Sicily was hard on me. I arrived on the island at a crossroads, just finishing a year with the AmeriCorps Federal Emergency Management Agency service member program and entering a "real money" job. I had spent months in Texas and Puerto Rico, standing up to megalomaniacal low-level management, incompetent bureaucratic careerists and just a few mellowed out individuals during the Agency's busiest disaster year. Angry people, disappointing figures, warehouses in chaos. My brain ran at 95% for the majority of the year, looking out for my teammates and myself when everyone wanted to push their faults on our team — I was on a perpetual defensive against sly ineptitude. During small periods of rest, I couldn't sleep more than six hours, ready to get back in the field, fight the small fights that feel so large at the moment. Foreign language, foreign etiquette, foreign idiosyncrasies. Compared to Italian, Puerto Rico seemed like a domestic neighborhood. And then there is Sicily, which has its own influences in southern Mediterraneanism, distant from the Western European homogeneities that made northern Italy so accessible to the likes of Nietzsche. It's the minutiae: the passive behavior of waiters, staring on the streets, the many utilities of bars and tabacchi stores. My brain, hardwired over a year with some type of "real America" — poor, tired Americans looking for a little help from an overly publicized federal grant dealer that promised more than it could handle — was not ready for idleness, of elderly sitting at benches at the local piazza or young males loitering near the corner mini-market.
I could barely meet their eyes as their gaze followed me down the street, I was too exhausted to interact with my environment. In fact, I felt my surroundings glazed over as if my eyes had begun to fail over a twelve-month period. Donut glaze, looking out the window was like trying to peer through pouring rain. Sicilian eyes were morphless — I felt like a prisoner to the relationship between server and customer. The gorge between myself and the country was so immense that I kept my eyes on the ground or to the sky — or to the North.
There was a stigma in my eye, a mass that lingered in my peripheries: Mount Etna, this wonderful block of rock that lay only fifteen kilometers away. Down just about any street I would see a reminder of its sheer majesty. And I do not celebrate beauty for the sake of its existence, but because I know I can walk right up to it. And I did, via foot, bike, car. For two weeks I was up and down and around Etna, checking its nooks and crannies and orifices for something new. And each day it provided. Trails, lava rocks, smoldering craters, vertical hills to train my legs on. I could only imagine a human being that sought to mold their bodies upon the slopes of this volcano. Tight thighs, thin calves, lanky from the thousands of calories it takes to summit.
And to look down upon Sicily from the side of Etna! Those idle bodies and staring eyes are not even ants but grains of sand from 3000 meters up! Those periods of sheer, gratifying solitude and enormity were opulent. It could eek out pretentiousness from the most humble and also debase the most high and mighty. The lower hills that mark the rest of the Sicilian plains smooth out into oceans of amber and green. The ocean is a mist of blue, fading into an undetailed horizon, never considering it would be seen again. Purple shades amongst blue days.
And that is what I will miss about Sicily. To be so high up, to look so far down. Not even the Pacific Northwest could provide the same scope and accomplishment after hours of biking or hiking. A question is raised: should I ever go back? And the answer is: no. This was just a taste of grander heights. My mind, flattened by bungled expectations and depressive bodies, was simply overwhelmed by meager helpings. Etna is a slice — but where's the rest of the pie?