la Sicilia è molto facile. Magico triangolo crocevia
del mare Mediterraneo, l'Isola è stata visitata da
Fenici, Greci, Romani, Bizantini, Arabi e Normanni. Più
complicato può sembrare, a volte, anche al giorno
d'oggi, muoversi all'interno della regione: poche le autostrade,
quasi inutilizzate e inutilizzabili le ferrovie nell'entroterra,
aziende di trasporti pubbliche decadenti.
pur se i siciliani amano masochisticamente farsi governare
da classi politiche miopi e d'altri tempi, essi hanno tuttavia
avuto in dono una terra leggendaria, bella, ricca di storia
e monumenti, dove il turista - anche quello più sprovveduto
- non potrà non apprezzare le bellezze che gli vengono
offerte, anche a costo di qualche lieve disagio.
sembra opportuno, in questo contesto, riportare un racconto
breve di un emigrato, Salvatore Amico Buttaci, che torna
in Sicilia dopo tanti anni a trovare i propri parenti.
racconto si intitola "Ir'e Beniri" ed è
in inglese, lingua che oramai "quasi" tutti dovremmo
conoscere, soprattutto i conducenti di autobus turistici.
To travel by bus from Acquaviva Platani, the small Sicilian
mountain village of my parents, to the province seat of
Caltanissetta requires about two and half hours. The first
time I made that trip was back in November 1965 after being
in Sicily for only a month. I knew next to nothing of Sicilian
or Italian, tried to get by with some simple sign language
I hoped would be understood, and I smiled a lot to show
the relatives I was happy despite my inability to converse
Most of my time I spent visiting relatives' homes. I'd walk
down the cobblestoned streets and I'd hear one of them call
out, "Sarbaturi, trasi. Pigghiamu na tazza di cafè! Salvatore,
come in. Let's have a cup of coffee!" Or they'd invite me
in for a shot glass of Amaro Siciliano, a favorite bitters
apertif. When dinner time came, I found myself invited to
this or that cousin's house where I usually ate too much
but the laughs were good - usually on me since I didn't
understand very much of the conversation - and the company
One morning I got up early, walked four blocks down Via
Vittorio Emanuele and waited by the post office for the
bus to Caltanissetta where Zi Nofriu Pitonzo's brother Giuvanni
lived with his wife and three sons, as well as did my first
cousin Toto Amico, his wife Crocetta and their two daughters
Lia and Cinzia.
Finally the blue bus arrived as Zi Cicciu predicted: fifteen
minutes late. I boarded, found an empty seat, then waited
for the ticket conductor.
It was the first time I had seen Peppi Rais, though in that
year in Acquaviva, I rode the blue bus quite frequently
and as I learned to speak the language, Peppi and I got
to be friends. I don't know what his last name was, but
everyone called him Peppi "Rais," after "Punto Rais," the
airport in Palermo because in the old days, before he was
the ticket conductor on the blue Caltanissetta bus, he was
the ticket conductor on the blue Palermo bus. He was very
short,dark-complexioned, had wavy hair that looked as if
someone had painted it pitch-black, then, finding it too
dark, tried to cover it with streaks of snow-white. He had
few teeth despite his forty-something years and whenever
he spoke, the words whistled out of his mouth in one of
the loudest, deepest voices I'd ever heard.
vai? Where are you going?" Peppi hollers.
I tell him loudly, thinking maybe he's hard of hearing.
e beniri? Roundtrip?" he yells.
Caltanissetta," I explain.
e beniri?" Peppi yells again.
Now I know he can't hear well so I repeat as loudly and
slowly as I can, a syllable at a time: "Cal-ta-ni -sse-tta."
e beniri?" Peppi still insists.
Can this be happening to me? I wonder. I'm in a rickety
old blue-paint-peeling, smoke-chugging, early 20th-Century
bus with tires probably bald as eagles that's taking hairpin,
rollercoaster turns along the edge of very steep Sicilian
mountains while a deaf ticket conductor refuses to sell
me a ticket to Caltanissetta, the only destination I want
and intend to settle for, so I repeat it still once again:
sacciu!" ["I know!"] he screams, throwing his hands up in
the air like a man possessed. "IR' E BENIRI?"
The muscles in my face start to quiver, my eyes twitch,
my lips tremble. I can feel the hot air of my patience steaming
off me. "Caltanissetta! No iri beniri!"
sulu?" ["One way only?"] Peppi Rais asks, for the first
time now, smiling.
But I still don't understand; I think he's trying to irritate
me a little more by throwing out one more town I don't want
to go to. Why can't he listen? Why can't he get it through
his thick head I want to go to Caltanissetta, not Ir' e
Beniri or even Iri Sulu?
I say one more time.
Peppi Rais is not smiling now. Dramatically he gives the
rest of the passengers the once-over. He shakes his head
the way I've been shaking my head for the past five or six
minutes. He rolls his eyes. He clasps his hands, raises
them into the air, and pantomimes a desperate man praying
to the heavens. Meanwhile the passengers are taking it all
in, most of them laughing. Now and then I hear "Americanu"
as if it were a bad word.
Peppi Rais finally says.
Si!" At this point I am happy again. I have finally made
contact. We are communicating. At last he can hear me; the
man understands. My hand is in my pocket, I am all ready
to ask how much the ticket is when Peppi Rais repeats it
again: "Caltanissetta," then adds in his loudest voice so
far, "Ir' e beniri oppuri iri sulu?" ["Round trip or one
Just as I am about to explode, take little Peppi Rais by
the collar of his grey conductor shirt and shake some sense
into his empty head, I hear one of the passengers call out
in fractured English, "I coulda help you maybe, Mister?
'Splaina to de condotta you wanna Caltanissetta isa fine,
bota you go ana return o you joosta go?"
I tell him. "Go and return."
The old man smiles, gets Peppi's attention and in Sicilian
sets the matter straight. I buy my roundtrip ticket and
settle into my uncomfortable seat for the next few hours
On subsequent trips, riding on Peppi's blue bus, he would
kid me about those two towns that came right after Serradifalco:
Ir' e Beniri and Iri Sulu!