Here in Sicily the on-base MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) office organizes about 25 different
excursions and trips each month. For a nominal fee—usually just enough to cover bus fare—you can attend multiple festivals, go to beautiful beaches, climb sleeping volcanoes, and explore Sicily every weekend of your 3 years on the island.
We don’t have a car yet so last weekend we decided to go to a fish festival. The Pozzallo Festival of the Fish, according to the MWR listing, “has become one of the best summer festivals in Sicily. The town is famous for the crystal clear water, so bring a towel and swimsuit.”
We like fish, we like beaches, we like little Italian towns. We don’t mind that the bus gets back at midnight. Let’s go!
But from the moment the trip began, things didn’t look like the idealistic advertisement. Lest anyone assume that life in Sicily is all blue skies and sweet wine, let this be a reality check!
It began with a screaming baby on a hot bus. I’d chosen the last row of the bus, assuming we’d have space to spread out and relax, but the last row sits over the bus engine and it was hot. And of course we were stressed about everyone else on the bus, too; no one appreciated Lena’s wails. For two hours we cajoled and cuddled, but Lena would have none of it. We were sweating and short tempered by the time we finally spilled off the bus onto the sandy sidewalks of Pozzallo.
I’m not sure what we expected of Pozzallo (pote-ZA-loh; those double Italian ‘zz’s are pronounced ‘tz’ like‘pizza’). I think our fantasies included dozens of little Italian men serving delectable fried fish on every street corner in a charming little town. Instead our “guide” waved lazily in the direction of a nearby beach and lazily up toward the town and then left us to our own devices. She’d never been to Pozzallo either and was looking forward to a quiet gelato without us. We were on our own.
The beach seemed like a good place to start. At least we could blow off a little steam in the cool water. But the beach we’d been deposited in front of was right by the port and the water was a murky brown. Plenty of seaweed, hard brown sand. We found a spot in the shade and tried in vain to get Lena to sleep. Eventually we gave up on that mission and dipped our toes in the water.
It was at this point that we admitted our frustrations to each other. The bus had put a damper—or a steamer?—on everything. We were left clueless by our guide. And we had a very exhausted daughter. Our baby’s tears were more stressful to her parents everything else combined. We could keep pouting for the next 5 hours until the bus left at 10pm or we could buck up and make the best of it.
We chose to make the best of it. We began with letting Lena go for a “swim.” In the water, she was unperturbed by everything—including her lack of sleep—and loved the waves lapping over her feet.
And a happy baby does every heart good.
We snuggled our protesting baby into her baby carrier so she could take an on-the-go nap. She did, eventually. Determinedly hopeful, we headed off to explore the town. There was a lovely main piazza, where we bought spinach and ricotta rolls, and an old castle tower from the Arab period. As the sun went down we found another stretch of beach and watched the full moon rise over the water.
After the sun went down (and photos were harder to take—sorry!) we found the fish festival itself. It was fairly underwhelming: buy a ticket for 6 euro, stand in line for 45 minutes, get a plate with [undercooked] Spanish paella, [delicious!] grilled swordfish, and a roll. But we found a place along the water to eat our meal and listen to the music and laughter of the festival. Later we found a cluster of tents where artists were selling pottery, fans, and olive wood bowls, and I bought a fabulous cannoli with pistachio cream.
And the bus ride back was just fine. Lena slept, I napped, Elliott read The New York Times on his phone. We were grateful and content. Which we probably should have been all along.