Etnies: A postcard from Sicily

Words and photos by Eric Antoine

During the winter season, one of the best solutions to escape the bad weather of the northern European coutries and go skate is to rent an apartment or a house with a couple of friends.

Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Malaga and Andalusia are all ideal destinations for winter skating, and off season rentals are very much affordable. This year with the Etnies European team we decided to go to Sicily for 2 weeks. The location itself seemed very interesting, from its remote location, to good weather, and last but not least the various skate spots spread out amongst the Islands.

It’s fairly easy to find a place to rent on the internet. The one we found was very appealing, with 4 big rooms, each with their own bathroom, kitchen, barbecue, internet and a beautiful view of the sea. What else could we ask for?

When we arrived, the landlord was waiting there for us with homegrown lemons from his own garden and a very welcoming smile. The apartment was located on the main street of a very small and charmless village. But…..inside, it was even colder than outside, heaters were not really working, the electricity system seemed precarious, windows were thin and definitely not made for low temperature! The furniture was very cheap and brittle,…..and there was no internet. And then there’s the showers. Once we got rid of the insects and webs that were hanging from every direction, all built up from the last time this place was occupied (20 years ago?), the best surprise was waiting for us. No hot water! This is just the beginning, a few more surprises were still to come.

During the night trains were passing by our room and the view of the sea was replaced by a view of a building in construction. But there was one good feature to the apartment, and this was the barbecue situated in a nice outdoor kitchen and living room on the roof terrace. Unfortunately, at 5° at night and 11° during the day didn’t allow us to enjoy it. This was just the first impression, but everything got better and even in the worst apartment there are always ways to have a great stay. After organising and fixing a few things, comfort was not optimal but good enough for us. The showers and heaters finally worked, the mood was at its best and our stay was rythmed by a few nice long skate sessions.


On February 22nd, we went to skate in Catanya. Imagine the surprise we encountered when we were welcomed by a procession of floats made of flowers, Hello Kitty’s, Smurf’s, Zorros, a couple Clowns and some Mercenaries. Our deception was even bigger than our surprise when we realised it wasn’t for us, but for Carnival. In Italy, Carnival is taken very seriously. It’s a family and village town business!!

All day long we saw kids with costumes and adult’s carrying pieces of their floats on the roof of their cars, holding them out of the window with their hand while driving! Nothing special here, but i’ll talk about the Sicilian way of driving later on. At the end of the afternoon, right after Willow unfortunately got his back blocked, we decided to try to find something that could help him feel better. We ended up at the ETNAPOLIS mall, a huge whale looking building made of glass. It was the only thing open on a Sunday. The king-sized underground parking lot was full. It was the first time I had to park with the hazard lights on in a huge mall parking lot. The bravest among us went upstairs, unaware of what adventure was awaiting us. And for the rest of this, I’m sorry in advance if I hurt the feelings of the Italian readers, but what we saw up there was very hard to describe.

First of all, we were victims of an assault and it was coming from a very annoying voice screaming promotional offers in a microphone at some 300 decibels high! Then we were surrounded by thousands of young couples hiding behind huge sunglasses, wearing hazardous, shiny hairdos, and rocking the Italian fashion, which flirts with the worst taste ever. Most of these strange beings had a non human orangish/brown skin color due to the extensive tanning spray and/or hours spent in a UV box. And most of the female specimen’s were also covered by a thick and vulgar layer of make-up.

The Male’s were even more spectacular with their branded uniforms and sunglasses, and the “never out of fashion” mullet! The all time “King of Mullets” is from Sicily and we saw him. He is in his mid 30s, loitering around the “carrefour” supermarket in the mall. Proudly rocking a pair of bellbottom pants, 2 large earings, a straight fringe, stiff hair on top and a wonderful mullet made of curly blond hair going all the way down to his Ass!!! This guy exists, and he is amazing. I almost cried.

After seeing all of this nothing could surprise us. The Etna volcano could blow up while we’re walking beside and we wouldn’t care, NOTHING can surpass such an encounter. In another country, this mall would be placed in quarantine, and it would be a zone of lawlessness or a testing ground for military experiments….and for once I barely exaggerate.


The first thing that comes to mind when being told about Sicily is the Mafia, Don Corléone or a quote from a mafia movie. But what is the actual situation with the Sicilian mafia? Personally, after a week there I couldn’t really get a clear perception, but I did manage to get a lot inside information. I didn’t see any long black limousines parking in front of the restaurants, with 4 big dudes wearing black suits and glasses running out of it to racket a poor merchant. However, as a good journalist, I asked Ernesto our local guide in Catanya.

The Mafia is still very active and present here in Sicily, and it still works the same old fashion way. The Mafia is still a family operated business, the system has proved its worth and most of its income comes from real estate and public constructions. The Mafia proposes its services for construction (even if they are not asked to do so) and they offer prices defying all competition. Of course they build with the cheapest materials, and most of the time in the cheapest way possible to keep some of money for their personal expenses. (Building palaces in Florida, buying cars to spoil retarded kids…). They often don’t even finish the job and everyone seems to inadvertently forget about that particular project. The result of this is a lot of partially built walls, which are covered with mold and weeds. And this is on the side of every road, instead of it being a nice house, a local swimming pool or a nice shopping mall.

The famous protection system is also still active in Sicily. Restaurants, disco clubs, bars and other merchants pay the mafia to be protected. Protected from who? The very same mafia of course! Ernesto explained to us that those activities are underground and can’t really be seen, so those families are quite discrete and as long as everyone tolerates them it keeps going smoothly.

But Ernesto’s concern is more about the delinquency in Catanya, as in every other Sicilian city. He explained that a 16 years old kid can’t really go out in the streets without risking to get his wallet, his cell phone, his scooter or anything else valuable stolen. The use of a gun for dissuasion is common. Most of the kids try to look as threatening as possible so they stay out of trouble, and don’t get hassled. This is a big social problem, little by little, kindness has vanished in favor of violence and roughness. I recently heard this sentence in a movie… “if people tell you that the light in your heart is weakness, do not believe it, it’s an old technique of cruel people to kill kindness in the name of virtue, there is nothing wrong with love..

The profile that the locals have drawn up of the typical Sicilian is sadly reduced to a selfish, racist, macho, distrustful, tough guy. Personally, I haven’t seen anything of this nature, and our little team was pleasantly surprised by the way the locals welcomed and treated us. Everyone was more than happy to skate along with us on our tour. However it’s hard to question racism in Sicily, generalizing it takes root in protectionism and traditionalism of italian people. Their selfishness is really obvious and it’s shown in the next chapter.

Traffic in Sicily.

The first surprise on the island is its highways, even if they are very fast and convenient they are in very bad shape. I often wondered how those little FIAT’s survive the bumps and holes in the tarmac. Yet there are a lot of quite expensive tolls. It seems that the bridges and roadways are also victims of the mafia, who keep all of the toll money, and keep the maintenance and repairs to a minimum. Apart from this detail, the Sicilians make roads even more dangerous than they actually are, with their overly-aggressive driving tactics. Talking on your cell phone must also be mandatory while driving here, because every single car owner drives with a cell phone in his hand while wearing very dark sunglasses.

Of course, a red or green light doesn’t matter. They just go! They pass on the left and on the right and very often 2 lane roads become 3 or 4 lane roads. We even saw some cars driving in the emergency lane! The way people battle in the old 1950s car movies, the road belongs to the one who retains the risk to the last moment, forcing his way in the heavy traffic. In short, anything is possible on the Sicilian roadway. The “carabinieris” don’t seem to worry, as the roads are covered with small memorials that remind us that this attitude on the road kills people. One again, selfishness and survival of the strongest reigns on the road too.

Attraction of the risk

Skate sessions on tour lead most of the time to a proper photo studio in the center of a busy city with photo cameras, multiple vidéo cameras, flashes spread all over the place and a few skaters who one after the other jump on one singular object that during the rest of the year has no interest to anyone. However, I recently noticed very unusual behavior, a sort of attraction toward danger. This can come from an adult but most of the time children are the subjects. Let me explain myself. Take an empty park, 4 thin tripods holding very expensive flashes, all of this happens in 3 square meters.

The kid will most likely walk towards the danger zone with a haggard look on his face, looking around without analyzing the situation. If its stairs we’re skating, he will walk up and down the stairs or even sit on them. If it’s a bank he will slide down it. And of course, he will in-evi-ta-bly trip in to the tripods or kick his football in a flash head. This is just a note, I still can’t explain it. to be continued….

Hustle and racket lessons

My friend Pepe from Syracusa also explained a lot of interesting things to me. I looked on the internet to get more information about these interesting chats we had while driving to some amazing skate spots he showed us.

The Mafia is spread in different clans all over Italy. As said before it is mostly families and there is a pyramidal hierarchy heading to the “big boss”, The Godfather of the Godfather’s. This organization is very closely related to the Italian economical and political networks. Proof of this is that the Godfather is at the same time president of the Italian council, the owner of a huge communications empire, and known by the anti mafia brigade (DA if i’m right) as an eminent member of the Milano Mafia.

In Sicily the boss is in Palermo, and the city ís divided in to 3 families, the 3 main Sicilian clans. In each city the clans share shops, clubs, bars and restaurants. All of the clubs are lead by the Mafia, along with the drug trafficking. And pretty much all of the shops in center of the town, including malls, are related to the mafia or hustled by them for the infamous “protection”.

The Palermo Mafia is known as the best mafia organization in the world, they inspire mafia members from all other the world. The USA east coast clan sends their members to Palermo where they can learn, in a secret place, to be better “mafiosis”. I couldn’t believe this, but this is for real, a mafia school exists and it’s in Palermo. Imagine meeting a racket teacher, tell your girlfriend “sorry, I’m late, I have my political bribe system class in 5 minutes”. I really can’t get enough of these stories.

Have a look on the internet, there is a lot to see. I know a lot of skaters are big fans of gangster and mafia movies and I very often see Scarface images on grip tape. So that might interest you, in between 2 skate videos, watch this series of documentaries.

Julian wants to share a Sicilian dish with you, try it out, it’s called the “Penne al limon“.

For 4/6 persons.

2 lemons
750 gr. of penne
200 gr. of mascarpone
100 gr. of parmesan

Cook the pasta in boiling water,
Peel half a teaspoon of zest off a lemon.
Press both lemons.
In a small pan, cook over low heat, zest, lemon juice and mascarpone.
Mix the penne and the content of your pan in a dish, cover with parmesan.