In Sicily, my American anxiety for the proverbial value of time, and time lost, is put to the test. However, even if I wanted to live the same frenetic life I lead in the States, I wouldn’t have the energy here. Before coming to Italy I never considered how exhausting a full-immersion language experience would be. That must mean it’s working.
There is a wonderful atmosphere of tranquility in Sicily, Italy’s deep south. Though I enjoy this repose, acclimating to it requires a patience I never could have managed at home. As our professor Paola Servino remarked on the first day of class, “In Italy, one must always wait.” Convenience stores don’t inhabit every street corner to instantly fulfill my shopping needs. Fortunately, there is a fair trade off; every block has a panificio or pasticceria with delicious snacks and delectable sweets.
Running errands can be frustrating here but not because of the distance one must walk to a specialized shop. This city is enjoyable on foot. However, on more than one occasion I have traversed half way across the city to find a store closed. Most shops have slightly irregular hours and everything shuts down for an afternoon break called “la pausa.” In fact, the city becomes rather quiet during the hottest part of the day (see photo of Piazza Teatro Massimo, above). There are more than 20 times as many people in the city center at 2am than 2pm. Though the afternoon is quiet, the night life is more active than Mount Etna. The quiescent afternoon erupts into amicable gathering at night. (See photo of Teatro Massimo at night, below).
Sicilians, who consider themselves distinct from other Italians, have a few things they are proud of: their food, their families, but above all their people. I am amazed by the alacrity with which they make friendships. I grew up believing personal accomplishments to be the most fulfilling part of life, but for Sicilians, relationships are the true treasures. Simply put, Americans live to work, and Sicilians work to live. Experiencing these different philosophies is the greatest cultural exchange I could have.