Some species just cannot stay at home; everywhere, whether it be at the club, pub or in far flung corners of the planet, you’ll bump into an Ozzie kangaroo bounding around in the scrub.
It is a windy but sunny Sunday, late in May in what appears to be the dead heart of Sicily, just 30 km north of Caltagirone. It is late for ‘pranzo’ when, having driven up from Catania around the base of Etna, we wind our way up the hill of Piazza Armerina to the piazza to the side of the cathedral (securely locked) and seek repast in a café advertising its wares pleasantly in English.
There are but four people in the square, and less cars. We notice a sign on the opposite side of the piazza ’Art Hotel’, which interests Claudia. While enjoying a local pasta con melanzane (the staple diet of this part of Sicily) and one or two glasses of a pleasant local white, washed down by multinational labelled acqua frizzante from San Giorgio di Bosco, near Padova, Claudia with her effervescent smile engaged the proprietor with her journalistic queries.
The town is renowned for Roman mosaics, and we collect a guidebook as our tutor. But, it is unfortunate that on this particular touristic day, the museo is closed – possibly a creeping disease in rural Italy. The Art Hotel is given a good review, and we declare our interest based on our pleasure with Nani’s creations at the Alexander in Pesaro, so we stroll over and find that the entrance is in the back while near the sign is only the entrance to a bar.
The hotel manager is friendly and offers to show us two rooms, the furnishings are modern and ‘memorable’ and in each room there is written the ominous message ’nessun dorma’, but yet no sound from a tenor. We are passed at the lift by a guest with his large suitcase.
Downstairs again, while reminiscing with the manager on promotion of what is a distinctly original contribution to hotels of Italy, we are met once again by the 60’ish guest who more plaintively inquires whether anyone can speak English as he cannot make his air conditioner work. The Ozzie drawl is obvious. While negotiating reduction of his distress I ponder how strange it is to meet a compatriot in this far-flung most non-obvious residence. Our Ozzie Kangaroo guest, the Australian tourist, hopped out the door on his way to explore.
With a smile we depart and noting just one couple when we return to the square we drive to our agriturismo, a villa once of the medieval ruling lord of this town. We check in finding the reception area quite full with guests ‘having tea’, and are informed that every single one of them condensed here from Australia, each one an unmistakable Ozzie.
I blanche slightly, and escape to our rooms. Later we come down to check the Giro on the reception TV and learn that one group of four retired Sydney-siders just happened to stop here for a night between Sicilian ports. They sat there quietly listening to the Monaco F1 Grand Prix on laptops. Later we chat about Crows Nest restaurants and they bemoan the poor taste of another Ozzie tourist group who were in an adjacent room.
It appears that we can’t even get on with each other when 10,000 miles from home. That sole evening in Piazza Armerina, we took the ‘pension’ and shared dinner tables with a Taswegian Ozzie and his grown-up son. The father lived the ideal life – summer in Europe and summer in Tasmania, while his son waxed and waned between Nepal and Indonesia when not skiing in France – school language classes can certainly influence your choices in life. We talked politics without drawing swords and following a few reds drifted off to listen to the night birds.
I wondered whether these meetings were just an example of that Adamsian chance from Hitchhiker’s Guide or whether there is something more Machiavelian in the control exercised by Booking.com over travel destinations for the Ozzie.
The possibilities are boundless. And Sicily wins the Ozzie vote.