Catania: the deafening silence of an art city duri...

Catania: the deafening silence of an art city during COVID-19 times

A deserted city. No chaos. No particularly annoying traffic noise. Everything seems to have stopped in Catana for COVID-19. But how much noise can the silence of a city make when this silence is obliged? It hurts almost to create eye irritation and deafening whistles in the ears. It hurts a lot especially when you live that city everyday, you breathe it, you smell it and you are enchanted by its beauty. Catania, located at the foot of Mount Etna which with its eruptions often gives it a particular charm, is a city of art, an undisputed example of the Sicilian Baroque and for this Unesco heritage together with the other cities in Val di Noto, at this time it is forced to remain silent; it is obliged not to let its monuments, its history and its traditions speak. It is resting, like the whole Italy and the world. And when we rest, you know, we get up loads and more strong than ever!

The silence and almost pallor assumed by the city of Catania in this period of compulsory cloister has been recently immortalized by a young photographer from Catania, Antonio Arcoria, who gave birth to the CoronaVirus visual diary in Catania project. Arcoria is used to elaborate real photographic reportages that tell ‘what’s going on’; in December 2018, for example, he participated in a humanitarian mission in Senegal and Gambia on behalf of the “DonBosco2000” association of Catania, for which he worked for three years, and the photographic report resulting from this focused on schools in Senegal, on work in the fields and on daily life. The photographer tells everything around him without filters and his eye together with that of the camera is the architect of the immortal life of those who then become the protagonists of his shots.

Antonio explained to us: ”The idea for the project was born in March 2020 at the beginning of the biggest global health crisis that has hit humanity since the post-war period in the weeks to follow.
The particular historical moment we are living in will still live long in people’s minds and memories. We are experiencing a “still image” of contemporary society. Everything is frozen, as if time and the world had stopped. Our existence is lightened by the weights of modernity and returns to the rediscovery of the essential. For those like me who are used to see a Catania that never sleeps, always moving and that teems with life, the sight of these images can only leave an indelible mark on the heart of the observer.
I decided to document and immortalize life, which in spite of everything does not cease to exist in my city, with all the contradictions that have always characterized it, with the hope that all this can be usefull to raise questions for all of us. In a particular historical period like this, where human contacts must be totally eliminated, where we must stay at least one meter away from each other and where even hugs and handshakes are prohibited, the hope is that this surreal condition of existence, might let us really understand how important the other is for each of us. The total loss of physical contact and the momentary fear that potentially any human being could infect us, must make us rediscover the desire to be together. For too long we have been accustomed to behaving as an “individual company”. At the end of this paradoxical and post-apocalyptic historical period we have the obligation to rediscover ourselves as a community.”

The peculiarity of Arcoria’s works lies in the ‘freezing’ of the moment he has chosen to immortalize. There is nothing studied in his shots. There can be nothing studied. The photographer simply finds himself living a reality, his own, which, despite the obligatory rest, continues to live. The black and white of the shots seems to take us back over the years, perhaps to some other moment in history when the crisis and unease have been caused by other causes. Here, in the shots of Arcoria, in black and white, with the coldness given by the non-colors, we are told of a Virus that scares but at the same time gives hope and strength to get up stronger than ever.

And in this regard, I decide to meet those who more than any other live on daily hopes and who invest in the city of Catania firsthand, Giusy Belfiore, president of the Catania Tourist Guides Association. Who better than her can tell us how Catania is facing this deafening silence?

M.S.: Tell us about the Catania Tourist Guides Association, when it was born and what its objectives are.
G.B.: The Association was founded in 1991 to deal with the territory and the profession: one of the primary objectives is to defend the profession from a trade union point of view, through a series of activities aimed at promoting culture and defending the territory. The Association is a non-profit organization, it only includes guides entitled to practice the profession at the Sicily Region and respects the constraints of professional ethics, respectful behavior between members and above all outdoor activities that must be guaranteed by certain behaviors. If the activities of some member are not in line with the statute, they can be reason for his expulsion of the member; in this we try to be very careful.

M.S.: How is the Association tackling the pandemic?
G.B.: The Association has always established relationships with other Associations and institutions, therefore with all local subjects (both political and cultural) interested in the promotion and production of tourism. There is an intense interaction with the University of Catania through tutoring, conventions, promotional activities, in short, everything that revolves around the dissemination of knowledge so that this becomes a way to promote not only tourism but the culture of the area itself, precisely because cultural mediation is at the basis of the profession of tourist guide.
At this moment there is not much we can do, in the sense that our work has been completely eliminated: tourism and culture in Sicily absorb a good part of employment and other forms of work are very limited. For guides, like all individual VAT numbers, ‘zero production = zero earnings’.
So how do we fight the pandemic? Looking ahead and thinking about what will be next. We are planning, with the institutions and the tour operators the activities that can promote tourism in Sicily in order to try to minimize the duration of this problematic period. We must start to create good energies and above all help people to look forward and not to think too much about closing with the activities of spreading the culture and participating in all the initiatives that can make our knowledge and our cultural background available to others. In this case the best tools are social media, which allow the rapid sharing of photographs, activities, reflections and thoughts.

Catania COVID-19Antonio Arcoria, Quando hai paura che il virus ti dia alla testa, 2020

Antonio Arcoria, Armored Sicily, 2020Antonio Arcoria, Armored Sicily, 2020

Antonio Arcoria, The warriors, 2020

Antonio Arcoria, Tutti devoti tutti, 2020

Giusy Belfiore, president of the Catania Tourist Guides Association

M.S.: What does the #vieniconnoi social initiative consist of? How do you think the Association’s work will help the city of Catania and its province to get up again?
G.B.: #vieniconnoi is a social section, to be followed through our Facebook and Instagram channels, which virtually leads to small tours of the Etna area and encourages us to keep going. The goal is to make tourists feel close to the territory in the hope that this period will pass quickly. We tell through images, anecdotes and curiosities, the representative places and symbols of our city and its province and invite our followers to share photos / past postcards of travels or walks that narrate history, art and culture.
This strength to continue to hold on and not to give up, through our continuous actions, has allowed us to make ourselves present at a technical table that allows us to participate in all those activities and initiatives, such as guided tours that can be offered to a customer at reduced price or in other cases even free guided tours, thus giving greater accessibility to the beauty of Catania. We will continue to do internships as much as possible and be open to University activities.


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