I’m in Sicily at the moment for a short holiday. It’s beautifully sunny, the people are friendly, prices reasonable - and yet I’m slightly disappointed. Where are the sheep with the bells attached to their necks, where are the clouds of dust rising from mountain tracks, where is Michael Corleone? Isn’t Sicily supposed to be the home of Cosa Nostra/the Mafia/whatever you’re having yourself?
I guess this kind of clichéd thinking is similar to that of visitors to Ireland who get a bit tetchy when they find the waiter serving them in a hotel has a Polish or Lithuanian accent. Some tourists even complain openly - it disrupts their whole Irish experience. And the same with some visitors to Belfast or other places of the north. Where are the burnt-out cars, the furious rioters, the gun battles? How come walking through the centre of Belfast feels like walking through the centre of virtually any city in Britain or Ireland?
Hundreds of years ago the French writer Montaigne, who lived in a time of great turbulence, made the point that even when there are wars and pestilence and disaster, most people most of the time go on living life, doing the ordinary things - cooking, working, eating, sleeping, quarreling, loving.
I know what he means. When I lived in Canada during the 1970s, the impression through the media was that Ireland, from Malin Head to Mizzen Head, was aflame with religious war. It’s only when I returned that I realised most people accepted being frisked when they entered a store, evacuating when a bomb scare was announced, being stopped again and again by uniformed men with English accents.They could live with the Troubles because in the end they were insulated from them. Which is why many people condemned those caught up in the Troubles. Why couldn’t they be reasonable like those of us who were outside the war zones and judge these things objectively? Such slow learners, really.
You’ll have to excuse me now. Our room has just been cleaned and I must check if my bed contains a horse’s head.