Most Things Change; Sicily Doesn't

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), March 2, 2009 | Go to article overview

Most Things Change; Sicily Doesn't


Byline: Kevin Cap For The Register-Guard

PALERMO, Italy - The bus driver crossed himself meticulously, then proceeded to speed along the coastal road like a bat out of hell.

This combination of religiosity and recklessness long has summed up life on the Mediterranean's largest island, which is closer to Tunis than to Rome.

As pink almond blossoms faded into a blurry pastel with winter lemons, I bounced in my seat, finally calling out to the driver, "Any particular reason you're in such a hurry?"

"It's my father-in-law," he replied, slowing a little for a curve.

"Is he ill?" I asked.

"No, thanks to God. But he left his Palermo football shirt in the bus, and the match will be startinga..."

Welcome to Sicily, I thought, a place where football paraphernalia is worth risking life and limb.

As the days lengthen and the sun grows stronger, Sicily looks forward to basking in springtime somnolence, like the stray dogs that doze alongside the crumbling baroque churches.

The rest of the world may be having its economic crisis, but the theme is evoked less here than elsewhere, perhaps because the economy of Italy's south always has been a ramshackle affair, kept afloat by government subsidies and illegal business, traditional agriculture and tourism.

In Palermo's city hall, officials wonder how to modernize the rickety bus system I was on and worry about the fines European Union authorities in Brussels want to impose on Sicily's cities for making no progress in improving air quality.

Alas, as throughout the Mediterranean basin, cars are more than a means of transport; they are symbols of wealth and power - pedestrians are ignored, because they are thought to have neither. Even frail-looking old women in black shawls drive with their foot on the accelerator in a way that would land them in jail anywhere north of Naples.

"We have been ignoring dictates from Rome for decades," one man said with a sigh, "But I'm not sure we can quite get away with it now with Brussels in charge of so much.

"They seem to think Sicilians will all line up for the bus like people do in Milan."

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi appears regularly on ubiquitous restaurant and bar televisions - he controls the major channels directly or indirectly - and his macho image clearly appeals to Sicilians. …

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