Words about Sicily: Details

I use my camera like I’d use a notebook. recording little details and notes, things I’ve noticed or want to remember. I photograph small things that catch my eye, a particular design or pattern, something that is unusual to. It could be a texture that catches my eye or the way the sunlight hits a tree and makes a certain shape. Sometimes will walk down a road or in my neighborhood and see something I’ve never noticed or be struck by a detail.

Over the past year in Italy we’ve been going in and out of lockdown into semi lockdown, from red to yellow, to orange and back again, I’ve been able to appreciate where I am in small-town Sicily.

If living with Covid has taught me something it would be to appreciate the small things, to breathe, to be and exist at the moment with what I have in front of me, to experience everything with each of the five senses.

Sicily is such a beautifully textured place, there are many layers of history which have built one on top of the other, leaving spaces and gaps, where you can see the remnants of many different stories. These fragments are intriguing as they lead you towards many histories, many stories and endless possibilities.

Each place has its own style, from the colour of the shade of paint, from the stones used to construct buildings, to the stoic or elaborate Sicilian Baroque.

The colours can vary from thick grey lava stone to whitewash sandy limestone, to the white of the stone homes of the smaller islands that surround this island.

The townscapes range from grey stark block-shaped houses, cobblestone streets to the apex of high Baroque with flourishing vines, grotesque statues and cherubs floating up the walls. So many curiosities and artistry that can only exist in Sicily.

I’m obsessed with the textures of the buildings in Sicily, the variety of the materials used to build churches and palazzi around the island are like variegated hues from the same Sicilian colour palette. When I’m playing around with my new toy, an iPad I use the colour sampling function to take the colours from my photos and use them in my sketches. I have a whole heap of greys, yellows, greens, blues and deep reds on a colour collection I simply call Sicilia.

I’m not an artist but I’m finding myself happily whiling away a few hours every once in a while drawing or collaging on my iPad. It’s been a very satisfying discovery reconnecting with my old habit of doodling in a notebook. Digital design is great, you have all of the materials in your hands, the possibilities are limitless.

A few years ago I read an article about a pagan god called the green man, who was very much a symbol of nature and whose image is still used in modern design, some fresh produce companies feature him in their packaging. The character is embodied in folklore and mythology as a mischievous character who represents the fertility of the natural world.

Think like Shakespeare’s Puck or Oberon, leprechauns or Pan from Greek mythology. The interesting thing is that most churches, use the image of the green man in their embellishments, it served as a subtle symbol to the early Christians of their pagan beliefs. A nature symbol whose worship was thought to assure the fertility of the agriculture based society.

I found the Green man at the base of the front entrance, of my local parish church of San Michele Arcangelo at Sinagra. He’s welcoming people in and reminding them of his presence, even though today most people have forgotten about him.

You must expect the unexpected while visiting Sicily. Things tend to get delayed, not go the way you plan or take an impossibly long time.

I always say to anyone who is planning a visit, allow plenty of time when you visit, for the astonishing and also you need to allow Sicily to surprise you.

The one thing I love about Sicily is the ability it has to amaze. I’ve been living here for nearly two decades and every day it is still revealing new things to me. The best way to become enthralled with Sicily is to walk around the side streets of the main cities, turn to a corner and find an opened courtyard to explore.

I remember going into the magnificent town hall at Messina, I’d been their dozens of times it’s impressive marble staircase, and robust decorations are very familiar to me. But ambling into a newly opened cafe up on the second floor, I turned into a previously closed wing of the palazzo, in front of the cafe I saw a whole new conference room with a photographic exhibition dedicated to the history of Messina.

So after sipping a quick espresso standing at the bar I took a look at the free exhibition. At the centre of the room, there was an enormous mirror that took up most of the front wall, it was framed in an elaborate golden baroque frame, with endless vines, fruits, baskets, hunting horns and general bounties of nature.

Of course, I thought of the Green man and tried to find his laughing face in amongst the explosion of fertility.

I couldn’t see him anywhere, but at the apex of the frame was a mysterious coat of arms. The heraldic symbols included a winged Pegasus horse flying over a body of water, probably the sea, a large snake, the sun and a constellation of stars. I had no idea of its meaning or origins.

On either side of the family coat of arms, there were two of the most bizarre-looking cherubs seductively leaning up against the shield. I got the feeling the whole artwork was a grotesque joke, perhaps these cherubs were like dwarf Renaissance court jesters playing out an improvised little farce for the green man.

Actually, it was only Sicily amazing me yet again.

All images in this post are ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2021

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