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The Mediterranean by Boat

The cult of Saint Lucy
December 13, 2021
Siracusa 2024
December 30, 2021
The cult of Saint Lucy
December 13, 2021
Siracusa 2024
December 30, 2021
Ph. © Eliseo Lupo

from The Mediterranean by Boat

My boat is docked by a long seaside promenade which ends in a garden. In the garden there’s a fountain, or rather a natural spring which forms a little lake where for centuries silver-scaled fish have darted between the fanned papyrus plants.
But these, you may say, are things that you can find anywhere. I agree! But wait till you hear the rest. The promenade is a good kilometer long. A row of benches painted green runs from one end to the other, with no more than one meter between each one.
Well, for the past hour they’ve all been occupied. The people that have come to sit there, young and old, men and women, have no book nor knitting in hand; they are human beings with no worry beyond enjoying the shade and letting their gaze wander across the shimmering surface of the gulf, with planes overhead buzzing like flies.
And that’s not all. Along the promenade there are two cafès, each one with a dehors and a record player. Indeed, for about an hour the two record players have been emitting waves of languid music which, combining, form a series of small musical whirlpools which no one would ever dare to define as cacophonic.
That’s it.
I only need to add that even when I arrived, at one o’clock in the morning, the record players were on; the benches were mostly full, and the cafès dehors…
Apparently all this animation is soon to end, around midday, as the heat is too oppressive, and everyone will return home to sleep behind closed blinds.
Around four o’clock they will start again...
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«The people that have come to sit there, young and old, men and women, have no book nor knitting in hand; they are human beings with no worry beyond enjoying the shade and letting their gaze wander across the shimmering surface of the gulf»

Georges Simenon, Il Mediterraneo in barca, Adelphi Editore 2019
That’s why I took my time with the descriptions made by ancient and modern travellers who visited the Mediterranean and the Orient.
Houses, residences, temples and paved roads, merchandise and luxury are things you can find in the North too, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Oslo.
What I want to highlight are the people that walk aimlessly, the musicians, the performers, the shade of the gardens, the lovers… there’s a perfume, a laxness, a rhythm…
Nevertheless someone told me:
«It’s because of the crisis, you see? Before, instead of 2 record players there were 2 little bands, a male one and a female one which played 100 meters away from each other. When the women played a tango, the men played a jazz piece...». There are also three cinematographers. In any other place a cinema is a cinema, something industrial and without a specific character.
Here instead it recalls a Greek or Roman circus. No, don’t smile. A vast open air space, surrounded by freshly repainted railings. On the front, a pediment, a curtain and a stage on which Aristophanes could be performed.
In any other place, then, the words «continued performance» emanate a strong smell of industrial product. Here instead they mean that you come in and come out, go up and down the room, go to the bar and eat an ice cream or drink a lemonade, or go to the garden to make love.
The most important thing is that it is cool. Above there is only a dark blue of the star-filled sky. In the first rows sit the admirers of the singer, of the three creole ballerinas and the pigeon charmer, so soft and sensual.
It looks like Hitler… I just read in the newspapers, something that I hadn’t done in over three weeks. It also seems that in Amsterdam…
What terrifying news! So terrifying that the people I meet don’t know anything about it. There are only a few lines in their newspapers and as for the rest, well, for the rest… I have no idea what they are talking about. I have no idea what could interest these hundred or so people who, at this time of day, sit on the promenade benches while the record players wage war on each other.
And yet they pointed certain men out to me, here and there, with broken noses like boxers or with scar-marked faces. «They’re gangsters!» they told me with a smile.
They weren’t even joking. Most of the gangsters that made Chicago and all of America tremble were from here, they ate cassata cake at these open-air tables and watched the fish swim in the fountain with the papyrus.
Now that in America drinking alcohol isn’t prohibited anymore, they’ve came home. They wander like the others. And, like the others, they are unemployed.
Do you understand? Unemployed people before the invention of unemployment. People who do nothing because it is nice to do nothing or because it doesn’t make sense to do anything.
«But» you may say « those monuments, those mosaic paved roads, those fountains, those...».
Of course, they must have built them! I only need to look up to see a Greek temple from the 10th century B.C., a church of perhaps less exquisite taste but still extremely elaborate, built in the 7th century of our age, and an amount of Renaissance houses where today’s poor still live under painted vaults worthy of appearing in a museum.
What does all this demonstrate? That the people of this city have worked?
Not even in one's dreams! All this demonstrates that people from other countries came here to work, by their own will or by slavery.
And perhaps this is the Mediterranean's secret.
You come from one place or another, from Gaul or Armenia, from Macedonia or even from Hungary. You are young and strong and are mostly poor. So you work.
Only that your child, or perhaps your grandchild, learns to live, and rather than working himself, he makes the others that arrive in turn from the remoter barbaric lands work for him.
Probably this is the meaning of the word aristocracy.
And that is why we can all say that the inhabitants of the Mediterranean are aristocrats…
There are only a few hundred people, at the moment, who are staring at the sea with some music playing in the background and are imagining in the shade like the English or American tourists who have worked for ten years to be able to pay for a few weeks of holiday in the Mediterranean.
...And aren’t even capable of enjoying them!
1934, Il Mediterraneo in barca, Georges Simenon. Adelphi Edizioni, 2019