Speechless in Messina, Italy (Sicily)
There are a few things that I am proud of when it comes to being a New Yorker.
I can drive through the streets of New York with the focus and aggression of a skilled hunter (though admittedly having a license, or a car, is not very New York).
I can walk the streets at any time, anywhere, without fear of any kind.
I can speed through a walking crowd like water running through pebbles in a stream.
And I never, ever, let anyone get away with talking smack to me.
Yes, I’m a tough cookie with a big mouth…unless I am in Sicily, where I quickly learned that when it comes to smack-talking, Sicilian nonnas have me beat.
The Carnival Sunshine docked in Messina, Italy, the second largest city on the island. The weather was hot. Messina is one of those ports that you can just walk right out of, no extra transportation needed.
Madonna della Lettera, Messina’s patron saint, greets all the ships sailing into the post of Sicily’s 2nd largest city.
It’s a nice size city, with a few sites of interest, but really not all that much to see and do. Most cruisers paid for excursions to Palermo that day. We decided to walk around.
After about an hour or two, my son and I had seen most of what we wanted to see and because it was so hot, we felt that it would be the perfect day to go to the beach.
I connected with a few locals (you will be hard pressed to find someone who speaks English) and managed to get information on taking the tram to the beach, about a 30 minute ride. We purchased our round trip tram tickets at the local cigar shop (cost of about $3.00 US) and made our way to the stop. No one could really tell me if there was a schedule, or even how frequently the tram ran, so we had no idea what kind of wait we were up against. So we just waited.
And waited. And waited. Crowds formed. And yet, nothing.
Finally a police officer stopped by to tell us that the tram workers were on strike and they had no idea when it would be running again.
Welcome to Italy.
With our hearts set on going to the beach at this point (sitting in a ship all day was just not an acceptable option), I again reached out to a local for other options.
“The bus…follow me,” said the young woman who quickly befriended me. We chatted about where we were from (she was from Rome) and where we were going (she was backpacking through Italy). She asked me about my Italian and where I learned to speak it so well (it’s OK).
We arrived at the stop and waited for a short time, my new friend having given me a hug and good-bye kiss on each cheek as if I were her friend for years.
Welcome to Italy.
We got on the bus which was super crowded.
The thing about Messina, which I loved, was that it’s not a huge tourist mecca to begin with. Get on a bus and it becomes a complete and total immersion experience. My teen and I looked at each other, our eyes both saying, “We are SO CRAZY!” I had no idea about stops either which only added to the adventure of it all. Luckily there was a Russian lady on the bus who was more confident than I was about where to get off (I was simply going to wait till I saw beach).
As more people got on and off, I found myself getting ridiculously close to other passengers. Finally, after being forced on to an older Sicilian woman a few times by the opening and closing of the bus door, I looked at her and apologized after seeing the irritation on her face.
“Scusa,” I said softly.
She responded, in Italian and very sternly, “Sure, excuse you, but you’re right on top of me so I have no choice now, do I?!?”
BOOM! The New Yorker in me, awoken, got ready to give the smack right back to her, except I couldn’t. For all my language skills, there was one thing I haven’t yet mastered: how to be angry in Italian.
I mean, why would I learn that? Italy is happiness for me. It’s food and family and friends and beauty. Talking smack just isn’t something I have needed — though Italians are pretty good at it.
I looked at the short, stocky Sicilian woman, a true symbol of the Italian nonna, and just stood there and took it. From her and her friends, a group of more nonnas. I understood every reprimand they threw my way and said nothing. My teen was in shock. I had no choice but to want to laugh. But I didn’t, lest I wanted to risk getting hit on the head by a loaf of bread or whatever else was in their shopping bags.
So yes, it took a trip to Sicily to find someone who would leave me completely and utterly speechless. Not something I can say most people have been able to do.
After about 20 minutes of verbal spanking in one of the most beautiful languages I know, we got off the bus, me licking my wounds.
I wasn’t sure if to be angry or in awe…though, I was kind of really leaning towards admiration. Coming from New York City, you kind of have to respect a kick ass nonna who will not allow anyone, especially a “tourist”, to get up in her personal space. I mean, it’s NYC Survival Rule #1: Respect the invisible box, yo. And apparently in Sicily too.
Once we got to the beach however, the surreal experience left my mind. One look at the crystal blue waters of the Strait of Messina and suddenly I realized, it was all totally worth it.
Welcome to Italy.
Villaggio Paradiso beach in Messina.
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Disclosure: My teen and I were guests on the Carnival Cruise Sunshine during their Mediterranean voyage. This was one of our stops. All opinions expressed here are my own.