Trapped in Paradise?

The last story ended the evening of Thursday, February 24th.

I awoke Friday morning and saw that the sunrise was in about 40 minutes. I pulled on some clothes and hurried down to the hotel’s deck. I gazed out over the sea that Ulysses and Aeneas plowed.

And then the sun peeked above the sea. It rose.

Ioanian Sea at Dawn

Rosy fingered dawn.

This was the last day of the tour. Most of the group would fly out on Saturday. The day was full of plans.

Taormina first.

It perches high on a cliff just above the north end of Naxos.

Francesco, the driver, was again faced with a road closure. “Lavori.” Road works. His huge bus can’t get up the planned way. Daniela and he got on their phones and called the police and the “traffic warden.”

(Italy has a few dozen varieties of police—at least. Caribanieri and Polizia Locale are the most common. We were told they fulfill the same function. Maybe it is like the State Police, County Police, Sheriffs, City Police… at home. In fact, in the DC area, I see a new kind of police vehicle every year. So many Federal agencies have their own departments now. It’s surprising they don’t cross paths and wonder who has jurisdiction over events.)

There was an alternate route up the cliff. It involved about 8 hairpin turns. Francesco would toot the horn a couple times to warn the hidden oncoming traffic not to enter the sharp curve. He would swing the bus out as far as possible and then aim straight at the wall ahead. When he knew it was time, he would cut the wheel sharply and the bus would be aiming up the next steep part straightaway. Somehow, the bus never got stuck. Nor did he ever have to back up and reset his approach. We had lost about an hour. We were turned loose near the city gate and told be back at 1! Here! 1! Daniela handed a map to each of us highlighting the few main sights.

Throughout the trip, she kept up a running commentary via the microphone from where she sat in a jump set to the right of the driver low and near the front door. She had given us the sites to see in Taormina. The Greek theater. The English Gardens. She had mentioned the “famous WunderBar.” Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were regulars. Liz and Dick. Their love affair was always in the news. Both were top movie stars and very talented actors. The celebrities today pale in comparison. Titans as opposed to flashes in the pan.

This town was about 30% open. Lots of stairs up and down. Lots of narrow alleys with bistros or bars tucked in the old walls. The views of the sea far below and Etna far above were stunning. I walked the town exploring nooks and crannies. I bought a coffee at the Wunderbar. Carryout. If you buy something, you can use the toilet in food or drink establishments. The public ones were closed. Maybe to drive people to go and buy “something” from the suffering establishments. The English Garden was apparently created by a noble woman forced to leave England due to a scandalous relationship with a King Bertie the Bounder. The plantings were formal to semi-formal. It was a pleasure to sit and look out over the sea, the coast and cliffs and volcano. The air refreshed me to my toes.

Churches, views, squares, shops…

Then it was time to head back to the hotel. You could see it from the high vantage point far in the distance. Most of the tour needed to get their COVID test. Daniela and Globus had arranged for a “dottore” to come and probe noses in the lobby.

I wandered out onto the beach. To think that about a month ago I was right on the Nile and here, today, right on the Ionian Sea. I know how lucky I am. I have worked hard my whole life—at least after I founded by bookshop. Luck—you can raise your odds by keeping as many paths, as many doors open as possible.

At 2, we left for an excursion up Mt Etna. It is Europe’s largest and most active volcano. But Daniela said it is a gentle giant. Eruptions, though frequent, do not blast lava and stone everywhere. When it does overflow, its lava kind of gently drips down its side. We were going to go over a mile up its slopes. There were about a dozen hairpin turns. The roads were covered with the black sand, and I thought how Francesco must be fretting about his immaculate bus and its poor engine sucking in all sharp gritty stuff. Up and up we wound. We drove through sharp craggy lava field fields that would be impossible to walk across. Then areas where nature had returned and the first plants were taking hold. They were the forerunners, and their roots break up the stone, and it eventually becomes the volcanic soil that is so fertile for grape vines and other crops. Mt Etna wines are wonderful.

The mountain erupted so much in 2021 that it grew 100 feet. There’s a cafe at about 6000 feet. And a few extinct craters. We got out and walked around and down into the craters which were formed in the late 1800s.

Then into the cafe. Daniela had described a special Mt Etna liqueur. It is fiery red and fiery strong. The shot took my breath away with each sip. When the bartender poured a bit into a saucer and lit it, I knew I had to buy a bottle.

I try to avoid buying things on trips anymore. I used to haul a lot of stuff home. Now most of the souvenirs are just a burden.

Well, our guide told us it was ok to bring bits of Etna home as well. Newly created rocks. Yellowish has lots of sulfur in it. Red—iron. Black basalt.

“Mamma will just spit out more.” Locally, they call the mountain “Mamma.”

After we were done there, we headed down to a vineyard on the lower slopes. It was a farewell dinner. After, we got a tour of the old family Murgo winery —1860. They had many pallets labeled for a North Berkeley distributor—so you can likely get some Mt Etna wine in the states.

They make a great dry Prosecco that is like an excellent champagne. Down steps into a deep sprawling cold—very cold—far underground room we were told the “methode” for producing the vintage bubbly. They turn the bottles according to their formula. Some Vintages were date—2009, 2014.

Then up to the earth again. The sunset was glowing red on the steam surrounding Etna’s summit.

Etna Sunset

A vast farewell dinner was brought out for us. Way too much wonderful wines of varying types. Way too many platters of incredible Italian foods.

Sunday, 5 a.m. Sicilian time. February 27th. My last full day in Italy.

I hope.

The “Dottore” is coming at 10:30 to swab my brain. If my test is negative, I’ll wake at 2 a.m. Monday for a 3 a.m. transfer to Catania Airport. Then a 6 a.m. flight to Rome. Kennedy Airport. Dulles. If all goes well, I will land in Virginia after 10 p.m. US time. Then home to Maryland. If it all goes according to plan, I’ll be in transit 30 hours or so.

I will have been trapped in paradise since Saturday. I paid for two extra days after the bus tour ended. I thought I’d like to do some exploring on my own. The only problem is the gorgeous seaside hotel is in the resort town of Giardini Naxos which is 98% closed. It is winter here—off-season—but COVID has also decimated travel on the island. Tourism is Italy’s lifeblood. The hotel is stunningly beautiful. My room is on the 4th floor—top floor. I have a large patio with a heavy stone balustrade railing. It looks out on the Ionian Sea.

Hotel Patio

Only one restaurant has been open within walking distance. Just one. It is quite nice and only a few minutes away.

There is a large archaeological park nearby. Naxos was the first Greek colony in Sicily. Colonizing is nothing new. But it is closed for the winter.

The city stretches a few miles along the coastline. I found that out when I walked back from the train station yesterday. Most of it is a narrow strip of land between the sea and the highway. Cliffs rise up along the other side of the road.

I went down for my last breakfast here. It is open from 7:30. I arrived at opening. There were two waiters in black and white. I was the only diner. The buffet is nice. But because of COVID, it is not self-serve. I need to point and ask for what I want. When I finished my pot of coffee and left the dining room 50 minutes later, it was empty again.

Empty Dining Room

I left a 10 Euro tip for my free breakfast of toast, bacon, honey, a croissant and coffee.

I went out onto the large deck with its long stone balustrade rail above the beach. A half dozen cats were scampering around. One is in heat. The cats may outnumber the guests. All the other hotels at this end of town are closed. No convenience store. Nothing. Oh! There WAS a hairdresser that has been open nearby. Can’t do without that!

There are two more people left here from the group tour. They will meet me at 10:30 for the test. I hope. What if the “Dottore” doesn’t show on a Sunday morning? Nice folks. They tend to go their own way. They will also be on the 3 a.m. shuttle. The other tour members said this tester was really rough and stuffed the swab far up into the sinuses and twisted vigorously.

After my COVID test, then what?

I may take the train to Messina, although my guide said there is not much to see there. The city was completely destroyed by an earthquake and tidal wave in 1908. 75,000-80,000 killed. Almost the entire cities of Messina and Calabria were destroyed by the violent earthquake and resultant tidal wave.

But what else is there to do? I could just hang around the hotel all day and read and write.

I took a bus to Catania yesterday. It was about an hour trip. 3.50 Euros. The city is very active on Saturdays. Mostly locals. The open-air market was packed with vendors and customers. Fresh is the word. The langoustine were still moving their legs and flippers in the ice filled baskets. Octopus and squid moved lazily about in a few inches of water in plastic tubs. The variety of fish was amazing. Some still opened and closed their gills. Then there were produce stalls. Butchers with lamb and goat carcasses strung up and display cases full of red cuts of many, many varieties. Cheeses booths. Herbs—many mixes labeled “Bruschetta”, “spaghetti”… in small plastic bags. 1 Euro. Produce of astounding color and size and shape. Stalls were grilling—charring—artichokes, large peppers, eggplant, onion. Preserved meats—Salumeria—salamis and exotic things stuffed into different shapes… It is an amazing culture—the “market ‘ food culture.

Hundreds of vendors and shoppers and hangers-on milling around. And some tourists like me.

This is only a tiny portion of the sprawling market.

A friend in Frederick—of Italian descent—asked me bring back herbs for her. Will the TSA think it is baggies of pot?

Then I walked the city. And walked. And walked.

I visited many of the churches that had been closed when the tour had spent a couple hours there Thursday. Much of Italy closes up from 1 to 4. Siesta.

A big castle. Roman and Greek ruins.

I was in a kind of dreamy daze and couldn’t bring myself to focus. So I walked and walked.

Next to the Cathedral was another diocesan museum. It had many relics of St Agatha. There are 4 floors or religious artifacts and paintings. Many were devoted to St Agatha.

Steps led up from the top floor to a roof-sized terrace and walkways 60? 80? feet above the square. The views were astonishing.

I worked my way down floor by floor. Exhibit by exhibit.

There were even a couple of books.

Cathedral Books

On the ground floor was a kind of garage. In it was the huge shrine that gets carried through the streets. It was decorated with a kind of silver howdah in which the statue of Saint Agatha is placed during her festival in early February. It must weigh a couple of tons—even unloaded. Part of the test of faith is for men to hoist the huge thing and carry Agatha through the streets.

St Agatha Howdah

I went to the enormous Church of San Nicolo l’Arena. The largest church in Sicily. Its interior soars and soars and soars.

On the floor was a marble and bronze sundial 40 meters long. The sun peeps in once a day through a small hole in the roof. Its light hits the long band of marble on the precise date marked on the floor. Astrological signs are inlaid in colored stone along the appropriate sections of the yearlong calendar.

I walked and walked and walked…

Afternoon rolled on, and I thought I should think about heading back. Where was the bus stop? I’d foolishly gotten off at a random stop for “Cito Centro” rather than going all the way to the end—the Terminus. I looked at my printed schedule. There was a departure at 2:30. Then 4:30. I hustled to the bus terminal—maybe a mile from the old city gate. The small map in my guidebook was only a little help. Was this the right place? The light blue bus headed out as I started to cross the street. I was one minute late. Now I had 2 hours to wait. I looked everywhere for a ticket office or info.

I asked a cabbie, “Quanto costa Giardini Naxos?”

He held up 9 fingers.



I went inside the train station to see if there was bus info there. I went to the ticket counter and thought to ask, “Giardini Naxos?”

“Si. Ten minuto.”

I got my card out and paid.

4.70 Euros.

“Which track?”

“Piano 5?”

Everyone was very nice and helpful. It has been like that the whole trip. The language gap is all my fault. I could have studied the “Useful Phrases” in the back of the guidebook, but I’d been in seldom need for that. During the tour, I could ask the guide for anything in English.


There is nothing like train travel.

In the city, you roll along the backsides of everything.

[Departing Catania Centrale. Next stop Catania Europa.]

Then into black tunnels under the grittiest parts of cities.

[Next stop Catania Picanell.]

Out into open lands. There’s the Ionian Sea!

[Catania Ognina.]eeeeee

Into a very long black tunnel again. We burst out into Sicilian sun. Lemon groves everywhere around us. All yellow and green.


Small towns and semi-rural houses. Grand old manors with tile roofs are abandoned and the roofs starting to fall in.

[Guardi Mangano.]

Etna towers above everything to the left. This day it is completely swathed in clouds covering its top third.

[Next stop Carraba.]

Always the sea to the right. Wine dark in the aging afternoon.


Concrete surfaces are covered with shiny black “sand.” It is obsidian-like “ash” from last week’s eruption. It is everywhere on this part of the island. The shuttered hotel next to where I’m staying has a hundred or so patios. Their floors are covered in black.


My map doesn’t help with how many more stops there are.

[Fiumefreddo de Sicilia.]

I remember that! Daniela had pointed that town out. The “Cold River.” It was the only river I’ve seen with much water in it. Most are just dry beds. Our guide had said the melting snows from Etna filled this river. It is gray rushing water—like the glacial flows I saw in Iceland. The snow covers the northern slopes of the volcano. The sun melts the southern. There is skiing up there. Skiing in Sicily.


There’s a screen hanging in each car’s exit area. The “Next Stop…” scrolls across it. A voice in Italian repeats the words occasionally. Then a voice in English.


The young teen boy across from me sports the current hair fad I’ve seen everywhere. They comb their bangs down over their forehead and then curl the front up. It is like a duckbill or the bill of a ball cap.

[Next stop Taormina.]


That’s the town next up the coast from Giardini Naxos. We visited that Friday morning. A lovely place atop a cliff. Liz Taylor and Dick Burton used to hang out in the Wunderbar Cafe in the gorgeous square, Daniela told us.

Well, I gotta get off. Turns out the two towns share this station. Daniela had pointed out the station and said, “This is where Michael Corleone got off the train in the Godfather.” She had pointed out locations of other scenes as well. The estate where Michael’s young wife was blown up learning to drive the car was in nearby Fiumefreddo, I think.

Train Station

This was good news. And bad. The station is at the very north end of the town. The hotel is at the southern end. As I said, it is a long seaside strip of a city.

More walking. And more. And more.

I passed dozens of shuttered bistros and seafront mom and pop hotels. Some men were working on their wooden boats. Others fishing from the water front promenade.

On and on and on…

I’d taken a photo of the Giardini Naxos map laid on the counter of the beautiful hotel lobby.

That helped.

And there was likely no getting lost as there were cliffs and highway/train tracks to my right and the Ionian Sea to the left the whole way. I couldn’t stray far—could I?

Finally, I saw the sign. Hellenia Yachting Hotel.

Into the lobby and right to the little bar. I had to wave for help at the front desk. I was the only one in the lobby. I was thirsty.

“Two beers, por favore. What do you have?”

He pulled out a few samples. I chose a Sicilian brand I hadn’t seen before and went out to sit on the promenade overlooking the beach and the sea.

I got out my phone. This trip has made me a “Steps” counter after some traveling companions were frequently checking their daily counts.



No wonder I was thirsty!

I met the other two remaining people from the Globus tour—Dave and Jane. We walked to the nearby restaurant—the only one open in town. Another great pasta and seafood meal. Back to the hotel and a good hard sleep.

Sunday—my last day in Sicily.

After the swab, I had to decide what to do.

Despite the bus fiasco the day before, I decided to take the bus to Taormina. The tour visit had been rushed due to traffic delays. I hadn’t seen the Greek theater.

And I really wanted to say I’d had a cocktail at the Wunderbar.

It was another fabulously beautiful day. The bus dropped me off in the same lot the tour bus had stopped two days before, so finding the bus back wouldn’t be an issue.

I had a lot of time to kill.

First to the Greek theater.


I’m glad I didn’t miss that.

To think of Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, Aristophanes—all the dramatists I read back in college—being performed here contemporaneously. The ruins were beautiful. The views stunning.

Again, I thought of climbing the hill to this place in the same footsteps as those ancient theater buffs.

And Taormina has more contemporary literature ties as well. Goethe loved the place. Maupassant…

It is a wonderful place to wander around.

I finally steeled my courage and went to the Wunderbar.

“Can I sit out by railing?” I asked shyly. There was one table open.


So, I had my cocktail. I asked what was in a “Richard Burton.”

“Rum base. The rest is Top Secret.”

It was excellent. At the bottom of the glass was a couple inches of coconut gelato—slushy. I don’t know what else was in it.

A magical day at another place that could be considered the “Top of the World.”

Monday, February 28

Catania Airport

I awoke at 1:49 a.m. I got in the shower. My phone alarm went off at 2 a.m. Stepped out to turn it off.

The hotel had left coffee and rolls in the dining room. A couple cups of coffee and our ride was here. 3 a.m. I barely saw the driver in the dark. He was older. He drove like a madman. There was not another car on the highway. We were at the airport by 3:30. Most of entry doors were locked. Finally, one slid apart. There were no employees to be seen. A few people were sleeping on the benches. A couple were asleep on the floor. I sat on the floor and waited for check-in to open. At the counter, the nice uniformed woman looked at my documents. She kept looking. I had to fill out a couple of forms. I was supposed to scan 3 Delta QR codes for something—contact tracing was one, I think. There was no WiFi in the airport. I took pictures of the codes. I have 5 hours layover in Rome and any issues can be solved there. I hope.

I just want to be on the plane to the states. 10 hours of relaxation. It is the stress of some glitch stymieing everything that wears on me.

We are boarding in Sicily. In a couple of hours, I will be in Rome.

1 p.m. Rome.

I made it. I think.

I didn’t mention it til now, but my negative COVID test wasn’t quite perfect.

I got back to the hotel about 7 p.m. on Sunday from Taormina. The bus driver dropped me off at the wrong stop. He fairly insisted I get off at the “Naxos” stop I’d asked about. It was just a pole in the ground with a sign on it. On the highway—not the terminus that my ticket said.

“Naxos!” he said and pointed to the door and then the ground.

Is there such a thing as a happy bus driver? Must go with the job.

So I had to hoof it through the city again. At least not the whole city this time. Only about half.

When I got to the hotel, my friends Jane and Dave were already in the bar area. The manager said they had my COVID test results.

They were the only ones in the big lobby.

Jane looked at me seriously.

“Are you ready for some bad news?”

Completely deadpan.

“Looks like we get some more time in Italy.”

I knew she was kidding. Kinda… Wasn’t she?

She handed me my test. “Negativo”!


I’d get home!

I had a couple Sicilian beers with them. They were going to dinner. (At the only restaurant open—again.) I wasn’t hungry. I wanted to get packed and go to bed early for the 2 a.m. wakeup call.

I looked at my report.

“Kerles Edward Roberts”?! The birthday was correct. I didn’t see my passport number. “Dottore” had taken my passport and copied down stuff at a table a few feet away while I waited to be probed. We’d asked for receipts—as we were to get reimbursed from Globus since we couldn’t take the test with the others.

I went to the hotel manager behind the long marble counter.

I expressed my concern.

He called the doctor.

It was too late, the doctor said. He’s done it as a favor anyway was what I understood the clerk to say.

Why I didn’t ask to have a new form emailed… I don’t know.

So the stress began. Would I get stopped due to a typo? One time, I had to struggle to get through Security. My ticket read “Robert” not “Roberts.”

In Catania, I got over the first hurdle. I was given three tickets—one for each leg of the journey. I was told my luggage was checked through to Dulles. If I’d been stymied on Sicily, I could still get to Rome—domestic flight. There I had five hours. Could I get a rapid test there?

We got to Rome. I bade farewell to Jane (Oregon) and Dave (Texas.) I trudged the miles to my international gate. My passport was rubber-stamped. I went through a gauntlet of fancy shops from Burberry to Versace. The entirety of one shop appeared to be about twenty brightly colored little boxy purses.

“I wonder what they cost? How many do they sell a day?”

The gate area was a sprawling space almost completely devoid of people. There were no airline reps anywhere. My friends appeared once more—separately—and said another adieu.

I didn’t mention this, but there were three of them. Strangers thrust together on a tour in 2018. They formed a group of 4 singles, the Four Musketeers. They’d traveled a couple times thereafter until COVID blocked that. There was a fourth who hadn’t made this trip. I became a (seemingly disappointing) surrogate. We four got along fine. But I would often turn around to find them gone. Odd. But then I’m the type to march off on some mission that caught my fancy also. My trips are planned for a while into the future, so I don’t think I’ll be joining them on their next convention—even if I was invited—I’d be a fifth wheel.

I sat and typed away. I caught up on emails and the news in Ukraine. A madman. I hope someone in his inner circle will do the right thing before the nukes are launched.

Finally, people started dribbling into my gate.

Names were being called to go up to the front desk for “boarding formalities.”


Is this it? Will I get stuck due to a typo? “Sir, your names don’t match.”

But my documents were flipped through. My passport run through a scanner. I was then sent to another desk. My documents were inspected by a seated woman. She would look up into a screen and down at my docs. Up and down… Finally, she printed new boarding passes and took away my old ones.

Boarding got closer and closer. I would stretch my legs every hour or so. Bathroom. W H Smith. Cibo’s—a coffee and sandwich shop. And a small Duty Free with vastly overpriced booze, perfume, cigarettes…

I didn’t buy a thing. I hadn’t eaten anything since the bruschetta the afternoon before but had no appetite.



Nailed! How many days would I be quarantined in an airport hotel?

I went to the counter holding my head high and held forth my passport and boarding passes.

The woman looked at me quizzically.

“You have already been taken care of.”

“My name was called,” I said.

She stepped from her kiosk to the counter and leaned over it. There was a rapid exchange in Italian. A sheaf of papers was produced and a pink highlighter drew a line through a name—mine, I suppose.

“Go ahead.”


We are 2/3s across the Atlantic. Just below the tip of Greenland. We are bending southwest toward the Maritimes. 36,000 feet high. 65 degrees below zero F. 473 mph ground speed.

Four more hours til Kennedy in NY. A four-hour layover there. Then 2 hours to Dulles. Then… home eventually.

Just before we landed, there was an announcement:

“Be prepared to show your passport and negative COVID test…”


But I breezed through global Entry in a minute. I’d scanned my own passport and was identified by computer facial recognition. A piece of paper spit out of the machine. I handed it to a TSA person. That was it.

The last leg of the flight, to Virginia, was uneventful. Oddly the small older Italian woman I’d sat next to all the way from Rome was also going to be on the small shuttle. We smiled and waved though we hadn’t spoken a word in the 10 hours we were next to each other.

I found my car and headed home. The toll plaza is just outside the airport. I put the EZPass transponder on my dashboard and headed for the automated gate. Usually the arm flies up and sign lights up, “TOLL PAID.”

This time the barrier stayed down, and the sign flashed “TOLL NOT PAID.”

Really!? REALLY!?!

I tried waving the transponder at the gate. Nothing. I was trapped. No humans work there anymore. It is credit card or EZPass only. I sat in my car and waited. I knew I wasn’t supposed to back up, but there were no other cars in my rearview mirror. I could back out of this lane and move to one that takes credit cards. I waited. And waited. In frustration, I started backing gingerly.

The arm flew up—I felt angrily. I drove through, and there was an angry buzzing honking sound.

Will I get a ticket?

Will a cop pull me over?

I just want to get home.

I drove the speed limit all the way back to Frederick.

When I got to my dead-end road, someone was turning in to it from the opposite lane. New neighbors? Then they turned in the private lane.

Weird. I followed. It’s my only way home. They drove about 20 miles an hour. It was after midnight. Ok. Patience. No flashing bright lights. When the pavement ended and gravel road began, they slowed to 15. I’m so close…

Are they going to the B&B a neighbor on the other side of the fork opened recently? Pretty late and a Monday night. When they got to that fork, they veered suddenly toward my side of it.


They’re lost.

There were only three options ahead. Neighbor 1. Neighbor 2. My driveway.

PLEASE don’t go up my driveway. I don’t want to deal with anyone.

Are they paranoid thinking I am following them? Drunk? Elderly? It is very difficult to get this lost. Really—you “can’t get here from there”—unless you are trying. At the first chance, they veered up my neighbor’s driveway. I sped on straight. They slowed as I passed below them. They’ll have an interesting time turning around.


I didn’t care. I hurried up to my house. Something had spilled the recycling all over the driveway. Bottles, cans, trash… Too early for bears. Raccoons? Something must have still smelled good.

Never happened before.

Weird again.


I turned off the alarm. Turned on the well and the water heater. Brought some twigs in and started a fire. Brought in my knapsack and suitcase. Put some logs in the woodstove. Fell into bed and fell asleep immediately.


I’d started in Sicily in February. I got home in March. Nearly 30 hours later. An odyssey of sorts. I’d written a lot in airports and on planes. I’d watched a 3-part BBC documentary on Queen Victoria’s children. Then a two-part documentary focused on three of her grandchildren. Tsar Nicholas II, Kaiser Wilhelm II and King George V. There was ancient film and photos of family get-togethers. And Vicky’s offspring’s parts in the fall of the old order and the beginning of World War 1. My knowledge of that history was expanded greatly.

I awoke on March 1st.

They sun had moved into the gap in my forest—my “View.” My “Window to the World.” My twice a year “sundial.”

I’ll have another 10 days or so before the sunrises move behind the trees.

Spring is not far off.

Will I see the first daffodil blooms at home today? I saw my first daffodils of the year below an ancient Greek temple. It was the Valley of the Temples on the south coast of Sicily. (I don’t know why they call it a “valley.” They are all located high above a fertile plain with the Mediterranean Sea beyond—and Africa not far beyond that.)

Sicily Daffodils

This little, little cluster of 5 or 6 were the only daffodils I saw in Sicily. Were they descendants of some ancient bulbs brought to this Greek colony?

The wind was so strong that day that I had to hold them still to get a picture.

The timelessness of the fresh new bloom—unchanged for a million years—just a few yards below the ancient stone temple—2500 years but so worn and battered.

After my first sunrise at home, I got dressed. Then to work.

The excitement of all the new—old—books that have come in and were put aside for my evaluation is tantalizing. I can hardly wait.

I was not disappointed. These had come in the mail.

And lots and lots of carts laden with other surprises, I am sure.

Chuck Carts


Early morning. In bed. It is warm. Mid 60s inside. I stoked the fire. I’m trying to use up the scruffy deadfalls I’ve been dragging in from the woods. Woodstove season will be over in about a month and half. Whatever I don’t burn will have to be handled again.

Use it up!

I’ve slept hard and well since returning. Maybe it’s exhaustion from the marathon trip.

Two life-changing trips in a row. Egypt and Sicily. While Egypt was mostly friends and history. Sicily—all the history and artifacts were far more than I expected—geography, geology, exciting cities, food, people…

I thought Taormina was more beautiful than Capri. It doesn’t have the “island” aspect—but the town and the views—lots more history. Lots more to do. And the Wunderbar. Certainly more accessible. I can understand why Liz and Dick and Hemingway and Garbo…

I’m going to wrap this up today. It’s pretty long.

I went to my doctor yesterday. I thought I might need to get MRIs on my shoulders. Instead, I got a shot in the butt. It is my 9th shot in the last 12 months. There were so many, many years I never got any shots.

This was some steroid. “Give it a couple weeks. If it doesn’t work, we will look into an MRI.”

3 COVID. 2 Shingles. Flu. Pneumonia. Cortisone. And this one.

The books I’ve returned to have been wonderful and overwhelming. My cup runneth over.

A lot of bulk books that will need my attention came in while I was away. One load from a DC bookseller friend. One from an ISBN book churner who only wants books that scan quickly and for decent money. One from a charity that sends kids books and textbooks overseas. They sell us the old books and modern hardbacks that they would destroy otherwise. 35 pallets or thereabouts. Job security.

120 pallets. 120!!! From a remainder company we finally convinced that we would buy a lot of their pulp—mostly for Books by the Foot. Now we are in oversupply. Running out of room. Again.

BBTF Pallets

I have a LOT of work ahead of me.

The books are infinite, and that is a good thing.

There were a lot of new faces in the warehouse. Hiring is coming back, finally. Plus, most masks are off. So, I’m also seeing people who have been here awhile for the first time.

Being masked so often in Italy, I often catch myself leaving a room at work—putting my hand to my face to check to see if I am covered. Unmasked I feel… undressed.

14 Comments on Article

  1. Kathleen W Arnold commented on

    Thank you yet again for sharing your peri-pandemic travels. We eagerly await your further adventures, within and beyond your warehouses.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you for the kind words!
      You make me want to keep doing this.

  2. Michael Dirda commented on

    Welcome back! That’s a lot of traveling for one month, especially for a guy with a bum shoulder. Hope to come out to see you sometime in March.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That would be great.
      The shot has helped immensely. I hope it lasts.
      Thanks Michael. Great to hear from you.

  3. Jack Walsh commented on

    I have been reading your writings for a while now and really enjoy the way you put words together.
    This latest entry on returning to find material that was “wonderful and overwhelming” described exactly my feelings when I return to the B&O Railroad Historical Society after a vacation as I am the volunteer who is responsible for going through the material donated to the Society. I never know when the next treasure will appear that will be shared with the entire Society.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      The serendipity is part of the treasure hunting fun.
      Thank you so much for reading and writing.
      If you get material you the Society doesnt want to keep let me know!

  4. NRM commented on

    You had me at the ” Wine dark” sea. Glad you are safely back home.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      It was awesome…

  5. Livia De Leon commented on

    Hi Chuck,
    This is Livia from the Sicily trip. I hope you remember me. Finally, got a chance to check out your blog. You are an amazing writer! I am a book lover as well, averaging a book a week. It looks like you had a great time after the tour ended. I really enjoyed Sicily and plan to go back on my own. In the meantime, I had booked the Southern Italy itinerary in November. I remember you showed me a photo with Mt Vesuvius in the background. It wax great to meet you. Will continue reading your blog. Really great writing.

    Take care….

    Happy Easter!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hi Livia!
      Sicily was a great trip!
      I did a Globus Scotland a couple weeks ago.Planning 2 or 3 more at the end of 2022 or early 2023.
      Thank you so much for reading and writing!
      Please try more to see if you like them.
      Let me know if you ever need books!

      1. Livia De Leon replied on

        Hi Chuck,
        I’ve read quite a few since last night and love them all! You truly are an exceptional writer. I could picture everything you describe and had laughed quite a bit as well! I read about Scotland and you had described me in the passenger seated next to you on the flight to Heathrow! hahaha…I wipe down everything, not just the folding table…but I’ve been doing that since long before the pandemic. Worried that I might catch something and get sick during my trip….On a pilgrimage with Globus in August, which includes the Passion Play. Am sure you’ve heard of it, or might have attended one. Was scheduled for 2020, but had to be postponed to this year. Then on to Campania and Puglia Thanksgiving week, Southern Spain in January, Cooking tour in Tuscany in May, all with Globus.

        Can’t stop reading your writings…

        Take care…


        P.S. I just finished organizing my Sicily photos this morning…

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          I’m going to ask you to be my agent! LOL…
          I’m looking at Southern spain around then as well. My Morocco tour got bumped for some reason.
          I’d love to see Obergammerau (sp?).
          I’ve become a Globus groupie.
          Eastern Europe capitals in November.
          Thank you so much!
          Please comment more or email.
          PS I’m trying to order more olive oil from a farm near Lecce. Globus side tour…I bought two bottles. Bet I ever had. Masseria Stali.

          1. Livia De Leon replied on

            Thank you for the info on olive oil, Chuck! Will check it out in November.
            Been a Globus groupie for almost 10 years now…I booked the Jan 14 Southern Spain and got the single supplement waiver. ..


          2. Charles Roberts replied on

            I’m going to Southern Spain in early December. My Morocco trip got bumped to January.
            I’ve always found the excursion/side trips excellent as well.
            Need to start thinking about what is next.
            Thank you again for your encouragement! I’ll keep writing w readers like you.

            Already itching to go somewhere…maybe May or June.


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