29 Jan 2011

When the town of Gibellina was destroyed by an earthquake in 1968, the Italians opted to simply rebuild it next door - and, later, to concrete over the entire remains, turning them into a massive sculpture.

This kind of madness seemed like something we ought to see.

But it's not so easy to find - even Italians don't go there - and the fortified hilltop building we end up approaching turns out not to be the memorial, but a museum of Islamic influences on Sicily. The curator is as surprised as we are, but turns on the lights and music as we arrive. Between looking at antiquities, I manage to get enough 3G signal through the windows to figure out that "next door" actually means over ten miles away, as the crow flies. We're not in Ruderi de Gibellina. We're not even close.

As we leave, he says something. We don't understand.

By the time I decode it as "another museum" he's led us across a courtyard and unlocked a huge, high-ceilinged exhibition of sculpture. And this is interesting - bronzed interlocking shields in just the right light as an ominous surround-sound track plays from the other end of the hall, pinpricks of light from fibre-optics like alien plants.

A couple of dogs streak past, inhumanly fast, as we exit. We don't worry about them.

It's nearly full dark by now, and we're halfway across the deserted carpark when the barking starts. The goats and their attendant who were there when we parked are gone, but the wild dogs remain, between us and the car, and not glad to see us.

We back up. I've never been attacked by a dog, so I don't know how to deal with this. Viv's never averted a dog attack, so she only knows ways that don't work. I pick up a couple of large rocks, then dump them in favour of a long, thin slab of concrete.

We advance on the car, well spaced, moving slowly but steadily. She should be acquiring a weapon. I should be moving to protect her. We're doing this wrong.

But we barely talk at all, both sensing that this is no place for a committee meeting. The two-handed heft of my concrete cricket bat is reassuring even though I have no idea what I'm going to do with it.

There's suddenly movement, too fast to follow. I don't even have time to raise the bat as the two dogs tear down the road. We never see what they're chasing, but it's not us, so after a second we unfreeze and sprint for the car.

I have an irrational urge to lock the doors - too many horror movies - and instead force myself into a slow, careful exit from the car park.

We're safe, but still in the middle of nowhere, with no idea where to spend the night. Not something I'd normally do (outside of tourist season in a cheap country), but we've got wheels. How wrong can it go?

As it turns out, not very. We find a pizzeria with lights on, and the waitress unlocks the door and spends twenty minutes calling every B&B she can find, communicating with us via a mix of amused smiles and Google Translate (years ago, I asked "Why can't my phone do this?"; now it can). Someone shows up to drive us in convoy to the B&B; he makes allowances for my lack of speed, but still has to show me how to reverse in to the spot. We eventually check in - google translate completely failing, this time - and walk back to the pizzeria, where we spend three hours eating pasta and drinking wine.

We never make it to the ruins. We don't have to.