In the preceding post we have noticed how contemporary Italian literature and cinema seldom offer wide-fresco works – they perceive the single tree more than the entire forest (read a conversation on this topic.)
Someone affirms that the secret of the forest is instead hidden in Palermo.
Palermo? Why are Palermo and Sicily so special?
While searching for an answer (in some recent Sicilian novels) we can make a guess.
Sicily, like a warm-fleshed woman lying languidly on the sea, was disputed by Greeks and Phoenicians, Spartans and Athenians, Romans and Carthaginians, and later Normans Arabs Popes & Emperors.
Such splendid (though tormented) history might have favoured a depth, a wider look in its people and writers, that the Italian literature has experienced only at its best moments.
Tomasi di Lampedusa narrates how, soon after Italy’s unification, the honest Piedmont’s official Chevalley [Piedmont, at that time an advanced region, unified Italy in 1861] was sent to implore the Sicilian Prince of Lampedusa [the author's great-grandfather and protagonist of the novel,] to represent Sicily in the new Italian Senate, “in order to remedy the state of material poverty, of blind and moral misery in which the Sicilian people find themselves, your own people!”
The Prince, smiling and inviting Chevalley to sit down with him on the sofa for a while, answered with the same words he had uttered with some English who, before Giuseppe Garibaldi conquered Palermo, were asking what all these Northern Italians, these Garibaldini, were doing in the South of Italy.
“They are coming to teach us good manners – replied the Prince in English – but they won’t succeed, because we are gods.“
Then in the end (with poor, decent Chevalley in total dismay because of the Prince’s denial) the aristocrat added that things in Sicily had not changed and will never change for that ‘sense of superiority that glitters in the eye of every Sicilian, that we ourselves call pride (fierezza,) but which is actually only blindness.’
An enlightening, though gloomy, reflection.
Note. This ‘pride which is actually blindness’ can be said of all great civilizations on earth that were. If we are worth for what we were, we are much much worthier for what we are.
Past greatness can be a richness, and a consolation, but is not enough.