Friday, June 02, 2006


Diary extract from 3.6.05
Modica, Sicily, Italy - at last!

Events of Thursday, 2.6.05:
Couldn’t bring myself to have a last ( for some time) cooked breakfast as I was feeling all churned up. Stuck with the fruit and toast (outrageously priced at 15.95 GBP, by the way).

Got the 10 am courtesy bus as planned, and Martha [who had surprised me a few days ago by announcing she was coming to Gatwick to see me off, making her own way there] was waiting for me just inside the terminal.

I had posted a few things – non-urgent documents plus the books and little things I’d bought in London – to myself c/o Linda, so I did manage to get most things in the case and therefore didn’t have to check in my in-flight bag. They marked the case “heavy” but I didn’t have to pay any excess as the flight was not full. I asked about Simi at check-in and they said I should enquire at the gate. I had phoned Airpets earlier and she had been sent to the airport and was OK according to them. [Incidentally I think it’s terrible that you can’t have your pet with you in-flight, even in the carrier ; I wouldn't mind paying for 2 seats! After all, no one puts babies in the cargo area! But vets would say that it is less stressful for the animal to be in that darkened section of the plane; just more stressful for the owner!]

Then Martha and I went off and had (very early!) g and t and crisps in the pub there. It was so good of her to come. The flight was boarding at 12.35 so I went through at 12. Martha told me not to look back so I didn’t.

Got a bottle of water for Simi as I thought I mightn’t be able to leave the taxi driver to get one at Catania and, anyway, might have to go upstairs for it which would have taken ages.

The gate number came up a bit late and when I got there I immediately asked about Simi. The gate staff told me to sit near them and they would check. But I had to wait till all the other passengers had checked in at the gate! The gate staff can’t see that you are anxious about your pet! Eventually a ground crew man came along and I asked him if he could help me. He knew all about Simi and said he had just given her water. He took me to the window to see her crate being loaded. Oh, my darling! Such a little crate it looked from up there, carrying all that I hold dear in it! I nearly cried. Simi’s mummy was still not satisfied, however, so I sat back by the gate ladies and asked them to double-check that she had been loaded safely. Then the co-pilot came along and he said she was a bit nervous – my poor love! – but had water and would be fine. A kind Scottish woman was waiting to board and she said she empathised as she had once flown a Westie from Scotland to London; not so far, but she knew how I felt!

Once on the plane, I spoke to the Captain, who was standing at the front talking to the co-pilot and another male crew member. They were very kind and said Simi would be just under where we were standing. I felt better, knowing exactly where she was. (If you are reading this and are not a “pet person” – or maybe you have never lived alone with an animal – you probably think I am mad; but to me Simi is like my child, you see.) But every time there was turbulence, I thought, “Oh! My sweetie!” and tried to tell her telepathically that her mummy was near.

After a passable meal for an airline – a bit of pork escalope, I think it was – I was so tired that I slept most of the rest of the way. As we came into Catania, I did not see Etna this time, but felt the familiar surge of emotion as we touched down on the soil of this most beloved land.

I spoke to the Captain again as I got off and he assured me that Simi was being unloaded. (Another of my fears was that they would forget and take her on to Malta!) I bet they were glad to see the back of this anxious woman who only cared about her dog!

For once the luggage came out quite quickly and also, for once, mine was not the last case to appear!

Then the taxi man was there with a card with my name on it; he looked relieved that I spoke Italian and he knew about the dog. He said he would take me to the Scalo Merci [where I had been told to collect Simi] in the car as it was a fair way from the terminal – and thank goodness he did as it would have been at least a 30-minute walk – and there a woman took my details and subsequently took ages to enter everything into a computer. I was getting worried and started to pray silently; the driver sensed it and asked if there was a problem. “Oh, no”, said the woman, “it’s just that I have to calculate the charge.” (I had been told that there would probably be a local charge.) I explained to her that this dog really was my family and she smiled and speeded up a little. I was thinking, “This is going to cost hundreds” – and I wouldn’t have cared if it had – when suddenly she finished and announced, “2 euros 70”!! So that was the local tax to bring my precious Simi into Sicily!

Finally they brought Simi out, in her crate on the back of a truck, and she looked so worried! Her fur always turns just the slightest shade darker when she is unwell or stressed – probably only I would notice it. But as soon as she saw me and smelt my finger through the cage she wagged her tail and was normal. I asked the driver if I could have her in my arms in the back and he said that was fine; then I had the cage open, Simi was in my arms and I was kissing her and telling her, “Sono la mamma, Simi. Siamo in Italia. Siamo in Sicilia.” The driver laughed and asked if she spoke Italian so I said of course! Then I put her on the lead and she was raring to go again! I had the water for her but she didn’t want it. She just sat in my arms, occasionally sleeping and occasionally looking out of the window. Cara Simi!

The taxi man was so nice and kind and we chatted. He was from Siracusa and had visited London several times. He offered to stop for Simi but she was OK and we pressed on. I spoke to Linda on the mobile and she said she would come and meet us once we were over the second bridge. (There are 2 bridges to lead you into Modica, one of which is among the highest in Europe.) So I called her again then and we stopped outside Bar Fucsia to wait for her. I got out with Simi to let her stretch her legs and much interest she caused among the local dogs! Then Linda and Franco arrived and we followed their car in the taxi.

At Linda's I gave the driver a good tip and she gave him a drink. Then he was on his way, happy with his evening’s work and his tip. Franco took a delighted Simi for a run round the garden on her lead. We all sat outside for a g and t and Linda presented me with a lovely basket full of food, coffee, tea, mineral water – and a bottle of gin and one of tonic! There was also a home-made photo collage of Modica with “Benvenuta” written on it - I am going to frame it – and a bunch of beautiful roses from their garden. After about 30 minutes, Marco, Giovanna and children arrived and we all traveled in procession to the casetta.

Marco and Giovanna had also brought food so I am well supplied. I have:
Linda's Modican pizza
Sun-dried tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes
Fruit from the various gardens
Oil, vinegar, salt
Coffee and tea
Mineral water
Tomato sauce
Franco's home-dried figs
Almond milk

So much kindness!

Simi was a bit nervous when we got here; I think she thought I was going to hand her over to these [to her] strangers! But once they had gone and we were together she relaxed.

The casetta is of stone and is in the old town. It’s a bit cave-like downstairs. It has a shower downstairs, a rather rickety but functioning fridge, a sink in the kitchen area and one in the tiny bathroom, a table and 2 benches, an old easy chair and a very small unit with a marble top. Upstairs is lighter with the bed and a wardrobe, plus a shelf that I am using now for the laptop and some others that I am using for cosmetics. The stone, twisty stairs are banister-less and so a bit treacherous but Simi soon got used to them! And the house is blessedly cool. Oh! I forgot to say that there’s a gas burner powered by a bombola of gas: I am afraid of it but Linda says it’s a rite of passage, for everyone starts off with one of these here! I’ll have a go at cooking on it tomorrow.

After everyone had gone, Simi and I went to bed and slept well, despite the noise of the mad motorini till at least midnight!

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