from Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini

Then, as I was waiting, I saw a kite come up over the valley, and I followed it with my eyes as it passed above me into the sunlight high overhead, and I asked myself why, after all, the world was not A Thousand and One Nights, the way it was when I was seven. I heard bagpipes, the goats’ bells, and voices carrying across the slope of roofs and the valley, and I asked myself this question many times over as I watched the kite in the air. We call them flying dragons in Sicily, as somehow they embody China or Persia in the Sicilian sky, with their sapphire and opal colors and their geometry, and watching it I couldn’t help but ask myself why, really, the faith one has at seven doesn’t last forever.

from Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini

Still smoking I went outside. Cra, cra, cra, shouted the ravens flying through the ashen sky. I went down into the street, went along the street of that Sicily which was no longer a journey, but motionless, and I smoked and cried.

“Ah! Ah! He’s crying! Why is he crying?” shouted the crows among themselves, following behind me.

I continued my walk without answering, and an old black woman followed behind me too. “Why are you crying?” she asked.

I didn’t respond, and I went on, smoking, crying; and a tough guy who was waiting on the piazza with his hands in his pockets asked me too: “Why are you crying?”

He too followed behind me, and still crying, I passed in front of a church. The priest saw us, me and those following me, and asked the old woman, the tough guy, the crows: “Why is this man crying?”

He joined us, and some street urchins saw us and exclaimed:
“Look! He’s smoking and crying!””

They also said: “He’s crying because of the smoke!” And they followed behind me with the others, bringing their game along too.

In the same way a barber followed behind me and a carpenter, a man in rags, a girl with her head wrapped in a scarf, a second man in rags. They saw me and they asked: “Why are you crying?” Or they asked those who were already following me: “Why is he crying?” And they all became my followers: a cart driver, a dog, men of Sicily, women of Sicily, and finally a Chinaman. “Why are you crying?” they asked.

But I had no response to give them. I wasn’t crying for any reason. Deep down I wasn’t even crying; I was remembering; and in the eyes of others, my remembering looked like crying.

translated by Alane Salierno Mason