First impressions

Black basalt streets; Baroque buildings of fading splendour; brief flashes of Euro-chic; a preposterous number of churches; corners of squalor; miniscule cars all dented and scraped; skinny teenagers riding in pairs on menacing scooters; baristas smoking outside their cafés; seven-foot Sudanese men hawking watches on footpaths; palm trees and sandy squares (my diary entry for the day reads: ‘Have we come to North Africa by mistake?’); tiny box-shaped altars cut into the sides of buildings for statues of Christ or the Virgin Mary; tired palazzi; red-tiled domes; difficult cobblestones; ferocious gargoyles; even more ferocious graffiti; tiny wrought-iron balconies filled with potted plants and laundry pegs; bright orange buses; Roman remains; and, hanging from the occasional window, a rainbow-coloured flag saying ‘PACE’ (peace).

From Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany.