a t t a c c o

[ 19:42 tuesday 11 september – ortegia, siracusa, sicilia ]

a table in a small bar in this unbelievably lovely town. a tv brings apocolyptic images from new york, the volume turned up high. the other three people don’t look like locals.

something appalling has happened but it feels distant and i am reluctant to know the details. i heard the news around half past four from a friend on stromboli. dad called a little later and craig phoned a few minutes ago.

the only people who will benefit from this are those who seek to augment the powers of the police, the military, the intelligence services. those whose goal is total surveillance of society. those who believe that the liberty of individuals is less important than the security of political and commercial establishments. those whose vision of society is one in which everyone experiences fear, all the time.

i am sad this is what came into my head, rather than sympathy for those who died, their families, their friends. tens of thousands of people will have been directly affected by this tragedy. but i fear that tens of millions will be oppressed by the responses which are to come.

the tv replays the collapsing tower, with a big caption: ATTACCO AGLI STATI UNITI. then we are shown the aeroplane flying into the tower and exploding. current affairs producers dream about footage like this. i feel sick.

pictures of jubilation in an islamic community somewhere. our fury as an audience must have a target, there must always be an enemy. the name of osama bin laden is uttered, a talisman for everything we fear in the world.

[ 17:56 wednesday 12 september – piazza duomo ]

ettore sottsass, the great designer, walks past and takes a seat at a nearby table. i want to tell him how much i admire his writing (i’m not crazy about his furniture). i wonder if designers get pissed off by this sort of thing?

siracusa is so beautiful it makes me laugh. ortegia is the ancient city, confined to an island in a large bay with two bridges connecting it to the mainland. it is a labyrinth of narrow streets, a palimpsest spanning greek austerity and baroque exuberance. i’ve been here for four days. tomorrow i leave for palermo, and then pantelleria.

a burst of applause from a crowd on the steps of the duomo in front of me. a freshly-wed couple emerges from inside. corks pop. a corpulent man in a shiny powder-blue suit and ill-judged pink sunglasses drives them off in a roofless mercedes.

unless i am mistaken the duomo has at its heart an original greek temple. the ancient columns are still exposed, though the gaps between them have been filled by walls. the interior is plain and awe-inspiring, with the usual pastel-hued pieties mercifully reserved to side chapels. the front is baroque. the piazza is an ellipse of diverse but harmonious structures.

my days alternate work with swimming off rocks just round the corner from where i am staying. it’s a productive rhythm.

since last writing i have been in catania, at the foot of mount etna, and in noto, on a hill near the southern tip of sicilia. catania is an exciting place. a small city, but full of energy and possibility. noto seems to have been built from scratch between 1700 and 1750, replacing a roman settlement a few kilometres away which was destroyed in an earthquake. it is probably the most perfect baroque theme-park in the world. every building is a perfect confection. it must have cost a fortune. it feels like there’s still a lot of money around. i didn’t like the atmosphere very much in fact. it reminded rather of erice, its perfectly-preserved mediaeval sister on a mountain above trapani, the other end of sicilia. something a bit too self-satisfied and ordered.

i’m sorry if what i wrote yesterday evening seems inappropriate. but it’s always been my habit to be honest in these despatches. there are things afoot in the world which we may discern only from their echoes.

here in siracusa people don’t seem too concerned about yesterday’s events. life goes on as usual and the snatches of conversation i overhear in streets and caffes are still dominated by food, football and love. today’s copy of “il manifesto”, italy’s snappily-designed and widely-read communist newspaper, had a cartoon on its front page depicting a panicky statue of liberty with the flame of her torch setting fire to her clothes. this seemed to me to be on the borderline of taste.

hehe! sottsass was a bit startled when i sprang on him. he shook my hand and allowed me to take his photo. he’s got a splendid jowly, unshockable face and a rakish plaited ponytail. he looks like a disgraceful old man.

on friday it’s my thirtieth birthday.

: cH

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