A few years ago, I wrote a trip report on the internet, about a month I spent in Venice. The trip report, in a different form, still exists, and in fact you can find it here. In those days it was posted on the AOL message board, and it’s been so long, the first report I wrote is probably gone forever.
Anyway. After I wrote that report and posted it on AOL, a woman wrote to me. She thought that she and I traveled in the same way, and that perhaps she had the same sensibilities as me. She had just come back from a second trip to Sicily and was finishing up entering her journal into her computer. And she sent it to me! She sent me her private journal. It was like taking an unedited glimpse into someone else’s life. I was riveted and it was her journal that made me plan my solo trip to Sicily in September of 2000.
Last night, looking through some old papers, I found the sixteen printed pages of her journal, getting a bit yellow, at the bottom of the box. I read it again and not only was I transported to the place I was in five years ago; I was also transported to a Sicily that doesn’t seem to be there anymore. After only five years.
She stayed in a small town on the Northern coast, and she made me promise not to tell anyone about it. At that time, it was a quiet village where you could see every building from the main piazza. Everybody knew everybody, and there was sex and intrigue around every corner. She spent her days dipping her toes into the sea and gossiping with the young women in the town, and her nights eating fat strands of macaroni with almonds and garlic and oil, meeting up with dark and lusty Sicilian men, and dancing at parties thrown in the pensione where she stayed. The way she wrote about it made me want to drop everything and get to Sicily as fast as I could. If I could make people want to go somewhere just by reading my totally unedited journal! It is pretty impressive stuff, let me tell you.
So I went. Sicily was, and remains, an incredibly beautiful, history-rich place to visit. Just five years ago, there weren’t many tourists. I remember seeing tourists all over Taormina, of course, but other than that I only saw them in hotels and in big buses driving around. I had monuments and castles to myself, and I remember the two dinners I ate in hotels, where I was the lone single diner in a sea of ten-tops. I was hit on by an insane amount of men. Oddly, this is not what I went there for, though the journal had plenty of practically Harlequin-esqe situations. What did make me go? Her evocative writing did. The promise of an unknown land full of prickly pears and pomegranates and the smell of lightning hitting the sea. A place raw and untouched.
I went to the little town from the journal. Now, everyone who has visited Sicily seems to know it. It’s not a secret anymore. When I went, I had to stay in the third and last hotel I inquired at, so how unknown could it have been, even then? Or maybe they just didn’t want to be bothered. I saw some of the people from the journal, and ate at both of the restaurants she wrote about, and dipped my toes into the same turquoise water. It was trippy, like stepping into the pages of a book you once read, but a book that only you knew about.
I wonder what it is like there now? We are living in a different world, even five years later. With the internet, and all these low-cost airlines, there aren’t too many secret villages in Europe any more. Just like only five years seperated the Beatles and the Sex Pistols, five years has made an incredible difference in the life of the traveler. I am a part of all that, so I cannot complain. What has helped me has also destroyed. Progress. I guess.