Circus & Vulcano Show on Sicily

Autumn holidays gave me time to jump in the parallel world again and to visit another reality, Sicily. In the first evening of my stay in Palermo I realised I can speak a common language with people; not Italian but circus language. Strolling around the streets without a goal I bumped into the last day of Ballaro Buskers street theatre festival.

Valeria and Alessio from Creme & Brule were performing their fire wedding. In the moment when the thunder sound came out of their speakers the real lightening stroke over the city! Fiction and reality met in a spectacular way to end the festival. People started to run with their umbrellas searching for the dry place. Rows of balconies with greenery became my roof on the way to the first wine bar. At the same time on the eastern side of the Sicily medicane, a rare weather phenomenon – Mediterranean hurricane, hit Catania and strongly flooded the area.

While searching for a lunch I sat to the table next to the performers, the groom and the bride from the last day show. After a few words they invited me to join them at their table and helped me to order seafood pasta from the Italian menu. Eating, drinking, talking and laughing on the lively street they introduced me Chapitô Danisinni, the Palermian circus, hidden in the rural part of the chaotic yellow city.

Walking around the neighbourhood I had to ask four people with my emerging Italian skills to find the way through the local church yard and among the farm animals to reach the tent. The presentation of a book was just to start inside. While I was observing the area a man in the red jacket approached me – ‘Were you looking for the circus?’ – and introduced himself as Daniel, a circus performer and keeper of the tent. I was happy and thankful that he found me, unexpectedly. With his group they regularly perform in a circus cabaret, making local children and families lough, think and wonder. He invited me to join their training on the following day. And I did. Grazie, ragazzi! The ceiling above me was high enough to throw the balls up to the stars …

Finally I was travelling again, meeting interesting people, feeling the mixture of smells from Europe and Africa merging on the streets, coming either from the deep sea, loud traffic, piles of trash on the corner or the dog poo. Every moment in Palermo makes the time expanding – always is happening much more than one could bear.

At the edge of the smoke there is no fire but artichokes. Giant ficus trees spread over the parks. In the botanical garden there is one with trunks growing horizontally and roots after reaching the ground turning into the new trunks. Watching the tree and seeing the forest!

While passing by the royal palace Palazzo dei Normanni I saw black posters promoting Purification, an exhibition on spirituality, from Bill Viola to Palatine Chapel. As a filmmaker I admire Viola’s videoart but have never had a chance to see his work exhibited. ‘We need new sacred images for our time,’ he wrote in 2007. My enthusiasm led me into the wonderful Palatine Chapel with golden transcendental mosaics from the Byzantine era (12th century), wooden muqarnas ceiling of Arab influence and icons on the walls familiar to me from Andrei Rublev, an astonishing film by Andrei Tarkovsky. Peacefullness and calm came to me in this sacred place.

Entering the dark hall led me over the staircase with water pouring over the stairs. But the water was projected. The sound of it was real – coming from the old Roman fountain at the bottom, connecting the ancient with the contemporary, the material with the spiritual. After watching Tristan’s Ascension (2005) by Bill Viola I felt like in the enormous vertical and narrow world. Is there a force to raise my soul from the body? What is the body all about? In the Martyrs (2014) human body is exposed to four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Suddenly I felt fragile, the drops of water filling my body and the light wind easily blowing away my consciousness … It was beautiful to confront our mortality this way.

Or as Salvatore Quasimodo, Italian poet born in Syracuse, Sicily, wrote in his famous short poem:

Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra
trafitto da un raggio di sole:
ed è subito sera.

Everyone is alone at the heart of the earth, pierced by a ray of sunshine; and suddenly it’s evening.

My plans of walking through Etna’s volcanic landscapes were flooded away. Catania was still under the red meteo alert. Following the weather forecast I decided to head towards the west. From Trapani I reached Segesta hills with ancient Greek temple and theatre.

Under the olive trees and through high grasses I walked to the monumental and magical place. Stony amphitheatre at the summit with a hilly landscape and distant sea as a scenography made me realise the primal theatre was happening outdoor, under the sky and among the clouds! Meditating and sitting there I wondered why did we close theatre into the black boxes of theatre halls, why those red curtains? Blue curtain of sky seems more than enough.

In Trapani I rented a bicycle and rode over to the salinas, salt pans. They used windmills to transport salty water to the higher land but many of them are only ruins now. Landscape of rectangular shapes, pink waters, known and unknown birds and edible halophyte plants was passing by. Abandoned and forgotten. Flat and quiet. I was singing and riding. Sicilians like to sing: I saw a man with bags walking from the market and singing on the street, and a man waiting for the train, sitting alone on the bench and singing.

At the corner next to the road I was surprised by closeness of flamingos. Timid birds were digging with their peaks through the shallow waters and sand searching for the food. But they didn’t allow me stepping any closer.

My greatest wish to visit volcanic landscape finally brought me to Milazzo, a port from where you can reach Aeolian islands, listed as an UNESCO world heritage site. I arrived there by train in the rainy night. In the morning hydrofoils and ferries were getting cancelled from hour to hour because of the unstable weather conditions. Only at 12.00 the first ferry left towards the island Lipari. The naval officer told me they didn’t know yet if we could land on Vulcano, the island I bought ticket for. They would decide only when we pass close by – if the sea allows.

Two hours voyage over the grey sea towards the black shapes of volcanic islands felt adventurous. I could see smoke coming out from the great crater of Vulcano. After landing at Lipari, the officer shouted to me: ‘Andiamo a Vulcano!’ I took a deep breath. Will I be able to come back too? Only one other passenger, a local, was left on board.

Among the yellow rocks, smelling of sulphur, with smoke coming out of fluoroscent green holes – fumaroles, I walked towards the camping ground. It was closed, the season ended. I put the tent in the bushes nearby and headed towards the Vulcano.

Over the black sands and red lava slope I reached the summit plateau. The views of the archipelago of seven islands were breath-taking, and the sulphur smoke too.

Due to the recent increased volcanic activity access to Gran Cratere was not permitted but I couldn’t resist. I walked hypnotised.

Unearthly colours, shapes, sounds of smoke coming out and smells made this hike one of the most memorable in my life. I was alone on the ridge surrounding crater, with only few black birds in the distance.

Forms of gases and smoke in the air were moving and dancing in a spectacular show, directed by nature. Storms were approaching over the sea from the direction of Alicudi and Filicudi, two most remoted Aeolian islands. I was collecting colourful stones as a curious child, filling all the pockets.

While descending I decided to try a different way. I followed goats and their tiny paths among the thorny bushes to reach the green valley on the opposite site of the volcano. On the way back to the tent I took off my clothes at the black sandy beach and swam in the sea. In the night the restaurant in the port was full of locals and laughter, children were wearing bloody costumes and playing games. It was bizarre but real – Halloween!

Before leaving to Catania, the grey city built from volcanic rocks under Etna mountain, I was wandering around the Vulcano island, among lava monsters, swimming and adoring distant volcano of Stromboli and its explosions of smoke. I can still hear it, like singing of sirens from Odyssey.

Text & photo: Uroš