by Anna Castelli, Franco La Cecla
Go to the bar in the morning, nod to the guy at the coffee machine. Watch, out of the corner of your eye, how his wrist is at a right angle while pressing the powder, just the right amount; how he screws the portafilter to the machine; and how the steam passes through with the right pressure. Watch the drops fall, one by one, into the spotless cup. Accept with a competent eye that a minimal amount of thick liquid, in other parts of the world, would not be considered something to drink. To be fair, coffee at the bar is not a drink; it is concentrated sweat, a night dew, a dense patina, a hint rather than a reality. However, it gives you the impression that things are as they should be, that the world is beginning this morning “as it should”. On this island, where things are better hinted at than said, one doubles in a continuous ambiguity. There is value in absolute beginnings that are announced – but not declared, like coffee. Sniffing, stirring, sipping, making sure the cup is hot, risking the lips or more cleverly using a teaspoon to lay a few drops on the rim to cool it down; there is a shared expertise between you and the barista, a need to prove daily that you know how things should be done. Only a few emphasize the effects of coffee but all agree that it is essential; without it there is no point getting out of bed. In a land where “going to sleep” means “to lay down”, back in Demeter’s maternal embrace, staying up-right is an ongoing challenge. Past the morning, coffee is essential to get through the day, to finish lunch, to face the afternoon evil hour. There is an intimate dimension to daytime coffee; it is a part of contemplating existence, of accompanying it with a knowledgeable and somehow bitter nod: yeah, that’s right. Or if you sip coffee with friends, it is necessary to talk, to agree and deny. In a circle of friends the coffee serves to reiterate: of course, that’s it.
This island of insomniacs and night owls finds solace as the light goes down. It accepts the weight and effects of the sun, knowing how the strong light blurs the contours. Noon is the realm of total ambiguity. Who knows what is true and what is not. So many words are wasted: it seems that, he says that, depending on, mah, who knows. Borges declared that he was happy in Palermo because Sicily is the home of doubt, from Gorgia di Lentini, the sophist, to Pirandello, to Sciascia. You travel like HC and brush against green hills of perplexity, golden sands of duplicity, agaves of thorns and wind, illegal buildings that cling to the certainties of Etna to deny them. In every journey in this world you get loaded with im-pressions. Once you bring them back home, they turn upside down, split and do not allow themselves to be grasped. Then you must accept that you caught only a part, that you did not see what was beyond the corner of your eye. You must return, revise, repent and turn around. Here, there is something that always contains its opposite, the young Kore kidnapped by Hades also turns into the Goddess of Darkness, the weeping mother who accepts the obscene jokes her friends play on her to comfort her. Here the reflection of things is always ready to tease you a little. Fuoco alle Galere! (Burn Down the Prisons) could be the slogan of an absolute yearning for freedom for all. Here in Sicily it takes on an am-biguous tone. In the island where prisons are also the site of Mafia con-spiracies, the underside of the realm of corruption, yes, maybe getting rid of them might be advisable. But to think that this is the same Mafia that was broken up by Falcone and Borsellino, the very same people could easily go for a stroll along the main street… Well, that’s what boss Messina Denaro did (walked around his village for 30 years without any-one recognising him!). In short, “fuoco alle galere” is a slogan that the mobsters made their own, but it is still a legitimate aspiration of a healthy society. If there is one thing that Sicily teaches, and immerses you in, it is the gray areas, the nuances, and not believing that black and white are sharply distinct. It is an excellent base upon which to develop both a formal and informal itinerary for the creation of an artwork, which could go on and explore backlighting. HC’s doubled cups, their ceramics, their portraits of Sicily in black and white, fit into the chiaroscuro of doubt. They are the physical manifestation of those who arrived here wondering if they should really trust what they have glimpsed: the woman peeking at you from the shutter, the gaze of the “double” saints like Cosmas and Damian, reincarnations of the twins Castor and Pollux rescuers of the Argonauts and all sailors. Ambiguity is also the splitting of the shadow that one discovers of oneself at sunset, the elusive twin-ness that each of us carries. The inseparable Cosmas and Damian, who cannot live without each other, could make use of our artists’ twin cups that play with their propensity to be doubly left-handed. If you take your coffee with sugar, don’t forget that you have to keep stirring it for a long time. It brings out a slight ripple of foam and leaves, at the bottom, the crust of a temporary victory over the bitterness.