Luciano, my Sicilian cab driver, is a short, fat man with a great sense of humor who drives like a madman. It’s 60 kilometers to Palermo, and ten minutes into the ride, we are stuck in a mega traffic jam. Luciano doesn’t hang around; he wants to get home to his wife. So he pulls onto the hard shoulder and we make fairly good progress. Whenever obstacles arise – construction, or a vehicle that has actually broken down – Luciano noses back into the slow-moving traffic, cursing, and swerves back out onto the hard shoulder as soon as he can. After 20 minutes of this, he exits the autostrada. My relief is short-lived because the secondary road we are now on is narrow and effectively an endless succession of bends. To our right, there’s a continuous rock face; to our left, a sheer drop. Coming around a bend, Luciano suddenly slams on the brakes and we screech to a halt beside a stack of six or seven white plastic chairs outside a closed restaurant. While Luciano stows the chairs on the back seat, I imagine careering around this very bend to find, right in the middle of the road, a madman pinching plastic chairs. At last, I see the lights of Palermo twinkling on the horizon. But before we reach the city, Luciano still has time to make a wrong turn onto a city highway, drive occasionally on the wrong side of the road, and let go of the steering wheel completely on a bumpy stretch. In response to my questioning look he gestures downward: He’s steering with his legs. Once in Palermo, he puts his hands back on the wheel but begs me to unfasten my seatbelt. To Germans, that might seem an unwise thing to do. But to Sicilians, it’s a matter of honor.
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.