The Sea in Winter (redux)

A version of this post was originally published in November 2011, when I first arrived in Catania. Two years on and November (up until the beginning of this week) had been milder and less blustery. The cold is beginning to set in now, though. I’ve got a blanket on the bed for the first time since April, and walks by the sea require a jacket. Like a bear, I’m beginning to feel the need to hibernate. Sadly, unlike a bear, I don’t think I’d get away with calling in to work with the excuse of a duvet day. Oh well: at least I don’t have to pee in the woods.


Photo: Google Images

Waves crash and a faint thrumming passes through the soles of my shoes. Black basalt rocks split grey-green water, revealing its bright opaque turquoise heart. A second later, and it is frothy white, erupting over the top of the front line of volcanic rock, spilling and foaming through any available space.

People pass. Snippets of conversation: ‘… then you saute the mussels …’ ‘… ma, tesoro …!’ ‘ … don’t want to live in Milan because …’ A mother and daughter walk past, the mother hugging her daughter’s shoulders while the girl hunches under the weight. La mamma is all in white with honeyed blonde hair, glamorous to the max. Her daughter, meanwhile, is lumpen and awkward, wearing the teenage uniform of too-tight skinny jeans and hoodie, teamed with oversized trainers and long curtains of dark hair. Mamma is grilling daughter on her lovelife. ‘…you don’t want to see him any more?’ The girl shakes her head and twitches her shoulders against the weight of her mother’s encircling arm. Mamma sighs.

A Fiat Panda draws up behind, playing a loud, bland remix of an eighties song. ‘It takes a strong man, baby, but I’m showing you the door.’ Heavy bassline obscures the melody and it takes a moment or two to work out why the lyrics are so familiar. A rap cuts in. The boys in the car don’t get out, but sit, windows open and music blaring, until a phone rings, at which point the music is snapped off and replaced by their plan for later. ‘You’re at home, yeah? We’ll be there in ten minutes.’ The phone is flung onto the dashboard and the stereo returned to its former levels as the boys lean back in their seats and roll cigarettes.


Photo credit: Enric Juvé

Fishermen congregate on the seawall, rooting through brightly-coloured cold boxes in search of bait. Or maybe lunch. Seagulls float overhead, making the most of the sea breeze and keeping a beady eye on the food situation below. An old man wheels his battered bike along the sea wall at a snail’s pace, stopping every few yards. As he passes the various fishermen he peers into their cold boxes, checking out their catch or lack of it. One circuit done, he parks the bike with care and potters over to the nearest fisherman. After a short, animated conversation, Old Man picks up a seat pad and bumbles back to his bike before laboriously settling himself down next to it to regard the waves.

The Fiat’s door slams, rocking the car from side to side on its narrow wheels. The driver comes round to the seaward side of the car and lights his carefully-rolled cigarette, cupping it in the palm of his hand. The tang of marijuana fills the air as he passes it back through the passenger window to his friend.


Photo: Google Images

A family of three park up. The daughter, aged about four, totters out of the car. She is already bundled to the max against the weather, but Mum adds a scarf for good measure. The tiny cocoon of winter clothing staggers to the railing and gazes, transfixed, at the waves. Her parents have a hard job persuading her to leave the view and follow them. ‘Come on, let’s go down the steps!’ The girl follows reluctantly, still gazing seawards.  Dad plays doting father, carrying his little girl along the uneven, stony beach, and pointing out different sights as they head towards a rock which has been painted to look like a giant ladybird. Mum, on the other hand, trails behind, splitting her attention between her mobile phone conversation and her camera.

A middle-aged woman settles herself on a bench, her bright yellow scarf wound firmly around her neck. Pulling up her hood, she fishes a book out of her bag and wriggles into a more comfortable position. Her face creases with concentration as she reads. An ill-timed page turn coincides with a large gust of wind, and she wails – a short, thin sound – as she loses not only her page, but almost the entire book. Clutching the book hard and regaining her composure she turns away, curving her body to shelter the pages from any further breezy attacks.

Another family comes onto the beach: Mum, Dad and two children. The girl – five or six years older than ladybird girl – charges on ahead and clambers onto the biggest rocks. Her little brother tries to follow, but can’t keep up; he calls for her to wait as her red jacket starts to disappear into the distance. She throws a glance over her shoulder as if considering the wisdom of this, and seems to decide that it will be more fun with than without him. She scrambles back to fetch him.


Photo credit: Chriss Pagani

A black cat slinks out from behind a rock and begins a fastidious grooming procedure. In the distance the little boy calls again to his sister, startling the cat and leaving it suspended mid-lick, one foot in the air and tongue hanging out. It glares with baleful accusation at the nearest human before stalking to a more sheltered position. Never underestimate the ire of an embarrassed cat.

Big sister has, by now, abandoned both red jacket and little brother, and sits kicking her heels on top of the ladybird, holding court for her adoring parents. Li’l bro, meanwhile, is still struggling happily over rocks too big for him to climb without resorting to hands and knees. Crawling, and in dirty jeans, he’s in his element.

The smell of fried fish wafts from an open door. There is a passing glimpse of a chef preparing the evening meal, blue and white chequered trousers pulled up high over large paunch. A pudgy hand, belying its appearance, reaches deftly into a large tray of dark fish and flips one out onto the table. Quick as a flash a knife appears in the other hand and slivers into the fish’s flesh.

The door closes.




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About Kate Bailward

Kate Bailward is a cat-loving, trifle-hating, maniac driver. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+
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6 Responses to The Sea in Winter (redux)

  1. I’ve really loved discovering your blog this year, it has been fab.
    Yours is one of my favourite so I’ve nominated you for the Italy Magazine’s Blogger Awards!
    Just sharing the blog love, keep up the beautiful work!
    Rochelle Del Borrello´s last post ..A coffee temptation: When is it too much?

  2. Oh wow – thanks Rochelle! I had no idea they were even going on, so it’s doubly lovely to have found out this way. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed reading so far – I’m very lax on commenting elsewhere, but believe me when I say that the admiration is mutual, even if silent. :)

  3. Krista says:

    Absolutely wonderful, Kate. :-) I love winter by the sea – the wild, dark, totally different feel from summer. You’ve captured it brilliantly.

  4. Great descriptive piece. Makes me want to discover the activity of the Catania beaches!
    Robert W Monk´s last post ..Week 2 of Trial

  5. Thanks very much, Robert. In a funny sort of way they’re even more interesting now, in winter, when there are fewer people on them. Summer’s all about the tanning and posing whereas winter’s for the hardcore sea fans hehehe.

  6. Thanks Krista. I agree – winter by the sea is something else. Maybe it’s because I spent my formative years in a seaside town in the north of England, but for me there’s little better than being bundled up warm on the shore, watching waves crashing onto a beach.

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