This past March I was fortunate enough to travel to Sicily, through university grants and scholarships, with my travel writing class from UMass Amherst. There were three groups of us; writers, photographers and (artists from the University of Hartford). I feel blessed that I was able to go and have recently unearthed some of my writing pieces. (read: finally got around to editing and reviewing them)
Traveling and writing were both equally healing for me, especially along my cancer journey which was just beginning at that time. Quite a few people advised against my going, but I’m stubborn and always end up doing what my heart desires anyhow. There was no stopping me.
Words really can’t begin to describe the sheer tranquility and excitement of being there. Watching Mt. Etna erupt at three am from the rooftop of our hotel, swimming in the Mediterranean at midnight, climbing the craters of an active volcano, trying so much delicious new food, bonding with my classmates, mingling with the locals, doing yoga on the beach at sunrise. It was my own personal nirvana.
This is one of the pieces I wrote. Revisiting it now takes me to my happy place, knee deep in an ink well…with plenty of paper of course and many many beautiful memories of Sicily. This was my first encounter with mama Sicilia but most certainly won’t be my last.
My first adventure outside the United States, an American girl standing on Sicilian soil. My two small children are thousands of miles away, being safely watched over by grandma and grandpa. The comforts of home; my bed, my dog, my family are all so far away from where I stand. Yet the feeling of being here is that of returning to a long lost mama or the warmth of a nonna’s embrace.
One by one students, from UMass Amherst and the University of Hartford, venture off the tour bus to investigate our cliff side view. Rocky, mountainous terrain undulates out of the hill behind us with great force. The sun has escaped from behind the mountain. The rays penetrate every pore of my skin. Sicilia makes her presence, her strength, her beauty, known from the moment we arrive.
Down below, a crystal blue blanket of ocean hugs the coast. Sky is mimicked by water, but the hue is deeper, bluer, more surreal. Far off in the distance, the solid white sail of a boat adorns it. Alone, away from its docked cousins of the nearby seaport, it drifts along slowly with satisfaction. Seemingly motionless.
Birds hum their afternoon melody, an un-orchestrated symphony of splendor. The humming buzz of a giant mechanical bee briefly disturbs our tranquility, as a motorbike passes by on the nearby road.
I close my eyes, absorbing all that light and wind and sunshine offer. A gentle breeze kisses my cheek. Mother Nature, in March, is much kinder here in Sicily. Frigid New England temperatures bite and sting at your face—leaving your nose numb, your cheeks frozen and flush. But the breeze here soothes my skin, nourishes my very soul.
Native Sicilians wear down jackets and scarves, pure contrast to the American girls in their sundresses and sandals. We New Englanders have shed our layers of hats and hoodies, scarves and long sleeved shirts—leaving them behind on the bus. Eager butterflies, emerging from the chrysalis of harsh New England weather into the light of a new world. Transformed by Sicilia in just hours, basking in her wonder. I am content to observe this living illustration, behold the beauty of Sicily.