Day two in a Sicilian household: “Caterina!”

Sicilian goat-dog

“Caterina!”

I appear and am instructed to an armchair, in front of the armchair is the stove. My Sicilian host, Leonardo, is wearing a fleece hat that reminds me of my school PE teacher whom we nicknamed Dopey after the seventh dwarf. He used to tuck his hat behind his ears in the cold English months of school hockey.

Leonardo pointed to the stove and explains, in gestures and a word or two of English, that the stove is the central heating and will warm my room; it’s also the heat for the kettle so I can have a cup of tea (I wonder how exactly as we have no teabags); since I need it to stay warm, when the wood burns through I’ll need to reload the stove; and I should relax with the company of my computer in the armchair.

We have a common language, but it doesn’t involve words. It exists through the mutual understanding that comes from having similar cultures. It’s easy to notice the differences when you travel, but such communication happens through the similarities. It’s action and hand waving, and what you might call common sense. It works surprisingly well when you stick to the concrete. The abstract less so.

His partner, Maria, is away, returning tonight. In the meantime, we’re having our meals at Francesco’s house, our neighbour.  He runs a home for stray and abandoned dogs with the help of a volunteer who’s staying there. Dinner time company is therefore two Sicilian men, smoking, drinking wine and talking with their arms; a grounded nomadic Swiss woman, Greta; and little English me.

During dinner I learn that Francesco has a philosophy of resorting to Nutella mid-afternoon to fill the empty hole in his soul that’s caused by the absence of love. Greta says Nutella is bad for our bodies and bad for the environment and sugar isn’t going to solve lovesickness. She does the cooking and believes in eating with kindness. She also is fluent in at least four languages including Italian and English.

“Basta!”

Enough. The kitchen is also home to supposedly two dogs – the house dogs – but frequently four because, like me, they don’t understand the rules.