Sunday, 17 August
Our afternoon flight was slightly delayed with 3 changes of gate. The parents-in-law made themselves by far the most unpopular people on the plane by saving us seats together. I vowed never to fly Ryanair again. Again. The flight was followed by a three hour drive from Trapani airport to our destination. We arrived at midnight and the Princess, setting a pattern for the week, was up and bright and breezy.
Monday, August 18
After lunch I was severely taken to task by the Baron (the owner of our agriturismo) for turning up late for lunch: “this is not a hotel”. The Baron also abused my half-Sicilian sister-in-law for wasting water by letting the children play in the shower near the swimming pool, saying accusingly: you should know how precious water is in Sicily signora. Fortunately, his efforts to upset the guests were consistently undermined by his staff who were charming and our first point of contact.
Tuesday, August 19
We made the distressing discovery that the beaches in this part of the world are stony as we hobbled to the sea shore and into the water. There was some complaining by the junior members of the party as they leapt from hot stone to sharp pebble. Though, mercifully, the Sicilians were having a dreadful summer and the temperature never went above 30 degrees. Daniel was delighted to see sunshine again and having spent the previous three weeks announcing every day that it was raining again was equally surprised to see that in Sicily every day was sunny again.
The boys were fascinated by Italian which they identified as not French and not English. They had already been astounded to see the priest at mass and staff in the supermarket in Cork speaking English (they speak in English!) though sad to discover that their favourite lady from behind the fish counter had gone (where the nice lady? still in Brussels, one assumes) but now there was a whole new baffling linguistic regime. On our drive from our hotel sorry, not hotel, to the coast, we passed a little ruined house and I overheard the boys talking (in French) about fixing it up with the help of Bob the Builder. Daniel said seriously to Michael: “Bob, he talks in English, you know”. Despite reservations about the linguistic regime, Daniel, in particular, was delighted to be back in kissing country: everyone from customs officers to carabinieri was happy to give him a kiss when requested and there was none of this hugging business which Irish children favour and which he regards with the greatest suspicion.
That evening, the issue of how the publishing exec (Mr. Waffle’s sister and the Princess’s beloved godmother) was going to make her way from Palermo (to where she was flying on Friday night) to our agriturismo was raised. She was arriving too late for the last trains and buses and is newish to driving and, really, you don’t want to put a newish driver on the road out from Palermo airport on a Friday night. Feeling that this was the least I could do to oblige my parents-in-law, who didn’t fancy the drive and in whose house we have been residing practically forever, I happily volunteered to collect her. Mr. Waffle voiced the hope that her new boyfriend who has been inspected and approved by the entire family (except for us – to my chagrin we were still in Belgium when he visited) might prove his mettle by turning up on the flight as a surprise and driving her up to us. Let me remove any suspense now: alas, he did not.
Wednesday, August 20
Still no jelly shoes so we hobbled around the beach until we found the Sicilian relatives. My sister-in-law’s sister (are you still with me?) is a stylist whose work frequently features in the organ of record (ooh the reflected glamour and glory). Being kind as well as glamourous, she gamely trudged up and down the beach (she had the correct footware, well, obviously she did – she’s half Italian and a stylist) carrying our extensive kit from where we had left it to the family meeting point and we disported ourselves in the sea only stopping when three of our party were assailed by jellyfish. Daniel was very stoic but Michael and I were whiny. In my defence, I would say that a jellyfish sting on your bottom is particularly awkward.
That evening was stressful as we dined late (unlike the previous evening where we had a delightful early pizza and all the children ate, though the Princess did pat a cactus during the evening – why? – which restricted her movement somewhat) and Mr. Waffle failed to do my bidding on various matters. As the designated Italian speaker I was sent into the take away to order. I failed to understand them, they failed to understand me, the result was unhappy. I returned to our table in precarious form and began to cry. Family holidays can be a little tense, you know. My mother-in-law patted my hand gently, Mr. Waffle looked anxious, my father-in-law (abandoning his hopes of sloping off from the children with his loving wife) went to stand by the door of the take away and harry the staff, my half Sicilian sister-in-law (who had just arrived) sorted out our order and said comfortingly that she too could have hissy fits (something I found very reassuring though it is not something I have witnessed with my own eyes which would be even better), Daniel said in tones of horror to anyone who would listen “My Mummy is crying“, I sniffed. It was a low point and by the time I was alone with Mr. Waffle later, I had eaten and I was tired and even I had lost interest in my grievances.
Thursday, August 21
The children refused en masse to go to the beach so we took ourselves off to the swimming pool which was perishing – who would have thought that you could be so cold in Sicily in August? We then went to look for jelly shoes which were in short supply in the local town but we got a couple of pairs, not quite the right size but half a loaf is better than no bread. Mr. Waffle went to the internet cafe to wrestle with Ryanair. To get access to the internet he had to sign several documents promising not to look at pornography or set up terrorist cells, hand over his passport (to be photocopied) and get printed details of his log on and password. Sometimes, I think it is a miracle that the Italian economy manages to struggle on at all. Doubtless Gunther Verheugen will sort it all out for them. He might want to have a go at the Chemist as well where all purchases are scanned into the computer and painstakingly copied into a lined notebook by an elderly lady and her assistant which made for a long wait before I got my hands on swim nappies.
That evening the Princess and I drove into Cefalu which is absolutely beautiful. She was immaculately behaved. It was all very pleasant and full of jelly shoes in all manner of sizes. On our return, the kind grandparents babysat while Mr. Waffle and I went out to wait for a pizza. The elderly lady whizzing around the tables muttered something unintelligible and I eyed Mr. Waffle balefully and said that it was probably dialect because I didn’t understand it. He, mindful of the previous evening’s disaster, said nervously, “um, I think she said ‘muss warten’, you know, in German”. And warten we did for a good hour and a half. On the plus side, we met everyone on the evening passegiata, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and nonno.
Friday, August 22
We had a very successful beach expedition with our jelly shoes, hurrah.
It transpired that Mr. Waffle would be required at 7 that evening in the hill top village where the christening was to take place the next day. Did you know that we were in Sicily for our new quarter Italian niece’s christening and that Mr. Waffle was godfather? Well, now you do. And the priest needed to talk to him about his duties. Unfortunately, this was at precisely the time that I needed to go to Palermo to pick up the publishing exec. My father-in-law could drive Mr. Waffle to the hill top village and I could go to Palermo but that would leave grandma alone all evening with three young children which is very rough going. Then my sister-in-law’s brother, new Uncle as he was known (try to keep up – my children were baffled, dazzled and delighted by the numbers of new uncles and cousins who kept emerging from the woodwork last week) volunteered for duty and we heaved a collective sigh of relief. New Uncle was a big hit with the children being a single man, willing to play and also quite happy to kiss the boys when requested to do so (half Italian, you see). When the Princess and I went to look at the chapel in the agriturismo that evening she was very anxious to pray for new Uncle though whether this was on his own merits or because he was bringing her beloved aunt from Palermo was unclear.
Saturday, August 23
The publishing exec had arrived and the Princess went to wake her at dawn. She came back wearing a beautiful dress purchased by her loving aunt in exotic London. After that we hardly saw the Princess as she stuck to her beloved and very tolerant aunt like a limpet. We got dressed up and drove ourselves up the winding road to the hilltop town where the christening was to be. About three quarters of the way there, Daniel got sick. We stripped him naked and, on the way into town, stopped to buy him new clothes. He looked absolutely beautiful in his smart Italian clothes but 80 euros for trousers and a shirt is considerably more than I would normally pay. Also, both he and I smelt of vomit all day. We then screeched up to the top of the town where various cugini were gathered and sprinted to the church where we were more or less on time. The publishing exec was godmother and the Princess was a little inclined to take this in bad part as the publishing exec was her godmother but she was won over by being allowed to hold her little cousin on her lap while cooing at her with her aunt.
After the christening we went for a big lunch. We were a party of 30 of whom 14 were children. It was fantastic. One of the bigger cousins was a boy of 13 who took it upon himself to entertain the 11 children under 7. Michael followed him around devotedly and when he couldn’t see him would come running up to me saying “where my big boy?”. It was lovely to see them all playing together and to have Marco separate the combatants, as appropriate. Michael disappeared at one point and after some searching was still missing. Eventually Grandad located him at the side of the swimming pool which he had reached by opening an emergency exit and travelling through very rough terrain and over several obstacles in bare feet. He was, he told us solemnly, washing his hands. We nearly had heart failure.
Near drowning incidents apart, it was very nice to feel part of a large extended Italian family and my sister-in-law was, I think, delighted with the results of her efforts to bond her Irish and her Italian family.
Sunday, August 24
Yesterday was our last day and the Princess awoke like a briar having spent the previous evening playing with her new Palermitana friend; Giorgia, a four year old fellow guest. The pair of them spent the evening examining the tortoises in the grounds and the Princess didn’t get to bed until 11 and, even then, only because we were going to bed ourselves and locked the door to the apartment. She was cheered by a trip to the beach where we met all the relatives until she was stung by a jellyfish which made her crabby.
After lunch we had to say goodbye to her aunt. Alas. Then the hideous return journey: a three hour drive; a hot, sweaty airport; a long queue for check in; a long queue for security (grandparents helping to keep younger members of the party in order, reassurance from new Uncle that half the queue was people saying goodbye, delight from the children on discovering that new Uncle lived in Ireland not Sicily); a run for seats together on the plane; arrival at 11 carrying (with the assistance of the grandparents) a howling, bellowing Daniel, a tired Princess and a miserable, damp Michael the many miles from terminal D to baggage reclaim; and then an alarming queue for taxis. Finally back at 1.20 in the morning. I am really never flying Ryanair again. No really. Next year we’re going on holiday by ferry. You will be pleased to hear that we brought the jelly shoes home.