In 1876, a young member of Parliament from Tuscany, Leopoldo Franchetti, traveled to Sicily, to report on the strange island that had quickly become the most troubled and recalcitrant part of the newly united Italian state.
Franchetti was enchanted by the beauty of Palermo, the majesty of the baroque palaces, the exquisite courtesy and hospitality of the people, the langurous, sunny weather, the exotic palm trees and the intoxicating perfume of the orange and lemon blossoms of the Concas d’ Oros, fertile citrus groves.
« Someone who had just arrived might well believe... that Sicily was the easiest and most pleasant place in the entire world. But if the traveler stays a while, begins to read the newspapers and listens carefully (he wrote), bit by bit, everything changes around him... He hears that the guard of that orchard was killed with a rifle shot coming from behind that wall because the owner hired him rather than someone else,.... Just over there, an owner who wanted to rent his groves as he saw fit heard a bullet whistle past his head in friendly warning and afterwards gave in.
Elsewhere, a young man who had dedicated himself to setting up nursery schools in the outskirts of Palermo was shot at... because certain people who dominate the common people, feared that, by benefiting the poorer classes, he would acquire some of the influence on the population that they wanted to reserve exclusively for themselves...
The violence and the murders take the strangest forms... There is a story about a former priest who became the crime leader in a town near Palermo and administered the last rites to some of his own victims...»
Little has changed since... in many places, democracy as we know it, has ceased to exist. In 1992, 1993, the Italian Ministry of the Interior dissolved the elected governments of more than 70 towns and cities because their city councils were found to have been polluted by the mafia.
«Sicily,» as the great novelist Leonardo Sciascia said, «... is a metaphor. Because of its violence and extremity, it contains in highly concentrated doses and highly dramatic form Italy’s virtues and vices.»
“The song of the cicada answers the weeping, the song that the westering lament does awe, nor the ashen sky. And the pine has one sound, and the myrtle another sound and the juniper another again, different instruments under numberless fingers and we are plunged in the forest’s spirits living with a tree-like life.“
From La Pioggia Nel Pinetto, Gabriele d’Annunzio