A few summers ago I had the pleasure of spending an entire summer in the hills of Sicily with my friend’s family. They showed me where they grew up, introduced me to their friends and families, and I had the most outstanding homemade Sicilian cuisine one could ever ask for. I was included in many gatherings and outings that I otherwise never would have encountered had I not been in the company and comfort of locals.
One such outing started out as just a regular day. During my extensive stay in Sicily, I became very obedient and often just nodded yes when told that we were getting in the car to pick someone up or go off to run an errand. What did I care? I was in Sicily and wanted to see everything including how regular everyday life occurs. On one particular day, the gent who was kind enough to drive us around during our stay, offered to take his friend with us to pick up his daughter from her job at the hospital. We didn’t mind and in fact my hosts and I were happy to oblige.
Off we went, five people in a car equivalent to a Yugo in 95 degree weather, and drove 45 minutes through the winding hills of northeastern Sicily. (Note to self: don’t go back in July. It’s too damn hot for such togetherness.) We picked up this man’s daughter whose acquaintance I was so pleased to make and as it turned out, she could give a rat’s tukus whether I existed or not. I chalked it up to anti-American sentiment which I could care less about so we sat in the car during the drive back for about half an hour, arm to sweaty arm, totally indifferent. She wasn’t that young, probably in her mid-twenties but had the social graces of one of Sicily’s many ancient stones found around the hillsides. My friends in the car with me made a gesture implying that she had “issues” and I just laughed to myself at how such cattiness and people with “issues” are so universal. Crazy people and bitchiness run rampant throughout the world and I found it almost comforting. It took the staleness and the need to act proper out of the equation.
So there I was, sitting silent next to this chick who had nothing to say other than to herself (she was muttering to herself) when out of the blue, Silent Maria screams, “Basta! Una Festa! Una Festa!” (Stop! A festival! A festival!) Where the hell did that come from? This chick didn’t even say, “CIAO” to us when we introduced ourselves and all of a sudden, apparently she heard a band playing and wanted to see the Festa. (Festa’s are street fairs that run throughout many parts of Europe during the summer months, especially in very Catholic communities to honor patron saints.) Our driver hit the brakes and suddenly my new BFF grabbed my hand and said in Italiano, “let’s get to the front!” Seeing that this was the first real sign of life from this girl, we all appeased her by grabbing our belongings and running with her to catch the front of the parade coming down the main street of whatever walled village we stopped in. I believe it was Belevedere. I grabbed my camera, my friends grabbed their cameras and camcorders and we headed toward the front, ready to capture the bands and confetti in full color. Our mini-mob got to where we wanted, just in time for five cameras to snap away in unison at a coffin coming right toward us. Holy shit. How do you say faux pas in Italian? Should have known better than to listen to this wayward idiot who had been muttering to herself during a 45 minute hot car ride. Not only did we confuse a funeral with a festa, but because we all looked like American and Australian tourist trash dressed in flip flops, baseball hats, shorts, and armed with cameras, we ended up taking the poor deceased soul’s thunder away from him/her. Everybody was looking at us instead of the coffin. Talk about feeling like a stupid ass tourist.
Is it bad that our tasteless mob found this to be hysterical? Mind you, we all were raised Catholic and should have been absolutely mortified by not only our misstep but how we instinctively laughed out loud upon realizing that we were not at a festa. We laughed so hard we started crying. Welcome to tacky hell. However, we couldn’t stop laughing at how collectively stupid we all were. All we could do was pile back into the Yugo-like car and drive like Cruella Deville into the hills of Sicily just to get as far from the scene as possible.
But guess what happened? Crazy, Silent Maria loosened up and started chatting away. In fact, we all laughed so hard for so long that we all loosened up and let the initial uneasiness fall away. I still thought the girl was nuts but at least she became a nutbag having a good time. My lesson learned on this particular day was not to write somebody off after an initial bad first impression. You can still have a hell of a good time with somebody even if you think you have absolutely nothing in common with them. More importantly, if you’re ever in Sicily, don’t be fooled by a bass drum and a trombone. Check out the scene first to determine if you are about to wear black to a Festa or throw confetti unto a coffin.