Catania was Food, Fun, and Racism?
I love traveling to places off the beaten path. It just feels like I get a new story to tell and new images to capture. Yes, places like Paris are amazing but you’ve heard so much about it, it lacks an element of surprise. So for a honeymoon, I was super excited to be traveling to a place that I personally hadn’t heard anything about yet.
We went to Catania, a small city that lies between a smoky Mt.Etna Volcano and the tranquil Mediterranean beach off the coast of Sicily. It was the perfect place to relax after a year of wedding planning. And of course, I have to share with you what was absolutely amazing and awful.
Let’s start with all the stuff we loved!
Food. The food in Sicily was incredible. Everything we ate was so fresh and complex. I had tons of cheese plates, devoured arancini, ate a horse burger (#Sorry Mr. Ed), tried deep fried sheep on a stick and developed a 4 o’clock cannoli and cappuccino habit. The food alone was a reason to go back.
Fish Market. As a surprise, my love got me a market shopping tour and cooking lesson (at the Myda Cooking School). It was so much fun. The fish market was like nothing I had ever seen before. The fishermen were chanting about their latest catch, the fruit/vegetable sellers were singing songs in Sicilian about what they had to offer, and there was an entire row of cheese vendors offering samples and wine tasting. The place was so alive and surrounding the market were food stalls where you can get some that freshly caught fish fried up on the spot.
The Vibe. Catania has a very chill vibe. There was no hustle like Paris. It was not overrun with tourist traps and folks to fill it like Barcelona. It was a place that welcomed visitors but didn’t abandon its self in service of them. It was the perfect place to hide out from the world for a week.
Now let’s get into the things that were awful…
Migrants. I know there are poor people everywhere and I am not new to homelessness or human suffering but seeing so many African (mostly Senegalese) migrants floating around the edges of society in this place made me uncomfortable. I was not uncomfortable about them being there, I liked meeting them. I was just moved by the level of need.
Outside a grocery store, I saw a woman who was distressed with her baby tied to her back. It wasn’t the picture of a person who was sitting there passively begging with a cup it was something else that I can not name. She stared at me directly, whispered “please” and it was like in her face I could see the entire story. I was so shaken by her. This beautiful woman, shortcut hair, around my age with what looked like a 7-month-old tied to her waist. What she must have endured to end up right here, pleading with a sheltered, privileged, American tourist for money? I could have never ignored her.
When I gave her money, her “Thank you, my sister” felt like maybe I was the only person who stopped to help. It’s so hard to explain seeing a person in such desperation but it shook me to my core and I’ve never forgotten her face or her baby. I felt grateful that I saw her and that I could do something.
Racism. Whew Child! Never have I ever had racism on my list but it happened. While my love was resting at the hotel I decided to check out some of the shops. There was a makeup store across from the hotel. I know they don’t have anything for me but I was curious anyway. I get into the store and a guy in a suit gives me a cold stare. He didn’t say anything along with the stare so I am thinking “another rude European”.
As I am looking around I notice this guy is directly next to me the entire time. Now y’all, I have never been followed in a store (that I know of) at home and the fact that it was happening thousands of miles away was unbelievable. When I noticed him my head was spinning about what to do? Do I look like a thief? Is this bias because of the African immigrants? What is the correct response to this? In the end, I just left the store as quietly as I came. I wish I had taken down the name or something but I felt so violated by it I just got out of there.
The verdict. Would I go back to Catania? Hell Yes! It was the perfect chill get-a-way and I am not gonna let one racist keep me away from all that great food and fun.
But seriously, I would definitely return but I would not just relax while I am there again. I would try to work with some organizations to help the African migrants in a more official way. A day of service would only enhance the trip.