“So it’s becoming obvious why your grandparents left here, Maryann,” I muse out loud. We’ve been to Borgetto twice in the past two days, and both days we’ve climbed our way to the top of the mountain, into the heart of thick, damp clouds. There doesn’t appear to be anything of note in Borgetto itself. The town below the cloud line, Partinico, has more to it, but that only means that they can, legitimately, claim to be a one-horse town. Borgetto doesn’t even seem to have a dog. It does, however, have exceptionally narrow roads. There’s a rudimentary one-way system in action on the streets, with arrows spraypainted onto the road surface. It’s not entirely helpful when they’re not done at junctions, though. “Can we go this way?” asks Maryann, as she swings the wheel left. I’m not sure, but we’re committed to it now, and at least we’re going downhill. Maryann curses the fact that she can only drive automatic. “If I could drive shift I could’ve got a smaller car.” We crawl through streets built for donkeys and carts, eyeing the wingmirrors and hoping that nothing comes the other way.
Up ahead, I see someone pulling out of their driveway and about to turn towards us. Maryann is in the process of negotiating a tricky manoeuvre involving cars on either side, muttered curses and extreme sucking in of breath. Having finished, she looks up and notices the other car. “No WAY, buster!” He agrees and backs up. Maryann looks across at me. “OK, I’ve had enough of this. Let’s get out of here.” We make our way out of town, Maryann jubilant at having finally found her Sicilian roots, me breathing a sigh of relief at having some air and space either side of me.
Ten minutes later claustrophobia seems like the easy option.
I’m clutching the sat-nav in my hands and directing Maryann in a slow-mo parody of rally car co-driving. We’re in cloud so thick that we can barely see ten foot in front of the bonnet, on a road that’s crumbling down the side of the mountain, covered in bits of bush and rock from whenever the last time it was that there was a landslide. I’m trying not to think about the fact that it might have been recently. My feet brace into the footwell as I direct our slow progress down zig-zagging mountain bends. “OK, follow the road round to the left, coming right back on yourself …” Judging by the undisturbed debris scattered about it doesn’t look like there have been any cars down here for a while. I just hope the road’s actually going to get us to the bottom, because turning round isn’t an option, and going backwards around these bends doesn’t bear thinking about. We plough grimly on.
I glance up for a moment and do a classic double-take. ‘What the …?” There’s something large and white looming out of the cloud straight ahead of us, where there should, by rights, be road. Maryann stamps on the brakes. A second later she starts to laugh. “Oh my god, look! It’s sheep!” She’s right. Nothing but sheep, gazing at us curiously and cropping the grass on a steep incline on the far side of the reflex-angled bend. I laugh shakily and turn my concentration back to the sat-nav. “Slowly now – sharp right hand bend coming up …”
Image by Shadow Planet (Creative Commons)