“Sono Otto, sono Otto di Catania”, or I was trying to be him for the long September weekend after I landed at the Catania airport, the steaming mount Etna visible from the airplane miles ahead.
The city once built a castle strategically located on the seashore. Then the Etna erupted and the lava filled up the bay.
Now the castle is about one kilometer inland.
All this strategic work for nothing, huh? The castle still looks great but clearly there is a zero chance of us against the Mother Nature. At the end we, humans, only occupy about 3% of the planet.
Let me switch to my best Italian to start:
“Cari spettatori”, dear spectators,
“amitci del variete”cabaret lovers,
“calorosissimo pubblico buana sera gia stella matto”, it’s a wild world, but you’re in for a good time.
“Come on in,” said the dark haired guide from the EtnaTribe agency as she opened the door of the van, “get ready for the adventure of your lifetime”. She was Italian in the best quality, Sicilian, she would say. The smile, the temperament, the sense of humor and the body. As a man, I can only say this – the moment you stop looking, you’re dead.
We drove as far up the mountain as we could. We took the teleferico (line car) up and then a custom-made off-road bus, which showed that the rough volcano business worked out swell for Mercedes. And then it was only walking, the “Mama” exploding from time to time creating tension, older craters still fumanti with smoke.
Etna lies above the convergent plate margin between the African Plate and the Eurasian Plate and it explodes easily. The lava from an eruption 17 years ago was still warm if you dig into the ground as I did going up. Imagine all that.
Mount Etna is in a constant state of activity, her name is derived from a Greek word that means "I burn".
Or, as Bruce Springsteen would sing it “I am on fire”, as if “I can take you higher”
which is the premise of the song. A guy promising something to a girl.
The next day, driving south down the coast I stopped in Syracuse, a city founded by ancient Greek Corinthians, a place that became a very powerful state on it’s own. Described by Cicero as "the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all” it equaled Athens in size. It has a Cathedral built around the old Athena temple from five centuries before Jesus. All of the sudden He becomes the new guy, as I realized sitting on the patio in a restaurant in front of the spectacular church.
Like “who? Say that name again. Jesus, yeah, John the Baptist’s cousin. ”
Which is true, by the way.
I went inside, looking at the bright interior, ancient columns, dark top in a combination of honey and brown. The cathedral is dedicated to Santa Lucia, the patron of Syracuse. I was looking at her figurine thinking – “ pay attention to what I say. I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I hope you will mention me when the time comes, but no pressure.”
Now imagine this - the cities on the coast are built of a soft stone, which assumes a honey tonality under sunlight. Have a meal and a glass of local wine in the middle of that and see how you feel.
Later, I was eating dinner in the fishing village of Marzamemi, on the Ionian Sea cost, an Arab settlement from ancient times and the September night came fast.
Then it was time to leave, early in the morning the next day. The smoke from Etna was red in color, but she was quiet that day.
“Amici grazie, grazie per venire”, thanks for reading.
“E' molto special,sono arrivato di mia iniziativa”I am in the place I always wanted to be.
It is good here.
Note: “Otto di Catania” is a song by the long running Swiss duo Yello. The Italian lyrics are from the song. Give it a listen, you will not be disappointed.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler