Rochelle Del Borrello
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Sicily’s landscape

Dec 11, 2021

I'm always asked about Sicily's landscape; what is it like?

The truth is Sicily is very mountainous and difficult to negotiate. The roads are constantly under repair or filled with detours; a short physical distance can turn into hours of curvey mountaintop back roads and deviations.

While at times, I find the landscape undeniably beautiful, lush and enigmatic, especially when covered in mist during a shower of rain. But I ultimately feel daunted by the endless peaks. Mountains are suffocating at times; they dominate the landscape and even those who live with them. While travelling to Sicily in the early 20th-century English writer, D. H Lawrence expressed his disdain for the 'peaky confinement of Sicily', and quite frankly, I agree with him.

This week with the help of D H Lawrence, I'm reflecting on the nature of Sicily's landscape and his sensitive observations about the significant trauma of post-tsunami Messina.

As I was thinking about the mountains in Sicily, I remembered a quote from D H Lawrence. I dug out his Italian travel works (Twilight in Italy. Sea and Sardinia, and Sketches of Etruscan places). I spent the weekend rereading them, and I found the quote in Sea and Sardinia.

It was beautiful to be reminded of Lawrence's beautiful travel writing. He was a traveller when it was challenging to be one, yet his experiences allowed him to write his best work.

D.H Lawrence is one of my favourite travel writers. His journals dedicated to Italy include Twilight in Italy (1916), Sea and Sardinia (1921) and Sketches of Etruscan Places (1932). His travel writing is a joy to read, filled with detailed description and observation, all wrapped in Lawrence's unmistakable mixture of energy, humanity and intellect. His travel writing is honest, apart from the odd esoteric ramble through ancient history and philosophy. It reflects his interactions with the local people and his unique understanding and sensibility.

D H Lawrence spent a lot of time in Sicily, living in Taormina for two years. The warm climate was good for his bad health, and he also found the history and mythology of the island intriguing.

In his book Sea and Sardinia, he leaves Taormina for Sardinia and surveys the landscape of Sicily at the end of his time there. Lawrence writes:

The landscape is ancient and classic — romantic as if it had known far-off days and fiercer rivers and more verdure. Steep, craggy, wild, the land goes up to its points and precipices, a tangle of heights. But all jammed on top of one another. And in old landscapes, as in old people, the flesh wears away, and the bones become prominent. Rock sticks up fantastically. The jungle of peaks in this ancient Sicily.

Sometimes I imagine the gigantic drilling machines that must have been used to construct the Messina Palermo autostrada that took some thirty years to complete. Most of the highway is bored through mountainsides with kilometres of tunnels that stretch through poorly lit subways and underpasses.

Some of the 'gallerie' smell like rotten eggs and methane gas; the works hit pockets of natural gas during their construction. One urban myth says that excavators found a hidden treasure under the Church of Tindari left behind by shipwrecked pirates and travellers from the holy land who abandoned the miraculous icon of the dark-skinned Madonna of Tindari.

At Patti, the autostrada deviated, creating a dangerous hairpin curve because they discovered an ancient Roman villa filled with mosaics. The spot has been the cause of many serious accidents.

When my son was a few years old, we'd used to look for goblins and trolls who could have easily made their homes in the dimly lit safety cul-de-sac's evenly spaced through the tunnels. I don't think they do much of wonderful job-saving life as pile-ups are reasonably common on the autostrada.

A big thank you to all of my supporters on Buy me a Coffe, who have bought me enough coffees to keep me well and genuinely caffeinated and moving onto the future.

Your messages and support are sincerely appreciated, especially to Carlos, Barbara, Francine, Tony, Laurie, and other anonymous donors.

With love from Sicily

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