Imagine being in Sicily, for the first time, moored up with a neighbouring boat holding six Italians with only one speaking English. And then consider us – a yacht containing one Brit, two Americans and a Brit/American 3 year old – all struggling to say the town they’re in, not to mention simple things like ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in Italian.
You wouldn’t think that we’d exchange more than a cursory ‘bonjour’ or ‘hello’ when we saw each other but after a few days of smiling at our neighbors, something happened.
The smiles and random attempts at trying to convey some sort of meaning turned into something deeper
Let me start at the beginning. After starting our around-the-world travel adventure in Gibraltar, we sailed to Malta (with an emergency stay in Algeria – read Our first sailing adventure). After a 1 ½ weeks in Malta, our small crew of 3 adults and 1 child sailed North East to Sicily and landed in Marzamemi.
Actually Marzamemi was recommended to us by a friend of a friend so we were confident that our first stop in Sicily would be enjoyable. While winds of 45 knots were blowing us around, we eventually moored up and started doing our after-sail clean up chores – washing the deck down, putting the sail cover on, cleaning up the living area and so forth.
In come a boatload of Italians
During our cleanup, another boat came in – one with what appeared to have 6 Italians on board – with the three men and three women. The men just seemed to shout all sorts of foreign words. We helped them moor up and gave our best smiles.
Lucky for us, one of them, named Stepfano, spoke very good English. We met him later at the marina office and he introduced himself to Sienna, our 3 year old ambassador.
With Sienna, everyone seems happy to talk to us…or should I say they’re happy to talk to her!
From that quick introduction, Stepfano become a new friend. The following day, Easter Sunday, we wanted to hire a car to drive to a nearby city – Noto. After approaching the marina attendant we realized that we couldn’t convey our request. My husbands ‘vroom-vroom’ noises accompanied with a wheel turning motion just didn’t cut it. Our Italian was terrible and his English wasn’t good enough. Thankfully, Stepfano stepped in to help. He not only interpreted but he then went on to tell us where to go, how to get there and what to stay away from.
“Every 50 km in Italy everything is different”
Furthermore, he explained that in Italy, every 50 km the spaghetti sauce, meat dishes and wines are different. He explained that every region uses different ingredients and different recipes – you can’t get the same dish everywhere you go – for example, each region has a different spaghetti sauce. Stepfano also explained that spaghetti and meatballs are an American invention – if we see it offered in Italy, it’s for tourists.
Upon our return from a day out of sightseeing we were then greeted by our neighbors and given local oranges, cherry tomatoes and butter beans. Little conversations ensued with Stepfano while the rest of us just smiled and kept waving hello to each other.
I wanted to talk to the others but language was a barrier
In the mornings or whenever we’d see our new friends, we’d do our best to say something in Italian and they’d say something in English. Pleasantries were exchanged.
So…the day before we left Marzamemi, we went into the town and had one of the best meals ever! We had a pistachio/fish pasta to start and then for the main we had the most amazing stuffed squid and swordfish in the world. It was a lovely meal where we all felt very pleased with our food.
Afterwards, we squeezed in an ice cream and my 3-year old daughter not only covered her face in chocolate ice-cream, but she also covered her t-shirt, jean skirt, tights and the ground around her! Next stop – the showers…
When returning from the showers, I found a note left by my husband as follows:
‘I’ve gone out sailing with the neighbours. Be back in an hour.’
Well, I knew that it wasn’t going to be an hour! I was happy that he was out sailing and my cousin and I hung out, put my daughter to bed and waited for his return.
When the boat returned, it was more shouting, yelling, shouting and yelling. I’ve never seen anything like it. The three men on the boat just barked all sorts of orders, responses and remarks. It was hysterical.
I don’t know what they were saying, but it certainly made me chuckle
Soon after they tied the boat down, my cousin and I were invited aboard the boat to have a small glass of champagne. My husband explained that he didn’t understand a word that anyone said but he had an absolute blast.
We all drank a few little glasses of sparkly and then the English speaking man, Stepfano – the skipper of the boat, said ‘I have the ingredients, but I need to cook dinner on your boat. My boat doesn’t have a big enough pot or seating area!’ Before my cousin or I could respond, we were all in our galley having a lesson on how to cut garlic, how to prepare a garlic oil sauce and how to properly cook spaghetti.
The whole evening was so funny
Stepfano said to us in his lovely Italian accent, ‘there’s three things in Italy. There’s spaghetti, then there’s pizza and then there’s pasta.’ I questioned why spaghetti didn’t fit under the term of ‘pasta’ and he said that ‘spaghetti is spaghetti – it’s in it’s own category.’
Not long after the lesson on cooking spaghetti started, there were 9 of us seated around our table
I didn’t ever think that we’d have such a group so early in our trip. The wine was being drunk, the food was being enjoyed and everyone smiled, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.
Stepfano would translate a bit. Otherwise the others would talk and do a charades-type explanation. We would do our best to convey meaning and in the end, we all enjoyed being with each other even though we didn’t share a common spoken language.
We had the language and love of food, sailing and now friendship
I told Stepfano that I was going to add the evening to my top 10 of highlights of my life. I think I need to increase my top 10 to top 20 now as I said the same about my day out with our new friend, Steph, in Gibraltar.
Amazingly, everything that I wanted this adventure to be about is already coming to fruition
I quit the rat race to spend more time with my family, meet new friends and enjoy real quality wholesome food and being in nature. I left my status quo life to go out on an adventure to find more fulfillment and surprise, surprise, it has nothing to do with money, ‘success’, the car I drive or the job I have etc, etc… I’m finding happiness in the simple pleasures in life – sailing, food, friends, family and the sea.
“…There are no walls in the sailing community…”
While learning how to take the ‘bad’ bit out of a garlic clove – yes, there is a bit you need to remove to avoid poor digestion and bad dreams, – I told Stepfano how happy I was to enjoy everyone’s company. He turned to me and said, ‘but this is what your life is now about. In the sailing community there are no walls – we’re all sailors. We all speak the same language.’
After dinner, we enjoyed a pistachio cake that was specially purchased from a bakery on the side of Mount Etna (the volcano in Sicily). I felt so honored to have experienced the amazing food, the connection I felt for my new friends and the simple pleasure it was to enjoy food with people I couldn’t even speak English to. I am so grateful of this lesson I’ve learned and it really makes me realize just how amazing all us humans are.
The day of our departure from Marzamemi, our new friends left 1/2 hour before us. We caught up to them and while passing them I took photo’s of them and they took photo’s of us. Our boat yelled things in Italian and their boat yelled things in English. Originally, we thought that they might head for Syracuse so that we’d stay together however an hour later they caught up with us again.
The wind had died and they were heading for Cantania (or next port of call after Syracuse). To get to Cantania before night fall they turned their engine on and while passing us, they handed over a bottle of sparkling wine and yelled out, ‘see you in Cantania!’
Later on we also found a bag of lemons and oranges sitting in our galley. We couldn’t believe the kindness that was shown! What an incredible experience – one that I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.