Palermo in August is no place for a German Shepherd. That’s what I tell myself as I pass the poor, panting Alsatian in the driveway of my hotel, stretched out in a thin patch of midday shade. Truth is, it’s no place for a fair-haired, pale-skinned Englishman either – especially one who’s forgotten to pack a hat of any description – but there’s a certain masochistic joy to swatting aside common sense and heading off to explore my surroundings.
After all, I’m only here for 48 hours. Barely time to scratch the cultural surface of any city, let alone one that combines hard, brooding machismo with a cheery, almost slapstick chaos. As I wander the narrow streets and busy markets, I see the two butt up against each other – never more so than on the roads, where scooters zip through impossible gaps, cabbies hammer their horns, and middle-aged men shout across at each other in an elaborate, exaggerated drawl.
Women are conspicuous by their absence. Or rather, their silence. All the interactions I have are with men. The concierge at the hotel. The local agent who shows me round my company’s store. The waiters and bar staff across four meals in four different restaurants. All male. Even my hilarious young taxi driver, who picks me up in the dead of night from the airport and proceeds to make himself available for every journey I might want to take during my stay in Palermo – even he, with his angry phone calls to the girlfriend he dismisses with a wave of his hand when I ask about her, manages to make it feel like women here have no real voice of their own.
I don’t like that feeling, and I don’t like the anger that occasionally bubbles up through the simmering, collective swagger. This is a city with a violent past, and no great leap of imagination is required to sense the echo of that violence in the crumbling walls and small, dusty piazze. In the suffocating afternoon heat it feels even more ominous, especially as I walk past blank-faced men camped in groups on cheap plastic chairs, outside the neighbourhood trattorie.
Still, there’s so much here to love. The food – oh god, the food – and the rough local wine to wash it down. Everything tastes so fresh, whether it’s pulled straight off a roadside grill or plucked out of a basket at the sprawling Ballaro market. On almost every street corner there’s a beautiful church, art gallery or archaeological site to poke my head inside, and when I make it back down to my seafront hotel, the wide open lawn and cool breeze of the Foro Italico is there to greet me.
After a gruelling run – six miles which feel like double that amount – I stand naked at my bedroom window and watch the sun set. I wipe sweat off my neck and stomach, rubbing at the salt that’s already started to dry onto my skin. It’s just cool enough to spark a flash of regret that I’m here on my own; the bed is hard and low, the pillows thin, but I want to twist someone’s hair in my hands as I push her face down into the sheet and fill her with my cock. Fuck her slow and deep, neither of us caring that our soft grunts and ragged breathing drift out into the gathering dusk.
Instead I shower off and try not to think about sliding my hands round to grip her arse as she straddles my thighs, or pinning her shoulders to the mattress and forcing her legs back with mine. The smile that I feel rather than see as I kiss my way down her stomach, and the sudden slickness that coats my chin when I rub it against her cunt. It’s not that kind of trip, and I don’t want to leave for dinner feeling this charged. Frankly, there’s enough electricity flowing through Palermo already.