January 30, 2017
Our last act in the US, after spending over three months there, was to participate in the Miami Women’s March on the day after the Trump inauguration. We were delighted to have a chance to be part of it, and hope there are many more such actions in the coming years. Aside from the “business” of the trip, namely Syd’s hip replacement, we had great opportunities to spend time with important people in our lives, both in Seattle and during two weeks in Miami. Many, many thanks are due to a lot of people, especially Andy and Anita and Pete and Nancy – who together put us up (put up with us) for over a month.
Recovery from the surgery is going fine, and we arrived back in Licata six days ago, to cool weather and a new (for us) apartment in the oldest part of the city. Our new landlady kindly, and surprisingly, picked us up at the bus stop and drove us the half mile to the apartment. We dropped our bags, got some badly needed sleep, then set out for the marina to check on Serafina.
To our vast relief, she is in great shape. The first indication was that when we pushed open the hatch to enter the cabin, we were greeted by an overwhelming aroma of yellow cedar. The alternative could have been dampness, mold or rot, since Serafina, except for her fiberglass hull, is a wooden boat. Most of the time over the last two and a half years, Serafina’s woody smell has been overlaid with pasta sauce, funky clothes and the normal distractions of life in a small space. But she was dry, clean and without a single sign of the unusually bitter winter.
There are many spring projects to be done, or course. Varnish and paint repairs, oil and filter changes, window gaskets to replace, new spare parts to install in place of tired old ones – all the kind of stuff that makes for a fun day at the boat. Then May 8 she’ll be hauled out of the water by the local boatyard for a bottom cleaning and fresh antifouling paint.
But for now we are living in a small apartment in a small Italian town. If feels like more than just a distance away from the US. Last winter in the marina we found some good friends, but there’s no question it was kind of an “ex-pat” bubble in relation to the town. This year we can’t help being engaged with the daily life in Licata.
This is not a prosperous town, but people are, with the occasional exception of old guys scowling in the sun outside their favorite bar, friendly and outgoing, and forgiving of our struggles with Italian. We are seeing life as many outside the US live it, with an undependable supply of drinking water, but with boisterous conversations in the street, much loved stray dogs everywhere, three-wheeled mini-trucks selling eggs in the narrow streets to women who lower baskets from their balconies.
The street conversations bounce between the stone walls of the centuries old buildings and flow into our open windows as if the energetic talkers were guests in our kitchen. Generally, people are poor but getting by. Food is cheap, especially by American standards, and fresh seasonal produce is for sale from tiny stands in the street. Small bakeries are frequent. The one on the first floor of the building we live in fills our three rooms with the smell of fresh-baked, sesame-laden bread starting at 6:00am in the morning.
Of course, it’s not all quaint and picturesque. A few nights ago we ate traditional Sicilian cuisine in a tiny restaurant less than a hundred meters from our apartment. It is run by two younger men, who offered us toasted bread crumbs to put on our pasta – a common traditional garnish, they said, because typically Sicilians could not afford grated cheese. But all this devotion to tradition was accompanied by an Eagles soundtrack from the early seventies – “Desperado,” “Another Tequila Sunrise,” and “Take it Easy.”
One thing that has been a bit of a puzzle is that everyone tells you not to drink the tap water in Licata. It’s troublesome, since bottled water generates mountains of trash, and we always put Licata tap water in the tanks on Serafina and drink it without the slightest harm. The problem, we have been told, is “calcio,” calcium, which is actually good for you, even if it fills your teakettle with white lumps. While a little wary of the plumbing in old buildings, I was prepared to just put the bottled water down to prejudice.
But we’re learning some things. In the Montalbano mystery series by Andrea Camilleri, the hero, sometimes frustrated, is described as taking a shower that runs the cistern dry. Saturday we found out the details of that. The city water is only available for short periods on three days of the week. Each dwelling has a cistern that fills up when the city water is on. The slightest miscalculation – an extra shower or load of laundry – and the cistern runs dry. You have no water at all until the next time the city turns it on. All of a sudden the bottled water seems like a sensible precaution.
We’ll surely learn more. In the meantime, we can eat well, walk everywhere, live without a car, and without “shopping” other than for food and wine. Of course, we can’t help but follow the news from the US, combining Trump’s horrifying herky-jerky pronouncements with thrilling news of massive protests. Thanks to the internet, we still live in the world – even if it seems a little distant from our balcony.