While the title of this piece might refer to a song by The Clash, dating back to around 1981, their lyrics don’t exactly jive with what I’m trying to get at here. They were singing about love, and do you want me, etc. I’m speaking about the apparent dilemma some people have about coming and going from the little town where I live (Cianciana, AG, Sicily) and their seemingly emotional trauma at having to leave, from time to time.
This became particularly clear to me around the Christmas season, when several new residents (including myself), decided to ‘go home for Christmas.’ Before my own departure, I witnessed some others going and each and every one of them said the same thing: ‘I wish I wasn’t going. I’d much rather stay.’ I really had to ask myself why this was the case, what was the pull in wanting to be here? I had my own answers, but decided to ask them to make a little note of theirs and send it to me. Here’s a few replies I received:
- Pat Hellman (Arizona, USA)
Well, after leaving an almost thirty year marriage during which I accomplished pretty much NOTHING I became all about CHANGE. Change this, change that, move here, move there, try this, no, try that. I became the human equivalent of a ping pong ball, zig-zagging across continents, religious experiments, political upheavals and food. It’s always about food. While I am an inherently happy soul I also seem to have an urgent need to experience new things. After all, I have a lot of unproductive time to make up for…..years, and there is something special about Cianciana. I haven’t quite figured it all out yet but I think it has something to do with old world meeting new. Quintessential Italia with a safety net, an ex-pat community that looks out for one another, a place to draw outside the lines yet know there are like minded folks ready to throw you a life line when you need it. It’s small. It’s simple. It’s altogether a late-life learning opportunity with endless possibilities. It’s irresistible.
- Nancy Underwood (Kansas, USA)
Nancy, who claims she is not a great writer, but who actually expresses herself very well, had some hassles when she returned to the States. While she did not exactly supply me with a written response (or did I lose it in the computer mix-up), the striking thing is that she cried real tears when she boarded that bus out of here heading for Palermo and into the beyond… I can safely say, on her behalf, that she loves the tranquility and independence she finds in this little suitable town for women of a certain age and that there is no better person with whom to share a cup of tea!
- Diane Johnson (Nantucket, USA)
Predictable… Cianciana is steeped in tradition and generation after generation knows what to expect. We no longer have that peace of mind or certainty in the states. I love that the family is expected to be at Mama’s for Sunday dinner.
Safe… I no longer feel safe in the USA and I don’t think anyone is thinking about annihilating Sicily.
Simplicity… .as much as we complain about the banks, the gas, bureaucracy, etc., there is a very simple, uncomplicated LIFEstyle. They certainly LIVE their lives more successfully than Americans.
Nature… no pollution, clear air, can drink the water, unspoiled Mediterranean. Abundance of fruit and vegetables. Healthier environment that is LIFE sustaining. Most people in the states have no idea where their food comes from and we now have “food deserts” and there is no fresh food available.
Values… whether I agree or not I love that they have strong beliefs. They value and respect their parents and actually take care of them, work hard to provide a dowry for their daughters.
(Editor’s Note: the above piece was sent to me on 3 December 2014. Since then and due to circumstances beyond her control, Diane has decided to throw in the towel and will leave Sicily in the near future.)
- Diane Cacciato (Vancouver Island, Canada)
… I moved to Vancouver Island in 1987 and it has taken me years to develop any kind of community here. My community is stretched over 100 km from the south end of Vancouver Island to the beginning of the central area. What this means is that if I want to connect with “my people” face to face, I might have to drive an hour or more. In Cianciana, the bulk of my community is no more than a 15 min walk away, or maybe just outside my door. I can walk from my house to the Trieste and it takes me 30 minutes because I am stopped by people in my community so many times that a 5 minute walk takes me 1/2 an hour. I love that I can drop by your house at anytime or you can drop by mine. I love that I have more friends in our little town of 3000 people than I do in our town of 80,000 even though I’ve lived on Vancouver Island for 28 years and Nick and I only have had three summers in Cianciana. I know that gossip is the main form of entertainment in Cianciana and that privacy has an entirely different meaning in Sicily than it does in Canada, but Nick and I have left our years of ‘drama’ behind us and we have no secrets. There is nothing we need to worry about hiding in our lives anymore.
… And on top of all this is the beauty all around us when we are in Sicily. Vancouver Island is stunningly beautiful but the beauty of Sicily is different, more ancient – the colours of the hills and the sea, the ruins that blend into the land in such a way that that the history seems to grow out of the rocks, villages that cling to the sides of mountains. The cities in Sicily are charismatic.
… So, if I were going to put this all into a list, the things that bring me back to Cianciana every summer and the reason Nick and I want to spend six months a year there are: Friends and community; Romance and adventure; Language and culture; Land and beauty; Cities and towns.
I had my few answers there but then I had my own… Originally, I had no intention of ‘going home’ for Christmas but as life would have it, I was compelled to do so thanks to a discussion with my daughter who gave me a lecture on ‘family and priorities.’ In the end, I was basically shamed into it, so I made plans.
There were many reasons I didn’t want to go. I knew that leaving Cianciana and mingling with family and friends for three intensive weeks would ‘disturb’ me, make me think too much, make me lonely when I came back. I also saw it as the eye-opener I knew it would be – expense galore, living in other people’s houses, wanting to be in my own, moaning, eating too much!
All of this was true, but at the same time, how I gloried at seeing two of my children! My wonderful middle son and my only daughter. My two good-natured sisters, my old childhood friends… All this mingling was screwing up my head and my heart. I became disconnected, a visitor, an independent wanderer.
I returned to Cianciana on 8 January. I was delighted to walk in my hall door knowing I could smoke and pour a glass of wine if I wanted. I got to see my much loved dog and cat again, who couldn’t believe their eyes at my reappearance. I turned on the heat. I turned on the music. Then, the loneliness set in. I was not used to being alone. I missed everybody. I went into a flunk. I couldn’t see the reason I was back any more. I couldn’t see the reason for anything. Then I went crazy, doing crazy things, thinking I was young again, that I could run so fast.
It took a while to overcome the madness of exposure. After much ado, I’m getting back to normal (should there be such a word?) Just today, I experienced great happiness in two different acts of kindness, which made me glad, again. The first was my mission to find some fresh mint, which is not available at the moment, of course. But, lucky me, I was in the shop of my local ‘Verdura’ when I brought this up, and in the shop was a local farmer, who said, ‘If you follow me to my flower shop, I can give you a very small handful of fresh mint.’ These, unusual, unexpected happenings are what make Cianciana special.
The second act of kindness I bumped into today was meeting up with a girl who lives here but who I don’t see very often. She has the language skills I don’t and she knows everybody and their mother, but, suffice it to say that she gave me the most positive feedback I’ve ever had about anything. She said ‘Bernadette, your students love you. They love you so much. You are so perfect for them.’
Talk may be cheap, but I believed her, I needed to believe her. I came home with a smile on my face for the first time in ages. I’m over the hump now and whatever the future holds, so be it. Ah, how do you spell relief – h-a-p-p-i-n-e-s-s!
Happy New Year everyone, and may it be peaceful and… peaceful.