Thursday, November 26, 2009

Feeding the Soul in Palermo (2): Lampedusa

For many of us, the emotional connection to Sicily is not necessarily musical. Mine began as a lad, when I for some reason was offered Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s totally beautiful Il Gattopardo to read. I wish I could remember who suggested I read it, for I’ve been indebted to that person for many years. Of course I read The Leopard in translation but the impact was nevertheless very powerful and I remember spending much time thinking about this beautiful story and this splendid, haunting place. Then Luchino Visconti’s lavish film appeared and for many years this was unquestionably my favorite film. Even recently – perhaps five years ago – a director’s cut was released, and we were able to see it. What a magnificent, stunning experience!

So naturally I was anxious to learn what I could about Lampedusa and his island when I came to Sicily. I was surprised to discover from Guisi that few people ask about the author of this magnificent book. He is naturally greatly revered by the Sicilians, indeed by all of Italy, but visitors to Sicily don’t seem to care very much about Lampedusa and there is little about him to learn in situ. Lampedusa itself – the island – I was advised is not worth a visit except for the beaches, and this is the wrong season for that. Only 113 km from the African coast, It has become now a destination for thousands of desperate immigrants, often attempting the journey in boats that aren’t designed to handle the crowds of people crammed aboard (with the awful result that according to the U.N.’s refugee agency – UNHCR – more than 2,000 people die each year attempting the crossing).

So there continues to be interest in Lampedusa the author. I was interested to discover, hanging in the office of Filippo Guttuse, Direttore, Biblioteca Comunale Palermo, a poster of a splendid portrait of Lampedusa. Painted by Nicolo D’Alessandro, the portrait is in the collection of the Biblioteca Comunale (sadly, his papers are not, for they continue to be part of Lampedusa’s publisher’s archives) and it is a handsome depiction of what this great writer must have looked like.

An even more delightful surprise (and one taking us back to the musical) came at the Biblioteca del Teatro Massimo, where Signora Modico – showing us some of the scenic designs for previous productions – presented the sketches of the opera “Il Gattopardo,” an opera of which I had no knowledge whatsoever (I had not even heard that it is an opera!). How I would love to have seen it! Perhaps someday a patron will sponsor a production in New York. I imagine it would be well worth the wait (well, for Lampedusa fans like myself).

And still, in Palermo, there is some further interest in Lampedusa. Or at least to the Sicilian connection with the film, for the palazzo where the great ball was filmed can be visited. And, yes, the idea of a visit seemed attractive, with the ballroom’s apparently breath-taking ceiling (a double ceiling designed so those below can look up and see the decorations on the “first” ceiling and through openings see equally executed decorations on the “inside” ceiling) something to see. However, it was not to be, not this trip: the palazzo is private. Like many palazzi in Italy, though, it can be hired out for a visit. Sadly, whether the number of guests would be just the two of us or a party of 90, the fee is the same - €600.00. Perhaps not this time. I’ll stick with my happy memories of what I saw in the film!

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