Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Age of Penelope: Sicily 2006

-Do you see the graffiti of the obscenity (male reproductive organ) on the bus next to us-asks the old man sitting in the Public Transportation bus of the Municipality of Siracuse, Sicily.

-Yes-responds a confused tourist.

-It is not some hooligans who are doing this, it is the actual bus-drivers-claims the old man.

-Do you know who is Penelope?-asks the old man.

-No-responds a confused and by now embarrassed tourist.

-My god!-cries the old man and then engages in a lengthy explanation-Penelope is the wife of Ulysses from the Greek mythology. Ulysses and Penelope lived together in a marriage for more than a year when it was interrupted by the Trojan war, to which Ulysses had to go. During his long absence, and when it was doubtful whether he still lived, and highly improbable that he would ever return, Penelope was importuned by numerous suitors, from whom there seemed no refuge but in choosing one of them for her husband. Penelope, however, employed every art to gain time, still hopping for Ulysses' return. The most famous of her arts of delay was engaging in the preparation of a robe for the funeral canopy of her husband's father. She pledged herself to make her choice among the suitors when the robe was finished. During the day she worked at the robe, but in the night she undid the work of the day. This is the famous Penelope's web, which is used as a proverbial expression for anything which is perpetually doing but never done. You see, in this way the bus drivers from Syracuse drive the buses during the day and during the night draw reproductive organs on them. In this way they can claim funds for the refurbishment of the buses, and where there are funds (structural funds from the EU or funds coming from the Italian government) there is spillover of some of the funds to the private pockets.

-Really?-asks the doubtful and confused tourist.

-Yes. It is like this in Sicily for ages, they build motorways that lead to nowhere, the railways system is in shambles and the state is nowhere to be found. This is why I left for Venezuela-says the old man.

-And what did you do there?-asks the tourist, himself coming from a country bearing many similarities with Sicily, apart from having the sea, maybe only in the metaphorical sense.

-Well I am a tailor and I went there to develop my business.

-And did you succeed?

-No not really, everyone there, at least in the part of the country where I lived, goes around half naked, there is very little work for tailors, so I returned.

The tourists gets off the bus and stops over to by a pizza. In Sicily everyone talks to you, this is a rather pleasant surprise and probably difficult to cope with for many tourists coming from other colder places. Talking with the young owners of the pizza take away place the tourists found out that the pizza owners are locals from Syracuse but that they emigrated to the North of Italy couple of years ago. They, especially the husband, loved living in the colder but richer and much more organized north, then, as the husband put it, “a misfortune” happened to them and they had to return. The wife explains that the “misfortune” was actually that she got pregnant so because of financial difficulties that the pregnancy entails they had to return to the niche of their parents home.

Walking around Syracuse the tourists also met rich people, saw many empty houses and found out that citizens from more prosperous EU states are buying of property in the town. They were also told that all the houses have to be restructured in a particular fashion and that this job (polishing the particular type of stone used to build the houses in Syracuse) is being conducted by an expert old man, and that there is only one still living in the town, he charges 500 Euros a day. The tourist thought, he must work very slowly, because he is old to be clear not for other reasons, a more cynical tourist of the two thinks that maybe he employs Penelope's strategy.

Slightly, to the north of Syracuse, in Catania, the tourists engage in looking at the walls of the city. They see the graffiti saying, “the throbbing youth carves up the river of uncertain hopes” (la gioventu’ pulsante scolpisce il fiume delle speranze incerte).They also see a hand made newspaper exposing an allegedly corrupt policeman, they were particularly struck by the following sentence, “all the varnish in the world could never hide the rust on your medals-you fucking Mafioso”. At the end they look at Etna, they do not manage to see it because of the clouds, but to compensate go and listen the poetry of a young and beautiful Tuscan visiting Sicily and writing about Etna, “smoke and fog, hell becoming paradise” (fumo e nebbia, un inferno diventa il paradiso). The tourists get drunk with the Tuscan poet…

-history of the human race is a spit in comparison to the ocean of time. The well being of the Earth and nature should come first and only then the well being of the human race, this is what I was listening, this is what the lava was telling to me, when walking around the rocks of what ones used to be lava-says the tourist who thinks he is really intelligent and who discovers his leanings towards the philosophy of the radical greens.

The young Tuscan poet does not listen to him she repeats in her head, “fumo e nebbia, un inferno diventa il paradise… fumo e nebbia, un inferno diventa il paradise…” The drunk tourist stares at the poet realizing that she in fact bares striking resemblance with Carmen Consoli, or at least how he imagines Carmen Consoli to be, when he looks at the Tuscan poet he feels the energy from Carmen’s songs and he is in love...with the Tuscan poet, not Carmen Consoli, and he is in love with Sicily. The tourist that is.

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