Category Archives: Sicilia

p h o t o s : washington, trapani, stromboli, palermo

[ 23:22 tuesday 16 february – haggerston road ]

here’s a crop of fifty-eight photos from last september:

washington dc (ix 2009) : 14 pictures : in washington dc to represent one click orgs at harvard’s summit on next-generation governance, hiking the entire length of rock creek park, exploring the back streets.
trapani (ix 2009) : 20 pictures : out and about in trapani in turbulent weather. abandoned marble factory, ruined tonnara, swimming off the rocks.
stromboli (ix 2009) : 11 pictures : a stormy week with my friends on stromboli.
palermo (ix 2009) : 13 pictures : the festa della madonna delle mercede in palermo.

one picture from each set posted below.

: c :

v i d e o : maria delle mercede

[ 17:26 friday 25 december – sandhurst, gloucestershire ]

christmas day, perched afront the log fire in mum and dad’s sitting room. this afternoon we went out walking in the forest of dean. everything was crusted in snow. a deep, timeless silence hung amongst the trees disturbed only by the crunch of our feet on the icy ground. the river wye was in full flood, winding around the limestone cliffs of symonds yat and churning tirelessly over the shallows. the sun hung low above the horizon and sent fingers of gold piercing the mist between the boughs. we got lost and ended up walking rather further than we intended. it was breathtakingly beautiful. i took photographs with a sense of wide-eyed wonder.

for christmas day i’ve made a little film of the procession i stumbled across in palermo at the end of september, celebrating the feast of the madonna delle mercede. it was a magnificently rowdy affair with two large marching bands, a dozen boys pulling the giant statue of the madonna and shouting fervent invocations to her, then at the climax the most intense firework display i’ve ever encountered. it felt as if we were under artillery bombardment. even the palermitans around me stopped gossiping for a moment and looked slightly nervously at the flaming projectiles darting on all sides.

anyway happy christmas to all who read this and i hope you enjoy the film.

: c :

v i d e o : stromboli ix 2009

[ 02:58 friday 4 december – haggerston road ]

here’s a 6 minute film edited from the footage i recorded on stromboli at the end of september. the weather in sicily  that month was rather savage. there were flash floods across the island. cars were submerged in trapani. hill-side houses collapsed in a mudslide in the suburbs of messina. i reached stromboli on the final boat before communications were cut off by a fast-rising scirocco. four days later i departed in the face of another scirocco. the crews running the siremar hydrofoils between milazzo and the eolian islands are courageous men. it seems to me they love their work most when it’s stormy.

the video is recorded in high definition. to view it at a larger size, right-click anywhere on the video and select “watch on you tube” from the menu.

: c :

v i d e o : t r a p a n i

[ 22:56 monday 16 november – haggerston road, london ]

i’ve compiled a five minute edit of the film i recorded in trapani at the end of september. following the pattern of the previous few clips it consists of a succession of brief snippets keeping strictly to the sequence in which they were recorded and retaining the original audio. the only innovation this time is a few captions to provide contextual details. there’s not much narrative, my aim is simply to capture some vignettes of the trip and convey an impression of the whole.

in retrospect animals feature quite strongly. the beautifully-plumed but ill-mannered blue parakeet which attacked me repeatedly at sergio’s family home. the similarly aggressive crab with which sergio did combat. the prawn which alessandro pretended to eat then miraculously brought back to life (it was fine). the giant cricket sergio and i found ricocheting between houses in confusion. the rat we chased and cornered. in between there are glimpses of the sea, of trapani’s crumbling palaces and of the bizarre weather which mystified people through the whole of september.

: c :

f a c c i e

[ 08:58 monday 28 september – bus from central palermo to punta raisi airport, sicilia ]

it’s touch and go whether i’ll make my flight back to london. i got to the station quarter of an hour early for my 8:09 train. after twenty minutes it struck me as odd that the station was swarming with people, predominantly school children, but i hadn’t seen a single train. this seemed ominous for peak time on a monday morning. arrivals were being announced and passengers advised to stand back from the edge of the platform but no trains were materialising.

i asked an old man on the platform who said “if the train doesn’t come, maybe the next one will” which was admirably philosophical but not exactly reassuring. 8:09 came and went. then the indicator board mysteriously went blank and details for the 8:39 appeared on the next platform. i searched out an official who apologised that there was a strike and all trains were cancelled.

once i would have felt irritated that no signs had been put out, no announcements made, to warn travelers of the situation. but my relationship with sicily has reached a point where i accept her foibles, perhaps even feel affection for them. so i simply rushed outside and got a seat in the half-hourly bus which runs from the station to the airport.

that was half an hour ago. this is the peak of the morning rush hour and we’re still battling through the palermo streets towards the autostrada. my chances of reaching the airport before check-in closes are evenly balanced.

i flew into trapani last saturday with sergio and spent several days there with his family. then on tuesday i journeyed to milazzo and took wednesday morning’s first hydrofoil to stromboli. the crew told me a scirocco was rising from the south-east and they were uncertain if they’d be able to dock. indeed there was a large sea running by the time we reached the island three hours later. but they managed to come alongside just long enough for me to leap off.

that was the last boat to dock until saturday. within an hour the waves were crashing down on the quay. there’s a special atmosphere on the island when it’s cut off like this. nobody arrives, nobody leaves. then after two days the wind and sea shifted ninety degrees and a maestrale came up from the north-east. now the waves pounded spiaggia lunga whilst scari and the quay fell into the lea of the island. stromboli was re-connected to the outside world.

yesterday afternoon as i was packing my bags the wind shifted back to the south-east and waves began to lick the sides of the quay again. one of the two companies running hydrofoils to stromboli cancelled their services. but my boat managed to come alongside. the hydrofoil was pitching and lurching alarmingly as we ran up the gangplank. it was the roughest i’ve seen anyone dock there.

the journey back to milazzo was quite an adventure. every few minutes the forward foils would catch a wave and the bow would slam down sending torrents of water over the cabin. i have the greatest admiration for the siremar crews. they continue to operate these machines masterfully under conditions in which most would stay in port. we reached milazzo right on time and i caught the last train to palermo.

it was eleven in the evening when i arrived in palermo. after my time on stromboli and with sergio in trapani i was expecting palermo to be the anti-climax of the trip. but sicily blessed me with one last surprise and i found myself in the chaos of a religious festival in the quarter where i was staying. a huge statue of the madonna was being carried through the streets by young men with priests and white-robed women carrying candles in front and two fifty-piece brass bands following behind. every twenty metres a handbell would ring, the statue would be set down and one of the bearers would shout invocations at the statue at the top of his voice to be affirmed by the rest of the bearers with an impassioned cry of “viva maria!”. all the while the bands kept playing, one alternating with the other to save the musicians from complete exhaustion. it was incredibly moving, there were moments when i had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

dangling my camera, video camera and audio recorder from various limbs i threw myself into the thick of the procession. it took an hour passing down via roma before pausing and turning into piazza sant’anna. the piazza was blazing with ornate festal arches studded with coloured lights. as the procession entered a welter of fireworks commenced which rose to a deafening crescendo. fragments of burning carboard began to rain down and people started retreating nervously before a series of huge explosions marked its finale. the statue passed into the small plain church of maria of the mercede. there was an awkward moment when it came off the ramp to its resting place at the alter, triggering a thrill of terror that some harbinger of bad fortune was about to transpire, then a final heave restored her to her resting place and everyone relaxed.

i ate a carton of panelli on the street, drank a few glasses of rum at the tiny bar “monkey” on the piazza where i met some friendly musicians, then it was time for me to retire and get a few hours’ sleep.

thus sicily continually tests me and shows me her different faces. it is a place, a people, where i find a vividness and intensity of life that raises me above myself.

we are on the autostrada now. i think i will reach the airport in time.

: c :

n e b r o d i

[ 17:20 monday 4 september – porto di milazzo, sicily ]

the hydrofoil’s crew unhurriedly take their places, preparing to cast off from milazzo for the final journey of the day. the late afternoon sun catches my face through an open hatchway. in two and a half hours i’ll be on stromboli.

on friday i said goodbye to gaetano and his family after an invigorating dip in the stream that tumbles down from the aspromonte. the tiny train carried me down to gioia then i got the main line to villa san giovani with its criss-cross relay of ferries  traversing the straits of messina. there was a tiny beach between the ferry terminals and the water looked reasonably clean so i had a quick swim before taking a ship. from messina i caught the coach to palermo, where i passed a riotous night with impromptu friends before uniting with gabriele.

on saturday morning gabriele and i drove to a rocky stretch of coast for a swim then headed up into the mighty nebrodi mountains in the north-east of sicily. we stopped and watched the spectacular sunset with livid-hued clouds swirling all around us.

after spending saturday night upstairs from a bar in the little town of cesero we bought some supplies, packed our rucksacks and set off on foot. we hiked all afternoon through the wooded mountainside, eyed with curiosity by the wild black pigs that seem to be the nebrodi’s masters. our goal was the biviere di cesaro, a remote and beautiful lake a thousand metres up in the mountains. our solitude was disturbed only by a convoy of mountain bikers in a race.

by the time we reached the lake the morning’s clear sky had been obscured by clouds trickling up from the mountains. the water was completely still, with reed beds dotting its perimeter and the forest extending down to its western shore.

looking northward one could make out the hazy outline of the aeolian islands. the view to the south was dominated by etna’s brooding cone with its eternal streamer of smoke. the only sounds were the buzzing insects, faraway cowbells and the occasional hoot of water fowl.

gabriele had heard that the solitary farmhouse near the lake had a cattle shed that was left open where hikers could pass the night. the farmhouse’s gates were heavily padlocked and there was no reply to our calls so we climbed over and looked around for the shed. at this point the farmer returned. he seemed like a tough fellow, accustomed to being alone, and he was not amused to find us there. it turned out gabriele’s information was essentially correct, but the farmer resented people like us taking the shed for granted. in the end gabriele’s charm and my stupid englishman act worked their magic and he said we could stay. he also gave us permission to walk in the mountainside around the lake, all of which was his property.

the shed was a little way up the hill from the farmhouse. inside we found three ancient camp beds and a rickety table. it was already inhabited by eight adorable little bats, hanging from the rafters busily cleaning themselves, and everything was covered with their shit. we dumped our rucksacks and headed out to explore.

below the lake was a marshy area, followed a dry stream-bed piled with huge boulders washed down the mountain. beyond this we discovered an abandoned village comprising seven or eight simple stone dwellings in an advanced state of decay. each house had a carefully leveled stone terrace in front of it where the inhabitants must have lived and worked in daylight hours through the warmer months. it was a strongly evocative place.

after dark we climbed up the hillside and sat silently in the bright moonlight, looking out over the mountains and valleys stretching to the distance. at one point a hedgehog trotted over to investigate us. later an owl swooped around us, hunting for its prey. there were probably no more than a dozen people within ten kilometres.

: c :