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PAM FRAMPTON: Through the looking glass

One of many weddings we witnessed as tourists in Cefalu, Sicily, in 2015. By the end of the vacation I was feeling like a wedding photographer. — Pam Frampton/The Telegram
One of many weddings we witnessed as tourists in Cefalù, Sicily, in 2015. By the end of the vacation I was feeling like a wedding photographer. — Pam Frampton/The Telegram

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” — The White Queen from “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll

•••

When the man walking towards me suddenly switched to the other side of the street to avoid crossing paths, my first thought was to be offended.

Fighting my way through the stinging wind with the dog was bad enough. His action felt like an affront.

Then I realized it was an act of kindness, and I smiled at him for his generosity in physically distancing himself from me in the midst of a pandemic.

These are strange times, and sometimes, walking outside and letting your mind clear itself of troubling things for a few minutes, you forget how things are.

I see fewer people on my walks these days, with many of us sticking mostly to the safety of our homes and obeying government orders to self-isolate.

But when I do come upon other people, we seem to smile more readily at one another, we are so glad to see anyone at all.

The grocery store is another matter, where occasional trips for food and other supplies now feel like forays into a danger zone. What bizarre world is this, where we skirt around each other in the bakery and the meat aisle, as if every one of us is potentially an envoy from COVID-19 HQ?

Which, of course, we are.

It feels like dog eat dog and every woman and man for themselves, each one out trying to score some Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer and the devil take the hindmost.

What bizarre world is this, where we skirt around each other in the bakery and the meat aisle, as if every one of us is potentially an envoy from COVID-19 HQ?

Of course, it isn’t really like that. People have been committing wonderful acts of kindness amid the stress and fear. Neighbours helping neighbours, strangers being considerate of strangers. Children teaching grandparents how to use technology so they can stay in touch. People putting teddy bears and rainbows in their windows and reading storybooks over the internet to keep children occupied.

When I’m feeling most closed in and claustrophobic, as another winter storm batters the windows with the clatter of sleet, I think of the many examples we can find every day of the generosity of the human spirit. And how, though it may feel like we’ve gone through the looking glass right now, we will come out the other side.

And I let my mind wander to happier times.

2015: Cefalù, Sicily. It is a warm evening in this coastal city and my husband and I are reluctant to leave the beautiful square where we sit every night and drink wine and bask in the wonder of a climate where it’s 10:30 p.m. and no jacket is required.

We have been in this piazza for many meals and we’ve witnessed many joyful weddings, with smiling guests spilling out of the 12th-century Norman cathedral, making the cobblestones ring with laughter and music and the sound of clinking glasses.

The cathedral and piazza at the heart of Cefalù, Sicily. — Pam Frampton/The Telegram
The cathedral and piazza at the heart of Cefalù, Sicily. — Pam Frampton/The Telegram

In the daytime, this heart of the city is dominated by a group of older men — regulars, who we imagine are Mafioso, here in this place where tourist trinkets often play up Sicily’s reputation as home of the Cosa Nostra. They sit at a prime table in the upper left quadrant in the shadow of the Duomo di Cefalù, as their grandchildren play, chasing each other, weaving in among tables.

We have spent two glorious weeks, sitting on our balcony each day at sundown and watching the light cross the face of La Rocca, the tree-fringed peak that dominates the town. We watch as it turns from gold to pale pink, from rose to bruised purple to black.

On our final night, the waiters in the square embrace us. They are sad to see us go, as we are sad to leave.

Looking back at them through the prism of these lonely times, when we cannot hug our friends or kiss our aged parents in nursing homes, or even high-five our colleagues, I hold on tightly to my faith that those halcyon days will return.

That someday, we will emerge, and this strange world will be part of our past.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s managing editor. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton


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