Caltagirone is close to the geographic centre of Sicily and, in those places where it is well known, it is for its traditional ceramic culture and for pictures of the 142 steps lined with ceramic tiles, different for every step.
Yet for most it remains a significant drive from the tourist centres of Catania/Etna, Siracusa and just too far from Palermo and Messina. From afar it is not an obvious site for promoting culture and art to the world.
So what is it that attracts tourists from the Sicilian seaside at Taormina or even Ragusa, the tours of the puzzles of Montalbano, and those of Gattopardo at Donnafugata, and the many traipsing up Etna to watch the fires of hell? For us, it was having met some true Sicilians who were rebuilding and even giving birth to new businesses following the tradition of ceramics from Caltagirone, and particularly to search for a bummulu or two. Bummulu? It is Sicilian for jug, but not just any jug, a paradox of a jug whereby you pour the wine in one end and then turn it upside down and pour it out of the spout in the other end. It reminds one of the Irish instruction for opening a can of beans.
We entered our first ceramic display room, Conci, hidden away in a back street of Caltagirone to be met by Salvatore Di Caudo, husband to the proprietor, who by chance was at an art exhibition in our home town, Rome. He broadened our perspective of pottery from Caltagirone, showing not just the heads and vases we had expected, but also some unique Presepe (Nativity Scenes). He explained the colours of Caltagirone pottery compared to the more Arabic colours of pottery from Palermo. It seemed that the yellows and greens from Caltagirone reflected the rolling landscape and the blue in the Palermo pottery added the sea.
We noted the small school area in the back of the Conci shop and Salvatore told the tale of their 20 years in creating this family ceramic business, letting slip not unintentionally his story of entrepreneurial promotion of the heart of Caltagirone and Sicily. Twenty four hours each day does not seem sufficient to have assembled his portfolio of joys of Sicilian tradition. His card reads ‘Sikelia’ and he says that it was born with the intent to collect and promote the culture, traditions and folk art, the colourful folklore of Sicily. He uses the same words as does Energitismo – Human Treasures are of inestimable value.
He also mentions a folk group using traditional instruments, and he pulls a tambourine out from behind a large ceramic vase, and then extracts a small instrument from a shelf, which he plays by strumming it while held between his lips – Jew’s harp or “Scacciapensieri” – apparently originally a Chinese musical instrument brought back by Marco Polo. His folk group from Caltagirone travels the world to perform traditional Sicilian tunes. For those who seek, he can also arrange a traditional puppet theatre.
Salvatore emanates warmth in his welcome and enjoys portraying the stories of Sicily. He says: “A deep passion for what we do is the spring that pushes us to grow, please visit us.”