Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sicily Journal VII: Jasmine and Dung

Watercolor by Hallie Cohen
Jasmine and dung—these are the smells of Sicily. The spider’s web of wash lines hanging across the windows of Caltagirone, the vaults hiding the Terme baths under Catania’s Duomo, Scicli’s ancient caves dwellings or Chiafura, the Greco-Roman ruins of Siracusa. Everything in Sicily is layered; all the scents, sounds and sights have their own archeology. Driving into Siracusa or Ragusa’s rush hour traffic, you are rudely awakened from the past. The perfectly appointed landscapes, the picuresque farms with their bales of wheat give way to urbanity, though cows and goats still interrupt traffic on major thoroughfares, leaving their dung behind. This is the land of Etna whose volcano meted out huge destruction in 1693 and is always waiting to unleash its fury in the backyards of Pirandello and Verga. There is nothing as pure as a Proustian Madeleine and no brioche to let them eat. The bread is as hard as the people. You have to be tough to survive in Sicily and there is no escaping its pull as Alberto Lattuada’s l962 film, Mafioso so trenchantly demonstrated. Sicily helped to usher in the Risorgimento. Scholars speak of a Sicilian Risorigimento which paved the way for unification, but Sicilian towns and cities don’t partake of the modernity of Milan, Bologna, Modena or Rome. There’s something archaic and unconscious at work in the Sicilian sensibility. Even as you inhale the perfume in the air, you feel you’re being drugged. Think about it, what really is a Godfather? Isn’t there something almost sacrosanct about the word?

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