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Chasing Montalbano: Scicli, Sicily

It took me forever to remember to pronounce Scicli as Sheekly and it’s not like I was short of teachers or correctors. Vigata was much more manageable. But while the Vigata in Andrea Camilleri’s books is based on his hometown Porto Empedocle, the Vigata of the TV series is an amalgam of various towns and villages in the Sicilian province of Ragusa, which includes Scicli.

We went primarily to see the Municipio, the Town Hall which features as the police station in the TV series. As we climbed up the steps we’d so often seen Montalbano climb down, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. At the desk, young people from the Agire cooperative offered us an option of tours of the town’s four main sites: Palazzo Spadaro, the Church of Santa Teresa, the Mayor’s room, also known as Commissioner Bonetti Alderighi’s room, and the Montalbano police station set. All four tours for the princely sum of €8. What was not to like.

Agire is a cooperative that promotes integration. Some of the staff have disabilities. They are trained as guides and very enthusiastic about their work. It’s a great initiative.

Our first stop was upstairs to the Commissioner’s office – Montalbano’s boss. TV-wise, by climbing the stairs, we were moving from Vigata to Montelusa, from the local police station to regional HQ. In reality, it’s the Mayor’s ceremonial office – he does his daily work from another room. The stunning baroque furniture (hand-carved, one of a kind) and the large tapestry are the perfect backdrops for the many weddings held here. The sun was streaming in the window and the gold paint bounced off the walls.

Back downstairs, our guide unlocked the door to the inner sanctum. I expected another office, the one Montalbano uses. I wasn’t prepared to be on the actual set used in the TV show. We passed Catarella’s office, saw where Fazio sits, saw the door to Mimi’s office and the disappointment behind it. And, of course, we got to see where the main man sits, too. But we couldn’t sit in his chair, or in the chair Fazio uses when he’s taking notes. That we might even consider it brought the guide out in a cold sweat. It was cool. Very cool. But perhaps you’d have to be a fan.

Interestingly, these rooms  – a TV set since 1998 – were once home to a Gentleman’s Club and to a trade union HQ. Now, when the series is not being filmed, Agire gives guided tours – and they keep a close eye on you, lest you might be tempted to sneak away with Montalbano’s blotter. Not that the thought ever crossed my mind.

In the first six months that the tour was available after the set opened to the public (July-Dec 2018), 14,349 people visited the police station. In the same period in 2019, there were 22,370 visitors – quite the increase. And, as Montalbano garners more fans outside of Italy, no doubt others will follow. One young girl told us that she loved the books but hated the show as she got to see it all first hand and saw how mad people got when the film crew was in town. ‘It’s like 1968 and the Beatles are here. Everyone goes mad. Especially the women.’

Camilleri said it best – Montalbano has indeed outlived him, but just as Montalbano lives in his novels, Camilleri will live in his thoughts. What a legacy to leave his home country. And to think Camilleri was 70 when he created Montalbano. I can’t decide who I love more, the man or his maker.

 

 

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