Describes how and why Poldi moves to Sicily and what her sisters-in-law think of it. Unable to function without her wig and a bottle of brandy, Poldi invites everyone to a roast pork lunch, makes her nephew an offer he can’t refuse, and gets to know her neighbours in the Via Baronessa. One of them goes missing shortly afterwards.
On her sixtieth birthday my Auntie Poldi moved to Sicily, intending to drink herself comfortably to death with a sea view. That, at least, was what we were all afraid of, but something always got in the way. Sicily is complicated ?— ?you can’t simply die there; something always gets in the way. Then events speeded up, and someone was murdered, and nobody admitted to having seen or known a thing. It goes without saying that my Auntie Poldi, being the pig-headed Bavarian she was, had to take matters in hand herself and sort them out. And that was when problems arose.
My Auntie Poldi: a glamorous figure, always ready to make a dramatic entrance. She had put on a bit of weight in recent years, admittedly, and booze and depression had ploughed a few furrows in her outward appearance, but she was still an attractive woman and mentally tip-top ?— ?most of the time, at least. Stylish, anyway. When Madonna’s Music came out, Poldi was the first woman in Westermühlstrasse to wear a white Stetson. One of my earliest childhood memories is of her and Uncle Peppe sitting on my parents’ patio in Neufahrn, Poldi in a bright orange trouser suit, beer in one hand, cigarette in the other, and everyone joining in the laughter she seemed to generate with her entire body, which erupted from her in inexhaustible gusts of mirth ?— ?interspersed with the smutty jokes and expletives that made me the star attraction of the school playground when I passed them on the next day.
Isolde and Giuseppe had met at a Munich television studio, where Poldi worked as a costume designer and Peppe was a tailor, an occupation which, for want of any other talent or aspiration, he had inherited from his tyrannical and hypochondriacal father, in other words my grandfather, who had likewise lacked any talents or aspirations ?— ?quite unlike his father, my great-grandfather Barnaba, that is, who, without being able to speak a word of German, had emigrated in the 1920s to Munich, where he set up a lucrative wholesale fruit business and became a wealthy man. But I digress.
Poldi and my Uncle Peppe had shared a grand passion, but alas, a few things went badly wrong. Two miscarriages, booze, my uncle’s womanizing, divorce from my uncle, my uncle’s illness, my uncle’s death, the whole issue of the plot of land in Tanzania and sundry other unpleasant twists and turns, setbacks and upheavals of life had stricken my aunt with depression. But she continued to laugh, love and drink a lot, and she didn’t simply take things lying down when they went against the grain. Which they always did.
Poldi had enjoyed being a costume designer, but in recent years she had more and more often lost jobs to younger colleagues. Television work had become scarcer, times harder, and Poldi had gradually fallen out of love with her profession. Stupidly enough, the disastrous venture in Tanzania had robbed her of almost all her savings. But then her parents died in quick succession and left her their little house on the outskirts of Augsburg. And because my Auntie Poldi had always hated the house and everything to do with it, nothing could have been more logical than to sell it and take herself off, together with the rest of her savings and her small pension, and fulfil one of her dearest wishes: to die with a sea view. And family for company.
The family in Sicily naturally suspected that Poldi meant to hasten her demise with a glass or two, given her depressive tendencies, and felt that this must be combated on every level and by all available means. When I say “family” I’m referring principally to my three aunts, Teresa, Caterina and Luisa, and my Uncle Martino, Teresa’s husband. Aunt Teresa, who calls the shots in our family, tried to persuade Poldi to move in with them at Catania, if only for social reasons.
“Don’t be daft, Poldi,” Teresa lamented in her best Munich dialect, “why would you want to live out there, all on your lonesome? Move in near us, then you’d always have someone to chew the fat and play cards with and you can do everything on foot. Theatre, cinemas, supermarket and hospital ?— ?everything’s practically on the doorstep. We’ve even got a few good-looking policemen, too.”
Not a chance, though. Poldi’s private agreement with her melancholia stipulated a sea view, and a sea view was what she got, together with a breathtaking panorama from her roof terrace. The sea straight ahead and Etna behind ?— ?what more would anyone want? The only snag: with her bad knee, Poldi could hardly make it up the stairs to the roof.
A sleepy, friendly little town on the east coast of Sicily midway between Catania and Taormina, Torre Archirafi is unsuited to any form of tourist exploitation, gentrification or vandalism because of its coastline, which consists of massive, jagged volcanic cliffs. Or so one would think, anyway. This doesn’t, in fact, deter the inhabitants from dumping their rubbish on the beach, making life as difficult for each other as possible, and, in the summer, shoehorning timber platforms and snack bars into the gaps between the cliffs. On weekends families and young people from Catania throng there to sunbathe, eat, read paperbacks, squabble, eat, listen to the radio, eat and flirt, forever bombarded by the thump of indeterminate bass rhythms and dazed by a miasma of coconut oil, frying fat and fatalism. And, in the midst of it all, my Auntie Poldi. She liked the place, I’ve never known why.
Winters in Torre, on the other hand, are dank. A sea the colour of lead snarls at the projecting breakwaters as if intent on swallowing the whole town, and its moist, salty breath adorns every ceiling with black efflorescences of mildew. Air conditioning and feeble central heating systems don’t stand a chance. My Auntie Poldi had to have the whole house whitewashed the very first April after she moved into the Via Baronessa, and again every year thereafter. Winters in Torre aren’t much fun, but at least they’re short.
For shopping one drives to nearby Riposto, or, better still, straight to the HiperSimply supermarket, where everything’s on tap. All Torre itself has to offer is Signor Bussacca’s little tabacchi for basic necessities, the Bar-Gelateria Cocuzza presided over by the sad signora, and a restaurant even the local cats steer clear of. Torre Archirafi does, however, boast a mineral-water spring, and although the bottling plant down by the harbour was closed in the seventies, Acqua di Torre still means something to my aunts. Protruding from the side of the old building is a row of brass taps from which the inhabitants of Torre can still draw their own mineral water free of charge.
“What does it taste like?” I asked politely, the first time Poldi enthused about the public mineral water supply as though speaking of a chocolate fountain.
“Frightful, of course; what do you expect? Still, local patriotism makes folk thirsty.”