Inevitably on a trip like this there’s a certain amount of sitting around waiting for ferries to arrive and such. That’s no bad thing. It gives time to sit, think, dream and explore; time well spent for the most part. But there are occasions when I ask myself, why? Of all the places that I’ve had to idle away an hour or even a day or two, Porto Empedocle emphatically takes the biscuit in the Crap Ports Stakes.
I suppose my initial impression might have been influenced that I had spent about 9 hours in the saddle by the time I arrived. This was not Porto Empedocle’s fault. I had been tempted into a small detour to see Segesta, a Greek temple of extraordinary beauty, that I’d long wanted to see. But Segesta was closed as a precaution because wild fires were leaping down the surrounding valleys. The fires were dramatic and exciting, stands of trees suddenly bursting in flame, here and there, dying down, leaping up again, quite at random, lumbering fire fighting planes turning in just over the tops of surrounding hills on water bombing runs, but they were a bloody nuisance to say the least.
Thwarted on the Segesta front, I decided to pay homage to the battlefield of Calatafimi. Although not decisive, itself, it was the crucial battle of Garibaldi’s Sicilian campaign. Rather oddly, while there were plenty of signs to Segesta, I could find none to the battlefield. I got lost – a fairly regular occurrence – in the town of Calatafimi, came out on the wrong side and set off in the wrong direction. Not catastrophic, but it took a little time for me to realise it and a little longer to rectify my mistake.
However, I was quite happy, pottering along the empty roads of central Sicily, an area that make the Empty Quarter seem over populated. There was plenty of evidence of human agriculture – olive groves, hectare after hectare of vines, wheat stubble, dark chocolate freshly turned earth – but I hardly saw a person for hours on end. There’s an odd, abstract beauty in the vast, rolling panorama.
I finally chuntered into Porto Empedocle at about 6pm, very hot, very sweaty, very smelly and very tired . My bum ached and I couldn’t find the BnB the Sage of Bra had booked me into. And when I found it, there was no one there, and so I was quite cross and booked into a hotel right by the port, showered and fell into an uneasy sleep. It was too late to explore the delights of Empedocle.
That’s what I’ve done today. It didn’t take long.
Empedocles, I remind you, was the Greek philosopher who threw himself into the crater of Etna to prove he was immortal. He got that wrong. Porto Empedocle lays claim to Luigi Pirandello, although, in fact, he was actually born up the road in the small village of Kaos on the outskirts of Girgenti, or Agrigento as we call it now. Porto Empedocle’s most famous real son is the writer, Andrea Camillieri. He’s lived in Rome for much of his life, but his splendid novels featuring Commissario Montalbano, also affectionately evoke Porto Empedocle in the fictional form of Vigata. As a result there are no end of Vigata bars, Montalbano gelaterias and Il Commissario trattorias. I struggled to correlate Vigata and Porto Empedocle.
Places like Porto Empedocle are a test of character. Somehow you have to come to terms with the disintegrating pavements, the crumbling houses, the weeds sprouting at random, the accumulations of rubbish, the absence of civic pride or investment, the unloved, unlovable nature of a town that simply exists under, in this case, a sullen sky in humid, heavy heat. There is absolutely nothing of note see, not one remotely beautiful or even interesting building. There is absolutely nothing to do in the town, beyond eating and drinking. God knows, I tried. The smell of fish hangs heavy over the port. Time hangs heavy on my hands.