Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Designed in 1851 by Giovani Battista Filippo Basile, the Giardino Inglese also features an artificial lake with a statue of Rutelli, a botanical garden of considerable interest, statues, busts and monuments in memory of famous people - such as the one dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi.
After enjoying the gardens we once again window-shopped our way along via della Liberta. The fashionable clothes were stunning, but for us it was a trip to the airport. One good thing about Italian airports is that the food is usually good and it was. We bought a bag of pistachio marzipan brutta ma bionni (cookies) that helped to sustain us as our flight was an hour and a half late in leaving Palermo. Other than the delays it was a very good trip.
We did admire a Phoenician sarcophagus from the 5th century BC and pottery from various inhabitants throughout the ages. In fact we were lucky to catch a glimpse of the largest collection of ancient anchors in the world.
It was time for some refreshment and we stopped at a little place on one of the narrow streets. The servers were very friendly but in the way of hucksters the world over with the greeting, "Where do you come from?" This always engages you in conversation. Later we wandered around and went back to this restaurant for lunch since they had veal on the menu, something you hardly ever find in Spain.
In the late afternoon we went to Palermo's grand neoclassical opera house, the Teatro Massimo that took over 20 years to complete and has become one of the city's iconic landmarks. The closing scene of The Godfather: Part III, with its visually stunning contrasts of high culture, crime, drama and death, was filmed here.
The story concerns the emotionally fragile Lucy Ashton (Lucia) who is caught in a feud between her own family and that of the Ravenswoods. The setting is the Lammermuir Hills of Scotland (Lammermoor) in the 17th century. The staging was a bit dark and dour but suited the opera. We enjoyed our evening at the opera sitting in our box, and the smoked salmon sandwich at the interval. Even though things didn't end well for Lucia and her lover it was a good day for us after all.
Saturday, April 9, 2016
We made our way down to the catacombs' dank corridors among the mummified bodies. Many of the bodies were standing up in various poses. Some faces are contorted as if posing for Edvard Munch's, "The Scream." Although many corpses are still remarkably preserved, time and gravity have been cruel to others. Some are downright creepy, with body parts such as jaws or hands missing.
There were areas for children and even an area for virgins. Much of the clothing was still intact. Other areas had the corpses lying in repose. One funny sight was a woman turned in such a way that she looked as if she was talking to her husband.
Our busy day ended in a local restaurant in our neighbourhood full of locals. What better way to end the day with Sicilian pizza with a kamut crust and a bottle of red?
Construction began in 1184 at the behest of Palermo's archbishop, Walter of the Mill, an Englishman who was tutor to William II. Walter held great power and had unlimited funds at his disposal. The cathedral was erected on the location of a 9th-century mosque; a detail from the mosque's original decor is visible at the southern porch, where a column is inscribed with a passage from the Koran. Since then the cathedral has been much altered, sometimes with great success as in the 15th-century three-arched portico that took 200 years to complete and became a masterpiece of Catalan Gothic architecture, and sometimes with less fortunate results as in the dome, added between 1781 and 1801.
Throughout the cathedral there were lots of tile decorations reminiscent of what you might see in a mosque along with the contrasting gold leaf of the altar area. It was fun for us to watch the arrival of a wedding party.
The chapel's well-lit interior is simply extraordinary. Every inch is inlaid with precious stones, giving the space a lustrous quality. Swarming with figures in glittering, dreamy gold, the exquisite, highly sophisticated mosaics were mainly the work of Byzantine Greek artisans brought to Palermo by Roger II in 1140. The bulk of the mosaics recount the tales of the Old Testament, though other scenes recall Palermo's pivotal role in the Crusades.
The painted wooden ceiling featuring muqarnas, a decorative device resembling stalactites that is unique in a Christian church. The walls are decorated with handsome marble inlay that displays Islamic art, and the carved marble in the floor is stunning. Marble was as precious as any gemstone in the 12th century, so the floor's value at the time of its construction is almost immeasurable.
Some of the rooms in the palace we didn't see as they were used as offices for departments such as anti mafia. Other rooms were beautifully decorated with wooden ceilings, hunting scenes and lavish frescoes.
This was the spot to sample some of the street food. We saw men with wicker baskets draped with fabric to keep their contents warm-ish and relatively fly-free. People walked up to the basket man and order frittola, a sandwich made with the meat bits (cartilage, fat and tendons, too) he plucked from his container and stuffs into a roll. If you are watching your carbs, you can get the chunks in a paper cone. Another favourite street food is sliced sesame seed rolls filled with slices of spleen cooked in lard. Needless to say we gave these particular foods a miss.
In Italian literature, Inspector Montalbano, the main character of Andrea Camilleri's detective novels, is a well-known lover of arancini, which has helped to popularize them all over the world.
By the time we had finished wandering through the food market and giving the tacky clothing market a quick look we were in need of some refreshment. Since it was hot and very humid we stopped for a granita, which was originally a Sicilian drink made of sugar, shaved ice and in our case blood orange juice, one of my favourite things. Perfetto.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
We enjoyed the walk along Via della Liberata, window shopping at all the high-end Italian stores like Gucci and Prada with all their elegant clothes. Eventually, we ended up outside Teatro Politeama, a lovely round-shaped building where the symphony plays. Crossing the road in Palermo takes all of your attention. You don't walk out at crosswalks but wait for a lull in the traffic. Sicilians don't really see a need to stop for pedestrians. We bravely negotiated two streets to end up in a gelateria and patisserie where we had a well deserved espresso and cannoli. While we were enjoying this we watched two girls have a brioche gelato — that’s right, ice cream in a brioche bun. It looked lovely.
We were discovering just how chaotic Palermo's streets were. The buildings are magnificently disheveled with a mix of architectural styles that point to the wave upon wave of invaders who have claimed the city as their own, as does the look of the locals. There is no one style or people in this urban melting pot.
We wended our way down to the port bordering La Kalsa district, which is beginning to be revitalized. Much of this area was bombed by the Allies and not much was done with it until recently. In fact we saw several buildings with just the facade standing. After a walk along the promenade we had dinner in a little alleyway, which was the outdoor eating area of the restaurant located in part of a decayed old foundry. We enjoyed several Sicilian appetizers followed by grilled swordfish, which for some reason we never get in Spain.
After dinner it was quite a walk back to our hotel but enjoyable in the warmth of the Sicilian evening.
The rain once again leaked through the ceiling in our guest bedroom. While we were in Gran Canaria the ceiling had been repaired and painted. We were told that this wetness was caused by condensation, but know it is much simpler than that: It rains -- and then it leaks! By not repairing the leaking terrace the problem continues. We don't really care anymore as we have given our notice and will be leaving the Port. It's not just because of a leaky ceiling. The weather here from January until April can be quite harsh. In August the village and the beaches are incredibly busy, too busy. It is very noisy in the summer with the disco that doesn't start until 11:30 pm and finishes at 6 am. Either the disco is louder or the trees that have been cut down for a firebreak used to absorb some of the disco noise. Then there are our next door neighbours with all their dogs. In fact the old couple appeared last week with their two dogs that bark incessantly. They seem oblivious to it. We are not. Every time we move in the kitchen or go by a window these dogs bark. They were here for two days and already I was shouting at the dogs to be quiet. We will be gone before the summer moves in to full swing.
Easter brought loads of people, mainly from Barcelona, to the village. Suddenly at night there were lots more lights from homes in the village. Parking became worse than in any other year. The sandlot was full and so was the parking lot behind the Valvi supermarket. Just about all the restaurants opened up making the place much more lively. On Easter Saturday the sun came out and it was 27 degrees Celsius encouraging some very brave people to venture into the water. They didn't really swim as the water temperature was 13 degrees.
There were still lots of people here the week after Easter but for us it was time to travel again. This time are were headed for Palermo, a spot we missed on a previous trip to Sicily.