So here I am, it is ten twenty-nine twenty eighteen in the middle of the mediterranean sea. I have learned in the past month that there are certain things in life that are more important than the sea. A volcano for instance. Talking about a life of noise! If it is not coming from the streets—that cacophonous and improbable but certain as death catanese—then it is coming out of a gaping hole, a cone that watches over this city like a jealous lover, it does not let the locals pledge allegiance to the blue mass right across the street which is their source of life, no, a volcano is a jealous god, it is an absolutist monarchy, it is phallic from a distance but maternal from the edge of a crater, its huge boiling womb so tempting so calming and you’re standing on top of a ticking bomb, it is a capricious queen and an old continuously farting king at the same time, yes it is a cantankerous old fart sitting on his throne and watching over these poor siculi waiting for them to make the wrong move and what else could they do stuck as they are in this love triangle of city sea and volcano, and I think to myself no wonder the sicilian troubadours wrote only about married damsels.
I was saying, if the noise is not coming from the gaping hole at 10,922 feet (wikipedia says “it varies”), then it is coming from below, from the ground full of earthquakes, and if not from the ground then it is coming from the waves, if it is not coming from the waves then it is coming from the thousands of motorini and cars roaming the narrow streets and communicating in honkish, and if it is not coming from them then it is coming from the woman who lives in the building across from mine and whose only companion seems to be her smoke-inflected cough that she cultivates as if it were an art, and if it is not coming from her cough then it is coming from a small bar in via auteri 27/29.
Do you know what I love about this place? In the land of the free to shoot people also known as the united states, you have to hide in basements and diy venues in order to make noise to produce music that hurts your intestines, hell you have to hide to have a beer, but then you’re running the risk of getting shot. In these far southern parts of the old continent noise is actually the condition humaine i like to talk about, noise is embodied and verbalized and I do not mean this in the cliché oh-italians-are-so-loud-and-talk-with-their-hands-way because there is no such thing as italians anyways and americans abroad are louder than any other people I have had the chance to hear from near or far because americans are so used to the vast spaces of their continent yelling from coast to coast from state to state no one can hear you so once in teeny-tiny little europe or anywhere else it’s like their voices become claustrophobic. americans are the loudest foreigners except maybe for spaniards in portugal. So imagine this: americans anywhere in the world, spaniards in portugal, sicilians in sicily, now that’s a high-caliber international noise competition. Except that the sicilians, or to be less generalizing, the gadanes’, they are partying in their own backyard. Noise is embodied and verbalized here because it is part of the very fabric of both the landscape and of the people and of the language. How could you lead a quiet existence under a volcano?
The first book I bought here is called Catania non guarda il mare by Daniele Zito, zitto in Italian means “not speaking” “quiet.” What a name for someone who writes about a noisy city like Catania.
Daniele says that in the ‘90s Catania was the Seattle of Italy and full of people for whom Sonic Youth were mainstream. REM performed their first Italian gig in the city under the Etna on 6 august 1995 with an opening band relatively unknown at the time that went by the name of Radiohead. What a pedigree. But the bartender or was he a waiter at the place in via auteri (it has an ugly anglicized name that I prefer to leave unsaid) seems almost offended when I tell him that I’m happy to have found them, it’s not easy to get away from the fresh-off-the-cruiser crowds all over via etnea all wearing their beige and khaki pants and sandals with socks and they’re all old and dutch or swedish and what the hell are they doing here anyways, a friend just sent me an article last week that says Catania was the most beloved tourist destination in italy this year, the same thing happened when I was in portugal two years ago maybe I should just stop going places. And Daniele says, and I’ve checked, he is right, that all of those innovative alternative bars in Catania-Seattle with such names as Il Taxi Driver, la Chiave, la Cartiera, il Clone Zone, are now all closed, dead, and gone, replaced by reggaeton and horse meat and the godfather theme song played on accordions to entertain the tourists, why is it always that I arrive late? too late for yugo-rock too late for chicago-house too late for catania-punk? but this bartender or was he a waiter with an earring and long curly black hair in a pony tail, the proverbial beauty of a mediterranean man, he is reluctant to share the noisy secrets of Catania with me because I am “l’americana” and americans cannot possibly understand what it means to live at the feet of a volcano and wash your behind in a bidet with water from the mediterranean sea.
When it rains here it pours and I’ve also been told that this is the most tropical summer they’ve had, yes, the gadanes’ can teach congress a few things about global warming, it rains it pours water flows into my apartment that is in a neighbourhood formerly notorious for its malavita, but now it’s full of friendly indians and locals yelling night and day, and kids and old people singing and listening to the radio like my grandfather used to do, and it rains and it pours, the troubadour waves are sobbing at the gates of catania the whore, and I have never heard such loud thunder as the one rolling down the valleys of the etna, and now I finally understand why bastianazzo and the provvidenza went under because you can live in perpetual fear of the whimsical monarch in the skies, but u mari è amaru e u marinaru mori a mari.