Sunday, October 22, 2006


I have had a week in the UK and I am stanca morta [dead tired] which is why I didn't post yesterday , as promised. My main reason for taking a quick trip back [note that I am not saying, "home"] at this time was to attend the Cheltenham Festival of Literature and to take advantage of the direct flights at this time of year.

"To begin at the beginning": before I went, I surmised, correctly, that I would have a lot to do there in very little time so I decided to be a vengeful and petty woman; I got last year's "sent and received" Xmas card list out and anyone who hadn't been bothered to send me the compliments of the season got scratched off my "to see in Britain" list [as did acquaintances who haven't tried to stay in touch, at least periodically]. That refined it nicely. Then I made a shopping list as long as your arm, full of daft things that you'd never think you'd miss, like joined-up oven mitts, a plastic apron, freezer pens, a bath pillow and dried cranberries.

Thus prepared, I was ready to set off on Wednesday 11th. Raffaele the helpful hairdresser got one of his staff to drive me down to the Catania coach stop in Modica Bassa [it stops up here, only not always, and I have seen people running after it whilst encumbered with suitcases] and another friend had rung and offered a lift earlier that morning. People are very kind like that here, as, indeed, are friends in Britain, offering lifts from Cardiff bus station to the friend's house where I was staying. But now I would like to take up with the AST coach company the matter of the design of the buses on that route. For the last three years or so they have been double-deckered and the luggage compartments are so high up! [The driver does not load and unload for you, as in the UK.] This is completely mad on an airport route as people are bound to be travelling with heavy cases. Usually there is some kind soul around who helps me but what if there wasn't? What is the reason for such a configuration?

On that Wednesday night I stayed at my usual Catania hotel [part of a large chain] , which is always very pleasant. But there is another design issue and this goes for the London Gatwick hotel where I spent the following Wednesday night as well: the bathrooms in both hotels have been replumbed since my last visit and the showers are ridiculously high! They are still telephone taps, not those overhead things that spoil your hair [and no, it is not OK with a shower cap!] but you need to be at least six feet tall to be able to reach them! This must be an innovation thought up by a man and, again, what is the reason for it? Bring back telephone-type showerheads attached to the bath taps, please! At the Catania hotel, I noticed a lot more guests dining alone than I ever had before there and a good proportion of them were women. This says a lot about the way businesses are developing and a lot about women's confidence. [I'm always amazed at women friends, mostly in Britain, who tell me that they won't go and have a meal alone in a hotel restaurant; for god's sake, what is the point of being there, then?!] I am glad to report that the Catania hotel still has mini-bars in the rooms, a practice which most British hotel chains seem to have abandoned, presumably because we are such a dishonest lot; therefore I had the dubious pleasure of being charged £4.25 for a bottle of mineral water to take to my room in the British establishment. I also noted that the Italian hotel chain has not yet felt compelled to make the coathangers unstealable - I ask you, what Italian would be so unstylish as to want them? - whilst the British will nick anything that has a name on it!

At Catania airport I was waiting for the check-in desk to open when in came a group of fifty-something Brits led by a courier. Even if their attire and speech had not given the game away, you could immediately have identified them as British because of the way they all obediently shuffled along in a neat queue behind the courier. [Italians would have been milling about all over the place.] A lot of the women had that relaxed, "smart casual" look that British women of a certain age and class seem to acquire. I couldn't help smiling as I overheard some of their conversations; they were either worrying about their pets left at home [just like me!] or expressing their shock at their encounters with Italian drivers at pedestrian crossings. As I sat among them and got talking to some of them on the plane, I thought, "Yes, these are my people and we automatically have a lot in common because we share cultural assumptions, whatever our other differences may be". I think this is a very important concept to grasp when you come to live abroad. Your cultural assumptions can be about simple and seemingly insignificant matters; for instance, if I go to a bar for a coffee with Irma here, she will assume that we will drink it standing at the counter, whilst I will assume that we will drink it sitting down. Or these assumptions can be about more serious aspects of life: most Italians take it for granted that governments are corrupt, so they are not unduly shocked when there is a political scandal, whereas we British still basically expect our politicians to be honest and upstanding men and women, so we create the hell of a hoo-ha when they turn out to be as fallible as the rest of us. However much you absorb your new culture - and you can have a degree in the language and have studied the country in-depth all your life, like me - you will make certain assumptions simply because of where you come from and you must not be upset by them. [It is, however, sometimes necessary to hide them.]

Then there was the emotional side of things: before I left, friends here asked if I felt emotional and I said, "Only about kenelling Simi here" as I had never left her at this end before. It's not that I didn't trust the kennels here - far from it - just that it seemed strange. [Having said that, I would never, ever kennel her here in the heat of summer; I would be worried sick about her and she would need her mum!] So I surprised myself when, coming in over the Channel, I caught my first glimpse of England in eighteen months. I saw how small the fields looked after the gorgeous expanses of Sicily and I burst into tears! And then, when I took in the green of my native isle - from palest lime green through sage to emerald and deepest forest green - I sobbed and sobbed! Those of you who have followed the blog will know that I'm not a nature -lover - give me a cityscape any day! - so it must have been quite something!

I think that's enough for tonight, for those of you still here! I'll continue with my comparisons tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I look forward to hearing the rest and liked the bit about assumptions. I guess we all do it but as they say - to assume makes an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'.
Keep on writing and enjoy the fact that's it's a rainy weekend here in the UK! x

Anonymous said...

Funny thing is, I imagined you were living in a rural part of Sicily, but you are probably living in a Manchester urban type metropolis.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Ellee.
Not quite a Manchester style metropolis. Modica is a small town of, I think, about 50,000 inhabitants. The countryside is only five minutes away by car, though.

Maria said...

I jsut love your depictions. Thank you so much for sharing. It's such an amazing way to experience another country from so far away! Thanks welshcakes! ~M

Ballpoint Wren said...

I love love LOVE how you whittled down your "to visit" list!


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