Monday, 15 September 2014
The Island of Montalbano and the Mafia
I'm just back from a week in one of my favourite countries, Italy. Rome, Bologna, Florence and above all Venice rank very high in my list of top city destinations, but this time I was returning to Sicily, an island I've visited briefly as a cruise stop in the past. Having liked it so much, I wanted to sample more of its delights, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. The airport at Catania seemed hopelessly disorganised, but the character and charm of Sicily make the whole place irresistibly appealing. And it is full of history; the trip began with a visit to the stunning Valley of the Temples.
Whilst there's a lot to be said for exploring places on your own, I went as part of a group, and this proved to be very enjoyable. I certainly wouldn't have fancied doing battle with some of the hair-raising mountainous lanes, and at one point our bus almost collided with a (presumably British) driver who was cruising along on the wrong side of the road.. This was just below the wonderful town of Taormina, which boasts not only an ancient amphitheatre, but wonderful gardens with quite magical follies. Higher still is the village of Castelmora, with a ruined castle and fascinating church.
As all crime fans know, Sicily is renowned as the base of the Mafia, and more recently it has benefited from association with the Inspector Montalbano mysteries written by Andrea Camilleri and successfully adapted for television. There are now "Inspector Montalbano tours", just as there are "Inspector Morse tours" in Oxford, although this particular crime-related diversion didn't form part of the package. Another time, perhaps.
For a writer, visiting somewhere like Sicily is inspiring not only in general terms, but also in some more specific ways. I tried to learn quite a bit about the island, as I'm working on a story set there, and I also met a number of people whose stories I found engrossing. It was an action -packed week, but I managed to read three novels - one of them a Montalbano. The other two are future entries in the Forgotten Books series. One was very good, the other, sad to say, rather turgid. But my trip to Sicily was anything but turgid. How about this for a view from the hotel room's balcony, where I did most of that reading?