Caminanti derives from the Sicilian term camminatori, which means walkers. The caminanti are a group of Sicilian wanderers, continuers of an ancient tradition centered on the word and sale of balloons.

I have been photographing the descendants of these nomads who landed in Sicily at the end of the 14th century, following the Arberesh refugees. The walkers have kept intact the original family organization, of a patriarchal type and with marriages established within the community.

The caminanti were originally nomads, but they are neither Roma nor Gypsy. They live permanently in eastern Sicily and travel for their work as balloon sellers in geographically more limited spaces. Following the coronavirus pandemic, their errant spirit is waning, but their tradition of selling balloons remains intact.

It’s a community within a community. In their gestures, the traits of the passionate Sicilian theatricality shine through, but their spirit is nomadic.

When I was a child in Puglia, a region of southern Italy, the central street of the city was full of these people who sold balloons on holidays; my dad always bought me one, I remember the smiles of these foreign sellers, but I also remember the distrust of adults toward them.

Theirs is an almost unknown story in Italy, as the citizens of Noto — the city where they gather in the winter — never accepted the caminanti as an integral part of the Sicilian community.

I was very curious to find out more about this community that sells balloons; the object that makes us dream even as adults. Balloons are so colorful and evocative of dreams, lightness and happiness.

In reality, seen through the lens of the caminanti’s daily lives, these balloons are a metaphor for the nomadic soul, a symbol of ephemeral freedom: air enclosed in a plastic bag that cannot fly because it is tied to a thread or a stick, held in the hand and dominated by other people; exactly like their ghettoized and discriminated condition in Noto.

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