Seventy-four Tunnels – Travels in Sicily with and without Alice

Once upon a time, the Mediterranean Sea was believed to be the very center of the world. Though it was sometimes a barrier, sometimes a portal, and sometimes a crucible, it was always the center of attention for the brave and the curious. And at the middle of the Mediterranean lay the island of Sicily.

For 2,500 years, civilization after civilization swept over Sicily, then receded – Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, the Angevins, the kingdoms of Aragon, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, and finally, the Bourbons as rulers of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Gradually, the world turned its gaze toward other, farther horizons and Sicily slipped into obscurity. It received its first governing assembly since Norman rule in 1947.

What a place to roam. I applied to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Sicily in part to satisfy my curiosity about the island. I would meet other writers, sure, and I hoped to shake off the fecklessness that had affected my writing since my dad died in early April. I wanted to give my imagination something to work with. After the conference I would explore for two weeks, savor Sicily’s paradoxes, discover old beauties, feel the sun. Get the fuck out of New York City.

My friends, John and Greta, were eager to join me, but then their plans changed. I had booked two rooms in at least eight places, so rather than spend a day reorganizing the trip, I asked my daughter, Alice, if she had the time and inclination. Together, we could go on a big adventure. I could write and she could sketch and maybe something would develop. Say yes.

Seventy-four tunnels carve a coastal highway between Siracusa and Palermo. The road flows from light into darkness and back. Like a thread, it stitches together the blues and greens, the grays and golds of landscape onto the skirt of the Mediterranean. Like a thread, it twines through the labyrinth of history. Alice and I covered tremendous ground. No lesson is learned without exertion. What a great time we had.


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