April, 2003

This is my third day in Sicily. You feel at home immediately because the people here know what hospitality is. Hospitality – the effort to understand others, even people who speak another language – is a part of everyday life here. The landscape is beautiful, and the weather is wonderful. Nature is rich although – together with the landscape – it has been tremendously defiled. One can still imagine Sicily’s original beauty – which has now been interrupted, disturbed or ruined by factories, agricultural industries, oil refineries, and chimneys as well as by mines that were never closed after their treasures were plundered. Sicily is wounded, but this still cannot kill its image of harmony and beauty.

The same goes for noise. Incredible noise everywhere. You hear the noise of the modern sea: ships, even warships, with motors and generators. Then there is the noise of the street: one car per person, motorcycles and other motor vehicles, and the sound of people laughing, shouting, singing, crying, talking, and more talking. And just imagine: nobody cares. Even if the sirens of a car alarm blare out over and over again, it doesn’t matter. Noise is life, and life is what Sicily is all about.

People here live in families. Even friends and colleagues appear to belong to the family. Everybody seems to be part of a stable network of friendship and support, of love and understanding. Being here is like being at home. Everybody is friendly, and the waiters sense your special needs: that the table doesn’t stand firmly when you want to write, or that you only want a small bottle of wine rather than a large one. They notice it immediately, and want to cater to your needs.

However, if you are given to feeling lonely, you will feel even more lonely here. You see the opposite of loneliness embedded in thousands of years of history of love and togetherness, with their family roles and stereotypes. But you need not remain on your own. You can find friends just by being willing to reach out and to exchange. It is an ideal place to overcome customary fears of not being who you would like to be: people will welcome you in whatever way you approach them.

Beautiful, lovely, soft and tender – this is what life seems to be like here. Of course, I do see how difficult it is not to fulfil the stereotypes which are so very deeply engraved in everyday life: the roles of husbands, wives and children, the roles of father and mother, the roles of family, of brothers and sisters. But I also feel an openness, an ability to accept being different. It is more a personal conflict: it is hard to be different because there is such a strong need to belong, to be like the others are, to adhere to the rules – it seems to be wonderful just to be a part of these ancient traditions, without even a millimetre of difference.

I must tell you more about the landscape: it is satisfying to be surrounded by the sea, knowing that wherever you go, you will eventually find it. This is, of course, typical for an island, but here it is even more pleasant because you will find interesting places in the far-off corners of this island as well as in its heart. You never have to be afraid of rejection. And the sea – what a sea! So blue, so calm, so friendly – together with the protecting sky, so giving, shining, smiling, caressing, softening, gladdening.

Although the land is covered with wounds and scars, as I mentioned, its strength shines through. Its power cannot be stilled, even if it is not as beautiful as it once was, or could be again. And the birds – they are everywhere, reminding us of our friendship with nature – a nature which will endure our savage actions, even the worst ones, as animals will never take revenge.