A Walk Through Two Cities
A journey to Ballarò, Sicily
Palermo: open city. Palermo year zero. Not even a child can get lost in Palermo. Palermo, so dear. Palermo is strange, it is distant, exotic, legendary, multi-ethnic, ancient, stratified, romanticised, yet round and welcoming.
An oxymorous city. A city that is loved and plundered. Silent and sincere. Dark and bright. Pagan and observant. Stereotypical and surprising. Closer to Maghreb than to Reggio Calabria. The only city that celebrates its saint patron twice a year.
The only one who adores a coloured saint. The only one that has a dialect which can be confused with Arabic and the only one who sings Neapolitan neo-melodic songs as if they belonged to them. It is a city of great noble families, magnificent palaces, streets with evocative names. Culture and commitment, literature and social battles, conniving politicians and magistrates that are heroes. It is an incomprehensible city.
The city that allowed, in one sole night, the destruction of the most fascinating, most eclectic, most varied, most beautiful Liberty district in all of Italy. The episode is the famous Sacco di Palermo (Sack of Palermo), which disfigured forever the city’s facade in the name of building speculation.
Palermo that due to its resigned indifference has forever deprived of history and beauty, all generations born after 29 December 1959.
"For things to remain the same, everything must change” - said Tancredi in The Leopard (Il Gattopardo by Tomasi di Lampedusa). Palermo of the Viceroys (by De Roberto) and The Day of the Owl (by Sciascia), Marianna Ucria (by Maraini) and much more. Palermo by Letizia Battaglia, mythical priestess of Palermo.
There was nothing planned, except a statement: "... let's see, I'll take you to Ballarò and the Trovado market".
We would then walk briskly through the streets, we would pass alleys, the Via Delle Sedie Volanti - the street of the flying chairs for example; we would take shortcuts to get to meet the Palazzo della Cuba and baroque churches that make the Vatican pale.
At the entrance of Ballarò there is an inscription in Sicilian that announces: "Si vucia, s'abbania, Ballarò è magia.". And it's true: Ballarò is a magical journey. It's Istanbul, it's Marrakesh, it's Naples, it's Tunis, it's Havana, it's Saigon, it's Bankok, it's Nairobi, it's Zanzibar, it's Adis Abeba.
I have seen things that humans beings would hardly imagine: tables full of giant zucchini that looked like sugar canes, which were sold by giant shiny black men with braided hair, like the hair of my son Leo: They spoke a mixture of Italian and English and Sicilian.
I saw mountains of cauliflowers and mountains of residual cauliflower leaves, aubergines, potatoes, pumpkins of all sizes, boxes of tomatoes to fill a square, peppers, cucumbers, celery, chickpeas, lentils, beans, green beans, radishes, beets, carrots, chicory, potatoes, onions, prickly pears, grapes, watermelons, peaches, apricots, cherries, strawberries, medlars, plums, melons, figs, raspberries, blackberries, currants, blueberries, pears.
And then spices of all flavours and colours, for some they have not even invented the name, swordfish cut in half, live octopuses seasoned and eaten at the moment, wigs of all kinds, hairstyles, braids and hairstyles, photos of Claudio Villa in a cafe, plentiful orange juices for one euro, fresh eggs by the dozen large and small, tribal tattoo shops, old school, realistic new school, Japanese or lettering and all between scaffolding of metal tubes - essential because most of the pipes are stolen by the gypsies who resell the iron -, deconsecrated churches with barred entrances, decadent noble palaces, well-kept balconies with lush green potted plants where dressed-up ladies would be smoking and scanning the horizon.
There we found everything you could wish and need: paintings, photographs, pins, books, tablecloths, petticoats, blankets, trays, statuettes, arrows, Pinocchios, madonnas, plates and many people full of desire to talk, get to know and have fun.
"Voglio andare ad Alghero", Sardinia
Alghero is a community of Catalan people, who set there their roots, many centuries ago, right in this location in Sardinia in front of Spain, a crossroad of peoples and cultures. Phoenicians, Punics, Romans and Greeks, … all of them left a trace and attempted to erase the traces left bu those who were there before.
Alghero, Bercelloneta for those who are nostalgic, s’Alighera for Sardinians, Alguer for us who are sons of merchants and pirates. Alghero is a fortified city, whose bastions have its foundations in the Mediterranean sea. “Algue, sés la mes bella” - Alghero is the most beautiful said Carlo V; “bonita, por mi fé, e bien assentada.”
In the sprawling and anarchic geography of this countryside you can recognize small streams, which dry in summer. There are then the winding streets that crisscross the land in every direction to reach houses, farms, vegetable gardens, vineyards, olive groves, broad bean crops and pastures for horses and donkeys.
This way of life, out of the world, has something extremely valuable. When you are born right on the frontiers of an empire you are driven to dialogue, to communicate, to see and look beyond, search what is elsewhere. A bit like a green hedge that hinders the view, but at the same time, invites the gaze to go beyond and open to infinity. Desire arises from the limit, the dream that invites us to overcome barriers and difficulties.
The most beautiful walk is on the ramparts. This is the walk that opens your heart, even when you are in a completely different mood. From the bastion of La Maddalena you go up the stairs towards the the one of Magellano, then you arrive at the tower of Sant Elmo, followed by the Pigafetta and Marco Polo and Cristoforo Colombo. Constantly walking with the sea on your right side, you go through Piazza Sulis, Villa Mosca, the Kiosk then el Tro’ and las Tronas arriving to the Mirador de Balaguer, known today as Piazza Giuni Russo. I can't think that you can have more.
Text by: Patrizia Sardo Marras
Francesco Bellina for Palermo
Efisio Marras for Alghero