Talking Circles in Biancavilla

This work is  part of an anthropological research that Armando Rotoletti has been conducting for several years in his home country, Sicily. Among its aims is to acquaint younger generations with their origins and make them engage in a tangible type of sociability, a lifestyle in which meeting becomes an art form. “The main street,” says Mr. Rotoletti, “named after King Victor Emmanuel, is a bright strip of porphyry from Etna, edged by rows of chairs with several men sitting. Such is the clear picture I recall from my first arrival in Biancavilla some years ago. That was also my first contact with the talking circles in Sicily, something I was already aware of and which I considered very characteristic of Sicilian sociability. For long I was captivated by the idea of recounting it through pictures, but I had heard that very few circles were left on the whole island and feared I had to give up. Little did I know that I would find on the main street of Biancavilla, a smallish town on the slopes of Mount Etna, no less than six circles, all publicly displaying their regular participants – like an Ark for long-lost circles!”

Forewords by Antonino Buttitta, Manlio Sgalambro and Placido Antonio Sangiorgio. “Not unlike those of eminent Sicilian photographers such as Cappellani, Sellerio, Leone, Brai and Minnella, Armando Rotoletti’s shots never cease to surprise you. He ingeniously caught the mythical element within the day-to-day: in the village circles. Such circles, which still survive in the traditional communities, are folkloric goldmines, partly due to their social composition. They are easily identifiable despite varying from one place to the next: they comprise peasants, sharecroppers and smallholders now handling the Sicilian gentry’s fiefs. A rural bourgeoisie whose members, hardly ever proper bourgeois, spend their afternoons not only playing cards, but mostly making up jokes, stories and mythical characters from their surroundings.” (Antonino Buttitta)

Thus concludes Manlio Sgalambro, “Narrow streets, alleys, broadways and even squares frame the town, adorning the “circles” like capricious curls. They are traces of long gone eras, or so they seem. Simpering, light, either poignant or cynical faces that seem to have seen it all and completely know life. Faces that evoke ancient history. Mr. Rotoletti’s shots fix immortal visages, not commonplace faces or dull and pointless gestures. The empty chairs at the end suggest the circle’s fate. This master acknowledges it.”

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