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  • Writer's pictureCamellia Phillips

Stories in Four Items: Packing for Sicily

The more we tell people about moving to Sicily, the less real it feels.

Sicily is incredible. The history, food, nature, and beauty are almost too much to believe. Moving there feels fanciful rather than real.

But in truth, it's not so much Sicily we're moving to. We're moving to Melilli. This ancient village—with its rich and complicated history and warm-hearted people—is where we want to be.

In Melilli, past and present intersect seamlessly. We stroll the steep, winding streets and can almost glimpse Marco's father Sebastiano, just out of earshot. A boy and an old man, both at once.

Choosing What to Carry With Us

Packing for this move feels unlike any packing I've done before. Of course, I've never spent 20 years carving out a life somewhere only to leave it. But I've moved cross-country, worked abroad, and moved apartments countless times, as has Marco. This time though, we're both approaching it differently.

When we first bought double-walled cardboard boxes and started going through our belongings, we'd pick up each item and ask, "Should I take this?"

It's the normal question one asks while packing. But we soon realized we'd end up with an enormous shipping bill and a house in Melilli full of "stuff."

So we took a step back and rethought our approach. This isn't just moving apartments. It isn't even just moving cities or countries.

It's about starting a whole new chapter in our lives. So began: Project Turn the Page.

As we picked up each item, we started asking a new question: "Do I want to carry this into the next chapter? Or is it okay to set it down."

Item 1: The Charred Pie Dish

For years, we've kept a charred metal pie dish with holes punched in the bottom. Overall, it's nothing fancy to look at. It's bent out of shape with flecks of rust. When you hold the dish up, it's like looking at a lost constellation in the night sky.

A picture of an old metal pie dish with holes poked in the bottom
Constellations of the charred pie dish

That dish, it holds stories. You can just tell. It also has two very specific purposes.

First, it's the perfect way to roast whole chestnuts on a gas stove at home.

Second, it was made by Marco's father Sebastiano. He gave it to Marco because you never know when you might have chestnuts in need of roasting.

Weathered and aged, I often imagine Sebastiano turned the pie dish into a chestnut roaster when Marco's mother, Linda, deemed it no longer suitable for pie. But that's not the way it happened. Sebastiano took the pie dish without asking and punched holes in it with a nail and hammer. He ruined a perfectly good pie pan so he could roast chestnuts. And Linda never let him forget it.

A pie pan with a second life. A dish that reminds us that there is always a way to start a new chapter, even if it's nothing like you expected.

Item 2: The Accidental Mason Jar

My father raised me and my sister with trips to the dump and the thrift store as our fun bonding time. You never knew what you'd find!

I'm not sure where exactly my dad found the antique Ball mason jars. Was it Goodwill? Value Village? Ebay? It doesn't really matter. What matters is that my dad found 100-year-old Ball jars that were misshapen and decided to buy them.

A picture of a turquoise antique Ball mason jar
The imperfect Ball jar

Because why wouldn't you buy an old mason jar where the top looked very slightly melted? And the turquoise glass was dotted with accidental bubbles? Especially if that same jar didn't just say "Perfect Mason" but instead "PEPfect Mason"?

My family isn't much for holidays. So one lucky Christmas, my dad gifted Marco the Pepfect Ball Mason Jar.

This simple jar is not only practical but reminds us that perfection is overrated. And that maybe, instead, we should all strive to be more pepfect.

Item 3: The Tourist Map

Marco's debut novel, How Fires End, started with a trip to Sicily with his father in 2001. I didn't know Marco yet back then. He still lived in New Haven. But I've heard the story enough to recount it.

Picture of a brightly colored framed cloth map of Sicily
A map of Sicily that started it all

When Marco's father suggested a month-long trip to Sicily together—what would be Marco's first trip to the homeland his father spoke so fondly of—he thought, "Oh my god, how will I survive an eight-hour plane flight with my father!"

But Marco's mother took him aside later. "Your father is offering you an olive branch. You should take it."

And so Marco listened to his mother. Father and son headed to Melilli together. There, Marco took photos and scribbled notes and eventually found his voice as a novelist.

When Marco's father made another trip to Sicily several years later, Marco couldn't get time off work. So Marco's brother and his family flew over from the UK to meet him. On that trip, Sebastiano bought Marco a cloth map of the island, a reminder of their father-son journey. A few years ago, we got the map framed.

More recently, at the weekly market in Melilli, we noticed the same cloth maps being sold everywhere for a few euros. But this map, the one on our wall, this map is different. It's an olive branch. It's a reminder that sometimes we only get one chance.

That 2001 trip was the only visit to Sicily Marco and his father ever got to take together. But it made all the difference.

Item 4: The Parisian Photo

For as long as I can remember, I've had a poster of a photo my mom took hanging on my bedroom wall. I had it back in Bellingham, Washington, as a teenager. When I moved to NYC and finally had a long-term apartment, I asked my parents to send out the poster. When Marco and I bought our Brooklyn apartment, it moved with us. And now, it's preparing for another move, all the way to Sicily.

A photo of wooden boats at a fountain in Paris in the 1970s
It's all about those shoes

So what is this poster? It's a picture my photographer-mom took when she was traveling around Europe in a van with my dad's mom in the 1970s. What I always loved most about this picture, was the shoes. A pair of thick-soled, two-toned, chunky-heel women's shoes.

Yes, in the foreground and background there's Paris in all its grandeur. A rolling rack of wooden toy boats for rent. Children laughing and guiding their boats around a fountain. In the background there's adventure. But then there are those shoes. Practical yet stylish. Going on about their business, despite all the action around them.

It's a reminder that you can dream and stay grounded at the same time. Life is in the details as much as in the adventure.

In the End, It's the Stories

One other thing we've learned so far in packing for Sicily is that objects are just objects. Sometimes we pack a box of items to take, then two days later decide to leave half of them behind.

As much as each of these particular four items means, we can always live without them. Because it’s not the objects that matter. It’s the stories they carry. And we’re taking those stories with us.

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Apr 02, 2023

I had that poster made for your Mom. I knew she loved it so much.

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