Mediterranean Meanderings 2014 travel blog


From the heights of Erice, I plunged down a switchback road in the early morning as the mist was lifting. There was a refreshing chill in the air that would soon turn to the baking waft of the Sicilian countryside. Today was all back roads through small towns, sheep farms and abandoned rural areas. Less grueling ups and downs. On the way to Scopello, a trendy costal village that cuddles up to a cliffside national park reserve, I visited Segesta, which some say has the best example of a Greek temple. The backs that strained and broke to lift those stone slabs in place should not be forgotten in the majesty of the site.

For me, Southern Italy really creates strange temporal dynamics. It is at once preserved, in terms of customs and monuments, slowly falling apart to be reclaimed by nature and trying (but failing) to keep up with today's hyper capitalism. Today I passed one place that was scorched and had a tree growing in a former living area. It was now inhabited by two families of birds. The big raven like family took off and circled overhead when I approached, giving the moment a gothic feeling, minus the brooding clouds. I also stopped and watched a man slowly herd his sheep across a bucolic landscape. Time stood still.

Similar to Japan, Italy is rapidly greying and I've seen lots of former farming estates abandoned and crumbling, as younger generations can't imagine a life working a field for little reward. Cheaper Spanish olive oil also drives smaller operators off their land. In areas still sustained by tourism, old stone houses are being bought and restored by Northern Europeans looking for retirement homes or seeking an alternative lifestyle. Low-paid African immigrants tending larger tracts of land keep some farm owners in business, but even these immigrants seem to prefer selling trinkets at seaside resorts to sowing the soil. For the length of human history and prehistory, the struggle to find or grow food has occupied most people's waking and walking hours. Now in most of the wealthier nations less than 5% of the population still works the land. Will my sons or their sons still see sheep herders?

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