Sicily, that warmth land helping you against your fears and pain

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Sicily has dazzled the Polish interior architect Joanna Bartkowiak since her first trip to the island and for over 15 years, enough to make her want to resume her studies of Sicilian literature. About the discovery of such a new and unimaginable land she said: «As I flew, I didn’t know what to expect next: something would have changed my life and myself forever»

The island appeared to me through the clouds at sunset. A little group of red lights drew the shape of the burning volcano in my imagination. I knew, I felt, that Sicily was nearby, somewhere beneath the clouds. That warm mountain has attracted me for so long: I dreamed of looking into the crater, reaching the top and defeating my weakness – because climbing a volcano is like fighting against physical abilities, fear, time, heat and loneliness. As I flew, I didn’t know what to expect next: something would have changed my life and myself forever.

2014 was a particularly hard year for me: I overlooked the true meaning of my work as interior designer and, in general, of my life. I lost faith in friendship and in others too. I was so disappointed and embittered that I decided to pack my bag. I discovered Sicily before going there, while digging in the grave of my historical ignorance. My Polish romantic and excited essence led me to believe that Italy had been united and reborn like Poland almost in the same period. Instead, when I understood some facts and truths about Risorgimento, I felt a great empathy and some kind of shame. I also realized that, no matter how good my Italian would have ever been, I could have never really understood Sicilian and therefore Sicily. I got sad.

On 18th October 2014, after only 20 hours in Sicily, I reached Castellamare del Golfo with one of my friends. There two couch surfers from Alcamo were waiting for us. They brought us to a natural pond of sulfur, hidden in the mountains and in the dark of night. That experience restored my belief in the good, in myself, in life and in people. Sicily taught me not to be afraid, even when it seems awful or frightful. Now I know the origin of my anxieties and I’m not afraid anymore.

During my first “three days in Sicily” I visited Trapani, Erice, Alcamo, Palermo and Catania. I can’t count my next trips in Sicily: its colors and tastes, the sounds of fish markets and buskers, the feast of St. Agatha with its processions, Easter Sunday and Monday in Catania, the popular district where I lived for months (called Civita) and its amazing Teatro Coppola… Sicily is like a point of reference or a state of mind, which supports me despite everything. I was always anxious, in a hurry or “on a diet”, always “different”, but in Sicily I found all my inexhaustible patience (just like the one Tomasi Di Lampedusa must have had).

Piazza Teatro Massimo, in Catania, is an extraordinary spectacle at night, with its usual and amazing combination of colors, languages and different cultures, where you can find girls in miniskirt and shaved boys. I can’t believe that it wasn’t only a show but real life. Like in the movies or in a love song, “si nun ti viu, mi veni di mu­ri­ri” (if I don’t see you, I could die). Sicily was born this way, thanks to the best of these people coming from all over the world, from the north to the south, like Björn Ra­gnars­son or Mu­ham­mad al-Idri­si, and you can feel its human warmth everywhere. I’m not afraid of future pains, how could I? Loneliness, alienation, xenophobia, bad nationalism increasing in my country are based on fear. But, while Catania welcomes me, I hope with my shame that its citizens will never send me away.

Translated by Daniela Marsala

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