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Sunday, July 07, 2013

Palermo ~ The Persistence of Memory

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I’m awake. Done with sleep. My rattled skeleton is still trying to pull itself together. Coughing is painful at times. And that darn left leg is still swollen. But all I can think about is Palermo.

I’m not necessarily an urban lover. When I go to Italy I usually avoid cities. Yes, I still manage to get in and out of Rome and Milan when a flight calls for me to be there. But I can’t wait to get out into the country, with the vines and the wind and the silence. Palermo, that’s a different story.


It's like body surfing. After a day at the beach, getting tossed around by the waves, at night when you lie in bed, your body is still undulating from the activities of the day, as if one hasn’t gotten out of the water. The persistence of memory as a visceral response.


I seem to have that going on with Palermo. A frustrating city; noisy, traffic, no rules. The youth of the city seem to be from another planet. Trash everywhere, and everywhere people are ensconced in their own little cocoons, they are the center of their universe. And yet, something tugs at me.

Walking, walking, lying in bed I walk the streets. Via Roma, Via Maqueda, Via Vittoria Emanuele, Via Giardinaccio. I’m the living dead, rambling around streets I used to frequent in a life I once had.


I tried making sense of it in a linear way and I failed. I have no idea why this city pulls on me. Is it genetic memory? I don’t know. Is it some kind of attraction to exotica? Perhaps. What I do know, is I stare at the ceiling and I map the city, walk down this vicolo and over to that piazza. Stop in this church and walk through that open market. Over and over and over again.

Time in the city seems to have no relevance. Memories from 1971, 1977, they intermingle with memories from the 21st century. Throw in the 19th as well, for surely when I walk around, literally or virtually, I recognize something from an era long before I was born.


There are two cities I can roam around, and I mean roam, and never seem to get lost. They are Palermo and New Orleans. Funny, because in many ways these two cities share similarities. They are near the water, they are humid, they are disheveled urban depositories. But they also have a lot of soul.

Maybe that’s it. Perhaps I’m in search of a lost soul, maybe my own. All I know is instead of counting sheep, I look up at the fan in my room at home and walk past the Quattro Canti on the Via Vittoria Emanuele, turn left a ways after traversing a street or two and turn into the old market, La Vucciria. And so it goes like this. roaming with camera and eyes wide awake, on a warm summer night when sleep no longer offers a respite from the waking life.



written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

6 comments:

  1. You always write so beautifully. Now my heart aches for Palermo, a city which I have yet to visit. And somehow I am transported, sleepless, enchanted, wandering...

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  2. I vote for genetic memory.

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  3. It is a strange phenomena, but I also long for a walk trough the streets of Palermo. I have never visited in person, but I certainly have taken that trip emotionally many times. Perhaps, I lived vicariously though stories from Dad, Auntie, and Nonno and Noona. I longed to go with them when they took a trip there. It was not to be. Sometimes, I get on goggle earth and travel through the city, stopping at Via Roma 97. I look past the 21st century facade and see the old family complex, hear the run of voices, and smell the aroma's coming from the kitchen. I think it is genetic memory that takes me there so vivdly.

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  4. Re-membering is a putting back together of what was once dismembered. I am with you in the spirit of place, amico.

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  5. During the late Italian Renaissance, princes became obsessed with memory as a metric and expression of intelligence and power. At the time, Giulio Camillo claimed to have built a "theater of memory," an actual architectonic space that allowed the "user" to increase her/his mnemonic skills. This post made me remember (no pun intended) his writings: the way we navigate and negotiate space, including urban space, has a great impact on memory...

    Great photos... some are from the archive though, right?

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  6. Thanks, Dr. P.

    The B+W photos (2+5) are from 1971. the others from the recent trip (1,3,4) still have a little color in them(they haven't "faded" as much)

    nice observations, appreciate it....

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