Made in Sicily
August has come to an end and I can definitely say it was a great and unforgettable month. Usually August is a tedious month for those who live near the sea. It's way too hot and beaches are crowded with tourists and locals. In Italy, like the rest of Europe, it's a month for vacation, when lots of offices and shops are closed and cities are deserted. So rule number one, to survive this unbearable situation: STAY AWAY FROM THE SEA. It's time to enjoy the city and the backcountry and look for alternative ways to enjoy life.
Well, my August started with an amazing concert by Patti Smith in Palermo. She delighted her Sicilian fans with a two-hour show. Unbelievable that after almost 25 years she still screams, “People have the power.” Hard to believe nowadays but we let ourselves get carried away by the lyrics anyway and for awhile really believe we, the people have got the power. Then of course, we wake up to reality and realize it was just a song.
Not bad for a start, but it was when I followed rule number one that my August became unforgettable.
Tuesday, August 13th, I went to Santa Margherita Belice, a small, almost unknown village in the Sicilian backcountry to facilitate a press conference. Well, unknown except for the fact that Santa Margherita Belice is the location of the novel, The Leopard, and where scenes of Luchino Visconti's movie based on Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel, were filmed.
Since 2003, the Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa Foundation, based here, has organized and assigned an international literary award to prestigious writers who were inspired by The Leopard. This year the award went to the Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa.
As host and editor of a cultural radio show I couldn't miss such a glorious event. Having read almost all of his books and essays, I think Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the world's greatest contemporary writers. But if I love the writer, I have to admit that I do have problems with his very public committment of trying to right the world's wrongs. But one thing is undeniable, his charisma. You can't help being attracted to this handsome, old man, with his voice, his gestures, and even that commitment, making an impact. It's clear you are in the presence of an extraordinary person.
The press conference took place in the beautiful garden portrayed by Tomasi di Lampedusa in his novel. Mario Vargas Llosa was late of course, and there were lots of journalist waiting for him. After a brief presentation, the moderator announced that Mr. Vargas Llosa proposed to nominate the island of Lampedusa and its inhabitants for the Nobel Prize for Peace. In fact, this small Sicilian island since the early 2000's represents the primary European entrance for migrants dreaming of a better life in Europe, arriving by the thousands, coming illegally from Africa, Middle East and Asia. This candidacy represents the deeply held belief that Lampedusa is teaching a lesson of tolerance and respect of human rights to Europe and the rest of the World, setting a good example of how to deal with immigration.
Well, so far so good, but I came to meet the writer not the superhero, so I had to do something to return Vargas Llosa to what he does best, writing and talk about literature. When I got the chance to ask him a question, I said, “Mr. Vargas Llosa, if you would choose my country in which to set one of your novels, which city of Italy would you choose, and which character would you use to tell the story?” First he laughed, probably because I asked him the question in Spanish and also because he must have liked the question. Than he had to admit that he has been working on a play concerning Italy for a while. It's a play inspired by Bocaccio's The Decameron preface, which Vargas Llosa is using as a starting point for his play. When he started talking about his work, his eyes were sparkling and his hands where dancing following the rhythm of his own words. "We are in Florence during the Black Death, runs the year 1348. Seven girls and three young men run away from the plague and decide to spend their time at Villa Palmieri in the countryside near Florence ..." As he explained, they run away from the plague leaving behind death and sickness, and how do they do that? They escape through literature, they escape reality by telling each other stories. That's the starting point for Vargas Llosa and that's the message he wants us to get; when there is nothing left in the world that gives us hope and faith in the future, there still is the one thing nobody can take away from us: literature and the beauty of storytelling.
Maybe it's time to run away from reality, recuse ourselves and delve into fiction with Vargas Llosa and his ten characters. Well, at least escape for the three hours it takes to watch a play ... united from Rome, London, New York, Hong Hong and Paris, by a passion for story well told.
It was un unforgettable August indeed.
Well, I bet you are wondering what this is all about. Almost 30 years ago, in 1985 the European Union decided to recognize each year one or more cities with the title 'European Capital of Culture. The 2013 European Capital of Culture candidates are Marseille (France) and Košice (Slovakia).
What does this title mean for the winning city? Being designated European City of the Year is a great honor and a real opportunity to create a genuine and long-lasting change for the city's culture and economy. During the one-year period, the city is in the spotlight, representing all the other European cities, with their diversity and multiculturalism, thus representing to the world, the true essence of being European.
You have five years to prepare, to change the city's image and wait for 'D-Day.' It's a bit like a bride who knows the exact day of her wedding prepares every single detail in order to be the center of everybody attention, all the while trying to ensure that she makes her family and guests proud.
The countries that are designated by the EU in 2019 are Italy and Bulgaria, so the competition starts between Palermo, Venezia, Ravenna, Siena, L'Aquila, Amalfi, Matera, Brindisi, Terni, Mantova, so far. Those are the Italian cities that are applying for the title of European Capital of Culture 2019. The verdict will be announced in 2014.
I'm proud that Palermo decided to take part in this. We don't know if we stand a chance of winning; but after all, and in the end, the most important thing is not winning but taking part.
If you ask me, my city needs this kind of incentive in order to jump-start it out of its lethargy. A generous city, Palermo has experienced throughout history long periods of splendor to interminable periods of decadence. Through the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, with every period and each conqueror, something unerasable, and yet always tangible has been left by those who lived here.
This 'undefinable something' is why we deserve to win the competition. Palermo is a melting pot of cultures and contradictions, a monument to diversity and multiculturalism, living proof of a will to change its future without forgetting its past.
Palermo is the book you haven't read yet, the poetry nobody told you about, here “everything is what it is and it can also be its exact opposite”, so please don't be satisfied with the first impression. Instead, go further and you will be surprised by what you will see.
Bottom line: competing for the title is important because it makes us act as a unified and vital community, one which loves and cares about this special place. So we should try to finally act on our city's problems once and for all instead of whining.
I hope Palermo wins not only the title of European Capital of Culture but also, and above everything, the heart of every single Palermitan. I hope that this contest makes us finally understand how beautiful and unique our city is, how much we care about it, and last, but not least that we, Palermitans, are the only keepers of our memories and author of our future.
May 23rd is the 21st anniversary of the shocking bombing of an anti-Mafia judge and his family near Capaci, since then known as the Capaci Massacre.
It was wonderful to realize, once again, how we have managed to transform a painful day into a moment of hope and dedication.
Twenty-one years ago, thousands of Sicilians went out to the streets to say enough with Mafia and its deplorable massacres. It was the first time we broke the chain of silence, and we were finally a civil entity allied against Cosa Nostra. Since then, every year we try to do the same, by showing up in a public place to reaffirm our refusal to accept any kind of mafia control.
Above all, we want our kids to remember the extreme sacrifice that Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo, Borsellino and their bodyguards made for all of us. So we have decided to focus on our youth, and the future of our nation. We want them to realize how easy it is to choose legality over illegality, courage and civil awareness over indifference and fatalism.
Thousands of young Italian citizens arrive in Palermo each year with the so-called “Ships of Legality”sailing in from Civitavecchia and Naples. Palermo looks like a huge green field filled with scented flowers spread out to cover the ground where our heroes died.
Everyone crowds in the city streets for concerts, conferences and workshops, in a celebration of lawful citizenship. All of this is made possible thanks to the courageous work of many anti-mafia organizations, and the devoted persistence of thousands of Italian teachers and volunteers, who work all year long.
Of course, I went with Emma's class to the event, and it was very touching to see all these little kids wearing t-shirts with Falcone and Borsellino's images. So, as a mother of two, I say thank you to these people, thanks for reminding us who we are, where are we from, and what we are capable of. Thanks for never allowing us to forget the fact that there are people willing to die for their beliefs, normal people like you and me, capable of putting common interests above their own, just because it is the right thing to do.
This is what we want our children to learn, this is the way we want young Sicilians to grow up, responsive citizens of an island who have lived through a recent past full of tears and blood, aware that now it is up to them to wipe the tears and clean up the stains..
All international media should have broadcast this event, but sadly almost nobody was there.