Pfffffuuuuittttt. The air is out. “Tedeschi?” asks the Sicilian auto mechanic in Milazzo. He grins broadly. The World Cup is still fresh in our minds. He just broke off the pointed stone wedge that was stuck in our tire with his pliers. “Yes, we are Germans.” – “Germany kap-puud! Tires kap-puud!” He rejoices. A replacement should cost 200 euros. First we go to the car rental company. A flat tire? “Iss’ excluded,” says the man at the counter. We call Gianni, our cousin in Barcelona. Now he’s bursting at the seams: “How can you go there? Now you’re registered with the car rental company with the broken tire. How can you be so stupid? Why don’t you call me sooner?!”
Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to rent the small bungalow in the middle of the olive grove in Campogrande. Furnished more than modestly, but in a quite picturesque location with an unobstructed view of the Mediterranean Sea. Lemons, peaches, apples, oranges – everything your heart desires. “Prendete, prendete”, our landlord had said. “You can take a few.” At 150 euros a week, this accommodation is also good value. However: surrounded by gravel roads. On previous trips to the area we had always wondered about the signs with the word “Gommistas” on almost every street corner. These “rubber men” are as numerous on this coast as there are hairdressers and bakers in Berlin. So now we had to look for one of these tire patchers too.
We also need other support. We somehow still do everything wrong in this country that sometimes seems only formally part of Italy, my wife’s occasionally foreign homeland. At our butcher, the tasty “salsiccia” – a farmer’s bratwurst with fennel and fine spices – has a different price with every purchase. Sometimes more sometimes less. Usually more. Price tags in the display are missing anyway.
Our Italian relatives come from Tripi, a pretty mountain village. There is no supermarket here, no hotel – but a few years ago they uncovered an ancient burial ground in the village with EU funds. For decades, farmers had wondered about the regularly hewn stones that kept reappearing on the surface of their fields. Now they know: Down here somewhere lies an ancient city.
The salvaged grave goods – golden diadems or terracotta vases – from Abacena, as the excavation site is called, are exhibited in the absence of a museum in the School of Tripi. Mayor Carmelo Giuseppe Sottile, who can imagine great things here, keeps the key to the fenced-in excavation site: “If we Sicilians thought entrepreneurially, we would have been the California of Europe long ago.” The first signs can be seen vaguely: The municipality of Tripis has very simple holiday apartments available, which are rented out by the employees. Of course, they prefer to offer their own apartments.
From here it is about twenty minutes by car to the sea, more precisely to the beach of Portorosa, the fenced marina on the coast, guarded by an armed patrol service. A Hilton hotel with 263 beds is being built here. For several years now. Nobody here doubts that the bed castle will one day be finished.
The scenery is tranquil. Hobby sailors and fishing boats cruise on the turquoise Gulf of Patti, while the Aeolian and Aeolian Islands emerge to the west. A slender man is standing on the beach near Portorosa: Gaetano Mendoria, lived 76 years old, perceived appearance: 56. His profession: fisherman. Mendoria comes from Tonnarella, a hamlet in the municipality of Furnari. He keeps fumbling with his breast pocket, which has a long needle with a thick thread in it. This needle has accompanied him all his life. And he still uses it to mend nets when they fetch him because nets got tangled again somewhere at sea. “Tomorrow there will be a sirocco,” he says after a look at the sky. His drawing of the tuna factory on Tindari Rock remains in the sand.
Older Sicilians are often very helpful, we noticed that when an old Fiat dealer helped us to mount our spare wheel on the road just before Furnari. “Master, what do you get?” – “Signora, Signore, please! Where are you thinking? Who do you think I am?”
The next day it was bitterly cold. Gaetona Mendoria was wrong. No sirocco, not even a warm breeze could be felt on this coastal zone across the Straits of Messina. It is limited by the foothills of the densely wooded and gentle Nebrodian mountain range and those of the Peloritan mountains. Because of its beauty and the clarity of the water, the coast is probably one of the most beautiful in Sicily. The locals torment their Vespas, Topolinos and pandas for miles up the hills to fill one or two five-liter canisters with fresh spring water for lunch and bring them home. The best spots are guarded like a secret.
On one side of the Gulf of Patti is Milazzo, a cape port town with hotels, restaurants, a castle, a campsite, a pedestrianized area, Vespas rattling along the waterfront and a busy quay – this is where the ferries depart for the Aeolian Islands islands off. Two years ago we returned to this port from the island of Vulcano – smelling of rotten eggs like the princes of darkness themselves. It had taken a number of full baths to wash out the vapors that had settled in our pores during a long bath in the sulfur baths of this third largest Aeolian island. The Aeolian Islands are – as far as popular education is allowed at this point – the mythological seat of the wind god Aeolus, who currently lets the volcano Strombolis smoke and washes fine white pumice onto the beaches of the Gulf of Patti. In the 1960s it was found in every kitchen, today hardly anyone knows what to do with it.
On the other side of the bay is the pilgrimage site of Tindari, whose black Madonna protects our paradise. The church is enthroned high up as if on a rock needle. The Greeks and Romans apparently enjoyed the beautiful view from here: Ancient Tyndaris is right next to the pilgrimage church. The massive systems have stood the test of time well. You can still admire mighty walls and a Roman basilica there. In summer there are performances and concerts in an amphitheater.
The Black Madonna is more than a saint here, she is a helper in all situations. Because those who are suspicious of Sicily’s doctors and who cannot afford to seek salvation from the supposedly better doctors in northern Italy have little choice but to worship the Black Madonna. At her feet lies the white lagoon of Oliveri – a tongue of land that extends a kilometer into the sea.
The return of the car is getting closer with the end of the holiday. With said spare wheel and the still broken tire in the trunk, we could not drive up to the rental company at the airport in Catania. We remembered the tire patcher from Milazzo. We remembered three garages next to each other from the trip to the port. For tactical reasons, my wife rolled the tire into the “Gommista zone” – alone, helpless, technically untalented, physically overwhelmed. Despite the trick, the three tire patchers would not be swayed and agreed: the tire could no longer be saved, and a price of 200 euros could certainly be expected.
One last try: On the country road in the direction of Messina, shortly after the Falcone motorway exit, the tire mountains of another “Gommista” pile up. The young man, who meets us with an open smile, is studying in Spain. A flat tyre, broken stone in the tube? “No problem, it’s just a rental car – come back in an hour. Makes 15 euros.” Relieved, we packed our things and called our cousin Gianni to report on our negotiating skills. He’s not very excited. He sighs and says: “You’ll never learn – it’s five euros too expensive.”