“Signora!” Donato winds down the window of his battered turquoise car and calls to the woman sitting in the back seat of hers with all the doors open. “Signora – Lei sa dov’è la spiaggia?” The woman peers around the large bunch of flowers on her lap and gives him a look as if he’s from the moon. “The beach?” Donato nods. “Yes. Someone told us we could get down to the beach from around here somewhere …?” The woman gives him another look of amused confusion. “Well, yes, I suppose you *can* get there – but it’s *super* difficult! Wait -” She plonks the enormous bunch of flowers on to the seat beside her, and starts wiggling her large, black-clad bottom along the seat of the car and towards the open door. As she maneouvres herself out, she carries on talking. “Park your car over there – yes, just there – and I’ll show you. Then you can decide if you want to do it or not.”
Obediently, Donato flips his scruffy old car into reverse and scoots into the space behind the woman’s smart, shiny, black one. The four of us – Donato, Roberta, Davide and I – climb out into the scorching late-September sunshine and walk over towards the woman, who’s managed to heft her bulk out of the car and into the shade next to what I now notice is a little chapel. That would explain the flowers. The woman gives us a beaming smile. “Now, the thing is, kids, you’re young, so you can probably do it. Me? I wouldn’t even try! But if I show you the start of the track then you can at least decide if it’s worth it.” She moves, weeble-like, further into the shadows and points down the little path which is, now we’ve got past the chapel, obvious. “If you head down here you’ll reach the top of the cliff. You’ll find an old man there – that’s my husband, although don’t tell him I said he was old!” She chortles to herself in amusement and then changes her mind. “No, on second thoughts, actually, *do*!” She roars with laughter. “Because he is! And so am I!” I like this woman. She doesn’t take herself too seriously.
Donato doubles back to lock the car, and I follow him to dump my bag. For a recce mission in this heat, I’m not carrying anything more than I have to. When we get back, the woman’s still laughing with Roberta and Davide. “Go on!” She shoos us down the path then calls after us: “And *tell* him I said he was old, all right?!”
We head down the twisty track, enjoying the shade cast by eucalyptus trees and ancient ivy. The brief moments when we lose the cool shade and are hit by sunshine seem, conversely, hotter and more stifling than ever and make Davide’s wistful sighs about this possibly being our last beach day this year seem like the ramblings of a sun-addled madman. Next weekend, he’ll be proved right, but right now? Summer seems like it’ll live forever.
The trees stop and we walk out onto the clifftop. Sure enough, there’s a man there, talking to a woman. Donato calls out to him. “Signore! Your wife sent us down here.” He grins cheekily. “She said there’d be an old man and a younger woman” – the man starts to laugh – “and that you could show us how to get down to the beach.”
“She said I was old, did she?!” The man picks his way up the path towards us, and holds out his hand to me. I take it, smile, and step towards him. I realise – as he does the same towards me – that, rather than being gallant, he was just making use of the nearest person to steady him across the uneven, rocky path. I flush with awkward English embarrassment. He, however, just grins and holds out his hand to Donato, the next person behind me, as he continues his train of thought. “She’s right, you know! I am!”
Having reached a level part of the path with the help of his handy chain of young’uns, the man stops walking and continues talking. “So you want to go to the beach, eh?” We nod, looking a little gingerly at the steep drop behind us. It’s a long way down. The man shrugs. “Well, you can see the path from here …” He waves his hand in a winding motion and looks down at our feet. Davide’s in trainers, I’m in Birkenstocks, and Donato and Roberta are both in flipflops. The old man looks back up again, pauses, and then comes to the same laughing conclusion as his wife. “Ach, you’re young! If you want to, I’m sure you can do it! Just be careful down the path. I haven’t done it for many years, but even back then it was a bit tricky underfoot …” We so-called youngsters peer down the path – and then the three Sicilians all look at me. It seems that being the token English person means that I’m the one who gets the final say on things today. “Kate? What do you think?” I nod. “Fine by me!”
The final beach day of the year is on.