I find it a wonderful theme, that of the islands. In recent times of forced isolation and pandemic, even more so.
Large or small islands. Near or far. The island, an isolated dimension, is the first choice for many of us.
The paradox, personally, is that despite living in a big city, where I was born and raised, a metropolis coveted by many, dreamed of, desired, a mecca for the world of fashion, finance, music or art, full of everything, of a lot, of people and relationships, here, despite all this, I often feel alone in the city. Almost invisible.
In the city, social isolation almost seems to flourish. On the contrary, the island communities are increasingly made up of bonds and interdependence. And close human connections.
There is a sentence from the well-known contemporary Sicilian writer Camilleri, which reads like this:
“There comes a time when you go, you realize that your life has changed. Subtle facts have accumulated to bring about the turning point. Or maybe clearly visible facts, of which, however, you have not calculated the extent, the consequences.”
Here it is. For me, arriving in Sicily, in the Belice Valley in 2008, at the age of 28, was one of those moments. I “woke up” in a place where everything seemed exceptionally special. Simple. Yet, of an irresistible charm.
A place that I saw for the first time, and that I recognized as if it were home.
The first year, equipped with a camera, I wanted to capture everything, details, and moments because what for a Sicilian is normality, and everyday life, in the eyes of a foreigner or stranger is a sort of revelation!
Never before had I seen such immense expanses of wheat, vineyards, and olive trees. Color contrasts, like in a Hopper painting. Blue and Yellow above all. Light. Blinding.
Wild aromatic plants and fruit trees, and many small babbaluceddi (“snails”) climbing on slender blades of grass, everywhere.
The rest of the gaze.
I had never seen sea lilies on dunes, or many old folks outside the bars waiting to enjoy the spectacle of the stroll in the village; I had never participated in such joyful and delightful arrostute (“roasts”) of meat and sardines.
Everything gradually became memorable: the rosemary and oregano left to dry in the sun; the hugs given so strong that instead of hurting, they seemed to fix me, they were so full of love; i robbi stinnuti colored and scented in the natural light; the feast of arancine and pane e panelle during the village festivals; the alivi scacciati e cunzati as a welcome upon arrival at my aunt’s house; the refinement of certain destroyed and abandoned houses; the song of cicadas and the deafening silence that envelops everything in the countryside.
Never had I been so happy, in contact with simple things.
Sicily is a state of mind. A feeling.
A place where frying eggplant is a daily practice, sacred food, as is the afternoon siesta.
That place where you catch wild fennel on the fly from the moving car, just to use it 10 minutes later in the kitchen. Where the old men of the bar shut up as soon as they see a “foreigner” enter.
Where the decay of certain buildings, towns, or old villages always hides secret beauties.
Where the sky seems more starry than elsewhere and where half portions or the concept of a “light diet” are not at all part of the local vocabulary. Where one of the most popular phrases of affection is undoubtedly “manciasti?” – “have you eaten?”
Sicily is a woman. It smells great.
It is majestic, wild, and UNTAMED.
Every time you let her go she leaves an emptiness hard to fill. The return home: when I leave “la mia Sicilia” is the most delicate moment.
Once back home in Milan the melancholy and crying accompany my son and me. How to explain the meaning of nostalgia to a small child who is crying desperately? The same child who, looking you straight in the eye, asks you: “Mom, when I grow up, will I understand why I’m crying!?”
I have never managed to tell him the truth: that the more you grow up, the more life becomes confusing, a big mess. There is a melancholy that comes from growing up, but it is the prerogative of becoming an adult to bring great happiness.
Sicily is my island. I joined her for thirteen years. I breathe silence and nourish myself with beauty. In leaving her, I get excited every time more.
I love the warmth that people emanate, the color that invades everything, and its noise made above all from the voices and extended families where cousins and friends are like brothers.
This land excites me and kidnaps my stomach.
Anyone who has seen it, at least once in their life, can know and understand what I mean. Sicily is a unique place. And perhaps, let me say it, one of the most beautiful in the world.
However, it is not possible to explain what each of us feels in common with it:
There are those who can’t stand it and go away. Leaving their family and their roots behind, to make their fortune elsewhere.
Those who love her, are forced to go away, perhaps to follow a distant love, but to return as soon as possible.
And then there are those who were born there, stay here, love it and do everything to make it a better place.
Respecting and preserving it.
I have never met anyone so tied to their land as the Sicilians. Bonded to her with love and hate. But in a strong and powerful way. Like all great loves that are respected.
My Sicily is a place where even in the middle of nowhere, I never feel alone.