31 agosto 2013

Gianni Celeste a San Cristoforo (28-08-2013)

Alle 22, via del Principe è pronta. Di fronte al palco, posizionato in mezzo alla strada all’altezza di via Alcibiade, la folla è compatta. Più indietro, all’incrocio con via Villascabrosa, è attraversata dal traffico dei veicoli. Le moto, parcheggiate comodamente in mezzo alla confusione, formano una tripla fila di posti a sedere, con intere famiglie sedute sopra. Anche i balconi che danno sulla via, e un alto terrazzo dietro il palco che domina la scena, sono occupati.

Dopo aver sopportato due emergenti-spalla neomelodici in apertura, la folla aspetta Gianni Celeste. Quando spunta, maglietta scollata e calvizie matura ma portata con sobrietà, la folla esplode, come i fuochi d’artificio che con il loro fracasso coprono quasi per intero la prima canzone.

Si mostra un po’ emozionato, Gianni, anche se questa è forse l’unica nota insincera della serata. Il pubblico infatti non è venuto qui per fare presenza o per inseguire un nome, ma per ascoltare le canzoni di Gianni Celeste, uno di loro. E’ il popolo di San Cristoforo che riempie via del Principe, il bar-pizzeria e la panineria che evidentemente, a giudicare dai ripetuti ringraziamenti rivolti loro dal palco, hanno tirato fuori i soldi per organizzare l’evento.

Sono pochi gli infiltrati, non troppo difficili da identificare: macchine fotografiche alla mano, niente trucco, e uno sguardo tra lo scettico e l’interessato. E soprattutto, non cantano.
L’audio è terribile, rimpallato dalle strette pareti della strada. La chitarra ne esce ancora bene, una chitarra che sembra venuta fuori dagli anni d’oro del metal inglese. Non così le tastiere, cacofoniche, e la voce, a malapena comprensibile. Ma poco importa, tutti sanno quello che bisogna cantare, e Gianni li lascia fare spesso, puntando loro contro il microfono. E’ una partecipazione spontanea e trascinante, fa venir voglia di saperle, quelle parole, di amalgamarsi alla folla.


Gianni Celeste ha esperienza e carisma. Non batte ciglio quando il pubblico inizia ad arrampicarsi dalla parte posteriore del palco, occupandolo progressivamente, né si tira indietro di fronte alle dediche che gli vengono richieste di continuo: “da Maurizio a sua moglie” o “A due nostri amici che non ci sono più, e ci ascoltano dal cielo”.
E poi balla, suda, e da buon cantante d’opera neomelodica, lancia vocali modulate come il canto di un muezzin, sommerse dai riff di chitarra elettrica.

Per chi qui è venuto per la gente più che per la musica, la serata tocca l’apice quando Gianni fa uno strappo alla regola e canta una canzone che “di solito non metto mai in scaletta”, ma che “qui, tra noi cresciuti tutti nel quartiere, nati nel quartiere” non poteva non fare: Nu Latitante.
Dedicandoli “ai nostri cari che vorrebbero essere qui con noi ma non possono”, Gianni canta i versi del povero latitante che non vive più, lontano dalla famiglia e dalla sua casa. Un boato accoglie dedica e canzone: evidentemente devono essere molti quelli in fuga, da queste parti.


A mezzanotte esatta, al semplice “ciao!” lanciato dall’idolo neomelodico che scompare dietro il palco, la folla volta le spalle e si disperde come un gregge spaventato, senza riservare ai musicisti un ultimo applauso e senza neanche aspettare che finisca la canzone. Quando si spengono le note, non c’è rimasto quasi più nessuno in strada. Anche volendo, un bis sarebbe impossibile. Ma forse è giusto così: perché recitare la solita ridicola commedia? Qui è tutto al naturale.

D’altronde, due ore di concerto sono tante e i bambini in braccio alle mamme, storditi dalla musica rimbombante, sono ormai sull’orlo dello sfinimento.

28 ottobre 2012

Un profeta alla fiera del populismo

"Chi offre di meno? Signori e signore, abbiamo un'offerta di 3.000 € più rimborso spese ma senza vitalizio! Qualcuno offre di meno? 3.000 e uno, 3.000 e due, 3.... 2.500! Cancelleri offre 2.500€! Con o senza vitalizio? SENZA!! E con rimborso solo delle spese certificate! Aggiudicato!"
Alla fiera del populismo (s)cateno de Luca dipinge manifesti con masse che vogliono (mazze in mano) rottamare la "vecchia politica", un'immagine abbastanza truculenta. Ma Grillo offre un sogno a tutti gli elettori (non eletti), un consigliere regionale che costi poco più di un impiegato, poco meno di un medico. E offre soprattutto, vista l'improbabilità che una simile proposta possa mai passare all'ARS (a meno che i grillini abbiano la maggioranza!), candidati pronti a restituire l'intero stipendio, meno 2.500€. Per ogni grillino all'ARS, un risparmio di circa 15.000€ al mese. Verrebbe quasi voglia di votarli. Geniale, Grillo, che si attira tutto l'odio e l'amore diretti al Movimento 5 stelle, lasciando ai candidati un tranquillo semi-anonimato. Un metodo usato abitualmente da Mourinho, per fare un esempio calcistico. E soprattutto da Berlusconi con la sua strabordante energia (che va finalmente esaurendosi in un delirio pre-alzheimer).
In piazza a Catania (come dovunque, del resto) Grillo fa il pienone, stanando i suoi fedeli dai gusci virtuali di Facebook e Liquidfeedback come si fa con le lumache dopo averle cucinate. Poi vende magliette con l'ombra del suo faccione ghignante stampata sopra in nero, una bizzarra parodia del Che. E la gente se le compra.
Il comizio è una bomba (e infatti il pubblico fa "BOOOM!", messaggio diretto a Napolitano). In qualche modo dice cose fantastiche e cose impossibili e idiote allo stesso tempo, ma siccome è un comico e fa un intervento da comico, le cose impossibili ti sembra ovvio considerarle battute, mentre quelle fantastiche non possono non esaltarti. E' il metodo che uso anch'io per scrivere biocomiche: quello che c'è di credibile è serio, il resto è comicità. Ma mi sorge il dubbio che quando dice quelle cose Grillo ci creda. Il Profeta della piazza. Quando passa una camionetta dei pompieri giusto a metà comizio, dice "Apritevi!" e la folla, prima incerta, si apre come il mar rosso. Poi aggiunge "Speriamo che abbiano l'acqua!". Geniale.
Se devo essere sincero (e mi costa), dopo aver visto il comizio ho deciso che l'avrei votato, anche perché il candidato presidente (Cancelleri) non mi sembra troppo male. I consiglieri sono tutti ventenni, il che non è necessariamente un pregio. Né un difetto. Una di loro, la più giovane, si è impappinata e bloccata in mezzo al discorso come se fosse alla Corrida.
Cosa succederà? E' davvero possibile che vincano i grillini? L'impressione è che prenderanno un sacco di voti. Se vincessero, sarebbe davvero un cambiamento? E soprattutto, in meglio o in peggio?
Adesso vado a votare, e non so dire chi e cosa sceglierò. Vedrò cosa mi dice la coscienza.
Buon voto a tutti.



19 ottobre 2012

Le parole mute della Sicilia

Cos'è la Sicilia? Pensavo di saperlo, ai tempi in cui mi credevo uno che di siciliano non aveva niente, neanche l'accento. Salvo poi andare a Napoli e scoprire che parlavo "tale e quale" a Salvo-del-Grande-Fratello (il primo, anno 2000).
E' a distanza che ho iniziato a conoscerla, la Sicilia, condita prima solo con lontananza e poi con nostalgia durante gli anni tedeschi.
E adesso che ho fatto da autista e guida a due cinesi di Taiwan mi sembra di conoscerla ancora di più, negli sguardi sorpresi o divertiti di chi dibatte sull'origine giapponese, cinese o coreana delle mie distinte signore, nella rudezza e gentilezza della gente, nelle torme di turisti più o meno estasiati e nelle loro guide, volgari o delicate, che si guadagnano da vivere (come me questa settimana) da ammortizzatori socio-culturali investiti di una missione di verità e bugie a maggior gloria patria.
Sulla barchetta a chilometri (orari) zero delle saline di Mozia, su quella siracusana nelle mani di un bruto timoniere panzone con conoscenze a Noto ("una compare di mia madre, buonanima, persona stupenda...") e nozioni storiche quantomeno azzardate ("il Castello Maniace, costruito da Federico II 1263 anni fa..."); sulle strade provinciali implose, inclinate sui fianchi stanchi e sulle autostrade a saliscendi; nella valle dei templi illuminata dal sole basso e poi dai riflettori, con un cane in cerca di cibo tra i turisti, uno di casa a tutti gli effetti; nei negozi, nei ristoranti, circondato dall'ammirazione, curiosità, invidia di quelli che  l'inglese lo vorrebbero parlare: giorno dopo giorno, per dieci giorni, ho imparato ancora un po' di Sicilia.
E poi l'ho vista in Persona, in un uomo affacciato alla finestra di una piazzetta di Ortigia, con un'anguria di pancia dentro la canottiera infilata nei pantaloni, un'acconciatura di nudo integrale e un cerotto da malato sulla gola, a sillabare con grandi movimenti di labbra mute "questo è il Palazzo Montalto, costruito nel 1397", indicando con gesti eloquenti il palazzo giusto accanto al suo balconcino. Sicilia è la felicità disperata che sta nella comunicazione, nella parola anche quando non c'è.

"Sayonara", ha salutato poco dopo una signora roca, sigaretta in bocca e vestaglietta a fiori, rivolta alle mie cinesi che sembrano giapponesi, cinquantenni che sembrano quarantenni.
Due signore interessanti. Una simpatica e tutto sommato semplice, l'altra complessata e disturbata da attacchi di catalessi ed esercizi ginnici, da una insoddisfazione impossibile da colmare e sempre imputabile a qualcosa al di fuori di lei. Entrambe, lamentatesi più o meno sopportabilmente per giorni e giorni, sulla vetta dell'Etna, dentro una nuvola malefica che da due passi getta grandine che non ti può mancare, con un mostruoso vento senza ossigeno che scende dai crateri e un freddo cane, in INFRADITO nonostante tutti i miei ammonimenti, non profferiscono parola di biasimo, sopravvivono alla bufera e gioiscono di una cioccolata calda made in italy.
E tornano a casa con migliaia di euro in bei vestiti, centinaia in ceramiche un po' meno belle e decine in altri souvenir di bruttezza assortita. Il tutto compresso a fatica sopra e sotto il sedile posteriore della nostra Peugeot 208, accanto a Li che di spazio ne occupa molto poco, mentre il bagagliaio scoppia delle due valigie gonfiatesi anche loro, come le signore, durante la permanenza in Sicilia.
E come abbiano fatto a caricare il tutto su un volo Easyjet per Milano questo non lo so, perché non c'ero. Ma confido che ce l'abbiano fatta.
Adesso sono orfano di cinesi e auto, ma mi è rimasto un bel gruzzoletto che basterà a mantenermi un paio di mesi. E non me la sono passata niente male, mangiando pesce ogni giorno e visitando le meraviglie di Sicilia. Non c'è male, come lavoro occasionale da alternare alle ore infinite di scrittore alle prime armi. Se vi serve una guida piacevole, colta, educata e di buon gusto, contattatemi: ci accorderemo sul prezzo.

19 settembre 2012

gente di crotto

C'era una volta una ragazza in vacanza al mare che passava le giornate tentando di leggere libri in spagnolo, spettegolando sugli altri vacanzieri e mangiando quesadillas di pesce, chiamate con geniale intuizione pescadillas. Per una singolare coincidenza, anch'io ero lì al mare e facevo più o meno le stesse cose (escluso spettegolare).
Un giorno che facevamo il bagno, nell'acqua bassa, inizia a urlare e, bilanciandosi precariamente su un solo piede, tira fuori l'altro dall'acqua e mi dice: MI HA PUNTO QUALCOSA! Conficcato nella pianta del piede aveva un "dente" di raia, della raia che aveva appena avuto la scortesia di calpestare. Non sembrava niente di che, ma quando l'ho tirato fuori è iniziato a sgorgare un fiotto di sangue. Ferita non grave, ma dolorosissima.

In un lungo viaggio di qualche anno prima la ragazza della raia, Veronica, aveva incontrato da qualche parte in america latina una coppia di viaggiatori "a oltranza" come lei, Alessandro e Katia, post-trentenni come lei (e come molti, me incluso: è una sindrome che si diffonde molto rapidamente).
Di che parlano i viaggiatori quando si incontrano? Immancabilmente di viaggi. 
Quando l'argomento viene esaurito, qualcuno azzarda la fatidica domanda: 
"e che facevi tu a casa?". Spesso la risposta è il silenzio. Per un viaggiatore il passato non è necessariamente da cancellare, ma di solito non è all'altezza del presente. 
Come potrebbe, d'altronde? 
Idem per il futuro. La classica "soluzione finale", accarezzata da tanti viaggiatori incalliti, di una sistemazione ai tropici con baretto o ristorante annesso, raramente diventa realtà, anche se a volte lo diventa.
Nel caso di Veronica, Katia e Alessandro l'ambientazione non si può definire propriamente "tropicale", in quanto il ristorantino che hanno aperto (ma chiamatelo crotto, come si usa da quelle parti) si trova a Piazzaga, un borgo di forse venti case appollaiato sul costone boscoso che sovrasta il ramo comasco del lago di Como. 
Alessandro si è riscoperto cuoco, un cuoco in infradito e senza cappello, ma comunque un grande cuoco, e immensamente paziente. Veronica è la pasticciera: sforna crostate a ritmo continuo, e in più si occupa dei liquori fatti in casa, esentasse e buonissimi. Katia è una macchina, lavora a tutta velocità finche non si arrende, stremata. E poi c'è di solito un "volontario" straniero, lavapiatti quattro ore al giorno per vocazione, per vitto e per alloggio.
A Piazzaga si arriva solo a piedi dal paese più vicino, dopo 45 minuti di salita. Il bosco sale su dal lago fino al borgo e segue oltre, terminando con un bel faggeto che sbocca sulla via di cresta verso il monte Boletto.
Si sta bene a Piazzaga, la gente è ospitale. Quando c'è, d'estate. Fuori stagione non c'è nessuno, solo case vuote e qualche vecchietto. Vengono a bere uno o due bianchetti d'aperitivo, a mangiare i pizzoccheri (piatto tipico della valtellina, dovunque essa sia), a comprare le patate (il crotto fa anche da rivendita alimentare, in casi di emergenza). Poi fanno una partitina a carte e se ne vanno brontolando e discutendo, come sono venuti.
I crottini lavorano duro, se non piove, ma trovano quasi sempre qualche ora per rilassarsi. 
La vita da ospite, invece, è sempre un paradiso. Si dorme su un materasso buttato a terra, all'ultimo piano della casetta dei ragazzi, dove il piano terra è ingresso /camera di Veronica, quello di sotto scantinato /lavanderia / bagno, e quello di sopra la caotica stanza da letto di Katia e Ale. E si mangia di lusso. Lo stinco di maiale tedesco non mi ha mai conquistato, ma quello del crotto era de-li-zio-so. E che buona la polenta (detto da un terrone vale doppio)! Mi resta da provare l'asino, che dicono sia buonissimo ;)...

E' una scelta coraggiosa, trovare il proprio tropico a due passi da casa, in un borgo isolato e con pochi sbocchi da e per il mondo. Non ci si arricchisce, ma si vive bene. D'inverno il crotto chiude, i crottini si separano e ognuno va alla ricerca del proprio tropico. Secondo indiscrezioni, almeno due dei tre quest'anno lo cercheranno anche in Sicilia. Sono scelte così, sono vite così, le NOSTRE. Bisogna aver coraggio. Anzi: basta aver coraggio.

P.S. Se vi trovate a passare da Torno, Como, andate al crotto e dite che vi mando io. Se fanno finta di non conoscermi, chiedete la fattura! Il link per info e prenotazioni è www.crottopiazzaga.com

27 agosto 2012

biocomiche.it

Il progetto di cui parlavo da tanto tempo è finalmente partito.
In queste ultime settimane ho lavorato a pieno ritmo al sito biocomiche.it, un esperimento divulgativo a sfondo biomedico, con molto humour, la mia grandissima abilità giornalistica e quel tanto di spunti scientifici da stimolare un lettore non specializzato e non annoiarne uno specializzato.
Lo stile è semplice e pop. E' una scelta voluta e difesa, per arrivare a toccare un pubblico il più vasto possibile, per distribuire e diffondere la scienza a chi di scienza non ne sa nulla, ma potrebbe interessarsene se preso nella maniera giusta.
Ho scritto questi pochi, primi post con in mente il genere di persone che ho conosciuto in mille interminabili viaggi in treno: il soldato interessato a clonare il suo cane, che mi chiedeva se fosse necessario conservarlo in freezer; gli ufologi convinti che la terra fosse stata inseminata dagli alieni; le mille facce di persone che al sentir parlare di cancro o leucemia si irrigidivano, pensando ai loro amici e familiari che se ne erano ammalati e morti. E' a loro che voglio parlare, e a quelli come loro.

Il sito è, mi sembra ovvio, in fase super-sperimentale. I post stessi sono in continuo mutamento, per non parlare del layout, colori, font, struttura. Ho fatto tutto io, e purtroppo si vede (guardategli nel cuore, a questo sito!). Una delle cose che più mancano, in quanto parte integrante del progetto, sono le immagini. Cerco un fumettista /vignettista interessato di scienza e disposto a lavorare per la gloria, almeno per il momento. Ogni suggerimento è gradito.

E di suggerimenti di ogni tipo avrei un grandissimo bisogno. Chiarezza, semplicità, humour, lunghezza, pesantezza. Fatemi sapere che ne pensate di biocomiche.it, che siate scienziati o meno, interessati o meno. Aiutatemi!

8 luglio 2012

Politiche Evolutive

Il concetto di spending review non è necessariamente così lontano dalla biologia. Pensateci un pò. Mettiamo: eravamo scimmie. C'è chi dice che fosse una bella vita, in mezzo alla natura, sugli alberi. Poi, chissà perché?, forse per le vertigini o per la voglia di fare un bagno, siamo scesi dagli alberi: abbiamo iniziato a cacciare, a coprirci di pelli, abbiamo scoperto il fuoco. A questo punto, climaticamente il pelo non ci serviva più e neanche come protezione; anzi rendeva solo più difficile scovare le pulci. Poi, bello non era (almeno per il gusto di oggi), così l'abbiamo perso, piano piano, chi più chi meno. Non è questo una sorta di risparmio evolutivo? Abbandonare le caratteristiche non più necessarie.
 Non è facile immaginare cosa potrebbe succedere in futuro. Magari perderemo anche i capelli (qualcuno ha già iniziato...) e il resto dei peli corporei (si estingueranno le estetiste!). Oppure svilupperemo le branchie e una pelle in goretex e andremo a vivere negli oceani. Chi lo sa? E' anche possibile che un giorno una grande carestia ci costringa ad effettuare una seria revisione della spesa energetica a livello biologico-evoluzionistico. Voglio dire, se improvvisamente non ci fosse più da mangiare, si potrebbe pensare di tagliare qualcosa... La statura, ad esempio. Magari ci rimetteremmo un pò di forza fisica, ma cos'è la forza bruta per l'uomo d'oggi?(figuriamoci di domani!)
Però potrebbe non bastare. Allora, siccome la statura si può tagliare solo fino ad un certo punto e peli già non ne abbiamo più, allora si potrebbe pensare di rinunciare ad un dito. Ma si! chi l'ha mai usato il mignolo, per esempio? Non ci si fa nulla! E così per le dita dei piedi. Anzi, propongo che si lasci solo l'alluce e le altre dita le eliminerei proprio (sarebbe anche più facile entrare nelle scarpe). Ma non è ancora sufficiente. Bisogna risparmiare, non ci sono risorse. Allora magari si farebbe senza un rene. Tanto i reni si donano o si vendono anche oggi e nessuno sembra farne una tragedia. Poi la milza, che quando ho fatto anatomia (quella poca che ho fatto) non ho mai capito a cosa servisse. E un polmone (tanto ne abbiamo due). E magari anche tre o quattro metri di intestino: ci si guadagnerebbe anche in silhouette. E poi uno stomaco così grande, a che pro tenerlo se non c'è niente da mangiare? Riduciamo anche quello.
Ecco, forse... Così andrebbe bene. Ci rientriamo con le spese, ci paghiamo i debiti, ci stiamo dentro.
E così andiamo in giro un pò goffamente sugli alluci, non riusciamo neanche più a tirare le pietre perché ci sfuggono di mano, siamo un pò in affanno in salita perché aria certo non ne abbiamo tanta, le coliche renali sono una maledizione, quella mala volta che si trova cibo non riusciamo neanche a mangiarlo perché non ci entra nello stomaco (e forse è meglio così perché va a finire tutto in diarrea, e sai che dolori).
Alla fine, l'ultima misura di risparmio è semplicemente non muoversi più. Siamo stesi sulla battigia, dei relitti spiaggiati leccati dalle onde.
Se non ci muoviamo, non sprechiamo energia.
Prima di estinguerci, il cervello atrofizzato, sonnolento, un ultimo pensiero: ma come ci si procura da mangiare se non ci si muove più?

1 luglio 2012

Una lezione di Geografia Sociale Urbana

Dove finisce la Playa, o piuttosto dove inizia, comincia il porto. Un molo lunghissimo si inoltra per chilometri in mare aperto, segregando due superfici: quella esterna di un blu profondo, irrequieta e ventilata; e quella interna di un azzurro dai leggeri riflessi gialli: piatta, afosa e senza un sospiro di vento. Sul molo, il confine bifronte tra questi due mondi, un occasionale jogger, lento, sudato ed esausto come solo i corridori catanesi sanno essere; e una lunga fila di pescatori/trici. Il bagno qui si potrebbe anche fare, ma bisognerebbe buttarsi in mare aperto da uno dei blocchi di cemento alti sei metri che proteggono il molo (e poi come risalire?) o nelle acque del porto tra le canne dei pescatori.
Dove finisce il porto, inizia la stazione. In questo angolo di sud estremo dove non ci si immaginerebbe di trovare neanche un viaggiatore, tutto si muove. Quando guardi all'orizzonte c'è sempre una nave che sta attraccando o partendo, un aereo che sale appoggiandosi all'afa (in ritardo se è Windjet), ma quasi mai un treno che parte: via terra la Sicilia è ancora isolata (apologia di un immaginario Ponte sullo Stretto). La stazione è dunque più che altro un deposito treni e una fermata della striminzita metropolitana catanese. Superato l'ultimo binario, si è sulla scogliera. Se ti affacci e guardi oltre gli arbusti selvatici, vedi un lido appollaiato al muro di contenimento, con cabine, sdraio e una scaletta di accesso al mare. Dopo il lido, che è bello ma è un lido e pertanto non soddisfa i miei criteri, scogli. Da qui fino ad Acitrezza (e probabilmente anche dopo) sono solo scogli: neri, roventi. Una antica lava a tratti corrugata come pieghe di pachidermi centenari, in altre parti rotta in piccoli massi arrotondati dalle onde che suonano col rintocco vuoto di una lastra di cemento quando cozzano tra loro.
Dal sottopassaggio vengono fuori Uomini Soli. Due o tre sono pescatori, ma gli altri hanno l'irrequietezza nello sguardo di chi sta cercando qualcosa: quella che ha qualsiasi uomo quando va in spiaggia e inizia a catalogare le possibili prede. Ma qui non ci sono donne. Sono degli uomini che cercano. Liberissimi di farlo, ovviamente. Il problema è che anch'io sono uomo e sono da solo. E siccome mi disturba essere scrutato come se fossi una coscia di pollo allo spiedo, preferisco andar via: qui si traffica in merce a cui non sono interessato, e non sono neanche interessato a diventare la merce! (Non so come facciano le donne a sopportare tutto ciò).
I binari seguono la costa e la scogliera per qualche centinaio di metri prima di sviare e lasciare il posto al Porto Rossi, un porto privato pieno di piccoli yacht. A nord di questo è ancora territorio gay. Arrivo su uno spiazzo asfaltato che digrada su una bella scogliera deserta. Quattro uomini si aggirano in cerchi che si intersecano, gettandosi sguardi colmi di pathos che culminano con il classico: "hai da accendere?". Sembra una danza, o una corrida.
A nord dello spiazzo d'asfalto è costa aperta agli sguardi, visibile dalla strada, piena di gente. Le piattaforme (pubbliche o private) assemblate sugli scogli, questi vassoi di legno dieci metri sopra il mare dove centinaia di catanesi si rosolano e appaiono, non coincidono con la mia idea di mare. Dopo i lidi c'è San Giovanni li Cuti, il porticciolo di un borgo anticamente separato da Catania che attorno alla piazzetta ha mantenuto un pò l'aria di paesino. Sul molo i ragazzini fanno gare di tuffi; sugli scogli signore e signori, ma anche giovani, residenti nella Catania alta, si rinfrescano in acqua o siedono sugli smussati massi di pietra lavica. L'acqua è sorprendentemente pulita. Ci sono dei pesci, delle alghe. A Napoli avevo l'impressione che non crescesse nessuna forma di vita, a ridosso della città. Quando ti allontani nuotando qualche bracciata e ti giri ad osservare la scena, vedi la spiaggia nera punteggiata di gente, indovini la strada dove le macchine si sentono ma non si vedono e sei schiacciato dalla presenza imponente di tre enormi palazzine in primo piano (altre le seguono): la Città.
Se siete arrivati fin qui avete coraggio. Potrei voler proseguire la descrizione della costa fino ad Acitrezza: mancano ancora otto chilometri! Invece voglio solo aggiungere l'ultimo tassello. Siamo poco a nord di San Giovanni li Cuti, all'altezza dell'Hotel Nettuno. Qui ho trovato lo scoglio perfetto. Si scavalca la ringhiera, si discende un pò avventurosamente dagli scogli e si arriva a una piccola insenatura con una pietra piatta su cui cuocersi e prendere il sole, un piccolo spazio all'ombra per leggere il giornale e delle pozze d'acqua stagnante con dentro dei granchietti isterici. Quando entro nell'acqua chiara e fresca penso ossessivamente che lusso.che lusso.che lusso. Trovare un posto così in piena città mi sembra un lusso impagabile. Dall'acqua profonda (saranno almeno sei o sette metri) mi giro a guardare la città, a sud, da una prospettiva opposta rispetto a quella della Playa: la torre dell'acqua a cono rovesciato, i tralicci della ferrovia, il gigantesco uovo nero e le torri del complesso "le Ciminiere"; poi il porto con le sue immense navi, sopra le cui teste prende il volo in diagonale un aereo. Cartoline da Catania.

20 giugno 2012

Una vita normale

Un momento di calma.
Una rarità, qui a Catania. Dal 6 di giugno posso dire di vivere di nuovo da qualche parte, anche se non so per quanto tempo. Ho preso casa a Catania, la città dove mi sono trovato meglio in assoluto, la città che è Sicilia, Europa e anche Mondo in uno spazio non troppo vasto tra un vulcano immenso, una spiaggia lunghissima e l'unico fiume degno di tale nome che scorre in questa isola.
Abito vicino alla facoltà di Giurisprudenza, nel centro focale della città. Dalla mia finestra sulla piazzetta /parcheggio entra una cascata di rumori. Le macchine e le moto che passano e spassano rombando e strombazzando; i parcheggiatori che indirizzano le signore un pò diffidenti ai posti disponibili; due uomini seduti in una seicento rossa, con le porte aperte, che parlottano misteriosamente sottovoce; la musica dal balcone al secondo piano del palazzo di fronte al mio, una sorprendente mescolanza di musica classica e pop; la ragazza del bar di fronte, che seduta a gambe larghe su una sedia, racconta della pessima fine di un incontro romantico con un uomo rivelatosi impotente.
Mi ci trovo bene, in tutto questo casino. La notte sono costretto a mettermi i tappi, perché qui sotto il bar tira tanto ed è sempre pieno di gente, e anche quando non c'è nessuno quelli che ci lavorano sono anche più rumorosi. E mi trovo bene alla Pescheria, il mercato qui vicino, dove i venditori sono nel caso più fortunato rudi: per l'appunto veri, siddiati, e catanisi.

La spiaggia di Catania si chiama "la playa". E' una distesa di chilometri di sabbia chiara con vista sulla città che si arrampica a nord e sull'Etna immenso in largo e in alto che sfumetta tutto il tempo dal suo cratere sommitale. La stranezza di questa spiaggia è che ci sono dei lidi per tutte le forze dell'ordine del mondo: c'è il Lido del Carabiniere, della Polizia, della Guardia di Finanza, della Marina, dell'Esercito, dell'Aeronautica. Forse manca solo il Lido del Vigile Urbano. La maggior parte di questi lidi, però, sono abbandonati: file di cabine scassate chiuse da una cancellata. Poi ci sono i lidi commerciali e infine le "spiagge libere", meta dei catanesi meno chic o forse semplicemente meno snob, visto che a Catania ognuno, a modo suo, è un pò chic. La spiaggia libera n°1 è attaccata alla città, con vista sul lunghissimo molo del porto. La n°2 è quella dove vado di solito io perché non è affollata, ha una vista stupenda, è a qualche chilometro dalla città e l'acqua non è male. La spiaggia libera n°3 è quella più alla moda, piena di gente che si mostra e si guarda, di tennisti racchettoni, della classica fauna da spiaggia italiana. E' uno spasso osservare la vita di spiaggia catanese. Ci sono i gruppi di ragazze fighissime con costumini invisibili, stese (con il reggiseno obbligatoriamente slacciato) a soffrire unte al sole, offrendo scorci fugaci di capezzoli distratti; le giovani alternative con il cane e i capelli un pò azzannati, costumi vecchi e neri e fisici umani; le famiglie felici di bambini obesi che si tirano la sabbia e di mamme che li maledicono o li lasciano ammazzarsi in pace mangiandosi crude le telline con cui hanno riempito delle intere bottigliette di plastica nell'acqua bassa della playa.

Per quanto riguarda più direttamente la mia persona, me la passo bene. La mattina lavoro ai miei progetti o mando curriculum (o curricula) senza speranza e senza futuro, nella tranquillità di una indennità di disoccupazione tedesca che mi permette ampiamente di vivere. Il pomeriggio vado alla playa e nel tornare per il quartiere (malfamato) dietro via Plebiscito, mi fermano alternativamente i poliziotti con la moto, senza casco e con pistola, per cercarmi droga nella bicicletta; o i mafiosi /spacciatori insospettiti ugualmente dal cappellino, la bici e lo zainetto: dall'aria da coglione, insomma. Mangio benissimo, vado al cinema, a teatro, ripesco gente dal mio passato catanese e ogni tanto torno a Noto a giocare con i miei amati nipotini.
Ho una stanza minuscola e un letto singolo, ma se vi accontentate di stare un pò stretti siete i benvenuti: venitemi a trovare. Ma avvisatemi prima. Ho affari (di cuore) a Pavia e di tanto in tanto sarò là a sciogliermi al caldo padano.
Vi salutai.

18 maggio 2012

Isla Mendez: caught between two seas

El Salvador was the last part of my trip in central america. Already in Guatemala I realized I missed Europe and when I was in Belize I finally booked my return flight. After that, things were different: at first I felt I had not enough time left and I hurried up; then, I had too much time and I was kind of stuck in El Salvador. By setting a date and a place for the end of my trip, I had lost my freedom. On my last chance before leaving, though, I hit the jackpot. I looked for days at the foldable map of El Salvador, trying to figure out which part of the coast would suit my - rather unpredictable - requirements. After long meditation, I chose the Jiquilisco Bay, an invagination of the coast forming almost a lagoon, separated from the ocean by a narrow strip of land.
I went to Isla Mendez, which is not an island but a town of about 2500 located on the shore of the lagoon, half way down the peninsula. The town is a catalogue of widely spaced shanty houses made of wood, bricks or sheets of tin. The sandy streets and huge trees - standing or fallen or loaded with delicious mangoes - contribute an unmistakably tropical feeling. But a domesticated one: crowds of starving stray dogs wander helplessly, bones sticking out of their poor coats as though they were made of coat-hangers and cheap fading fabric; beside them, a huge sow eats rubbish from the street or - obscene - sleeps on one side like a stranded whale, surrounded by her shoats; while a cock herds his mangy harem around.
The water in the bay is calm and salty, warm like in a warm bath and constantly reluctantly following the tide: up up up until it licks the walls of the houses by the shore; and back to the bottom, unearthing millions of tiny colourful caballero crabs, forever fighting each other with their disproportionate nipper. I bathed for hours in the soupy water between the mangroves of the inland and the fisher boats and poor houses and the church of the village.
Opposite to the tourist center - where I slept and ate - just across the paved road, there was one of the three football fields of the town. At about five in the afternoon, workers coming back from the fields on their bikes would stop to chat and watch the crowds playing inordinately: naked-chested vs. t-shirted.
Then they would move on, cycling slowly towards the sun plunging into the asphalt at the end of road: a huge yolk frying in the afternoon heat.
[Football impregnates the town. People of all age play all the time, the girls as much as the boys. And there is an insane passion for spanish football, which reduces the world to the field of confrontation of two opposite forces: Real Madrid and Barcelona. I watched several Champions League matches standing in a small crowd by a window, peeping at someone’s TV through the iron bars and commenting animatedly. In the end everybody was sad (except me), because neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona made it to the final...]
At sunset the girls who ran the restaurant closed the business and left me alone. I would swing in the hammock reading a book and marvel at the low rumble from the Pacific Ocean two
kilometers afar. From Isla Mendez to the Pacific shore it is a twenty minutes walk along the paved road, populated with cows and horses going to the pastures. The beach runs all along the coast, fifty meters wide, completely bare but for an occasional wooden shack. Foaming white waves roll and crash continuously on the dark sand. On this side of the peninsula every bath was a fight.When I left Isla Mendez I carried away with me the goodbye tears of cook Noemi (although she also cried for Real Madrid!), the wide black eyes of her child daughter, the curious questions of the pupusa ladies and the friendliness and interest everybody presented me with. The road to the highway was spotted with brown marks of cattle's dug and invaded by corn grains put to dry on the asphalt. A dead horse lay by the road, its eye sockets empty, under a black blanket of vultures.
Soon I shall be in Europe, I told myself.
Well, here I am.
THE END

4 maggio 2012

Mountains of El Salvador

This is a tale about mountains and the wrong ways (my ways!) to explore them.
Looking for a calm, small hideout, I directed my steps to the nicely named Alegria, a pretty town located half way up a little mountain covered with the white of blossoming coffee trees. There you can just go up- or downhill, and either way you get beautiful views of the farmland at the foot of the mountain, crossed by the twisted silver ribbon of Rio Lempa. Behind the mountain, easily reachable through a paved road going around it, there is a volcanic crater with yellowish stones, filled with emerald waters and the smell of sulphur. Not surprisingly - although this time not on purpose - I did not take the "official" road to the lagoon. Instead, from the top of the mountain I cut straight down to the crater. Sliding and falling and clutching tree branches, I negotiated the steep slope, releasing a few times big boulders which crashed catastrophically through the woods before coming to rest in the crater. In the end I came out of the foliage all bruised and covered in mud and, walking past the giggling party of street workers who had witnessed my whole adventure, I saluted them with dignity - maintaining I had been all the time in complete control of the situation...
Two days after, Alegria was no happy place anymore, in a wet prelude of the rainy season. I moved then to another village near the northeastern border with Honduras: Perquin.
Here, as everywhere else, tourism seems to be a thing of the past, and most accommodations have closed down. Practically my only chance to sleep was a spider-webbed mud-stained room in the backyard of abuela Alba's restaurant. Granma Alba is a very nice and cultivated 80-years old lady - she even passed me some good books - who reminded me acutely of my own nonna Sarina, especially in the way she commanded the somewhat slow Adolfo, her servant /slave. The last component of my perquinian family was the dog "kissy", a most friendly and stinky beast which loved to stand on its hind legs and stamp my t-shirts with its dirty paws.
Again, I went for the mountains. Standing at the top of the nearest and tallest one, Peak Perquin, I had a breathtaking view of the lower reliefs all around me, crossed by intersecting broad paths. I took a mental snapshot of the surroundings and made myself on the way to an isolated peak north of me. The paths were in fact mule tracks, where I crossed pairs of oxen pulling stacks of wooden planks, steered by diffident lumberjacks. In my mental map, I had not considered that each time I wanted to pass from a peak to the next one, I had to descend all the way to the valley, cross a river and climb up the other side. It took three hours before I reached my goal: the windy, silent, treeless top of the mountain. It was noon. I had no more water. When, after three more hours and a total of five river crossings I reached the paved road to Perquin, I was suffering the worst thirst of my life, and was deliriously dreaming of dense iced fruit shakes. My legs wouldn't move any more. I hitchhiked to the town and dove into a gallon of water.
This tale of mountains ends in San Miguel, the second largest city of El Salvador and the prettiest one. In a pleasantly hot, sticky, late sunday afternoon, walking back to the hotel, I saw the setting sun light half of a pool table inside a cerveceria. I could not resist. I went in, asked for a beer, and invited the one sober man I could find to a friendly match. I think I won; he probably thinks the same. Either way, it was fun.

27 aprile 2012

God Save San Salvador

I made a point of going to San Salvador, the capital of this small country, in search of the harsh feeling of a central american metropolis. As I arrived on a quiet sunday afternoon, I was not displeased by the abandoned look of the city center. Coming here I did not expect beauty - and beauty is indeed nowhere to see. Nevertheless, I must admit that the center offered some interesting sights and some life - I suppose much more of that on weekdays. But when the night falls, it drains all life out. From the concrete balcony of my room I could see and hear the frantic energy gradually reaching the zero level: fewer and fewer red noisy and fuming city buses and - by 8 pm - a tense, silent calm. After that only the desperate ones would walk the street in their vague, aimless stroll; or the few brave ones hurrying to the relative safety of their barbed-wired houses. In the distance beyond the low buildings of the neighborhood, the skyscrapers of Power, the towers of Politics. I felt trapped.
The day after I sought freedom and the "best nightlife in central america" (Lonely Planet) in a richer neighborhood to the north. The "freedom" I found here is of a peculiar sort: it is the freedom to take your car through one kilometer of a six lane urban highway to the nearest mall; or the freedom to drive two hundred meters (walking is dangerous...) to a nice bar where a gunned man guards the door. I had no car, so I had to walk the highway up and down from the hostel to the bus stop by the mall - EVERYTHING is in the Mall or by the Mall: ATM, Post Office, food, books, Life, Universe....
At some point I gave up any hope about the surroundings and stepped on a bus directed to the even richer neighborhood of the Zona Rosa where I wanted to visit the Museo de Arte de El Salvador (MARTE) and some galleries. Through the windows it was the same scene as before: malls, ugly buildings, cars. I grew increasingly restless at the idea of getting off the bus and face that world again until, at the due stop - quite autistically - I could not make up my mind to go: I made no move. Instead I stayed seated in the bus until it circled back to the beginning. There I had once more the highway ordeal before me: smoke, heat, stress. Crossing at a flyover I looked out at the apocalyptic scene of cars, trucks, buses among malls, chain shops and hotels and I felt the urge to pull loose the huge advertisement panel beside me and throw it down on the vehicles.
When I finally managed to leave the city, after missing the right bus stop and having to wait interminable minutes for the connection to San Miguel - backpack on my shoulders, fumes in my lungs, by yet another mall /chain shop urban highway conurbation - I was truly shaken.

20 aprile 2012

The Salvation is in Football: the Lake of Coatepeque

Ciento cuarenta mil dolares
y te podras rascar la espalda
con el Bird in space, de Brancusi.

Diecisiete dolares tan solo
y recibiras por doce meses
la Revista Fortune.

Ser inferior que apenas ganas 55 dolares por ano:
la validez de la escultura moderna
es un asunto no resuelto,
la Revista Fortune
solamente aparece en ingles,
¿para que hacerse entonces mala sangre?

La eterna primavera siga contigo, compatriota
de los campeones centroamericanos (juveniles) de futbol!

Con el 60 por ceinto de los salvadorenos (Roque Dalton)


In El Salvador people are eager to talk. Once they start, they are likely to go on for a while. A bit like in Cuba, but with no second aim. Many salvadorans have lived in the USA and would tell me about their good italian friends up there. Some others took weird topics: an ice cream vendor talked for half hour about his passion for arabic countries, their language, the Islam - in a country dominated by fundamentalist evangelical christians, it is something. Often though, at some point the conversation would slip onto the topic of the civil war - understandably, since twelve years of war produced some 75 000 casualties. With time, I became an expert on modern salvadoran history.
As it is written in the books, the history of this country is populated with communists fighting capitalists, with poor ones raising their hands against the rich. Coming from a country were the word "communist" has barely any meaning anymore, I maintained a skeptical approach. Nevertheless, it is clear that economic disparity here is extreme. El Salvador has the biggest malls in central america and it is locked in a very consumerist system, but the majority of its people are desperately poor. Here, the feudal concentration of land and power only began in the 16th century, when it was declining in Europe. And it persists.

After few days in Santa Ana, a nice medium sized city very busy and quite clogged with motor fumes, I spent two nights in a hotel on the shore of the volcanic Lago de Coatepeque. The place is in theory a paradise: clear, calm, fresh water to swim in; three volcanoes closing the west side of the crater and trees covering its slopes. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to enjoy. A restaurant just beside the hotel pumped music all day long and had a dozen water motor crafts roaring around from noon to sunset, killing my peace and also risking killing me when I swam by the dock. I sought escape taking a walk on the road running around the lake, trying to find a quieter place to bathe.
It was mid afternoon. The sun which had been hiding for most of two days came out, merciless. On my right the crater sloped up till the crest, more or less covered with trees; on my left, where there should have been the lake, there was a wall. Or rather, a mosaic of walls: the walls of uncountable private properties secluding them from the road and the road from the lake. After a while, soaked in sweat, sunburnt, I started wondering how long I was to walk before being able to take a bath. I asked a man at a gate, one of the few open ones:
"Well", he said, "going in this direction you won't find any access to the lake...”
It turned out the only public access to the water in about 20 km of shore was before my hotel, a couple of miles behind me. I was outraged: the four thousand people who lived in poor tin houses on the slopes of the crater - the ones who did not own a segment of lake - only had few meters to bathe, while the owners of villas had the whole lake for themselves. I walked back towards the hotel in a murderous mood, covered with dust raised by the pick-ups rushing past me. Approaching the hotel, I heard the roar of the water motor crafts; I walked past it to the public access spot.
There, two small comedores were crowded with people dining. On the right, a narrow path led to a sandy beach in front of another hotel. The customers of the hotel were eating twelve meters above my head, inside a curious structure resembling a palafitte. A family played with a ball in the shallow water. I finally managed to take a desperately longed for bath. Later that afternoon, as the sun set behind volcano Santa Ana, I played football on the beach under the palafitte with a couple of kids and some grown-ups with unlikely names, such as Hondurio and Adolfo. I had not played football for almost a year, and I craved for it.
We won.

16 aprile 2012

La Palma, the pine and the lake: the beginning of El Salvador

La Palma, my access to El Salvador, has no palm trees. Instead, it is embedded in mountains covered with pine trees, among which pensive cows graze calmly. It is a pretty one-business town, dedicated almost completely to the production of handicraft, in particular small objects painted in bright colors with simple natural themes. The smell of pine resin in the afternoon heat, and the carpet of needle-leaves under my soles reminded my acutely of Sicily.
Because of Easter transportation shortage I decided to stay only one night (rather than three) in La Palma and moved on to Suchitoto, a colonial city on a hilltop overlooking an artificial lake. Suchitoto will be one of the best memories of this trip.
An established tourist destination, the town was quite crowded over Easter; but foreigners were almost absent, and the city retained a true festive atmosphere. Here as well the ghost of Sicily and especially of Noto, my birthplace, haunted me continuously. The harmonic perfection of the buildings, their homogeneity in style and proportions and the hot, sweaty country brought me back to Noto. And the cultural aliveness, which in Suchitoto translated especially into high quality paintings and art galleries.
Painters. I seemed to be meeting only painters: Chanay, the great master internationally renowned (or so I was told); Stanley, the painter from the capital exposing in the province. And Don Alonso, the boss of my hotel, with his long gray hair tied in a pony tail, wearing a long beard, slow in talk and gestures: he is the painter who was once a painter, the one everybody hopes will paint again, but nobody really believes it.
At the Posada Blanca Luna there was me, Stanley, Don Alonso and Oscar Murillo, a solid young man with a round face who actually runs the hotel, spending his entire days and nights there washing and hanging bed sheets, occasionally mopping floors, but mostly unoccupied. Not surprisingly, he spends his free time painting - and learning guitar. Every time I would go back to the Posada, a different one would be playing the guitar: Stanley, Don Alonso, Oscar, with often disappointing results. One night I found a chubby man with waxed hair and a black glossy moustache, sitting on a chair bare-chested and playing splendid music. He plays in the salvadoran symphonic orchestra. Don Alonso listened, silent. As the night hours went by, we talked of Schoenberg and dodecaphonic music, of metaphysical literature and else.
Another day I found a small dried up man with plain blue eyes lecturing my friends. I sat and listened, as usual. After a while, I was pulled into the conversation and offered shrimp cocktail and a beer. Mauricio is the international news editor for the most important conservative newspaper of the country. We had a beer at the hotel, than a few more at the lake. There were hilarious moments there: Mauricio - more and more drunk and moving in a frenzy - decided we should go on a boat trip; the engine of the lancha failed us just off the coast; we were stuck there, some panicking, some trying to paddle to the shore; then a man called El Tigre arrived with another lancha and pulled us back to the dock. At dusk, Mauricio started with vodka and soda, his favourite drink. He said beer did not count. Later that night his wife had to carry him to bed, half unconscious. The day after he smelled like his vodka. But he was still active and good humored. This is his life. He does it everyday, day after day. One of many stories of alcoholism, a pressing problem in all central america, possibly even more here in El Salvador.
When I left Suchitoto, I took away with me a small canvas Stanley gave me as a present. I made friends with locals there, friends I would want to have in Europe as well. It's a rare event, and a worthy one.

7 aprile 2012

Honduras: la calma dopo la tempesta

Dark clouds move on a fat moon, not yet full, the fifth since the beginning of my trip. I'm among the pines of the salvadoran mountains at the border with Honduras.
I must admit it: I rushed through Honduras. A capital sin. But let me explain.
From Belize, through Guatemala, to Omoa (Honduras). The clearest, calmest water I've seen so far. Mountains fringed the beach, covered with lush tropical forest. The hostel had a hammock :), skype, all you may dream of. But no ATM = no money. Thus, I had to move.
From there in three days through Puerto Cortes, the biggest port of central america; La Ceiba, the party capital of the country - but at 8 pm completely deserted around the Parque Central under construction; Trujillo - again a great beach but a weird, unwelcoming place; to Sambo Creek. This one I liked but... these all days in Honduras I was aware of the approaching Semana Santa (Easter week), a monster whose breath I could feel on my neck. Semana Santa in Honduras is like Christmas in Europe: everybody goes somewhere else, most of them to the coast in the north - that is, where I was. Already on the saturday a week before Easter, hordes of tourists started to swarm to Sambo Creek, and the calm was gone. So I ran away once more, this time away from the coast and the Semana Santa, to take refuge among the mountains of the west, in Santa Rosa de Copan. Here I found again my peace. Pretty town: calm, rich, safe, friendly. Here I found smiles, interest, kindness - for the first time in Honduras. I stayed three nights.
I spent ecstatic hours in the courtyard of the pension, a completely untended square space overgrown with weeds. A cat paced velvety the high perimeter walls; a dog peered at it from a roof, barking;  humming birds buzzed about the orange tree on the other side of the wall, whose branches stooped in the courtyard. And two chickens, restless, staring at me with their mad eyes, digging in the dirt, forever looking for something with sharp, nervous, psychotic gestures.
That night, thunders and bolts, the electricity went out and the sky cracked open with the violence of the lightning.
In the morning, la calma dopo la tempesta.

2 aprile 2012

The little Belize: Part II

Let's be frank. I went to Belize City because everybody suggested I shouldn't. But also because I can't resist the fascination of degradation, ever since the years in Naples and the discovery of its hidden treasures (or trashures). Well, I don't know what actually happens in Belize City, but it does look scary. Half of it is beautifully degraded, with even some fancy parts (very small). The other half is badly degraded, or it may have appeared so because it is the part I explored less and I did not get used to it. This applies to day time. At night it is a different story. Everything sinks a notch or two deeper into scariness (or scaredom). And I say night, but I mean evening. I was never out after 9:30 pm, partly because I woke up every morning at about 6 am (same for the past two months!!) and also because of the 10 pm curfew at the hotel. But I won’t say I don’t like Belize City… Its eastern shores are lapped by a yellow/brown/greenish sea I've only seen in this country; nearby keys break with a low line of mangroves the blue horizon where immense cruise ships stand out like moving mountains. The highlight of my two weeks in Belize was sitting at a bar table just a few meters from the airport strip by the shore. No security checks here, no waiting halls, no complications. Little LEGO aircrafts with frontal rotor fly over the narrow skies of Belize serving national destinations. As a toy plane took off almost within reach of my hands with the muffled sound of a far helicopter, I felt the desire to fly in it. It must be as fun as in a chicken bus.
One more thing to mention: Lise.
This large black woman - who lives near the hostel I stayed in in Dangriga - travels every day to Belize City to sell paintings and garifuna dolls to the cruise ship tourists. In Dangriga we made friends on the very first night, when she walked me to the hostel. She introduced herself as an "artist" and showed me some of her paintings - raw colorful depictions of garifuna folks in rowing boats with maracas in their hands - in her poor house with a "decorative" broken TV set and a large pan for making wheat tortillas. The canvases looked a bit better in her stall at the cruisers' terminal in Belize City the day I went to see her, and I could picture wealthy tasteless americans investing fifty dollars on one of them. I bought her a bunch of little guatemalan dolls because I liked her a lot and she never asked for anything. [They are twelve. If any of you is interested in a little souvenir, book ahead - but probably I don't even have twelve readers!]
In Belize City I spent two days sitting in the veranda of the hotel watching curious amish people - with pale skin, overall and cowboy hat - deal with the even more weird mixed belizean fauna: white, black, chinese, indian, indigenous. Nobody is really out of place in this country…
My last stop was Punta Gorda, the just conclusion of my short visit to Belize: nothing to do, nothing to see but for a dock at the end of the road. Perched on one side of it was a party of gaviotas staring into the blue - as on a watch for invaders or waiting for a gone lover to come back - shitting the boards chalk white and fighting lazily for the places with the best view. On the other side of the dock me: jumping into the turbid water, patting big jelly-fishes on their heads or lying on the planks - which smelled of wet wood and sea and openness and freedom.
From there I could see my next destination: Honduras.

27 marzo 2012

The little Belize - Part I

Belize is ridiculously small and extremely underpopulated. I crossed the country a couple of times by now, and all I saw was flat unused land, low hills covered with forests and the occasional large plantation of banana or orange trees. The capital - Belmopan - has less than 20`000 inhabitants; Belize City - the largest one - 70`000. The whole coast is one long, mostly deserted beach. Most tourists just go to the tropical paradises on the reef, or in a cruise ship to Belize City. I chose my destinations by looking at the map and picking small coastal towns which looked isolated enough.
Dangriga is the largest city of southern Belize, accounting the remarkable figure of 11`500 inhabitants. There are two schools, two harbors, a Habet Bros. hardware shop, two rivers and one hostel. Tourists come to Dangriga on their way to the islands by the coral reef and rarely stay more than one night. I did not plan to go to the islands - although I ended up going - but I liked the city and stayed three nights there. I realized that as long as there are no tourists around, if it's hot and there is a beach or a wooden dock, I'll be happy. At the hostel I also had a hammock with view on the brownish sea and the grass expanse where children played football barefoot at dusk.
From Dangriga I moved to a village with 1`800 souls at the mouth of a river. Since there was no bus connection with it, I walked the six kilometers from the highway junction. To my surprise, the village wasn't quite on the coast - in fact six km away from it, but don't tell the lonely planet - and isn't really a village either, but just few villas in the jungle along the Sittee River, one grocery store, one bar, the school and the police station. And black, fat, ferocious mosquitoes.
Having arrived at noon after ninety minutes walk with my backpack, I just badly wanted to jump into the river. At the hostel they told me it was OK to swim, but to be careful not to make too much noise, else the caimans would be scared away. I wasn't too noisy, but I saw no caimans anyway. I'm fine with that. But, unconsciously, the jungle setting influenced me: that night I had nightmares about the amazonian little fish that swims up your urine into your penis and hooks itself in there; and the following night it was about malaria, because of the impossibly aggressive mosquitoes.
It was a tiring time in Sittee River, with not much sleep and a lot of walking and canoeing. But a night in Dangriga and two days at the Tobacco Caye cured me of all fatigue. This island is a sort of third class tropical paradise for broke travellers: you get white sand and coconuts-falling-from-the-tree all right, but the huts are run down and too many and there is some trash around and the service is as bad as it can be in Belize - and it can be very bad, believe me. Nevertheless the corals were intact (finally!) and the fish plentiful and colorful; the hammocks hanging from the palm trees were pleasantly cool in the sea breeze and the nights were quiet and beautiful. Very nice, but two nights was enough.
(continues...)
In The Next Episode: The Dangerous Metropolis, Belize City!

26 marzo 2012

Sinopsis

Mr. Allegra leaves Europe on a cold morning of December to start his adventurous trip through the Tropics. After a long, perilous journey, our hero finds refuge in a coastal town of a country forgotten in many maps, born just three months before him: Belize. The many obstacles, the harsh travelling conditions and the detrimental effect of time itself have left a mark on Mr. Allegra. His skin is brown and dry. His hands and feet are cut through and pierced by an indefinite number of thorns of different origins. His beard has outgrown his hair getting sparse on his temples and more and more gray. Two deep meditative lines mark his forehead.
His belongings underwent a similar transformation and little is left unmarked. His shorts are spotted with unerasable coconut juice. His t-shirts - the few ones left - are worn and faded. His shoes have holes and are kept together by black tape. People don't sit by him in the bus anymore.

Well, I'll be damned if this is not a quite resembling picture of me!
By now I don't have a camera, I don't use socks anymore and I swim and shower with my cloths on to wash them. It's a nice life. At times I feel like Huckleberry Finn...

19 marzo 2012

Livingston or the lost chance of an atlantic crossing

Say I was in Livingston on the guatemalan caribbean coast for the last couple of days in America before the big jump into the dark - or rather into the blue - of the Atlantic Ocean. By that time I was very excited about it all, kept telling everybody with a mixture of pride and embarrassment. Of course I told Ferry&Evelyn, a catalan-salvadoran couple I met often in Livingston; I told the lady selling "pupusas" and some selected customers, while eating and finally revaluing these originally salvadoran filled tortillas (a pupusa started my two-weeks-long stomach ache back in Xela); I most likely told also the mixed blood owners of the marvellous hotel where I stayed: a two stories wooden house with a huge balcony and a hammock right on the main road and its buzzing life; I wonder whether I even told the garifuna woman in a miniskirt who was a bit of a pimp, a bit of a drug dealer, definitely a junky and who borrowed 20 quetzals from me, which I never believed I would get back - and indeed I never did. I told everybody - I even got my passport stamped one day before - just to discover that the girl who was to disembark in Isla Mujeres (Mexico) - whose place I should have taken - decided to do the whole trip. It follows that I was one too much.
I was stuck in Rio Dulce, without a clue about what to do next and due to leave guatemala the day after and - strangely enough - my biggest regret was not to have been able to spend some more time in Livingston. I know I might sound repetitive, but I LOVED Livingston. The askew wooden houses set in lush tropical vegetation, the sudden rains and the warm, sticky climate; the impossible mixture of black garifuna - brought here to be slaves but who could never be enslaved - and indigenous mayan people creating an extraordinary culture where english, spanish, mayan and garifuna are all used, where pure blood does not exist and food is different: more rice than tortillas, a lot of fish, coconuts, but still the national guatemalan super-fried chicken! The mayan girls wearing miniskirts and going to the disco... the disco?! the only one I saw in Guatemala!
Swinging in my hammock, with the song "El Ascensorista" in my ears - listen to it, it's hilarious! - I watched big black women take their little mayan men for a walk, the power balance finally reversed, in a country where women are regarded even less than in Italy (hard to believe) and domestic violence is the most common crime.
Livingston felt to me a lot like southern USA, but it is probably closer to neighbouring Belize, bound to it also by the drug corridor coming up from Colombia and going to the US.
Therefore, back in sad Rio Dulce - orphan of my dream of atlantic crossing - I packed my stuff and my renewed energies and moved my household to Dangriga, Belize.

16 marzo 2012

El Estor

Hector Ramirez is a guy I got to know in El Estor, on the Lake Izabal, a few kilometers west of Rio Dulce. Hector is orphan of father, and his mother runs a comedor. Hector's friends call him "Iguana", because he can catch iguanas - and snakes, for that matter. He loves iguanas. He loves them so much that the one time he ate iguana's meat - not knowing it - he threw up.
In El Estor people either love iguanas or eat iguanas. Some do both. Some others eat manatees and some poison birds because they eat their crops. Some people would like to have the nickel mines open again, and oil drilling in the lake. Some are sure there also is gold under the lake - or there it was, before german engineers came to steal it all - in a month. Some are worried that eating iguanas and manatees, killing birds, drilling for oil and mining nickel might not be the right way to protect the natural reserve which includes and surrounds part of the lake.
Personally, I liked "Iguana" and the iguanas, the caimans, the birds, the butterflies, the turtles and the one manatee I had the chance to see. I saw first its brown nostril come out of the water breaking the bright stillness of the lake’s surface and I heard it inhale hoarsely in the dead windless silence. Three times so. Then I saw its chubby body and its rear fin emerge from the water, a sort of Shrek version of a mermaid.
As for myself, I spent endless hours floating in the shallow warm pool that is the lake, sinking gently to the muddy bottom, listening to my slow heartbeat, thinking of nothing. Or else I roamed the unusually broad avenues of the city, ate Sarita surrogate chocolate ice creams, dined in empty restaurants or in a comedor serving only liver and rice and nothing else - not even coke.
I was the only stranger in town.

13 marzo 2012

:(

The sailing boat is now apparently full. No place for me. I even already had the exit visa of Guatemala on my passport! Need new plans quickly. I'll keep you updated.

P.S. Forza Napoli!!

10 marzo 2012

Rio Dulce

Farewell to the highlands! To the imposing volcanoes covered with cafetales and contorted pine trees, to the charming women clad in hand woven tunics, to the smiles and the greetings of the people!
And welcome to the Caribbean again: palm and fruit trees, heat, rain...
I spent two warm thinly-rainy gray days - two of the very few of this trip - in Rio Dulce, in eastern Guatemala, not far from the coast. Rio Dulce is a little settlement with a strategic position at the mouth of the Laguna de Izabal - considered the safest harbor in the Caribbean in tornado season - on the road from Guatemala City to Flores. A weird town with a weird atmosphere. Locals here feel diffident, unfriendly. And there's plenty of gringos, mainly mature to stale specimen of sailors and rich naughty yachters who spend here indefinite amount of time waiting for something even more indefinite. Waiting for me, for example. Although it was a planned stop on the way to Livingston on the coast, Rio Dulce acquired for me in the very last days an importance of its own, because of its peculiar population.
 The fact is that I decided to go home.
[Strolling along the paths of Lake Atitlan I felt like on the shores of the Gulf of Naples, and every blade of dry grass reminded me of Sicily... and my second nephew, born on March the 3rd... and my frozen (possibly thawing) relation...]
Or, rather: I decided to start looking for a way to go home. That is...by boat!!
I've been looking for something online for a few weeks. I thought I might as well go to Rio Dulce and talk to somebody and see what I would find. I had very little hope.
What happened is that the day after I arrived, I asked the first person I met at the bar whether he thought I had any chance to find a ride to Europe in Rio Dulce.
"Walter is leaving to Spain next week", was his answer. Walter happened to drop by just fifteen minutes later...he's got a crew but...but the girl wants to disembark in Isla Mujeres (Mexico).
"Have you got any experience?"
Not the least...
He does not look enthusiastic of my answer, but not desperate either. He spends the following half an hour describing the conditions of navigation:
- two months at see in three segments: to Bermudas (20 days), to Azores (20 days), to Portugal (10 days), stopping in each of them just for fuel, provisions and some rest...
- "you won't be able to sleep for days in a row, you'll have to strap yourself not to roll off the board..."
- "we'll have shifts of 4 hours at the wheel, 3h at night..."
- "in rough sea:
a) the ship pitches horribly;
b) you'll be knee-deep in water at the wheel (and completely soaked);
c) you'll see water from the porthole (because of the angle)!"
O K . . .
I was a bit scared at first, but that never lasts long with me :)! Now I'm quite excited, although the perspective of spending two months in 10 square meters with two men is kind of disquieting...
I'll try first. And they'll try me. We'll sail to Utila (Honduras) sometime next week and then we'll decide.
I have a week left in Guatemala.

7 marzo 2012

Atitlan

Something must be wrong with me.
In the books a hero facing danger, and even death, always reacts somehow, or at least says something. The one time a man menaced me with a gun in the gut which was Via Settembrini, in a sunny saturday afternoon in Naples, I did not react. I did not do anything, I did not think anything, I did not even feel anything.
On a saturday about seven or eight years later, and more precisely on last saturday, I found myself standing on a staircase with my back against the railing, facing a man holding an iron rod like a baseball bat, menacing to smash it right down on my face. Again, no reaction. Anger in this case, ma no ACTION. I just turned on my heels and went out of the way.
The man was - well, he IS, although I wish he WAS - a very old and very tall canadian asshole who lives on the top floor of the hotel where I slept in San Pedro della laguna. He's nuts, seriously, and hates anybody who dares step on "his" terrace (in fact the terrace of the hotel). I was on the last step of the staircase, watching sunrise light the northern cliffs of Lake Atitlan and the town of San Pablo, when he came to send me away. I did not move - I was not even on the terrace! So he took the iron rod which bars the access to the terrace, swung it backwards, and menaced to hit me. I don't know whether he would have done it. And I don't know what I would have done if he had. I can't make use of violence. I hate myself for that, but I have to accept that. I just left, basically doing what he wanted.
I spent the following two days cursing myself, and thinking of revenge. His bike parked on the staircase was the obvious target. Oh, to thrust my sharp swiss knife into the tyres! to break the levers and dismantle the wheels of the gears! and to cut the shape of a dick on the seat! or I could just disconnect the brakes, in a town built on the steep foot of volcano San Pedro...
Pure imagination. I did not do anything. Not out of fear, just because it makes me feel better to simply forget. Forgetting is much easier than punishing, and it's much less trouble. It is a shameful attitude, but I'm afraid it's what I am...
I must be honest to myself. Two things contributed to save the crap, or rather his bike: my ankle, and a child. Somber with gruesome thoughts of mechanical murder and violent confrontation, I was walking an easy path along the beautiful northern shore of the Lake Atitlan. At one point, stepping down on flat ground, I twisted my right ankle and I found myself on the ground.
- Pain! - Can't walk! - Blocked between two villages! -
But it got quickly better, and I could finish my walk. Nevertheless, the day after - when I was to take my revenge on the bike and leave before dawn - I could barely walk, my ankle swollen like an old lady's. I postponed both departure and revenge of one day.
But on that sunday, tentatively walking on my injured foot about San Pedro - a city where guatemalans are not themselves and resident foreigners are not a bit like guatemalans either - I arrived to the perfectly tended Parque. The evening mass attracted twice as many people as the church could contain (the city is FULL of rather disquieting boards reading: "Jesus is the lord of San Pedro!"). A few dozens persons sat on the steps outside. A group of children chased a cat; another one looked at the huge fishes in the fountain. A little girl appeared from nowhere and sat at my bench. Her lovely big black eyes, her curious regard, her high-pitched little cries of amusement and marvel reminded me of the good of guatemala, the good of men. She canceled my desire of revenge.
I talked to the owner of the hotel. He said he'll kick out the old fart from his room. I don't think that'll teach him how to behave properly, though. I had the chance to do it, and I missed it. But maybe it was not my business to teach him anything. I'm not a policeman, nor a superhero. I'm just an observer, and a story teller. And not even a good one.

2 marzo 2012

Impossible to pronounce, impossible not to love: Quetzaltenango

I had this obsession of mine: to climb volcanoes. My idea of Guatemala - the quite wrong idea I had of Guatemala - was correct almost only with regard to volcanoes. Guatemala is full of volcanoes. I wanted to climb them all.
Leaving Lanquin I drove westward to the western highlands and more precisely to Quetzaltenango, or simply Xela, the second city of Guatemala. It is easy to write: I drove to Xela. But not so easy to do...I chose not to take the direct shuttle for tourists. Nor did I take the longer, easier way. I took the "short" way: thirteen hours in local transportation, four overcrowded microbuses going on dirt roads up and down the mountains, and eventually a long dreamed-of chicken bus, one of those old american school buses painted anew, equipped with speakers and guatemalan folk music, and filled with people, wares, and the occasional chicken! Everybody is very talkative in a chicken bus, very friendly, very close. This is what Guatemala is like. And what is Xela like?
Xela is not "technically" pretty. ["Technical prettiness" is a concept I just created which can be exemplified by the kind of beauty you see in Baywatch or in a Ferrari Store: a beauty without feelings, a mechanical beauty].
But it has the "Quality" I like in cities and people and objects and landscapes which I've been trying to define and to understand for years, but which I don't know yet what it is, or rather why it is.
Xela is shadowed by the perfect cone of the volcano Santamaria. You can see it from the whole city, somewhere half hidden by closer mountains, sometimes faded by the distance, sometimes crowned by a cloud of ashes from the small but highly active volcano behind it, the Santiaguito. Beside the Santamaria, an imposing and impressive mountain range surrounds the city. This makes for some Quality. But it is not just that. The city itself, the buildings, the people have charm. The same jovial charm of the large woman at the parque central who smiled me into buying her fabrics I was not in the least interested in buying - in fact I was going to buy myself a new swiss knife with that money, and I was just waiting for the shop to open; now I have a chicken-shaped pot holder for my mom and a scarf for "a temporarily frozen" relation of mine.
I slept for a full week in the huge dorm of Casa Argentina, with twenty beds and little space among them, with large windows on two sides and a dark wooden ceiling curved upward like a pagoda’s, resting on two slender wooden pillars in the middle of the room. There inside and in the court of Casa Argentina was a community of related souls: there was Marco from Firenze, a smiling honest pure guy who wore the same sweater and pants all the way up and down the 4220 meters of the Tajumulco, and in Xela for the following week and who knows how long before - and claimed he had not gone on holiday to wash clothes; the three austrians planning to travel for two years, each one with something to learn: juggling or guitar or spanish; the incredible, charming Samuel from El Salvador - whose girlfriend broke with him just after delivering their baby - forever singing or creating something, all girls devouring him with their eyes; and frail thin the-drinking penniless hungarian Dora; and myself, washing seldom, always troubled with my stomach, not learning anything, unwillingly drinking the, unwillingly drinking beer, reading and eating watermelon and feeding on everybody's soul with calmly observing eyes and ears. Different combinations of these characters made pizza and went to party disguised as mexican wrestlers and climbed volcanoes and shared a part of their trips and their lives.
And the story is that I never managed to climb the Santamaria, nor to hike to the Lake Atitlan, my two main wishes. I missed the right moment for that, and then it was not time anymore, things were different. I don't mind. I had a nice time in Xela.

1 marzo 2012

Lanquin, Guatemala or USA

I left Flores with a heavy heart: because it was the place I liked most and because of my worries about the ticks still clinging to my body - but on the way to be treated finally out of it.
The trip south-west through the region of El Peten offered glimpses of great beauty. The mildly sloped hills were covered with damp-green pastures glazing in the sunlight. Solitary palm trees, with branches thrust upward like hands raised in prayer, contributed a darker tone to the palette. Occasional conical rises of land covered in thick jungle reminded me of the lost pyramids of El Mirador. And near Lanquin, the low sun hit the dozens of bare little hills in a magically misty air.
When I saw that the hostel was a wooden house on a hill overlooking the river, amid the high walls of the valley, I felt I was in a dreamland. But quickly enough, I realized how far from a dream that hostel was...
American-owned and run like an american enterprise, the place indeed felt like USA. Not necessarily a problem on its own - I am among the few with no prejudices against americans - it is a problem when you expect to be visiting Guatemala instead of USA...
But Guatemala was just beyond the gate, in the town of Lanquin. I loved it, because of its beautiful setting, because of its blackened little church, and because of the people, always so lovely and friendly. That's when I realized that I had not yet experienced what real Guatemala is, and decided I would try to keep as local as possible.
The day after my arrival, I walked ten kilometers to Semuc Champey past poor countryside houses and throngs of friendly children from a rural school. There I spent the whole day in the blue freshwater pools at the bottom of a green valley populated with howler monkeys and reptiles halfway between iguanas and lizards.
I was tempted to stay another day to explore more of the surroundings, but I could not stand anymore the noisy Uncle Tom party atmosphere. I stole away stealthily the following morning at dawn.

21 febbraio 2012

Flowers of Guatemala

Palenque was the last I saw of Mexico. Although I loved it, I was a bit weary of travelling in air conditioned TV-equipped buses and I also felt that it was time to have a purer experience of central america. Once again, Guatemala was exactly what I needed. I expected a criminality ridden third world country, but what I've seen so far is a country of great beauty and friendly folks. My Guatemala began with a short boat trip in a wide shallow river between low tropical green shores. At the border we had to pay to the smiling immigration officer something I later realized it was a bribe - Welcome to the Tropics! Then we drove through the flat north-east of the country among corn fields, papaya plantations and the occasional colorful village. Sitting in the small bus bumping and shaking on the dirt road, with the warm air coming in from the open window, I felt happy again.
Our destination was Flores, a tiny town-island in the lake Peten-Itza connected to the twin city of Santa Elena through a short causeway. As we arrived in the late afternoon, the low sun reflected on the calm surface of the lake against the balcony of our lake terrace. The sight was breath-taking. A bunch of foreigners were sun-bathing on the dock just few steps away. In matter of seconds we were among them. The island of Flores spans not more than three hundred meters on its longest side. Walking the only two circular streets encircling the parque central, you feel like the petit prince in his small planet: you cannot walk longer than five minutes without going back to the starting point....
Nevertheless, there is just everything you need - I basically never left the island during my stay, if not to explore the beautiful lake. Facing Flores there was a hill – in reality a covered mayan temple – with an observation platform perched on a tree on its top. From there you could see the lake widening on the north-east, the villages like stains on the forested shores and an island even smaller than Flores with nothing more than a dock, a few trees, and one single house. From the surface of the lake, from a canoe we rented and made spin helplessly for a whole afternoon, we could see the whitest clouds in the world hanging just a stone throw above us, as realistic and unreal as in a painting by Michelangelo.
One day I suddenly decided I would go on a trek to some ruins lost in the jungle at two days’ hike from Flores - basically a lot of bumps covered with forest and very few structures recognizable as such. The ruins were nothing more than I expected and the forest was not impressive either, but I liked the hike. Anyway, the biggest achievements of this adventure were:
- getting to know the (supposed) guatemalan representative at the Security Council of the UN (a short squat helicopter pilot who had flown some wealthy tourists directly to the ruins and kept flirting with the only girl in our group);
- coming back with some twenty (!) tiny little ticks happily scattered all over my body.
Whether they managed to infect me with one of many diseases they carry, I don't know yet. What I know is that I had to shave my scalp and beard to check whether there were any left there. So here I am, walking about in the cold air of the western guatemalan highlands, bald like a buddhist monk...

18 febbraio 2012

The last leg of Mexico: the ruins of Palenque

A loaf of french bread cured my fever a few minutes before I could use my magic drops, but I still felt nausea and was not exactly in a great mood. I slept a lot. At some point I found myself in a bus heading to Palenque, the site of some allegedly impressive mayan ruins. The trip was a nightmare. The bus was stinky and cold, my stomach was upset and the five TVs banged the whole time in my ears and brains. The Zapatista villages we passed seemed ugly and dirty and grey. Huge posters of the federal government boasted the supposed improvement of schools and roads in the region; but the real road was an assorted collection of bumps and holes and other disasters.
Once in Palenque, things were suddenly better. I slept in a nude cabana in the jungle and the day after I was ready to visit the ruins.
It was a morning of closed sky and damp air. When I think about it now, it comes to me as a series of dreamy photograms: the first impressive row of temples leaning against the mountain and at its far end the main palace with its unusual tower; then Uwe, whom I had left in Mazunte, unexpectedly standing on the stairs and waving at me. I remember talking to him with my fixed stare pointed beyond him at the ruins. And then the magical apparition of the Acropolis, closed on three sides by temples and on the fourth one by the dark mass of the forested mountain half hidden by a misty cloud. Steep stairs led to the top of the temples containing carvings of gloomy warriors half covered with moss, dripping with humidity.
Later on, I ignored a "no entry" sign and went up the mountain into the restricted area deep in the forest, where archeologists are working on other ruins. I tried to be invisible among the trees, but it was not easy with my red t-shirt. I could make out a huge pyramid in front of me, half covered with jungle. And a man screaming at me from its top! I slipped quickly away. On my right there was a low undefined structure and beyond it across the river a small perfectly preserved blackened temple. My mouth was wide open in amazement. But the guy on top of the pyramid started screamed again and I had to go. I had the feeling I had been the first to see that all.
Later on, I was sitting on a minor ruin, green and slimy and slippery. Light filtered through the thick foliage casting a diffused green shade on everything: on the plants growing on each other, parasitizing the trees until they died; on a red-headed woodpecker; on the ants always busy with their business. In a sense, it was like being underwater.
When I went back to the Acropolis at sunset, the magic was gone. I could not find it in the setting, nor in the light or the buildings. Surely I’m not going to find it again in the pictures I could not take because I got rid of my camera. But some magic stayed with me. I hope it'll last.

12 febbraio 2012

San Cristobal de Las Casas: the history on the make

"Autobuses del Oriente, ‘la compania que te lleva’, es orgullosa de anunciarle la salida del bus de las ... dos ... y ... cuarenta ... con destino de ... Ciudad de Mexico ... Puebla ... Orizaba ... desde la salida numero ... anden numero ... Autobus del Oriente, la compania que te lleva, le agradece su preferencia y le desea un feliz viaje."
Variations on this theme radiate from the speakers of the bus station of Juchitan de Zaragoza, each repeated at least twice in few minutes intervals. Two TV sets yell at the station. One goes mainly about people screaming and being killed in a bloody horror movie; the other gives music which makes you regret you are not being killed as well. Imagine it is 2 am and you are trying to sleep. Imagine also rows of chairs with armrests being just few centimeters above the seat. Your plan is to sleep laying on the chairs, squeezing yourself between armrest and seat; but when breathing you need to avoid excessive expansion of your rib cage or else you are going to break it against the armrest.
You might be surprised, but it took me a while to accept the incompatibility of all these conditions with sleep. Three hours later, the bus we waited for sooo long finally came and took us to San Cristobal de Las Casas, in Chiapas (WE in this case is me and Vincent, another frenchman). There, sleepless and a bit dizzy because of the height (> 2000 m a.s.l.), I soon became sick with fever, nausea, strong pain in the back, and the partial destruction of my hopes for the future.
As a result, everything during my stay in San Cristobal looked sad. The bright colours of the tiled-roof houses and of the typical indigenous fabric could not beat the greyness of the clouded sky sealing the city inside a circle of mountains. The large foreign population - which makes of the city a soup of italian vinerias, french bakery shops, belgian chocolateries and argentinian restaurants - could not overcome with its noise and energy the silent dignity of the indigenas - clad in skirts and jackets of black plush - carrying babies wrapped in long shawls or dozing off at night in the main square in front of their show of handicrafts. Even the vendors at the market were mostly quiet, as though they had already resigned themselves to take their wares, unsold, back home. But these people's patience and resignation is limited. In five centuries since the arrival of the spaniards they staged several violent rebellions, including the uprising of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional under the lead of Subcomandante Marcos, the classic struggle of the oppressed ones for their rights.
The problems at the origin of the rebellion were (and are) complex and of not easy solution. As a matter of fact, agriculture and handicraft are the only sources of income for the indigenous. Illiteracy is widespread in the region - as children work instead of going to school - and schools are insufficient, far and teach a language which is foreign to many: spanish. In the villages they control, the Zapatistas are trying to modernize the people, but it is difficult to achieve such a goal without leaving behind a part of their rich culture, of their souls.
In San Juan Chamula, few kilometers north of San Cristobal, there is an impressive example of living traditions. The main church has a bright white and green facade which contrasts with the gloomy inside. The walls are lined with statues of different catholic saints faced by tables with hundreds of burning candles. The floor is almost entirely covered with needle-like leaves except where the believers clear them, place more candles and kneel to perform their rituals. A chicken whose neck has been broken by a curandera is seized by spasms for a few seconds before dying. The curandera rubs the chicken on the body of her patient, muttering mayan words. The ceremony is concluded by the ingestion of half a liter of Coca-Cola, in order to stimulate burping, which will let out of the ill body the evil disease-causing spirits.
A chicken, a saint, a coke: a weird recipe for an unlikely cure.

6 febbraio 2012

Mazunte: love it or leave it

He faced a hard choice: to lie on the plastic mattress and sweat to death, or to knuckle his bones directly on the wooden-board bed. Had he only managed to put on some weight, it would not have felt so hard...
He decided it was time to go for a bath. He would take the risk to leave town that night with a wet bath suit in the rucksack. The bath suit was already so filthy that some fungus on it would not make a big different. He jumped sleepily off the bunk bed, found his flip flops and pulled himself down the wooden stairs, past the cafeteria, to the beach. He waved to someone he did not know. He crossed the beach and walked directly into the water. For the first time in a week, the temperature of his overheated body and of the calm water matched perfectly. He dived in without the least shock, only with a refreshing pleasure. He swam underwater. Slowly, smoothly. Fluidly. Every bit of his body was perfectly at ease. His body was happy. He was also happy, but as soon as he realized it, he started sliding down the slope of happiness back into consciousness. His lungs wanted air. He had to quit his liquid dream, and come up for air. A perfect dive was something rare. So was happiness. He felt the two things were somehow connected.

He had made another attempt to leave Mazunte two days before. It was the day he woke up early and saw the whales. He had everything packed by noon. The bus was at 7 pm, but he chose to spend the afternoon on the beach, and was not able to shake himself off it. The day he arrived in Mazunte, he bet he would not last two days in town: it was a nest of hippies. But that very night he swam in a dark Pacific Ocean lit by the plankton and the Milky Way and wasn't so sure anymore. In the following days he explored the secluded beaches and once at dusk he ambushed the baby turtles going to sea - but found only a thousand tiny crabs hiding hurriedly from him in their crab holes. Nearby, a guru meditated facing the setting sun cross-legged and with joined hands, while his disciples blew their hunger on the fire for the evening pasta.
Mazunte, a colony of italians. The good and the evil ones: the drug dealer, the spiritual nerd, the business man. And the sicilian scientist who, tired of his camera, gave it to the pastry maker Veronica with instructions to sell it. He traded it for a more complete freedom.