Rubriche
Made in Italy
Francesca Garofoli | 30-06-2008 | ENG
(Translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano)
Four places tell the story of one country: Italy. From Genoa to Cogne, and Bologna to Palermo. Novels, theatre monologues and reports to give a voice to collective sentiments and negated realities.

Salvatore, known as Turi, was born in Palermo. Fifty years ago. But Salvatore has never liked Palermo. There’s too much disharmony, he says. Salvatore, at 11 years of age asked his father to send him to school because he didn’t know how to live surrounded by so much disharmony.
My childhood is there, in that school, in the order and the silence of those walls that protected me, in the smell of wax off the floors and the milky coffee every morning in the refectory.
When Salvatore speaks to you about his Sicily, he speaks only of smells and colours: of the countryside, around Palermo, in what was the Conca d’oro once, along Via degli agrumeti, up as far as the eye can see towards the mountains of Monreale and even beyond. Now, if you look down from Monreale to the sea there are only roofs. Tiles and iron sheeting jumbled together in one enormous mass that produces the same sense of wonder. Because from below Palermo barely looks like a town: in 20 minutes you’d walk from Massimo to Palazzo Reale, and from Quattro Venti you’d be convinced everything was just a short hop away. Then you see it from outside, that extense of tiles and iron sheeting, and you wonder if someone has hidden it from you, pulled it down overnight.
Unlike Salvatore, I love Palermo. Maybe because I wasn’t born there. Maybe because I don’t live there. I’m not put out if the historical centre of Palermo is like the kasbah in Marrakesh. In fact, I quite like it. Just as I like looking from Piazza Indipendenza to Porta Nuova (formerly the sun gate) and imagining for a moment that I’m in China. I like the confusion of sounds, colours and smells. The camurria. I like the fact that it’s the noisiest city I know, where drivers blow their horn instinctively simply because they’re there and in the morning you wake to the echo of a name bouncing from balcony to balcony, as it grows and multiplies.
What I don’t like about Palermo is the silence. What’s there but can’t be heard. Or remains unsaid. You notice, however, when everything suddenly goes quiet, like at a dinner party when someone says something inappropriate and a frosty silence descends. Which indicates something more than embarassment. You notice when you get into a taxi and the driver, who was chatty at first, instinctively stops talking because you tell him you’re a journalist. You notice the night, when you can walk safely in the total silence of a sleeping city. Yes, you notice when Palermo’s voice is hushed.

In Bologna, back in September 2007, I lost a friend. Simo and I had known each other for years. University together and then our separate ways: she turned to opera singing and I to writing; she to Pisa and I to Rome. Then one day Simo phoned me: how about we go to Bologna to Beppe Grillo’s V-day? (1) And I said: why not. I still remember that day: in the piazza the crowds were so thick it was hard to get through them, but it wasn’t a match; they were singing, but it wasn’t a concert; they were waving flags, but it wasn’t a political rally. I don’t know what it was.
I didn’t know then and I’ve never understood it since. I only know that all those people were looking for somewhere, some height, from where they could watch: 150,000 people someone said, much more than that someone else was saying. And I was looking on unable to forget the three million who had come to Rome what seemed like a very long time ago in March 2002. With their red flags they had invaded Circo Massimo, spilling out as far as the opposite bank of the Tiber on one side, and as far as the Colosseum and beyond on the other. And I, up high in villa di Augusto, couldn’t even see them all. Where have those three million gone? I wondered. Could any of them be here in this crowd? Where are they now? Swept away. Like Article 18, over which they came as far as Rome. In the train on the way back, Simo was talking non-stop. She was really excited: this time we’ll definitely get the message through to the powers that be, right or left wing, whatever, they’ve bust our balls… And I was hearing her and not hearing, because I kept thinking of the silence of those three million people. And at one point I caught the echo of the last thing she had said: I’d rather be here among these fuckin’ amazing people than be represented by those fuckin’ politicians! I thought about it for a minute and the thought just escaped with a sigh: you know, what I’d really like would be to be represented by honest people, for sure, but also by someone who could formulate a complete sentence in Italian without having to say “fuck” after every second word. There wasn’t another squeak out of Simo. She got off at Pisa. I got off at Rome.

If my grandfather had still been alive in July 2001, he wouldn’t have known how to explain certain things to me. Not even he, who always had words of wisdom for me. He lived in Genova Prà, (Genoa) my grandfather, in a council house, and every morning God gave him, he’d get up at dawn, brush down his best suit, put it on, don his sleeve garter, and with his Giulietta he’d go down to the port. For his morning coffee. He used to say that you need to set rules for yourself, customs, and you need to respect them, always and in every way, because only then can you preserve your moral integrity. And he truly believed in this thing about moral integrity. He had learnt it as a child, during Il Duce’s time, and he used to say it was important because remember, sweetie – he’d say to me, repeating an old Italian saying – if you’re born a circle you won’t die a square. I didn’t quite understand that story about squares and circles, because I was small, but from the serious way he’d repeat it every time, I understood it was something important. A life lesson. I’m slightly sorry my grandfather wasn’t there that day, at the G8 in Genoa, because I would have liked to ask him: grandpa, can you tell the circles from the squares?

One summer we went to Cogne. It was a well-kept town. The kind where there isn’t even a piece of paper on the ground, but the minute you arrive you start to wonder: what on earth do you do with your rubbish here? I admit I feel a bit uneasy when I can’t find my basic points of reference, like a rubbish bin. The big one, with the pedal. On a more extreme scale we found Cretaz.
As in almost all mountain communities that are part of a national park (in this case it was Gran Paradiso), you could clearly see a strong drive towards perfection, along the lines of paradise lost. In other words a landscape painted exactly as it should be: green where green should be, blue where blue should be, the sun where the sun should be and flowers where flowers should be. It is vaguely reminiscent of a past – definitely lost – that hankers back to the distant glory days of King Umberto I of Savoia.
One summer we went to Cogne, but we could have gone in winter too: it would have been pretty then as well, all white where white should be. We went there with a niggling doubt: could it be that it gets dismantled like a stage set in autumn and spring? But then one day I open the newspaper and discover that’s not the case: in autumn and spring Cogne’s just the same.

(June 30, 2008)

Note
(1) V-Day (Vaffanculo or "Up Yours" Day).
The V-Day, which was supported in more than 280 Italian cities as well as abroad, was organised by Beppe Grillo and held on 8 September 2007 to persuade Italians to sign a petition calling for the introduction of a Bill of Popular Initiative to remove from office those members of the Italian Parliament who have criminal convictions of any kind. (Reference partially quoted from Wikipedia.