Thursday, August 11, 2016
Two Days in Taormina – Thinking about Tragedy and Swimming
Caroline Shepard's snapshots of the beach after my camera died.
We loved visiting Taormina. The view from our room was possibly the best along the trail, the city and sea down the trail from the hill where our hotel was perched, Mt Etna to the right.
“I just want to stay here,” smiled Caroline.
Looking to the right and left, we could see the mountains. Below we could see the small town frequented by the likes of Goethe, Alexander Dumas, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Klimt, D.H. Lawrence, Richard Wagner, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, Ingmar Bergmann, Francis Ford Coppola, Leonard Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Federico Fellini, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Elisabeth Taylor and Woody Allen… all of whom have come to this little city on the Mediterranean. Full of shops, restaurants, and a splendid view, this city has long been a destination on the Grand Tour is Italy. The Thinking Traveler suggests, “Taormina’s past is Sicily’s history in a microcosm: Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the French and the Spanish all came, saw, conquered and left.” These combinations of influences make this little village a delight. The influences of these waves of ideas and people, it is everywhere.
These overlapping ideas and people informing this experience in both positive and negative ways. As Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, chronicles in The Leopard, a story about waves of people who’ve passed through this place, the people of Sicily are going to move at their own pace. As the world says unify, join Italy or the European Economic Community, the people of Sicily have other ideas, and their own pace. Tomasi di Lampedusa writes:
“For over twenty-five centuries we’ve been bearing the weight of superb and heterogeneous civilizations, all from outside, none made by ourselves, none that we could call our own.
This violence of landscape, this cruelty of climate, this continual tension in everything, and even these monuments of the past, magnificent yet incomprehensible because not built by us and yet standing round us like lovely mute ghosts; all those rulers who landed by main force from every direction who were at once obeyed, soon detested, and always misunderstood, their only expressions works of art we couldn't understand and taxes which we understood only too well and which they spent elsewhere: all these things have formed our character, which is thus conditioned by events outside our control as well as by a terrifying insularity of mind.”
We strolled through town, taking in the cafes and gardens, bought tickets for a show at the Teatro Greco, and had dinner in the hotel. The Olympics were on so we watched the Italians fencing, etc. The first day everyone was tired. The second day, we caught up on sleep, rested, enjoyed a late breakfast and a day at the beach. While you have to pay a fee just to sit at the beach here, the day at the beach, six hours all told, was mesmerizing. Number one and I read Romeo and Juliet together, talking about the uses of tragedy and second sight. I always feel a little closer with Dad when I read Shakespeare. I find it strange and moving, that connection, the intensity of those feelings. We were going to see West Side Story at the Greek Theater so the Romeo and Juliet was a good prep. The antique theater of Taoromina dates back to the third century BC. We were looking forward, but the day in the water, looking for sea-glass, a little lunch, playing, darting throughout the bluest of waters, that’s what we were here for. Number two is perfectly aware there is something unknown is in the water. Number one does not care. And I swim between them, darting out into the distance and back. We always become kids again in the water. Here in this ancient space, we can imagine the myths of Homer and Virgil, the gods and heros appearing in the distance, from the depths, ascending to the skies and back, over and over.
We stared at the stars during the show at the ancient amphitheater. The music soured through the still vibrant theater, the emotions of the music resonated here.
“Whenever I walk through ruins such as this I am reminded civilizations are always temporary. None of us. None of our worlds will last,” mused Caroline on the way out.
Walking back, we admired the people dressed up for the night. Unlike Americans, they seem to dress up every night.
So are memories of the layers of the past built together to form this ideal city. Next stop Syracuse.
My camera died in the water. So all I had was my phone. I took a few snap shots during our stroll to the theater.