“Have a Cannoli”

Ever since Grandpa shoved that first glass of vino under my schnaz, and Grandma scratched together that first scrumptious batch of homemade ravioli, the land of my family’s ancestors had been patiently waiting for its precious grandson to arrive. The day had finally come. Move over Don Corleone—the American kid was about to revel in Sicily’s old world charm.

Bags packed. Check. Hotel reservation. Check. Appetite. Check. Good attitude. Pronto.

“We’re here,” I reaffirmed to myself as the aircraft stretched its legs on the runway of Catania airport. I had that nervous, excited feeling one gets when on a first date with the person of their dreams. All of those Hollywood mob movies and slovenly Italian dinners with the relatives could not fully prepare me for my meeting. This was it, the real thing. But there was something I needed to remember for our upcoming journey: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”

As soon as I stepped off the plane, my swagger changed. I had a new kind of walk, one that was in harmony with the Mediterranean appeal of the island but lacking the cunning reserve needed to deal with its inhabitants. Fresh cheese, pasta and pizza, tasty fish, historic sights, and glorious weather were expected and “ready for the taking.”

Buon giorno, Signore hotel. As the initial check-in at our resort approached one o’clock in the morning, we found ourselves pointing, signaling, and signing off with a hotel staffer whose English made our Italian sound Marlboro Man smooth. Like confused lab rats, we wheeled our suitcases around the large resort’s paved walkways for an operose fifteen minutes before finally coming to rest at our room. Sleep would desperately be needed for our week-long rendezvous in this Italian treasure.

But there was no need for venturing afar on our first lazy Sunday in Sicily. With the ocean’s pristine blue waters serving as an ongoing hypnotizer, we lounged at a nearby beach for hours and talked about the pride we’d felt over the last few days while reveling in the sights and sipping one euro espressos, and how we really were eating and drinking the Sicilian way. We didn’t even mind vying for a seat on the hotel couch, where we’d sit back like two fat cats and watch the Italian holiday-goers give their best Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' impressions on the common area dance floor. It was a marvelous way to decompress after a long day spent laughing under the sun.

“Let’s reserve a spot on the bus for Ortygia,” Kathleen would later suggest, as she leaned forward on her beach chair wearing a pink bucket hat and an exorbitant amount of sunscreen.

“Sure,” I said, careful to save the rest of my words for an eventual Italian language encounter.

Our spoiled nature would eventually elude us, however. The next day, after being dropped off by a bus in the middle of a parking lot in Ortygia like animal carcasses, we were instantly ambushed by a deafening rain shower—sans umbrellas. We somehow made it to the middle of the city center and were immediately entranced by the impressive baroque architecture and old-town feel. With the streets nearly empty, we held hands tightly and skipped through the never-ending field of puddles, while occasionally running for shelter under the archways of old buildings. It was a real-life, cheesy Sicilian version of The Notebook.

Alas, we were cold and wet, and hungry. Nearly every business was closed during our mid-afternoon quest to find a charming little café. Not even one cannoli could we get our hands on. Frustrated and tired, I began to reminisce about my Italian grandma’s days of slaving over a hot stove. In my moment of nostalgia, I turned to Kathleen. “Wouldn’t it be cool if some old Sicilian woman invited us in for a meal?” There was no response from my weathered partner, only a look of disgust and what I presumed to be the following thought:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if you shut your big fat mouth right now?”

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