Explaining the inexplicable in Sicily

Sicily is a land of extreme contrasts which live awkwardly together and ironically cancel one another out. Many visitors to the island marvel at the sight of so many superbly preserved archeological sites such as the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento, which has some of the most well-preserved Greek temples outside of Athens only to be repulsed by the filth of the major cities such as Catania and the terrible pollution of the refineries along the coastlines in places like Milazzo and Gela.

In a recent news article from Syracuse a former jail from the Bourbon period in the Ortigia historic part of the city, has been secretly turned into an illegal dumping site. So tourists who visit the small islet near Syracuse to see the ancient town and its beautiful open air markets, are confronted with an abandoned building filled with trash nearby.

The news article from Siracusanews.it  goes on to describe the litany of waste discovered in the building including: construction site, cement, paint tins, organic waste admitting a foul odor, bottles, plastic, tins, bricks, old furniture, detergent bottles, old doors, fruit boxes and used tires.

Beauty and ugliness are inappropriate bed fellows, but in Sicily there seems to have a strange karmic destiny at play. From a native dialect which had no future tense, Sicily is in a constant struggle between its present and a violent history of systematic repression, foreign domination and extreme poverty.

Sicily’s history is constantly coming back to haunt it, the seedy underbelly of the Mafia is constantly undercutting the open and good nature of everyday Sicilian’s. Rather than cleaning up after themselves they live with the stench, it is as if they are eternally defeated.

Sicilians are both instigators and victims of their own sordid destiny from a badly managed public service that cripples small business and helps corrupted conglomerates, to endless nepotism, cronyism and elitist favors which are reminiscent of a feudal class system.

Every thing is contrived to push forward less than brilliant students in the schools and into the best paid public positions which ultimately sabotages and creates added bureaucracy to an already complex system.

Sicily is persistently shooting itself in the foot.

There is so much wasted potential which seems destined to consume itself in an endless cycle of self-destruction. The beauty is continually ruined by foul ugliness.

Sometimes I feel I will never understand this place, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.


16 thoughts on “Explaining the inexplicable in Sicily

  1. I have been an expat from the states for nearly 13 yrs and have spent much time traveling and seeing this country as well as others. Granted I don’t live in Sicily but have spent a lot of time there..as well as Naples, and other poor and ‘dirty ‘ cities..I have not been offended by it..I just know that’s the way it is. I usually enjoy your posts but found this one extremely negative and wonder why you even stay here?


    1. Thanks for your comment there. I try to show many different facets to life here and there are many less beautiful aspects to life in Sicily/Italy. I’m only being honest, there is no need to sugar coat things and no place is perfect, you have to take the good with the bad. I stay because I’m in love with the place and connected to it on so many levels I’d feel lost anywhere else. But just because you love someone doesn’t mean you don’t see their faults.


  2. I hear ya! Almost impossible to focus on the beauty and ignore the ugly…and so much about Italy online only looks at only the beauty/history/culture- and I wonder did they ever leave Firenze…!


    1. Thanks Helen, I’m so happy you get what I’m trying to do here, it’s easy to ignore the ugliness but I’m trying to be honest here, I don’t want anyone to be shocked when confronted by unexpected surprises, you have to take the good and the bad together. It looks like some don’t appreciate my honesty, but I can’t do otherwise. And hey despite the unsightly element, you still can love Italy/Sicily.


      1. Honesty is the only way, and I think it makes ultimately for much more interesting reading, don’t you? I feel like I live in a very different Italy to the one I mostly see on other blogs/websites/social media. Well I did move to possibly one of the ugliest/filthiest places in the country – Frosinone! But, for me it’s the paradoxes and contradictions of this country that give us writing-fuel! We gotta celebrate that! – and all the good, because yes there is so much good, too. Though I don’t love it yet (it’s only been 11 months) and as you say – will probably never completely understand it…


      2. Yes, Helen it’s a journey but what you experience will make any negativity worth it! I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. And hey there are many books still to be written about Italy …


  3. Read this to my Italian expat husband (who has spent a lot of time in Sicily) as we were driving today. He asked me to comment for him. “You have explained exactly why I left Italy for the US. Sicily is a microcosm, where all the natural flaws in Italy achieve ‘perfection.’ The rest of Italy works the same way, it’s just not as bad. What amazes me is that the Italians have found a way to live with the extremes without reacting. We need to keep in mind that we are talking about people who only realized the mafia was a problem when judges were killed. Before, they were willing to live with it. They accept problems as endemic. Not only do they not try to resolve the problems, but they work any advantage the problems might provide .”


    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and discuss the ideas behind my posts. Yes it is amazing how blaring problems to my eyes have been glazed over by locals. I think Sicilian’s think it’s always been like this and there is nothing to be done. I’ve been receiving so much negative comments for being so honest, I think I’d be lynched if touched on the much deeper problems here. Nobody wants to hear the truth. I’m writing a book which is nearly finished but I am concerned it may offend too many people but I want to publish eventually.


  4. What you are saying is not negative, just honest. Sicily sounds like a slightly exaggerated version of the rest of Italy. I am constantly astounded by what the locals do/put up with. It seems they don’t want to change things even though they know they are no good.
    There is much to love about Italy, but it is not all great.


      1. I’m actually surprised you would receive criticism, to me it’s obvious that there are problems and poverty along with corruption and all the rest!- as well as the great stuff. You get that book out there, I’m your first customer!


      2. I get yelled at constantly for talking about social problems in Italy. No country is perfect no matter how beautiful or interesting. People who claim Italy is a flawless paradise remind me of the people who post those “I love life!” Pictures on FB constantly, often right before they implode and self destruct.

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      3. I’ve been getting yelled at too, people just want me to get back to the purty pictures and tourist advice but hey there are also some other things you kinda need to know exist here, it’s not all Santa Clause and the Toothfairy (sorry last night watched the Five legends with my son hence the strange reference …)


    1. Thanks Misty, I was surprised how much flack I got for simply being honest. Yes it is a struggle, I refuse to accept the excuse ‘boh … come dobbiamo fare?’ just because it’s always been like that simply doesn’t cut it.


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