A pensive middle aged tour bus operator, wearing the contented face of a proud new papa of newborn twins for having just safely deposited his charge of vacationing Japanese tourists at the foot of the looming, unassuming giant wrapped in a cascade of white mist, unsuspectingly busy at work creating eerie moon-like craters and spewing micro slivers of fertile volcanic ash over human heads and tree tops for unimaginable, expansive reaches, stood silently, alone in the near empty parking lot at the summit of Mt. Etna. I approached srategically, so as not to startle him, and proceeded to ask in a manner that I thought was an obvious attempt at lost-tourist humor: “Prego signore”, as I gestured over the dizzying precipice toward the Google-like satellite photo beneath, “do you happen to know which is the best way to get back down to Earth?” For a moment he looked at me, as though I had managed to ask the most inane, philosophical, or maybe even impertinent question that anyone had ever posed in all of Sicilian history. He pondered thoughtfully, then after taking a long, deep cleansing breath he opined nasally, almost patiently, with an enormous, toothy, tolerant smile: “But sir… we are on the Earth right here, right now… we’re just a little higher up than usual… as you can see, if you look below at the beautiful blue Ionian Sea… è tutto…just follow the snaking road downward, all the way until you see the signs for the Autostrada… I think you’ll find yourself more comfortable there… at sea level…”
I realized later that he was right.