Just as we are setting the anchor in Siracusa harbor, Rick's cellphone rings. It is Kathy MacGillivary, already waiting for us on the dock. "Jeez, I can see why you guys like hanging out here so much" she says. "This place is freakin' amazing!" I dash to make up a berth in the forward cabin while Rick launches the dinghy and heads to shore to pick her up.
Kathy bounces onboard, bubbling with excitement and looking fantastic in the new clothes she has bought in London. "I found a wine store" she says, passing me a bag with two bottles of Sicilian wine; one red and one white. She had also gone to the Binnacle before leaving Halifax and picked up a new fitting for our spinnaker pole. "I'll be your easiest guest ever" she promises, and when we discuss the itinerary for her visit she quickly endears herself to the skipper by nixing my suggestion of visiting the archeological park (which, although boasting an impressive Greek theatre, is a long hot walk from the harbour). Our time together will be short, since Kathy must fly to Barcelona for a business meeting in less than three days. "It would be nice to go for a sail if we could, though."
We decide to eat onboard, beginning with wine and antipasto in the cockpit as we admire the view of Ortygia, Siracusa's historic district, onshore. After dinner, we sit up talking in the cockpit late into the night, long after Rick has gone to bed, finishing off the red wine and opening another long-forgotten bottle purchased during our visit to the Spanish Alpuharas with our friends Doug and Liz in 2007.
The next morning, we are all up early for a run along the Ortygia waterfront in the sunshine. I'm feeling timid about running over the cobblestones, having barely recovered from a nasty fall in Marina di Ragusa, but I quickly relax and enjoy the experience. Kathy is exuberant. Twenty minutes into the run she spots a flat piazza, drops to the ground and does a few dozen push-ups. Has this woman even heard of jet-lag?
We have come prepared with our knapsacks, and make a stop at the morning market. We drop in to the cheese shop and buy baked ricotta, smoked mozzarella and salami. "Where have you been?" the young man at the counter asks Rick. "I haven't seen you in nearly a week." Continuing through the market, we buy mounds of fruit, a kilogram of melt-in-your-mouth ciliegino (cherry) tomatoes, three orata (sea bream) and much much more. Next, a walk through the streets of Ortygia.
I pause in front of a hairdressing salon, remembering that it has now been nearly seven weeks since my last haircut. The girl at the door makes it clear that if I want my hair cut they must do it "subito" (soon) , since they are about to close for the weekend. "Do it" says Kathy, "We'll go back to the boat and get lunch ready, then Rick can pick you up at the marina".
Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to look up the phrase "Not too short, please!" in my phrasebook. Shortly after we landed in Spain in 2007, I had the misfortune to nod with too much enthusiasm when a matronly-looking hairdresser held up her scissors and asked "Pequeno?" The results were so disastrous that I was obliged to wear a ball cap every time I went out for the next two weeks. So now, having placed myself at the mercy of this unknown Sicilian hair stylist, I sit worrying for a full ten minutes while he helps a friend choose a necklace from a small jewelry display at the back of the salon. He nods at my plastic-caped reflection in the mirror and holds up a finger. "Arrivo!" (I'm coming!) Fortunately, when he eventually arrives, it is clear that I am in good hands. He even knows the English word for "short" (surely the most useful word in any hair stylist's vocabulary!)
He decides to tell me a little story. "You understand a little Italian, don't you?" he asks. (Most Sicilians seem to assume that everyone understands a little Italian, perhaps because Italian is in some respects a "lingua franca" in this country where many regions also have their own languages or dialects.) When I nod, he continues. "My friend has just been asking me how I can communicate with all the stranieri (foreigners) that come in here. I told him there's always a way. A few weeks ago, a Chinese woman came in here. She was asking me for something and I didn't understand. She was asking for the toilet, but she was speaking Chinese, not even English. Finally she did like this..." (he lifts his leg)"...and said "pssssh..." I howl with laughter and he is satisfied that I have understood. He looks at his friend with satisfaction. "You see, she understands." I leave with one of the best haircuts I have had in years, at less than half the price I would have paid in Halifax, still laughing as I walk toward the dock.
Back at the boat, Kathy has prepared a delicious tomato and cheese salad, garnished with a few olives and some delicious Sicilian olive oil that Katherine had left in the galley. After lunch, I am ready for a nap, but Kathy hops into the dinghy and helps Rick scrub the sides of the boat, removing the muddy stains left by the marina's lazy lines. By now I'm wondering how I can convince her to cancel her trip to Barcelona!
In late afternoon, we dress up and head back to shore for a little shopping. Kathy is looking for ideas for her maternity wear business, as well as things to wear in Barcelona, but she periodically points out things that I should try on. "I used to love picking out things for you when I went on buying trips with Rick" she says. Ah yes, those were the good old days! An hour later, even Rick is carrying a Zara bag.
We head for the Piazza Duomo and peek into the cathedral, where a wedding is in progress while a few tourists are still roaming the side aisles. We tiptoe into the back corner to show Kathy the ancient baptismal font, then go back into the piazza to soak up the ambience.
Eventually, we settle ourselves at a small café. "Can I treat you to a pizza?" asks Kathy. ""I'd love to try a real Italian pizza". Unfortunately, the waitress tells us that it is still a bit too early for pizza, but she brings a small plate of antipasti with our drinks. Soon, the wedding guests pour out onto the steps of the cathedral and the waiters and waitresses rush out of the restaurant to see the bride and groom.
This is clearly an elegant affair, and we're delighted when the wedding party heads straight for our café. The bridesmaids are happy to let me take this photo, and their friends seem tickled pink that I want them in the picture too!
Now it is definitely late enough for pizza. We decide that our fish will keep until the next day, and head for "Il Gattopardo" just on time to get the last unreserved table. It is already dark by the time we get back to the boat. (This is a good illustration of why it is wise to turn on the anchor light before leaving the boat, even if you don't plan on staying ashore for dinner!)
The next morning, Kathy takes another run through Ortygia and I meet her a little later, bringing along her bag and a change of clothes. We stop at a little café, where I have a cappuccino while Kathy ducks into the washroom to change. I spot some unfilled cannoli shells and decide to introduce Kathy to my latest obsession. I have now figured out that the best cannoli are the ones that are filled on the spot, just before you eat them. Knowing that Kathy does not often eat sweets, I decide against the full sized cannoli, but have two of the small ones brought to the table before she emerges from the washroom. Her eyes widen when she tastes the first bite. "Can we order another one?"
We intend to do more shopping in the modern section of Siracusa, but everyone we ask tells us that the best shopping really is on Ortygia. So, after dropping in at the bus station to confirm the schedule for Kathy's bus to Catania airport the next morning, we head back over the bridge. By the time we phone to ask Rick to pick us up at the dock, Kathy has some new clothes to wear in Barcelona and I have a new pair of soft green chinos.
After lunch, we decide to go out for a sail. It has been years since Rick and I have "gone for a sail" simply for the joy of it. As we sail out of Siracuse harbour I recall the lovely days when we have sailed out of Halifax harbour to Herring Cove. Kathy takes the wheel and we enjoy the ride.
The day is perfect and Aisling's bottom is clean, so we are able to reach speeds of nearly 5 knots even though the wind speed is less than 10 knots. So often, we resort to the motor to make our passages faster. We resolve to slow down and enjoy the ride a bit more often.
That evening, Rick cooks the orata in lots of lemon, oregano and olive oil and we serve it with roasted potatoes and fennel, carrots and beans. It is a quiet night, because we will have an early wake-up call the next morning. Before 8 a.m., I am waving goodbye to Kathy as Rick ferries her to shore and finds her a taxi. She will have a long wait at the bus station, and an even longer wait at the airport, but she is not taking any chances on missing her plane. At 10 a.m., I receive a text from her. It says, "I just had a large cannoli!"