The flight from Malta to Catania, Sicily is only 30 minutes and it took 20 minutes before we started talking to Enrico. As the plane approached Catania, my trusty travel partner with his Italian skills asked politely, ‘Do you think we’ll able to see Mount Etna before we land?’ Enrico pulled off his fabulously trendy Gucci sunglasses in astonishment that an Irish person could form such a sentence in Italian. Sitting between the two men as they speedily fired sentences in Italian back and forth, I realized that I was moments away from being back in Italy: the sounds, the smells, the hand gestures, the animated conversation.
When I first spent two months in Italy in 2007 I spent months attempting to learn the language. The CDs and books I bought were helpful and by the time I arrived I felt useful. I could ask simple questions, I could pick words out of a sentence. Two years later, not having kept up with it, I didn’t catch too much of the conversation going on around me. But it was one of those inspiring moments that makes me want to carve out a few minutes each day to devote to learning a language I think I could love.
It was hard to miss words such as ‘bellissima’ which Enrico used to describe the historic center of Catania. I heard ‘calcio’ as the two guys discussed their favorite Italian football teams. When the plane landed, the conversation didn’t stop, and our new friend walked with us to baggage claim. He warned us about crime in Sicily – how it was smart to always wear a purse across your chest and for me (as he wagged his finger intensely) to keep that computer of mine out of sight!
After we had our bags, we told him we were renting a car, and he offered to show us the way. Enrico slung his black leather jacket over his shoulder and put his shades back on before we stepped out into the Sicilian sunlight. True warmth on our faces at 9am. Something we had yet to experience in Dublin even though it was the beginning of May. Pointing us in the direction of the rental cars, Enrico warned us to inspect the car carefully before we left the lot, and to be careful on the roads. But not too careful he said. Sicilians respect a little courage on the roads.
We thanked Enrico for his introduction to Sicily and after saying ‘ciao’ about five times (the Italians can never seem to say it just once) we were on our way to the first stop in our tour of Sicily: Taormina. A short drive up the coastline, we even passed Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, on the way. There was a few clouds in the sky and we couldn’t decide, was Etna puffing and smoking away, or was there a collection of clouds at its crater?
We hadn’t planned on spending much time in Catania, but if we had, Enrico gave us his card and having only known us for 30 minutes invited us to his home for dinner. This is something I love about the Italians (and something I hope shines through in my own Italian heritage) – a welcoming nature and willingness to share the things you love with new people. My appetite for Sicily has only been whet.