Tuesday, May 27, 2014

e pluribus unum

“I must find something honorable.”

So says Auda (played by the greatly under-appreciated Anthony Quinn) in the first act of Lawrence of Arabia.  He feels compelled to stay on the battlefield until he acquires something to honor his audacity.

I know how he felt.  I spent the day yesterday snapping shot after shot in Palermo -- hoping that I could capture the essence of Palermo or Sicily.  But all I was getting was one cliché after another.

All of the pieces were there.  Greek, Phoenician, and Roman ruins.  Norman and Hapsburg churches (Hapsburg churches where you could go Baroque on Rococo).  Moorish towers.  An Italian cathedral.  Plaques praising the virtuous revolt of Garibaldi to build the Italian nation-state (and one to take note of Verdi).

It is easy to forget that modern Italy has existed for only 150 years -- and that Sicily, with its pastiche of history, has been united with the boot for only that brief period.  The place is one big stew of conquest.  Each conqueror leaving a part of his culture behind before shuffling off the stage in favor of a new overlord.

And that is why this post is best summed up by the unassuming street sign I discovered at the entrance to a rather run-down neighborhood.  In Italian.  In Hebrew.  In Arabic.  I do not know for certain, but I suspect it was once the entrance to an area known by a term bequeathed to us by the Italians -- ghetto.  The word’s history can still cause me to shudder.

What is interesting about Sicily is that it is not what some people would love to discover: a multi-cultural area that actually works.  Sicily is not multi-cultural.

Its culture has many roots.  But it is Sicilian.  And that is one of its strengths.  Strongly Catholic.  Feverishly protective of families.  Promoter of all things tomato and olive oil when it comes to food.  And far more loyal to Sicily than the notion of Italy.

One of these days, I may share some of those cliché photographs with you.  Until then, let me lift a glass of water (because that is what I have been lifting on this trip) to Sicily.  And Palermo.

It is a great town -- with plenty to teach we Other People of the West who get tied up in trying to re-define and fragment ourselves into granfalloons.  Just so we can pick another fight with each other.

Maybe we can spend a little bit of time talking about what unites us.  That would be nice -- for a change.

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