Palermo’s muted ghosts

by johnwasneyheseltine

In Palermo there is a jungle but no Leopard to be seen, the decrepit streets and squares hear a different growl where a new order shouts, its echoes bouncing off the crumbling walls of the palazzi that stand ‘round us like lovely mute ghosts’*. Ill-cemented blocks fill the voids where elegant windows once surveyed, balconies bearing the weight of civilizations now fallen into the street providing rubble to fill the uneasy void of subterranean tombs. No attempt to contain chaos and decay is obvious, decline and oblivion is an inevitability that Sicilians know so well and lavishes the melancholic charm outsiders can’t fail to admire. Where a begrudging reconstruction occurs, an old building’s dignity is shrouded in the uncomfortable mantle of modernity, with just the occasional antique feature revealed, for “In Sicily it doesn’t matter about doing things well or badly; the sin which we Sicilians never forgive is simply that of “doing” at all.”* Maybe the Prince was right, Sicily is in continuous tension and will long resist fitting into the scheme of modern Italy.

*The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1958)

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