memories of 2015

Before arriving in Sicily I was told it’s just a city, not worth spending too much time on. Yet as soon as I arrived I realised there is something more to Palermo that I took my time to define. It’s a city full of history, a kaleidoscope of cultures, a maze of half-abandoned streets, a question, an unfinished sentence. Filled with monuments of all epochs, architecture speaks in riddles to be read like a story by its humble visitors. It’s beautiful in slow decay and anger. It’s breathtaking in its simplicity and its richness that are interwoven and tangled.

What it is most of all is a city filled with grandiosity and the scent of the sea, covered with mist.

Squeezed between mountains, it always feels as if one is approaching the outskirts while still within the heart of the city. People are loud and obnoxious, in a good-willed way; easy to ignore if one chooses. The buildings are high, streets wide and straight, surrounded by platanus trees, more similar to Paris than other southern cities.

Palermo is also historically grandiose – such a rare quality. It was the home of kings ruling millions of people and the great empires, home of countless nations, a source of science and ideas and art. It feels as if something is happening within it– as if one enters into a play. Palermo gave me shivers, in the hot sunny mornings and in the buzzy evenings, even if I didn’t know why.

Now I know: it’s a game. You wait.

Palermo is a phantom of what is must have been ages ago: a grand metropolis, unique and seducing, huge, mysterious, dangerous; its transparency only an illusion. It is unexpectedly enchanting in its vastness. People dress handsomely and speak funny. The cars honk far more than they drive. Tourists fill piazzas twice a day in steady waves. There are funerals and weddings, all around, and everything has the sense of purpose to it. It’s restless, filled with life, waiting to happen. It’s hungry. It will swallow you as soon as you let your attention slip.

It’s worth, giving in: the scents of oleanders – salty breeze carried down the streets – fried sweet pastries. It’s worth forgetting who you are and what you wanted and just letting the city happen within you, while you take odd turns and walk into half-open courtyards and return stares.

The more I saw, the hungrier for it I became: I know I will be back to discover and solve the mysteries. But even more than that I will go back to just be. To climbs hills, to read books during siesta, to attend Masses where kings used to, to drink bitter coffee in the morning, to let the warmth stolen during daytime heat the soles of my bare feet in the darkness of summer evenings. And I wish everyone to feel what it’s like to do nothing but exist in Palermo, waiting.

Something has to happen. 


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