Sicilian Tales

We are having an intergenerational holiday. Some of us are 80, some of us are 7 months, most are somewhere in-between. It’s pretty good, though the pace is a little slower than we are used to. We went on a boat trip yesterday and the baby totally cramped my style, all crying and fussing and being a bit vomity, but then my 78 year old mother donned her halterneck one piece and stepped delicately from the boat into the fairly choppy Mediterranean waters and swam like a true Queen. My father amazed me by kneeling solidly on the boat floor (is that called a deck, maybe?) to play with the baby, long legs tucked under him, knees bent, no trace of the arthritic inflammation and scar tissue that I carry around. They’ve both swam from the shore in amongst bronzed Sicilians and kept up with us in stomping around the hill towns of Castelbuono and Collesano in 30 degree heat. They’ve learnt to share a pizza for dinner while the rest of us go a bit mental overdoing the calamari and gelato, calmly sitting just outside our overladen table of 14, one in a cheap camping chair bought from a cut-price supermarket so her back won’t hurt. They have given advice and observed and soothed and cleaned up and wiped down and been the very best kind of grandparents you might be lucky enough to have, still beating people at word games and fitting in with new teenagers and helping set the table. The baby hasn’t been half as useful, I tell you.

Watermelon session in the outdoor kitchen of dreams:


So, the villa is a massive 80’s number with a weird mix of once-state-of-the-art appliances and broken tiles. The outside looks as if someone with a penchant for hard surfaces went halfway towards a grand landscaping scheme and then gave up. There are sweet cats everywhere who turn fiendish at night and claw their way into our croissant packets, and lizards which are too hot to scamper away. The villa is reached after a 15 minute terrifying hillclimb in the flashy little Fiat, of which we have three because our party is so big. The road hairpin bends and turns and winds and scrapes and finally you reach a twisted tree trunk and a very unlikely dirt road which leads you past a well-placed sign of Jesus at the most scary narrow bit until you come to the villa. The best bit of the whole property is the outdoor kitchen and the pool, the worst is the invisible bugs which have left our legs and shoulders full of weeping little bites. The view, over Cefalu’s Rock, looks like this:


Odd interior:


Excellent al fresco kitchen (wth pizza oven, obvs) which frankly will make every other outdoor area for the rest of my life seem a bit shit:


Parents who keep each other afloat stay together:


We’ve been to the beach three times. The first was the beach at Cefalu town, and was filled with more people than felt seemly. I quite liked seeing all the Italians wander around in bikinis, old and young and fat and thin, and the men in speedos, hairy and mostly very ordinary-looking except for the OTT brownness. There was none of that teenage thing I remember where you felt so fat and huge and ashamed of yourself once your denim cutoffs were shed. Here, everyone is fine and unremarkable.

Here are my two eldest and youngest sons, once of whom likes munching on sand:


Dinner. Probably pizza and calamari:


Remi’s enthusiasm for, well, everything:

My intrepid behatted travelling parents with their 14th grandchild in a hilltop town:


A stop in Collesano for the best gelato I have ever had. It was fondant and pistachio – a dark chocolate with a pistachio white soft chocolate ripple. The baby went for a more restrained vanilla:



Golden hour at Salinelle Beach:


We’ve got another five days until we say goodbye to Mum and Dad who are going to do a bit of their own touring in Italy without the assembled crowd, and we won’t see them again until we move back to New Zealand to our new (old) house. We will head back on Saturday and gear up for school and September deadlines with fading tans and very dry hair and a lot of boring mail. They are all geared up to go, although Mum really wants to take her new supermarket camping chair with her because it is so comfortable. It won’t fit into her suitcase though, so her and dad are busy thinking about ways to pull the rivets and/or stitching apart to fit the bugger in. This particular line of conversation is doing my head in a little bit. Ah well.

And So It (Nearly) Ends

Each year I panic about the school holidays and each year I get to the end and feel a great sense of loss – of time passed and of childhoods that are running out – and wonder why I was so worried. Six weeks with your kids and parents and friends is really just a massive gift, and one that you won’t get in the same way ever again. This year, with teenagers and elderly parents and sore backs and screen time fretting and the baby being both cute and a massive pain, has been the odd mashup of different needs and values, of repeated trips to the supermarket for more tomatoes, of too many bottles of prosecco, cradle cap and possible bed bugs. We’ve needed phone chargers and nappies and special fibre powder to keep old intestines running smoothly. It’s been so lovely and so magical and restful and so final and I am so grateful for it.

We are soon off again, out of the villa, into our three rental cars, praying not to smash them up or scrape the paintwork too badly, to wander the streets of Cefalu to buy crap at the souvenir shops and to find even better gelato. There will be dinner overlooking the sea, halved pizza and local red wine and the baby will cry because it is past his bedtime. I  just wish it could last.

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7 Responses to Sicilian Tales

  1. Evelyn Laybourn says:

    Loved this read !!!

  2. jane says:

    This is pure gold. Made me cry a little – all those huge transitions coming soon for you and the gang, but meanwhile all the reality and the joy and the deflated bits of disappointment that holidays bring; god, you’re so good at describing it all. I too have stayed in some weird, inexplicably odd holiday rentals and I too have had some holidays where what’s to come in the bigger picture slightly overshadows what’s happening right here on the one holiday of the year that’s right in front of me.

    Your portrait of your mum and dad is so delightful – I’d hop over to Europe and personally schlep that deckchair around for them if I could. I sense you are starting to hold your breath for the big move and I understand that so well. I left London for Canada many moons ago. I was heading into the unknown (albeit the friendly unknown of Canadian gentleness). You are heading ‘home’, but it’s now neither betwixt nor between. It’s on your birth certificate and in your accent and far, far more than that, but it’s also new while being familiar. You capture all of that.

    You are a truly gifted writer. You include your readers so delightfully while remaining entirely honest.
    You are plain and straightforward but there’s the soul of a poet right there in you. Bless you and the big gang of boys. You light up the days of your readers, no doubt about that. Much love, you fabulous soul

  3. mrsp84 says:

    You’ve definitely got your dad’s eyes! What a lovely report of a lazy summer – sounds blissful. We’re off to Cinque Terre on Sunday – I’m hoping for ‘dinner overlooking the sea, halved pizza and local red wine’ x

  4. rose says:

    You and yours bring so much joy and laughter to the world. I felt the vacation, but nary a single mosquito bite for me. My day will be lighter and brighter and include more smiles for this post. And, secret, I will return over and over until you write again. You are sunshine. Thank you.

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