Visiting Sicilian Russophiles

“Italy without Sicily,” Goethe wrote, “would not have left any traces in the soul at all. This is the key to everything that you see in this country.” So, having flown to Sicily at the invitation of the largest local newspaper Gazzetta del Sud, we certainly found ourselves in the right place.

Although not sure at the right time: the heat was record-breaking even for the local places – 40 degrees in the shade. Heels burned mercilessly along the coast. It was even worse with official visits, during which the jacket and tie turned into heavy chains and inquisitorial stranglehold. I suppose that if the mayor of Messina decided to arrange a reception on the slope of Mount Etna, next to a lava flow, then a jacket would be mandatory. What to do – the protocol goes in a jacket in any weather.

However, the Sicilian Hades, i.e. hell, this was limited to the fact that for the whole universe (and Sicily is a separate world) there are not so many. Frying in a pan, we almost acclimatized, so that only the local ferry across the Strait of Messina reminded of Aida, which its owner called “Charon” not without humor. If someone does not remember, this is the same comrade who carries the dead through the Styx to the very Hades. That is very funny! Who did not swim – I recommend.

Everything else in Sicily can be considered a paradise. However, I can not vouch for the absolute accuracy in the estimates. If the body adapted to the heat as a whole, then the head is not quite. The heat significantly influenced the perception of reality, playing the role of a kind of hallucinogen (like our fly agaric). The reality and myths that pervaded Sicily, like olive oil, in the head were pretty confused and mixed into a single whole. As a result, let’s say, the story of the editor-in-chief of Gazzetta del Sud, Mr. Nino Calarco, about the project of a grandiose bridge between the mainland and Sicily or, more precisely, between Scylla, who lives on the mainland, and Charybdis, who lives in Sicily, seemed equally surreal as Cyclops Polyphemus, on which Odysseus honed his cunning, depriving the poor fellow of his only eye. To believe that the design of the bridge, which is already forty years old, is finally being implemented, was as easy as in the story of the blinding of the poor cyclops that he lived near our hotel on the slope of Etna. By the way, in Sicily, in an atmosphere of total benevolence, Polyphemus evoked much more compassion than the ophthalmologist Odysseus. Living in Sicily and not seeing its divine beauty – what could be worse?

The atmosphere of Sicily makes you look at the world philosophically. Even if a Mafioso with a “lupar” appears to every visitor in every Sicilian, this does not cause the slightest internal protest (“lupar” is a local double-barreled shotgun loaded with a large fraction of wolves and people, well known to everyone from the film “The Godfather”). Sicilians are the cutest people, and the mafioso here is just a profession, a cross between a police officer and a tax inspector. Since ancient times, the “goat nostra” has been keeping order on the island, for which it levies a certain tax on the population. If the mafia had not yet cheated with construction contracts and rolled up defective taxpayers a little less often, then, as I understand it, there would have been no complaints from the local population at all. The order in Sicily is perfect, and it is not the policeman who provides it, but the mafioso. No wonder the Sicilians are envious of the black envy of the Neapolitans, who, because of the rampant crime, each time leave the house with a risk to their lives. In Sicily, even a wallet will not be stolen from a tourist – you are under the protection of the mafia. In other words, our freshly frozen Russian mafia still has to study and study. It would be a desire, and someone to learn from, I will show.

In all other respects, the Sicilians are very similar. Myths are enough for both them and us. We love to eat and drink equally, that’s just food and wine – of different quality. We leave our cars exactly the same under the sign “parking is prohibited.” In our two peoples, industriousness and laziness coexist in almost the same proportion. I don’t know exactly what Goethe had in mind when he said that Sicily was the key to understanding all of Italy, but I suppose that he unexpectedly discovered that the Sicilians are not Germans. We are not Germans in the same way. And this brings us closer to the Sicilians.

Even the political systems here and in Sicily as a whole coincide, although Sicilian democracy is much older than Russian. When they show you the ruins of an ancient fortress and say that there was a palace of justice and a jury was sitting – this is impressive. When you come across a carriage in a small regional museum, which is twice the size of the largest carriage in the Moscow Armory, and you are told that parliamentarians rode on it, this is even more impressive. And when you look around and suddenly realize that the same controlled democracy is flourishing here as ours, it finally finishes. I mean that if this is our bright future, then why is there so much noise in our home today? As the wise Stanislav Jerzy Lets said, why bang your head against the wall? What will you do in the next cell?

The Sicilians and Russians relate approximately equally to the central government: for most citizens of Sicily, as for most Russians, it is terribly far away, and therefore the center lives its own life, and a separate region and citizen own it. Their paths intersect only occasionally. The overwhelming majority of Sicilians simply ignored the constitutional referendum, which we found in Italy, because it considered that any changes in the country’s basic law would not affect their lives. I think that if the election of the head of the Sicilian mafia were held, then this democratic procedure would have found a much greater response in the hearts of the Sicilians. The mafia is just serious. The life of every Sicilian depends on her.

In general, the Sicilian considers himself an Italian, as if in combination. Its own dialect, wide financial and political powers granted to the island under the constitution, and finally, independent character – all this makes the Sicilian look like an atomic submarine, which can be in autonomous navigation indefinitely. It is “endless” because, unlike a real submarine, where fresh fruits can end, they will never be transferred to Sicily. As well as olives, wine, the sun, the beach and other delights. So what kind of stuff, one asks, do they need the rest of Italy? The Italian Sicilian feels himself, perhaps, only during the World Cup. Here he is transformed and rooting for “his own people”, like the whole country.

In other words, by many traits of character, temperament and lifestyle we are similar to Sicilians, like twins. And in the pros and cons. However, when the minuses, as they say, are native, then they are sweet to the heart. No wonder the Russian, getting to Sicily, often becomes famous there. For example, the same physiologist Mechnikov, having arrived in Sicily, immediately discovered phagocytosis (this is when good cells devour evil ones).

Finally, Sicily is a rather rare place on earth where Russians are sincerely loved. If in the Baltic states, France, Finland or Poland, Russophobes live mainly, then Russophiles alone live here. Moreover, these are Russophiles – hereditary, with strong Russophile roots. Thanks for this phenomenon need our ancestors. When a terrible earthquake occurred in Messina in 1908, the sailors of the Russian fleet, standing nearby, were the first to come to the rescue. It was the Russians who raked the rubble in Messina, operated on and treated, fed and transported the refugees.

We must pay tribute to the Sicilians: they all remember and are benevolent even to the new Russians, although they sometimes put their love for Russia to severe trials. Two years later, Messina is preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the disaster, and the day that brought Sicilians so close to the Russians. As the authorities of Messina assured us, the Russians are expected on the island and will be greeted appropriately.

So if someone wants to plunge into the love of the Sicilians at the very top, I can tell you the exact date: the centenary will be celebrated on December 28, 2008.

I don’t promise forty-degree heat in Sicily on this day, but I guarantee a warm love.

This post is also available in: English Русский (Russian)

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