In Messina with chameleons.Sicily.

When you dock in Messina in the summer, under the midday sun, there can be only one thought in your mine: water. So, when I got off a cruise ship for the first time there, I asked around (lucky, I speak Italian pretty well) and found out there was a tramway that would take you to the beach, if you took the one going right from the port.

It was on one of those trams that I met Carlo (though I would later find out his name was actually Hicham). He was a tall, olive-skinned boy of Moroccan origin. Later on, we would alternate between French and Italian, indistinctly. He worked at a Moroccan furniture shop in Messina. I think his uncle imported furniture, in fact.

At Lido beach bar Steph, me, Carlo and his friend Antonio

The way I met him was totally random. He asked me whether I was going to the beach, and he ended up sitting on the beach with me. One thing I hadn´t considered, when in desperate need of plunging into the cool water to appease the heat, was the amount of jellyfish that people those Messina waters at times. The water was crystal clear, so I could see each one of them, one next to the other, with not enough space between them for a person to take a dip.

As Carlo was friendly and harmless enough, we exchanged contact info. I was returning to Messina several times that summer, and I was always looking for a local in each port to give me the inside scoop.So, Hicham ( as the surprised bar servers would hint that his actual name was, when they saw me calling him Carlo) became my man in Messina. Almost sounds like a mafia plot, but nothing can be further from the truth.

Actually, some apparently pretty cool Mafia Tours were being offered; this was, after all, Sicily, the cradle of LA COSA NOSTRA, but I never took any of them.

Steph and me lounging at Lido

I just went to beach restaurants and bars with Carlo and some of my girlfriends. It was really fun, though I started thinking he was kind of a fishy character in the end, what with the fake name and all, and his later, poor attempts at hitting on me first and one of my girlfriends next.

One thing I can say; he was quite a character. I got an email from him like years after all that. He even invited me to Morocco a couple of times, but I    don´t really know whatever became of him; my inside man in Messina, my Hicham-Carlo, who was a living proof of the things that people will do to fit in in a strange country.

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