Pressing on — Palermo

After a typical European/Italian buffet breakfast (why do Italians think an espresso diluted with hot water is coffee for Americans?) we take off for a full day of exploring the central, old town of Palermo. Our hotel is on the edge of the original wall of the city near the huge, busy natural harbor. We wind our way through diverse architectural styles and morning traffic to the gateway leading to the UNESCO World Heritage Monreal Cathedral.

We’re lucky enough to enter just before we get kicked out for Sunday baptism. It’s a mix, like much of the local architecture, of 10th century Norman and 17th century Spanish styles and structure. French, Sicilian and Arab ornamentation really do tend to work together and reflect the varied, changing of the island.

We move on basking in a gorgeous day, heading toward the Quattro Canti, passing by an interesting mix of shops and local businesses. The “No Mafia Memorial” is a real thing, commemorating the “demise” of the Mafia that was marginally successful in stopping some of the brutal violence employed (although many of the law officers were murdered during the purge). One of the methods of “beating” the mob was for brave shopkeepers to post the No Mafia signs in their windows. If enough of then put them up together it eventually stopped most of the “protection insurance” business. But our guide, Vanessa, let us know that the sweep pushed the Mob into a new “economic” organization working in parallel with the usual corruption business already existing in the cities.

The other interesting store front highlighted the tradition of marionettes in Italian culture as an offshoot of religious story telling to the illiterate. The marionettes in Sicily apparently are smaller than the ones in the other parts of Italy.

The Quattro Canti, the Four Corners is at the crossing of two main streets in Palermo. Four baroque palaces are at each of the four curved corners. Each has its own fountain. Built at the time of Spanish rule, the corners each represent one of the four seasons and have a ruler and a patron saint (note the statues on three levels. It’s also the place for street performers.

Breakfast long forgotten, we move on to the Capo market (only one open on Sunday). Shoulder to shoulder patrons along a long row of vendors of the freshest vegetables, seafood and grilled meats. Places to sit and eat…and be entertained with beautiful Italian voices…reminiscent of a large wedding…no kidding.

We’re treated to mounds of chickpea fritters, fried mash potato footballs, delicious caponata, thick crusted pizza, plates of fried seafood — calamari and small octopus like the one Joel’s welcoming to….

Filled to the brim, we make a welcome walk to a collection of churches in wildly diverse architectural styles and mixes, reflecting the many changing ruling classes of the city. We all choose one to visit. Marsha and I hear the sort of plain exterior of the baroque style church shows off an amazing interior, so we climb the steps, pay the admission, and are totally amazed!

Not so bland, huh! We have many (too many) photos of this incredible interior that I’ll post at the end of the journey.

The final stop is our guide’s favorite with a wealth of gold leaf and painstakingly set mosaic images. Blow up a few of these images and be amazed. We spent a long time looking and wondering.

Then back to the hotel, starting this blog, and finding a really nice restaurant at about 8 pm, early for Sicilians (the restaurant was almost empty when we arrived, but jam packed and raucous by 9:30 when we tried to get our check and adjourn for the evening.

Of cultural interest…at least to us. As we were finishing (in the large outdoor tented area – probably Covid related), a large group of local couples and kids drifted in to a big, reserved table. The men all sat at one end with a few chairs separating the women…with the kids. What do you think?

On that note…see you tomorrow for a long trek to the far western point of Sicily, the little town of Trapani and the mountain top Erice (with, supposedly the most incredible pastries in the world…hmnmnmn).

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4 Responses to Pressing on — Palermo

  1. Love it!!!! Thank you for all the great pics and your commentary!

  2. Rhoda says:

    You go kids! I have interesting memories of Sicily.. so many, many years ago. We stayed in Taormina in a hotel built into the side of a mountain. You entered on ground level and decended down in an elevator to your floor and your room overlooking the sea! Amazing! Then there were the ruins… etc.. Enjoy! Glad you’re traveling again. Love, cousin Rhoda

  3. Larry says:

    Looks like you won’t die of starvation before coming back to NJ. The French also do the diluted expresso and call it the “Americano.” I think it stems from back when they could only get inferior robusta coffee beans from their African colonies. “French roast” was the result.

    Lots of what we called “baroquoco” architecture in France and Spain as well as Italy. Even in Germany. Not my taste, but magnificent in its own way. Kept a lot of serfs employed as laborers and also lots of artisans and artists as well. Often it was the possession of a relic (bits of a saint) that gave the owner prestige. Louis IX (the truly pious, as well as rich one) was able to build St. Chapelle because he owned the “crown of thorns,” the holiest relic of all. He even spread the wealth around by giving the odd thorn to a political protege.

    Where to after Palermo?

    • jfdowshen says:

      Starvation. No. Thanks for the commentary, Larry. Honestly wish you (and Carol) could be with us on every trip with your incredible knowledge of religious and historical eras and events and personalities. Not too late…meet us in Taormina later today?!

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