Palermo is a city that can readily coax and repel. If you happen to feel the latter effect, make sure to give it a second chance as its charm lies precisely in its daily unfolding contradictions.
The coexistence of so many layers of life and culture does not allow us to easily define what kind of city Palermo is – that wouldn’t be serious. We can only quietly observe from the sides. The FotoFabrika curator Phelia Barouh is one of the people this city managed to challenge and attract. The following photographic series form a small part of her encounters in Sicily.
The Camardo Brothers, ca 70
Salvatore and Sinibardo were born on Kalsa Square where they sit all day long, reminiscing about the 1968 earthquake that destroyed it. The thought obviously does not bother them too much as they keep loitering around.
They have strange tattoos and peculiar gazes. Some would even say that they have a mean look in their eyes. The one with the meaner look has 6 children… And that’s all I can find out about him because he happens to communicate in Sicilian (which differs wildly from plain Italian) and has some throat disease which makes his speech quite incomprehensible.
It’s hard not to mention Tankredi’s visual semblance to Freddie Mercury. The guy has come from one of the mountain villages around Palermo to study theology. He wants to teachreligion and philosophy.
Mustafa is from Gambia, everybody knows that, but his age has remained a mystery. The documents he received upon arriving in Italy stated a younger age – that was supposed to make it easier for him. He has spent three years in Palermo and doesn’t like it here, although people have been good to him.
He works as a cleaner at a hotel, but he doesn’t get paid on time – and he’s bored. He lives in a refugee centre with adequate conditions and a free
regime. To reach Palermo where he can clean rooms and feel bored, he boarded a boat with 115 other people. He was 16 at the time. He spent 2 years traveling to get to the Italian shores, having passed through Mali, Burkina Faso, and Libya.
Francesco Gentille, 48
Francesco looks way older than he is, which is less than 50. He has had a heart attack or a stroke, and he aged fast after that. He used to make pizzas but he’s currently unemployed and you can tell he’s one of those who find joblessness very depressing. He’s proud of his three children and he’s proud of his city.
Romolo Paradiso, 52
Romolo is a bank director; he has worked in the banking sphere for over 30 years. He lives by the seaside in Mondelo, which is Palermo’s affluent neighbourhood. He has no children, a good fashion sense, a heavy workload, and a taste for young girls.
We do agree with what most people would think – Paradiso is a rather interesting family name for a banker. It was actually invented. His father was an orphan and chose the name for himself. Romolo thinks that he might have Arab roots. A true, open-minded free spirit who dearly loves Palermo and its culture, the sea, the women…
Elena Gambino, 40
Elena also thinks that she has Arab roots. She comes from a poor artisan family and she thinks this is what made her so dexterous and creative. She and her boyfriend have an atelier and a shop selling leather and rubber goods.
She loves Palermo and its contradictions. Elena is one of the people who will talk to a stranger on the street and, sensing that the person is feeling down, will make everything they can to lift his spirits.
Vera Battaglia, 37
When you meet Vera, you somehow want to follow her breathing. She breathes slowly; as if she breathes with her skin… And you instinctively want to follow suit so you can find out something more about her.
What you can learn when you first meet her is that she surfs and skateboards and has a café in Palermo. She has traveled widely, has been to a lot of places, and still loves the smell of the Sicilian capital but the truth is her favourite island is Lampedusa and its silhouette hangs on a chain around her neck. Like many people who were born and raised here, Vera feels that she has Arabic roots.