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The small, enchanting hover

The Temptation of Syracuse
Forfatter: Joachim Sartorius
Forlag: Mareverlag, (Tyskland)
SICILY / The poet Joachim Sartorius has written a feather-light book about the magic in the Sicilian city of Syracuse.


What do you need to feel happy? asks Joachim Sartorius as he leaves the hairdressing salon in Siracusa. An invigorating scent? "The small, enchanting soar" through the city's streets. But is such a fleeting moment enough, does this little girl really deserve to be called 'happiness'? He replies: "I mean that the 'real' happinessthe feeling also contains a slow longing, the looking carefully for, the finally finding and finally having."

It is therefore not surprising that Sartorius has written a book that lives by searching, seeing and finding, by a great curiosity about his own chosen city, SIRACUSA in Sicily. A small inheritance makes it possible for the author to also sail on the "ocean of fantasy" that surrounds the city. "Unimaginative as I am in financial matters, I thought I would have to invest the money in a property, preferably in southern Europe, preferably by the Mediterranean . I came to think of Sicily. I had traveled to this island several times before. I would have liked it at once, right down to the things one usually likes least, such as the highways, which in early summer are so densely lined with oleander and purple, billowing bougainvillea that one feels part of an endless camera journey through an ocean of flowers.”

Photo: Truls Lie

The beauty scout

The choice falls on Siracusa, more precisely Ortigia, the historic old town which is connected to the rest of the city by a couple of bridges – and on an apartment which primarily appeals because of the large terrace with a view of the sea and the boats. With the undulating bougainvillea in mind and his gaze guided by the notion of camera movements as well as motifs and forms from literature or the visual arts, the author wanders through the city.

And it soon becomes clear what he particularly likes. For hours he can look at the sea from the most different angles, admire the shades of blue, how the wind blows through the waves. Soon he also thinks of verses by Giorgos Seferis. It is no coincidence that the poet and translator Joachim Sartorius also loves anthologies, including a collection of sea poems.

Sartorius himself swarms for Pier Paolo Pasolini's famous travelogue The Long Road of Sand.

When, on one of his walks, he discovers a backyard that must have been an intermediate warehouse for wine suppliers, he spontaneously thinks of a caravanserai, an inn for caravans of merchants on their way along ancient trade routes. However, a historical sign informs him that what lies hidden beneath the surface is a street network from ancient Greek times: "Almost two thousand year old deposits came to light (...) which have had a continuous impact on the city's Baroquee structure." It is these layers that make up the city's magic for the beauty scout. He soon seeks them in all possible places. And he wants to know how the city deals with this great past and its decay.

Domo (cathedral). Photo: Truls Lie

Therefore? By making friends with people connected to the city. That way, you not only make friendly acquaintances, you also get a glimpse of Siracusa's history. For example through baron Lucio Tasca of Lignari – of old Sicilian nobility – which recounts its foundation in the 700th century BC and the Arab conquest 1600 years later, which ushered in the end of ancient Syracuse. Or the painter Gaetano Tranchino, who enthusiastically reports that Syracuse was a metropolis in the Greek heyday, with an attraction comparable to today's Manhattan. Although nothing is more difficult, he believes, than capturing a city with words.

Joachim Sartorius does not attempt to capture the city with words. Rather, he captures what he perceives, follows movements and fields of vision in a few sentences, then stops at a poignant moment, evocative fragments, which he sometimes expands into small mental tableaus. "Aren't we all fragments?" shouts a neighbor one day from the balcony.

Even Sartorius is rooting for Pier Paolo Pasolinis famous travelogue The Long Road of Sand, where in 1959 he drives almost the entire Italian Coastone around in his Fiat. Not unlike Sartorius's own approach to him: "Again and again he describes moments of complete bliss, intoxicated by colors and smells." Like Pasolini, Sartorius also plays with language and sometimes breaks with correct expressions by resorting to more playful forms. Sometimes his gaze resembles that of an astonished child. This is perhaps not least due to the fact that Sartorius grew up in Tunis, and that he now lets this childhood world shimmer over the Ionian Sea. One enjoys the brilliance together with him.

With an attraction on par with today's Manhattan.

In all the joy of reading, you can now and then wonder a little. What happened to the pandemic during which the book was written? And does the scrutinizing eye always need the distance from the 'tourist crowd'? Above all: Is not a certain standard of living a prerequisite for such a free view? The omission of the question is surprising as Sartorius elsewhere reflects precisely on how economic and social status determine life opportunities. But this comes out in one of the chapters, where he describes the authorities' handling of refugees, or in another paragraph, about the neighborhood behind the old prison where "the poorest fishermen and artisans" lived.

Photo: Truls Lie

Despite the weight of history, there is a passion for life today, says the baron, however sad it may be. This passion is also palpable in Sartorius' sentences. And it's contagious: you like to swim with him, enjoy the sea, admire the people and then laze around, "lazy like a gecko", in the midday sun. Pasolini perfectly embodied this melancholic attitude to life: "To be happy in spite of despair, in spite of acutely experienced , rregularity#.”

Translated from the German by Ranveig Eckhoff.

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