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Published: April 2nd 2010
Me with my cousin Fabio
With great difficulty, on the 26th of February, I said goodbye to my family in Calabria. I had no idea what adventures and difficulties lay in the road ahead. With the unknowable time between my next visit, it felt like I was ending a life.
Watch me get scammed
Desperate to make myself feel better, I decided to celebrate arriving in Sicily by purchasing myself a “hot” new watch at the Reggio Calabria harbor port as I waited to load the Vespa onto the ferry.
I liked the weathered face of the old black man selling the watches, and I decided to put a few nickels in his pocket. I inquired of the price and he said €50. I told him thanks, but no thanks, and he could forget it. He asked how much I had to spend and I told him €10. He walked off to find a better price. Then, just minutes before I was loaded onto the hollow concrete ferry boat, the man came back. He adjusted his baseball cap and asked if I’d take the watch for €40. I laughed and said no, I wasn’t interested, and I couldn’t pay more then €20. He kept telling me
that it was an incredible value for a ROLEX watch, after all, it was chromatic. I think he repeated the word chromatic about 10 times. He came down to €30, then €25. And I really didn’t need a watch too terribly bad, so I wasn’t willing budge. At the last minute he took my price of €20; it turned out to be €20 more than it was worth.
My hope was that, due to my proximity to mafia-ridden Sicily, the watch might be authentic and legitimately stolen from an actual Rolex truck (I saw it on an episode of The Soprano’s
once). It most definitely was not authentic, and I began to notice just as soon as I pealed the plastic wrapping off the metal band (do real Rolexes come coated in cheap plastic to prevent their metal from bleeding all over your arm?). The watch stopped working the next day. The band broke the day after that. I fixed it with the help of my jeweler friend in Malta, but saw it break in dynamic new ways in days just after that - and never keeping accurate time for more than a couple of hours.
I imagined overheated rooms
full of Chinese workers, laughing all day while they slaved away in medieval conditions, thinking about the poor suckers who used their imitation products - specially engineered to be the very worst on the planet.
And every time I got frustrated at my horrible watch, I remembered my grandfather’s watch drawer, where he keeps a selection of perhaps 15 perfectly functioning watches that he has collected over the years from free mail-in offers. If you say anything around him about watches, it’s impossible to keep him from proudly producing and offering you one of these garish and fashion-less beauties, some perhaps 25 years old (all of them in functioning condition, though I believe he has removed the battery from each, to keep them ready at a moment’s notice).
My cousin Fabio met me at the dock when I arrived in Messina. He expertly led me through the worst traffic I have ever seen. I believe that for the entire 5km journey, scooters were the only vehicles I saw moving. All of the cars were snarled in traffic. Gangs of motorcyclists moved about like flocks of geese.
Fabio led me to his little bachelor pad that he used for
studying and partying with his friends. We arrived and brought my luggage inside, then Fabio told me to stay put while he ran off to get his friend and bring some lunch for us. I was a bit worried about something happening to my bike, which was parked unlocked outside, and I kept imagining sounds of someone moving the bike. When I went to open the door to put the lock on, I noticed that I had been locked inside. I was trapped like Fred Savage’s pet monster, banging on the glass while someone out there was stealing my moped.
But I knew my fears were unsubstantiated and that Fabio would be back shortly, so I laughed at the situation.
When he returned, he brought Sicilian pizza, foccocia and arancini. The food was excellent, and his friend Giuseppe was funny, though he spoke very loud and had severe difficulties with English.
Fabio took us to several views of the city, then to the place north of Messina where the Sicilia-Calabria bridge has been planned for decades. The bases of the bridge are marked by two giant pilon
i. The piloni are red and white, and about 100 feet tall. Fabio said Burluscone wants the bridge, but many environmentalists and the communists are opposed to it. Even our car was divided: Fabio is opposed to it, but Giuseppe wants it. Distance-wise, it’s nothing impressive - shorter than the Coronado bridge.
We then drove to the duomo of Messina. This duomo is unlike any I’d seen in Europe. It was almost immaculately clean, and it looked stunning with the soft toned off white paint over the Arabic flavored arches. I was amazed as I walked through, I stared at that ceiling as I walked over into the roped area. Someone calmly asked me essentially “what the hell do you think you’re doing?” and I walked back into the main section. There was a mural on the ceiling in the roped off area. There are stunning statues of all the apostles all along the sides. I was quite impressed.
After the duomo, I offered to buy café to thank them for the tour and hosting me. We got the café, and of course they refused to allow me to pay. It seems like the only thing in the world I can get away with paying for is GAS. This time, in fact, Giuseppe paid because he had picked up a lady-friend along the way (on the street), and he invited her to a café as well. I started thinking about it, and I don’t believe I have paid for a single café in Italy. Someone has always treated me. Probably I could find a random person on the street and they would buy me a café. In fact, that happened just last week, while I was waiting for Romano to show up at his music shop. A random guy standing outside the building bought me a café. I really appreciate this generosity.
In any case, after the café, Fabio drove us up to the top of the mountain. I shot some video up there, and it was quite cold. Fabio just bought a new car the day before I arrived, a Fiat Grand Punto. It has the new car smell to it, and those glue scents intoxicated him enough to speed through the narrow curves all the way up and down the mountain. It was dangerous and fun. Giuseppe took a picture of Fabio and me together above Messina. From the other side of the overlook, you could see off to the Sicilian Islands and the interior valleys. I took some pictures of the sunset over the many layers of mountains.
There is a church at the summit, and on top of the altar inside is a guest prayer book. I took a look through it, just to see if anyone had written in English, and was amazed that the book had an average of 8-9 entries per day. Just five days ago someone had written in English, asking for God to help with their family and health problems. It was very painful and personal, and quite desperate actually. I decided that a random prayer book was as good a place as any to thank God one more time for the undeserved blessings I continue to receive every single day.
Following this, we came home and I spent the next several hours typing and browsing through some of the new music I had been given, but not had the opportunity to appreciate. I plugged the Apple into the stereo in Fabio’s bachelor pad, and enjoyed some very fine jazz whilst rehydrating myself with water. Apparently we’re supposed to go dancing tonight. I honestly can’t read Fabio at all. I think he has a short concentration span in dealing with foreigners, and burns out very quickly.
A night of discussions
Fabio returned later with more pizza and more friends. The pizza had the best kalamata olives I have had in Italy, and the friends were very interested in America. For perhaps the first time, I shared the complicated Brennan secret of how to travel and stay for free across America. The magic formula of balancing SERVAS.org with Craigslist rideshare, Uship.com and a highly efficient vehicle. You have to be a special type of person to make this game work, but I’ve proven it can be done. Later, more friends came and we talked for hours about American politics. It is now 12:30, and I am ready to go to bed.
The next morning I saw Fabio briefly. He had been out until 5am dancing. He looked like death and said that his head hurt. I told him he didn’t need to get café or colleczionne with me. I hugged and said goodbye to my cousin, and I headed for Palermo.
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