Before going to Palermo, I stayed in another house in the south of Sicily. Or rather, I stayed in a little cabin, what the Italians call una capanna. It had no electricity, although the main buildings had occasional solar power. I could charge my phone and computer and we could run the washing machine. I lit candles in the evening, and used solar powered lanterns to read in bed.
The valley I lived in was home to a few English expats and a Sicilian chap who would pass by singing my name – Caterina. He brought over mandarins, fresh off his trees which I ate daily, and kept the orchards and vineyards of the absent expats looking picturesque.
The beauty of the valley was its silence. You could hear a blue tit take off and it would sound like a helicopter. When the men were working up the hill on one of the other properties, you could hear their loud boisterous Italian conversation. You could hear each whack of the hammer. They’d stop at twelve, having started promptly at 7am. When the men were pruning the overgrown abandoned lemon groves I had no need to set an alarm; I woke to the whir of the chainsaw.
But most of the time there was silence. You could hear the breeze even if you couldn’t see the leaves of the trees sway. In Sicily, autumn has only hit the occasional tree – the pink cachi for example whose fruit and leaves are the same colour so you can hardly spot the fruits on the tree. The delay of the seasons made it all feel a little like travelling back in time.
I read. Curled up in the sunshine, watching the robins dart between the cacti, or with my legs up in front of the wood fire when the sun hid behind the clouds or after it had gone to bed. I read Sara Maitland’s ‘A Book of Silence’ and John Francis’ ‘The Ragged Edge of Silence’.
In the evenings before dinner, my hosts and I would make our way to the dojo, the meditation room, where I’d light the wood fire. We’d stretch gently with a little calm yoga, before sitting down to calm our minds.
My mind was serenely calm. There was plenty of space for it to unwind between the relaxed manual labour – I repaired furniture, painted tables and dug over the vegetable patch – and reading, writing and walking. I was calm and content. Peaceful.
And then I left and went to Palermo. And in the rage of real passionate, often furious, Italian expression, I lost the calm.