Have you ever felt silence?
At 14:11 in a small fishing town in northern Sicily, it’s impossible not to.
Piazzas normally scattered with old men playing endless rounds of cards, deserted. Garage doors of family-owned mercati and the local panificio, locked shut. The off-white, floral sheets lightly rippling outside of Signora LoCoco’s balcony seem to be the fastest moving object in the whole town. A place where the chaos, no matter how quiet or loud, never ceases to exist is completely still.
And that’s when I feel it.
The deep, pulsating rhythm of the Scirocco African winds gently pounding against my ears. The sticky, stagnant July heat driving me toward the nearest mouth of the sea. The slight hint of fish drifting over from the fishermen’s morning catch. It all becomes so loud that even the normally unapparent flip, flop of my sandals against the pavement starts to make me feel like an intruder in this place — the only thing disrupting the pure silence.
And as I try to take in this incredibly rare moment, he joins the scene.
No more than 7 years old, he walks along his merry way through the vast, empty piazza. Sporting a small, cotton candy-blue speedo and matching blue water shoes, it seems only right that as he walks he is licking away at the rest of his melting blue popsicle. I look around to see where the rest of his posse might be, but there is no one else. Just blue boy and his popsicle, walking through the town, without a care in the world.
He finishes his popsicle, tosses the tiny, wooden stick in a garbage can and continues on what seems like a very determined journey. Where he could possibly be going by himself at prime lunch hour when everyone is home with their families is beyond me. But, I am curious...so I follow suit.
He climbs across the rocks, passing the unauthorized entry sign without a mere glance. But having been there myself multiple times and seeing the rocks filled with sunbathers everyday, I have a feeling blue boy has a handle on the situation. So, I leave him to his journey...only to see him shortly after from across the way looking down into the water from the edge of the rocks. Part of me feels nervous and weirdly responsible, like I’m going to be the last one to see him and not have done anything. But something else more strongly within me knows he’s going to be just fine. So I chuckle, snap a pic of blue boy and carry on.
I did see blue boy again, many times actually, over the course of the summer. He was usually by the water, and sometimes alone, but it never failed to make me smile.
To me, there’s something to be said about childhood in a place like Porticello, Sicily. Or any small town far off from the big cities and often rushed pace of life. I’m not going to pretend like they are immune to the rampant technology revolution that has consumed the lives of adolescents today. But I will say the whole “kids playing soccer in the street” thing that many people think of when they think of Italy is not too far off. And to me, it’s an irreplaceable part of their culture.
It’s not strange to see kids, and I mean 7 year-olds, walking around town with friends or alone, going to the beach or picking up bread for dinner. I can’t count the number of times I sat on my nanna’s front porch watching kids chase each other on bikes, run up and down the street playing hide and seek, or throwing small poppers by houses and running away. When my 12-year-old cousin Piero took out his old fishing kit to prep for his regular session after lunch one day, my first instinct was to go along and film him. He was confused by my excitement, but to me, a kid spending the afternoon fishing off the wall of the port by himself, just for fun, felt like the excitement of childhood that we’ve seemed to lose sight of. He and blue boy brought it back for me.
The long summer days in Porticello reminded me of the beauty of childhood. It is one of the only times in life we are allowed to make countless mistakes and turn them into lessons before they become more serious than a poorly-made mud-pie. It is our first chance to be our own person in the world, making decisions and dealing with the consequences. Though it might not exist everywhere in the same way it did decades ago, it brings me joy to know that in small pockets of the world, it will always remain the same.
Porticello, Sicilia, Italia
~ Gabriella Pinel