October 30, 2009
On a recent Sunday evening in Agrigento on Sicily’s South Coast, Kay and I left our hotel to walk along the single narrow street of the city’s medieval quarter. Traffic there was at a standstill, and we noticed that the stuck cars had the air of having been sitting for some time. Most of their drivers had shut off their engines and were reading, chatting with other drivers, or dreaming idly. The scene was calm; there was no horn blowing. Kay and I kept walking and eventually got to the cause of the jam. A city bus was wedged between a building and an illegally parked car’s rear fender. The bus driver and a group of men stood discussing the matter loudly as they do in Sicily. We kept walking and a short time later the bus roared past us followed by the rest of the traffic. Did the driver of the parked car show up and move it? Did a group of men physically pick up the car, move it a bit sideways, and give the bus clearance? Or did the bus finally just plough ahead and crush the rear of the parked car? We don’t know. It’s just one of many mysteries we encountered on our trip to this fabled island.
Others included the seemingly random store opening hours. In Turkey, as in the U.S., stores are open all day and often late into the evening. This kind of convenience is the norm. By contrast, in Sicily storeowners seem to measure success by the least number of hours they can stay open and still remain in business. And on the subject of stores, how can there be so many selling clothing, shoes, jewelry and watches? These merchants outnumber others ten to one. ‘Looking good’ must be preeminent.