Pictures and words by Fabrizio Fiorenzano
Access to quality health care in Nepal is nowhere as easy to come by as it is in the West.
Here in the tallest country of the world, where the beautiful Himalayas overlook the entire nation and separate it from Tibet, where tourists climb the mountains surrounding the living museum of the Kathmandu valley, serious diseases and health conditions such as leprosy, HIV, tuberculosis and child malnutrition are endemic. Only the wealthiest individuals may afford the level of health care necessary to effectively deal with such serious health issues.
In September of 2001 I traveled to Nepal, with the intention of producing a new report. I was based out of Kathmandu, but one day I rode a cab to the nearby city of Pashupatinath where I knew there would be something of interest.
This city is mostly known for being where Hindus have their dead cremated, but there also is a small complex of temples where some nuns belonging to Mother Teresa’s Order help run a charitable shelter for old and sick people suffering of various diseases.
Twice a week, fifteen nuns come here to comfort and provide care to these people. Many of them are simply old and alone in life, with nowhere else to go or stay, and nobody else to turn to.
As I got out of the taxi. a little boy promptly came up to me and offered to be my guide to the city. I asked to be taken to this shelter. Most tourists are not allowed access to the complex, as they are not Hindus.
My first impression as I entered the leprosarium was better than I expected. It was clean and quiet, and not at all as depressing as I thought it would have been. Unfortunately, this was soon to change. The residents conducted themselves with great dignity and pride, especially the women. Although clearly very poor, they took great care of themselves and their appearance. Women usually prepare the food – typically rice and vegetables flavored with various spices – and do laundry together in a shared space in the communal yard, using old pails and running water. Although at first I felt like a complete outsider, I soon realized that they did not really appear to be bothered in any way by my presence.
There were monkeys everywhere, climbing and walking along the walls of the complex. Monkeys are sacred animals in Nepal. I was advised by my guide to avoid staring them into the eyes, as this might be interpreted as a hostile signal and could trigger aggressive reactions. Many people in Nepal are wounded by monkeys every year.
Carefully trying not to upset these feral monkeys, I next found myself walking through another section of the shelter, there where the sickest lay in their beds. Scarcely illuminated by whatever slim sunlight may reach them, since no sources of artificial light are installed, the sight of all these wretched men and women lying down in unkempt beds filled me with a deep sense of sadness and loneliness. It was here, that I truly realized how terrible health care really was in this country, in a way far more effective than any printed statistics could ever convey.
Although visitors are not normally allowed to take photographs in this area of the complex, after my guide’s suggestion a few rupees handed to one of the women granted me special exemption. I really wanted to bring back some of these powerful images. Although a photographer should not refrain from capturing images that may shock or upset the viewers, in some cases the desire to be respectful to the weak and the unfortunate among us must simply take priority.
Recognizing my respectful approach, everyone around me started reaching out and asking me about myself, my country of origin and more. We spoke, in a friendly and heartfelt mood, and then we shared some food, very simple yet delicious.
I stayed with them for a couple of hours, which surprised them significantly. Apparently, most tourists who go visit there are in a great hurry to quietly leave as soon as they manage to take a few pictures of the local features. But in my case, time flew. I realized how late it really was only when it started getting noticeably cooler and darker.
Before leaving, I glanced around one more time, the scene unchanged since my arrival. People sitting on the ground, gathered in small groups, the darkness now slowly engulfing them making them resemble clusters of silent ghosts. But what really had changed was in myself. I left with mixed feelings. Happy, as I felt deeply enriched by this memorable experience, in an intimately human way. But sad as well, as I realized how lucky I was to have a wife and family waiting for me back home
Photos and text by Fabrizio Fiorenzano
We walk through on one of Sicily’s most beautiful Baroque cities.
When I heard that the city of Noto was nicknamed “the stone garden” by Cesare Brandi, one of Italy greatest art experts and historians, I asked myself how the words “stone” and “garden” could be uttered in the same breath. To find out, I decided to go there in person and have a look.
Let us start by saying that in Sicily the effects of colonisation have always been an integral part of the identity of that marvellous region and far and wide you notice that many places still preserve elegant traces of their Roman, Greek and Arab heritage.
During its history, Sicily was colonised by the Romans, the Greeks and the Byzantines, then conquered by the barbarians. The it became an Arab emirate, a Norman dukedom, ruled by the Angevins, ceded to Spain, then to the Bourbons from Naples and finally, in 1860, became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
As a result of the this, the Sicilians have absorbed many cultures, which can be clearly seen in the great variety of architectural styles.
These can be seen to good effect in the Val di Noto, an extensive area in the south-east of the island which contains eight important towns in the provinces of Catania and Syracuse: Catltagirone, Catania, Militello in Val di Catania, Modica, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa Ibla, Scicli and our centre of interest, Noto.
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
Noto is one of Sicily’s most beautiful cities, 32 kilometres from Syracuse and was reborn – yes, it is fair to say reborn – after the earthquake of 1693 which razed Noto to its foundations. It is also fair to say that this great tragedy resulted in the present jewel of the city, perched on a rocky plateau dominating the valley of the Asinaro. The new Noto developed a wholly European style of architecture, characterised by its curved lines and buildings which are quite showy but at the same time finely decorated. It is a sunny and florid style, making good use of the pink and golden stone used in the reconstruction.
This style, breaking with the past. Has become known as Sicilian Baroque, elegantly ostentatious but pleasing and unique of its type. Noto is without doubt the capital of Sicilian Baroque, seen in its churches, theatres, historic palazzi and many ordinary homes.
Many Sicilian artists, many of whom had studied in Rome, contributed to the reconstruction of the city, including Paolo Labilli. But at the time the most eclectic and creative architects of Sicilian Baroque were undoubtedly Rosario Gagliardi and Vincenzo Sinatra, who designed Noto’s finest buildings.
We enter the city through the Porta Reale and reach the centre. The gate, built in the 19th century, forms an imposing entrance in the form of a triumphal arch. It is surmounted by a pelican, the symbol of the city’s rejection of King Ferdinand.
The new layout of the city is focused on a single main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, which divides Noto in two. It is lined with fights of steps, alleys and squares, each with at least one Baroque church. The first square we encounter is Piazza Immacolata with its Church of St. Francis by Vincenzo Sinatra. The church contains very ancient relics from the former Franciscan church, such as the wooden Virgin and Child (1564) and the stone tomb of a Franciscan friar, Giuseppe Bonasia (1575). Close by stands the Monastery of the Holy Saviour with its elegant tower.
A little further on is Piazza Municipio with its Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Unfortunately, in 1996 the dome of the building partially collapsed and reconstruction work has taken years. Then cathedral is flanked by the Bishop’s Palace and the palazzo Landolina of Sant’Alfano wich, unlike the sumptuous and solemn Baroque of the cathedral, is built in an altogether more sober and less exuberant style.
Also in Piazza Municipio is the magnificent Palazzo Ducezio (Sinatra-1748), now the Town Hall. It is notable for the harmony of its two colonnades and 18th –century portico. The interior is rich with gold and stucco, while the ceiling celebrates Ducezio, the King of the Siculi was who founded Neas, the ancient Noto. The square also contains one of the city’s most prestigious religious buildings, the Church of the Holy Saviour. Built in the 18th century, it stands out for its elaborate Baroque work-manship which culminates in the Belvedere Tower.
Continuing along the main street, we arrive at via Nicolaci, one of Noto’s most famous streets. Facing it is another fine example of architectural beauty, the Church of St. Carlo Borromeo (1730).
A NOBLE RESIDENCE
Via Nicolaci contains one of the most important, if not the most important, of Noto’s noble palazzi: Palazzo Nicolaci del Principe di Villadorata. The building was commissioned by the noble Don Giacomo Nicolaci entrusted its construction to Sinatra.
Its main interest lies in the wealth of pure Baroque sculptures which grace the six main balconies, often cited as the most beautiful balconies in the world.
Angels, winged knights, sirens, grotesques, centaurs, griffins, sphinxes and other symbols amaze us for the painstaking skill with which they were carved. The palazzo contains 90 rooms, the most interesting being the three main saloons – yellow, red and green, all beautifully frescoed. Of particular note is the great reception hall, its ceiling decorated with mythological scenes and symbolic subjects depicting some of
Giacomo Nicolaci’s pastimes. One wing of the building now houses the Municipal Library. One of the many necessary works to be carried out during the reconstruction of the city was for a new theatre, which at first occupied a wing of the Palazzo Ducezio. But in 1851, the lack of a proper theatre persuaded the major of the time, Cavalier di Lorenzo, to order the construction of the present municipal theatre, named after Vittorio Emanuele III. The work took many years and the citizens of Noto also contributed to its construction. He façade is decorated with symbolic statues and bas-reliefs on a musical theme. The theatre was finally inaugurated on the 4th December 1870 with appropriately solemn ceremony.
THE JEWEL IN NOTO’S CROWN
Next we come to piazza XVI Maggio, containing Noto’s piece de resistance, the spectacular, possibly unique. Basilica of St. Dominic (Rosario Gagliardi, 1737). This architectural masterpiece has a sober, convex façade and is without doubt the highest expression of Sicilian Baroque. If you are lucky enough to see it in the early evening, when the sun has lost some of its power, the wonderful plays of light generated by the golden reflections and chiaroscuri effects will take your breath away. Inside, the high altar is embellished with red and white marble and an 18th-century ciborium in gilled wood, enclosing a Virgin and Child.
Also in piazza XVI Maggio, in a small park facing the church, is the Fountain of Hercules, an imposing 18th-century marble structure portraying the mythical hero. I have to say that the Basilica of St. Dominic is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen in my life.
The Baroque mood of Noto has given rise to many popular events, such as the infiorata, celebrated on the third Sunday in May each year in via Nicolaci to celebrate the Baroque Spring.
Artists lay out a spectacular carpet of flower petals, covering the whole street. Each year there are different themes: religious, mythological, culture and popular tradition, accompanied by musical and folklore events which take place in the city’s churches and streets.
Another popular event is the Baroque Parade, a fascinating representation of Noto society in the 18th century. A costume parade through the whole city evokes the atmosphere of the time, with wonderfully-choreographed flag throwers, drummers, the banners of the nobility and Noto’s coat of arms.
The “netini” (citizen of Noto) are deeply attached to their city, to its beauty and traditions and it is no coincidence that in 2002 Noto became a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognising its cultural and artistic heritage.
At the end of my visit, I realised that Cesare Brandi’s definition of “the stone garden” was absolutely correct. Such a blend of elegance, skill and architectural masterpieces is difficult to imagine.
But there it is, for you to find in the heart of Sicily.
Photos and text by Fabrizio Fiorenzano
Photos and text by Fabrizio Fiorenzano
When I went to Cambodia I expected to find a nation not so different from many other countries. The flight was so long and when I landed to Phnom Penh International Airport, the first sensation was to stay in a very poor and dirty place. Everywhere the signs of war are still visible and the terrible wounds of the terrifying genocide between the years 1975 and 1979. The specter of the Khmer Rouge still evoke in the minds of Cambodians the years of the death. Despite the horror, nobody seems to be intentioned to forget the hugeness of the cruelties suffered during war time and many old people still show the photographs of their relatives tortured and killed by Khmer Rouge. Due the consequences of the genocide that caused the massacre of two millions people, this is a very young country and the middle age does not exceed 35/40 years. Unfortunately, the ghosts of war are not definitively disappeared. Many Khmer rouge rebels and Pol Pot’s followers are still hidden in the forests close to the Thailand border. My advice is: keep far from this area!
If you have planned to go to Cambodia, before the departure you should collect all the necessary information about the current political situation. The best information resourse is of course the embassy or the consulate based in your country. They will give you all the updated and detailed info on how to move through the country. You should know that is not easy to move through Cambodia without a local guide. Many sites, many rural lands and some streets are still mined and every year many children remain wounded by unexploded mines hidden in the grass. You must be very careful and you should pay attention to security advices that inform people to keep far from some unexplored streets.