I have my running shoes on again, but Im finding it difficult to get started. I stand, soak in the sun and remember its other-worldly warmth from only days earlier.
The first ten or so steps are always the most difficult, but today, theyre even harder. I dance my way through the people on the sidewalk, attempting to be as graceful as I felt on the dance floors of Sicilian bars with my new-found friend Marc only nights ago but its not happening. My heart pumps faster, my breathing gets more rhythmic and the rhythm of my steps finally takes me back to awaking with the sun and running through the mountainous city of Taormina.
Running parallels life. One can choose long paths or short ones, back roads or city streets, quiet time to think or headphones to block out the world, to run alone or with someone else. Running in Sicily is life on a new plane, feeling free in a place so foreign.
Moments after sunrise, I ran down the steps from our hotel, through the tour-bus parking lot, past a gelataria, and down cobblestone streets where I was surprised to see people awake. A man on the right, examining fruit in the back of his tri-wheeled truck, looked up as I went by, forming the word, "Bellisima!" I laughed, flattered.
I passed shops full of clay Trinacrias, suns, and marionettes, occasionally slowing to admire the dark glass windows of the clothing shops whose goods I cant afford. I fit insoaring by in the early morning sun, face pink from exertion.
Anything ailing me back home seems suspended in Sicily. As I run, pictures of moments on this island rush through my mind the Valley of the Temples, the real-life Godfather movie sets, and the kind woman with her oranges and rose petals and freesia on Mt. Etna.
How does one box up sights and sounds to savor at a later date? Instead of olive oil soap, Marsala wine, perfume, or a glittering mini-Buddha made out of lava from Mt. Etna, what about the scenery, the sunsets, the feelings?
I have, for example, far more than just a photograph of Juliano, the friendly subject of my first photo shoot after we arrived at our hotel, Le Sabbie dOro. When I saw him the second time on our first night in Cefalu, Sicily no longer felt so foreign. Realizing I didnt know his name but wanted to ask, I practiced the phrase in Italian until I felt confident enough to try. Like a foal attempting to stand after birth, I fumbled for the words, but he understood, smiled and said, "Juliano." When he simply pointed to me inquisitively, I smiled and responded, "Alicia." We tried a discussion in sign language. He took my hands in his and said what I took to mean, "It was nice to meet you," followed by a kiss on each of my cheeks. Id made my first Sicilian friend and felt Sicily becoming more like home.
The next morning we toured Cefalus cobbled streets, tabbachis, farmacias, and gelaterias. Laundry dangled from balconies as bright and inviting as rows of cotton candy on the ceiling of a snack cart at the state fair. Later that day, the fishing village of Porticello felt like Cape Cod as murky water scented crowds of Sicilians around a fisherman selling octopus and shrimp.
A few days later, a fuzzy pinky-peach sunset covered the mountains at the Greek ruins at Segesta. Walking quickly uphill to work off the canollis Id eaten earlier that day, I reached the ruins in time to feel the warmth of blood-orange pillars against mountains.
Immersed in Sicily, experiencing moment after amazing moment with my newest and now closest friends, all I could think how much I wanted to save these times as easily as the bits of green Mediterranean sea glass Id gathered.
Though some time has passed now, Ive still not fully sorted through my thoughts about the journey. And though I try to write about it, Im frustrated that I cant give the experience its due.
I keep going back to a new culture, people, food, amazing photographs, and journals filled with bits of eachand to finding me. Id stepped off the plane in Palermo in detective mode, convinced that the trip would culminate in America with a newer, more fully informed, more complete self.
Instead, as the bus from JFK back to UMass, I leaned against the pillow propped up between Marc and me, closed my eyes and sighed, as emotionally exhausted as I was sleepy.
Running in Sicilylearning some new richness in lifechanged the way I see. Just as the fundamental elements of the run remained the same, our trip changed none of my personal foundations. But how I see myself and the world around me are now forever filtered through a Sicily-tinted lens.