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The Gilded Serpent presents
My Visit to Dancers of the South
by Tanja

When I called Sabah, it had been a year during which we did not hear from each other, but it was like the day after we last met. "Tanja, come to visit me," she said, "come to my home on the Mediterranean Sea." Summer in Sicily has strong colors, hot sun, and winds from Africa. I went for an afternoon, with my mother surely mumbling behind me, "Where else is she going this time?". We drove sixty miles, south east along the Southern coast. My friend's house is small and simple, one floor, shining white against the Mediterranean Sea.

It is a place with no address, the road, wandering through vineyards and olive orchards and lost fields, reaches the sea, close to a little sand beach.

Sabah drives to meet me on a main road, or I could not find her. We sit in her yard and talk. There are two young lady friends from the city, a renowned sculptor, and her lovely sons who. the first time they meet me, welcome me by kissing my cheek. We drink lemonade and fruit juices. Soon her husband comes too, with something to offer, a terrifically good and spicy little food cooked by his mother. Peace is in the eyes of everyone. Sabah tells me she read what I wrote last year about her nightclub dancing where we first became acquainted with each other. She talks of the Babylon Festival in Iraq in which she took part where the women represented the Goddesses, emblem of the ancient feminine act. Three Italian dancers there, Sabah, Laura and Madalino, reflected movements of Goddesses against the curves of the sun rays of the Sumer Land: the Goddess of Fire, the Goddess of Water, the Goddess of Earth, the Goddess of Wind. I talk about my much smaller things, far from the Sumerian land, my rare restaurant and theater performances, but all are interested and look at the photos I brought with me. I I also brought one of my costumes, and when I show it, Sabah screams, "Oh it's just identical to one which belongs to my sister, Adhara". Her sister, Adhara, whom I have not had the pleasure to meet, I am told is a very lively girl, and all "shimmy-shimmy", one oriented to the cabaret style, unlike her sister, who prefers traditional Guedra and Tuareg styles. Sabah brings me to her room and shows me all her costumes.

It's been a sweet afternoon, and we hug a long time, without words, before separating. I know I can't go to her show in a village square the next night. Inch'Allah Bahseeta: It is as God wants it, this is what we have.

I have another appointment, with a young dancer I don't know yet. We have met on the Internet, not even directly. A dancer from Seattle, so far, has told me about her. We have just spoken on the telephone a few times. This time I have to take the whole afternoon, the evening and the night to head to Palermo, the great city where I was born. I stop at the churchyard before leaving to say "Hi" to my daddy resting there. There are white stones on


the top of the village, which is called Salemi (Salem) a name of Arabic descent. The ancient Roman name was Alicia, and is now kept by its main square. The square is located at the base of the Norman Castle in whose round tower, at sunset, I used to climb up as a child. The highway from Salem to Palermo sneaks amidst Eucalyptus trees, vineyards, and yellow cornfields.

At one point, you can see Segesta, the isolated temple that has not fallen, whose origins are lost in the nights of time. It's the color of sand, and eight men are not enough to embrace one of its columns.

After one hour of driving I enter the city. I stop at the meeting place we have established. No one is there, no pedestrians, and few cars. The southern city sleeps, lazy in a mild August afternoon. I get out of my car to wait doing a two-step. Four guys in a fast car slow down and whistle. Sending kisses with their hands. Oh God! I did not think that I look especially glamorous with my long skirt and the simple T-shirt!...Maybe the high heels?.Maybe the black makeup?. I laugh, and get in my car again. I make a call to my unknown dancer friend. She finally arrives. Tiziana is her name. She works for the telephone company and has just finished her shift. I abandon my car and we compare notes while she drives. She started dancing about the same time as I did, but she speaks Arabic and gets hired in a few restaurant and parties in the city, probably due to a more rare presence of Oriental dancers than where I live. We stop and have a drink, sitting outside at a sidewalk table, then we head to a nearby fishing village, passing the great park La Favorita. It's such a familiar place for me! I learn to know it through the eyes of a foreigner now. We sit by the sea near the little boat harbor. The air is transparent, clean, and we talk until sunset, watching some young teens showing themselves off with acrobatic diving. Tiziana's boyfriend, a very nice person, meets us there. We wander through boutiques featuring hand-made items, beautiful tissues and jewelry, inspecting and trying on some skirts.

It is time to head back downtown, pick up a friend of theirs and start our casbah night. The night began. We wander in the car down one of the main streets of Palermo, directed to the historical center of the city of my childhood.

The street is called Via Maqueda, (after the name of a Spanish Viceroy, when Sicily was under the Spanish Crown). The street runs straight from the Teatro Massimo to the Four Corners, where it crosses the oldest main street of the city.

The street goes from the Palace of the Normans and the Cathedral down to the old sea harbor; between Porta Nuova and Porta Felice. There four Arabs of stone, in turbans and crossed arms, gaze at the city from their high vantage point.

We pass it, the huge Norman Cathedral where Frederich II Hohenstaufen rests.

insert photo cathedral.gif

Great marble tombs are inside: Roger II and Costanza d'Altavilla, father and mother of Frederick; insert photo Frederick.jpg There is also a big unresolved mystery about this site: in the tomb are the remains of three persons, one an unidentified woman. At the Four Corners, there are four statues of female saints in a niche at each corner, symbolizing the four quarters into which the old city was divided: Cristina in the Spring Corner, Nympha in the Summer Corner, Oliva in the Autumn Corner, and Agata in the Winter Corner. The ancient Goddesses turned out to be Christian Saints, but for the people, this made no difference. In this land, the myth says, Proserpina (Persephone),

Goddess of Abundance, was kidnapped by Pluto (Hades), God of the Underworld, giving start to the eternal dance of the seasons.

(Insert photo hades capturing persephone)

In these ancient streets the arrogant noble coach made its way, preceded by riders with whips, to clear away the miserable crowd. Under these same streets lies a labyrinth of galleries, where it's said Coriolano della Floresta lived and plotted with his subversive mates, sort of a Robin Hood, to fight the violence of nobles and bishops. Piazza Pretoria opens on a side of Via Maqueda, with its large fountain and the nude statues. It is a romantic entrance to the old city.

Across the centuries, during puritanical periods, it has been said that these white Renaissance statues were more than once covered, considered too pagan for Catholic festivities! Fortunately, I have not had to witness this with my own eyes. Passing through narrow, narrow streets we reach a small square. The Mosque is there and, at its side, the Café' d'Oriente. We enter. It's all still, nearly empty, sleepy like the entire city is around midsummer. Tiziana, who dances there, introduces me to the Tunisian owners, and guides me inside to the dining room with tables, and white and blue tiles on the walls. There is also a carpeted hall with low tables and pillows on the floor, on which to lie, sip coffee or tea, smoke narghile', and possibly watch the dancers. In the entrance, the walls are full of photos of dancers. My attention fixes especially on one. It's a big poster-sized photo of a young dancer dancing on a table of the restaurant. She has a mass of black hair, and her face is so beautiful that I cannot describe it. She does not smile.. Her black eyes are intense, and deep like a dark lake. She is photographed from the side, and her black gown opens to show marble-white legs and beautiful feet.

I stare at the picture for a long while, in the silence, I can't take my eyes away from the fascinating scene. I would love to be here when the place is living and animated, but I enjoy this moment too, intimately.

We leave, not sitting to drink. We head now to the nearby Sheherazade, which in spite of the important name, is a little music restaurant, in a poor section of the city. The few people around are all extra-communitarians, the term used for non-Europeans, apart from some drunks, some drug-addicts, some young prostitutes and transvestites. I smile because it reminds me of a movie from the 1980's, famous in Italy, which takes place just in these streets and squares. Its title is "Mary Forever", and Mary was a young transvestite (a real person) living here, always black and blue because of the beatings of her furious father, a "man of honor" in a land of iron masculine principles. The Restaurant Sheherazade, during the summer, places tables outside, on the sidewalk. There are four tables in all, and two are free. We sit at one of them. The food as are the waiters, is Indian, very good and spicy, the music is Arabic, loud, drummed, breathtaking. It is 10 pm. The hall inside is round and all tables have been removed. Soon after dinner, Tiziana and I go inside and show some dancing moves to each other. Then we go out and dance among the four tables, which are now occupied with just two more quiet couples besides the two men we are with, Ricardo and Leo.

A noisy group of six men comes and sits at the last free table. They don't look Italian. They clap and push us "Yes, yes, go on this way!". Some of the rare people passing by stop and look from the other side of the alley. "Hey! What's going on here?"

Smile, some more color has been added to the place! At midnight we leave, like Cinderella, on our tiptoes. The guys at the rowdy table protest that we leave them so early. They ask me where I come from, and will I be back there? It does not seem to bother them that we are with two guys who could be our boyfriends (and Tiziana's actually IS her boyfriend). We end the night in the new part of the city, where it was full of countryside just fifty years ago, in the garden of an ancient noble villa where they now have live music and dancing. So this was my time, my starry night in Frederick's capital city of the many scenic sites. (Tanja, Sept. 2000)

Would you like to read Curly Black Hair by the same author?
How about a poem: Fantasy Dancer by Tanja?
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