Piazza Pretoria. Palermo, Sicily. Click for credits and larger image
Piazza Pretoria. Palermo, Sicily. Click for credits and larger image

Italy is often mysterious, hard to understand. Who are the Italians? What is happening in this country?

I was hit days ago by the words of Santo Piazzese, the Palermo’s crime writer, who – in an interview on the weekly magazine ‘Venerdì di Repubblica‘ – spoke of today’s:

“… sicilianized, enigmatic, elusive Italy, difficult to be synthesized into something consistent. Differently from other great countries (France, England, Spain) Italy doesn’t possess a real national unity nor is helped in this by a wide-fresco Italian literature [that could provide an overall picture of what we are, MoR].”

Sicily, on the contrary, has produced this sort of literature (Verga, Pirandello, Tomasi di Lampedusa, De Roberto, even Luigi Natoli with his ‘I Beati Paoli’)”. Such Italian literary flaw also regards those authors from Mezzogiorno who have Italianized themselves.”

In this country, with its films and literature, “we see only the tree, not the forest.”

Piazzese thus concludes with an enigmatic, worthy-of-Tolkien statement:

The secret of the forest is hidden in Palermo.”

Santo Piazzese

The ‘secret of the forest’ is hidden in Palermo? What does that mean?

It is intriguing enough for me to start reading Santo Piazzese’s novels. It could provide insight on the Italian enigma – one never knows.


Read part 2:

That Pride Which Is Actually Blindness

Related posts:

On Roman, Italian and Latin Roots. Italy and the New World
Change and Continuity in History. 2

Related blog theme:

The Human Mind is Like a Museum

19 thoughts on “The Secret of the Forest

  1. Italy, despite the centuries that preceded it, is younger than Canada. Canada was 3 years old when Garibaldi unified (?) what is now Italy. The way I see it, from afar, the old kingdoms are not dead and people do not think of themselves as Italians but as Sicilians, Calabresi, Abbruzzesi, Piedmontesi, Romans etc., etc. Not unlike Canada, Italy is a patchwork of regions not yet fully integrated to the whole. Imagine you even have a separatist region, Lombardy, and your Berlusconi hails from there. Can you figure our Gilles Duceppe becoming Canada’s prime minister yet, if not mistaken, Berlusconi belonged to the Lombard League Party, no?


    1. I will reply tomorrow dear Paul. Now ‘cena’ is awaiting me lol.

      Here I am.

      Italy was born in 1861. Wasn’t the Canadian Constitution Act in 1867?

      In any case, yes, Italy, as a nation, is young, and, like Canada, is a patchwork of folks. There is something mysterious in this place I still have to understand.

      Berlusconi is a Lombard but he is only an ally of the Northern League Party, whose tendencies are separatist – more verbally than really. Many Italians are provincial and lack a wide vision. One of the reasons I have got into blogging is to escape from this narrow-mindedness.


      1. I stand corrected. I thought 1870 was the date, my error…or ignorance.
        As for provincialism and narrow vision I guess these traits are shared by all the world’s populations as is attested by our present goings on in most countries, including Great Britain, France, etc…


      2. Well, 1870 was when Rome was conquered by the Piemontesi and became the capital of the new Kingdom. So you were close.

        I agree, provincialism is a general problem, especially today that knowledge is not considered a major value and trivia is ruling.


  2. This IS intriguing! Let’s discuss what Piazzese might have meant, after you read the book, and definitely after cena.

    How are you, my drinking buddy?



  3. Interesting! While it might have been so fifty years ago, Italy has undergone a major transformation, visible to us who emigrated. When we return to our paesi, we find a different feel, a more cosmopolitan attitude among young people. My two brothers, still living in Italy, worked everywhere and soaked up a national character they wouldn’t have soaked up if they remained in one place. I might add that they do not consider themselves Southerner. Their accents, mannerisms and philosophies are distinctly cosmopolitan.

    Only two examples here.


    1. But very much to the point!

      From Lucani they became Italiani and later cosmopolitan. Now, what the interview meant in my opinion is that when people from the various corners of Italy become ‘national’ this new identity is not … conplete, ie not as ‘national’ as for the Spanish, the French etc.

      I think we Italians easier attain a cosmopolitan identity rather than a national [history proves it with big figures like Leonardo, Columbus et.]. In this land we are able to see trees more than the entire [Italian] forest… [for example I see all that is Roman etc. and at the same time am open internationally]

      What intrigued me is that Piazzese, a pupil of great Sciascia, for some reason believes that the secret of the bigger forest is hidden in Palermo.

      Why in Palermo? What is so special out there? Isn’t Sicily local too? I’d like to find out (but I might expect too much from Piazzese, we will see.)

      Thanks for stopping by Rosaria.


  4. I heard this author interviewed, and I have reserved her book at the library:

    For Grace Received – by Valeria Parrella

    She addressed some of these issues: Are you familiar with her? How does she fit in with your comments?


    1. Well, she is young (35,) Neapolitan, her depiction of Naples is said to be vivid and Naples is the other Southern Italian axis. I should read her to say more. But on the whole, I don’t know, Sicily, this warm-fleshed woman ‘conceived in a delirious moment of creation’ (Tomasi di Lampedusa) seems more apt to hide secrets.
      [see also my following comment to Rob’s and my next post]


  5. Just a quick goodbye before I leave, bus leaves in half an hour! Bye and keep the Aphrodite love going on! 🙂

    Hope to see you soon! 🙂


    1. I read this too late. Good luck dude! I’m sure your experience in Mumbai will be great. Hope too to hear from you soon!
      (and don’t tell me in an IT centre like that you won’t be able to access the Internet…)


  6. Hi Man of Roma!

    Why Palermo? I think both Sciascia and Tomasi di Lampedusa would have had the answer to that..


    1. Right Rob, you’re providing a good hint and I’ll develop it by replying to you and other readers with a post – otherwise my comment here would be too long. Ciao and grazie!


  7. I have to disagree slightly with Mr. Piazzese that there isn’t a “wide fresco” from which we can construct an Italian unity. I think one of the great things about the history of Italian literature is that every region and area had their own authors, approaches and concepts. Can we not find unity in the disunity?

    I do agree with him that often one only sees the “tree” – that “tree” being Dante, his legacy and Tuscan literature and culture (even today!). It’s sad that a lot of people don’t give credit where it is do since there would be no Dante were it not for the groundwork laid by the Sicilian poets of the early 13th century (la scuola siciliana).

    It’s amazing that so many people who visit Italy never venture beyond Rome or Florence and Tuscany. I think that this is the culture of Italy that is often (for better or for worse) exported in its films, music and writing.

    Enjoy the blog! Buon lavoro!


    1. Hello Keith, welcome back and grazie!

      Can we not find unity in the disunity?

      Agreed, Italian disunity must not be exaggerated (although the post wanted to underline a difference with France, Spain etc.) The fact that we speak the same language and that dialects are disappearing says a lot. TV has been a potent factor of cultural unification.

      What the post wanted to convey is Piazzese’s idea that contemporary Italian literature and films mainly depict local (more than national) milieux. In Commedia-all’Italiana films, for example, this is particularly evident. Neapolitan and Roman types are the most common. Made-in-Italy TV fiction is very popular today in this country. A recent poll showed that a majority of Italians complain that in such fiction actors often speak with a Roman accent.

      It’s amazing that so many people who visit Italy never venture beyond Rome or Florence and Tuscany.

      It is. Tourists miss Italy ‘the way it was’ and Mezzogiorno has nothing to envy as for art and culture. Southern tourism is though progressing. I think Italian Americans could help make the South known in the world. I posted somewhere in this blog a clip where Francis Ford Coppola speaks of his beautiful, untouched Lucania.



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