Chovihani (ice-capades)

(The following is an extract from the novel Chovihani. This is a work in progress and so will get more editing done to it etc… enjoy the bitch anyway.)


“Hey, shit for brains. Stop tweaking, put that feckin’ pipe down and pass me those bottles.”

Big Paddy looked at his cousin Gerry blankly, his eyes as big as dinner plates. He blew out a massive cloud of smoke and placed the glass pipe on the ground. He handed Gerry two empty plastic bottles, one and two litres.

“Have you made sure they are completely dry?”

“Of course.”

“Good man. Now pass me the pills.”

Big Paddy handed ten boxes of Sudofed cold and flu remedy to Gerry.

“Okay, give me a hand popping them all out and into this coffee grinder. Now watch and learn.”

Gerry ground the pills into a fine powder and placed a funnel into the two litre bottle. He poured in the powder along with half a cup of Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser. Then he took a can of starting fluid, squeezed the air out and poked a hole in the bottom with a screwdriver. He then poured the liquid ether through the funnel into the two litre bottle. He repeated the same process with another two cans.

Big Paddy watched on in amazement. Suddenly the whole process had become fascinating to him. Everything had become fascinating to him. He felt like a chemistry student. He wiped the sweat from his brow and reached for a cigarette.

“No!” yelled Gerry. “Do you want to blow us both to kingdom come, you great big omadhan?”

“Sorry, Gerry. I’m just learning.”

“Ok, pass me the batteries. In fact no, don’t feckin’ touch them. Your hands are wet, you great big sweaty cunt.”

Gerry reached for the 3 AA Energiser batteries himself. He took a tubing cutter and tightened it into the centre of the first battery spinning it around to create a cut.

Big Paddy passed Gerry two pairs of pliers.

“Good man, you are catching on.”

Gerry took hold of both ends of the battery with the pliers, pulling each side of the casing off. He then unrolled the lithium strips from within the guts of the battery. He did the same with the other two.

“Be very careful when you are doing this.”

Paddy nodded.

“See how there are two strips in each battery? Well you definitely don’t want the one that has mettle around the edges and never get water on them or they will set alight. Don’t do this outside if it’s a cloudy day.”

Today the sky was clear blue and the two cousins were outside in the centre of their trailer camp.

Gerry cut the lithium strips into small pieces and began to drop them into the two litre bottle along with the other deadly chemicals. He then took a bottle of Red Devil lye and removed the cap, pouring the lye into it. He emptied this through the funnel into the bottle.

“Now comes the dangerous part.” He grinned.

Paddy’s face lit up with joy on hearing his favourite word.

“Just get ready to run if it goes wrong.”

Gerry took a bottle of mineral water and poured some into the top. He added this into the bottle with the mixture and repeated once. He held the bottle up to the light and stared at it with wonder in his eyes.

“Come on baby. Come to daddy.”

Nothing happened.

Paddy shook his head.

“Hmmmm,” said Gerry. “Shit.”

Just then a bubble rose from the bottom of the bottle and popped at the surface of the liquid.

“Ha ha ha! Now we’re cooking with gas. Did you see that?”

Another bubble rose up and then more. Gerry quickly put the lid back on and tightened it. He began to swish the bottle around gently.

“Are you timing this?”

Paddy looked at his watch and nodded.

“Let me know when five minutes is up.”

“Ok, now.”

Gerry unscrewed the cap a little. There was a hissing noise and the mixture began to bubble some more. Gerry screwed up his eyes and turned his face away. There was a stench of ammonia. After ten seconds he tightened the cap again.

“Ok, that’s a bit sore on the eyes. Lesson learned. I should have remembered that from the first batch. Pass me the mask.”

Paddy passed Gerry a dust mask stuffed with cotton wool. Every five minutes, Gerry repeated the same process, adding more lye every twenty minutes, shaking the bottle vigorously for about eight seconds, then loosening the cap.

“You’ve got to make sure you keep burping the baby to keep the dope rolling.”

Gerry did this every twenty minutes until he had used up two thirds of the lye. This continued for two hours. Then he took another empty one litre bottle and placed the funnel into it and a coffee filter into the funnel. Gently he poured the mixture, a little at a time, through this. Once the one litre bottle was filled he tightened the cap on it. He then took a second one litre and a half litre bottle cap, making holes in both of them to which he pushed a rubber tube through, sealing this with ductape until it was airtight. He removed the cap from an empty one litre bottle and replaced it with the cap with the tube. He took a box of iodised salt and filled the half litre bottle to about half an inch from the bottom. He poured a two litre capful of Liquid Fire onto the salt, tightly screwing on the top attached to the tube. He swirled the half litre bottle from left to right for about four seconds. Then he squeezed it and released it, sitting it back down on the ground. Smoke began to fill the one litre bottle penetrating the liquid.

“Look, Paddy. It’s Christmas.”

It seemed as though it were snowing inside the one litre bottle. When the smoke stopped Gerry removed the top with the tube from the one litre bottle, tying a knot in it and putting the other top back on. He shook the one litre bottle hard, counting to thirty. He then put the funnel into a jar with two new coffee filters and poured the liquid through them. A large amount of crystal like substance remained in the bottom of the bottle.

“Ok, let’s get back to the caravan.”

Once inside Gerry cut the top half off the bottle and took a hair dryer to dry the crystals.

Then he smiled triumphantly. “Didn’t I always tell you I should have been a scientist?”

Paddy shook his head. He couldn’t remember Gerry ever having told him anything of the sort. “Can I get a hit, Gerry?”

“Patience, man. Let’s get it weighed and separated into clipper bags first, then you can take some personal. You mustn’t get high while you are making this stuff.”

“Crystal methamphetamine,” said Paddy warmly.

“That’s right. England won’t know what’s hit her.”

“It’s amazing what you can learn on the internet. This stuff makes crack and smack look like camomile tea.” Gerry laughed. “They said it would never make it over here from America. Well all that’s changed now. I want you and the boys to take taster bags of this into Sheffield to hand out to all the junkies for free, along with my mobile number. They will call; there is absolutely no doubt about that. There’s a new sheriff in town.”

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Darky O’Hara (from The Bare Knuckle Fighter)

(The following is a sneak preview from my next latest novel which you can find here

Darky O’Hara’s lone caravan was situated at the edge of a rough overgrown field, by a small muddy pond, in the middle of nowhere. The battered old trailer had no wheels and was balanced precariously on a pile of cracked bricks. The windows were covered from inside with yellowing newspaper.

Nobody knew where Darky came from, what age he was, or who any of his relatives were, if he even had any. He lived alone with his four lurchers and there wasn’t another caravan or house for miles around.

He was never known to say two words where only one was necessary and had neither friends nor enemies.

Some, who dared, whispered that he wasn’t a real Traveller and that he had adopted the name O’Hara as it was convenient in his line of business. ‘Darky’ was his nickname, as no-one knew his real one.

He had deep, almost black, emotionless eyes, a hooked and crooked nose, a cruel thin mouth and a large jagged scar that ran down the length of his hollow left cheek.

His hair was jet-black, with grey flecks, protruding from under a weather beaten fedora and his long gaunt body was covered by a flowing brown raincoat that came down to his knees.

Children said that Darky O’Hara was the Devil himself and less sensitive parents would tell them, if they didn’t behave themselves, he would come to take them away in the dead of night.

On account of Gypsies and Travellers being highly superstitious, it was accepted and believed by all that Darky possessed evil powers.

Many believed he was immortal and almost all agreed that he could not be killed by any mortal. It was said by some, he was immune to even the most powerful Gypsy curses, whilst others claimed he carried the worst of all curses with him and his very existence was an eternal purgatory from which he would never escape.

If you were to try and rob or harm him then your fate was sure to become entwined with his and your soul would be lost forever in whatever gloomy underworld he had risen from.

Urban legends and myths about Darky abounded, but the truth was nobody really knew anything about him, except that he was the bare knuckle fight organiser and main bookkeeper and always had been.

It was rumoured that he had thousands of pounds buried somewhere and always kept a lot of money, both in his caravan and about his person, but he was seldom known to spend a single penny.

It was common knowledge amongst Travellers that many years ago he had operated in another city where there had been a plot to kidnap and torture him until he confessed to the location of his main stash.

This was supposed to take place in the dark early hours, after a Saturday night. What with Darky being a hermit, who lived far from civilisation, nothing could be easier.

The three fellow conspirators were the Smith brothers, Felix, Sammy and George; English Romany Gypsies with no links to Irish Travellers.

They were neither Roman Catholic, nor believers in any form of Gypsy spiritualism; they were a very rare exception to the rule. They feared nothing and respected no code of morality.

They had adopted their English surname and chose to live in a house. Everybody knew their roots and the Smiths never denied it, yet it seemed they had no desire to follow their tradition.

They were known as petty thieves and fraudsters and, although not the most feared of all the families around, they were respected fighters.

Felix was the oldest and said to be the smartest of them all, but arrogant with it. He had acquired a cocaine habit which didn’t do any favours for his already over inflated ego. Soon enough, he began to harbour delusions of grandeur.

“People like Darky are exploiting the belief in the supernatural,” he said to his brothers, the night the plan was hatched. “Gypsies are more likely to buy this crap, as they’ve been brainwashed with it all their lives,” he continued, sniffing and wiping the white powdery residue from his nostril with the back of his hand.

His brothers looked at each other and nodded in agreement.

“Take for example the old women who go out on the streets selling lucky heather,” he went on. “They say it’s bad luck to walk past them with money in your pocket.” He laughed contemptuously and shook his head.

“It’s just the same with Darky O’Hara, I tell you. No one dares touch him in case all their children are born disabled, or their mother dies, or in case he reads your mind and gets to you first.

“It doesn’t matter to people that it’s probably not true, because if they get a Gypsy curse put on them the next major thing to go wrong in their lives is gonna be attributed to it and that’s enough to scare most people into not taking the risk. Well, who do you think started spreading that nonsense and why?”

The brothers shrugged and shook their heads, their faces a picture of ignorance.

“It’s all an elaborate ruse,” Felix continued, lighting a cigarette. “Darky has very cleverly orchestrated these rumours in order to protect himself. We’re ex Gypsies ourselves, so we get it. We’re the most misunderstood people on the earth and can blag our ways in and out of anything we like.

“It’s all about the power of illusion. Perception is reality and we three are clever enough to know how the game works.

“Let me assure you boys, there is absolutely nothing in that lonely old caravan except for that dirty old hermit and his scraggy dogs. There are no magical powers protecting him, nothing is going to happen to our loved ones and I don’t care how tough the old fox is, there is nothing he can do against three of us and then everyone will see Darky for the fraud he is and the Smith boys will be known as a fearless force not to be fucked with.

“Perhaps then the naive sheeple will attribute our success to having even darker powers than Darky himself! Anything that works in our favour is good.”

The three Smith brothers grinned and shook hands. It was settled. They set out that very night, wearing dark clothes and balaclavas.

They were to burst into Darky’s caravan and shoot his dogs. Felix was to pin Darky to the floor and shove a sawn off shotgun in his face, while George turned the caravan over, in search of cash.

Sammy was to stay outside and make sure the coast was clear.

The plan was to give Darky a severe beating, maybe even cut off one of his fingers, or an ear, so he knew they meant business and were afraid of no hex. George was the boy for that kind of thing.

Next, Felix had imagined placing the shotgun right inside Darky’s mouth to the back of his throat to make it crystal clear that, if he did not immediately lead them to the stash, they were for a spot of interior decoration with the contents of his skull.

Felix was convinced that Darky would cooperate. “He was born of a womb, boys, and not, as every gullible person seems to think, hewn from some giant block of impenetrable ice.”

Felix’s idea never got off the ground.

When Sammy Smith awoke that morning, after dreaming that everything had gone according to plan, he was to discover that his brothers, sisters mother and father had all been massacred in their sleep, their throats slashed from ear to ear. A large letter D was daubed in blood on the walls at the head of each bed.

The Smiths hadn’t even managed to make it out of the house that night and no-one, save for themselves, had known anything about the deadly pact.

Sammy believes his life was spared only so there was someone left to tell the tale, which was to be as a severe warning to everyone else.

On turning over Darky’s caravan and arresting him on suspicion of five counts of murder, the police were unable to come up with any evidence whatsoever. All they had to go on were the insane ravings of Sammy Smith and the bloody letter D.

There were no fingerprints and the D.N.A test results did not match. No money was found in Darky’s caravan and there seemed to be no motive for the murders, as Sammy neglected to tell the police about the Smith brothers’ fatal scheme.

Darky O’Hara was released without charge and the very next day he moved on, but his scary reputation was to follow him wherever he went

(As you can see from the above, I have created my own genre, which I am calling para-paranormal, where the supernatural is hinted at, but there is also a perfectly rational alternative. The reader can choose what to believe.

This comes from the paradox within my own brain: I have always been fascinated by the mysterious and unexplained, but at the same time I am a die hard skeptic and lover of logic.

The above excerpt comes from a novel I started writing nearly ten years ago but have recently started to work on again. This theme of para-paranormal is consistent throughout.

The book also uses another genre which I would love to credit myself for having invented, but I think Emily Brontë and many others beat me to it by a long chalk. I am giving it a name though: noir romance. If I say any more than that, I may start to give away too much concerning the direction that The Bare Knuckle Fighter takes.)

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The view from the horse (journalistic prose)

The principal meeting place in central Prague is the huge bronze statue of King Wenceslas that stands at the very top of Vasklavske Namesti or Wenceslas square. The king sits astride a horse in front of the impressive National Museum and looks down upon the square. Sometimes, I would joke that the highest window in the museum was actually King Wenceslas’s bedroom as in the song, “Good king Wenceslas looked out… of his bedroom window”.

Vaslavske Namesti is the largest square in Prague and was the scene of many protests during the communist regime, including the ultimate sacrifice made by philosophy student Jan Palach who burned himself to death as a demonstration against Soviet occupation. To the Czechs Jan Palach is a political martyr, although I often wonder if he was simply a manic-depressive.

Finally, the square became a place of celebration when, after the velvet revolution in 1989, communism came to an abrupt end. Since then the square (being the centre of the whole country) has raced and scrambled desperately trying to catch up with the west. In so doing it has reached the opposite extreme and is now the epitome of unbridled capitalism.

In appearance, the square is actually more like an elongated boulevard. It is lined with shops, hotels and restaurants, including the largest concentration of McDonalds that I have ever seen within a half-mile radius.

With many side streets, the square stretches down hill for about a kilomer and a half. Being the busiest square in Prague, there is plenty to see and the horse statue is the perfect vantage point for the great sport of voyeurism.

As a tour guide, I would often sit in front of the statue and wait for my groups. On a cold and frosty day, rather than risk piles, I would pace to and fro in an effort to keep warm, steam rising up from my mouth.

My groups were nearly always at least fifteen minutes late and I was nearly always fifteen minutes early so I had plenty of time to study the people bustling by. I would try to imagine who they were, what they were thinking and where they were going.

To the right of the horse, just outside McDonalds, a group of heroin addicts and shoplifters congregated. They were a mixed bunch of Gypsies, Czechs, Russians and Ukrainians. I marvelled at how blatant they were, as they compared things that they had stolen with one another and then set off in pairs to sell their wares and buy heroin.

I wondered how they had got to be the way they were and I tried to picture their lives growing up. Had they once had aspirations and dreams that were now faded away into the distance?

During the daytime, I would see dozens of other tourist guides with their umbrellas held aloft, waiting in front of the horse for their groups of tourists from around the world. When the groups arrived I would immediately start to listen to ascertain the language or accent. Mostly they would be German or Italian.

I would see lots of young Italians walking together, always in big groups. They can never be alone. I think for this reason, Italians are said to read less than any other European nation. It was easy to spot them with their tanned skin, black hair and long black hooded coats. Coming from a hot country, Italians always overdress for Prague in winter, with their hats scarves and jumpers.

As daytime turned into evening, the guided tours and regular people would slowly start to slip away, like a tide being carried back out to sea, leaving a deserted beach in its wake. The cold dark night would steadily wash over the square like an all encompassing cloak that brought with it the myriad creatures of the night. Prostitutes seemed to be summoned up from out of thin air, literally dozens of them, mostly Bulgarian Gypsies, would appear on every corner.

The prostitutes in Prague are a fascinating spectacle to behold. They are the most brazenly forward and charismatic I have ever seen. They would think nothing of calling out to people in the street to reel off their list of services. They would even go straight up to people passing by and grab a hold of them, trying to drag them in the direction of a toilet cubicle.Watching their interactions with the public made for great entertainment.

Obscenely loud British stag parties in fancy dress began to descend upon the square. It was surreal seeing people dressed as super heroes, or cartoon characters being accosted by prostitutes, drug dealers and people desperately thrusting flyers at them.

Gangs of highly skilled professional pickpockets, mostly young Czech Gypsy girls would follow the drunken Brits waiting for the right moment to pounce. Like Fabian, a shady looking, slightly corpulent middle-aged Gypsy man would stand back in the shadows watching the progress of his band of thieves, waiting to jump in the fray with a flash of blue steel if needs be, just in case any of his money makers were apprehended by a civilian.

The Gypsies are the most hated people in all of Prague and perhaps the entire world. Yet I found myself drawn to these incredibly enigmatic people. I wanted to know what made them tick, what moved and motivated them and what their moral code consisted of. Every man woman and child must justify themselves to themselves and I wondered how they did that and how it was to see the world through their eyes. How did they see themselves? No doubt, in a completely different light to how others saw them.

Strange looking men hung around outside money changing offices with calculators in their hands, waiting for gullible tourists and offering to change their dollars, pounds, or euros for a better rate. I could see the Ukrainian girls at the Mafia run fast food stalls blatantly short changing unsuspecting tourists on principle. These girls are paid less than a pound an hour and I guess their consciences told them that if a customer does not notice being short-changed then they did not need the money. If however they got caught out while doing it, they would immediately apologize humbly and reimburse the customer without question.

Large gangs of cheerful Africans congregated outside the strip bars and brothels that began to light up. Working along side each other were South Africans, Senegalese, Nigerians and Ghanians. Many of them had tribal markings below their cheeks. They all spoke a common pigeon African English, or in some cases French.

I tried to imagine the places that they had come from and the things that they had witnessed. Whatever unspeakable acts they had seen or committed they always seemed to be the happiest and friendliest people on the Wenceslas square scene. They were known as the “flyer guys” and it was their job to usher people into the clubs for commission. I did not envy them their work as every night of every year they hustled and jostled with each other over potential customers. It was clear that they were subsidizing their paltry wages by selling cocaine. This they did openly in the streets. Bizarrely, they also acted as a kind of police force, chasing after pickpockets and handing out advice to night-life tourists.

All this went on, directly under the eyes of the real police, who did nothing, except pace up and down the square, occasionally stopping to bribe somebody for pissing in the street.

It’s strange. In a way, Wenceslas square should feel like Dante’s seventh circle of hell, but after a while it doesn’t. Perhaps I became desensitized or perhaps I was too mesmerized by the diverse colour and life. For whatever reason, it felt entirely calm in the eye of this fascinatingly vibrant storm that I watched every day from the vantage point of the horse.

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Mild opiate withdrawals in a Palermo Pizzeria (prose)

Mild opiate withdrawals in a Palermo Pizzeria. My mind is awake and awash with ideas. Scribbling incessantly, I fill the back of a paper place mat, that would perhaps serve better for more sanitary purposes, than with my own self indulgent musings.

Senses alert, I feel alive but frail. Every single scent sound and colour seems super vivid and leads my imagination along pathways through mysterious times and places.

The animals and insects call out clearly, using hyper complicated frequencies. Every ”man made smell’ sets off a detailed trip of wistfulness that takes me on a merry dance, dandering down many alleyways and corridors, some of them false and misleading. There are dead ends too.

The smell of my own cologne transports me away to some place, years ago, a place I’d like to be again, sensations I’d like to reclaim as my own. But when I close my eyes to recall them now they crumble and blow away in the wind. Once the tide takes them, I need not say more…


At night, from the top of Monte Pellegrino, where the statue of Santa Rosalia stands tall and the panorama of the city lies at her feet, the boats seem like stars reflected on the water. I whisper this gently into a foreign girl’s ear, maybe for the 100th time. Her eyes light up with wonderment at these words, never heard by her before. I smile. She is thrilled to be at the edge of the universe. Maybe she can fly? I wouldn’t tell anybody if she could.

I look down at the tiny cars winding their ways around the track. Then back out to sea. To me, the dark water is transparent and I see its depths and rocks and the creatures that swim there. It no longer holds mystery to me.

There is nothing now, but the cool breeze through the coarse shrubbery and the chiming of the bells around the goat’s neck. It’s time to return in silence, gliding backwards through time, down the cold dark side of the mountain.


In the piazza, I can distinguish every individual emotion of every person and every odour, including the washing powder that comes from the mostly white sheets that blow around on the balconies above. I can hear the sounds of TV programmes coming from living rooms and make out the voices of actors. I can smell warm modest dinners, enjoyed thoroughly.

Every tiny vibration seems to have its own fascinating story. The drowsy sound of children playing noisily in the street carries me away with their song. Maybe they will take us with them. One day.

I have the feeling of being in five different times and places, all at once. A deep sense of nostalgia permeates everything.

But at the root of this sensation: how I long for more innocent times, more simple pleasures.

The type that never satisfy me.

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Ode to a green velvet armchair pissed on by a cat (prose)

I rescued a lovely antique armchair today, abandoned in the street like a runny nosed orphan. I have been spending the last few hours lovingly disinfecting and cleaning it, in case someone died in it of the consumption or some other equally Gothic ailment. 

As soon as I set it down in what will be it’s new throne room and stood back to admire the gilded wood and green tufted velvet upholstery, the neigbour’s cat leapt up and left a potent message there.

As I painstakingly polished and oiled the wood, I imagined how perhaps a defecter from Cosa Nostra was strangled in it, after having accepted an invitation for a sumptious banquet. Perhaps he pissed and shat himself as his life slipped away from him and his eyes began to bulge out of their sockets. I hope he ate well before he died.

Whatever the colourful history of this beautiful green armchair, I can’t wait to sit in it and smoke a pipe, whilst poring over an old dusty leather bound tome, containing adventures from the high seas, inaccurate maps and sea monsters. I may even take a dram of whiskey and laudanum whilst sitting it. Ah, how Dickensian.

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My translations of Italian literature

Vincenzo Auria, Memorie varie di Sicilia nel tempo della ribellione di Messina dal 2 gennaio del 1676 al 5 maggio del 1685

Vincenzo Auria, various memories of Sicily during the rebellion of Messina on 2 January 1676 to 5 May 1685


Accostarono tanto i vascelli de’ Francesi che vennero presso il molo ed alla cala. Onde tra vascelli e galere si venne ai colpi di moschettaria con carica spessissima, con gran mortalità. Ed un vascello francese tirò una cannonata con palle di moschetto alla cortina di Castell’a mare tra i due torrioni, dove assisteva il castellano a far sparar l’artigliarie con moltissima gente; e se giungevano un poco più a segno, avrebbero fatto gran stragge, essendo il castello dalla parte di mare debolissimo e tutto scoperto, e di fabbriche mezzo rovinate dal tempo.


The vessels of the French approached the pier and the inlet. Waves of ships and galleys came to musket blows, often causing great mortality. And a French vessel fired a cannon with musket balls at the curtain wall of Castell’a mare between the two towers, where the castellan helped to fire the artillery with a lot of people; and if they came a little more into sight, it would have been a great slaughter, what with the castle being on the weak and vulnerable exposed side of the sea, and with the buildings half ruined by time.


Finì gli ultimi giorni del suo imperio di Spagna quella vasta nave della Reale di Spagna […] negli scogli di Castell’a mare, dove si salvò a nuoto buona parte delle genti, restando l’altra fatta preda del fuoco. E quivi divorata dall’accese fiamme de’ suoi proprii legni, tra il fetore della pece e i globi densissimi del fumo, venendo finalmente il foco ad appiccarsi alla Santa Barbara, diede uno scoppio così terribile, che cagionò un gran terremoto ne’ vicini edificii […] non senza timore del popolo non avvezzo in tali spaventi.


That vast ship of the Spanish Royal Navy ended the last days of the Spanish empire […] on the rocks of Castell’a mare, where most of the people saved themselves by swimming and those who did not became prey to the fire. And there it was devoured by the flames of its own wood, among the stench of pitch and dense balls of smoke, the fire finally setting the Santa Barbara alight, with a terrible blast, that caused a great rumble in the nearby buildings […] not without the fear of the people who were unaccustomed to such terrors.


Bruciava intanto la gran Reale di Spagna, quasi immenso cadavere, non potendosi estinguere il suo vorace incendio entro l’onde del mare.

Meanwhile, the almost immense body of the great Spanish Royal ship, not being able to extinguish the voracious fire within the waves of the sea, continued to burn.




Roberto Alajmo, Palermo è una cipolla

Roberto Alajmo, Palermo is an onion

I luoghi comuni climatici prendono spesso al sud la forma di una canzone: Basta che ce sta ‘o sole, basta che ce sta ‘o ma­re; e questo è troppo. Arrivati a questo punto bisogna argi­nare gli stereotipi. ‘O Sole, e va bene. Ma ‘O Mare? Chi l’ha visto mai, il mare nella Città?


The common climatic places of the south often take the form of a song. Basta che ce sta ‘o sole, basta che ce sta ‘o ma­re; and this is plenty. At this point we need to curb the stereotypes. ‘O Sole, and that’s okay. But’O Mare? Who has ever seen the sea in the City?


La Cala è il vecchio porto, che adesso ospi­ta per metà la nautica da diporto e per metà un disastro am­bientale. Sul mare della Cala, che assume una colorazione tendente al bianco liquame e una consistenza oleosa, fiori­scono le leggende. Raccontano che agli ami dei pescatori ab­bocchino da anni solo topi. La Cala is the old port, now half home to recreational boating and half home to an environmental disaster. On the sea of the Cala, which assumes a whitish slurry color and an oily consistency, legends flourish. They say that for years only mice have bitten the hooks the fishermen’s hooks. Per gli armatori di tutto il mon­do questo è un perfetto cimitero dove venire ad affondare le imbarcazioni che rottamare sarebbe troppo costoso. Si favo­leggia di un popolo di formiche umane che all’arrivo di ogni nuova barca da spolpare si precipitano alla Cala e comincia­no la spoliazione. For the ship owners from all over the world, this is a perfect graveyard where you can come to sink boats that would be too expensive to scrap. This is favourable to a population of human ants that upon the arrival of each new boat rush to the La Cala to strip off its flesh and begin the plundering. Portano via tutto quel che è possibile asportare, e poi affondano la carcassa. Ogni tanto il relitto ri­mane a pelo d’acqua rendendo difficile la navigazione, certe volte emerge l’albero maestro, che diventa a sua volta attrac­co per altre imbarcazioni in disarmo, aspettando che anche per quelle arrivi il momento dell’affondamento. They take away everything that can be removed and then sink the carcass. Each time the wreck remains on the surface of the water making navigation difficult, sometimes the main mast is left sticking out of the water, which in turn becomes a berth for other disarmed vessels, also waiting for their moment to sink.

Proseguendo, dopo la Cala c’è un frontale di palazzi. Quando ci arriverai ricordati di guardare bene i balconi del­la facciata principale di questi palazzi: sono rivolti verso ter­ra. Dovendo scegliere fra la vista del mare e la vista di altri pa­lazzi, gli architetti che hanno costruito queste case hanno li­beramente optato per la seconda soluzione. Close to la Cala is a row of building fronts. When you arrive be sure to have a good look at the balconies of the main facade of these buildings: they face towards the land. When they had to choose between the sea view and the view of other buildings, the architects who built these houses freely chose the second solution. Già Leonardo Sciascia aveva fatto notare che la Città ha voltato le spalle al mare. Gli abitanti della Città rinunziano a cuor leggero alla tentazione di un panorama azzurro. Il mare si sente e si pre­suppone, ma non si vede quasi da nessuna parte, né si vuole vederlo. Leonardo Sciascia had already noted that the City has turned its back on the sea. The inhabitants of the City light-heartedly waive the temptation of a blue horizon. The sea is heard and it is assumed, but it is not to be seen from almost anywhere, nor does anyone want to see it. Anche quando si è data una sistemazione provviso­ria al Foro Italico, le persone hanno cominciato ad adopera­re le panchine di marmo al contrario, per guardare non il ma­re, come erano state disposte, ma piuttosto la Città, che pure è sempre stata sotto gli occhi di tutti. Even when people are staying for a short time at the Foro Italico, they have begun to sit the opposite way on the marble benches, so as not to look at the sea, for which the benches had been arranged. Rather they look to the City, which has also always been under the eyes of all.



Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, La Sirena

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Siren

Mi ero svegliato da poco ed ero subito salito in barca; pochi colpi di remo mi avevano allontanato dai ciottoli della spiaggia e mi ero fermato sotto un roccione la cui ombra mi avrebbe protetto dal sole che già saliva, gonfio di bella furia, e mutava in oro e azzurro il candore del mare aurorale. I had just woken up and got straight into the boat; a few strokes of the oar got me away from the pebble beach and I stopped under a rock whose shadow would protect me from the sun that was already rising, full of great fury, changing the whiteness of the dawn sea to gold and blue. Declamavo, quando sentii un brusco abbassamento dell’orlo della barca, a destra, dietro di me, come se qualcheduno vi si fosse aggrappato per salire. Mi voltai e la vidi: il volto liscio di una sedicenne emergeva dal mare, due piccole mani stringevano il fasciame. I exclaimed, when I felt the edge of the boat fall suddenly, to the right, behind me, as if someone was holding on to climb in. I turned and saw: the smooth face of a sixteen year old emerging from the sea, two small hands clutching the planking. Quell’adolescen­te sorrideva, una leggera piega scostava le labbra pallide e lasciava intravedere dentini aguzzi e bianchi, co­me quelli dei cani. Non era però uno di quei sorrisi come se ne vedono fra voialtri, sempre imbastarditi da un’espressione accessoria, di benevolenza o d’ironia, di pietà, crudeltà o quel che sia; esso esprimeva soltanto se stesso, cioè una quasi bestiale gioia di esistere, una quasi divina letizia. The adolescent smiled, her pale lips creased slightly, showing sharp white teeth, like those of dogs. But it was not one of those smiles that can be seen among you people, always bastardized by an incidental expression of benevolence, irony, piety, cruelty, or whatever, it expressed nothing but the self, that is an almost bestial joy of existence, an almost divine happiness. Questo sorriso fu il primo dei sortilegi che agisse su di me rivelandomi paradisi di dimenticate serenità. Dai disordinati capelli color di sole l’acqua del mare colava sugli occhi verdi apertissi­mi, sui lineamenti d’infantile purezza. This smile was the first of the spells that worked on me, revealing forgotten paradises of peace. From the messy hair that was the color of the sun, sea water ran into her wide open green eyes, along the outlines of childlike purity.

La nostra ombrosa ragione, per quanto predispo­sta, s’inalbera dinanzi al prodigio e quando ne avverte uno cerca di appoggiarsi al ricordo di fenomeni banali; come chiunque altro volli credere di aver incontrato una bagnante e, muovendomi con precauzione, mi portai all’altezza di lei, mi curvai, le tesi le mani per farla salire. As much as it is predisposed, our shady reason, is lessened in front of a miracle and when it warns us one tries to lean on the memory of trivial phenomena; like everyone else I wanted to believe that I had met a bather and, moving cautiously, I went up to her, I bent over and took her hands to pull her onboard. Ma essa, con stupefacente vigoria emerse diritta dall’acqua sino alla cintola, mi cinse il collo con le braccia, mi avvolse in un profumo mai sentito, si lasciò scivolare nella barca: But with astonishing vigor she emerged straight from the water up to the waist, she put her arms around my neck, shrouded me in a fragrance I had never smelled and slid into the boat: sotto l’inguine, sotto i glutei il suo corpo era quello di un pesce, rivestito di minutissime squame madreperlacee e azzurre, e terminava in una coda biforcuta che batteva lenta il fondo della barca. Era una Sirena. below the groin and buttocks her body was that of a fish, covered with tiny pearls and blue scales and ending in a forked tail that that slowly beat the bottom of the boat. She was a siren.

Riversa poggiava la testa sulle mani incrociate, mostrava con tranquilla impudicizia i delicati peluzzi sotto le ascelle, i seni divaricati, il ventre perfetto; da lei saliva quel che ho mal chiamato un profumo, un odore magico di mare, di voluttà giovanissima. She rested the back of her head on the palms of her crossed hands with tranquil immodesty, showing the delicate hairs in her armpits, wide apart breasts and perfect belly; what I had wrongly called a perfume rose from her; it was a magical odour of sea and youthful delight. Eravamo in ombra ma a venti metri da noi la marina si abbandonava al sole e fremeva di piacere. La mia nudità quasi totale nascondeva male la propria emozione. We were in shadow, but twenty yards from us, the marina abandoned itself to the sun and trembled with pleasure. My near-total nudity poorly hid my emotion.

Parlava e così fui sommerso, dopo quello del sorriso e dell’odore, dal terzo, maggiore sortilegio, quello della voce. Essa era un po’ gutturale, velata, risuonante di armonici innumerevoli; She talked and I was overwhelmed, after that smile and the smell, by the third, even more magic spell, that of the voice. It was slightly guttural, veiled, and resonated with innumerable harmonics; come sfondo alle parole in essa si avvertivano le risacche impigrite dei mari estivi, il fruscio delle ultime spume sulle spiagge, il passaggio dei venti sulle onde lunari. Il canto delle Sirene […] non esiste: la musica cui non si sfugge è quella sola della loro voce. as the background to her words I could hear the lazy undertows of the summer sea, the rustle of the last foam on the beaches, the passage of the winds on the lunar waves. The singing of the Sirens […] it does not exist: the only music from which you cannot escape is that of their voices.

Parlava greco e stentavo molto a capirla. “Ti sentivo parlare da solo in una lingua simile alla mia; mi piaci, prendimi. Sono Lighea, sono figlia di Calliope. Non credere alle favole inventate su di noi: non uccidiamo nessuno, amiamo soltanto.”

She spoke greek and I could hardly understand her. “I heard you talking to yourself in a language similar to mine; I like you, take me. I am Lighea, the daughter of Calliope. Do not believe in fairy tales invented about us: we do not kill anyone, we only love.”

Curvo su di essa, remavo, fissavo gli occhi ridenti. Giungemmo a riva: presi fra le braccia il corpo aromatico, passammo dallo sfolgorio all’ombra densa; lei m’instillava già nella bocca quella voluttà che sta ai vostri baci terrestri come il vino all’acqua sciapa.

Bending over her, I rowed, I stared at the laughing eyes. We came to the shore: taking the aromatic body in my arms, we passed by the dense shade; she had already instilled in my mouth that pleasure that is in your earthly kisses like wine to unsalted water.



Goethe, Viaggio in Italia

Goethe, Italian Journey

Palermo, Lunedì 2 Aprile.

Palermo, Monday, 2 April.

Finalmente alle tre del pomeriggio, con pena e fatica, siamo entrati nel porto ove ci attendeva la vista più ralle­grante. Completamente ristabilito com’ero, potetti godere di questo grandissimo piacere. La città, volta al nord, è situata ai piedi di alte montagne. All’ora in cui eravamo il sole dar­deggiava su di essa e dalla parte nostra i suoi raggi, sicché tutti gli edifizi apparivano illuminati dal riflesso.


Finally, at three in the afternoon, with pain and fatigue, we entered the port where the most exhilarating view awaited us. As I was fully recovered, I was able to enjoy this great pleasure. The city, facing the north, is situated at the foot of high mountains. At the time that we arrived the sun shone on it and where we were its rays reflected, seeming to light up the buildings.


Ciò che da vicino produ­ceva il più grazioso effetto era il nuovo verde degli alberi eleganti, le di cui cime illuminate alle spalle, ondeggiavano qua e là, davanti agli scuri edifizii, come grandi masse di lucciole vegetali. That which produced the prettiest effects was the new green of the elegant trees, the tops of which, illuminated from behind, were waving here and there, in front of the dark edifices, like great masses of firey plants. Un vapore luminoso dava un certo che di azzurro a tutte le ombre. Invece di correre impazienti alla spiaggia, siamo rimasti sul ponte finché non ci hanno man­dati via. Dove e come avremmo potuto sperare un simile punto di vista e un sì felice momento? A luminous vapor gave a certain blue to all the shadows. Instead of looking forward to run to the beach, we stayed on deck until we were sent away. Where and how could we have hoped for a similar view point and such a happy moment?

Ci hanno condotti in città per «Porta Felice», la porta meravigliosa, composta di due pilastri enormi, che sopra non deve essere chiusa, affinché, nella celebre festa di Santa Rosalia, possa passarvi il carro della Santa, alto quanto una torre. E, subito dopo, abbiamo trovato un grande albergo a sinistra.


They brought us into the city to «Porta Felice», the wonderful gateway, composed of two huge pillars, which should not be closed above, so that, during the famous celebration of Santa Rosalia, the float of the Saint, which is as tall as a tower. Can pass through it. And soon after, we found a large hotel on the left.


Non saprei descrivere con parole la luminosità vaporosa che fluttuava intorno alle coste quando arrivammo a Palermo in un pomeriggio stupendo. La purezza dei con­torni, la soavità dell’insieme, il degradare dei toni, l’armonia del cielo, del mare, della terra… chi li ha visti una volta non li dimentica per tutta la vita. Ora posso comprendere Claude Lorrain e spero potere, un giorno, nel Nord, ritrovare in fondo alla mia anima e riprodurre le immagini di questo felice soggiorno.


I can not describe in words the vaporous light floating around the coast when we arrived in Palermo on a beautiful afternoon. The purity of the outlines, the smoothness of everything, the degradation of the tones, the harmony of sky, sea, land… those who see these things once do not forget them for a lifetime. Now I can understand Claude Lorrain and hope, one day when I am in the north, to be able, at the bottom of my soul to find and play back pictures of this happy holiday.


Di sera.

In the evening.


Questo foglio, miei cari, doveva, per quanto è possibile, farvi partecipare da lontano al più bel godimento. Esso doveva offrirvi la descrizione di questo vasto, incomparabile golfo. Dall’Est, ove un basso promontorio s’inoltra lontano nel mare, fino alle numerose rocce scabre, ben disegnate, boscose; This paper, my dears, should, as far as possible, allow you to participate, from a distance, in the most beautiful enjoyment. It should offer the description of this vast, incomparable gulf. From the East, where a low promontory extends far into the sea, as far as the numerous, well-designed, wooded rugged rocks; fino alle dimore dei pescatori del sobborgo, e alla città stessa di cui le case all’esterno, come la nostra, guar­dano tutte sul porto; e finalmente sino alla porta dalla quale siamo entrati. as far as the fishermen’s residences in the suburb and the city itself from which the outside of the houses, like ours, all look out onto the harbour and finally to the port by which we entered. Di là, verso Ovest, si va allo sbarco ordinario dei piccoli battelli fino al porto propriamente detto, al Molo, ove stazionano le navi grandi. Qui, ad Ovest, per proteggere tutte le navi, si eleva il Monte Pellegrino con le sue belle linee, lasciando, fra esso e la vera terra ferma, una graziosa :e fertile valle che, dall’altro lato, si estende fino al mare. Beyond, to the west, is the ordinary landing of the small boats to the port itself, the Pier, where large ships are stationed. Here, in the West Mount Pellegrino, with its fine lines, rises to protect all vessels, leaving, between it and the actual land, a gracious: and fertile valley, on the other side, extending out to the sea.




Maupassant, Viaggio in Sicilia

Maupassant, Journey in Sicily


Appena lasciamo la nave non possiamo fare a meno di stupirci del movimento e della gaiezza di questa città di duecentocinquantamila abitanti, piena di negozi e di rumore, meno convulsa di Napoli e tuttavia non meno piena di vita… La pianta di Palermo è assai singolare. As soon as we leave the ship, we can not help but wonder at the movement and gaiety of this city of two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, full of shops and noise, less hectic than Naples and yet no less full of life… The layout of Palermo is very unique. La città, adagiata al centro di un vasto anfiteatro di montagne nude, di un grigio bluastro qua e là venato di rosso, è divisa in quattro parti da due grandi strade diritte che si incrociano nel mezzo. The city is nestled in the center of a vast amphitheater of bare mountains, of a bluish gray here and there tinged with red, it is divided into four parts by two big straight roads that intersect in the middle. Da questo quadrivio, in fondo a tre di quei lunghi corridoi di case, si scorgono le montagne, mentre al termine del quarto si intravede la macchia azzurro intenso del mare, che pare vicinissimo, come se la città vi fosse caduta dentro. From this crossroads, at the bottom of all three of those long rows of houses, you can see the mountains, while at the end of the fourth you can see the deep blue stain of the sea, which seems very close, as if the city had fallen into it.



Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard


Poté volgere la testa a sinistra: a fianco di Monte Pellegrino si vedeva la spaccatura nella cerchia dei monti, e più lontano i due colli ai piedi dei quali era la sua casa; irragiungibile com’era questa gli sembrava lontanissima; ripensò al proprio osservatorio, ai cannocchiali destinati ormai a decenni di polvere; al povero Padre Pirrone che era polvere anche lui; ai quadri dei feudi, alle bertucce del parato, al grande letto di rame nel quale era morta la sua Stelluccia; a tutte queste cose che adesso gli sembravano umili anche se preziose, a questi intrecci di metallo, a queste trame di fili, a queste tele ricoperte di terre e di succhi d’erba che erano tenute in vita da lui, che fra poco sarebbero piombate, incolpevoli, in un limbo fatto di abbandono e di oblio; il cuore gli si strinse, dimenticò la propria agonia pensando all’imminente fine di queste povere cose care. La fila inerte delle case dietro di lui, la diga dei monti, le distese flagellate dal sole, gli impedivano financo di pensare chiaramente a Donnafugata; gli sembrava una casa apparsa in sogno; non più sua, gli sembrava: di suo non aveva adesso che questo corpo sfinito, queste lastre di lavagna sotto i piedi, questo precipizio di acque tenebrose verso l’abisso. Era solo, un naufrago alla deriva su una zattera, in preda a correnti indomabili.


He could turn his head to the left; beside Monte Pellegrino could be seen a cleft in the circle of the hills and, beyond, at whose feet lay his home. Unreachable to him as this was, it seemed very far away; he thought of his own observatory, of the telescopes now destined to years of dust; of poor Father Pirrone, who was dust too; of the paintings of his estates, of the monkeys on the hangings, of the big brass bed-stead in which his dear Stella had died; of all those things which now seemed to him humble however precious, just braided metal, woven threads and canvas corded with sap and earth, which he had kept alive and would shortly be plunged, through no fault of their own, into a limbo of abandon and oblivion. His heart tightened, he forgot his own agony thinking of the imminent end of those poor dear things. The inert row of houses behind him, the wall of hills, the sun-scourged distance, prevented him thinking clearly even of Donnafugata; it seemed like a house in a distant dream, no longer his; all he had of his own now was this exhausted body, those slate tiles under his feet, that surging of dark water towards the abyss. He was alone, a shipwrecked man adrift on a raft, prey of untameable currents.


Faceva il bilancio consuntivo della sua vita, voleva raggranellare fuori dall’immenso mucchio di cenere delle passività le pagliuzze d’oro dei momenti felici: eccoli. Due settimane prima del suo matrimonio, sei settimane dopo; mezz’ora in occasione della nascita di Paolo, quando senti l’orgoglio di aver prolungato di un rametto l’albero di casa Salina. (L’orgoglio era abusivo, lo sapeva adesso, ma la fierezza vi era stata davvero); […] He was making up a general balance sheet of his whole life, trying to sort out of the immense ash-heap of liabilities the golden flecks of happy moments. These were: two weeks before his marriage, six weeks after; half an hour when Paolo was born, when he felt proud by having prolonged by a twig the Salina tree (the pride had been misplaced, he knew that now, but there had been some genuine self-respect in it); […]

molte ore in osservatorio assolte nell’astrazione dei calcoli e nell’inseguimento dell’irraggiungibile; ma queste ore potevano davvero esser collocate nell’attivo della vita? Non erano forse un’elargizione anticipata delle beatitudini mortuarie? Non importava, c’erano state.


many hours in the observatory, absorbed in abstract calculations and the pursuit of the unreasonable. Could those latter hours be really put down to the credit side of life? Were they not some sort of anticipatory gift of the beautitudes after death? It didn’t matter, they had existed.


Vi era altro? Sì, vi era altro: ma erano di già pepite miste a terra: i momenti sodisfatti nei quali aveva dato risposte taglienti agli sciocchi, la contentezza provata quando si era accorto che nella bellezza e nel carattere di Concetta si perpetuava una vera Salina; qualche momento di foga amorosa; la sorpresa nel ricevere la lettera di Arago che spontaneamente si congratulava per l’esattezza dei difficili calcoli relativi alla cometa di Huxley. E perché no? L’esaltazione pubblica quando aveva ricevuto la medaglia in Sorbona, la sensazione delicata di alcune sete di cravatte, l’odore di alcuni cuoi macerati, l’aspetto ridente, l’aspetto voluttuoso di alcune donne incontrate, quella intravista ancora ieri alla stazione di Catania, mescolata alla folla col suo vestito marrone da viaggio e i guanti di camoscio che era sembrata cercare il suo volto disfatto dal di fuori dello scompartimento insudiciato. […] Anything else? Yes there were other things: but these were only grains of gold mixed with earth: moments of satisfaction when he had made some biting reply to a fool, of content when he had realised that in Concetta’s beauty and character was prolonged the true Salina stain; a few seconds of frenzied passion; the surprise of Arago’s letter spontaneously congratulating him on the accuracy of his difficult calculations about Huxley’s comet. And – why not? – the public thrill of being given a medal at the Sorbonne, the excuisite sensation of one or two fine silk cravats, the smell of some macerated leathers, the gay voluptuous air of a few women passed in the street, of one glimpsed even yesterday at the station of Catania, in a brown travelling dress and suede gloves, mingling amid the crowds and seeming to search for his exhausted face through the dirty compartment window. […]

Nell’ombra che saliva si provò a contare per quanto tempo avesse in realtà vissuto: il suo cervello non dipanava più il semplice calcolo: tre mesi, venti giorni, un totale di sei mesi, sei per otto ottantaquattro… quarantottomila… √840.000… Si riprese. “Ho settantatré anni, all’ingrosso ne avrò vissuto, veramente vissuto, un totale di due… tre al massimo.” E i dolori, la noia, quanto erano stati? Inutile sforzarsi a contare: tutto il resto: settantenni. Senti che la mano non stringeva più quella dei nipoti. Tancredi si alzò in fretta ed uscì… Non era più un fiume che erompeva da lui, ma un oceano, tempestoso, irto di spume e di cavalloni sfrenati…

Doveva aver avuto un’altra sincope perché si accorse a un tratto di esser disteso sul letto: qualcuno gli teneva il polso: dalla finestra il riflesso spietato del mare lo accecava; nella camera si udiva un sibilo: era il suo rantolo ma non lo sapeva; attorno vi era una piccola folla, un gruppo di persone estranee che lo guardavano fisso con un’espressione impaurita: via via li riconobbe: Tancredi, Concetta, Angelica, Francesco-Paolo, Carolina, Fabrizietto; chi gli teneva il polso era il dottor Cataliotti; credette di sorridere a questo per dargli il benvenuto ma nessuno poté accorgersene: tutti, tranne Concetta, piangevano; anche Tancredi che diceva: “Zio, zione caro!”

Fra il gruppetto ad un tratto si fece largo una giovane signora: snella, con un vestito marrone da viaggio ad ampia tournure, con un cappelline di paglia ornato da un velo a pallottoline che non riusciva a nascondere la maliosa avvenenza del volto. Insinuava una manina inguantata di camoscio fra un gomito e l’altro dei piangenti, si scusava, si avvicinava. Era lei, la creatura bramata da sempre che veniva a prenderlo: strano che così giovane com’era si fosse arresa a lui; l’ora della partenza del treno doveva esser vicina. Giunta faccia a faccia con lui sollevò il velo e così, pudica ma pronta ad esser posseduta, gli apparve più bella di come mai l’avesse intravista negli spazi stellari. Il fragore del mare si placò del tutto.

In the growing dark he tried to count how much time he had really lived. His brain could not cope with the simple calculation any more; three months, three weeks, a total of six months, six by eight, eighty-four… forty-eight thousand… √840,000. He summed up. “I’m seventy-three years old, and all in all I may have lived, a total of two… three at the most.” And the pains, the boredom, how long had they been? Useless to try and make himself count those; the whole of the rest; seventy years.

He felt his hand no longer being squeezed. Tancredi got up hurriedly and went out… Now it was not a river errupting over him but an ocean, tempestuous, all foam and raging white flecked waves…

He must have had another stroke for suddenly he realised that he was lying stretched on the bed. Someone was feeling his pulse; from the window came the blinding implaccable reflection of the sea; in the room could be heard a faint hiss; it was his own death-rattle but he did not know it. Around him was a little crowd, a group of strangers staring at him with frightened expressions. Gradually he recognised them: Concetta, Francesco Paolo, Carolina, Tancredi, Fabrizietto. The person holding his pulse was doctor Cataliotti; he tried to smile a greeting at the latter but no one seemed to notice; all were weeping except Concetta; even Tancredi, who was saying: “Uncle, dearest Nuncle!”

Suddenly amidst the group appeared a young woman; slim, in brown travelling dress and wide bustle, with a straw hat trimmed with a speckled veil which could not hide the sly charm of her face. She slid a little suede gloved hand between one elbow and another of the weeping kneelers, apologised, drew closer. It was she, forever yearned for; coming to fetch him; strange that one so young should yeild to him; the time for the train’s departure must be very close. When she was face to face with him she raised her veil, and there, chaste but ready for possession, she looked lovelier than she ever had when glimpsed in stella space.

The crashing of the sea subsided altoghether.


Ibn Zaffir

Ibn Zaffir

Posa un fianco sul mare come su un divano di seta.
Il sole le splende sul capo, aureola d’oro, frutti belli e saporiti.
D’inverno gli alberi hanno il fuoco nelle foglie e l’acqua nelle radici.
Palermo, la favorita di Dio!
E Dio qui si fermò nel giorno della creazione! Dio clemente,
abbi pietà, nei giorni dello sdegno e della giustizia,
di Palermo che alzò cinquecento moschee a lodare la tua magnificenza!

Laying on his side on the sea as if on a couch of silk.

The sun shines on his head, a halo of gold, beautiful and flavorful fruit.

In winter the trees have fire in their leaves and water in their roots.

Palermo, God’s favorite!

It was here that God stopped during the day of creation! Merciful God,

have mercy, in the days of wrath and justice,

for Palermo who raised five hundred mosques to praise your magnificence!


Umberto Santino, Il cavallo e la fontana

Umberto Santino, The horse and the fountain

Morte, puoi andare fiera. Con pochi colpi hai messo su un bel carniere. Monaci, pontefici, imperatori, intellettuali, cavalieri, paggi, dame del bel mondo. Tonache, mitrie, triregni, cappelloni cardinalizi, corone, tonsure, barbe, acconciature che c’è voluto tanto per architettare ed equilibrare, a cui tu dai, da perfetta maestra, il tocco finale. E che splendide vesti sforna il tuo atelier! E che stoffe! Broccati, sete, velluti, damaschi, organze, il meglio dell’industria tessile mondiale. Death, you can be proud. With a few strokes you fill a nice hunting bag. Monks, popes, emperors, intellectuals, knights, pages, ladies of high society. Robes, mitres, tiaras, cardinal hats, crowns, tonsures, beards, hairstyles that took time to concoct and balance, to which, as the perfect teacher, you give the final touch. And what splendid garments your workshop produces! And what fabric! Brocades, silks, velvets, damask, organza, the best of the world’s textile industry. Adesso le mani che benedivano, che scioglievano e legavano, che sottoscrivevano ordini e proclami a cui il mondo intero deve obbedienza, le mani morbide e delicate delle regine dell’amore, cariche di anelli e intrecciate nel lessico delle danze e delle carezze, sono foglie accartocciate, farfalle precipitate nel loro volo, e tu raggeli ambizioni e furori, sigilli bolle e decretali, dissolvi l’inchiostro delle pergamene e poni il tuo definitivo FINE agli sproloqui che riempiono le corti, le anticamere, i salotti, i corridoi, le biblioteche e gli archivi. Senza neppure annunciare:
– Presto, signori, si chiude. Now the hands which blessed, which melted and bound, which underwrote orders and proclamations to which the whole world owes obedience, the soft and delicate hands of the queen of love, full of rings and woven into the lexicon of dancing and caresses, are crumpled leaves, butterflies precipitated in their flight, and you froze ambitions and furies, sealing notes and decrees, dissolving the ink of the parchment and putting a definitive end to rants that fill the courts, the corridors, lounges, hallways, libraries and archives. Without even announcing:

– Time, ladies and gentlemen, we are closing.


Dacia Maraini, La lunga vita di Marianna Ucria (1)

Dacia Maraini, The Long life of the Silent Duchess (1)

«Oggi autodafé in piazza Marina. Richiesta mia partecipazione. È d’uopo che ci sia anche la duchessa signora sposa. Consiglio vestito porpora croce di Malta sul petto. E per una volta niente selvatichezze campagnole.»

«Today the auto da fe in Piazza Marina requests my participation. It is necessary that there is also the Duchess bride. Dressed with a purple cross of Malta on the chest. And for once, nothing rustic or wild.»

Marianna legge il biglietto perentorio del signor marito zio posato sotto il barattolo della cipria. L’autodafé significa rogo, piazza Marina e la folla delle grandi occasioni: le autorità, le guardie, i venditori di acqua e “zammù”, di polpi bolliti, di caramelle e di fichi d’India; Marianna read the peremptory note of the husband uncle laid under the jar of powder. Auto da fe means the stake, Piazza Marina and the bustle of the big events: the authorities, the guards, sellers of water, “Zammù”, boiled octopus, candy and prickly pears; l’odore di sudore, di fiati marci, di piedi inzaccherati, nonché l’eccitazione che monta, si fa carnosa, visibile, e tutti aspettano mangiando e chiacchierando quel colpo di rasoio al ventre che porta pena e delizia. Non ci andrà.

the smell of sweat, rotten breath, muddy feet, as well as the increasing excitement, is fleshy, visible and all are eating and chatting while they wait for that razor slash to the belly that brings pain and delight. She will not go.

In quel momento vede entrare il signor marito zio in una camicia profumata coperta di pizzi. Ai piedi un paio di scarpe nuove di pelle lucida che sembra laccata.


Just then she sees the uncle husband enter in a shirt covered with perfumed lace, at his feet, a pair of new patent leather shoes that seemed varnished.


«Portano al rogo due eretici conosciuti, suor Palmira Malaga e frate Reginaldo Venezia. Ci sarà l’intera Palermo e oltre. Non posso esimermi. E neanche voi signora.»

«They bring two known heretics to the stake, Sister Palmira Malaga and Brother Reginaldo Venezia. The whole of Palermo and beyond will be here. I can not resist. And neither can you, ma’am.»

La signora fa per scrivere una risposta ma il duca Pietro ha già imboccato la porta. Come farà a sottrarsi a questo ordine? quando il signor marito zio prende quell’aria indaffarata e frettolosa è impossibile contraddirlo; si impunta come un mulo. Bisognerà inventarsi una malattia che gli dia la scusa per presentarsi da solo.

The lady was just about to write an answer, but Duke Pietro had already got to the door. How would he escape this order? When the uncle husband put on that busy and rushed air it was impossible to contradict him; he would put his foot down like a mule. It would have been necessary to invent a disease that gave him the excuse to present himself alone.

Suor Palmira Malaga, un guizzo della memoria, ha letto di lei da qualche parte, forse nel libro di storia delle eresie? O in una pubblicazione sul Quietismo? o in uno di quegli elenchi che mette in giro la Santa Inquisizione con i nomi dei sospetti di eresia?

Sister Palmira Malaga appeared in a flash of memory; had she read about her somewhere, perhaps in the history book of heresies? Or in a publication on Quietism? or one of those lists that makes fun of the Inquisition with the names of people suspected of heresy?

Suor Palmira, ora ricorda, su di lei ha letto un libretto stampato a Roma, capitato non si sa come nella biblioteca di casa. C’era pure una sua caricatura con due cornetti sulla testa e una lunga coda d’asino, ora ricorda, che le usciva da sotto il saio e finiva in una punta biforcuta, non molto dissimile da quelle dei cani temuti dalla signora madre.

Now she remembered, she had read about Sister Palmira in a book printed in Rome, that had ended up somehow in the library at home. Now she remembered, there was also a caricature of her with two horns on her head and a long donkey tail that came out from under the robe and ended in a forked tip, not unlike those of the dogs feared by the head nun.

La vede salire ad uno ad uno i gradini di legno del patibolo. I piedi scalzi, le mani legate dietro la schiena, la faccia contratta in una smorfia bizzarra quasi che quell’orrore fosse l’ultimo suggello di una sua decisione di pace. Dietro di lei fra Reginaldo che immagina barbuto, il collo esile e il petto cavo, i grandi piedi sporchi e callosi stretti nei sandali alla francescana.

She saw her ascend the wooden steps of the scaffold, one by one, with barefeet and hands tied behind her back, her face in a bizarre grimace as if that horror was the last seal of a decision of peace. Behind her, was a bearded Friar Reginaldo, with a slender neck, concaved chest and big dirty feet calloused and tightly packed into Franciscan sandals.

Il boia ora li lega ai pali sopra una pila di ciocchi tagliati con l’accetta. Due assistenti con le torce accese si avvicinano ai legni ammucchiati. La fiamma non si attacca subito ai rametti di sambuco e alle canne spezzate che qualcuno ha raccolto e legato col salice per facilitare l’accensione. Del vapore bianco sbuffa sulle facce dei primi spettatori.

The Executioner now bound them to the stakes above a pile of logs cut with an ax. Two attendants with torches approached the wood pile. The flames did not immediately catch on the elderberry twigs and broken reeds that someone had collected and bound together with willow to facilitate the lighting. White puffs of steam blew on the faces of the first spectators.

Suor Palmira sente salire l’odore aspro delle fascine e la paura le contrae i muscoli del ventre, un rivolo di orina le scorre lungo le cosce. Eppure il martirio è appena cominciato. Come farà a resistere fino alla fine?

Sister Palmira felt the sharp smell of firewood and the fear contracted the muscles of her abdomen, a trickle of urine ran down her thighs. Yet her martyrdom had just begun. How was she to resist to the end?

Il segreto le viene soffiato nell’orecchio da una voce dolcissima. Il segreto è il consenso, Palmira mia, non irrigidirsi e resistere, ma raccogliere nel proprio grembo quei brandelli di fuoco come fossero fiori volanti e ingoiare il fumo come se fosse un incenso e rivolgere verso chi guarda un occhio di pietà. Sono loro che soffrono, non tu.

The secret was whispered into her ear by a sweet voice. The secret is the consensus, my Palmira, do not tense up and resist, but gather in your lap those shreds of fire as if they were flying flowers and swallow the smoke as if it were incense and look with pity on to those who watch. They are the ones who suffer, not you.

Quando delle mani sbrigative si alzano sulla sua testa e le impiastricciano i capelli di pece, suor Palmira rivolge uno sguardo d’amore verso i torturatori. Essi ora avvicinano, con serietà esaltata, una torcia accesa verso quei capelli imbrattati e la testa della donna si accende e fiammeggia come una corona splendente. E il pubblico applaude.

When the hasty hands were raised over her head and her hair smeared with pitch, Sister Palmira directed a loving gaze toward the torturers. They now approached, with exalted seriousness, extending a lighted torch to that smeared hair and the woman’s head lit up, flaming like a shining crown. And the audience applauded.


Leonardo Sciascia, Morte dell’Inquisitore

Leonardo Sciascia, Death of the Inquisitor

Come Dio volle, si arrivò alla sera del 16. Da occidente soffiava un vento gagliardo, e nubi grevi di pioggia ribollivano: ma per speciale disposizione divina, secondo il Matranga, appena fu l’ora della processione, si rasserenò il cielo. Dal palazzo del Sant’Uffizio al piano del duomo mareggiava una gran folla, soldati tedeschi armati facevano cordone per il passaggio della processione. As God would have it, it came to the evening of the 16th. A strong wind blew from the west, heavy rain and clouds were boiling, but by special divine provision, according to the Matranga, as soon as it was the time of the procession, the sky cleared. From the palace of the Inquisition to the floor of the cathedral a great crowd swelled and armed German soldiers cordoned off the passage of the procession. Una gran teoria di carrozze, piene di gentildonne, aumentava la confusione. Portava lo stendardo del Sant’Uffizio don Giovanni Ventimiglia marchese di Geraci […] Appresso, i nobili della compagnia dell’Assunta, vestiti di sacco bianco con cappuccio, mantello di panno azzurro, torcia accesa in mano: un centinaio. A large group of carriages filled with ladies, increased the confusion. Don Giovanni Ventimiglia the Marquis of Geraci bore the standard of the the Holy Office […] After this came the nobles of the company of the Assumption, dressed in white sacking with hoods, cloaks of blue cloth and lit torches in their hands: a hundred. Poi i musici, poi le due congregazioni degli orfani; e i cappuccini, i riformati della Mercé, i riformati di Sant’Agostino (cui un po’ pesava la vergogna di quel loro confrate), i terziari, i minimi, quelli della Redenzione dei Cattivi, i carmelitani, gli agostiniani, gli zoccolanti, i domenicani. Then the musicians, then the two congregations of the orphans, and the Capuchins, the reformers of Mercy, the reformers of St. Augustine (who were a little weighed down with the shame of their confraternity), the tertiary, the smallest, those of the Redemption of Evil, the Carmelites, the Augustinians, the Zoccolanti and the Dominicans. […] Uno stuolo che non finiva più: e la testa della processione era già al piano del duomo quando dalla porta del Sant’Uffizio ne usciva finalmente la coda.

[…] […] A swarm with no end: and the head of the procession was already at the Cathedral when the queue finally came out of the door of the Holy Office.


Quando i padri capirono che non c’era niente da fare, e decisero di abbandonare fra Diego al suo destino infernale, era già il mattino di domenica, il 17 di marzo del 1658. Pioveva. Si discusse se non era il caso di rimandare la festa: When the fathers understood that there was nothing to do and decided to abandon Diego to his fate in hell, it was the morning of Sunday, March 17, 1658. It was raining. They dicscussed whether or not they should postpone the celebration: ché era un peccato, dopo tanti preparativi e tanta spesa, rischiare che la pioggia ne sciupasse gli effetti più belli e solenni; senza dire del problema, quasi un problema domestico, da scampagnata in campagna, di attaccar fuoco a quel bel mucchio di legna, nel piano di Sant’Erasmo. La decisione di prender tempo parve la più opportuna: e intanto si celebravano messe, una appresso all’altra.

It would have been a shame, after all these preparations and spending so much, to risk that the rain would mar the most beautiful and solemn effects; without mentioning the problem, almost a domestic problem, from picnics in the countryside, to setting fire to the pile of wood on the plane of St. Erasmus. The decision to take time seemed the most opportune: and meanwhile they held masses, one after the other.

Prima di mezzogiorno il cielo schiarì. La processione subito si ordinò; e ora vi avevano risalto le sbirresche autorità, inquisitoriali e laiche.


Before noon the sky cleared. The procession was immediately ordered; and now they had emphasized the police-like inquisitorial and secular authority.


Il popolo dunque gridava a fra Diego biasimo e lo esortava al pentimento: e fra Diego rispondeva. S’avanzò in audacia, e le maldicenze moltiplicò: e dovevano essere maldicenze da produrre un certo effetto, se fu necessario più volte rimettergli il freno, e il boccaglio. So the people shouted at Friar Diego blaming and exhorting him to repentance: and Friar Diego answered. He came forward boldly and the slander multiplied: and it had to be slander to produce a certain effect, as it was necessary to replace the gag and mouthpiece several times. Tremenda e grottesca scena, questa degli aguzzini che stan lì, pronti a tappare la bocca alla vittima: con freno (probabilmente una specie di morso da cavallo) e bavaglio, ché le precauzioni non sono mai troppe. La processione giunse all’anfiteatro di piazza del Duomo.

[…] It was a terrible and grotesque scene, the jailers standing there, ready to stuff the mouths of the victim: with a gag (probably a type of horse bit), because one can never have too many precautions. The procession reached the amphitheater of the Piazza del Duomo.


Si cominciò la lettura dei processi. I rei, uno ad uno, venivano avanti e ascoltavano, quasi tutti senza capire, le loro colpe e la sentenza di condanna. Intanto alle dame, in palco, veniva servita una convenevole colazione: non sappiamo se convenevole alla liberalità, e grandezza d’animo dell’inquisitore che l’offriva o alla qualità delle dame o all’ora, al luogo, alla cerimonia. E per i gentiluomini le buvettes funzionavano a frenetico ritmo.


He began reading the list of the processed. Offenders, one by one, came forward and listened, almost all without understanding their guilt and the sentence. Meanwhile, the ladies on stage, were served a befitting breakfast: we do not know if it was befitting to the generosity and greatness of soul of the inquisitor who offered it or the quality of the ladies, or the time, place, or ceremony. And for the gentlemen the buvettes worked at a frenzied pace.


È una delle più atroci e allucinanti scene che l’intolleranza umana abbia mai rappresentato. E come questi […]uomini pieni di dottrina teologica e morale, che si arrovellano intorno al condannato (ma ogni tanto vanno a ristorarsi […]), restano nella storia del disonore umano, Diego La Matina afferma la dignità e l’onore dell’uomo, la forza del pensiero, la tenacia della volontà, la vittoria della libertà.


It is one of the most atrocious and haunting scenes that human intolerance has never seen. And as these […] men full of theological and moral doctrine, tormenting the condemned (but sometimes going off to eat […]), remain in the history of human shame, Diego La Matina affirms the dignity and honor of man, the power of thought, tenacity of will and the victory of freedom.


Fra Diego, così com’era su la sedia legato, fu dai bastasi, cioè dai facchini, portato avanti. Il rumore della folla improvvisamente cessò. Egli fu incredibile l’attenzione di ciascheduno, con che la lettura delle di lui sacrileghe scelleratezze, e dell’eretiche proposizioni ascoltasse, quali tutte l’aspetto ribaldo, ed ostinato, e la sfacciata fronte, a chiari caratteri confermava. Friar Diego was brought forward, by the porters, tied to the chair as he was, The noise of the crowd suddenly ceased. He was the centre of atttention for every one, as they listened to the reading of his sacrilegious wickedness and propositions of a heretic, all with a villainous and obstinate aspect confirmed clearly with a brazen front. Un’immagine che ci dà commozione ed orgoglio: e come uomini liberi e come tardi concittadini di fra Diego. In quel momento, non c’è dubbio, il condannato era stato imboccagliato a dovere: se no al lettore e al tribunale e agli spettatori avrebbe gridato il suo disprezzo.

[…] It is an image that gives us emotion and pride: and as as free men and late citizens of Friar Diego. There is no doubt that, at that moment, the condemned was gagged well: if not he would have shouted his contempt to the reader, the court and to the spectators.


Davanti al palco del capitano di giustizia, l’ultima sentenza di morte si gli pronunziò: che vivo abrugiato, fossero al vento le di lui ceneri disperse.

In front of the stage of the Captain of Justice, the last death sentence was pronounced: to be burnt alive, with the ashes scattered to the wind.


Dacia Maraini, La lunga vita di Marianna Ucria (2)

Dacia Maraini, The long life of the Silent Duchess (2)

Le finestre della Vicaria sono tutte uguali, irte di grate arricciolate che finiscono con delle punte minacciose. Il portone tempestato di bulloni arrugginiti, una maniglia in forma di testa di lupo dalla bocca aperta. E proprio la prigione con tutte le sue bruttezze che quando la gente ci passa davanti gira la testa dall’altra parte per non vederla.


The windows of the Vicaria are all the same, beset with curled grates that end with threatening spikes. The door is studded with rusty bolts and a handle in the form of a wolf’s head with an open mouth. The prison is so ugly that when the people pass by they turn their heads away to avoid seeing it.

La piazza Marina che prima era vuota ora è gremita: un mare di teste ondeggianti, colli che si allungano, bocche che si aprono, stendardi che si levano, cavalli che scalpitano, un finimondo di corpi che si accalcano, si spingono, invadendo la piazza rettangolare.

Piazza Marina was empty before but is now filled: a sea of swaying heads, necks that stretch, mouths open, standards that rise, prancing horses, a pandemonium of bodies jostle and push, invading the rectangular square.

Le finestre straboccano di teste, i balconi sono un pigia pigia di corpi che si sbracciano, si sporgono per vedere meglio. I Ministri di Giustizia con le verghe gialle, la Guardia Regia con lo stendardo viola e oro, i Granatieri muniti di baionetta, sono lì fermi che trattengono a stento l’impazienza della calca.

The windows overflow with heads, the balconies are crammed with bodies reaching forward to see better. The Ministers of Justice with the yellow rods, the Royal Guard with the purple and gold standard, the Grenadier equipped with bayonet, standing firm, barely restraining the impatience of the crowd.

Cosa sta per succedere? la bambina lo indovina ma non osa rispondersi. Tutte quelle teste vocianti sembrano bussare al suo silenzio chiedendo di entrare.

What is about to happen? the child guesses but does not dare to answer. All those shouting heads seem to knock at his silence asking to enter.

Marianna distoglie lo sguardo dalla ressa, lo dirige verso il ragazzo sdentato. Lo vede fermo, impettito: non trema più, non casca su se stesso. Ha un luccichio di orgoglio negli occhi: tutto quel putiferio per lui! quella gente vestita a festa, quei cavalli, quelle carrozze, aspettano proprio lui. Quegli stendardi, quelle divise dai bottoni scintillanti, quei cappelli piumati, quegli ori, quelle porpore, tutto per lui solo, è un miracolo!

Marianna looks away from the crowd and towards the toothless boy. She sees him standing still, erect, no longer trembling, not falling into a crumpled heap. He has a glint of pride in his eyes: all that fuss for him! those people dressed up, those horses, the carriages, waiting for him. Those standards, those uniforms with glittering buttons, those feathered hats, gold and purple, all for him alone, it’s a miracle!

Due guardiani lo distolgono brutalmente dall’estatica contemplazione del proprio trionfo. Attaccano alla cordicella con cui gli hanno legato le mani, un’altra corda più lunga e robusta che assicurano alla coda di una mula. E così legato lo trascinano verso il centro della piazza.

Two guards deter him brutally from his ecstatic contemplation of his triumph. They attach the rope, with which they tied his hands, to another longer and stronger rope which they tie to the tail of a mule. And tied like this they drag him to the center of the square.

In fondo sullo Steri fa mostra di sé una splendida bandiera rosso sangue. E da lì, dal palazzo Chiaramonte che escono adesso i Grandi Padri dell’Inquisizione, a due a due, preceduti e seguiti da un nugolo di chierichetti.

At the bottom, on the Steri he displays himself as a spendid blood-red banner. And from there, from the Palazzo Chiaramonte the Great Fathers of the Inquisition come out, two by two, preceded and followed by a group of altar boys.

Al centro della piazza un palco alto due o tre bracci, proprio come quelli su cui si rappresentano le storie di Nofriu e Travaglino, di Nardo e di Tiberio. Solo che al posto della tela nera c’è un tetro aggeggio di legno; una specie di L capovolta a cui e appesa una corda con un cappio.


In the center of the piazza there is a stage, two or three meters high, just like the ones on which they tell the stories of Nofriu Travaglino, Nardo and Tiberius. Only instead of black canvas there is a dark wooden contraption, a kind of inverted L from which a rope with a noose hangs.


Il boia continua a mangiare semi di zucca che poi sputa in alto con aria di sfida. Tutto proprio come nel teatrino del Casotto: ora Nardo tirerà su la testa e il boia gli darà un fracco di legnate. Nardo agiterà le braccia, cadrà sotto il palco e poi tornerà su vivo più di prima per prendere altre legnate, altri insulti.

The Executioner continues to eat pumpkin seeds, which he then spits up defiantly. Everything is just like in the theater of Casotto: now Nardo will hold up his head and the Executioner will give him a beating. Nardo will shake his arms, fall under the stage and then will return to live longer than before to take further beatings and insults.

E proprio come a teatro la folla ride, chiacchiera, mangia aspettando le bastonate. I venditori di acqua e “zammù” vengono fin sotto il palco a porgere i loro “gotti” prendendosi a spintoni coi venditori di “vasteddi e meusa”, di polipi bolliti e di fichi d’India. Ciascuno vanta la sua merce a colpi di gomito. […]

And just like in the theater the crowd are laughing, chatting, eating, waiting for the beatings. The vendors of water and “Zammù” come right up to the stage to pay, jostling with the vendors of “vasteddi and spleen”, boiled octopus and prickly pears. They all push and shove as the goods are offered. […]

Gli ultimi gradini sono stati raggiunti. Ora il duca Ucrìa accenna un inchino alle autorità sedute in faccia al palco: ai senatori, ai principi, ai magistrati. E poi si inginocchia pensoso col rosario fra le dita. La folla per un momento si acquieta. Perfino i venditori ambulanti smettono di agitarsi e se ne stanno lì con i loro banchetti mobili, le loro cinghie, le loro merci esposte, a bocca aperta e il naso per aria. […]

The last steps have been reached. Now the Duke Ucrìa bows to the authorities, sitting in front of the stage: the senators, princes and magistrates. And then he kneels pensively with the rosary between his fingers. The crowd goes quiet for a moment. Even the hawkers stop moving and they stand there with their mobile stalls, their straps and their goods on display, open mouthed and noses in the air. […]

Lo sguardo della bambina si sposta sul condannato e lo vede piegarsi penosamente sulle ginocchia. Le parole seducenti del duca Ucrìa vengono spazzate via dal contatto freddo e viscido della corda che il boia gli sta girando intorno al collo. Ma pure riesce in qualche modo a rimanere in piedi mentre il naso prende a colargli. The girl moves her gaze on to the condemned and she watches him painfully bending his knees. The seductive words of the Duke Ucrìa are swept away by the cold and clammy touch of the rope that the executioner places around his neck. But he still somehow manages to remain standing while his nose starts to trickle. E lui tenta di liberare una mano per pulirsi il moccio che gli gocciola sulle labbra, sul mento. Ma la mano resta legata dietro la schiena. Due, tre volte la spalla si alza, il braccio si torce, sembra che pulirsi il naso in quel momento sia la sola cosa che conti. And he tries to free a hand to wipe the mucus that drips on his lips and chin. But his hand is tied behind his back. Two or three times the shoulder is raised, the arm is twisted, it seems that wiping his nose at that moment is the only thing that matters.

L’aria vibra per i colpi di un grosso tamburo. Il boia ad un cenno del Magistrato dà un calcio alla cassetta su cui aveva costretto il ragazzo a salire. Il corpo ha un sussulto, si stira, ricade su se stesso, prende a girare.

The air vibrates to the pounding of a big drum. At a nod from the Judge, the Executioner kicks the box on which he had forced the boy to climb. The body jolts, stretches, falls in on itself, begins to turn.

Ma qualcosa non ha funzionato. L’impiccato anziché penzolare come un sacco continua a torcersi sospeso per aria, il collo gonfio, gli occhi strabuzzati fuori dalle orbite.

But something goes wrong. Instead of swinging like a sack the hanged boycontinuesto hang in the air twisting, his neck swollen and his eyes bulging from their sockets.

Il boia vedendo che la sua opera non è riuscita si issa con la forza delle braccia sulla forca, salta addosso all’impiccato e per qualche secondo ciondolano tutti e due appesi alla corda come due ranocchi in amore mentre la folla trattiene il fiato.

The executioner, seeing that his work has not gone according to plan, pulls himself up with the strengh of his arms onto the gallows, jumps on the hanged boy and for some seconds they both hang there on the rope like two frogs in love, as the crowd holds its breath.

Ma ora è davvero morto; lo si capisce dalla consistenza di pupazzo che ha preso il corpo appeso. Il boia scivola disinvolto lungo il palo, casca sul palco con un salto agile. La gente prende a lanciare i berretti per aria. But now he is really dead; you can tell by the puppet like skin texture that the hanging body has taken. The Executioner casually slides down the stake and with an agile leap lands on the stage. The people throw their caps in the air. Un giovanissimo brigante che ha ammazzato una decina di persone è stato giustiziato. Questo lo saprà dopo, la bambina. Ora è lì a chiedersi cosa può avere fatto un bambino poco più grande di lei e dalla faccia così spaurita e stupida. A very young brigand who killed a dozen people has been executed. The little girl will know this later. Now she is wondering what a child only a little bigger than herself with a scared and stupid face could have done.



Luigi Natoli, La vecchia dell’aceto

Luigi Natoli, The old vinegar lady

Il boia e i suoi dipendenti già lavoravano. Avevano già costruito il palco, su cui ora rizzavano la forca, che doveva essere altissima, perché dai quattro bracci delle strade si potesse veder meglio e spiccatamente l’esecuzione. The Executioner and his staff were already working. They had already built the stage on which they now raised the gallows, which had to be very high, so that from the four corners of the crossroads the execution could be seen more distinctly. Il palco era di forma cubica avente lo spigolo di quattordici palmi: la sua piattaforma era cinta da una rin­ghiera di legno: nel mezzo si alzavano le due travi parallele, alte, solide, congiunte al sommo da una trave trasversale, di mezzo alla quale pendeva il nodo scorsoio. Giù, intorno al palco costruirono poi lo steccato per isolare la forca. The stage was a cubic shape with an edge of fourteen spans: its platform was surrounded by a railing of wood: in the middle stood the two parallel beams, tall, robust, joined at the top by a crossbeam, with a noose hanging from the center. Around the stage below, they built a fence to isolate the gallows.

Rosalia assisteva a quella costruzione senza sapersi spiegare quale forza misteriosa ve l’attirasse, nonostante i brividi che le scor­revano per le vene e che le intorpidivano le gambe. Quegli strumen­ti di morte e le facezie grossolane del boia e dei suoi aiutanti, che s’alternavano coi colpi di martello, le riempivano l’anima di un lugu­bre sgomento e tuttavia qualche cosa, che non era semplice curiosi­tà, pareva la inchiodasse in quel luogo e costringesse i suoi occhi a guardare ogni più lieve gesto.


Rosalia watched this construction without being able to explain the mysterious force that drew her in, in spite of the chills that ran through her veins, numbing her legs. Those instruments of death and the coarse jests of the Executioner and his assistants, which alternated with strokes of a hammer, filled the soul with a dismal awe and yet something that was not mere curiosity, seemed to nail it in that place and forced her eyes to look at every little gesture.


Verso le ventidue ore le quattro vie erano giù affollate di gente che si contendeva i posti per veder meglio. Rosalia, insinuandosi, aveva potuto giungere presso una delle quattro fontane, salire sopra i gradini, sedere sull’orlo della vasca, dove altri avevano preso posto come in un palchetto: da lì si dominava la folla. Close to twenty-two hours, the four streets were crowded with people who contended for places to see better. Creeping, Rosalia was able to get to one of the four fountains, climb the stairs and sit on the edge of the basin, where others had taken their places as if in a theater box: from there she dominated the crowd. I lunghi balconi del­l’Ottagono, quelli della via Maqueda e di Toledo più vicini alla piaz­za erano gremiti di gente; la folla si addensava dai quattro lati, fitta, mareggiarne e cresceva sempre trattenuta a una certa distanza dal palco da un doppio cordone di granatieri, che si prolungava in due file giù per il Toledo, dalla piazza Vigliena a quella di Marina per lasciar libero il passaggio al triste corteo della condannata. The long balconies of the Octagon, those of Via Maqueda and Toledo closer to the square were crowded with people; the crowd was gathering from all four sides, dense, swelling and growing, always kept at a certain distance from the stage by a double cordon of grenadiers, which extended in two rows down in the Toledo, from piazza Vigliena to piazza Marina to allow free passage to the sad procession of the condemned. Il caldo era grande e il sole inondava la via Toledo e illuminava la forca, alla quale era appoggiata una lunga scala a pioli. Degli acquaioli ambulanti, con la cantimplora sul dorso e i bicchieri in mano e dei venditori di semi di zucca giravano tra la folla. The heat was great and the sun flooded Via Toledo and lit up the gallows, which was supported by a long ladder. The street water vendors, with urns on their backs and glasses in their hands and pumpkin seed sellers went around through the crowd.

Ad un tratto la campana della Chiesa degli Agonizzanti scoccò i primi funebri rintocchi; un uomo vestito di sacco nero, scotendo un bussolo, gridò con voce lamentevole:

Suddenly the bell of the Church of the agonized struck the first funeral chimes; a man dressed in black sacking, shaking a compass, cried out in a plaintive voice:

– Per l’anima di questa poveretta!

– For the soul of this poor girl!

Quei rintocchi davano il segno che la condannata usciva dalla Vicaria. Un mormorio si levò tra la folla e un fremito l’agitò: quelli che potevano, allungavano lo sguardo verso la piazza Marina. Rosalia non poteva vedere nulla e aspettava che il corteo giungesse. The bell gave a sign that the condemned were coming out of the Vicaria. A murmur rose among the crowd and a tremor shook it: those who could, stretched their gaze towards Piazza Marina. Rosalia could not see anything and waited for the procession to arrive. I rintocchi continuavano a intervalli misurati e le lugubri voci dei confrati degli agonizzanti si alternavano con essa; ma la folla sghignazzava, sgranocchiava semini di zucca, beveva acqua fresca, litigava. The chimes continued at measured intervals and the mournful voices of the confraternity of the agonised alternated with it; but the crowd giggled, munched pumpkin seeds, drank fresh water and argued.

Finalmente il corteo giunse: precedevano sbirri e algozini; poi la croce dei confrati degli Agonizzanti, indi, sorretta da due Bianchi, uno dei quali col Crocifisso in mano dava parole di conforto, veniva Giovanna Bonanno. Era spaventosa, e Rosalia se ne sentì rabbrividire. Le avevano tagliato i capelli e denudato il collo grinzoso. At last the procession arrived: cops and bailiffs preceded; then the cross of the confraternity of the agonised, supported by two men in white, one of whom, with a Crucifix in his hand, giving words of comfort, was Joan Bonanno. It was scary and Rosalia felt a shudder. They had cut her hair and bared her wrinkled neck. Era livida e smarrita; gli occhi non le si vedevano perché era bendata, ma la bocca le si torceva spasmodicamente, spostando con moti convulsi il mento e il corpo agitato da frequenti scosse nervose, le gambe fiaccate. She was bruised and bewildered; her eyes did not see, because she was blindfolded, but her mouth twisted spasmodically, moving the chin and body with convulsive movements, shaken by frequent nervous shocks, her legs broken. Ella sentiva il terrore della prossima morte; la sua era un’agonia consapevole. Dietro a lei sopra una mula, veniva Maria Pitarra, con un capestro al collo, le braccia legate, pallida e terrificala. She felt the terror of imminent death; and her agony was aware. Behind her on a mule, was Pitarra Maria, with a halter around her neck, her arms bound, pale and terrified. Dalla folla si levavano imprecazioni, ingiurie e dileggi, senza pietà. Era una sorda ribellione dell’istinto popolare, ai cui occhi apparivano le ombre straziate delle vittime. Il corteo entrò nello steccato; From the crowd curses, insults and jeers rose without mercy. It was a dull rebellion of popular instinct, from whose eyes the shadows of tortured victims were reflected. The procession entered the stockade; ma gli sbirri, gli algozini, le guardie rimasero fuori: non era loro per messo entrare in quel recinto consacrato alla morte. Vi entrarono sol tanto i Bianchi, le due ree, i confrati degli Agonizzanti e il Fiscale. But the cops, the bailiffs and the guards remained outside: it was not for them to enter into that enclosure consecrated to death. Only the men in white, the two found guilty, the confraternity of the agonised and the taxman entered.

Rosalia guardava con gli occhi sbarrati, l’anima sospesa: Gio­vanna Bonanno fu fatta salire dai Bianchi, per una scaletta sul palco e condotta a piè della scala a pioli, dove il boia, precedendola, cominciò a tirarla su, aiutato dal secondo boia che la spingeva di die­tro, mentre il sacerdote diceva a voce alta le parole del Credo: ascen­dit in coeium. Gli altri Bianchi scesero allora dal palco.

Rosalia stared with wide eyes, her soul suspended: Giovanna Bonanno was made to climb a ladder onto the stage by the men in white and brought to the foot of the ladder, where the executioner, preceding it, began to haul her up, helped by the second executioner who pushed from behind, while the priest was saying the words of the Creed aloud: ascen­dit in coeium. Then the other men in white descended from the stage.

Rosalia seguiva con lo sguardo lucente, come per febbre, quel lento ascendere di quei tre corpi su per la scala, fin quasi all’altezza del capestro. Allora il boia di sopra si aggrappò alla trave trasversa­le, fece calare sul collo della vittima il nodo scorsoio, su questo abbassò una tavoletta; il boia sotto si abbrancò alle gambe della vec­chia. Rosalia followed with her eyes gleaming, as though with a fever, that slow ascent of the three bodies on the stairs, almost up to the noose. Then the Executioner above clung to the cross beam, brought down on the noose around the victim’s neck and dropped a tablet on this; the Executioner below seized the legs of the old lady. Alla parola Jesus, un gruppo mostruoso si lanciò nello spazio: il boia di sopra, ritto coi piedi su la tavoletta, il boia di sotto pendulo alle gambe di Giovanna Bonanno. Un attimo. I due esecutori sce­sero e il corpo esanime della vecchia sbendata penzolò dal laccio, girando lentamente intorno a se stesso, come per mostrare alla folla di tutti e quattro i lati, il suo volto livido e orribile.


At the mention of Jesus, a monstrous group launched into space: the Executioner above, standing with his feet on the tablet and the Executioner below dangling from the legs of Giovanna Bonanno. A moment passed. The two executors went down and the lifeless crushed body of the old lady dangled from the noose, turning slowly around on itself, as if to show the crowd all four sides, her face pale and horrible.


Il sole tramontava: gli ultimi raggi infiammando alcuni cirri di nuvole diffondevano una tinta sanguigna nell’aria e la forca e il cadavere di Giovanna Bonanno a quei riverberi rosseggiavano.

The sun was setting: the last rays inflamed some cirrus clouds, casting a bloody shade in the air and the gallows and the corpse of Giovanna Bonanno glowed in those reflections.



Vincenzo Consolo, Le pietre di Pantalica

Vincenzo Consolo, the stones of Pantalica

Palermo è fetida, infetta. In questo luglio fervido, esala odore dolciastro di sangue e gelsomino, odore pungente di creolina e olio fritto. Ristagna sulla città, come un’e­norme nuvola compatta, il fumo dei rifiuti che bruciano sopra Bellolampo.

Palermo is fetid, infected. In this fervid July, the sweet smell of blood and jasmine blows through the air, the pungent smell of creolin and fried oil. The smoke of the burning waste that burns above Bellolampo, stagnates over the city, like a huge compact cloud.

Vi capito nei giorni del festino di Santa Rosalia. E a questa festa, in quei giorni, s’aggiunge il delirio per il campionato mondiale di calcio. Tutti i quartieri popolari sono addobbati, tricolori ai balconi e alle finestre e corde da una parte all’altra della strada con bandierine di carta multicolore. Santa Rosalia e la squadra italiana di calcio placano la follia, la febbre, la schiuma velenosa, la furia omicida. It happened in the days of the festival of Santa Rosalia. And during this celebration, in those days, the delirium of the World Cup was added. All the neighborhoods were decorated, tricolors on the balconies and windows and ropes on either side of the road with multi-colored paper flags. Santa Rosalia and the Italian football club appeased the madness, the fever, the poisonous foam and homicidal rage. Questa città è un macello, le strade sono carnezzerie con pozzanghere, rivoli di sangue coperti da gior­nali e lenzuola. I morti ammazzati, legati mani e piedi come capretti, strozzati, decapitati, evirati, chiusi dentro neri sacchi di plastica, dentro i bagagliai delle auto, dall’i­nizio di quest’anno, sono più di settanta. This city is a mess, the roads are butcher’s shops with puddles, rivulets of blood covered with newspapers and sheets. The dead bodies, bound hand and foot like baby goats, strangled, beheaded, castrated, locked in black plastic bags, inside the trunk of a car, since the beginning of this year, there have been more than seventy.

Il giorno della festa, nel pomeriggio, vado a piedi per via Ruggero Settimo, la via della ricchezza, del lusso. Èpiena di banche, di gioiellerie, di negozi d’abbigliamento per uomini e donne. I prezzi sono altissimi. Vi sono in vetrina sgargianti, volgari camicie di seta per uomo, di quelle che politici, professionisti, alti burocrati, imprenditori e mafiosi portano d’estate, aperte sui petti villosi adorni di pesanti catene d’oro, durante le feste nei giardini o sulle terrazze delle loro ville di Mondello o del­l’Addaura, camicie che costano più del salario che rice­vono le bambinaie, i cuochi, i camerieri, gli sguatteri filippini o arabi di cui Palermo è piena. On the day of the festival, in the afternoon, I walk by Ruggero Settimo, the street of wealth and luxury. It’s full of banks, jewelers, clothing stores for men and women. The prices are very high. In the windows there are gaudy, vulgar silk shirts for men, the kind that politicians, professionals, bureaucrats, businessmen and gangsters wear in the summer, open on hairy chests, adorned with heavy gold chains, during the festivities in the gardens or on the terraces of their villas in Addaura or Mondello, shirts that cost more than the entire salaries that nannies, cooks, waiters, Filipinos and Arab dishwashers, of which Palermo is full, recieve. Nelle vie trasver­sali a via Ruggero Settimo, vi sono poi gli studi dei grandi avvocati, dei grandi commercialisti, dei grandi medici, degli architetti e degli arredatori alla moda, vi sono anti­quari e i galleristi d’arte che in questi anni si sono arric­chiti in modo smisurato. In the cross streets of Via Ruggero Settimo, there are studies of great lawyers, great accountants, great doctors, architects and fashionable interior designers, there are antique shops and art galleries that have been enriched in recent years beyond measure. In questi trecento metri di strada, in quest’area di non più di mille metri quadrati, affluisce, circola l’immensa ricchezza di Palermo, il fiume di denaro della droga, degli appalti, dei traffici d’ogni sorta. Più su, la piazza del Teatro Massimo segna la linea di demarcazione, il confine tra la Palermo ricca e la Palermo povera. Oltre la piazza, comincia via Maqueda, la via e i quartieri dei negozi popolari, dei mercati, delle case e degli antichi palazzi cadenti e fatiscenti.


In these three hundred meters of road, in this area of no more than a thousand square meters, the immense wealth of Palermo circulates from the flow of drug money, procurement and trafficking of every kind. Further up, the piazza of the Teatro Massimo marks the dividing line, the boundary between Palermo rich and Palermo poor. Beyond the piazza, Via Maqueda begins, the street and popular shopping districts, markets, houses and crumbling and dilapidated ancient buildings.


Lì dove le case son crollate, per vecchiaia, per degrado, per incuria, i bulldo­zer hanno spianato pietre e calce, hanno formato vuoti nel reticolo delle viuzze, enormi spiazzi bianchi di sterro. Dietro questi spiazzi, si stagliano ora nette le grandi cupole smaltate delle chiese, i campanili d’arenaria, i! tetto e la facciata del palazzo dei Normanni. There, where the houses have collapsed, from old age, decay, and neglect, the bulldozers have flattened stones and mortar, they have formed voids in the lattice of narrow streets, huge white open spaces of earthworks. Behind these open spaces, now stand the large glazed domes of the churches, bell towers of sandstone and the roof and facade of the Norman Palace. Le zone di case lesionate, pericolanti, fatte evacuare, sono stato chiuse da mura di cinta. Dietro queste fresche mura di tufo, si accumulano le immondizie del mercato, degli abitanti, le ossa delle macellerie, vi razzolano bambini, cani, gatti, vi ballano topi. Qui Palermo è una Beirut distrutta da una guerra che dura ormai da quarant’anni, la guerra del potere mafioso contro i poveri, i diseredati della città. La guerra contro la civiltà, la cultura, la decenza.


The areas of damaged, unsafe, houses have been evacuated, closed by a wall. Behind these fresh walls of tuff, the rubbish of the market piles up, the people, the bones of the butchers, children muck around, dogs, cats and mice dance. Here Palermo is a Beirut destroyed by a war that has lasted forty years, the war of Mafia power against the poor, the disenfranchised of the city. The war against civilization, culture, decency.


Mentre attraverso il quartiere del Capo per arrivare fin qua, al Cassaro Vecchio, dalle porte dei catoi, dalle fine­stre viene fuori la voce dei televisori che trasmettono la partita di calcio dalla Spagna. Le mura delle case sono tappezzate di manifesti di cantanti: l’Olimpo dimelassa della melodia popolare, in cui gli abitanti di questi quar­tieri degradati, crollati, marci, ritrovano il loro sentimento, i loro valori: While passing through the neighborhood of Capo to get here, the old Cassaro, from the gates of the market, the voices from televisions, that broadcast the football match in Spain, come out of the windows. The house walls are papered with posters of singers: the the Olympus of the popular melody, in which the inhabitants of these, collapsed, rotten slums, find their feelings, their values: l’onore, la vendetta, l’amore, la mamma, la moglie, la sorella… Tra gli altri, il manifesto con la faccia bolsa, spugnosa, di uno di questi cantanti, occhi bovini e ammiccanti, sorriso ruffiano. Da lì a qual­che giorno, questo cantante sarà trovato nel bagagliaio di un’auto abbandonata a Villa d’Orléans, qui vicino, stran­golato, evirato, i genitali ficcati in bocca. The honor, la vendetta, love, mother, wife, sister… Among the others, is the poster with the numb spongy face, bovine winking eyes and ruffian smile of one of these singers. A few days later, this singer will be found in the trunk of an abandoned car at Villa d’Orleans, near here, strangled, castrated and with his genitals stuffed in his mouth.

Attraverso il giardino di palme e siepi di bosso davanti alla cattedrale, m’arrampico sul muro di cinta sormon­tato da statue bianche lungo il corso Vittorio Emanuele, già pieno di gente in attesa della processione. Altra gente è stipata sui marciapiedi, sui balconi dei palazzi di fronte drappeggiati di rosso. Through the garden of palm trees and boxwood hedges in front of the cathedral, I climb up onto the wall topped by white statues along Corso Vittorio Emanuele, already full of people waiting for the procession. Other people are crammed on the sidewalk and on the balconies of the buildings draped red on the fronts. Da lì a poco, s’ode la musica della banda, si vede venire dal fondo del Corso, da Porta Nuova, dall’Arcivescovado, il carro di Santa Rosalia. Si vedono prima i buoi aggiogati a coppie e ingualdrappati di rosso, poi il gran carro, un?enorme macchina trionfale a forma di castello di nave, scalinata barocca terminante in cima con l’alto piedistallo e la statua della Santuzza protettrice della città. After a while, we hear the music of the band and can see the float of Santa Rosalia from the bottom of Corso Porta Nuova, from the Archdiocese. We first see the oxen yoked in pairs and caparisoned in red, then the large float. An enormous triumphal float shaped like the castle of a ship, with a baroque staircase ending at the top of the pedestal and the statue of the Santuzza, patron saint of the city. È una macchina tutta d’oro, con curve, volute, ricci, sculture di mori ignudi che adornano le due fiancate. Sui gradini della scalinata sono disposti, in tricorni piumati e sbuffanti costumi violacei, i musici della banda. Davanti alla prima delle tre coppie di buoi che tirano il carro, sono le autorità. It is a float of gold, with curves, spirals, curls and naked sculptures that adorn the two sides. On the steps, the musicians of the band are arranged, in plumed cocked hats and purple costumes. In front of the first of the three pairs of oxen pulling the wagon are the authorities. Riconosco, tra laide facce, tra le ottuse e furbesche espressioni del protervo potere locale, la faccia acchittata, coi sottili baffetti, la piccola testa impomatata di barbiere a spasso il lunedì di riposo, del sindaco della città. E la faccia di carabiniere, severa e distaccata del prefetto, il generale Dalla Chiesa, di cui i giornali oggi dicono che è appena tornato a Palermo dopo il suo matrimonio improvviso con una giovane donna di Milano. Amongst ugly faces and obtuse and arrogant sly expressions of local power, I recognize the dressed up face, with a thin mustache and small slicked-back head of the mayor of the city, taking a stroll on the Monday of rest. And the policeman’s face, the stern and detached face of the prefect, the General Dalla Chiesa, who today’s papers say has just returned to Palermo after his sudden marriage to a young woman from Milan. Vorrei sapere quale impres­sione può fare a questo duro militare, a questo piemontese tutto d’un pezzo marciare tra due ali di folla in mezzo ai politici, ai prelati, ai maggiorenti di qui, davanti a questo carro trionfale d’una santa improbabile; essere immerso, per esigenze d’ufficio, in questa sfaldata, disfat­ta parata di baroccume isolano.


I want to know what impression this hard military man can make, this Piedmontese, in one piece, marching between the two wings of the crowd, in the midst of politicians, clergy and local leading men, before this triumphal chariot of an unlikely saint; to be immersed, for the sake of office, in this broken up misplaced isolated parade of baroquerie.


La sera, in un ristorante, incontro Camilla Cederna. È felice di vedermi, come se nello smarrimento di questa città avesse ritrovato un amico o parente pronto a rassi­curarla e guidarla. È qui per un libro che dovrà scrivere, un viaggio nell’Italia di oggi. “Mia bella e intellettuale amica”, “mia bella guerriera” chiama Savinio la Cederna in Ascolto il tuo cuore, città. In the evening I meet Camilla Cederna in a restaurant. She’s happy to see me, as if, lost in this city, she had found a friend or relative willing to reassure her and guide her. She is here for a book that she is going to write, a trip in the Italy of today. “My beautiful and intellectual friend,” “my fair warrior” Savinio la Cederna calls out in I listen to your heart, city. In quelle ultime pagine sul bombardamento di Milano del luglio del ‘43. Dove parla della morte che insudicia, “insudicia quello che era pulito. Intorbida quello che era limpido. Inlaidisce quello che era bello. Intenebra quello che era luminoso. Istupidisce quello che era intelligente. Immiserisce quello che era ricco”. In the last pages on the bombing of Milan in July of 43. Where she speaks of the death that soils, “defiles what was clean. Muddies what was clear. Makes ugly that which was beautiful. Darkens that which was bright. Makes stupid that which was smart. Impoverishes what which was rich.”

Ha pensato la Cederna a queste frasi di Savinio stando qui a Palermo? In questa città mattatoio, dove il sangue degli uccisi arrossa ogni giorno le sue strade, attira nugoli di mosche, vespe, come i liquami delle fogne scoperte, le immondizie nei letamai dei giardini attirano masse di topi, s’incrosta e annerisce al sole di luglio?


Did Cederna think of these phrases of Savinio here in Palermo, in this slaughterhouse city, where the blood of the slain reddens its streets every day, attracting swarms of flies and wasps, like the sludge of open sewerages, the dung heaps of rubbish of the gardens attracting masses of mice and becoming encrusted and blackened in the July sun?


Lascio l’indomani Palermo. In volo da Punta Ràisi, vedo la città, affogata in vapori d’afa, sparire a poco a poco.

I leave Palermo the day after. By plane from Punta Ràisi I watch the city, drowned in the heat of vapor, disappear little by little.

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The Savage Heart of Palermo

The Savage Heart of Palermo is a fast paced crime thriller, with dark humour and an upbeat love story. It tells the tale of Joe Kelly, a young Irish-Italian-American, who flees from the States to Palermo, the traditional heartland of the Mafia. 

Joe’s mother was Sicilian, but she was killed in a botched mugging when he was very young. Coming to Sicily is a way for him to feel close to her and discover a little about who she was.

He is escaping from a troubled past in a poor crime ridden district of Chicago. He has stolen a considerable amount of money from an extremely dangerous pusher and is wanted for questioning by the police in relation to a burglary that he did not commit. 

Coming down from drugs and desperate to turn his life around completely, he donates half of this money to charity and uses the rest to set up his new life on what he thinks will be a Mediterranean paradise. 

Soon enough, he discovers that Palermo is no easier than the place he ran away from. After almost two decades of relative quiet the Mafia is once again ready to rear its ugly head in Palermo. This new breed of Cosa Nostra is not entirely like the cool calculated one we all remember from the Godfather. 

Due to competition from Palermo’s immigrant gangs it has been forced to adapt. In order to make its presence felt it has adopted a more gung-ho approach to violence. Joe realizes that he has arrived right in the middle of a new Mafia war, in which two rival crime families fight bitterly for supremacy.

He witnesses a young man shot dead in a public place in front of his girlfriend. But without a stay-permit and wanted for questioning by the police in America he is forced to bite his tongue and remain hidden in the shadows. 

Joe knows that he has relatives on his mother’s side that live near Palermo. He arranges to meet them for the first time and an attraction is immediately sparked between himself and his second cousin, the young, intelligent, and beautiful Rossella.

He makes friends with Moses, a charismatic African man, who talks him into investing in his small-time hash business. It all starts off harmlessly enough but soon things get out of hand and Joe finds himself involved in things much worse than anything he had run away from. 

On top of that, he is falling in love with a woman that he thinks he can’t have; Rossella is related to him and she has a boyfriend. Rossella’s boyfriend, Francesco Fortunato, is a womanising bully who treats her very badly. 

All this is against the backdrop of a beautiful historic city full of contrasts. Palermo has a wild and savage heart. It is also a city subject to change. The influx of immigrants from Bangladesh, Africa, and eastern Europe creates a cultural melting pot that adds an entirely new dimension to a capital steeped in traditional Sicilian culture. This book addresses some of the very real racial issues that Italy faces today.

The Savage Heart of Palermo is a journey that explores a person’s desire and struggle to change. It explores the phenomenon of conscience and the real meaning between right and wrong. For Joe, it is a journey of self discovery in which he learns again to feel love and to treasure and protect that which is important in life and to reject that which is detrimental.

The characters, places and events in this book will stay with the reader for a long time.

My double vision is to create awareness through my book, which is fiction based on a lot of fact. I want to help create a better, more cosmopolitan Palermo and tackle some of the real issues that immigrants face here, whilst creating a stronger economy by encouraging people not to pay protection money to the Mafia.

Proceeds go to Addiopizzo (an anti-mafia racketeering organisation) and Santa Chiara Immigration centre in Palermo who help non residents with many things, including asylum, bureaucracy and even free Italian lessons.

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