I keep wondering…. why do I love it so much. What is it that keeps me feeling so excited about a place that so much does not want me to be there. It was a bit like that in London at first too… but in London it was the city itself and it’s difficulties that made me feel unwelcome, not the people. Here it’s different. When I walk down the streets of Palermo I can see in the cold and often aggressive stare of the passers-by that they don’t think I have any right to be in their city. In some areas I get more of that in some I get less. You’d think that in a big bity like this people are used to seeing odd people, and historically so many people of so many different tribes have come here.
I, though, have not come to conquer and I have not come here to take anything away from anyone who lives here. The job I do is not taking a job away from a local, I don’t have any interest in having the city cleaned up and gentrified, I also don’t go to the more expensive hipster bars for foreigners and rich expats and I didn’t arrive here without speaking Italian. So what’s the Problem? It’s definitely not mine I have decided.
The women are beautiful here, they all have fantastic brown and black, luscious long hair and they wear intense and sexy makeup. The men are more like the women, they decorate themselves and yet they seem to abide very much to a very old fashioned , very binary understanding of their toxic masculinity.
In the beginning I felt apologetic, I felt like, everyone staring is right and I shouldn’t be the way I am. I changed the way I dressed and considered buying a brown long haired wig just to fit in more. The locals are naturally sceptical, it seems, and they don’t warm to new people easily and there can even be nights when the transphobes feel courageous enough to say something. It’s not an easy place to be in.
Would I try less hard if I felt I had a home in London? Maybe I would because I’d feel there is something to come back to. But there isn’t and my heart fell in love at the first sight of Palermo. Why? It’s the most unlikely place for a pale white non-binary, green haired German to feel at home in. Between all those beautiful people, that speak a language that is so much harder to learn than I first anticipated.
But the way they interact with each other! I once saw a man walking up a street in a haste. He looked like he was trying to get somewhere specific quickly. Another man stopped him (they obviously knew each other) and they engaged in a surely 10 minute lasting conversation ( back then I didn’t understand what they were talking about). That’s what got me. The fact that getting to point B was suddenly not as important anymore as the conversation with his friend. The connection and the words are more important than wherever he wanted to go to. I love the way I feel when I’ve instigated little conversations here. Everyone is always eager to chat, if you chat to them first. I love that people sing on the streets here and that they love their home.
It hurts to experience that it’s so much less open than I first anticipated though. Where is the dance? Where is the queer spaces? Where is the interest groups where strangers meet and become friends through common interest? Where is the curiosity to meet new and different people? I felt that where there is lack there is possibility to create something new. But am I being arrogant? Maybe one should just leave Palermo the way it is and leave the locals alone in their scepticism and judgment of other people. I don’t know. There are days when I’m the happiest here and there are days when I’m even lower than I was in London. It’s a city of extremes. No-one holds back here.
But then again, it feels like society in itself is testing me. You go to a bar, people will be unfriendly and grumpy at your existence there , you go to the bar once more they recognise you and from the third time on they will greet you and treat you like a fellow human being, but only when you’ve established that you’re not a transient visitor. It’s beautiful though when the first steps are taken and the outside shell is cracked. It’s as happiness inducing as the sound of a crackling Sfogliatella, when you bite through the layers and taste the ricotta inside.