Excerpt from the book Julian’s Journeys.
If you would like to know what nuns in Italy recommend to eat and how quickly you can get drunk on slivovitz in Bulgaria, this is the book for you.
The nun was at a bus station in Catania in Sicily and was incredibly knowledgeable about the local delicacy, mortadella. I was waiting for a bus to the beautiful town of Taormina with views over Mount Etna, the active volcano.
In Bulgaria, I became slowly drunk when a local villager offered me the opportunity to sample his homemade slivovitz in his garden – all the while we wrote down football results on a piece of paper as the sun beat down from a blue sky.
The nun with the baking tray covered in aluminium foil came over to the stop where we waiting to catch the bus from Catania to Taormina. A teenage girl stood up and offered the nun a seat, which was gratefully accepted. In return, the nun offered the girl the tray, though this offer was declined. A seated middle-aged Woman looked at me, pointed, and said “Tedesco, tedesco?” She thought I was from Germany. “Sono Canadese, lui e inglese (I am Canadian, he is English),” said my travelling partner who was sitting next to me. She had been practising, as this was the third time she had said the sentence that morning. The first time had been on the very early morning ferry from Malta to Sicily and the second had been at a nearby coffee bar, where we had drunk a strong cup of espresso a few minutes earlier. I had needed something in my stomach after deciding not to eat breakfast before taking the ferry. Even the relatively flat Mediterranean is sometimes too rough for my delicate disposition.
“Inglese eh?” said the woman, mulling this fact over, before asking us in Italian where we going. When she heard we were going to Taormina, she rolled her eyes, rubbed her stomach and told us that that we would eat very well there and that the food was good, especially the mortadella. At hearing the word “mortadella”, the nun shot up, put her tray down, approached us and I think told us all about mortadella. She ended the lecture with an enthusiastic flourish of her arms that described a circle about the size of a large dinner-plate, which indicated to me that the mortadella in Taormina was large in circumference and probably worth investigating further. Apparently exhausted by her exertions, the nun sat down, but the middle-aged woman, taking her cue from the nun, got up. She came to stand by me, pulled out a creased picture and pointed at it, saying “Mia Mama.”
Apparently, her mother wasn’t the one sunning herself on the rock; she was the one swimming in the pool. “Molto bella, mia mama, molto bella,” the woman said proudly and went on to say she had two boys herself, one of whom was interested in karate, emphasizing the point by chopping the air with her meaty hands, while making “Ho, ha, ho” noises. Apparently her husband had died, but she still enjoyed dancing and she then began to sway suggestively in front of me.
Luckily, the bus arrived and the door opened. The nun got on first, as did we at a respectful distance. Her dancing curtailed by the arrival of the bus, the woman smiled, waved to us, and walked off to sit at another stop.