There is a small black edged, mourning style, sticker affixed to the mirror of the lift in my apartment building.  It reads:   Un intero popolo che paga il pizzo e’ un popolo senza dignita –  ‘A population that pays protection money is a population without dignity’.  

In a city where, it seems, close to 80% of businesses are paying protection money to the Mafia, this is a serious message – and one that challenges not just shopkeepers and business owners, but every member of the community.

Everyone who buys bread from a pizzo-paying baker, or fruit from a pizzo-paying fruit vendor,  is himself, indirectly, making a contribution to the Mafia.  The responsibility for the situation that exists here does not rest only with the shop owner.  Everyone is responsible; everyone is part of the system.  Nothing will change until the people themselves change.   If Sicilians were to really take to heart the principle, ‘A population that pays protection money is a population without dignity’ , they would rediscover their self respect and, ultimately, be liberated from the Mafia.  That was the  realisation that prompted a young and idealistic group of Palermitani to take action one night in the summer of 2004.  Read the rest of this entry »

You can’t miss Palermo’s post office, a huge fascist style building that dominates one of the city’s main streets, via Roma.  It’s the work of Angiolo Mazzoni , an Italian engineer and architect who was  responsible for many of Italy’s early 20th century public buildings, including Rome’s Stazione Termini.  The size and solemnity of the building lead you to expect a superior form of postal service inside.  Nothing could be further from the truth.    The hall inside is vast, but few of the desks ever seem to be manned, and chaos seems to reign at the ones that are.   

 ‘Going to the Post Office’ is a phrase loaded with meaning in Palermo.  I still remember a conversation that took place not long after I arrived here.  When I said I was enjoying Palermo one friend looked wryly at the other and said:  “She obviously hasn’t been to the Post Office yet!”, and then proceeded to tell a long story about leaving her mother in a queue in the Post Office while she went shopping, and returning several hours later to find the queue virtually unchanged and everyone in it making their frustration known.     

I have been to the Post Office today.  In fact, I spent a considerable part of the day there – and I will have to go back tomorrow.  The experience has been frustrating, but revealing.       Read the rest of this entry »

Whereas once I tended to dismiss concentration on detail as the preserve of the unimaginative, now I see it as a way of enriching one’s experience and reaching into the heart of things.

This morning, as I passed the Giardino Garibaldi, wondering vaguely how Basile had chosen the theme of the hunt for his fence design (see previous post) and what other ideas he might have had, I noticed a detail that previously had escaped me completely.  All of a sudden it was clear that what I had  previously taken to be merely ornamental loops joining the arrow-shaped railings are, in fact, representations of hunting bows.

Although not in itself an overwhelmingly important detail, I now felt I hadn’t fully appreciated Basile’s design before.  It seemed both more ingenious and more harmonious than I had previously thought.  

I  have a similar feeling whenever I discover that a word or image in a poem has another, previously unnoticed, significance: my experience and appreciation of the poem is enriched in much the same way as my experience of Basile’s design was enriched this morning when I discovered this detail.  

It may be that were I to understand the significance of the shield design that appears at the corners of the fence and beside the gates my appreciation of Basile’s design would be further enhanced.  But that is for another day!

The hunting of wild animals is like a leitmotif that runs through Sicily’s history .  It seems that everyone who has ever ruled the island, from Roman to Bourbon, has derived great pleasure from the extensive hunting that has been available.  Not surprisingly, images of the hunt – wild boar, birds of every description, deer, hare and wild cat – have found their way into the island’s art, architecture and literature.  Vivid hunting scenes can be seen in the Roman mosaics at Piazza Armerina;  Frederick II’s book on the art of hunting with birds, written in the 13th century, continues to this day to be used by falconers; and a stately Bourbon hunting lodge, the Palazzina Reale, still dominates the woods at Ficuzza, not far from Palermo.      

In Piazza Marina, a large and gracious square near Palermo’s old harbour, nobody seems to pay a lot of attention to the elegant iron fence that surrounds the Giardino Garibaldi.  Attention is usually focused instead on the Piazza itself, or the garden – and both have much to offer.   But if you take the time to look closely at this fence, you’ll see that it continues the theme of the hunt.  The design is interesting and evocative – and definitely worthy of closer inspection.   

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