Monday, September 23, 2013

Hope Springs

In our travels throughout Sicily during the last five years, we have seen and felt the vibrant spirit of Sicilians in every walk of life.  It is unmistakable.  They express the energy, dedication, and courage of an indomitable people.  Their intelligence and passion are evident.  But there is something new in the wind, water, and wine of Sicily.  There is hope – and pride.  A couple of years ago during one of our sojourns in Sicily we happened upon a glossy magazine called I Love Sicilia.  It is a monthly periodical that celebrates the style, trends, and tastes of modern Sicilians.  A stylish bi-monthly wine magazine called EnoS does the same for Sicily’s winegrowers and consumers.  The Mandra Magazine affiliated with the Mandrarossa line of wines (and olive oil) from Sicily’s flagship cooperative, Settesoli, is an exuberant expression of the pride that the grower-members of Settesoli have for their land surrounding the town of Menfi on the southwestern coast of Sicily. 

As any traveler who has driven around Sicily has observed (including Goethe in the late 18th century), there are certain apparent challenges still facing Sicily’s sanitation engineers.  And while not all of Sicily’s political and economic challenges have been met, Sicilians have a consciousness of their capacity to shape their own future.  It has not always been this way.

At the end of the 19th century following Sicily’s incorporation into a unified Italy, two Tuscan intellectuals, Sidney Sonnino and Leopoldo Franchetti, were commissioned by the Italian government to investigate the problems that plagued Sicily.  Their report is a two-volume work called Sicily in 1876.  Sonnino and Franchetti hoped that the light which they shined on Sicily would not alienate Sicilians from Italy.  They saw grave problems in need of fundamental reforms.  They believed that the North of Italy had a responsibility to help cure the ills of Sicily as part of a unified nation.  Franchetti’s volume began by using the archetypal description of the mythical garden paradise to describe the environs of Palermo.  According to Franchetti, the first-time visitor upon leaving the city of Palermo was immediately impressed by the perfection of the citrus orchards, the irrigation and tilling of the soil, the care of every tree (as if it were a rare plant in a botanical garden), and the rows of vines, fruit trees, olives and vegetables gardens.  The remaining 475 pages of Franchetti’s report revealed a much darker and sadder reality.  According to Franchetti, the two fundamental diseases which afflicted Sicily were the domination of the public good by private interests and pervasive violence.

By the mid-twentieth century, following the massive waves of emigration of landless peasants and two World Wars, life in Sicily was still in desperate need of reform.  There is one man who personifies the struggle of Sicilians to cure Sicily - the social reformer and writer, Danilo Dolci.   Referred to in the international media as the Sicilian Gandhi, Dolci came to Sicily in the mid-1950s as a young man and spent more than forty years as a champion of social justice for Sicily’s dispossessed peasants.  Dolci used non-violent techniques (such as hunger strikes and sit-down protests) to combat the endemic corruption and violence of western Sicily.  His poetry is as powerful as the riveting eye-witness reports in his books, The Outlaws of Partinico and Waste.  In a poem created over the course of eighteen years of listening to and speaking with countless peasants, Dolci gave voice to their unheard voices and words to their unspoken hopes.  More than that, Dolci’s poem was an anthem for the brave Sicilians who dared to fight for justice and for all Sicilians who reject the evils of fatalism.

“We dont want rivers wasted
barren mountains eroded
land-sliding with every squall.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
We want milk from cows
that eat grass,
                clear lakes
and the sea still sea
with sparkling beaches.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . .
We want Mafiosi put
in museums, as relics
of an incredible age."

Danilo Dolci, “The Moon Lemon,” in Creature of Creatures, Selected Poems, translated by Justin Vitiello (Saratoga: Anma Libri, 1980), 12-13.

In recent years young Sicilians have bravely propelled the grassroots movement called Addiopizzo, banding together merchants and consumers to renounce the historic stranglehold of organized crime doing business in and around Palermo.  Lands that have been reclaimed from the Mafia now are also organically planted to vines, olive trees, and grain under the banner Libera Terra (“Free Land”).  Sicilians are creating their own new incredible age for Sicily.  We share their hope.                                      

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