X – Madonie and Palazzo Adriano

The Parco delle Madonie extends below Cefalù and encompasses several perched villages with suggestive names: Petralia Sottana, Petralia Soprana, Gangi, Castelbuono, and the one that amuses me the most, Polizzi Generosa. Years ago, I captured for National Geographic a clustered image of those enclaves invading the hilltops like a colony of insects, but with the Mark II, I approach these people without intimidating them. The advantage of a discreet camera and having no haste to deliver the photos help me to capture the typical Sicilian atmosphere of the terraces, where children and the elderly naturally coexist.

In Sicily, streets are steep and narrow. Walking through Castelbuono I pass by several donkeys and their corresponding riders who bustle garbage bags about.

Didn’t you know? — says a lady who smiles while I photograph a colt in Corso Umberto I — it’s a custom in this town. Too many balconies, the highlands’ hard light and the donkey’s dark colour do not make the photo easy. There must be another solution, but I don’t know it.

I carry on my way and strike up conversation with a shoemaker. Vignieri Santos emigrated to Germany, like so many people from Sicily, and entertains his retirement by mending footwear in a tiny cubicle. People of this island will tell you about their lives when you start a conversation. I notice that he is surrounded by photos, and I guess he won’t mind taking a portrait when the conversation slows down. The problem is that the lighting from the street is too intense. Then I remember my good friend Álvaro Leiva who, when we were travelling through Myanmar, advised me to use the backlight more. Why not? I tell myself. I change the 17 mm for a 12 mm and overexpose the backdrop to a point so that the outside light contaminates the silhouette. The man thanks me for the photo and we exchange addresses so I can send it to him. I’ll do it for sure.

Back in my car I realise that I lost bearings in the labyrinth of Castelbuono. I become angry with myself for not being more careful when, suddenly, the everyday miracle: the waste-carrying colt is approaching wearily in front of the house with orange walls that is right across. Every cloud has a silver lining. Better conditions than an hour ago.

Two other towns of the island seduce me. The name Palazzo Adriano may not mean much, but Cinema Paradiso by Giuseppe Tornatore, winner of an Oscar in 1990, was shot in this town. I uselessly seek the place collapsing in flames in the fiction film and photograph the Municipal Police headquarters.

It seems like it, but a retiree warns me that the film was a set that was destroyed when the filming ended.

And was the cinema’s interior also of plaster? — I ask.

No, they filmed it inside the Carmelo Church.

And I walk towards it, faithful to the promise of photographing religious enclaves. Two women that wish to scare a stubborn pigeon away because it’s leaving droppings everywhere along the nave allow me to take some pictures while they clean it.

The other town is called Corleone, close to where Bernardo Provenzano, the top boss of the "Cosa Nostra" was arrested. Many bars are decorated with stills of the also Oscar-winning The Godfather, and the cult for this film is obvious, even in supermarkets. Even wines show Marlon Brando’s effigy. It has been, without a doubt, a day at the movies.