Stranger in a Strange Land

taormina_swimming_poolYesterday was one of those days that I wanted to be alone and slip on my persona of a “Stranger in a Strange Land”. Every once in a while I do this, just take off for the day and observe people. I learn the most about life this way.
I had promised friends that I would go to Taormina in order to take some photos for them. One of my friends wanted a photo of an Irish couple that was getting married at the Chiesa di San Giuseppe. They had flown here from Dublin along with their wedding party.

Another asked that I take a picture of her favorite bar in Taormina, a pretty famous watering hole named Billy&Billy and its famous owner, the elegant and beautiful Giusy. Slipping on my man-bag (these things are so handy…they can carry a lot of stuff, plus I get to feel like Brad Pitt who also has one), and throwing my camera and back-up batteries in the bag, along with my cell phone and iPod, I jumped into my car and headed into Taormina.

The day was clear and bright but a little windy. I decided to take the shore road from Acitrezza to Taormina as I loved winding my way through the little villages like Mascali, Giarre, and Fiumefreddo and into Naxos before heading into Taormina. Plus, using this route I save 1.30 euro in tolls! The plan was to take a leisurely ride and stop here and there in order to take photos of my favorite places so I could post them on Facebook as many of my friends were now following my daily activities and enjoyed my posts about living in Sicily.

I took some great shots of the port of Naxos from the top of the hill heading up to Taormina and also of Isola Bella, perhaps the most picturesque beach in all of Sicily.
I decided to park my car at the public lot and take the Funivia (tram) up the hill to Taormina and enjoy the sights. There were Germans, Austrians, Russians and Swiss waiting for the tram. I was the only English-speaker and I enjoyed the giggles of excitement as they piled into the tramcar and headed up the mountain for the short two-minute ride up the mountain.

Tourists were everywhere when we disembarked and I melted into the crowd.
I loved watching people and in fact saw people from all walks of life. I saw Sicilian school children on a field trip with their teachers and the chaperones that had them holding hands as they walked up the Corso Umberto. I saw old men and women from the from town sitting on the benches catching up on the news of the day, foreigners from Europe and Asia and tour guides leading packs of tourists focused more on licking their gelatos than taking in the beauty of this ancient and historic setting. I also saw a thousand other sights, sounds and textures that make Taormina so very special to me. I just love this place.

I took my time walking up the Corso Umberto as I window shopped to see the latest styles in men’s and women’s fashions. All the famous brands have shops here. I peered into the jewelry shops, souvenir shops, gift shops, art galleries and before I knew it, an hour and a half had past.
I had been lost in paradise so I hurried to the Piazza Nove Aprile to have an espresso at the Wunderbar and wait for the wedding party that I had come to photograph.

Then something strange occurred.

While waiting for the wedding party to emerge from the church, a funeral procession slowly walked down the Corso.
First the hearse, followed on foot by the grieving family, and followed by the grieving friends. Just like the old films I had seen.
Here, in Taormina on this glorious day, a funeral procession marched by me as I sipped an espresso at the Wunderbar. Strangely, I felt out of sorts and a tad uncomfortable.

It seemed that an old timer had died. The grieving wife walked alone, assisted only by her adult children. A serious end of life scene was being played out before my eyes in the playground of Europe.
After the procession had passed, I tried to process what I had just witnessed. As I was re-playing the scene in my mind, I looked up to the church and saw its doors opening and the wedding party emerge. One hundred meters down the Corso Umberto were the remnants of the funeral procession, and now a wedding party was about to follow its path.

As I saw this unfolding, my mind wondered how often this occurred over time. Funeral processions, wedding parties, and perhaps other types of processions, time and time again over these ancient streets probably happened every day. From Greek to Roman to Saracen to Norman to Spanish to modern day Sicilian, all grieving and or celebrating something or other.
The wedding party proceeded down the Corso only fifty meters and entered a nearby restaurant, oblivious to everything except their celebration. The bride was young and beautiful and the husband handsome. Their life had barely begun and the best years still lay in front of them.

They had a family to bring up and the joys and sadness and successes and failures of life still had to unfold for them, but for this day nothing else mattered but their wedding celebration.
I took some photos and later posted them on Facebook for my friends. I wished, though, that I had taken some photos of that funeral procession. Those images, I decided, were far more profound to me on this day.
The juxtaposition of end of life and then a new life just beginning on the Corso Umberto just as it had for two millennia in Taormina. It was truly a lesson in life for me on this glorious and warm day.
Taormina…truly the Pearl of Europe…always.

Figghiu Beddu

Alfred Zappala
Alfred Zappala
Alfred M. Zappala was the co-founder and Managing Partner of the Law Offices of Struffolino & Zappala. Mr.Zappala is the author of several books on the bar examination and also “The Reverse Immigrant” a book that takes a humorous look at every day life in Sicily. His second book on Sicily, “Gaetano’s Trunk”, was recently released in September 2011. As President of All Things Sicilian, he helped introduce thousands of Americans to the wonders of Sicily. For his work promoting Sicily, in 2010 Mr. Zappala was the recipient of The Distinguished Service Award from the Italian Trade Commission. He has three children and four grandchildren: he considers this to be his single greatest accomplishment in life.

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