Some may remember Giovanni Virgadavola as the character in the modern fairy tale told by director Gian Paolo Cugno in the film “I Cantastorie.” He plays the elderly storyteller who will change the life of the film’s protagonist and his daughter. Virgadavola is indeed a storyteller, poet, “cuntista” (Sicilian storyteller), fabulist, and painter. He has been a farmer since his school days and has the extraordinary ability to convey emotions through his art, but not only that. In Vittoria, where he was born 82 years ago, he founded the Museum of the Cart, using his own money to collect the best Sicilian carts and resurrecting the stories of Rinaldo, Angelica, the knights, the Baroness of Carini, the bandit Giuliano, and the many crimes handed down by “cuntastorie” or through popular ballads. “The cart is a work of art, an open book that tells the whole of Sicily, the timeless wisdom, and the culture that recites in all its forms,” he emphasizes.
Giovanni Virgadavola is one of the last examples of a faithful descendant of the traditional storytellers. He was born into a farming family where his father, every evening after work in the fields, would return home and tell stories (“cunti”) to him and his family. He took up his father’s legacy, turning that playful moment into a real mission—to recover and pass on the history, culture, and traditions of old Sicily. This project is encapsulated in the book “‘U mo’ dialettu,” in the museum where he preserves around fifty carts recovered from the Iblean area and the regions of Syracuse and Catania, and in the dialect lessons he teaches, including online classes. Today, the farmer from Vittoria writes and recites poems in Sicilian in schools and squares; he is a respected storyteller throughout the country and narrates the history of Sicily, truly a “heritage” of the island.
“What is recovered is gold because traditions and language have now been lost,” he asserts. “I am angry that all of this is no longer there, so I wanted to recover this tradition, going around telling what my father did every day after working in the fields.”
Giovanni Virgadavola will open some pages of this story on Saturday, June 25, during the “Night of the Storytellers” at Castello Ursino in Catania, as part of the prelude to the 13th edition of the Marranzano World Fest.