Montalbano: Sicily’s Own Police Inspector

camilleri1
Andrea Camilleri

Sicily is home to some of Italy’s best known and successful writers.   To name just a few, but there are many more, Luigi Pirandello from Agrigento, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1934.   Giovanni Verga, from Catania, was part of the Verismo (Realism) literary group in the latter part of the 1800s,  and contemporary writer Andrea Camilleri, also from the Agrigento area, is probably the best known author in the whole of Italy today.

Camilleri, up until he started writing his hugely successful crime novels featuring Salvo Montalbano as a provincial police inspector, was a theatrical director specialising in the production of Pirandello’s plays.   Today, at 87, defying all medical opinion that heavy smoking kills you, his publishers urge him to write as many Montalbano tales as possible although he says he has already written his last related crime story, 5 years ago, which is stored in his publisher’s safe with instructions to publish it when he feels he’s unable to write anymore or, more likely, has got fed up with his character.

Montalbano
Inspector Montalbano

His books have been translated into 30 languages, the last of which was Korean. In English the award winning translator, Stephen Sartarelli, manages to brilliantly capture Camilleri’s wry and cynical Sicilian humour. In Italian the books are written with a generous sprinkling of Sicilian dialect which doesn’t seem to cause any trouble for mainland Italians. Stephen Sartarelli uses a mixture of London Cockney and some British northern dialect in his English translations which also seem to work very well. The Patience of the Spider, The Shape of Water, The Snack Thief and many more, deal with Sicily’s (and Italy in general) present social condition. Notoriously anti-Berlusconi, Camilleri deliberately wanted to make a critical commentary about his turbulent government as well as denouncing how the state deals with the mafia and how the church has an enormous influence on Italian politics.

cathedral-Ragusa-Ibla

On Italian tv a new series of another 4 of his books has become very popular. All the different series shown so far have done miracles to boost tourism to Sicily as they are all filmed in some of the most suggestive areas of the island. One of the series has also been shown on Australian tv and BBC 4 in the UK. Concentrated into the smallish triangle of Ragusa Ibla, Modica and Scicli, on the southern tip of the island, and also Punta Secca (Marina di Ragusa) where Inspector Montalbano’s house is – right on the beach! – these are all UNESCO world heritage sites because of the Sicilian Baroque architecture to be found here.

But this area is not just famous for it’s architecture. Modica boasts a curious laboratory where they still make chocolate from the original Aztech recipe brought by the Spanish during their domination of the island in the 16th century. Visits can be made to watch how it’s made and taste their produce. The chili flavoured one seems to be the most popular, as well as the orange and lemon ones, but there are many other flavours too.

balconiJust walking through Scicli looking up at the wrought iron balconies and their sculpted supports of cherubs, griffins, shiplike figureheads and rearing horses are enough to attract any keen photographer’s eye. Nearby Noto, reconstructed after an earthquake in 1990, is the most famous town for the splendid Sicilian baroque architecture.

Naturally in the television series there is never a rainy day. Only sun-drenched streets and parched countryside and Montalbano who often starts the programme off with his early morning swim in the calm, blue sea in front of his house. All of which conjure up idyllic summer holidays.

Another important part of Camilleri’s character is his love of food which is more than his love of women even. All the popular Sicilian dishes appear at least once or twice during the programme: live octopus, arancini, pasta con le sarde, fresh grilled fish, sardines al beccafico all washed down with a good Sicilian wine and Montalbano’s grunts of ecstasy whilst eating it. At the end of the programme you are wishing you had something more interesting than that mouldy bit of cheese sitting alone in the fridge.

Searching for the restaurants where Montalbano eats his freshly caught fish has also boosted the restaurant/trattoria trade in the area, especially those beach ones with the flappy curtains and golden sand all around. Some of the best beaches on the island can be found in the area of Marina di Ragusa.

0506232236DVB-TRaiHDHis last book Una Lama di Luce (A Flash of Light) deals with clandestine immigration onto the island (a real life problem these days) and Montalbano’s proverbial impatience with his superiors and authority in general. Full of the usual wit, quirky characters and vivid pictures of desperate life on this island, it also portrays Montalbano not so much as the hard-nut policeman that he tries to be, but reflects his weaknesses and fragility attached to human nature. Different stories are intertwined ending with the usual dramatic turn of events making it yet another brilliant novel to be read in one sitting.

Marian Watson Virga

Marian Watson Virgahttp://www.sicilianexperience.com
Marian arrived in Sicily from the UK more than 30 years ago when foreign women were still something to be wary of! After marrying ‘ un Siciliano DOC’ and having worked first in tourism and subsequently in a language school, she now happily collaborates together with Carmelina Ricciardello from Sicilian Experience discovering new hiking trails all over Sicily for Carmelina’s trekking holidays and writing her blog.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Americans may download the RAI APP on their iPads to have access to the Montalbano movies on replay. For instance, the four new movies that were shown Monday nights on Italian television were available on RAI 1 channel replay on Tuesday morning, American time.

  2. I love Montalbano and am presently reading from OTTO GIORNO CON MONTALBANO in my italian class in Staten Island NY.
    Reading Montalbano in Italian is quite another “Story”!!!!!!

  3. I believe I’ve seen all of the earlier (22 episodes) Montalbano series on RAI (without subtitles of course) and enjoyed them even with my limited comprehension of Sicilian and Italian. Then I purchased all of those episodes from Amazon.com and they have subtitles. I enjoyed them all over again. I just love the ensemble of characters and how they work so well together.

  4. That’s one of the best article I’ve ever read in English about Montalbano and Camilleri. Marian, thank you so much for sharing your insights and knowledge about Sicily and Sicilian culture. Gio.

    • Glad you liked it Giovanni. I’m fascinated by just how popular Camilleri is worldwide and how all the different language translations of his books seem to work so well. There must be a lot of translators out there who understand Sicilian dialect!

  5. Great article. For those who read Italian and want to spend some time following in Montalbano’s footsteps, there is a great book by Maurizio Clausi et al called I luoghi di Montalbano that covers both the literary locations over by Porto Empedocle and the TV places around Ragusa

  6. Has the Montalbano series been translated into Hungarian? (I am not Hungarian or of Hungarian ancestry, but I am very interested in languages and have Hungarian-speaking friends.)

    I just love the books and laugh out loud at all the shenanigans! Keep up the good work, signori Camilleri e Sartarelli!

  7. I also speak quite a bit of Italian and can understand the Sicilian dialect. The aria “Che gelida manina” from La Boheme is one of my favorites, and I’m sure that Montalbano would chime in if I were to sing it in front of him.

    • Yes Phyllis, four Montalbano books have been translated into Hungarian. So you can tell your friends to look out for them. I’m sure we would all chime in to Che Gelida Manina if you start singing it! Not just Montalbano!

  8. I have not missed any of the TV season of Montalbano, here in Lawrence, Kansas. I recently changed from the local cable station to ATT
    U-Verse for my TV and internet. I’ve never had internet at home; but now with ATT, I do not get Montalbano. I’ve been trying (for 2 hours) to find it on the computer (free) for the 2013 season. I’m crying like crazy…….boo hoo… KDP

  9. Hello Marian, I bought the complete box set of the TV series from Acorn Media. I then bought and read all the books that were available in English. You could say I’m a fan. I last visited Sicily with my wife in the early eighties. I would love to return again soon. Another passion of mine is sailing and I believe there is an excellent marina in Ragusa – Montalbano country.

    I’m hoping the author and the cast will keep the Inspector going and I’m looking forward to future stories and episodes.

    All the very best,

    Jim

    • Hi Jim. Sounds as though you could write a thesis on Montalbano! Yes, the WHOLE of Sicily is a sailor’s paradise, not just Marina di Ragusa but that would make a good starting point. We, Sicilian Experience, are near Cefalù which also has quite a good marina. I’m sure there will be other books and tv episodes to keep us going. I don’t think Camilleri intends ‘killing’ him off yet.

      Look forward to meeting you next time you are down this way.

      Marian

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