Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I’m thinking about Alcibiades, the Athenian, who led one of the disastrous Athenian expeditions to Sicily but was arrested, in Catania, on the grounds of having “profaned” the Eleusinian mysteries. Alcibiades reminds me of those mates we all have, at least one of them, who always has the tickets for the best concerts, who knows, at midnight, that there are at least three parties worth going to. Meanwhile, a tall man is standing in the shade of a lemon tree. I can make out his gaunt face, his very clean white shirt, and I know he’s looking at me. I've missed my bus. I'm standing by the bus shelter, trying to work out how to get to Catania by midday, so I don’t miss my plane. I cannot help thinking that if Alcibiades had been in the same situation, he would already have found a solution, just as, on being led to Athens to face certain death for Eleusinian mystery profanation, he escaped his captors and jumped ship. The man under the tree steps out from under the tree, crosses the piazza. Would you like a taxi? he says. He's a handsome man, and half the teeth in his mouth are gone. "No grazie," I say. The man nods, then withdraws. I say "withdraws" because he takes two steps backwards, like the major domo in the Burt Reynolds scene when he rises naked from his bath. Sicily was built on the bones of the peasantry, I say, to myself, for the fiftieth time. The man turns around, then goes back to the tree, takes his place in the shade. Twenty minutes later a bus arrives, and as I get on the bus he stands watching from his covert under the tree, black hair, brown suit, a Sicilian man, half his teeth gone, a stillness quite like nothing I’ve ever seen.

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