Mary R. Grein
Even when I wasnt there, I was there. The Daily Collegian had become my largest headache, no matter what day or time. As its news editor, I rushed looking for the next story, seeing no event went unreported, no photo missed. I scheduled every afternoon to collect stories and assist writers; the wee hours to correcting mistakes. I could never fully leave.
Even as I watched the pink glow of the sun appear over the Alps en route to Sicily, I found it hard to forget the troubles at home.
Things began to change as I watched the Sicilians. They seemed to have the extra 10 minutes to talk to a group of Americans. They were relaxed, and not at all concerned with the same stresses that boggled me. One morning in particular, while walking the town, we stumbled upon the store of Nino, a nice older man, whod been kind to us at the hotel. When he saw us, he stopped everything and poured us shots of his homemade liquor. For him it wasnt an issue of time: he chatted with us as long as wed stay. Nor was his attitude unique. Throughout the entire island Sicilians value interactions with others, a value I often forgot back home where I rarely stopped to talk to a friend, never mind a stranger. Who could be bothered?
In the mountaintops of Erice, I began to understand the peacefulness, of having no deadline, the pleasure of conversation. These cobbled streets, too narrow to fit a station wagon, greenery emerging from each crack, overcame me. A white dove that flew down from above stopped me in my tracks.
This is where I re-became Mary no longer the news editor of the Collegian, but Mary, a New Yorker in Sicily as a traveler from Massachusetts, with no Italian background and some pretty crazy ideas. It felt great.
Our first night in Taormina was a turning point. Wed finished dinner and decided to walk through town. It was beautiful, a perfect midnight blue sky and a crisp wind. The stores were all closed, but their night-lights illuminated the streets.
A clearing in the square ahead invited me in to stare over endless miles of water, and into the blackness of Mt. Etna. Tears filled my eyes not sadness, but comfort overwhelmed me. The smile on my face had reached all the way inside.
That smile, and a sense of freedom that came with it, liberated me. I ate octopus and climbed fences to get better photo angles. A librarian scolded me for taking a photo. There was not an inch of Sicily to miss. With each new adventure, with each new experience, I felt energized.
Soon the cameras disappeared and our wallets emerged. It was warm in Catania, the smell of flowering limbs filled the air. With our guide, Rosa, in the lead, several of us shuffled through the crowds, dodging cars and jumping curbs to reach the flea market before closing time. The 15 minutes that followed were some of the best I spent, bustling through pile after pile of clothes. I arrived back at the bus with pants and two shirts in hand.
There were more flea markets to be overturned as the days went by. The last day in Sicily proved our greatest shopping excursion, beginning with a ride down the mountain with an older local engineer, Giuseppe, who appeared to be cruising for a good time. His chuckling and singing in Italian lyrics filled our heads. We decided to forgo the club he requested we return to that night for dancing. The only payment he asked for delivery to the market was 19 additional kisses from Kristi and me - and Giuseppe had already had his first! We ran into others in our group, passing the story of our good-bye with the older man. Kristi, Bill and I found ourselves lost in tables of clothes, jewelry and junk.
The sun was strong above us and Claudia, the final arbiter of shopping wisdom, had joined us as I took on and off a gray hat. It was toward the end of our shopping spree, after Kristi and I had our arms filled with plastic bags crammed with the latest in Sicilian style. We'd fed off each other for hours, holding up shirts and skirts, tossing lire to the merchants as if it were play money and giving a small shake of the head when it was time to move on. We mutually decided the pea coat, although a steal, was just too big. But the blue skirt would have to fit, and the scarves Bill and Kristi snagged early on were perfect.
The hat, this last purchase, seemed the most important. I looked from the side and I glanced over my shoulder into the mirror as Claudia and Bill assured me the hat was right.
"Its you," Bill said, as I took off the fuzzy cap, flipping it around and holding it out once more. I was sold. The hat joined the bags on my arm. Claudia bought a brown one, and we continued through the market.
At night, still wound up from our recent adventures, Kristi and I sat together at a café, joined by an additional few, eating chocolate and comparing life stories. Life, I saw, clearly exists outside the Collegian in the Campus Center basement. Through these moments I saw vividly all the times Id let a great opportunity to live slip by.
I returned to the University of Massachusetts terribly sick. A ringing went in and out of my ears too full from flying, which had yet to pop. The world sounded as if I were trying to hear over a vacuum. Despite the discomfort, I was content, excited and truly happy. I had a suitcase full of gifts for my family and a heart warmed with adventures.
Back in the Collegian newsroom, I prepared to remain in charge for the last six weeks of the semester. Nothing seemed to ruin my positive attitude, or pop the pressure in my ears for awhile. Although my ears stayed full for over a week, my happiness and bubbly sense popped the next morning. With Collegian problems, I sank back into the same old patterns. I had to resign.
The trip didnt force me to leave; it opened me, helping me see that the work I had been doing had confined me to mere survival.
In Sicily, I learned that surviving, although important, is not living.
Living is laughing, smiling, stopping to smell the flowers, chatting with a confused stranger, hitching a ride with an old man down a mountain just to spend hours shopping through tables on a street. These are lifes treasures, and I intend to delight in them. These are the treasures I will forever remember from my voyage to Sicily.