Words from Sicily: Scirocco

Taormina, Messina

It’s been one hell of a week in Sicily, literally.

On Sunday, I was at my nephew’s first holy communion celebration, usually an elaborate affair in small-town Sicily.

The festivities involve religious service attendance and rituals as well as some social requirements. These include buying appropriate clothing, some preening and grooming, followed by an elaborate lunch at a restaurant. None of these is law, but it seems most adhere to these conventions.

This year, thanks to Covid, we’ve had many new regulations and hoops to jump through as Italy has only just begun to open up to tourists and events. So, for example, in church, social distancing is still in place, mask-wearing is still in place (until the end of June, then we are free!!).

As for gatherings like communions, weddings and other such events, you either need to be vaccinated or have a covid test to attend. Our poor suffering nostrils (as most places do a nasal test) and pockets (as each test costs approx 15 to 30 euros per person!) It seems everyone is rushing to get married like so many people had to postpone.

Randazzo, Catania

The other day I was reflecting with my husband about how the Italian economy skipped a year because of Covid, literally! Just imagine all of those in the tourist industry who didn’t get any visitors for a year. Restaurants didn’t get any bookings (except for those who pivoted into takeaway food).

Not forgetting gift stores, jewellery stores and even those places that make the Bomboniere keepsakes that Italians are all so fond of were out of the loop.

But now, thank goodness it seems Italians are rushing to make up for lost time. My sister in law, for example, this summer has three weddings, a communion and a confirmation (they are a family of five, so you do the math when it comes to covid test payments!!)

Getting back to the communion party, that turned into hell. After church, we went to the local restaurant, which had four different communion celebrations and random guests for lunch, so the place was packed.

Now we were allowed to stay without masks at the tables, but we were supposed to keep them on if we circulated. In theory, this sounds kind of harsh, but it became pretty much impossible to maintain because of another anti-Covid regulation.

The restaurant was only allowed to use open windows to ventilate the venue, and no air conditioning was not allowed. Now, this might have been fine if we were in May, but we got a visit from the scirocco on this particular day.

The scirocco is an infernal African air current from the desert that whips up the heat in the Mediterranean to unbearable levels during the summer. If this hot wind is still, the day is pleasant, but it makes the air too hot to breathe if it is on the prowl.

There is even a verb someone who is sciroccato has fallen victim to the scirocco, literally withered and windswept by the arid breeze. A victim of this Sahara based hurricane isn’t a good sight to behold, tired out, dehydrated and perpetually perspiring.

The best cure is to bathe in the calm sea, find some shade under a beach umbrella, drink plenty of water and wait for the first rains of August.

In Italian, sciroccato is a dazed and confused person who behaves bizarrely and incomprehensibly.

So as the meal progressed at our communion lunch, we all gradually became sciroccati.

The restaurant turned itself into a sauna, makeup ran, perspiration was mopped with cloth napkins, and everyone spent the entire time complaining about the heat.

Monreale, Palermo

After surviving the torridness of the restaurant, the scirocco is here to stay. This week, it will be as hot as a furnace; temperatures are well up into the 40s (100°F).

The burning desert heat will make everything wither and weep.

Usually, it arrives in the middle of summer and is gradually pushed away by the Maestrale at the end of August, but it’s come early this year.

The cicadas have begun to sing earlier this year in Sicily as we start a week of torrid heat, which signals a long infernal summer.

So please excuse me if I suddenly stop making sense.