage of the summer.
I’ll probably be sitting on the bumpy, stony Sicilian beach soon to soak up the eccentric backdrop.
Even though I’ve never considered my local rocky beach a natural beach, it’s more like 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 severe concussion or spinal injuries; endless craggy boulders are skulking under the water.
As I walk down the beach, my shoes will inevitably fill with pebbles. As I spread out my towel, my body will be roughly fondled by the intruding stones. Inevitably I will wish some sand could cushion me to bury myself under fine grains. 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.
As the beach umbrellas pop up along the seaside, I will smear myself with sunscreen, as this is the standard procedure for people with milky coloured thighs left unexposed to the sun during winter. In Australia, the sun is one danger of many to protect yourself from; an Australian doesn’t go to the beach without sunscreen.
Nor does an Ozzie go walking in long grass without boots or ever forget to check their shoes before they put them on to look out for poisonous spiders. Around me, I will witness all of the other women roasting themselves in the sun.
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. They are in denial about the existence of skin cancer.
Most women will be in bikinis, and I will be in a whole piece bathing costume complete with shorts to cover myself from the sun and hide my flabby stomach. It’s always strange to see so many women in bikinis, and I love their attitude.
I’ve always been self-conscience 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.
The conservative Sicilian women usually cover their bodies so carefully and fashionably during the year. Yet, in the summer, they easily strip down without a second thought into the bare minimum of beach attire. They abandon themselves to the ideal bohemian fantasy of summer without looking at themselves in the mirror. And I love them for it.
Sitting in the Sicilian sunshine, either at the beach or walking around, which I find myself for the summer, is tremendously reviving. I look forward to soaking in the heat without burning myself, giving myself new energy and enjoying the moment.
Apart from the sunshine, there is something magical about the waters of the Mediterranean sea.
I swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea, which meets the Mediterranean, touching the coasts of Corsica, Sardinia, Naples, western Italy and out part of northern Sicily. It is a well ferried ancient sea that gets its name from an equally ancient race, the Etruscans, who immigrated from Greece all along the coast of Tuscany.
The Tyrrhenian is a glorious body of water to bathe in calm, clear, and I suspect with an elevated salt level, as floating on it comes as quickly as taking a breath, even for small panicky children who seem to be easily calmed by its gentle waves. I realise the meditative quality of drifting upon the waters of this tranquil sea, as I always look forward to letting it gently hold me, skimming me atop the waves.
The difference always strikes me even in the sea from the ocean of Australia. Here the waters are warm, calm and shallow. The colour, too, is a contrast to what I’m used to. It starts off a very pale blue and becomes dark aquamarine as it gets deeper, a colour that gives it a sinister quality. I’m used to clear blue water and the constant battering of intense waves of the open ocean.
The contrast in the landscape is always so striking for me. Driving along any Australian coast, it is always so rugged, rocky and rough. Those who have a home near the Australian beach have to paint their homes every few years because of the salt damage. In contrast, the land near the sea is filled with so much salt that it can never be cultivated.
Instead, the coast along the Tyrrhenian coast is filled with bustling cities and towns. The mountains effortlessly taper down in the more abandoned areas before often reaching a slight stretch of abandoned orchards that gradually meet the tame, almost kind grey stone shoreline.
Here in Sicily, you can have a home by the sea, walk along the beach, then pick lemons from the trees and in the summer gather lettuce in your vegetable garden for lunch, all a few hundred meters from the seaside. The only problems the Sicilian coastline has to contend with are the usual concerns with overpopulation in pollution, litter and erosion of the beaches.
I look forward to floating in the water to letting the motion of the gentle waves take away the building tension of my body, closing my eyes; the splashing sound fills my head, and I breathe in the salty breath of these summer days.
In a certain sense, I am already there.