I don’t know when humanity built the first wall; what I’m certain of, however, is that it mustn’t have been long before somebody drew on it. Street art has been found everywhere, from Aya Sofia in Istanbul to Pompeii: it’s only natural for it to be here, in Palermo.
Caravaggio’s Bacchus? Some rendition of Saint Sebastian? Rummaging through my brains yielded a big, fat blank.
These two, though, I recognise. They stood side by side on the same building and why not? Jesus, today, would be an environmentalist I think.
Perhaps not as much as in Naples, but Palermitan art has a certain fling with the after life, with death. The writing on the building on the right reads suos devorat alienos nutrit. “It devours its (sons) and feeds foreigners”. These are words inscribed at the feet of a statue of the Genius Loci, or personification, of the city. Palermo eats its own and feeds others. Apt.
… e tutti quanti Gattopardi, sciacalli e pecore continueremo a crederci il sale della terra. The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s masterpiece, is a heavy tome, but not for its length. A dispirited look into the mummified Sicilian society at the time of Italy’s reunification, it’s packed with phrases that have elbowed their way into the nation’s psyche. Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com’è bisogna che tutto cambi. “If we want everything to stay as it is, everything must change” is perhaps the most famous. But here on this wall is another one: “We were leopards, lions. Jackals, hyenas will come after us, and then sheep will follow them. And all of us – leopards, jackals and sheep – will believe to be the salt of the earth”. Somebody had changed “leopards” with sanguisughe: “leeches”. Mr Hippo, instead, is asking people to raise their voices against racism.
“I do things”. “I see people”. The sole redeeming aspect of the intolerable 1978 film Ecce Bombo (a surefire way to get heartburn, like every other film from Nanni Moretti) is, in four words, the job description of today’s Instagram influencers.
Two Italians, two Palermitans of our not-so-distant past and a Palermitan, an Italian of today. The two men are Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino: judges, adversaries of Cosa Nostra, both blown up by the Corleonesi. The unnamed lady adorns the side of a council estate near La Kalsa and is the product of artists Rosk&Loste. In her I see the dynamism of this city that left me cautiously optimist about its future.