Our Lady of the Island

Madonna del Mare stories in Favignana

by Antonella Berni


I am the Madonna del Mare (the Lady of the Sea), I live in the four island corners. Here the water raises the tuna and it lifts it towards death, its eternal life. The islanders do not see the sea, as the hunter no longer sees the leaves on the tree. One thing stops existing if it has always been there.

Even the fishermen can not swim because the water bathes the island, just as the sun dries it and the moon lights it. The sea is used to bring fish or float boats. They do not recognize the turquoise reflections that tourists photograph, like the dry agaves and the worn tuff, because they speak different languages.

The islanders do not see the sea, as the hunter no longer sees the leaves on the tree. One thing stops existing if it has always been there.

I am the Madonna of the arid land, where the white rat flees and the snake with its sharp teeth crawls. The aroma of wild fennel torments women. At night everything is nice because the little lights illuminate the Nature exhausted, even tuff seems as polished as the marble of kings residences.

The dust on the ground still carries the sweat of the men who pushed the crumbly stone towards the ships, transported and adapted in a new environment, in the city with a different blue in the sky seen from behind the crystal windows, in houses where nothing is there to case and everything is the right place.

I am the Madonna of the tonnara, I watched over the women who had 9 children and who lost 9 of them, on the "fetuso" child left among others in the small Kindergarten, and also on the rich stranger wrong son, who had ruined a family reputation.

I watched over the possessed women who were howling for love and death from the body of other poor women, and only the priest could free them; on those who saw the "patruneddri" (ghosts) because they had light blood and kept the picture of the Dolomites on the sofa; also on those with the kitchen stove in the courtyard, sheltered by a large umbrella, open on sauces and fried cooked to fatten the family and keep it close.

I am the Madonna of the work, I accompany without a compass on the sea the men taking tourists to swim, and they answer the questions badly, because they feel threatened by what they do not know.

I accompany the confused who found themselves on a new path, from evening to morning, and they serve fake Mazzara red prawns to get on, and I drive those who leave an open air dump near the cemetery, where the green plants of capers infest the dirty rocks.

I am the Madonna of the hidden church, the passer-by spies me from behind the bars and rests on the stone bench, cursing the noise of the power plant.

Even from here I have to illuminate the darkness to show that an accident hides a possibility, and when a plant closes there is still the hope of being and doing things.

Because there is no worse thing for men to live without a reason.


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