Frontline World

Sicily - A Bridge Too Far? , April 2004
a FRONTLINE/World Fellows project
The Strait
Il Postino
Nino Calarco
Anna Giordano
No Dolce Vita
Whoever said you can never go home again was definitely not from Sicily.

Paola Palmisano, my grandmother, left the island when she was 15 years old to marry a man she'd never met before. That was close to the turn of the century, when arranged marriages were far more common. She and my grandfather, Salvatore Spicuzza, settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and raised 13 children together. My father was the youngest, the picciriddu.

U Papa at the station

It's hard to imagine arriving in Sicily without seeing my cousin, Giovanni "U Papa" Palmisano, waiting patiently at the station.
Neither of my grandparents made it back to Sicily.

Yet when my train pulled into the Palermo station, I felt less like a prodigal daughter and more like another kid coming home for the holidays. And even though the train was more than two hours late -- like many trains in Sicily -- my 88-year-old cousin Giovanni "U Papa" Palmisano and his son, Leonardo, were still standing on the platform waiting for me. They were bundled up in raincoats and winter hats, but I immediately spotted the classic Palmisano nose that makes the family resemblance unmistakable.

On the way home from the station, I asked Leonardo what he thinks about the Strait of Messina bridge plans. A professor at the University of Palermo, he presented different sides of the bridge debate and tried to objectively explain each one. Then he rattled off some of the major problems facing Sicily -- things like perpetually late trains, unfinished highways, a crumbling and incomplete infrastructure, and water supply problems.

"The opponents say, 'You cannot talk about sweets when you have no bread,"' Leonardo said. "Sicily has so little in terms of infrastructure, especially railways, that it is difficult to think about a major project. The little things in Sicily don't get finished."

U Papa, who'd been sitting quietly in the passenger seat, clearly had other ideas about the bridge.

"I want it! I want the bridge!" he said. "Sicily needs it."

I could see that we were going to have some interesting discussions around the dinner table.

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