The Straits factory of existential values. In conversation with Michele Ainis

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By John

We are opening some today conversations with important exponents of the local culture – artists, writers, scholars born between Scilla and Charybdis and become protagonists of the national scene, but remained tied to the land (and the sea) of origin, which for everyone is a source of inspiration and a privileged object-subject of the imagination – speaking of a project which, in addition to all the aspects which has been debated for some time (although a real debate, extended to the communities on which the greatest weight of this choice will fall, has never existed and still does not exist), has a cultural, aesthetic and landscape value. Michele Ainis from Messina, constitutionalist of value, editorialist among the most authoritative and writer, “strettese” who when he can, returns – even on the page (we refer in particular to the second of his novels, “Risa”, La nave di Teseo, 2018 ) – on the Strait, he talked about it with us.

We are talking about the bridge as a cultural object, or rather the bridge built over the Strait, an immense cultural object…

«I think that the Strait has all the value, indeed double value, because it is part of the landscape heritage and part of the cultural heritage. Let’s just think of how much literature has been deposited on this background, from Homer to D’Arrigo. In turn, cultural assets have a double meaning: they are local, they express the culture and soul of a territory, and they transmit a universal message, in this sense the Strait does not belong only to the Messina people: it is a constitutional duty of the State to protect it and not offend him, according to what is stated in article 9».

Protect and do not offend. In what sense, could it be an offense?

“I have written of it as ‘a black scar’ whose shadow obscures vision. Another time I wrote that if mobility, a public and general interest, could impose itself on the protection of culture and the landscape, we might as well build a bridge over the Colosseum…”.

But wouldn’t the advantage for the community – the economic advantage we talk about so much, even if not with the clarity we all want – prevail?

«If I draw a vertical bar on the Mona Lisa I have not destroyed it, but I have disfigured it. Then we must add that since the 80s the Constitutional Court has qualified cultural interest as primary, therefore that it comes even before economic values… And then, if I sell the Colosseum to the Chinese to raise cash…».

You have written three novels in which the sea plays a very important role: it is on its shores that the restlessness of your characters is silent, which is the common feature of all three stories (one of which, in «Risa», is set in his Messina). What is the sea, and the Strait?

«The sea allows you a long, extended gaze on the things of the world. Which is important, in a time in which we are immersed in an eternal present, without retrospection or enough projection. Then the Strait is a long but circumscribed gaze, it is a factory of existential values. Here in Messina the sea would have this projection of a long gaze, but which does not disperse on the horizon, yet it forbids it, because a large part of the seafront is closed, not accessible: the commitment of the Messina people should be to remove the surplus .. .».

You have written an entire novel about a city that is literally “falling apart” but no one seems to notice. It seems like a perfect metaphor for a city whose torment is memory, and identity, which is based on memory. And there are those who speak of the Bridge, in fact, as an opportunity for identity…

«But the sense of an identity that feels lost, for historical and cultural reasons, could be rediscovered if the awareness spread that the people of Messina are already owners of a cultural treasure: by defending it, they would find this identity again. In my novel things and the memory of Messina do not disappear: they move to the submerged city of Risa, which is the “double” of Messina. The submerged city is the other possibility of being, it is what you could have been, what you could still be».

What do you wish the communities in the neighborhood?

«Sometimes good comes from evil: that this possible disaster can be an opportunity to recover lost identity and pride because we are weakened and disappointed. It’s not a question of opposing the bridge, but of rediscovering the reasons for your being in the world, this piece of the world».