Travel in time and Sicily
I stumbled a time machine near Syracuse — enclosed by a lemon grove, step inside the old farmhouse
We drove off the main road to the unpaved path. The scenery changed; suddenly, I was inside the 17th-century farmland. Endless groves captured my heart with intense sweetness; the lemon and walnut trees spread and crossed their branches, showing their fruits and flowers freely. The farmhouse is colossal. Its soaring ceiling makes it look like a palace. Big gray rocks of the old walls, heavy wooden door, huge metal keyhole: the house stays put and radiates the strengths of an elephant. Birds are singing of joy. Bright red poppies are teasing me, I kneel and stare at their delicate, fleeting beauty in silence.
The door opens with a loud crack, and a short slender man comes out and walks towards us. A small boy around two years old runs around him and rushes forward, trips and falls face down. The man doesn’t seem to notice that his son is hurt. His walk and facial expressions are the same: quiet, bland, empty of any feelings. He comes over, offers his hand, and says,
“I am Sam. My wife’s name is Lucia. She is going to show you around. You really visited Catania and Syracuse in one day? Most people spend a week there to see Syracuse.” He stands next to me, but I feel he is somewhere else in his thoughts.
The baby finally managed to stand up and came over. The energy of his young son is a total contrast to Sam’s absent-mindedness. I can sense Sam doesn’t want to be here; he wants to be in Syracuse. Over dinner Sam shares that he worked as a teacher for 20 years in Syracuse, then he had to come to live and work at the farm per his father’s orders, and he complied. He will not do it to his son, he says.
The night is strangely frigid. The month of May in Sicily is usually hot, last year, Sam says, we were baking on the beach nearby at that time. It’s frustrating, he says, that he cannot add real heating because the government protects old buildings, so he is only allowed to use less efficient pumps that take forever to heat the vast space inside.
I love everything about the farmhouse. I am totally fine sleeping in my Uniqlo coat and under three blankets tonight. I climb up a thin, uneven metal staircase without a railing to get to the bed that is set up on a platform under the ceiling. Looking down from the platform, I see the life inside that house and imagine what it was like to live here a hundred or two hundred years ago. I am excited to experience it and play my part. My body needed to put effort to tackle the old staircase like I was a circus gymnast reaching for the rooftop without a safety strap, yet it seemed effortless for my mind to feel immediately transformed into a different world. I feel inside of a fairytale, and ready to find out more about the story.
Trip down to the bathroom brings me back to reality, I make my way carefully as I can only fit half of my foot on each tiny step and need to focus and balance vigorously to avoid falling. Still, playing and imagining the life of the past is fueling my delight. I glance at the orchard from the tiny bathroom window. The wind blows with unexpected intensity, sending out loud expressive sounds like a rock band playing; the trees seem to be barely holding their spots. Does this weather resonate with what I am feeling about my life now?
I cannot get up in the morning, feeling exhausted. Scratchy throat, muscle aches everywhere, suddenly my body is not where it was just yesterday. I stay in bed until almost noon, falling in and out of sleep a few times. Finally, I am awake and ready for a new day. I slowly try to push the squeaky front door forward. The beam of bright light is blazing at me through the small opening, almost blinding my eyes. Good morning I murmur to myself, and I smile. I stretch my arms and my neck, making my way outside.
Lucia is a petite woman with long, shiny, dark hair. Skinny jeans and a big friendly smile add a modern twist to her classical roman beauty face. She carries her son on her hip with love and tenderness, making quick steps around the courtyard, calling and feeding the cats, and rushes inside. Later she drives away in her cute beat-up car. Sam and Lucia seem to be a great couple, yet I sense more complicated layers that are hidden between him and his wife and their child.
Sam also has an older son, who does not like to visit the farm much, even though Sam offered all sorts of things to encourage his older son to come to visit with friends. Sam’s English is excellent, so we mostly chat with him, and Lucia smiles quietly. After Sam starts talking, he comes to life with lively gestures and even says funny jokes. He is an intelligent, educated man that seems to be missing his scholar days. Consistently, he goes back to a somewhat numb space inside. When he talks about his present or his future, the words come out more like a quiet contemplation rather than a conviction. He mentioned he learned English well when he spent one winter in Wisconsin. Now his eyes spark as he recalls brutal cold, and Sam is very convincing when he says he could not endure such weather and it was simply terrible, laughing.
The secrets. I am certain this place holds many secrets and even more stories. I want to take a pick, and I start photographing the old clay pots, the cactuses in front of the house, and the cats. Then I go inside the main quarters of the house. Blue bearded ogre could have lived here. Vast library, palatial dining space with old paintings, unique hand-made pottery, and four-foot-tall glass containers, enormous empty room for prayer with one chair, and a small rug in the corner. How many people used to live there at one time? Now it’s an Agritourism B&B with eighteen rooms to be filled. It is still empty before the full season starts in a couple of weeks.
I left some of my secrets there too. I am not going to tell you about it now. You would have to beg me for it, and I still will not tell you. Then one day, when I feel relaxed and ready to trust that you are a true friend, and if you are genuinely excited to know, I will share it as a bedtime story. You will not fully understand if this is real or imagined. And if you ask yourself what is real or what is not, you will know the answer.