Bright pink flowers spill down the wall onto a whitewashed deck. At night it’s a bar, but this afternoon it’s just another of Ortigia’s many beautiful courtyards. They’re hidden around every corner. Sometimes there are dogs in them, sometimes cats, sometimes old men on benches; they’re always interesting and there are plenty of them to see.
We wander through narrow streets. There’s a ‘pow! pow!’ from over our heads. A small boy peers down at us through the rails of a first floor balcony. Seeing that he’s got our attention he giggles in delight, and resumes his mock shooting. He grabs a tee-shirt, hung over the balcony to dry, and before we can draw breath to stop him, flings it at us with a triumphant yell. His mum comes out onto the balcony, phone clamped to her ear, to see what the noise is about, and sees us gaping up at her, clutching the offending clothing. Her hand flies to her mouth in embarrassment. Her offspring, meanwhile, is leaping around in an excited war dance at her feet. Looking down at him she starts to laugh. It’s hard to do anything else when confronted with such glee. Still on the phone, she gestures that we should throw the tee-shirt back up to her. We ball it up and try. She fails to catch it and we scramble to stop it from hitting the street. On the next try she manages to grab hold of it before it falls, and gives us a grin. We wave goodbye to her son, who goes back to shooting at us with a wicked glint in his eye.
In another courtyard, grapevines wind over our heads, shading us from the sun as we stuff ourselves with seafood. The owners of the restaurant have twin babies in a pushchair. There’s a muslin cloth draped over the top to protect them from the sun, still strong despite the shade of the vines. All that can be seen of the babies is four chubby legs, arranged in identical formation. One of the twins wriggles briefly, before falling asleep again. Five minutes later he wakes up properly and starts to grizzle. Mamma picks him up and dandles him on her knee as she chats to a customer. ‘You’re very cheeky, aren’t you? Yes, you are!’ The customer smiles indulgently, holding out a finger for the baby to grab. When baby boy has stopped crying Mamma puts him back in the pushchair and goes to take an order from a table of customers. His sister now wakes up, however, and kicks out at him. A middle-aged woman gets up from a table at the other side of the courtyard and comes over to pacify the sibling rivalry. She doesn’t seem to be part of the family, but this is Italy, where babies are universally adored. It’s said it takes a village to raise a child, but an Italian restaurant is probably even better.
As we digest our lunch with gelato, perched on the steps of the church of Santa Lucia, an old man drops himself down next to us and starts to chat. ‘English, are you? I learnt English at school. Forgotten everything now, though! Oh, but we used to terrorise the teacher …’ We laugh together, him reliving and us experiencing new his memories. Another man from the group comes over and grins at us, twirling his finger around his temple in friendly mockery. ‘Hope he hasn’t bothered you. He’s a bit pazzo this one!’ Old man springs to his feet, feigning a box to his companion’s ear. ‘Why you …!’ They make their parting salutations and move away, chuckling, to rejoin their group.
We follow the sound of a clarinet floating along the street. It’s coming from what looks like a derelict building. It’s not, of course, but like so many of the buildings on the island this one has seen better days. The sign tells us it’s a music school and as if to prove that fact a second clarinet joins the first. We stand on the dusty street, leaning against the sun-warmed stone of the building, and listen to the strains of a Mozart duet, and the swish of water against the sea wall below us.
july carnival of europe
Have you got a good European travel story? Why not submit it for inclusion in July’s Carnival?
On 1 July I’m hosting the event, set up by Andrea of Destination Europe. Details of how to submit your entries can be found here, and you can also follow Andrea on Facebook to be kept updated on all future Carnival news.
I look forward to hearing from you!