Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Baroque nights

“Are we going by vespa?  There might be no parking there” Vincenzo says while deciding which shirt to wear. He knows I love moving by my vespa. A car is an option for me for long distances or when storming.  We also are late for our funky birthday party at centro storico (1).

Late November  and we are still blessed with mild weather. Not much traffic. We are driving slowly, enjoying a warm breeze over our faces. As we approach its historical center, the black lady appears with its lava stone Baroque-style palazzos, the ruins of its Greek and Roman theatres emerging from the decadent atmosphere of the narrow streets, built after a Mt Etna devastating eruption and a disastrous earthquake wiped out most of the town in 1669 and 1696. For our Baroque-style, we have been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. I’m afraid we do not fully understand the importance of such an honourable mention, nor our politicians use it to enhance our touristic potential. Our indolence is stronger than our shrewdness.  

“Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck are just arrived, guys!” Jerry shouts out hilariously,  looking at us arriving on the back of my vintage-style moped-saddle. Somehow, we remind him of the Oscar winning movie Roman Holidays starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn riding a vespa in Rome.

The best part of driving a vespa is you can easily free yourself out from our heavy traffic and park wherever you need. So, I’ve  parked just down the scalinata Alessi, where the Niewsky, our party venue, stands halfway along the flight of steps. One of the few real institutions in town, a very unusual place for a birthday party, it matches our freakish guest of honour well. 
“This place still retains the same Che Guevara-Buena Vista Social Club-smoky-shabby atmosphere it had in late ’80s” Enzo notices while greeting old and new friends. It was back on 1986 when Saro, its out-and-out communist  owner, opened the Niewsky, the first pub in town, giving rise to a new trend of reclamation and renewal for our centro storico. In a short period of time, the youth seized the area, clubs and restaurants invaded smoothly the sleeping Baroque buildings. Nightlife rescued our streets from blight and crime, the local movida was so intense and vibrant to be compared to the Madrilenian one. This was the primavera Catanese,  a sort of permanent spring which gave the city and its people pride and identification for about a decade.  

It’s Thursday night and both the Niewsky and scalinata Alessi  are packed with people.  Indoors, men and women around their  ‘40s having their organic dinner, no Coca Cola, only red wine sipping. Outdoors, students camping out along the steps drinking beers and mojitos. Our Baroque nights speak a blend of European languages; Italian, Spanish, English, French. The Erasmus exchange project among UE universities  for students’ mobility is the tangible heritage of our primavera Catanese.
Memories flow back to my Erasmus experience in Rotterdam in ’93 and I feel like suffering from Peter Pan’s syndrome of eternal youth.

Gripped by misrule and impasse today, Catania goes through a very difficult period. But its nights still throbs with life.

(1) Centro storico = historical centre

Monday, November 9, 2009

The second life of Bellomo Gallery

No doubt, Sicily is a true open-air museum with its Greek temples and theatres, Roman and Byzantine mosaics, Medieval-style villages, Baroque-style palazzos and towns, Art-nouveau decorations.

For this, you'll be somehow disappointed if you expect to find a tons of art museums throughout the island as this seems to not to be a priority for our politicians who definitely lack of a far-seeing long-term strategy in terms of cultural politics.

But we do have fine pearls to show and the Bellomo Gallery is one of them. 

Take a walk in Ortigia, the Baroque-style historical centre of Syracuse, get across the scenographic Piazza Duomo, dazzling light and airy, a triumph of limestone prevailing in its monuments, the imposing Cattedrale and the noble palazzos defining the square. This square has been several times the perfect set for famous shootings.
Proceed to the Badia di Santa Lucia, a small church, once a nuns' convent, now hedging in temporarily Caravaggio's Bury of St. Lucy

Finally, head towards Via Capodieci 14. The Gallery of Palazzo Bellomo stands here, brought back to its second life thanks to long works of restoration.

Luigi Messina, its enlightened director, is one of those rare exemplary in Sicily public administration of pleasant and passionate men  who just care about what he does and the way this has to be done. He is so proud of the museum's new life, you cannot be infected by his enthusiasm, energy and own volition.

I can't say what it is more interesting, if the Palazzo itself, a building dating back to XIII-XIV century, being the most comprehensive architectural masterpiece in Syracuse of the age of Frederick II, or the Medieval and modern art collection it offers to amateurs. 

 Antonello da Messina's Annunciation is absolutely the highlight. Its partial restoration has revived that predominant and eye-catching cobalt blue as well as numberless small important details which enriches the painting and mark it out.

But the Gallery offers more. A sequence of refined pictorial collections of the XV century, but also silver and gold pieces, historical clothes, fabrics, ceramics, weapons, carriages.

No bookshop nor cafè at disposal for visitors at the moment. Burocracy in Sicily is slower than everywhere else in the world, we trust sometime in the future the museum will be provided with them. Cultural marketing is a process we still have to metabolize in Sicily.
Its admission fee fixed at Eur 8,00 per person might be maybe too much, I heard people complaining there is no right balance between price and the offer. 

Despite to that, we would like to believe the Bellomo Gallery is meant as a concrete step forward to try to turn our art patrimony from a heritage of the past into a real investment for the future of the territory and its population.