Monday, May 17, 2010

Sicily ~ Everything We Know is Changing

I was sent on a mission from the past, 100 years into the future, the place where my grandfather and his family lived to Palermo. The original intention was to report back to them what changes had been made since 1910. But I landed in 2010 and cannot seem to find my way back into the past.

Palermo is weighted to the past. However it plays out, the line from di Lampedusa’s Gattopardo, “In order for things to stay the same, things will have to change” is more apt than ever. Things have changed, but I am not sure if they have been for the better. I remember my family home on the Via Roma, in the old town center, and all the activities that fanned out from it. Whether it was to go to the open market, La Vucciria or the visit a church, or a mosque or a cathedral, Palermo is full if repentant sinners and saints on a wayward mission. It must be experienced, for there is an energy here that I can only say, for me strikes at the deepest of the tribal levels in my visceral being. I am so much a part of this place, like I am of certain places in Californian and in Texas. But this is the ground zero for my little clan, which is dwindling rapidly. I noticed on the door of the old palace that it is now for sale, having been parceled out. Luxury condos in the historic center. Scattered to the four points on earth.

Palermo, a town where the most beautiful bells ring during the day. In the wind the sound carries and the world becomes a symphony of chimes and chants and glorias to the omnipotence of faith and hope. And meanwhile down below, people scramble and scrapple and try and find a way to make a living, as meager as it might be. The world lands on the shores of Palermo and they can barely get to the baroque churches and the self portraits, for the garbage people are on strike and the town is piling up trash daily, ``

Are we in Italy? Did the plane veer away from the volcano and land us in Cartagena or Timbuktu? There are vineyards? Wine?

The smell of cardamom in the vicolo mixing in the air with the roasted coffee beans. The flavor of nutmeg in the timbale. The shimmer of semi precious stones on the hand of the young and beautiful Contessa.

Through the palm lined streets and the body guarded palaces there are ways out into the country. There are vineyards, more vineyards planted than there is demand for. Our host tells us, “Half the vineyards in Sicily will disappear.” That is how things work, they just disappear in this place?

Up a small drive, resembling a winery in the Central Coast of California, our little bus climbs. As we step outside the sun pokes out from behind a cloud and we are hit by the blast of a strong wind. This is Sicily, impossible to describe with words alone.

Everything we know is changing.


Marco Kalsa said...

The sprezzatura is kicking in. Palermo's tapestry does that to one. Fine evocative post.
I see you are across from San Francesco D'Assisi.
In 1985, our first time in Palermo, we stayed at the infamous Grand Hotel Et Des Palmes at 398 Via Roma.

Thomas said...

Beautiful post.

Having a split Italian personality--father northern, mother Neopolitan--I can say singularly that nothing of their heritage hasn't changed, yet I still feel the same about it.

Marco, what made the Grand Hotel infamous?

Alfonso Cevola said...


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