I’ve come to love the Sicilian roads. Everywhere on the island they are the same. Far more than a network of pavement connecting places. More of a labyrinth. Every destination is a journey. Driving in Italy is still harrowing, but driving in Sicily has lessons for me. I see my life reflected in these roads.
There are, of course, some highways. But to get to where you want to go, you must leave the highway. You must drive on these smaller, narrow, winding paths that are never straight, with hairpin turns and switchbacks. Barely wide enough for two cars, one in each direction, and often not even that. Just enough for one (for the journey is largely solitary).
Always the scenery on one side as you hug a hill: barely glancing to take in the green, the flowers and fields and distant mountains. But you must stay focused – to look away from the road while moving can be deadly. So I stop many times and suddenly, wherever I find an unexpected place to pull over, away from another turn, and where the road is wide enough to accommodate. Yet when I do this, the scenery changes. It is still always beautiful but not quite what was attracting me from my peripheral vision. This, too, tells me something. I do not need to stop as often as I would like. The landscape is already a part of me.
These roads are not easy. But they are worth the effort. Seemingly the same yet ever changing. The peaks and the valleys. The required manual shifting. The speeding up and slowing down. A short stretch in 4th gear only to shift down again to 2nd at another turn. Then down to 1st to accommodate an incline. And the towns are all on high ground, so a climb is always required.
Again, the focus, the staying present. Watchful for the swerving of others coming towards me, rarely in their lane for the lanes are so narrow, and the moving to the side to allow the passing of those from behind.
Sometimes the roads are smooth, but not for long. Mostly they are rough, frequently with patches desperately in need of repair. The dips. The gravel. The decay. Then the concrete. Followed by more dips, more gravel, more turns.
The switchbacks that confuse my sense of direction – am I going the right way? Am I truly headed towards my intended destination?
The signs, always pointing to the same place. The four directions. Wherever you are going, it is always towards Palermo or Agrigento, Catania or Cefalu. For me, it seems, perpetually Palermo. Other towns are listed below like a totem pole of arrows, but the word Palermo reads larger and brighter than the rest, like a North Star guiding me home.
Some signs I cannot read, only because I do not understand, yet the signs are always there.
And then, when least expected, the highways, the direct paths. Allowing, requiring, even forcing, acceleration. But then the lanes change. In Sicily, there are many lane closures. So many closures that bring you over to the seemingly other direction, the other side of the highway, like a salmon swimming up stream.
And the tunnels. Always more tunnels. Momentary darkness. Descents under mountains. Some brief, some terrifying. I take off my glasses to see.
Our lives are a labyrinth. Always a journey in, and an exhale out. Sometimes a hesitant departure, a desire to remain. But we do not live in the center, we cannot. We rest there, certainly. But life is movement. Life is a journey. And a journey requires a forward direction, even when forward is hesitant, faulting, and slow, a question. Just keep going. Twists and turns, back and forth, accelerate and brake. Swerving. Dips. Attention. Moving to the side, allowing others to pass. Staying focused. Enjoying the scenery. Pulling off, where and when you can.
It is so good, so helpful, to see myself reflected in these roads. A reflection of my life. A reminder of my journey, lest I forget.
I must not forget. I must remember this. Sometimes harrowing, sometimes thrilling, sometimes cumbersome and slow, sometimes fast. Always the unexpected surprise.
Driving in Sicily.