RAGUSA — I'm trying to convert to "real Siciliano," as most travelers to Sicily do; to blend into the human surroundings so as to not attract more mockery from the natives or seem gullibly available to their attempts to sell me something.
(photo: Alessandro & me)
I'm doing pretty good job of it, if I don't say so mice elf.
Many Sicilians mistake me for a young Sicilian guy when actually, I'm just the opposite of a young Sicilian guy. (What is the opposite of a young Sicilian man, you ask? an 'Old Irish woman' would be fair, except... I am nothing, if not male).
(photo: young Sicilian man)
How did I accomplish this transformation so totally? It's no accident: Partially, it's the cut of my jib, the black t-shirt, the swagger and the way I toss back the espresso dopio I aIways order in perfect Sicilian.
But also: I've got a weapon.
Yes, I bought a switch-blade from a greasy Ionian with a table full of cheap battery-operated gadgets on the street in Palermo. It cost 6 Euros and has a very sharp point; the blade, sneering like a shark's permanent smile, is sharp enough to slice perfect scallops from a top round of veal or separate the lips from a man. It has a blade lock, real wooden handles screwed-into the frame, and a circular trigger-grip in case the fight gets bloody and I need something extra to hold onto in the slippery gore. There's a teeny flashlight for peering, presumably, into my victim's retinas to see if he's dead.
Like my other penis, it's of legal length, and made in the US of A. I could kill a man with it once I've perfected the techniques of Close Quarter Combat Knife Defense I'm learning from the Youtube in the odd hours after the stultifying, nightly trudge though the antipasti, primi, segundi and contorno.
(photo: old Irish woman)
There is a rule in the world: never pull a knife on a Sicilian... I know this rule. I heed this rule. I know my place in the order here- I'm just a young Italian guy who wants to make a difference. So while I'm learning the ropes of being a killer, I use Alessandro (did I mention my knife's name is Alessandro?) in situations- not where violence is called for- but when the assurance of security of those around me- women and children- is needed.
At the bus station, I'll pull out an orange, then up comes Alessandro ... and Switch! Brandishing my flashing blade, I'll cut a perfect slit at the top of the orange to enable easy peeling and release the profumo of the peel. This show of force is just enough to put the women around me at ease.
That a young but righteous Sicilian man- even a fake, righteous Sicilian man- is near with the hardware to protect them lowers street tensions immediately. Actually, they know I'm a touristing idiot-child whose Italian is limited to ordering coffee, but now they also know what I've got in my pants. They grok a sudden new aura of safety and respect.
For me and Alessandro, it's a matter of being, not doing. Very Buddhist.
Since I've never seen one iota of violence on the streets of Palermo, Catania, or Ragusa, I know I'm doing some good here.
The Mafia knows who I am, BTW, and that I am here. But they're smart enough not to bother me- especially as I buy the pistaccio pesto in the pretty bottles with the rustic fabrics on the tops made by producers they've leaned-on and sold in stores they "protect."
In a way, we're in this together- me and the Mafia- I protect the womenfolk and the children, they the citizens who pay them. It's mutual respect. Like Tony Soprano and Carmine Lupertazzi. Or the Cold War's Mutually Assured Destruction. It's a good way to live on this island, the only way to live on this island.
Owning a switchblade is a dream of mine since 6th grade. In those days they were entirely illegal and had to be imported from Tijuana. Only a few older boyz (most now in prison) had or were rumored to have them. I never got one, but I have one now! And I may be a little taller now... and stronger, too.
Learning defense from the Internet videos is going slower than I'd hoped. I'll just say this: pillows have died. (One rather spectacularly in a full-feathered drama involving some very good pomegranate syrup and a full tube of Astroglide. Don't ask ...).
Meanwhile, I order the cheese plate center stage in a busy trattoria in Ragusa. The apple needs slicing. A ripe pear could be brought down a peg or two. There's the wimpy house knife. I dismiss it with a Sicilian sneer. Every eye in the place is on me as I rustle in my hand-tooled, Perugian leather man-purse; Allesandro comes out, and Switch! Alessandro has his bite, and the room sighs in relief as the apple and pear lay gasping and bleeding on their little board.
We're safe, the Sicilian innocents seated around me are saying, I can read it in their eyes. Old men lean back into their cannolis; young boys stare up at me with stark respect and adoration. Belle ragazze with their tight rhinestone-studded jeans and stunning little tops dare not look up; their eyes shyly stay on their iPhones over which their nubile fingers are texting the good news: We're OK, here, now.
I've always wanted to be one of the good guys, but too cheap to buy a gun. A 6-Euro street purchase has made a man out of me and brought safety and peace to Sicily.
Ciao, caio! ...for now.