A (motor) bike, a view and a mike

“The three pillars of my life”

I remember that when I was eighteen, rather than heading to a nightclub or staying up all night just fooling around, I’d rather wake up early in the morning and run my motorcycle through the villages in the quietness of inland Sicily.

I’d swing gently in the curves of the wheat fields, arrive in a silent and almost desert village, sit on a bench and suddenly stop to listen the mysterious and infinite sounds of nature …

Why? I still ask myself.

Indeed, I have long found an answer, but the question never ceases to amaze me in search of the primordial truth.

I’ll tell you my story.

I was born in Palermo but at the age of 9, after living a couple of years in Switzerland, I returned to Sicily, but on the opposite side of the island in Catania.

I grew up in this city, Catania, but I had a myriad of cousins in Palermo, that is 200 kilometers away.

So on a Saturday, I would take the coach that would take me from Catania to Palermo.

This crossed Sicily from side to side, passing through the endless wheat-covered mountains of the inland: a green sea, a wedge of wisdom and an outburst of thoughts.

Apparently I was an introspective child. I have always brought with me those landscapes, those colors, those silences.

From the window of the bus I used to remain speechless fixed on the green mountains of Sicily, meditating, in my discotheque of pleasure, in my dream bus. The first pillar of my pure thought was born: landscape.

Every other meter there was something that amazed me.

Those journeys by bus became for me like a book by Verne.

Right here at the beginning of the journey, I’d see the orange groves of Gerbini with the Etna in the background.

Right here at the beginning of the journey, I’d see the orange groves of Gerbini with the Etna in the background.

I liked looking at the driver and sometimes I’d pretend to drive too, using the headrest of the front sit as a steering wheel.

The wheat fields and the green mountains of Sicily flew by.

Who knows what’s on that mountain, I’d think watching the ruins on the summit of Mount Scalpello.

Here are the badlands! They intrigued me so much, my God!

They looked like huge elephants’ paws resting on the dry Sicilian soil.

So I would remain stuck to the window of the bus.

And then there were those bare white limestone rocks that sprang out of the sea of wheat as if we were in the American far west.

And so many cottages here and there, in the silence of the countryside.

Here we are already in Enna, halfway trough my journey.

I’d look at the town perched up high often hidden by the fog.

One day I will go to Enna, I thought.

After Enna the long descent towards Palermo began and the landscape completely lost those few citrus groves that still battled with the wheat fields.
“Ponte Cinque Archi”, Five Arches Bridge, a fascinating name for a child’s mind!

I’d stick my nose to the window to try to see this bridge that should have had five arches, just like in the fairy tale.

But since it was under the highway, nothing, I never caught it with my eye.

Imagine when I did, once I was older.

There really was a bridge with five arches and when I first saw it, I parked my bike right under the highway and stayed over the bridge an hour thinking of my childhood and teenage journeys.

Back to my road trip. A green-colored storm wraps around a castle! I’m at Resuttano.

What a sight when I came out of the endless tunnel of Tre Monzelli: the Madonie Mountains in all their glory opened up wide with tremendous strength, almost like they were the highest mountains of the world.

Now the highway runs towards to the sea and I have passed Scillato.

My uncle Turiddu told me that there the water was very good.

And the River Imera comes back and so do the immense gardens next to its waters, until … the sea!

I’d see the industrial area with it’s fumaroles, of which I was so curious about.

But what was this industrial area, I’d think?

A city, a town?

I could feel the closeness of my cousins stronger and stronger.

Mount Pellegrino in the distance aroused other great sensations in me.

And there was Palermo, my Palermo, the city where I was born and I’ve always felt in my heart.

I’d get of the bus, I’d buy a “panino con le panelle”[1] and get in the car of some uncle and cousin of mine, usually Fabio.

When I grew up with my motorcycle, I explored again these places that left me enchanted as a child.

It was a beautiful, an exciting thing.

I found out that with my bike I could animate the kaleidoscope of images imprinted in my mind from the bus window.

So I started to go to Palermo on my two wheels.

The motorcycle: the second pillar of my pure thought.
I’d ride slowly, marrying wisdom and meditation: landscape and the motorcycle.

My two-wheeled horse was tripping joyfully carrying my soul along the green valleys of Sicily.

I loved taking the secondary roads, the dusty ones, surrounded by fields and cows.

And so appears the orange grove’s of Gerbini, I could touch them now; The badlands were just a stone’s throw away; And the Five Arches Bridge really existed.

Here it is the castle of Resuttano and the bike is in the background, a gorgeous silhouette between the green wheat.

Day after day, journey after journey, when I was in the heart of the island, the pace of my bike’s engine slowed down, and the pace of my thinking increased.

My curiosity exploded under a tree or on the benches of a sunny little village in the inlands.

I began to enjoy the taste of talking with the elderly, the inebriating and endless smell of Sicilian air.

The bitterness of broken sympathies, as Flaubert would say.

As time passed, so many things happened.
I became a writer and a radio-television author always narrating Sicily.

I did television, classic journalism, but above all Radio.

Here, after the motorcycle and the Sicilian inlands, comes the third pillar of my pure thought: Radio.

Mike gave me the chance to open a gap between me and my people, putting me in an advantageous position.

So I began to narrate the Sicilians, especially the ones from the inlands, telling everything of their life.

Until today this is my natural environment.

With my microphone I can make you talk about anything.

In my profession of anthropologist-journalist I’ve learned a great truth: something always happens.

Sicily is a set that has no script.

Because something always happens.

Like magic!

Because no people in the world, more than the Sicilian, can be more self ironic and recitative.
No one in the world can have on radio the same theatricality of the Sicilians.

In a word a Sicilian tells you everything: poetry, irony, illusion, and disillusion.

In this way I made my name through my joyrides throughout the island.

And so at a certain point a journalist labeled me “the Sicilian Motorcycle writer”.

I loved it and I started using it everywhere.

People began to recognize me.

“… you are the Motorcycle writer Vallone, I’ve read about you. But do you really ride around Sicily on your bike, sleeping in caves, up in the mountains, in natural reserves …?” I’d be asked.

“Yes sure. Can you imagine that?” I’d reply.

At some point of my life, when I was writing the book “Castles of Sicily”, I went on a search for manors tucked in our highlands.

I had become one with my motorcycle driving down trails that had never seen asphalt, only soil and pot-holes.

I was in symbiosis with my motorcycle.

Even today at 50 I still ride my motorcycle but when I have to take cameras, microphones, books and … an assistant-director with me.

In this chapter, I hope I have been able to convey all the energy that this land possesses.

I talked about landscape, motorcycle and radio.

We could also say: colors, reflections, meetings.

Nearing his death Bruce Chatwin wrote a beautiful book entitled “What am I doing here?”.

The beauty of the book, in my view, is basically all in the title, it’s a highway of thoughts.

Chatwin asked himself this question; “What am I doing here?” since he was one step away from death, so he retraces in the book some of his life experiences.

Reading it, one can only immerse himself in Chatwin’s character and in his final moment of his literary journey.

What am I doing here?” is his question.

And the book is his response.

I see Bruce, my beloved Bruce, sore but gratified; I see him with his pen on his desk or on his bed.

I read one thing, but at the same time I see another.

I see him in Africa and then I see him in his dressing gown in the hospital, I see him between the Nazca lines and then I see him smiling in his house.

Bruce lives his life around his question: What am I doing here? And I see him smiling sweetly.

We all have asked ourselves, at least twenty times in our life: What am I do here?

I promise, every time I’m on my motorcycle, in the Sicilian inland and maybe I’m just chatting with a shepherd, I always find the answer.

Landscape, motorcycle, radio.

Travel.

Life.

Love.

Hope.

Passion.

Poetry.

Smile.

Emotion.

Sicily.


[1] Typical street food of Palermo, a bread roll filled with fritters made from chickpea flour.

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