“Lost in Catania” by Scott Rothdeutsch

Leaving Sigonella Airbase, Sicily, in my rented Fiat sub-compact I turned right on Strada Statale 192, toward Catania.  As I was driving down the highway, I thought back to the events from that morning: I arrived at 0700 to muster for what was supposed to be my flight back to the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga.  Waiting for my name to be called, I couldn’t help but feel sad.  My month ashore was coming to an end: the flights from my boat to Sigonella, from Sigonella to Frankfurt, Germany, where I spent three weeks during Oktoberfest, then a long flight back to Sigonella.  

They reached the end of the list, but my name had not been called.  I wasn’t flying back to the USS Saratoga after all.  That was fine with me, because it meant I had a couple of days free time before heading back to my boat!  I had noticed a car rental center across the room and spontaneously stopped in to rent a car.  The rental reminded me of my Ford Festiva back home: white, stick shift, peppy; it was just enough to get around this little island of Sicily.  That’s what I decided I was going to do: see how far around the island I could drive in three days.

Now well on my way to Catania, I realized how beautiful the scenery was.  It reminded me of my home town. The mountains, the ocean, the Mediterranean architecture — it all brought me back to my childhood years, riding around the Santa Barbara foothills with my parents, enjoying the views.  I became so absorbed by the scenery, that I didn’t even noticed how far I’d traveled.  I found myself in the middle of town, before the Cathedral of Saint Agatha, the patron saint of Catania.  I was in awe of its intense baroque styling and stunning beauty.  I had to stop and look, so I parked and wandered back a couple of blocks to the cathedral.

I must have spent more than an hour on the grounds and in the building.  When I decided it was time to get back on the road, I realized I had lost my car. In my eagerness to get to the cathedral, I had forgotten to note where, exactly, I had parked.  The street split off in five different directions – and they all looked the same, with their endless rows of whitewashed buildings. My heart raced. I became disoriented and filled with dread. I feared I’d be stuck here, with no way to get back to the base.  I tried to communicate with the local people, but the language barrier was impenetrable.  All the cars looked the same. It seemed like everyone drove a Fiat.  I recognized a white one and approached it with relief.  But when I reached it, I discovered the license plate didn’t match the number on my key tag.  My heart sank; no match.  I must have checked twenty-five license plates that way.  Dejectedly I spotted yet another white Fiat and walked toward it.  I got close enough to read the first couple of digits on the license plate, and I saw that they matched my key tag.  “YES” I cried.  I unlocked the door and climbed in, and I sat in the car for what seemed like an hour, thinking about the situation I had gotten myself into. The swells of hope and valleys of hopelessness were nothing I ever wanted to feel again.   

I finished my trip and returned to base three days later.  My boat had been located. I would fly out the next day.  I was relieved, and I doubted I would ever see this island again.

Scott Rothdeutsch was in the US Navy from 1988-1991. He graduated from UCSB in the fall of 2019 with a BA in Anthropology.