My flight from London Gatwick arrived in Catania Airport at 10.50am local time on 15 September and instantly, I fell into the spell of the brilliant Sicilian sunshine. And being a movie lover, one thing came to my mind immediately: I am in the country of The God Father! Despite so, I didn’t expect to meet any mafia; waiting for me at the arrival gate was instead the beautiful actress and theatre director, Paola Cannnizzaro, with her passionate hug and Hello kisses.
Palazzolo Acreide, where my home for a month would be, is about one-and-a-half-hour drive from Catania. ‘Five other resident artists and writers have settled in their apartments,’ Paola said, as she sped south-eastwards in the region where she was born and lived for fourteen years before moving to the mainland. The five of them were dancer Sara De Santis from Rome, composer Michael Gatonska from New York, Iranian visual artist Zeinab Shahidi Marnanim Polish writer Marzena Sowa and another visual artist, Tessa Zettel from Australia. The last to join us on the inaugural Akrai Residency would be visual artist Fidel Figueroa from Mexico, whom, we would later find out, had first encountered flight-delay on one of the three airlines he took, and then lost his luggage in the midst of the transits.
Barren landscape in the distance.
The landscape along the journey bore signs of an inhabited land intersecting with countryside resting on a volcanic island: low rise, solid and square buildings; long stretches of barren soils; distant hills in the background of greyish white. When the car we were in exited the motorway, we drove into winding country roads flanked by orchards – mainly olives and oranges – and wild plants of carob, and cactus that bear bright orange coloured fruits called fiche d’india. I had not been warned early enough of the soft spikes that covered the fruits and the next day, in a shop, upon sighting the fruit that was unknown to me then, chose one from among a basketful; the next moment, a tingling sensation ran through my fingers. Under the sun, tiny threads of white hair were visible, sticking out from various spots on my skin! To pluck them out one by one without the help of a magnifying glass was too tedious a job that I finally gave up and let ‘the body regulate itself’, as I told my fellow residents.
Fichi D'india, the cactus fruit with soft spkies
The crowd was overwhelmed when we arrived in Palazzolo Acreide. To welcome me? I told myself in silent. This can’t be true! And the fireworks! That was the first time I witnessed firework displays in broad daylight, bright sparks breaking up in the blue sky. There were apparently thousands of colourful stripes of paper being strewn in Piazza Aldomoro in front of the Church of San Paolo where the sparkles were lighted, which I missed. ‘A festival is on today,’ Paola said, as she struggled to negotiate the already narrow streets. My ego deflated. It was the feast of Maria SS Addolorata, I was told.
My experience (despite limited) as a traveller in Italy told me that celebrations of this kind won’t be complete without a procession at night. My first night in Sicily, in Palazzolo Acreide, had now promised to be an interesting one, I knew it instantly.