Everyone’s Sicilian Fish Business

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Everybody’s business is everybody’s business in Sicily. It’s a beautiful thing. And a loud thing. Especially in fish markets.


Never before have I travelled through a country where buying postage stamps is a community effort; finding the right bus stop becomes the interest of at least half the bus; and where the idea of ‘going out your way for someone else’ appears to be a foreign concept. Everything is part of everyone’s business, therefore there is no “for someone else”, it’s just living, participating.


Plans often go a little sideways in Sicily, due to the Sicilian’s tenuous relationship with the term organisation. The fabulous thing is that when a situation gets tricky then any person within earshot automatically becomes part of the solution, or at the very least part of the long loud debate about how the issue should be solved.


I have been helped throughout my solo journey here by many random people, young and old, men and women.


My absolute favourite experience of this was quite cute and extremely generous, and involved a fishmonger in the Catania Fish Markets. Celebrity chef Rick Stein has described these markets as his favourite fish markets in Europe and I must agree. It’s one of those places which wakes you up, stirs you around, and takes full hold of all your senses.


Many fishmongers make a huge racket, with their verbal adverts singing out competing over each other. They sing to everyone and no one in particular. It doesn’t even mix together into a one rumbling sound. Every voice must be heard, with individual pitches raised up above and around each other. I see one seller try to call out but his mouth is full of freshly cooked crab meat which tumbles out. He playfully shoves the second half of the meat into his friend’s mouth, passionately yelling at him as he does so. The look on his face is deep enjoyment, fresh crab bouncing out of his mouth as he smiles and sings and munches away. Must have been a great catch that day.


He is a young one. The rest are aged. They know fish – the quickest way to catch them, precise place to chop them, tastiest sauce in which to cook them. They walk through the rows of fish with tight, white t-shirted chests puffed up, cigarettes dangling from lips, large knives hanging casually from weathered bloody hands. They live with fish on them, somehow in them.


Amongst the noise is the threatening mix of slimy fish. It’s tough to find somewhere to sit in the fish markets. After walking through I wanted to sit to take it all in, but with slime and guts and fish blood flowing all around its best not to sit. Large liquid fish eyes stare up at you, round and black and as large as my fist; swordfish heads sit amputated, perched in their own blood, their swords pointed upwards. Their tails separate nearby; they are not the sum of their parts anymore, and yet fiscally they really are the sum of their parts now; each piece priced for its own worth. Pippies squirt water through the crowd, still alive and trying to jump for freedom from their cramped death beds.


Amongst this someone brushes their purchases against me as they squeeze past. I look down to see a line of fish blood across my wrist. This I dislike. Yet I am all out of tissues and not willing to bloody up my new Sicilian dress. It dries deep red and I feel a little more like I belong. I suddenly become absorbed with my lack of shoes. Flip flops! Who wears flip flops to fish markets? As I traverse blood rivers, side step shrimp shell and prawn poo my toes become speckled and shiny with wet fish scales. I’m really getting into the flow of this place now.


As I jump a small pool of multi-coloured unknown-ness, a nearby fishmonger smiles, shaking his head at my foolish choice of footwear. He is sitting on a crate, and bends slightly to tap his solid, trusty, fish-covered, knee-high rubber boots. I raise my shoulders and arms in an Italian kind of “eh, well, what can I do hey”. And that is when he starts to take off his boots, raving on in Italian and waving his hands at me to sit next to him. He wants to give me his boots! This man would actually remove his own boots to save my silly tourist toes!


He has one boot off when he looks up to see my face. Sadly I am sometimes unable to hide my reactions from my face, and at this moment I am actually disgusted (yet honoured) by the idea of wearing this man’s filthy fishy hot rubber boots. Disgusted more than by the scales now firmly attached to my toes. We look down at our feet together, then look up and laugh together.


The man pats me on the back, puts his boot back on, and picks up a small hose to hose my feet. I leave the markets with clean toes and a tidy heart, feeling blessed by the generosity of these Sicilians.


Everybody’s business is everybody’s business in Sicily. It’s a beautiful thing.


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The Bright Moment



This blog is fairly experimental for me… And with that warning I will continue with this post!

A few people have been asking me about the writing retreat I went on recently. There was so much within it that it now feels a little difficult to know which parts of the week are ready for blog sharing… so I will keep this brief, with a short intro and short poem. Meanwhile I will allow my mind to chew over the rest of my very full notebook.

I spent the most amazing week at a writer’s retreat in Southern France called Writing From the Bright Moment. It was led by the inspiring, compassionate and very talented author Roselle Angwin.

It was an alchemic success of guided mindfulness sessions, clever writing exercises, an experienced teacher and an extremely trusting group of wise women participants. All of this in the most relaxed mountain scenery possible, with organic delicious meals, a masseuse and of course hammocks. This all resulted in a week of deep transformation, learning, growth, vulnerability and healing. Personal and skill development that I could not have imagined when I signed up.

Now, the experimental part of the blog…. Below is a “Haiban” which I wrote at the retreat – a style of poem that combines Japanese Haiku and short, sharp prose (with a whole bunch of other rules mixed in). I hadn’t heard of it prior to the retreat, it takes years to perfect and hence the experimental nature of this blog post. You may enjoy it, you may not. You may ‘get’ me, you may not. Either way, thought I’d share it, because being vulnerable and experimental is part of what writing is about 🙂

A big thank you to my fellow retreat-ers, without your eagerness to be in the bright moment together the week surely would not have been so profound, or fun!

The Haiban is called The Massage. It’s for Nuha.



The Massage


It was thirty-two degrees in the yurt yesterday. The massage yurt. With earthly Frances, cotton doors, air full of memory; heavy. I enter with reminder not to crumble, only calm lives here.


heart depth

grew between the two

cuddling through chemo


Heat increases, Frances flicks on the fan, removes a layer. Long strokes, one hand; shorter stokes with two. Melt away. Our bodies hold pain, between third and fourth vertebrate, a moment to the left of centre.


we travel sideways

to goodbyes

and back again to light


Frances glides hot palms off the sockets of my eyes. She shifts clouds. The yurt allows the sun through, eyelids smashed with yellow. That light – my friend fell through it, now painless on the brighter side. How she shines.


this bright moment indeed



Take A Hammer To It

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Have you ever built a house? No? Me either. Have you ever built a staircase? Maybe you have. I haven’t. Have you ever built a single step? Maybe yes, maybe no. Yesterday I built a single step. It was amazing and changed my life….. Ok, slight exaggeration perhaps, but it was pretty cool. There is a lot to it, and then at the end you simply take a hammer to it.


The step I made was number 7 of 15 steps currently being built by my friend in his new shell of a home in Castelsarrasin, near Toulouse in Southern France. The stairs are steep and will eventually take people up into the attic bedroom at the top of the home. I came here to visit my friend Grant and his finance Lucie, and intended on helping them with the building. Grant lulled me in with talk of hammers and French wine and I was keen to help.


It quickly became clear that my extremely limited woodwork skills would result in less stairs being built than during an average day, and more wine being drunk. However my friend was entirely patient with me (wine helps with patience), trading in speed with showing me how to measure, cut, plane and sand.


What a delight! As soon as the angle grinder started spinning through the wood, the room smelt like school again! I was transported back to woodwork class as a 15 year old and remembered that calm feeling that comes from working with timber. The deep earthy smell filled the room and my whole body exhaled. The threat of the angle grinder’s blade dissipated, replaced with a relaxed concentration of ensuring the blade made a straight line.


Picking up the plane I rounded off the edge of the stair and loved how the wood moulded so easily….seeming to want to be a stair (indulge me here!). For such a solid material, wood has this softness that allows you to shape it and create it, without it loosing its own strength. It never looses it’s own line, and imperfections are desirable.


With the measuring, cutting, rounding and sanding done, we slotted the new step into place. Grant took a hammer to it, and a few nails later we had a functional step! As easy and relaxed as that. It looked good and we were one step closer to the room above.


Happy with that progress we ditched the building site for bicycles and headed over to the canals for lunch. As we cycled I started to look at all the buildings with fresh eyes, suddenly seeing every single step, every tall door, every ornate door handle, every piece of curly iron banister and every hanging wooden shutter on the beautiful French buildings. In this part of the world beauty takes priority and you can find beauty in every rustic shutter hinge if you look closely.


The further we cycled the more beauty there appeared to be. Maybe it was the sunshine, and possibly the wine, but whatever it was, this place has a sense of the serene, with an impeccable attention to detail.


Humans can build beauty. One step at a time. One stairwell. One house. Keep on building. With a little bit of measuring up, cutting back, rounding off, and sanding down. Then, take a hammer to it and lock it in. Good as new.


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