It had been late when we had arrived in Catania: even from the airplane the dark storm clouds had been apparent for some time. Rain had fogged the cabin windows, spoiling any hope of spotting Etna on the final approach to the city; obscuring the division between the darkness of the sea and the darkness of the land. Winds had buffeted the landing. It had been with a sense of relief when the plane had come to a halt beside the airport buildings.
The airport was relatively close to the city centre, although we had taken the precaution to pre-book a car to collect us. A driver held a cardboard sign with our name––misspelled––written on it as we came through immigration.
The outskirts of the city were a maze of semi-derelict buildings. There were few street lights and the car’s headlights sought only to illuminate the lines of rain, which continued to fall, forming in glistening pools in the potholes of the uneven road surface.
As we drew closer to the city centre, the streets became yet narrower, the turnings more twisty and labyrinthine; the buildings tiered and tightly-packed. There were no recognisable landmarks; no signs to indicate if we were heading towards the correct destination. Our driver remained silent, his attention focused on the street ahead.
We passed the high, crumbling stone wall of an ancient church; a brief parade of cafes, which showed bright lights and empty tables; a small piazza and someone hurrying, head down, with an umbrella.
Another corner, another shadowy and narrow street, and with it recollections of every Sicilian gangster movie I had ever watched. And then, at last, a blaze of light. The Liberty Hotel appeared like a beacon out of the darkness; its brightly lit entrance hall a welcome sanctuary from the unfounded fears of the unknown night.