How a stray dog called Nino changed my life
Have you been to eastern Sicily? I have. The huge, violent surges of rock give way to dry olive groves and lemon trees that carve their way up into the thick white slopes of dust and sand. If you stare out under the hard blue sky, you can see a seam of the sea blurring white and green on the horizon. This is Morgana’s island, a strange, forbidden place of impossible things. Oranges and lemons spring up from the dead land, almonds grow hard and thick from trees in a land of no rain, and the sun burns until your skin swells red in spring. This is Sicily, and it is, in a funny way, home.
I can’t claim any Sicilian heritage, or at least none that I know of. But I feel at home here, calm under that unforgiving blue, at peace in the thriving beat of the shore, at one at the chattering of the sparrows in the quiet of the valley and bark of guard dogs. Out of anywhere in the world, I’m at one walking alone here, whether that’s through the busy streets of Palermo or far out in the lonely winding roads of Catania. Summer comes to Sicily long before it arrives in Europe, and the island bursts with life. There’s a stretch of road, about a fifteen minute walk, between the farms, and to pass through you must walk between a narrow stretch of two parallel fences on the high crumbling limestone, each guarding their sweet treasure with snarling, howling mouths of five or six alsatians, pit-bulls or muscular mongrels.
I have always had a deep fear of dogs, even as a child, and even now, as an adult, it took everything in me to stare ahead and brave my way through the valley of the dogs. The mass of teeth stare hungrily at my neck, my thighs, and I know it would take only a little to tempt them over the flimsy web of wire and running snarling to my carcass. There was nothing ‘cute’ about dogs for me, back then. I’d smile politely when I encountered one…