The International Writers Magazine: Europe
John M Edwards
A backpacking New Yorker is mistaken for “Lucky Luke” on the Italian-owned Isle of Sicilia
In Syracusa, Sicily—not far from the ancient Hellenic ruins at Agrigento—I went on a mission for Zagat’s to rustle up the best “pasta con sarde” (spaghetti with sardines) that thousands of lira could land. Forget “euros.”
About a block away from my “pensione,” an old pallazo with impressive frescos of famous religious scenes such as the beheading of St. John the Baptist and the downing of Goliath by David, I found a great Family-owned restaurant which was serving Sicily’s signature dish.
Maybe because I looked a little like a menacing Mafioso or cunning Casa Nostro or cool-ass Camorra, I found out how quickly a restaurant can be cleared out for a suspected American mobster, with an entire table of secretive diners scraping back their chairs and muttering, “Lucky Luke” (which I assumed stood not for the comic-book cowboy but for the legendary “Lucky Luciano”).
The dining room was now totally clear, except for an obvious “don” or “capo” in a stylish grey greatcoat and a fedora with an attitude (creased just so), patting his chest for cigarettes. He really did resemble Burt Lancaster—and maybe it was him.
The waiter, obviously not pleased by the massive exodus of his local friends forced into a classic chew-and-screw by dint of my expanding cult of personality (“The Vampyr L’Estat”), handed me the bill and said that they didn’t accept credit cards.
I handed him the cash, which he checked to see if the bills were counterfeit, and asked where was the nearest ATM: a term he was completely unfamiliar with.
But at least there were banks “everywhere”: bloody excellent that is!
On the way back to my “pensione,” I balked, then concurred. Down the street a couple of blocks away a disturbing shadow presented itself, flitting over the cobbles. Obviously, it was a “street arab” wondering how easy it would be to roll and rob me, holding a lead pipe.
But a passing Vespa, with an obvious member of the “scippiatore” on the saddle, scared off the young pickpocketer and saluted me.
Syracusa is legendary in the Greek Classics.
But the magnetic pull of offshore Malta, the ex-British and now-EU member headquarters of The Knights of Malta, was irresistible. “Valletta!” So I bought a ticket down at the colorful docks, teeming with stevedores clamoring for Sambuca and Grappa, and waited for the signal to board, which seemingly wasn’t anytime soon.
“Why are you going to Malta?” a guy with wiry black hair practiced his English. “There is nothing there to see.”
“I’m a big fan of the Humphrey Bogart film ‘The Maltese Falcon,’” I said without irony or guile.
The local stood stock-still with a blank expression on his face. Obviously, he had never heard of this famous film.
“Listen, I am a ‘stage manager’ here. . . .”
“Wow, cool. What kind of plays do you produce? Shakespeare? Musicals?”
Out of his mind with laughter, he put his finger to his head and said, “That’s fantastic! You New York Americans are so smart. I’ll have to remember that! I’ll have to use it!”
And with an arrivederci he was off.
At last hearing the signal whistle, like a copper kettle overboiling in an Olympian kitchen, I struggled onboard with my incredibly heavy backpack (filled with smuggled toiletries nicked from my “pensione”) and then waved goodbye to the shadowy chiaroscura of utter total strangers waving byebye on shore, departing the realm of olives the size of fists and caribinnieri complicit in our secret deals, plus the proud descendants of the Normans, Saracens, Romans, Celts, and Greeks.
Good luck getting there, and may I suggest “Corsican Air” out of Paris to Palermo?
After all, soccer-ball-shaped Sicilia is not really Italian or deflated—it is just pretending to be. . . .
© John M. Edwards, May 2012
Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam to being stuck in a military coup in Fiji. His work has appeared in CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape, Endless Vacation, Condé Nast Traveler, International Living, Emerging Markets, Literal Latté, Coffee Journal, Lilliput Review, Poetry Motel, Artdirect, Verge, Slab, Stellar, Trips, Travelmag, Big World, He is editor-in-chief of the upcoming annual Rotten Vacations.
John M Edwards
I was going to write about haggling with friendly, aggressive Turkish merchants over carpets and kilims, amidst endless rounds of little glasses of thé du menthe–until I realized everyone else had already exhausted this topic.
John M. Edwards meets a local playboy and friendly angel in Monaco, addicted to the casino gaming tables