Lost in Catania
Leaving Sigonella Airbase, Sicily, in my rented Fiat sub-compact I turned right on Strada Statale 192, toward Catania. As I was driving down the highway, I thought back to the events from that morning: I had showed up at 0700 to muster for what was supposed to be my flight back to the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. Waiting for my name to be called, I couldn’t help but feel sad. My month ashore was coming to an end: the flights from my boat to Sigonella, from Sigonella to Frankfurt, Germany, where I spent three weeks during Oktoberfest, then a long flight back to Sigonella.
They reached the end of the list, but my name had not been called. I wasn’t flying back to the USS Saratoga after all. That was fine with me, because it meant I had a couple of days free time before heading back to my boat! I had noticed a car rental center across the room and spontaneously stopped in to rent a car. The rental reminded me of my Ford Festiva back home: white, stick shift, peppy; it was just enough to get around this little island of Sicily. That’s what I decided I was going to do: See how far around the island I could drive in three days.
Now well on my way to Catania, I realized how beautiful the scenery was. It reminded me of my home town. The mountains, the ocean, the Mediterranean architecture — it all brought me back to my childhood years, riding around the Santa Barbara foothills with my parents, enjoying the views. I became so absorbed by the scenery that I didn’t even noticed how far I’d traveled. I found myself in the middle of town, before the Cathedral of Saint Agatha, the patron saint of Catania. I was in awe of its intense baroque styling and stunning beauty. I had to stop and look, so I parked and wandered back a couple of blocks to the cathedral.
I must have spent more than an hour on the grounds and in the building. When I decided it was time to get back on the road, I realized I had lost my car. In my eagerness to get to the cathedral, I had forgotten to note where, exactly, I had parked. The street split off in five different directions — and they all looked the same, with their endless rows of whitewashed buildings. My heart raced. I became disoriented and filled with dread. I feared I’d be stuck here, with no way to get back to the base. I tried to communicate with the local people, but the language barrier was impenetrable. All the cars looked the same. It seemed like everyone drove a Fiat. I recognized a white one and approached it with relief. But when I reached it, I discovered the license plate didn’t match the number on my key tag. My heart sank; no match. I must have checked 25 license plates that way. Dejectedly I spotted yet another white Fiat and walked toward it. I got close enough to read the first couple of digits on the license plate, and I saw that they matched my key tag. “YES” I cried. I unlocked the door and climbed in, and I sat in the car for what seemed like an hour, thinking about the situation I had gotten myself into. The swells of hope and valleys of hopelessness were nothing I ever wanted to feel again.
I finished my trip and returned to base three days later. My boat had been located. I would fly out the next day. I was relieved, and I doubted I would ever see this island again.
Scott Rothdeutsch was in the U.S. Navy from 1988-1991. He will graduate from UCSB in fall 2019 with a BA in Anthropology.
This Voice was originally submitted in 2019, and the link was re-posted in 2021.