I slowed the car down, lowered the window and breathed in the fresh morning air.
Despite maintaining a slow pace, I had the impression of having arrived immediately at the Elms of the Dragonara. I loved that place where the branches of centuries-old trees, from spring to late autumn, intersect creating a tunnel of leaves giving so much coolness.
When I reached the village, I stopped the car in front of the entrance to the Parco della Rimembranza, got out and looked around. New houses mingled with old buildings still to be renovated.
The park gate was open and I entered.
I began to walk in the paths full of pine cones fallen from the centuries-old pines and found myself in the third courtyard of Palazzo Filangeri di Cutò in Santa Margherita di Belice.
To my delight, I saw that everything had been cleverly rebuilt. I went down the ladder of tuff blocks and was about to approach the gate that leads into the magnificent garden, when I was stopped by a hoarse male voice.
– Signù dunni sta ghiennu, cu è lei (Madam, where are you going, who are you?).
I turned and saw not far from me a short, stocky man with an unlit cigar dangling from his lips as he spoke. I took a few steps forward, the man approached looking at me curiously. Although many years had passed, I recognized him.
– Vartulu, you are Vartulinu, don’t you recognize me?
– Certu ca ti ricanusciu, Betì tu si, quantu tempu passau. (Of course I recognize you, you are Betty, how long has it been.) Comu si cà? (How come you are here?)
– Nostalgia, I come back to my roots.
– Sugnu cuntento di viriti, gira quantu voi, fa comu si fussi a la to casa. (I’m glad I saw you again, go around as much as you want, make yourself at home.)
I said goodbye to Vartulinu and continued my walk in the memories of a distant time, but always in my heart. I crossed the first and second courtyards immersed in silence.
In the third courtyard the rustle of the tall palm trees brought me back to the sweet memories of distant childhood.
I quickly crossed the gigantic gate, climbed the steps of the staircase and found myself in Piazza Matteotti. I turned my back to the great palisade and stood in front of the princely facade of Palazzo Tasca Filangeri di Cutò, the country residence of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the last of the Gattopardi (Leopards).
I moved a few metres and looked with great affection at one of the places I was most attached to: the Matrice (Matrix). The structure in its linearity is elegant and severe.
After the 1968 earthquake, the left side wall and the apse with its majestic central altar remain to remind us of so much architectural and decorative beauty and richness.
I felt a lump in my throat and could not hold back the happy memories. I found myself, once again, intent on admiring the splendid decorations that enriched the sacred place.
Carvings and inlays were embellished with cherubs holding wreaths of fruit and flowers. The linear fluted columns had capitals surmounted by acanthus leaves.
Those who entered the church of Santa Rosalia, the patron saint of the town, for the first time, had the feeling that the interior of the church was all covered with fine lace.
I walked away quickly, but the memories chased me. I quickly passed in front of the church of the Madonna delle Grazie and headed to the town hall. I took the long walk and finally reached one of the places of my childhood: the neoclassical temple of the Coffee House.
I leaned against the railing, as I used to do, closed my eyes for a few seconds, and when I opened them again I enjoyed a wonderful view that thrilled me to tears.
Below me stretched the Valle del Belice.
The vineyards, the olive groves, the fields of blond wheat, the small lakes and the Orange lake gave me the feeling of a huge picture painted by angels.
I didn’t seek to remember! In that land were my roots, I understood that memories would never leave me and that I would always return to those places of memory.