Notes from Sicily: Servants, Emigrants, or Rebels?

Africans are fleeing to Sicily, Sicilians are fleeing to northern Italy, northern Italians are fleeing to the US, and the US, itself going south, is wasting time and money on building walls. Sicily is by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived in in my life. A place of colors, of sound, of smell. All the senses come to life here in a discreet but definite way. And yet, despite the perfect weather, despite the delicious cuisine, despite the hospitality and warmth of the inhabitants, despite the breathtaking landscapes, despite the history, the culture, the feasts, the literature, the music, the Mediterranean, Sicily is emptying out. Empty villages, abandoned farms, vacant apartments waiting for tourists from the north to fill them up with laughter and euros. Silence, silence, silence. Immigrants breathe in some life, but, contrary to public opinion, there are actually not enough of them to match the numbers of emigrating Italians. Sicily, it seems, is that beautiful, intelligent girl in nineteenth-century novels who gets no marriage proposals because her parents are poor. So what choice is left to her than to became a high-class courtesan? But even the San Berillo district in Catania, a former home of brothels and the Helicon of canon-defying writer Goliarda Sapienza, is now slowly becoming just another tourist attraction. Is this how it is going to be from now on? Nine-to-five jobs and a cat in the North, hobbies and an “ethnic” airbnb in the South? Is this the twenty-first century ideal we all aspire to? To each her North. This used to be a house. Then a house in a good neighborhood. Then a house in the city and a cottage in the countryside. Now it is an apartment in New York and a summer house in the South of France. Or Sicily. Or Corfu. Or Faro. Southerners have gone to the North to do the jobs that Northerners are too disgusted to do, and Northerners have come to the South to inhabit the houses that the Southerners have left behind. Lifetimes of schizophrenia.

None of these terms, “Southerner,” “Northerner,” “South,” “North” are incidental. No critical theory can question their empiricism. They have a long history in these parts of the world and form a steady part both of daily interactions and of scholarship. “Sei di qua?” Alfio asks me before the show at Teatro Coppola, pointing his finger towards the ground, “o di là?” his finger now pointing at the ceiling. Are you from here or from there? From hell or from heaven, from down under or from up above? “Meridian,” “Mediterranean,” “Southern,” “Sicilian,” “African,” “Yugo.” To each her North. Where does that leave Norwegians?

There are three squats in Catania of which I am aware: CSO Auro, Colapesce, and Palestra Lupo. Squats or independent art spaces that host alternative music shows and art exhibitions, techno dance parties that go from 11pm until 10am, and all sorts of non-tourist workshops and events. “Quindi li hai già trovati tutti,” so you’ve already found them all, my one-month-until-I-find-an-apartment-to-live-in-for-a-year airbnb host Giorgia says to me with a heartily and auto-ironic laughter when I bump into her accidentally at a show. Giorgia is a superhost and a licensed therapist in a place where only “people with real problems” go to therapy. She has a beautiful chestnut curly mane and her words drip with authenticity. I’m usually the only non-native person at these events, my presence being facilitated by my accent-free Italian, my Southern origins, and inconspicuous looks (in the world of punk, noise, and experimental music an all-black outfit and an odd haircut guarantee total blending-in). “Ci siamo, ma siamo pochi,” Pietro, a Dante dissertator and night-time-poet says to me and to Ariel who is visiting me from Chicago, “we exist, but we’re few.” The rebels exist, but they’re few. Pietro’s statement aligns with that of an article that I read in Sicily’s (potentially one and only) anarchist newspaper, Sicilia libertaria: Giornale anarchico per la liberazione sociale e l’internazionalismo, headquarters in Ragusa. A full unpolished translation of the article is brought to you by u principinu further below.


Superclassico Hardcore Party @ Palestra Lupo, 29 December 2018

As I was saying, there are three squats in Catania: CSO Auro, Colapesce, and Palestra Lupo. There is also the Teatro Coppola (Teatro dei cittadini), the citizens’ theater, a performance space in a former marine warehouse, barely covered to protect us from the elements, first built in 1821, closed, bombarded, repurposed, reopened to become a magnificent cozy meeting venue for the remaining rebels of Catania. In its aesthetics, it is only surpassed by Palestra Lupo which is a real alice-in-wonderland-esque/museum-of-curiosities corner of Catania. Let me make something clear: all of these places, including BarnAut, Gammazita, and Macondo and other alternative joints, they are all at a walking distance from one another, clogging up the tourist arteries of the city. While in a place like Chicago one would have to take three different L-lines to get from one place to another, in Catania you only need a comfortable pair of walking shoes. It’s all right here.


Regen @ Teatro Coppola, 4 January 2019

When the band, Regen, starts playing at Teatro Coppola, I am reminded again of the incredible continuity of musical styles all around the world, for Regen sound like a teenage (a very good! teenage) mix of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Acid Mother’s Temple. Boris lurking in the far background. I could be in Chicago, but I am not. I could be in Palermo, in Milan, in Skopje, in Tel Aviv, but I am not. Milan and Tel Aviv are densely populated, palpable, with many direct flights to connect them to the rest of the world, full of vegans and rebels and odd haircuts. Catania, Palermo, and Skopje are shadows of what they once were, pale sketches of the ideal paintings they would like to become, cities where mothers deliver emigrants, or servants, a few rebels perhaps, as the article in Sicilia Libertaria puts it. And now even Tel Avivians are cycling up and down the frosty streets of Chicago and Berlin neighborhoods, emigrants for the umptieth time, dissidents with odd haircuts and pockets full of hummus recipes. To each her North. How we adore that North. How hard we pursue it at the cost of frostbites and tasteless veggies and grey loneliness. Our poems, “T’ga za Jug,” longing for the south, are all born in the bosom of this North, for it is only in the longing of a verse, in the saudade of an oriental cadence while paling away under a stingy northern sun, that this our South ever and only seems to exist. In the meantime, here is one southern radical voice and what it has to say. L’chaim!


Pippo Guerrieri

Editoriale, “Verso Sud”

Sicilia Libertaria, Numero 389, Dicembre 2018

translated by u principinu



Alone in Sicily every year a village of 50,000 inhabitants is emptied and disappears. There are 50,000 emigrants, according to the official census, who leave the Island for the North in search of better work possibilities and to achieve their aspirations. They are young people, recent graduates, who chose the universities of the North; precarious and unemployed, they do not find job openings at home. Young people abandon the cities and, above all, the villages, to return to walk the paths of their parents and grandparents. Many do not know whether they will return.

The ancient dilemma: servants, emigrants, or rebells, is posed again, with the second option overbearingly making its way.

Emigration is a defeated daughter of other defeats; it is often the most obvious prospect after the many struggles that animated the territories in their attempt to shatter the mortgages that used to weigh and still weigh upon them. The failure of the struggle for work, shipwrecked in the disaster of a forced and devastating industrialization, in a most humiliating clientelism, in the crisis of campaigns; the failure of the antimafia endeavor, slipped into the trap of legality; the failure of young people, of their culture of change sunk into the moving sands of a commodifying modernity; the failure of the hopes of a civil existence in urban environments, efficient and tailored to people’s needs. The departures do not do anything else but exacerbate these failures, widen the gap between small and big centers, between north and south. Moreover: they weaken the struggles, rendering them more and more residual and testimonial; the resulting political, cultural, and material impoverishment represents an adequate terrain into which the nail of corruption is hammered, of destructive overkill, of the exploitation of people and of the environment; the capacities to resist are disrupted in their continuity, their incisiveness, in the possibility to create for themselves a redeeming opportunity.

In the mean time, militarization projects acquire ever more strength; ideologically polluting and materially impacting, they represent the poles of a new underdevelopment, contrasting models of historic strategies of occupation of the territories and of transformation of the Island into a big military base at the service of technological wars.

Depart from the territories, construct cultural and material barricades against the projects of capitalist dominion, organize the resistance in a self-managed way, horizontally, this is the only prospective for those who stay. But who are the ones who stay? the servants and the rebells; many servants, few rebells.

For this reason, it is right that today those who decided to put a parenthesis in their lives—emigration—between the two incompatible options, begin to reflect on the possibility of planning—short, medium, or long term—their return. It is fundamental that we begin thinking about the possibility to desire a Sicily, a South, that aren’t slaves any longer to the infamous laws of the market. A return in order to revive the villages and to resume the battles for the denied, trampled, humiliated social justice. A return in order to take up anew the battle position, to win back all the failures and defeats so that one does not have to emigrate anymore. It is not an easy choice, it is never easy to come back to an abyss, to dive back into difficulties, to return to that abandoned crossroad where one chose the shortcut of an escape variously named, defined and lived, but that, in fact, is just that: an escape. It is enough to just think hard about it, to interrogate our own conscience.

We are not talking about sentimentalism, sicilianism or southism, we are not talking about abandoning oneself to nostalgia for the light and colors of a beautiful but unfortunate land because it is colonized, enslaved, even culturally, corrupted by the mafia and politics, sold out to the multinationals and to American imperialism. Rather, we are talking about contributing to the construction of the things that are lacking in social, cultural, and economic domains; about rolling up one’s sleeves and laying the groundwork for liberation through an antagonistic culture to power in all its facets.

The South is in need of all its energies in order to raise herself up, to transform the servants into rebells, to begin to make its revolution, to walk the road to its independence.

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