Diary Part I / September 29 to October 5, 2008

September 29, 2008

Flight: Berlin-Milano-Palermo-Lampedusa

Checked in at Berlin-Tegel, reading the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, loudspeakers shout: “last call for passenger thomas kilpper…” I run to the gate, discover that my boarding-pass and ID are missing, running back to the table where I was sitting… lucky me: my jacket with all the money, ID and stuff… is still there. I am the last passenger to board the plane.
Arrival in Lampedusa at about 9.30pm – about an hour in delay: tourist-photo-shots from the gangway, …“no foto” says the officer – stick to it: no more flash but video: on the way to the exit we pass an african plane that some four, five Africans are just about to board – a guard standing next to the gangway. Obviously a deportation flight.

Weather is nice, mild and warm. I inform Maria about my arrival, ten minutes later I am sitting in her car on the way to my – better: her appartment, off Via Roma. It’s very central, big and quite ideal for me.
Going out for a pizza – I come across a mourning procession, some 50-80 mourners silently follow an old mercedes catafalque that stopps in front of the church, next to a black priest. Nice images, pity I left my cameras in the flat: never go out without ‘em here! I wonder… why do they have a black reverend – here with the african refugees…? I should try to meet with him!
After lunch watching Italian TV, a Vietnam movie – in the style of Stanley Kubrick’s full metall jacket but much weaker. A small group of US-soldiers kidnap a young Vietnamese woman into the woods and rape her – only one of them resists and wants to help her; but he is too weak, to stand up to/against his comrades to stop them. “victims of the war” channel 4.
In the night – must have been in the morning at about 8am – I dreamt intensively crazy stuff, my sister flooded entirely our large bathroom opening the water-pipe to the toilette. When I came to our house everything was watered, even from the neighbours ceiling it was dripping…
A funeral’s procession – rape – flooding… what a start.

Tuesday, September 30

Sleeping late, shopping in the supermercado, breakfast. Prices are fairly high – summs up to 43.60€… giving a 50€ note, becoming 10€ back, with a generous and determinated gesture. Never experienced anything similar in Germany. Islanders…?
Rain. Somehow desoriented I’m roaming in the centre of the town, watching the streets, the houses and public life… looking for a bicycle to rent, looking for the townhall… asking for the councilor for culture… “Antonio Colapinto has just the council…” it seems a new councilor for culture still has to be appointed or voted…? “Tomorrow at ten, the major is here…”.
I ring the reverend’s bell, nothing happens, not at home…
A bike rental asks for 10€ per day… – though I got a scooter offered for 12, and meet a couple with bikes that cost a fiver each per day. But there all the bikes are rented out, so I wait but take a scooter for one day asking the guy he shall send me a SMS once a bike is available.
Scooter is great, really fast, I search the office of “Alternativa Giovanni ONLUS” at Via Grecale 22, find the address and someone in an office on the ground-floor in that very building and ask him about this group… “where are they…?”, “I don’t know, but not here; I think they are somewhere in the centre…”. When I am about to leave the building I discover the group’s logo on the first floor and a sticker next to the staircase. Asking him about that… he was slightly irritated…, “well they are on the first floor… (primero piano)…” – I don’t know what that was, as he works here everyday?

Driving my moped – I reach in 15 minutes the end of the isle passing stoney fields with wild herbs making the air smell oregano. The cliffs are massive and steep to the north coast, beautiful, clear azure blue water, an empty quarry, military radars and antennae. The drizzle now turns into heavy rain, I look for some protection in the quarry, when the rain decreases I go to the moped to return, large and deep slops make me drive slow, as heavy rain starts again I just drive in an open private ground with a garage. After some 15-20 minutes I continue my way back… completely wet and watered.

Model for the Lampedusa Lighthouse with Cultural Centre
Steel Netting Mesh, Wire, Paper, ca. 180 x 50 x 60 cm, January 2008,

Wednesday, October 1st

The day of waiting. At the townhall (municipio) – 2nd floor, here are the offices of the major and the councillors. People just go in and out, no queuing or anything similar… I am told just to wait, what I patiently do for about 90 minutes. Somehow interesting to be here and watch. It reminds me to Jenin townhall – but the big difference: there I had my projects partners from the Goethe and a local scout at my side. But the way people behave and move within the townhall to contact the major or other officials is quite similar. It seems everything is to do with subjective relationship. After 90 minutes an employee of the commune led me to Marco Bartolo – an employee on the first floor – who speaks English and shall come to help translating. First he is not happy about it at all as he would have so much to do. But after a while talking to me – he turns quite open and friendly.
During waiting an elderly, about 70 years old, ordery man roams the 2nd floor, behaving as if he is in charge,… curious what I am about… I show him and the bystanders my project proposal, (that in the meanwhile I received from Andrea Sassi and printed it out in the only public internet-point on the isle) he turns quite openly negative: “we have already a light-house”, “who is your employer or principal, you have to present them here and to write a concrete letter of request…” pushing me to defend the project: “of course you have a light-house… but it is not an art-work – and I am the artist and as such I am my own employer and boss – like Michelangelo was, when he made his David…”. He tries to persuade the employed – in Italian – they should not listen to me, it would be rubish and obsolete – obviously believing I would not understand. I later learn he was an ambassador and now lives part-time in Lampedusa. Marco openly says “he’s an a…” – he will know why.
After almost 2 hours a high-heeled shaky beauty comes and let me know: “Tomorrow at 10am the major will be here, come then once more…”

Now I want to find the boat-cemetry, artist Marco Poloni has told about when we met in Berlin. Easy to find. It looks quite surreal and impressive – a bright blue dot in the middle of the fields.

Actually there are two boat-dumps, one next to the main road, and another one some 300 meter further down the valley, the municipal waste deposal site, for cars, fridges, sofas… and the boats of the immigrants. Partly piled up like sardines in a box partly piled up criss-cross – they seemed to be painted with the same paint as they have almost an identical bright blue tone, most of them have arabic names at the bow. That’s the material for the sculpture – at least for the model in Reggio Emilia and Florence. Should be possible to get some of em, as shredding and removal for the commune only costs money. Most important discovery on the island until now. From now the idea to buy timber and build the model with it seems not convincing anymore. How do we get and transport them? Will shipping be expensive…? I have to divide the boats fitting on a lorry (needs a loader crane) – or would it be better to ship them on the sea to La Spezia. Forgot to ask for the telephone number of the waste depot…
Next… to the lighthouse at the northern end of the isle. It’s in military use (nameplate at the gate), the tower is about 12-15 meter high, wonder how far can it be seen? The cliffs are some 30 meter deep, if not more, it’s postcard idyll. Next to the tower is a climate research observatory.
On the way back to town I pass and stop at “Alternativa Giovanni”, leave a note with my phone number at the door.
Return my lovely moped and change it for a lousy mountain-bike instead, rattling, wobbly, the gears are not working so I have to go back and try to improve it with the mechanics…
Discovering the only Gallery in Lampedusa – “LMP Art Gallery”… increddible kitschy prints, but as well nice old black&white photos from Lampedusa. A photo with Mimmo Paladinos Lampedusa-Refugee-Monument “Porta di Europa” on display makes me ask, if he has any contact to the people who supported the monument.
He gives me the telephone number of Giovanni Fragapane, a local writer and artist. Calling him turns rather in a choking word finding than conversation… but at least we manage to arrange an appointment at 3pm at his house. Via Roma 133, less than 100 meter from my flat… with our cell phones we communicate via satelites over a distance of about 10.000 miles…
On my way home from lunch in a nice restaurant I bump into a wonderful public music and dance party – sweltry tear jerkers at piazza Brignone.
Do some videoing and shots. The dramatic migration problem as background for my journey I arrive in this very party. Haven’t seen a single refugee, none – they are an invisible phantom. Where are they? After my first information, the detention centre would be next to the airport, I do a walk-through there, discovering a construction-site with lots of surveillance cameras. It might be part of the deportation procedure but the real detention centre – called CPT (Centri di Permanenza Temporanea / centre of temporary stay/detention – permanent temporary seems antagonistic… doesn’t it?) – is located in the centre of the isle, placed at the end of a small valley, into which you have to go for about one km (on Via Imbriacola), to arrive at the entrance gate.

Thursday, 10 am – municipio

The major is present, listens just three sentences to jump up from his chair “…che bello… un progetto d’arte… un faro con centro cultura… d’ architetto Renzo Piano…” rushing to the anteroom and handing over the issue to Mr. Gianni Sparma, councilor for tourism, transport, sport and spectacle – as they actually do not have any for cultural affairs.
Great, Marco translates. Mr Sparma is very formal, “we need a precise description and application of what you want …”, “…At this stage, we just need from you the permission to take some four, five boats from the communal waste depot to build my model in the exhibitions in Reggio Emilia and Florence.
Asked to repeat this in front of my camera, for a second he turns sympathetic as he shyly smiles obviously irritated – “shall I feel flattered? or…”. Backdrop during the interview are awful propgandistic illustrations. They truly remind me to the ‘style’ of the Third Reich – they are the cover-pages of the annual reports 2006 and 2007 of the ‘Guardia di Finanza’. Horrible but it clearly shows where we are. Glaring.
After the meeting I write the demanded letter and send it (in English) to Andrea for translation… would be great to present it to Mr. Sparma the next morning.
At 3pm I meet Giovanni Fragapane. Very nice and sympathetic – communication in Italian with some French and English nuggets – quite difficult – but easier than on the phone, as we can watch our gestures. He talks slow and articulate, tries to make me understand. He likes the idea with the light-house but obviously not the use of the refugee boats. That would cause some sanitary and hygienic problems – the purity of the project would suffer – do I understand well? why that? what does he really mean?
I am a bit confused and definetly think different about it. We watch the road atlas of Sicilly and get useful tips and telephone numbers for my trip there. Definitely better to take the plane to Palermo (spending some days in Sicilly…) than the ferry boat to Porto Empedocle, as in case of bad weather, the boat is not running (missing my plane from Palermo to Berlin October 8…)
Nice meeting – but trying to get in touch with any supporter of Mimmo Paladinos Monument…: no way. (I still don’t know how this sculpture was developed and installed but there must have been a group of supporters it can’t have been only the initiative of the artist. The ‘appello’ is peppered with famous Italians.
Take my bike and cycle to the office of the ‘Alternative Giovani’, have a look if anyone is there… – lucky me, this time I meet Giacomo, who confirmed my note at the door, he calls his friend to come as he speaks English. Antonino arrives 15 minutes later and I tell them the idea – what they very much appreciate. They seem to be really enthusiastic and want to see more work – so we switch on their computer and browse my web-site… Giacomo: “crazy artist… – …utopist…”. This sounds not bad to me. Giacomo has to leave for his job in a hotel – so we disperse not without the promise to meet again soon and stay in touch. Nice guys, quite young – I guess 18, 20 something… but not much older? I’d fancy working together with them.
Where exactly is the CPT? – Giacomo made a ballpen mark on the map. But as it was fairly incorrect my search for it took about half an hour. In fact it’s hidden – they placed it at the end of a valley. In the darkening sky an extreme bright light at the end of the road betrayed it. Arriving the entrance gate shortly before 8pm – three men sitting in their car, the engine running… I try to gain some seconds and go aside for a pee but cannot really hide and wait,
there is nothing but some parked cars and they already have seen me…, “I bet they are guards, waiting for a colleague” – my thought is quicker confirmed as born…, of course they can see my camera… “you are not allowed to take any footage, it is a military object – you need to ask for permission at the police-station, yes… even from outside”, I let my camera running, the lense ostentatiously directed to the ground – I hope to have our exchange of words taped and that the sound is utilisable. But no images so far, I need some ideas on that!
Buy a (devil-?) fish and a squid at the nearby harbour – capers, olives, lemon and origan – nice cooking, drawing with the squid’s ink a small sheet – “poor calamari”, tomorrow the other devil gets grilled. Tastes super, I love calamares.

Friday, October 3

At 10am at the never friendly L’EDICOLA – kiosk the only Internet-Point here: Andrea has sent his translation – superb! – we speak on the phone: his suggestion to drop one line for the time being (the light-house shall help minimizing the risk during the perilous crossing) and to bring this when the project is approved… is ok as we need the municipio… the project cannot go ahead without – and it’s run by Lega Norte!
Bring my letter to Mr. Sparma, he criticises the partly general character – I point out: not all things can get finalised at this early stage of the project but that our request for permission to take 4, 5 wrecks is precisely formulated. “Who will decide it?…”
“Probably the prefetura di Agrigento – as it is the superior authority…” – “You can’t decide independently on your local waste dump…?”
Sounds like disillusioning administration-gaga. “How long will it take you to come forward with a decission…” – “at least one month…”, aha, I see (how similar cases seem to be, Frankfurt jail, Frankfurt savings bank 1822, Queen Mary College, German Railway with the Stasi-HQ… – do I anything wrong?) – he stamps and registers our letter: “PROT.N: 12297, RICEVUTA 3/10/08.” Assoluto ufficiale – absolutely official.
Cycling once more to the boat-cemetery and waste-depot, talking to the man at the gate, somehow preparing him, and would have been good to have his telephone number… “here we don’t have”… “and what about your cell-phone?…”, don’t get his number. Leave the scene and at the end of the site where the fence has a gap I sneak in – take out a plank with partly arab signs.
It sticks out of my rucksack so I decide to deposit it nearby under a little tree. I don’t want to attract attention as I will try to approach the detention centre. This time from the other end.
Passing the waste-dump and following the street, that soon becomes a stoney path – some fivehundred meters later it leads into the street that brings you to the prison’s entrance gate… The people and their former boats are not far away from each other. By accident?
I would like to come close to the CPT and try to talk to the inmates, how are you, how was your crossing, how long did it take, what do you expect in your case, deportation or will you get access to europe and the status of a refugee…?
I try to approach the site from south, you have to find the right access, with public paths that do not turn into dead ends… After all I manage to come as close as 300, 200 meter. Am I crazy? Just now a low flying helicopter approaches (in approximately 100m hight); directly above me! Hell, it’s the first time I hear and see a helicopter in Lampedusa. (Reminds me of 1988, when a police-helicopter appeared, after I sneaked into the woods… and made clear an observation is under way).
I didn’t expect soldiers to guard the site from outside. Discovering a Jeep standing on the hill-top next to the path made me look carefully – after a first thought it might be one of those car-wrecks rotting in the middle of nowhere… – I really discover a group of three soldiers, chatting under a camouflage net in the field, about 20 meter away from their jeep. They seemed to be very relaxed, no idea whether they have seen me – I guess they must have, it’s nothing here where you can hide… and not so many people are doing their walk right here… Take some shots. Have not the guts to go straight to the soldiers… talking to ’em, asking about their job and have a look how they react. I try to avoid any direct contact with them.

Saturday, October 4

In the morning I cycle to the airport, until now I haven’t got a return ticket, I am just on the waiting-list for the flight tomorrow morning… Wowh, it works out… I didn’t expect it, I got the ticket to Palermo tomorrow morning at 6.50! Super. But that means it’s my last day in Lampedusa.
I asked the guy at the airport to call Maria and explain I would like to meet her at my flat – check out – as I have to leave earlier… shopping (water for today and the journey), SMS to Antonino to meet and ask whether he has any idea how to contact the Medicines sans Frontiers – a red Opel Corsa with MSF-sticker the other day reminded me of the fact that they are working here… (should have left a note under the wiper!) – about 2 hours later he SMS’s back the telephone number of Marinella. She works with the Medicines sans Frontiers. I call her – and leave a message on her mailbox.Paying Maria (on the phone she said 20€ per night – six nights / she says seven days… I give her 150€ – first she did not seem to be satisfied, but after a minute she turned very happy and friendly. I suggest to stay in bed instead of driving me at 5.30 to the airport… not a problem to walk…
Try to meet with the Reverend – twice he is not in, the third time he is and I can talk to him – videoing. Vincent M Wagala, five years ago he came from Tansania – he is positive about the light-house idea and sees a difference to sensation seaking journalists who never think about what they could do themselves… but his attitude towards the authorities, including the CPT makes me wonder: the collaboration with the CPT would be fine, he gets called if one of the detainees wishs to see him, he beliefs circumstances within the prison are not bad as he does not hear any complaints, most of the detainees should be released fairly quick as faces are always changing…
I think the church did a clever job to place a black Reverend at this very hot spot – the African gateway to Europe.
Would like to get some footage from the CPTs entrance gate; this time I decide just to cycle towards the gate the camera switched on, not to stop but constantly move… Again some officers are outside, just about to leave the prison and get onto their car or moped… I carry on – five meter in front of the gate I make a U-turn rolling downhill back. Someone blows a whistle, a moped closes in on me, – I switch off the camera – a youngster, 20 something, drives next to me and made me understand “the police officer wants to talk to you… please return to the CPT…”, “why?…”, “because they would like to talk to you…”, “okay…” pretending to obey I turn again – making the guy pleased, he accelerates and drives on – so that I continue my getaway and leave the road immediately after he has disappeared. I am now on the way to the waste dump… I expect them to deploy and look for me – I stolidly follow this path, – passing a construction site that looks like a home for dogs… with a dozen dog pounds. What do they plan here? – and again driving past the waste dump. Under a tree off the road I check my footage, almost not useable, nothing brillant at all. What a pity I switched off the camera when the moped was coming… the sound – the guy’s words would have been funny enough.
Someone briefly let my mobile ring – like knocking at my door – it’s Marinella from MSF – calling back is to open my door… I can talk to Saverijo a friend of hers, explaining why I would like to come in touch – super: we arrange to meet in half an hour. The address is opposite ‘Alternativo Giovanni’ – so I don’t need to search the street – we meet at their private house – don’t know if they have an office here in Lampedusa… Very nice people, Marinella and Saverijo are doctors and Louisa is a nurse. My idea to take a strong light beam as a guideline, downsizing as far as possible the danger of the crossing is very much appreciated. “Most serious and even fatal accidents happen exactly if they have lost orientation – so at least during the night this definitely could provide orientation and help cutting short the peril…”
They must know – MSF carries out a general primary medical care and first aid for the refugees… They are in contact and can talk to them.
Wished they would repeat this in front of my camera… but they need authorisation of their headquarter in Rome. I offer not to use any footage unless the ‘okay’ is given… but they do not. It’s a matter of trust – bad experience before? I do not see it as a personal matter as they ‘know’ me for 20 minutes…
I can imagine that the organisation is not too keen to get involved with the project at this early stage. They have to stay trustworthy so that the coast guard and boarder police will call them furthermore. If they would jeopardise their relation and would put at risk not to get called anymore … they could quit the job. This must not happen, as their job is far too important for the migrants.
…First aid in Europe in the truest sense of the word. MSF has an agreement with the coast guard, they get called by the authorities when new “clandestines” (how the refugees are called by the police here) have been found. Before they are brought to the CPT they can check their health, give them water, vitamins or other essential nutrition, or they arrange transport to the hospital or other medical treatment if needed… Just four days ago they got the latest call – that means a new group of refugees arrived when I was here but did not notice anything. Although I am sensitive to the issue.
It seems their impression of both the administration at the townhall and the priest is similar to mine. They are quite critical about them. I have to think about it, what I want from MSF, it might be better to collaborate on a more informal and personal level rather institutional.
Last supper – fish – clean-up of the flat and packing my stuff. Too tired to contact the youngsters from “Alternativa Giovani”, at 10pm I return the bike to the shop.

Sunday October 5, Lampedusa

I wake up shortly before 5am – before the alarm-clock rings. An espresso helps me to really awake. When I leave the house it’s still dark; spooky silence, only binmen and some cats and dogs are on the streets. My walk to the airport is like the walk to my S-Bahn station in Berlin. The airport terminal is still closed, with some other passengers I dozily wait on the metal benches in front of the building, they remind me of Wolfgang Breuer’s bench in front of our house… Personnel arrives and opens the doors. Inside the airport almost all the walls are decorated with motifs from the island, either framed photos or even some painted murals – like a wonderful wall behind the check-in desk – where at the bottom our suitcases disappear on the luggage belt in a cat flap like black hole…
Above the clouds soon after take-off Mount Etna gleams in the morning light. Why not going there? I have three days to wait until my already booked (and fix) return flight leaves Palermo.
Plane is completely booked out. Not until we get out of the plane in Palermo I discover that I was flying with the entire Lampedusian football team! They have a match here in Sicilly the same day. I take some shots – little stars, no one loves more to pose…

“this is the most southern european football team, even Malta is more north…” the president of the club (3rd from left on the above photo) states.
Sitting on the train to Palermo – the airport is in the outskirts in Punta Raiis, 45 minutes away from the centre – I think, how silly, I could have asked them to join – as a supporter, that would have been great, filming the guys… they would be flipped out, I guess…
Anyway… I didn’t do it, didn’t have the guts to ask and was not resolute but wavered. At the station I buy a map of Sicily and ask the shopkeeper what is the best way to Mount Etna… – 5 minutes later I am on the coach to Catania. Buying the tickets…: the machine for the train did not take any note, so the conducter friendly said, come in… at the bus station the price for Palermo-Catania is 13,90 I pay with a 50€ note and the teller tried as clever as he could giving as few change as possible – first only a 10 Cent coin, than a twenty € note and a tenner – hesitating to come up with anything more… me: not running away and counting what have I got… oh… here are coming some more coins… (in total 6€!) – so even the bus is leaving in a second: do not rush but recount.
In Catania at the train station I am welcomed by a police officer with the Hitler salute after asking about the luggage storage and a bike rental… makes me sick. Really astonished and disappointed not to see me laugh – he knows a place to rent a bike. I deposit most of my baggage, keeping my cameras, laptop, rain- and fleeze-jacket, food… in my rucksack. The bicycles to rent are the cheapest – with broken plastic pedals and heavy steel frames…really bad – but I go for it – 100€ deposit, 20€ rent for two days. Stinking traffic although it’s Sunday, Mount Etna… off we go! No signpostings – after one or two kilometers street gets super steep; I end up in a cul-de-sac, a footpath trough scrub and waste land saves me from descending… My legs are fine, sweating like crazy, my ¾ trousers let the sun burn my thanks…

to be continued…