In part two of this three-part interview with Turi Caggegi, an Italian journalist and photographer based in Sicily, Italy, Turi explains what it is like to work as a journalist in Sicily.
If you missed part one, then it is here: Reporting from Sicily – An Interview with Italian Journalist Turi Caggegi – Part One
In this part, Turi talks about the different categories of journalist who cover Sicily. He then gives his opinion of the Sicily portrayed in the books of Andrea Camilleri, the Italian writer who created the Montalbano stories.
Here goes with part two of the Caggegi interview:
Alex Roe: Was it easy to become a journalist, Turi?
Turi Caggegi: Becoming a journalist in Sicily has never been easy, unless you are the child of a journalist. My father was not a journalist, but I was lucky enough to start writing immediately for a national newspaper, “Il Manifesto“.
It all started in 1981 when I wrote a story of political fiction on the issue of the P2 and sent it to the newspaper I read “Il Manifesto”. A few days later I received a phone call. On the other end of the line was Gianni Riotta, who was the editor of the newspaper at the time.
Riotta went on to become, amongst other things, the director of Italian state broadcaster RAI’s TG1 news program, as well as editor of Il Sole 24 Ore – the Italian equivalent of the Financial Times. Riotta, who I had never met, said more or less: “Turi, I read your story. Very good, but we do not publish fiction. Instead, seeing as you write so well, how about becoming a journalist?”. Of course I jumped at the idea very enthusiastically, and so began my career as in journalism.
Owing to the direction my career took, and because I lived in the relatively unknown Giarre area of Sicily, many other journalists in Italy did not think I existed. At that time , I was no more than the signature at the end of editorial created in Rome.
I remember the amazement of renown Italian journalist, Roselina Salemi, when I answered the phone: “Ahh! So you exist!”, she exclaimed with great surprise.
Alex Roe: For the curious, this is where Giarre is in Sicily:
[googlemap lat=”37.727053″ lng=”15.184054″ align=”center” width=”450px” height=”300px” zoom=”9″ type=”G_NORMAL_MAP”]Italia[/googlemap]
A.R: What’s it like being a journalist in Sicily? I understand is not always the most friendly of places for journalists.
T.G: In Sicily, as elsewhere, there are many types of journalist.
There are the run of the mill hacks who simply report the facts in the most aseptic of way; then there journalists who have been “awarded” jobs by politicians.
Next, there are the journalists who are wards of the political parties. These journalists, in return for favors and jobs with public and private media companies, pander to the desires of their political masters and only write what they are told to.
Finally, there have been and there still are the real journalists: people who devote their lives to the profession and who believe they are on a mission to serve the public, to investigate and to be objective. For this final category, life is hard, and such journalists are often excluded from newspapers and television [in Italy], so many are forced to go to live and work away from Sicily. Some of the island’s ‘real’ journalists have even been killed: people like Cosimo Cristina, Mauro De Mauro, Giuseppe Fava, Mario Francese, Giovanni Spampinato, Peppino Impastato, and Beppe Alfano.
When I worked in Palermo, at the time of the maxi trial against the mafia, I lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety over the things I was writing.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
A.R: While I’ve never been to Sicily, I have seen the fascinating Montalbano series on television. Do you think the image of Sicily portrayed in Camilleri’s books is accurate?
T.G: I love Montalbano and author Andrea Camilleri. I always watch the episodes of the Montalbano series on television, even the reruns. Each time I watch, I see something new and interesting I had not noticed before.
I always wonder how non-Sicilians, let alone foreigners, can understand the subtleties of language and reasoning with which Camilleri’s stories are laced. But Montalbano is a worldwide success, and for this, I am happy.
I think the characters portrayed by Camilleri are realistic, though exaggerated; perhaps this was a deliberate ploy on Camilleri’s part. An attempt, maybe, to make it easier for others to understand the complexities of Sicilian language and culture. In his tales, Camilleri increases the contrast and intensity of reality. What he does is a little like increasing the contrast and saturation in photographs to add to their impact. Many subtle shades are eliminated in such a process, but what is left behind can still be pleasing to the eye.
If you really want to understand Sicily and Sicilians (which are very different from one another) in their true colors, you also have to read the books of Giovanni Verga, Luigi Pirandello and Leonardo Sciascia, as well as Tomasi di Lampedusa’s classic “Gattopardo”.
A.R: Many Sicilians have left the island, but although you have travelled extensively, you have not? Why?
T.G: Perhaps it may seem stupidly romantic and unrealistic, but I have never left Sicily because I deeply love this land, and throughout my life, using every means available to me, I have always tried to do something to improve it.
Certainly, my love for Sicily has had a cost in terms of my career, but this has not prevented me from gaining plenty of experience both in Italy and abroad. I think this is because I love to learn and study new things. Life for me is a continual self-learning process. I have always invested in myself, my culture, and my know-how, and I’m proud of this. I also believe that I have succeeded, in some ways, to have had an effect on Sicily, and this belief gives me the strength to continue.
A.R: You broke the story on Giarre, Italy’s capital of unfinished buildings. Can you tell us something about the situation Giarre? Did the story cause any problems for you in your work as a journalist?
T.G: I was the first to write an article in a national newspaper about the shameful story of unfinished public works Giarre. My article was published in “La Repubblica” on 29th June 1994 (and is available online). At that time I nicknamed Giarre the Capital of Unfinished Buildings. I counted 25, one for each thousand inhabitants. Had the same situation occurred in Rome or Milan there would have been 3000 incomplete structures. The Giarre situation was an aberration. Giarre symbolized cronyism and the sheer waste of public money, and it is representative of the situation which exists throughout Italy.
Starting in the 50s and continuing into the ’90s, things worked like this: the politician in power at the time obtained money for some public works or other (a theater, swimming pool, sports facilities, etc..). Construction began, but at some point the money ran out and the work stopped. New funds were not used to finish the incomplete works, instead the money was used to begin other projects which met the same fate as the previous ones, and so on, in a downward, crazy and stupid, spiral.
Now that the money has finished, attempts are being made to recover, as far as is possible, some of the unfinished structures and to adapt them to today’s needs. But it [Giarre] remains a graveyard of abandoned ruins which serve as grim reminders of patronage and the worst form of political management an area can have.
My 1994 article did not cause me any problems. The fact it was about Giarre was simply a coincidence; it could have been anywhere else, and I would have written the same thing. On the other hand, I have never worked in Giarre, nor have I had a coffee in the town’s bars or attended events there…
Photographs by Turi Caggegi.
Feature image of Provinces of Sicily map by NormanEinstein