Hi from Rick: It's Italy in the Extreme
|Honor Thy Vespa: It's Sicily's Eleventh Commandment. (Photo by Randy Ratzlaff)|
In 2008, the dream of many Americans visiting Europe is to find "Old World character." The reality is, as Europe gets wealthier, the craggy old places, people and attitudes get harder to find. But not in Sicily.
In Sicily, while scouting out our tour itinerary, I fell in love with Cefalù. Steeped in history and bustling with color, it's dramatically set with a fine beach along a craggy coast under a pagan mountain. As the sun grew red and heavy, the old women — still in bathrobes, it seemed — leaned from their flower-potted balconies as boys, girls and Vespa ("wasp") scooters clogged the main drag below. Tsk-tsking at the age-old flirting scene, the grannies loudly gossiped from balcony to balcony about the tarted-up girls below.
I walked up to a local man who seemed to ignore the girls, but mentally undressed every scooter that went past. He told me of the motorbike he lusted after, "a classic Vespa from the '70s, with a body that's round like a woman's." Just then, another guy buzzed up on his very round, very blue, classic Vespa. He declared, "It's the only Vespa I've ever owned. I got it when I was 14. That was in 1969, the year man first walked on the moon. That was the year I first rode this Vespa." Guys gathered around almost worshipfully. The old women in the balconies and the mini-skirted flirts no longer existed for these men. Cefalù and its teeming main drag were just Mediterranean wallpaper as that round, blue wasp, positively dripped with la dolce vita.
Down on the beach, little wooden boats, painted brightly, sat plump on the beach. Above them, the fishermen's clubhouse filled an old niche in the town's medieval wall. I wandered in.
I was greeted warmly by the senior member, "Il Presidente." (The men go by nicknames, and often don't even know their friends' real names.) Since before I was born, Il Presidente has spent his nights fishing off Cefalù, gathering shimmering anchovies under the beam of his gas-powered làmpara. When he took the pre-Coleman vintage lamp off its rusty wall hook, I saw tales of a lifetime at sea in his face. As he showed me the ropes he'd woven from local straw — and complained that the new ropes just aren't the same — I knew this is the Europe we want to share on our tours.
For a closer look at the Sicilian side of our tour program, wander over to this month's Tour News, where we're featuring a lively bunch of articles, radio podcasts, a "singing" video clip, an interview with guide Tommaso Pantè, and more.
Here's to character...and characters.