It might just be possible for an anthropologist to escape the cage of his or her culturally determined modes of perception and genuinely grasp the nature of a different culture – but it’s a tall order. Even when I try to do any such thing I don’t think I succeed; so, when I’m abroad, I’m really just an Englishman who happens not to be in England.
I remained an Englishman (of sorts) when I was in Sicily recently. In brief, this is how it impressed me:
I’d recommend that anyone with some time of their hands visit this wonderful island – an island that lies at the heart of the Mediterranean. Why? Well first, in many ways, Sicily has everything: its landscapes are often beautiful and its climate is just about the best in the world. Whilst I was there I learned, for example, that, long ago, the poet Cicero remarked of the great city of Syracuse: ‘never a day passes without the sun shining.’
Second, Sicily’s mountain or hill-top towns are terrific – handsome unassuming towns like Mistretta or Caltabellotta. And what is remarkable about these towns is that they remain relatively untouched by loud and vulgar advertising. It’s as if they have withstood the reach of marketing and they are far better for it: ‘Things go better without coke’.
Then, there is the architecture – sometimes reflecting the sedimentation of history and cultures … and the coast … and the vineyards … and the cloudscapes and the striking beauty of the people. I was fascinated by the look of the Sicilians: their eyes are often as black as coals; the shape of their nose is formidable, striking, resolute …
The young people of Sicily speak great English too: they tell me that they far prefer the sound of English English to that version of English spoken by the Americans. (I was pleased to hear that.)
And finally, I saw some fabulous portraits in the museums, art galleries and special art exhibitions held in Sicily – including works by Bellini, Caravaggio and the wonderful Giovanni Battista Tiepolo; Sicilians care about art – and they know the value of great portraiture. Often they dress up just to make sure they’re not outshone by the paintings.
Right now, in October, the oranges are beginning to ripen in the fertile valleys of this lovely island.
Meanwhile, back in the United Kingdom, the leaves of autumn are turning gold; a north wind begins to blow.