Monday, December 14, 2009

Stories of the borgo 18/07/09

The weather is crazy here. From the deep sultry sweltering heat and unrelenting sun of the last few days, not a breath in the street last night we now have wild wind stirring up bottles and banging doors and shutters. We woke up to things banging, bottles rolling down the street, plastic cups or containers rattling against the tarmac. Our plants flew off the gatepost and cracked on the ground, spilling mud everywhere. This scirocco wind from Africa wreaks havoc.

I went for a coffee at my usual café down the road. Every time I leave the house I feel I am being watched and if I look carefully enough will usually spot some beady eyes staring impassively from behind shutters in the dark inside. Unreal. So Sicilian. No one greets unless I do first apart from the jolly wee man opposite. A group of men stared openly the whole time I was there. Nice or not to have a bit of that unashamedly explicit desire? They said goodbye when I left and watched me leave, and when I came back up from the supermarket UPIM they spotted me again. I couldn’t help but smile. But the barman’s watchful eye was on me, laughing; he will have been telling them no doubt, ‘lei è la moglie di … , attenzione!’

The funny man opposite shouted, ‘did you have a good walk?’ He is full of buon giorno, and buon pomeriggio, buona passeggiata and buon whatever; but in the days when my husband’s family ran the restaurant, he was another enemy. He used to throw bits of bread and on one occasion, a tomato from his balcony to the restaurant terrace where people were dining. He watches me hanging out my washing and raises his hand in salute; on bad days we hear him ranting and raving in dialect in his screechy voice. His surname is Malvasia, the same as the sweet after dinner wine here – I thought it was his nickname because he was fond of the bottle.

In fact, all these stories about our neighbours account for the strange atmosphere in the borgo. This is the part of town where tourists wander up to see the castle, and the streets are all cobble stoned, and bordered with hedges of jasmin and bougainvilla. An innocent tourist would be enchanted with the crumbly charm. Many of the little houses are painted in bright colours, antique rose and sandy yellow or deep Bordeaux red and there are various view point around the fortress offering belle viste of the sea on both sides of the isthmus. But people keep themselves to themselves, shutters are permanently closed, and as I say, I find it hard to believe that no one greets me unless I do so first. My in-laws say it is typical in this borgo, that these families have been here for years and don’t like to see newcomers. But that one of the biggest ‘bosses’ of the borgo has been asking the nonna (grandmother) for money recently as he is in financial difficulty. They say it is a Sicilian thing, that everyone here has a guilty conscience, and is afraid that you might have connections or evil eye powers, so the less you know about them, the better. Mio marito told me in the past it was a scene of bloodshed too. Our street was once inhabited by the administrators of the Aragon kingdom when the castle was under Aragonese domination. When France was warring with Spain, someone betrayed the king and a shipload of French soldiers disembarked at the port below and sneaked up in the night and murdered all the king’s men.


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