Story By Constance Walsh
Photographs Mitchell McLennan
Benvenuto nel segreto,
The first admission is that only half of you will get there. Here. Maybe less. Some will quit now, learning this, and I suppose we’ll count those in the eliminated, too.
You won’t choose the day you come here, the day will choose you. And you will know it by the low hissing of a particular kind of cicada that seems to follow you everywhere you go between the hours of noon and 1pm while walking between your morning destination (which I assume to be a church or a pastry shop) and your afternoon (lunch or “brunch” as the Americans call it). Also we should say that we do not, we do not, discriminate against any arrivals. We only accept groups of four or less, unless you come with a larger group. This has never happened; likely, due to the realities of interpersonal confusion surmounting the likelihood of a group of travelers solving any complex problem in a foreign territory. If you are wearing a clear visor, a fanny pack around the waist, a Hawaiian shirt, cargo pants, dresses made of fishnets, glasses that perch awkwardly on your face, backwards baseball hats, belly shirts, unitards, or athletic gear, we will not turn you away.
You hear the sound, yes, and it must be a durational occurrence and then you’ll know, ok, si, today is the day. Tell nobody except the people you would like to join you. For the rest of the day you will be committed to locating us. And some will fail! But there is always next time. Next time, being, the next time you hear the same sound and only that sound. Of the hissing cicadas at midday. Okay.
Now, wherever you are when you hear the sound and it has lasted for over 40 minutes (patience!), you must stop in place and look upwards and to your right and there will probably be a narrow porch with a clothesline strung across its railing, on which is hanging a pink flamenco style skirt. Walk towards this. A baby will be crying, wailing, to be fair, and one of you must begin speaking to the baby as if she were yours, cooing her to sleep, out loud. If you are successful in calming her, a goat’s carcass will fall from a rooftop - look out! It may touch you and we are not liable for your discomfort. The goat’s carcass will be in the early stages of decomposition but must smell vaguely sweet, and inside of its mouth, which will be slightly open, you will find the front top tooth is lose and will be marked with a letter. This is your assigned table. You have done well, so far, and are closing in on your entrance to the second phase.
At this point you’ll be wondering, what’s it all for? Is the food really that great? Well, you’ll have to get here to decide for yourself. Does the pomp and circumstance not lure you? Perhaps that is half of the fun. Or, perhaps, we have shrouded our establishment in mystery to preserve what our country has long forgotten, in Rome and Milan and Florence, a joie de vivre, a fastidious and celebratory attention to our roots and their sprouting into new fruition. These cities , however bright and layered and awe-inspiring, are emblems of a nostalgic calcification of old world Italiano. But then, this is Sicily, we’re our own nation, and si, a bit biased. Just a bit! And you have your goat’s tooth! Si.
You will be hungry now because, if you recall, you were on your way to lunch when the hissing sound struck your eardrums and then you began wandering and now you’re jumping out of the way of dead meat falling out of the sky. Treat yourself to one of the following: a gelato in a cone that is either hazelnut, cantaloupe, or ricotta flavored; a pistachio cream puff the size of a man’s fist; a nondescript spleen sandwich from a street cart, not a shop; or a glass of Grillo from a producer that makes less than 300 bottles per season. You may also have all four but not just two or these of these. They may be shared.
Now you’ll feel satiated. Willing to endeavor the thick afternoon humidity that blurs your vision. Maybe even like quitting the search. Do as you please!
Those who continue, being walking southward towards the closest body of water and avoid all main roads. Once you find yourself on the narrowest path you can imagine between buildings at least 100 years old — judged so by the hand’s attention to patina and a vague dampness sensed in the throat — and no larger than five stories high, slow down and attempt to walk without stepping on any wet or cracked stones. Close your eyes and listen. A man will begin singing a song that you have never heard before but it will be a familiar tune without words, and maybe you begin singing. He’ll shout for you to stop, sing louder, he’ll begging whooping at you between dips in his crescendo, and only when a glass breaks in his apartment, out of view, will you stop. He will continue singing all night.
Walk quickly towards the water and turn left at your first opportunity. Go into the closest artisanal shop and ask as many questions as you can about who made these items, and how, and lean in to listen to the answers. Then, have the salesperson teach you a new phrase in Italian, and chant this as an incantation the rest of your search. If you make it any further, this may be your password into the door at the end of your trip. You’re doing great. Maybe!
As you may know if you’ve been in town for a few days, there is often an afternoon thunderstorm. The mountains fly into a rage. Cry out to them, “Heave hoe, volcano’s about to blow!” and run towards shelter, but no hotel lobbies or cafes where you’ll only buy a coffee. We’d prefer, actually, that you either bathe in the rain or seek shelter in a below-ground record store. Either way, a child no taller than your waist will walk by you, seeming sullen and lost, and look you straight in the eye as if begging you to take them home, and recite a passage from the Bible. You must count the number of syllables the child says and then you will know how close you are in terms of footsteps to our entrance. Well, the number will be translated into a radius. So one of you must know basic geometry, and this is where many seekers fall away. Too bad!
We discourage the use of maps on “smartphones” because they complicate your discovery. We are not accessible via traveling the roads photographed by satellites. Don’t ask for any more information, we don’t know or care, we only know great food and wine and love of the game.
A disheveled rooster cries out in from a courtyard once the storm has passed. He thinks it is morning, we don’t know, and you will follow this sound until you find him. The trees will be covered in a thin neon yellow mesh. An art installation, or something, commissioned for the summer tourist season, and three teenage boys in bright colored polo shirts and tight jeans will be smoking cigarettes on a small staircase leading up to a statue of The Virgin. One of them will approach you and ask if you know how to fix the transmission on his motorcycle. You will say no and he will look like he’s about to cry and then wait for your reaction. You may be familiar with this form of subtle emotional manipulation.
If you are or are with a woman, she must begin dancing along the edge of the yellow mesh. A slow, exaggerated waltz, preferably, and the boys will stare at her, laughing, and she must not acknowledge them. The final cue is this: a robust woman in a mauve apron will emerge from a eight-foot tall oak doorway that guards a hallway leading inside an old stone corridor between buildings. She will appear for a moment and gesture only a few times, so be alert. The dancer is more likely to see her than anybody else, we’ve found. Congratulations you’re almost there. And at the end of your meal, should you stay the course and make it here, we actually do hope you could fix the motorcycle.
It keeps clicking and purring but won’t catch a start.