In all my 26 years, I have never experienced Catania‘s night life. I have always heard stories about how this city used to be the Milan of the South or the Seattle of Europe and that there was once live music on every corner, everyone danced to rock and how the stadium filled up when a local recording company brought REM here for a concert. Just for the record, that concert was in 1995 and it opened with the then unknown band Radiohead. The rest is history. I have no memory of the city when it was like that. I’m still immensely fond of it even though the place where Carmen Consoli sang — before anyone ever imagined she would make it to New York with her voice and that accent — is now almost always empty.
The “radiant Catania” of those years has been replaced meanwhile by another city. It’s a city divided between those who look back nostalgically on the past and those who reinvent the future with each new day. The Catania I prefer is the one you find in the evening by going to the usual places. But is not like before when going out meant heading to the Piazza Teatro Massimo. Now the city is full of many small streets and squares brimming with people in the evening. You can find small barrels of good wine or craft beer or whatever drink you prefer. So much so that with this new kind of varied and democratic night life there is something to suit every taste.
If we must speak of taste, then a good place to start is Catania‘s gourmet street, Via Santa Filomena. It’s a name that is literally as well as metaphorically on everyone’s lips. You find almost all the best restaurants in town, one right next to the other, on Via Santa Filomena. Or, at least those that are up on current trends. There is Japanese food, deluxe fast food and traditional fare served in new ways on a great big platter. Via Santa Filomena has a tea room serving muffins and cheesecake, a place for meatballs and an acclaimed hamburger joint –so successful they’ve opened another in Palermo. Here you also find the most famous pizzeria in the city and a sushi bar takeaway. And it’s all in an itty bitty living space (compliments to whoever gets the reference to Disney’s Aladdin). After dinner, the area changes character as the two pubs in the vicinity, with flowers on their small tables and affordable beer, fill up.
Welcome to St Berillo, a neighbourhood that’s being reborn. San Berillo has a citizen committee that is accomplishing a lot and there’s a neighbourhood museum that acts like an oasis. There’s also the little Piazza Goliarda Sapienza. It’s named after a poet and writer who spent her best years in the neighbourhood. Recently, the square was embellished with an artist’s mural and the opening of a locale. I spent an evening in the neighbourhood after eating in a nearby vegan restaurant and found if full of an impressive number of people. I thought to myself: “See how you can create a nice neighbourhood again if you only have some faith in it?”.
Here we say, “Na jute and du sivvizza,” which literally means, “Go once and bring home two results.” Or, in the case of the area around Ursino Castle, more than two. You can go see the castle that was built by King Frederick of Swabia. It’s now a museum and centre for good exhibitions. Then go out the main door and cross the street on the right to where the pavements are separated by painted car tires used to create an urban garden. This area’s been known as Piazza dei Libri or the “Book Square” for some time now. It was created by Gammazita, a cultural association active in the neighbourhood. If you take a good look, you’ll see there’s an open air library here. You can come here, get a book, sit on the pallets and read until you have to go. If you arrive in the evening, however, it’s difficult to find a place. There are some, though, who bring their own seat from home. The best thing is knowing that cars used to illegally park in this space. Now if people have to stand here it’s not because cars are in the way.