Mike and Medjool Fusion HolidayBy Emma Pearson
December 6, 2023
All photos my own – taken in Catania, Sicily, today (or else, as indicated, back in 1992)
7th October 2023
I am in Sicily. Alone not alone. Alone in that I have come away unaccompanied. Not alone in that there are the island’s usual residents, plus more than a handful of tourists.
Last time I was in Sicily was in 1992, and Mike and I came away together. I was 25 and Mike was 29, and we were five years into our relationship.
It was the first time we had a “package” holiday. I don’t really know why we chose it, but we did. I confess that we did three package holidays in our not-quite-30 years together – Sicily in 1992, Iceland in 1995, and, (shock horror!), a Club Med in the arch of Italy’s foot, in September 2001 when I was just about to go back to work after having had Megan (we were there on 9/11 – that terrible date we will always remember).
I have some not quite crisp images of our 1992 Sicily holiday – the memories float in and out of my conscious awareness. I remember that we did a ton of touristy things – visited ruins and temples and volcanoes and amphitheatres – but I couldn’t tell you now where they were. I know that there will be photos – proper photos – pre-digital – in a proper photo album. The reason I even know the year is because of the massive photo reel I pulled together for Mike’s celebration of life. My little selection here clearly says 1992, so 1992 it was.
Today, early, I landed in Catania. I don’t know if Mike and I came to Catania. We might have travelled into Palermo. I truly don’t remember. But being here now – and looking at the map of the island as I think about tomorrow’s journey to Vulcano in the Isole Eolie – I am transported back in time.
The bus will take me past Taormina. Lovely Taormina. Picturesque Taormina. Mike and I stayed in Taormina which was so gorgeously cute and pretty, at least back then, over 30 years ago. I think we were there for a few nights, staying in a posh hotel that was way above our means and standards and usual budget. But perhaps that’s what the “package” deal was all about – off-season, which was easy to manage back then, not having to care about school holidays.
I was reminiscing today, re-remembering, because I haven’t ever really forgotten, that we met an “older couple” on that trip. I don’t know how long we spent with them – it might have just been one dinner conversation – but it came back in Kodacolor clarity. In my recollection-fantasy-memory, I imagine the older couple being in their late 40s or early 50s… almost certainly younger than I am now. They were nice. Friendly. Interested in us and our relationship. Asked us questions. And I remember this scene where, on learning that we had been together for five years, the woman expressed some genuine surprise – even shock – that not only were we not married, but we weren’t even considering it. In my memory, she spluttered over her glass of Prosecco and said, “But you need to keep building in a relationship! You can’t just be in the same state for years and years! You’ve got to keep exploring, experimenting, shifting…. Or you will stagnate. You need to get married or have kids or something!”
Wow. It was quite something! I was not as mouthy back then as I might be today. I can’t remember how defensive I was, how unsettled or shocked I felt. I imagine I did a bit of justifying… perhaps along the lines of, “Well – I am only 25, and I was so young when we met, and I am not ready to have babies, and I don’t see any great need to get married – I mean, we are having sex, after all…” (that kind of ramble seems to feel quite realistic – it’s probably exactly what I said).
But the conversation shifted something. Shifted the conversations that Mike and I were having about our relationship. He’d already asked me so many times if I would marry him, and I always answered along the lines of, “Yes, with pleasure, probably, some day, and not yet”. Having heard that a few too many times, he’d given up asking by 1992. Getting married was a non-topic. Having kids was even more of a non-topic. But after that woman reprimanded us for “stagnating” – or risking stagnating our relationship – I know I got curious about what might be needed to keep a relationship fresh (even if I still wasn’t ready to get married or have babies). (It took another 2 ½ years before we tied the knot – and only then because the rules for civil ceremonies in the UK changed, such that I found the idea more palatable).
So back to the future. Back to 2023. I am 31 years older. I sit in restaurants on my own. I don’t talk to anyone. Today at a busy makeshift café at Catania’s seafood market, a young man – probably aged about 25, asked if he could join my table. We ate separately in silence. Him looking at his phone. Me enjoying my oysters and bruschetta. I didn’t ask him about his relationship status. Nor did I give him any unsolicited marriage guidance. I said goodbye, though, when I had finished, and left him to his device.
But I remembered the conversation from those 31 years ago. It did mark me. I think it did shift something in the dynamic of our relationship. Perhaps I should have got into conversation with the young man. Perhaps, 31 years from now, he’d be reminiscing about this middle aged woman giving him a piece of her worldly wisdom, back in 2023. I am reminded of the lovely film, Sliding Doors.
Later today, on one of the busy main streets, I chanced upon a young male violinist playing with a backing soundtrack. I stopped to listen. Gave him some money. And he then immediately changed to a new piece. “Shallow”. From “A Star is Born”. Gosh that song makes me cry. The piece with the violinist made me cry today. Out on the streets of Catania. It was one of the first films I saw with a friend after Mike’s death. Up till that point, I could only see films alone. I couldn’t get out of my seat at the end of that film. I just sat there. Way after the credits had rolled up. Not because of “Shallow”, but because of the closing song, “I’ll never love again”. Such tragic words. I didn’t want to feel that way. Even though the film, and the ending, was nothing to do with Mike. Perhaps there was a sense of Julia’s death to come. I don’t know.
So Mike, as a young man, has very much been with me today – through music, food and memories. He will be with me tomorrow too, as I skirt up the coast and zip past Taormina. I will make a point of waving towards the village. And I’ll nod a silent acknowledgement to the woman who was middle-aged back in the early 1990s. She’ll be in her 70s or 80s today if she is lucky enough to still be alive. I’ll arrive in Milazzo (in challah), where, later, I’ll get the ferry to Vulcano (in challah). That is where I will be based this week – for some delicious open water swimming. With a bit of luck the boat won’t sink (in challah). For sure, more memories will return, because Mike and I visited the Isole Eolie. I don’t remember much other than the sulphurous smells. I am pretty sure we didn’t swim.
As for Medjool – I have carried him with me today too. After my lovely oyster-y lunch, followed by a wander through the fish market, and looking at the stalls with eyes now partially conditioned by being in relationship with a long-term ecologist and vegetarian… I realised I couldn’t eat fish again tonight. I found a vegan restaurant and went there instead. A gracious nod to Medjool’s principles.
Day one of my fusion Sicilian adventure. 1992 and 2023. Mike and Medjool. Fish and vegan. Single and Widowed. Pre-kids and post-kids.
But well-partnered and so very well-loved each time.
Yes – despite it all, I am lucky in love.
So very lucky.