Beach findings

The amount of rubbish on beaches varies greatly with different regions in Sicily. San Leone is one of the cleaner beaches, where a stroll along the 2 kilometres of sand only yielded a small plastic bag full of rubbish. Nevertheless, one can find some amazing things, and even people, on the beach! The Italians love to hear me practice my violin – it’s a real boost to my confidence, they always give me compliments when they pass me, or even divert their route by up to a hundred metres just to chat :-)

The first morning, I get chatting to the water controllers. San Leone’s sewage used to just flow into the sea, untreated, but now this has stopped. However, the old system had to be rerouted in a complicate way: everything from the town still arrives at the beach, where it gets collected in a great underground tank and then pumped back up the hill to a sewage treatment plant. Two people come along every morning to check that everything is working well. One of them stands and listens to me for a long time. Eventually he starts talking to me – he plays the guitar he says, to exercise movement in his hands as he had an industrial accident, an electric shock, which burnt him and severely restricted movement in his arms and hands. It always gets me, to hear such tragic life stories coming from a smiling face. He stands there, enjoying the music and the morning sun, happy with his life, happy to take one little step at a time to recover from a near fatal accident.

The next morning, I meet Bruno, the retired Italian teacher and his little dog. He makes a detour to tell me that the beach is always a pleasure to see in the morning, but today it was especially beautiful in combination with my playing. Ahh, honey to my soul… I tend to get quite frustrated with my playing; to me, it seems so fickle and often still out of tune, scraping, and my vibrato still tight and nervous. Well it obviously looks and sounds different from the outside… we chat for a while and he invites Frank and me to a local traditional bar and plies us with copious amounts of local pastries. We are treated to a ‘Genovese’, a pasty filled with fresh ricotta, incredibly tasty! We have conversations about language and about our recent experience in Favara. Bruno is originally from Favara and he has tremendous respect for how this one couple has managed to throw a life line to an otherwise deteriorating city. We hear this repeatedly in the next few days, from various sources. This one example is creating waves, giving hope and inspiration to old and young alike. They may think that some of the projects are too crazy, but they like the effect it has, bringing Favara out of obscurity.

On the third morning, I strike really lucky – as I’m playing ‘Lark in the Morning’, an Irish tune which helps me to practise the changes from one string to another, trying to relax but at the same time to control the movement of my bow, a man arrives with an elastic band and proceeds to do stretching exercises not far from me. So we each happily do our thing for a while, before he finishes his exercises and comes up to me, by which time I have arrived at playing the theme tune to ‘Schindler’s List’. You know, he says in Italian, if you want to get a smoother transition from one string to the other, it would help if you held your bow a little differently, if I may give you some advice? I’m looking at him, taking in what he said and translating it into English in my mind. He interprets my pause as reticence and says I play the violin…. he trails off, probably not sure if his advice is welcome. I push my violin into his hands and he proceeds to magic the sweetest sounds, taking off exactly where I’d left from Schindler’s List. Oh, my violin can sound so beautiful when it’s played well! Something to aim for… Naturally, I soak up all advice he is willing to give that morning and ask him for a lesson the following day :-)

I’m quite fussy about teachers, but Antonio’s got just the right way for me, and so we spend 90 minutes, sitting on the beach in the sun and I receive enough practise material to keep me busy for the next three months. I wish I could kidnap him to have regular lessons!

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