The city of giants

Messina 1

Of all the major cities in Sicily, Messina is the one with which I am most familiar, simply because it is physically closer to where I live. Palermo can be too decrepit and full of crime, Catania is just plain dirty and dangerous and the others are simply too complicated to travel to for me. While Messina battles with the usual problems of a big city it is more cosmopolitan, intriguing and easy to explore.

Each of Sicily’s capitals has their particular historical appeal, for instance, Palermo with its boundless decaying palazzi and works of art, or Catania with its cacophony of sights and sounds covered in archaic lava. Messina’s intriguing mixture of mythology, legend and history is an alluring concoction which is more attractive than the usual heavily tangled histories of other Italian cities.

In Sicily, legends are often taught with the seriousness of any history lesson and historical figures become easily exchanged with characters in myths. This combination of seemingly contrasting elements creates a world of paradox, marrying together many unlikely elements.

Messina is Christian and pagan, old and new, historic and mythological, it contains many contrasts which exist side by side, spread out between the sea and the mountains, separated from the rest of Italy by a strait which seems easily traversed yet creates an immense sense of distance from the mainland.

Messina looks tranquil, the public servants are ordered enough, yet the laziness, corruption and apathy run as deep as the rest of Sicily.  Messina’s intricacies stem from the fact that the city has always controlled the marine passage between Sicily and the mainland. Its strategic importance means all invaders from Italy, Europe and the Mediterranean have passed through this port, leaving behind their imprints in the local culture.

Physically approaching Messina in every direction reveals its striking geographical layout, sandwiched between a natural harbour and the mountains. Driving down from autostrada takes you all the way through the mountain tops via a series of tunnels bored through the ancient rocks. The passageways are punctuated by strips of roads balancing themselves on cement columns hundreds of meters high like giant stilts, looking out onto breathtaking views for brief moments.

Taking the autostrada exit towards the centre of Messina and the port, the highway turns though Mount Petoritani which form the outside border of Messina producing its amphitheatre shape. The modern city is slowly climbing up into the mountains with sections cutting themselves up high into endless apartment buildings which push the city upwards away from the sea.

The slopes of Mount Peloritani are Messina’s foundation and in ancient times it was known as the hill of Neptune, the ridge to its north descended to the temple of Poseiodon, protector of sailors.

Fountain piazza duomo Messina

One of the most spectacular curves down to the city shows off the stunning panorama at the strait of Messina. Looking through a heavy steel barrier grill, the expansive city curves out in a giant semi-circle.

The tip of the Strait seems to be reaching out for Calabria’s coast on the other side of mainland Italy, which is trying to grab onto Sicily, barely out of reach. This spot is the shortest space between Sicily and Italy to the north between Capo Peloro and Torre Cavallo, it is here where the project for the Messina bridge is planned, made up of a massive suspension bridge some three kilometres long with two railway lines and a six-lane highway.

The Messina–Calabria link has been talked about and theorised upon since ancient Roman times and today it is the source of much political and environmental debate. Some want it for better connection to the mainland to improve the economy of Sicily, bringing in tourists and making it easier to transport goods. Others didn’t want it because they don’t want to destroy the natural environment, or because of a real concern for the seismic activity in the area. The Island of Sicily is moving further away from the Calabrian coast at an average of one and a half centimetres every ten years. Others want to protect the delicate economic situation between local business, ferry companies and the mafia. Whatever side you take in the debate, the fact is the work will not begin anytime soon.

Today Messina is still connected to Italy by a persistent ferry system. There once was a curious train system which saw carriages being loaded into the hulls of massive ships for them to be offloaded on the other side of the strait. A process took many hours of toing and froing and was one of the most unique train journeys in the world, sadly these trains are nearly non-existent, most mainlanders simply catching a ferry across.

Taking the ferry from Villa San Giovanni, Calabria to Messina at any time of the day still reveals the beauty of the coastline as the harbour stretches out before you in a cove off the Strait of Messina which is shaped like a sickle, in fact, ancient Greek name for Messina was Zancle or sickle city.

The ferry doesn’t make a straight journey across to Messina from the final stop of the train at Villa San Giovanni but instead, it curves in a “U” shape as is if avoiding an imaginary iceberg. This is because of the strong currents at a different point of the strait which create a powerful vortex.

There is a strong descending whirlpool in front of the Faro of Messina, caused by the conflicting currents of Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas who meet there. The two bodies of water intertwine to unite and repel one another at the same time. The currents flowing from the south to the north between Calabria and Messina change according to the position of the sun, the phases of the moon and the strength of the winds. The currents usually alternate every six hours changing course or length they are known to reach the width of a thousand meters.

These whirlpools have been easily identified and recognised since ancient Greek times. The vortexes have created the legends of the sea monsters Scylla, Charybdis and the blowhole of Cariddi. Homer’s hero Ulysses in The Odyssey recounts the dangers of crossing between the tightest part of the Strait of Messina as a life-threatening and nearly impossible endeavour, from confronting the monsters, treacherous rocks, to the songs of the Sirens.

Making it past the mythology of the world just outside of Messina another tale begins with the arrival of ships. At the entrance of the port a giant golden statue resting on a tall stone column welcomes travellers. The cities guardian the Madonna stands with open arms to greet and bless everyone who enters the city. She is more stunning than any lighthouse, a manifestation of the city’s faith.

Duomo Messina Madonna

Below the golden icon, there is a special greeting written in large white letters along the base of the grey pedestal in Latin. ‘Vo set ipsam civitatem benedicimus.’ The words of a blessing written in a letter the Madonna composed to the people of Messina, after receiving a delegation from the city in forty-two A.D. According to the traditional belief Christianity was brought to Messina by the evangelical voyage of Saint Paul and Saint Peter. The letter was written to congratulate the city on its conversion to Catholicism and is still preserved at Messina. On the third of June each year a special procession is dedicated to the Sacred Hair of Mary, a single strand of hair which according to local belief was tied around the letter sent to the city. The scroll is taken on a procession around the city during the celebration for the Madonna della Lettera.

The city has an intimate connection to the Virgin Mary, with endless churches dedicated to her. She is the focus of a special celebration in mid-August. In an elaborate float assembled in her honour. The Vara, an elaborate cart whose name means ‘coffin’ deriving from the glass casket at the base of the design which represents the body of the Virgin Mary. The construction depicts the biblical structure of the universe from the earth up to the heavens completed with a hierarchy of angels peaking with the image of Christ who supports his mother in the palm of his hand raising her into the heavens.

The ornate structure is pulled along basic iron slides by the Messinese with long tow ropes whilst singing praises to Mary. The celebration has a long history and is central to the city’s expression of faith and trust in their patron.

Vintage Messina

Also in August side by side to the religious celebrations associated with the Virgin Mary, there is the pagan commemoration of the two giants Mata and Grifone the mythological founders of the modern city. From the tenth of August, the two colossal statues of the giants riding on horseback are placed on public display.

Grifone a Muslim Moor was said to have come to Messina to sack the city but instead fell in love with Mata, the blonde daughter of a wealthy merchant who lived in the town of Camaro above the city. According to the myth, Mata refused Grifone’s advances because he wasn’t Christian and so he converted to Catholicism. The legend of Mata and Grifone dates back to the ninth century when the Arabs began to conquer Sicily and are believed to refer to the Arab general Hassan Ibn-Hammar who fell in love with the daughter of a Messina nobleman Cosimo II di Coltellaccio.

The figure of Mata came from the ancient town of Camaro one of the oldest parts of Messina whose name is believed to derive from the Greek ‘Kamar’ which literally means ‘city of the dead’ which alludes to how this area was used as a cemetery for many centuries. Another hypothesis is that the word Camaro is a combination of the names Cam and Rea which are another name for the two mythological giants of Mata and Grifone.

The giants are the perfect allegory of the city’s history with particular reference to its confrontations with invaders. Messina has always been in amongst the naval traffic of the Mediterranean and as a result, every aggressor has passed through the capital. Mata is the symbol of a beautiful, civilised, Christian city who converts the pagan to Catholicism. Like the city itself under the guidance of the Madonna , Mata’s faith, in turn, assimilates the foreigner into the Catholic metropolis, adding to the ongoing prosperity of the capital.

In the August festivities, the statues of Messina’s mythological founders stand some ten meters high and are believed to have been first constructed in the sixteenth century by the Florentine artist Martino Montanino. The Giants have a caricature quality to them and sit like two large Carnival floats towed around the city on wheels. Mata has a stern almost frowning expression while sitting on her white steed, carrying a flower arrangement and the reigns in on hand and a spear in the other. She is milky white with chubby legs compete with Roman sandals. On her head, there is a fortress shaped headdress representing the city’s fortitude.

Grifone instead is a bearded, charcoal coloured warrior with sword and shield with the city’s ancient fortress designed on it. His black stallion is draped in regal red robes, its reigns held firmly by Grifone’s muscular looking hands. Both of the giants are regal in their ancient Greek noble dress with details completed in gold. They have a strength and determination which is evident from their stance and their gazes are focused firmly towards the future.

Detail quattro fontane Messina

In the early twentieth century, Messina was one of the most spectacular and populated cities of Sicily. The main streets went around the circumference of the semi-circle created by the mountains and the coastline. The city was formed by the natural landscape and built its streets running from the higher part of the city down to the harbour quay which was the focus of the economic and civic life of Messina.  Along the four main streets there were endless villas and palaces which dated back to ancient times and at the intersection of these major streets, there were four decorative water fountains. The Quattri Fontani were the source of the drinking water for the city which was gathered from the mountains and filtered down to the centre of the city. The fountains were larger than life baroque-style statues with elaborate designs of fishes, nymphs and other mythological creatures. Messina was one of the most beautiful cities in Europe full of such treasure and was spectacular seen from its harbour aboard the ships who sailed into the port.

At 5.21 am on the 28th of December 1908 Messina was literally completely destroyed by a terrible earthquake and tsunami, the most devastating in Italy’s history. An estimated 80,000 people were buried under the rubble of the city, others surviving the initial earthquake remained shocked in the ruins of the city only to be swept away by a six-meter high wave. Bodies of tidal wave victims were discovered in the Greek Islands and in the Persian Gulf in Asia, from this moment Messina changed forever.

Messina is on an earthquake-prone belt stretching from Vesuvius through to the Aeolian Island of Stromboli and then onto Mount Etna. This arch of volcanoes has been active from ancient times until the present. Italy sits astride a boundary zone where the African continental plate is thought to be pushing slabs of the sea floor underneath Europe at a rate of about three centimetres a year.

Over ninety per cent of the city was obliterated, buildings were destroyed, the very streets disappeared as the mountains slipped down on top of the city in giant landslides. Messina had gone from a bustling metropolis with a population of one hundred and fifty thousand people to a completely ruined ghost town mourning the loss of some one hundred thousand dead.

The splendid historical city of Messina has suffered many disasters and gigantic traumas apart from this earthquake of 1908. The bubonic plague was brought to Europe on a ship which arrived in Messina and the allied bombardment of 1943 earned Messina the nickname of the city of ghosts as most residents fled to safety in the outlying towns.

Messina’s mythological and metaphorical giants rather than destroying it have been absorbed into its identity. Today it is a city full of life with the vibrant nature of a bustling metropolis that continues to pay respect to its history, folklore and religion. Messina in its suffering is always redeemed by its own deeply ingrained faith and determination to rebuild and reinvent itself.

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Caronte & Circe

Caronte & Circe

July in Sicily is pleasant, the heat is more persistent and less of a novelty, in fact, people begin to take summer for granted after spending June lying on a warm rock soaking up vitamin D, like a scaly lizard who has just hatched out of its winter shell.

The wind is fluctuating bringing bursts of cool and heat, like the currents of the sea surprising your skin with contrasting moments of soothing warmth and nipping chills.

Immersed in conflicting sensations pushing against one another the weather accidentally gets tangled up with itself as August pushes towards September with the changing seasons.

The ancient Greeks gave us the myth of Demeter the Goddess of nature and fertility who plunges the world into winter as her daughter Persephone is taken away from her to live in the underworld as the wife of Hades the lord of the ancients afterlife. To this day the dominance of a mother’s joy at seeing her daughter wins over the interminable frozen heart of grief and loss. The respite of summer is so brief before the thought of losing her daughter again chills Demeter’s heart and the world again.

Apollo brings his scirocco to breathe from across the desert as the majestic mistral pushes it back towards Autumn/ Fall.

Italian weathermen report of the battle between Caronte and Circe. The epic struggle between the heat and the cold of Italy creates stifling heat in August and crazy summer storms, flooding and tornadoes.

Circe, a goddess of magic, a mix of nymph and witch daughter of Helios, god of the sun who was able to distract and enchant Ulysses so well on his journey back to Ithaca in the Odyssey tortures the peninsular through the torrid summer.

Charon, the ferryman of Hades, who carries the souls of the deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divide the world of living from the dead. Charon’s winter is as cold as death and eventually gets the upper hand over the sorceress, bringing the end of summer.

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Fall in Sicily

Autumn in Sicily

The beginning of Autumn in Sicily can be abrupt. The gradual changes from one season to the next are now a thing of the past, there are no more slightly shortening days or time for the leaves to go from greens, yellows, warm rusty reds or browns, now the fall begins with heavy rains and cool nights, whenever the gods decide.

One day you are sunbathing on the beach and the next you are pulling on your cardigan and sheltering under an umbrella. The first rains are capricious, sometimes drizzling, then pelting, blurring the mountains and threatening with ash coloured clouds and distant thunder drones, initially succumbing to the afternoon sun and the Scirocco.

The heavy breath of the Scirocco is a lethargic exhale held in cupped hands, a stifling African wind which saps energy, tickling the skin without any relief or pleasure.

This corrupted zephyr, fed by ancient Aeolus the keeper of the winds, ravages the land and utters its curse without any mercy. In the summer it whips up the thermometer, in September it teases as it ushers in the rains, in the winter it tries to deceive people into shedding their skins too soon. First, there is the flotsam and jetsam of the winds and then the storm begins.

 

Autumn

October in Sicily means many things to the Sicilian’s table from fruits like fichi d’india, hazelnuts, mushrooms and grapes. Late ripening in this years season also means a tardy gathering of tomatoes, eggplants (aubergines), capsicums, chilli peppers and other summer fairs.

The insanity of August is easily washed away as Sicily gets back into its daily routine, children go back to school, freshly bronzed public servants are well and truly lazing in their offices and the everyday grind begins.

A new season is always a new beginning, it changes the sensations and assures as we are moving forward despite our want to stand still.

Autumn is like sipping a fine Nero d’Avola, smooth and deeply satisfying with a warm and fruity aftertaste that makes you wish more.

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A journey to the Volcano with Venero Armanno

 

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Venero Armanno’s trio of Sicilian themed novels written by the son of Sicilian migrants is a powerful dedication to Sicily.
The volcano is a novel of emotion, passion and fire set in the shadowlands around Etna and tells us of the epic journey of Emilio Aquila. The book takes us back and forth from Sicily to Brisbane Australia through Emilio’s own precise and vivid memories.
Firehead is a wonderfully sensual, passionate story about Sicilian migrants to Australia and a young man’s obsession over the disappearance of his neighbour, the read headed Firehead of the title.
While The Black Mountain tells the story of a boy sold into slavery to work in the sulphur mines of 1940’s Caltanissetta, deep in the rugged almost savage centre of the island.
These Sicilian themed novels by Venero Armanno, are a homage to the Sicily of post world war two and a generation of migrants who dispersed themselves all around the world.
In the words of Armanno himself, each of these books are, in their own way, about family and love, the effects of the migrant experience on first and second generation migrants and the search for the self.
I was lucky to speak to Venero Armanno about his work and creative process.

 

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How would you describe your writing style and novels to someone who has never read your work?

Trying to describe my work is one of the hardest things to answer—I’m glad some critics will do it for me.

It would be far easier if I worked in something easily identifiable, such as genre fiction: “I’m a crime writer, and my books investigate the dark psyche of people in the underbelly of Chicago.” I’ve often wished I could say something as straightforward as that.

In reality, my books are probably a blend of literary and commercial fiction; they tend to be page-turners while having a fair amount of depth (one hopes). People say the books are sensual and emotional. I’ve written a lot about the migrant experience, however, that’s far from my only main theme. Mostly I’m interested in ideas of what it is to be alive, what it is to love, what it is to hope for better things…

 

Do you have a certain method when you are working on a novel? Is it mostly research and then creativity? For example, how did something like the Volcano come about?

This varies from novel to novel, so there’s no one set answer, though my overall answer would be my method is to write without thinking too much… grasp an idea and run with it, wherever it leads. Over-thinking stifles just about everything. You can’t be over-thinking very much if you force yourself to write 1000 words a day or so. In the end, you just have to let it all flow out.

With The Volcano, I had a basic idea, but it started out as a screenplay, which grew into a three-part epic. When I really looked at that roughly 600 pages of screenplay, about twenty pages were good. So I started again from scratch. Mostly I researched as I wrote. – that is, when I came to places where I needed more information, I went and found it. That research led to other things that could go into the book… there were multiple drafting, believe me.

Do you mind being labelled as an Italo-Australian writer? What does it actually mean to you and for your writing to be classified as such?

I don’t mind and I don’t think it makes any difference one way or the other. I doubt my readership is primarily Italo-Australian, or even particularly ethnic. I think more was made of this in the first part of my career… Around the early 1990s, I remember some newspaper articles equating my writing to Paul Keating’s view of a much more multi-cultural Australia, but that was a long time ago.

You also work in the screenplay genre, how does this fit in with being a novelist, does it influence your style?

No, they feel like two completely different worlds, to be honest. “A screenplay is a blueprint for a work of art that doesn’t yet exist.” – one of my favourite quotes about the form. A book is in itself the work of art (or whatever).  I really dislike the spare type of fiction prose that seems to emulate the form of screenwriting; my writing is a little more lush and sensual. People say I write like a European/Italian/Latino – and that’s how I like it. With screenplays we’re always thinking more visually and externally; with fiction, what I love is the ability to play with, and live in the interior world. So I don’t much see the two types of genres intersecting… at least not for me.

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What advice would you give to an unpublished novelist?

“If you aren’t writing, you’re not serious. What would you say to a kid who wants to play guitar in a band and be a rock star, but never bothers to pick up a guitar and learn/play?”

Then, ask yourself why you want to do this. If it’s for money and fame, go do something else. If it’s because you genuinely love books and have been a reader all your life, then fantastic – try to be the best writer you can. That means to write a lot, every day, damn the consequences and try not to be a people-pleaser. Aim for the middle to long-term, not the short-term. Even if you solely concentrate on short stories, be aware that the road is long and that positive vibes are few and far between. Can you go several years without someone giving you some affirmation that what you’re doing is worthwhile? Can you deal with failure after failure? Because that’s what it will be like. So you have to do this for yourself, and for the sheer joy of writing. The rest is totally secondary, or irrelevant.

 

Black Mountain Venero Armanno

Give us a blurb about your most recent publication?

Okay, this is the official one:

‘Black Mountain is an eerie and compelling read … Like the best of fiction, it remains with you long after you have finished.’ Christos Tsiolkas

Beginning in the sulphur mines of Sicily over a century ago, Black Mountain takes you on a journey through time and back again.

When a boy sold into slavery finds the courage to escape his brutal life, he is saved by a mysterious stranger, who raises the boy as his own. Renamed Cesare Montenero after Sicily’s own ‘black mountain’, Mount Etna, the boy grows up to discover that his rescue was no accident, that his physical strength is unnatural, and that he has more in common with his saviour than he could have imagined. And when he meets the enigmatic Celeste, he suspects for the first time that he may not be alone.

Based on factual events and ranging through Italy, Paris and the rural fringes of coastal Australia, Black Mountain is a haunting exploration of what it means to be human.

 

What are you working on at this moment?

I’ve been redrafting a new book called CRYSTAL GIRL, and that work’s done for now (I think), so it’s off with publishers and agents. I’ve been working on something very different since then, a very large novel called WOLF HOUSE. Let’s just say it involves a girl with powers she doesn’t quite understand, a haunted house, Sicilian witches and, well, some very wolfish feelings… I am absolutely loving writing this book. In fact, right now it has gone off for a long run on its own; I feel like I’m just there for the ride.

 

How are you connected to Sicily? Do you visit Sicily often?

My family went back to live in Sicily for six months when I was at a very impressionable age (nine), so I’ve always felt very connected to the place. My parents, in Australia, lived a very Sicilian lifestyle too, if I can put it that way. So that increased the connection.  I don’t have a lot of families left there so I haven’t been back in a while, but I’m very keen to take my young family.

 

Tell us about your other ‘Sicilian’ themed books …

These would be The Lonely Hunter and its sequel Romeo of the Underworld, Firehead, and The Volcano.

Each of these, in their own way, is about family and love, the effects of the migrant experience on first and second generation migrants, and the search for the self.

 

Black Mountain is your most recently published novel, tell us more about this, how did you discover this amazing setting and story?

I first came across the history of small boys forced to work in the Sicilian sulphur mines, in unthinkable conditions, during my research into The Volcano. It was such a powerful history that I felt I should use it for a book on its own, and not in some other work. I also wanted a little more time to read and talk to anyone who might have had first or second-hand experience with this slavery. I’m glad I waited quite a few years before attempting Black Mountain – I have to say, I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

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Do you have a favourite Sicilian author/work?

I like the old stuff. Just recently I finished rereading some wonderful books: Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini; Little Novels of Sicily by Giovanni Verga; The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia; Night’s Eyes by Gesualdo Bufalino. Of course, you can’t go past Il Gattopardo! I also love Cesare Pavese, even though he’s not Sicilian. And my wife gave me a new, first-time novelist’s book On Earth As It Is In Heaven, by Davide Ennia (he’s from Palermo). It looks great.

But right now I’ve started reading a lot of Japanese literature…

Are you a blog reader at all? I know you have one but I get the impression you aren’t a fan.

Yeah, it’s a funny thing. Writers like being locked away in a room, then they’re expected to be public in some way. I like my privacy and I don’t need people to know what I think on an hour by hour basis! Or day by day, month by month, year by year…

My publishers encouraged me to develop my own blog site and Facebook page, so finally, I did. I think in three years I have managed to write two and a half blogs – honestly, I couldn’t care less. My energy should go into novels anyway. I’ve since updated my blog site so it just gives a bit of information for any reader that might be curious about my work. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, or even distant… I’m just not the type who needs to express blog-style thoughts. I have full novels to do that, after all.

I don’t follow blogs by people whose work I enjoy, either. There’s more fun in mystery. I come from that generation where you didn’t have access to artists and writers, and so (maybe) their work spoke more acutely.

Antichi mistere

A million thanks to Venero Armanno for finding the time to answer my questions.

Armanno’s writing style is sensuous, lyric and heart-achingly beautiful to read. He has written numerous novels and is a respected and experienced academic.

Some of his other beautifully sensitive, sensual and evocative stories set in Australia with their heart well and truly in Sicily include My beautiful friend, Romeo of the Underworld and The lonely hunter.

His latest book Burning Down is a thrilling journey into the world of boxing and organised crime in Brisbane is also available through the Book Depository and has been nominated for the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards. Read more about this book on Armanno’s blog here

The Volcano  is available as an ebook on Amazon while The Black Mountain can be ordered from the Book Depository.

I reviewed Venero Armanno’s book the Volcano in detail for the Times of Sicily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

E viva San Leone … E musica

San Leone inspired ceramic designs at Longi. Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello
San Leone inspired ceramic designs at Longi.
Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello

This year I was fortunate enough to get to San Leone’s ‘festa’ at Longi (20th Feb) which I find is generally more traditional and particular then the one celebrated at Sinagra (even if I love them both!)

I liked the solemn religiosity and playfulness of Longi’s interpretation of this Saint’s celebration. Not only does the procession take the Saint’s statue around the town, it has him dancing to the time of the local brass band. Leone doesn’t move without musical accompaniment, here the catchphrase is ‘Viva Santu Leo … E musica!’

Traditional procession of San Leone, 2014. Photo by: Rochelle Del Borrello
Traditional procession of San Leone, 2014.
Photo by: Rochelle Del Borrello

The face of San Leone is always the same yet the elaborate decoration gives Longi’s festa a more traditional feel, here he is decorated in flowers, monetary offerings, bells chiming, threaded wheat shafts, golden vestments and the local children adore him too. The procession lasts nearly the whole day from after the late morning church service until four o’clock in the afternoon when he is placed down in the square before the parish church to receive final offerings and salutes from the devout.

Religious procession. Photo by: Rochelle Del Borrello
Religious procession.
Photo by: Rochelle Del Borrello

During the procession the warmth the locals have to their patron is palpable and it quite frankly gave me goosebumps. A saint’s day in a small town is a particularly special occasion everyone puts on their best face and there is a real sense of pride and religiosity through out the day, it is an exceptional Sicilian tradition.

San Leone of Longi in all of his baroque glory. Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello
San Leone of Longi in all of his baroque glory.
Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello
Children and people casually milling around San Leone. Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello
Children and people casually milling around San Leone.
Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello
A proudly displayed religious relic of San Leone. Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello.
A proudly displayed religious relic of San Leone.
Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello.

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For more details on San Leone and other Sicilian saints see my article on Times of Sicily.

Literary Islands: Salvatore Quasimodo

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If I could take only one emblematic book with me from Sicily, I’d defiantly choose Salvatore Quasimodo’s complete poetical works.

One of Sicily’s Primo Nobel’s in Literature, Quasimodo illustrates all the colours of his native island. His lifetime’s work, themes and forms span from: sparse expressive poetry, experimental pieces, poems inspired by mythology, politically charged works, recollections from childhood, melancholic epigrams, migrant experience, translation of ancient Greek lyrics, sketches, observations and philosophy of his beloved Sicily.

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Quasimodo’s poetical world is melancholic, tinged with emotions like regret, fueled by themes such as love and death. He creates a natural world which is as tangible as any physical object.

Reading Quasimodo is a visceral experience, his poetry is engulfed by the sensual, each body part reaching out to create a connection between the language and the reader. He can paint the emotions of a certain time and place in a few vivid words, who resonate so profoundly they stay with you forever.

The beauty of Quasimodo’s poetry is how it can be so ephemeral and contrasting, he is an enthralling artist. Quasimodo is ancient, timeless, filled with religion whether is be in prayers, saints or pagan mythology. His poetry finds it’s home in the space between darkness and light, his poetry exists in the forgotten shadows of Sicily.

My favorite poem of his is Ed e’ subito sera (Suddenly it’s evening) it always reminds me about the brevity and immutable nature of life. I’ve contemplated having it tattooed on me, it’s certainly short enough!

 

Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra

trafitto da un raggio di sole:

ed e’subito sera.

(Everyone is alone at the heart of the earth, pierced by a ray of sunshine;

and suddenly it’s evening. )

Translated by A. S. Kline © 2012

 

The most well known english translation of Quasimodo’s complete works is currently out of print but I am delighted to share an e text available of his selected poems on Project Gutenberg here.

It seems like a good translation and if you feel guilty not paying why not make a donation to the Project Gutenberg project which brings us access to literally thousands of out of print books and classics from all around the world!

Unwilling Expat

(Images from Google)

More about Salvatore Quasimodo here and including his Nobel Lecture here.

 

 

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