The last leg. I decide we will take the long way along the coast via Messina rather than the inland way via Enna. Once we’re underway, our spirits lighten. It’s autostrada all the way. As we approach Catania, Mount Etna appears in the distance, purple and partly wrapped in clouds. It’s the largest active volcano in Europe. The closer we get the more its slopes swell, its vastness increasing in width, not height. Subsidiary cones stride up the incline. The mountain is a great rock fact. A few minutes on, I nudge Alice to point out Italy. Across the Strait of Messina, just three kilometers, lies the continent of Europe. Then we bear sharply to the west and proceed toward along the Tyrrhenian Sea to Palermo.
Tunnel after tunnel after tunnel, around the next curve another goddamn tunnel. Some are barely more than underpasses. Some are disturbingly long and dark. One awful one has stretches of dripping walls, stalactites, wet pavement, and no illumination save the retreating red lights of the cars ahead. “Uh-oh,” I say, “Smell that? That’s definitely sulfur. This could spell our doom.”
We burst into the light. The Mediterranean to our right sings perfect scales of blue: there’s surf, too. To our left, green mountains and limestone promontories lean forward and back. “I love this,” says Alice.
Our gas gauge has slipped into the red. Few things are as intense to me as running on empty. Blessedly, a service area appears. That gives me an idea. “Let’s take the car back this afternoon. It will save us hassling with getting in and out of Palermo, especially tomorrow morning at the crack.” Dad is brilliant. Dad never wants to see the Fiat again. Except there’s a traffic jam as we skirt Palermo. A fucking maintenance crew trimming greenery blocks two lanes. At rush hour.
We settle into our third hotel in Palermo, the Centrale Palace. I book a cab to the airport for six o’clock in the morning and reserve a table at the rooftop restaurant. Alice knocks at my door at five to eight, and there she is in a dress. This has been the best trip ever.