Palermo, Italy

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Intermezzo 6: Giulia

Mad they call me, Marietta, for crossing blind the boulevard; mad, for singeing my raven locks, Lou Reed’s ‘Jesus’ on my lips, in the flame of a votive candle; mad, for lying down with dogs at the foot of the Opera steps. Am I mad? No, I am not mad: I miss you.

It’s cold and wet in this city on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The mountains are covered in mist. Enlivened by the rain, graffiti crawls on the walls of bombed-out buildings. Turning up the collar of my coat, I smell damp wool: My heart races as I see you in Zürich, knitting the sweater I’m wearing. Hark! The chiming of church bells: Still we have marriages.

Friday, when the endless rain began, I lingered in the Catacombe dei Cappuccini. Fascinated by the macabre grace of the mummified corpses, I was okay until the corpse of a girl rattled my bones: An abyss opened before me, into blackness I collapsed…

Saturday night I spent with a girl. Peachy white wine, sweet-and-sour aubergine with swordfish: In a corner nook, in the vaulted interior of a revamped osteria, I sat opposite Giulia, a girl with dark eyes and a tumble of black curls. My heart skipped a beat when she told me she’s from Ticino. A student at the Accademia di architettura in Mendrisio, she’d just won a competition, of which the prize is a practicum here: converting a former tuna processing plant into two bars, a restaurant, a 400-seat performance space and a hotel. She told me about the Mafia, the siphoning off of EU funds destined for the renovation of the city.