Updated: Mar 21, 2022
I travel repeatedly to my birthplace: Salice, Messina, in the Peloritan Hills of Sicily. In reality, I have visited Salice three times since I emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts: in 1972 for one hour, in 1997 for 5 minutes, and in 2020 for two hours. On all three occasions, like Luigi Pirandello in ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author,” I searched to reconnect with characters. They were there. The same was true of the setting. However, there weren’t any plots.
In contrast, the plots come alive when I teletransport myself back in time to Salice. Then, I just sit back and watch stories rewind and unravel themselves.
In his “View from the Bridge’, Arthur Miller was correct when making references to Sicilian panoramas. One can sit there and be nourished with the views for hours and hours. (1)
If one grows up in a village like mine, I am sure I am not alone; one needs to find some action. In the absence of antagonists and conflicts, the setting becomes the plot.
There are two ways one can access my village with moving vehicles: from the mountains or from the sea. The most direct route is from the hills. It is known as SP51, Strada Provinciale 51.
In the early stages of its usage, SP51 was narrow, non-asphalted, and non-guard railed. When we traveled it with moving vehicles, we took our lives into our own hands. (2) With an infinitesimal distraction, we would find the pieces of our transportation far down a deep ditch or ravine.
The beauty of Strada Nazionale 51 was in the eyes of the beholder. There wasn’t much to see most of the way. It was surrounded mainly by pine forests. In a couple of circumstances, once going uphill and another going downhill, before reaching Portella, the highest mountain peak, we could catch breathtaking views of the crystallizing Mar Tirreno or Mar Ionico. (3) We were so used to these views, and they were so deeply embedded in the brain pathways that we rarely focused on them.
What attracted my attention were the billboards along the way. After World War II in the early 1950s, Italy fell in love with advertising cartelloni, and all the travelable 'strade provinciali' were inundated with them. (4) I couldn’t take my eyes off them. They were the only innovation along the way, the distraction that kept my brain sizzling.
As early as four years old, I focused on each vowel: 'a,e, i,o,u and as many consonants as possible. On the next trip, seeing the same billboard, I put all the vowels and consonants together to recognize the words. The pictures gave away their meaning. That’s how I learned to read before entering kindergarten.
SP51 was the preferably accessible road to my village, a shortcut through the Peloritani mountains. However, if villagers wanted to relax singing Modugno’s song “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu,” and if they were fortunate enough to be proprietors of their own four wheels transportation, a Cinquecento, they circumvented the SP50 and SP51. Instead, they navigated SS113, Strada Statale 113, along the Ionian shoreline, passing through Paradiso and Torre Faro at the Stretto di Messina along the Tyrrhenian Sea toward Rodia and Marmora, the villagers’ favorite private beach (only a few went there).
Once at Marmora, only the villagers took a left onto SP51 up the hill. It was a long haul but worth the time and the extra money spent on gasoline. When villagers traveled along SS113, they were teletransported beyond the vessels slowly disappearing where the sea and the sky briefly met. They imagined a journey past the Strait of Gibraltar, across the Atlantic and to the North American shores. It was traveling back into the future. They felt at peace with themselves.
In the summer of 1960, it was at the crossroads between SP51 and SS113 that reality set in. Overwhelmed by the expenses of refixing his bicycle, my dad borrowed money from his older brother, Giuseppe, and bought a Motocicletta Moto Guzzi 125. It was a dream come true, but it also brought forward sadness and mistrust.
My dad let a twentysomething neighbor, Mimmo, in love with my cousin, borrow his Moto Guzzi for a spin on a sunny weekend. No problem. Down the hill on SP51, Mimmo goes, happy and free, to reach the sea at Marmora. Once at the intersection with SS113, he turns left toward Villafranca, never expecting a brute impact. But, unfortunately, Mimmo was hit by an automobile riding at ‘Cinquecento all’ora,’ an expression used when one was overspeeding.
Mimmo spent close to a year in a hospital. At one point, he almost died from spreading infection. At another time, orthopedic surgeons were contemplating amputating his right leg. Fortunately, he recovered but never married my cousin as we anticipated.
The entrances to Salice from either the northwest or southeast of SS113 because of the danger they presented could very well have Dante’s admonishment to the gates of Hell painted all over a giant billboard, “… Lasciate voi ogni speranza..” “Abandon all hope, all who enter here….” Yet, once travelers enter those gates, they feel in Paradise, with time neither going forward nor backward. (5) Once in their nestled mountains, they feel no desire to travel. The setting gives them all the action they need, and Penelope is always waiting for them. (6)
1. Unfortunately, one cannot cook the view!
2. I am sure that before coming to earthly existence in the late ‘40s, moving vehicles to and from my village were composed of carts with two wheels pushed by, primarily, asini, donkeys, and not horses.
3. Around this turn downhill, at the intersection with SP50, Strada Provinciale 50, toward Messina, the village doctor’s young son and daughter lost control of their FIAT plunging into a ravine.
4. Most likely a direct aftereffect of Mussolini’s propaganda methodologies.
5. If you weren’t in Paradise, you imagined that’s how Paradise should be.
6. Penelope, as in Homer’s Odyssey, is a symbol of eternal loyalty and attachment.