Posts Tagged With: Santa Ninfa

Ah, Palermo! Haven’t I Seen Your Face Before?

April 30, May 1 – 3, 2012

Throughout history Palermo has been dominated by many powerful invaders due to its strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean. Some of the invaders include the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Saracen Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, the French and the Spanish Bourbons – just to name the major ones. They have all left a mark on the beautiful architecture of Palermo.

Our Road Scholar group arrived the day before May Day and the city was very quiet as most of the population had ventured out to the countryside or seaside for the May Day holiday tradition of picnics and relaxation. Because of this we had a couple of days where we were able to wander the streets and alleyways without much concern of being run down by a car. You need to understand that cars drive through alleys that are barely able to hold one car width, let alone one car driving past a parked car. The cost for car insurance must be sky-high – like the gasoline. Must be why so many people ride scooters. The tourists seem to prefer the horse carriages.

A fellow group member, Sandy and myself had an adventurous walkabout late one afternoon. We wandered around a supermarket, ogling the cheeses, various cured meats and were amazed by the looooong aisles of dried pasta. Palermo had returned to business as usual and we crossed major thoroughfares, dodging cars along the way and hugging the brick walls of the alleys. As a reward, we enjoyed a gelato while watching the cars whiz past the designer clothing stores. Several times we encountered people who would start speaking in Italian to me (assuming I understood what they were saying). Then I remembered that our guide, Enrico had told me, that once we reached Palermo, I would start to see my face in the faces of the people of Palermo. He was right – I found that my face belonged in that region. I’d always been proud of being half Italian – more specifically, if someone asked – Sicilian. I just never realized that I had a look about me that actually belonged to the Western region of Sicily. That night I met Ciro Grillo, who would take me to my family in Santa Ninfa, he asked me if I’d been at a certain street corner at a certain time that afternoon with another woman. I said yes, why? He said he thought he’d recognized me from my blog photo, but didn’t stop because he was driving his scooter. I was amazed that I could be recognized on the streets of Palermo by someone I’d never met.

One day while walking through the Palermo back streets deciding what to have for lunch, several of my fellow group members and I came across a small wedding  in progress when we decided to have a look inside a church – oops. It was a very traditional Italian Catholic wedding and we went back outside to wait for the bride and groom to emerge from the church. We cheered along with their family and friends. What a beautiful sight and a beautiful bride. In case you are wondering we had arancini (fried rice balls with parma ham and mozzarella inside), and I finished with, of course, a gelato.

Palermo with its diversity of people, flavors (of gelato) and architecture have left an indelible mark in my memory. What wonderful city.

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Villas, Chapels and Archaeogical Sites – Oh My!

April 30 – May 6, 2012 Villa Romana del Casale, Palatine Chapel, Oratorio di San Lorenzo, Erice, Agrigento, Selinunte, Monreale

Monday, April 30, 2012 – Villa Romana del Casale
On our drive to Palermo we stopped at the small town of Piazza Armerina. Outside of the town were discovered the ruins of a private Roman villa containing an extensive and extraordinary series of floor mosaics which are in impeccable condition. The Villa Romana del Casale is a UNESCO World Heritage site. With an area of over 11,482 square feet, it is thought that the Villa may have been the residence of someone in the management of the Roman Empire. There is ongoing restoration of mosaics and we were lucky enough to arrive on the day that a new section was unveiled. Today’s gelato choice was a simple, refreshing fiore di latte.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 – Palatine Chapel (Palace of the Normans)
I am rarely speechless, as my husband and friends will tell you. Upon entering the Palatine Chapel I was left both speechless and breathless. The Palatine Chapel was built for the Norman kings in 1132 and is a jewel, covered from floor to ceiling with golden mosaics.

John Julius Norwich described it best in his book The Normans in Sicily: “It is in this building, with more stunning effect than anywhere else in Sicily, that we see the Siculo-Norman political miracle given visual expression – a seemingly effortless fusion of all that is most brilliant in the Latin, Byzantine and Islamic traditions into a single harmonious masterpiece.”

If you are ever in Palermo you must visit the Palatine Chapel. Be aware, that for security reasons, it is only open Monday and Friday when the Sicilian Parliament is not in session. The Sala di Ercole (Hall of Hercules), where the Sicilian Parliament now sits, is just as it was when used in the Middle Ages.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012 – Oratorio di San Lorenzo

Oratorios are small, simple structures built as religious and social gathering places for men of the Sicilian nobility in the 16th century. Unremarkable on the outside, inside they exemplify the extravagance of the aristocrats of the era.  A local Franciscan order, Compagnia di San Francesco, commanded the Oratorio di San Lorenzo be constructed back in 1569.

I admit that I have never been a big fan of either Baroque or Rococo art – but I loved the extraordinary elegance of Giacomo Serpotta’s fluid stucco work. His putti (I think of them as cherubs – but properly translated – little boys with wings) romp on the walls, making soap bubbles, playing games, pulling pants down and kissing one another. In contrast to the stark

white walls of stucco are beautiful mahogany pews, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ivory, and resting on carved supports were created during the 18th century.


Thursday, May 3, 2012 – Erice
The medieval city of Erice sits about 2,400 feet above sea level above the Trapani coast. We took the VERY NARROW WINDING road up the side of the mountain. Luckily the cloud that had been hanging over Erice when we past it in the morning had cleared, so the views were incredible – if you could keep your eyes open for the ride. Thankfully, I could. One of Erice’s claims to fame is its wonderful pastries. If you like almonds you’ll love them here. One of the best pastry shops is owned by Maria Grammatico, who learned her art during her childhood spent in a convent. Maria Grammatico with Mary Taylor Simeti wrote Bitter Almonds: Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian Girlhood. I, of course, opted for a gelato across the way. Today it was After Eight and fiore di latte. Mmmmmmm – Brisk – just like the breeze blowing through Erice.

Friday, May 4, 2012 – Agrigento
Ciro picked me up this morning in a beautiful red Italian Fiat. I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about driving through Palermo in a car – since all my experience thus far had been in a tour bus or on foot (both of which, at times, had been hair-raising). Members of my tour group and I had long ago decided that any lights or traffic signs in Sicily were merely suggestions for drivers and pedestrians, not necessarily to be obeyed.

In other words, a red light means if you think you can make it or don’t care if you get hit – then go for it. All the time I’d been walking in Palermo I was amazed at how cars would be parked in a small alley and have the side mirrors folded in so they wouldn’t be hit by a (barely) passing car. When I got to Ciro’s car the mirrors were folded in even though he was parked in a parking lot stall. When he started the engine the mirrors folded out automatically – this must be a special feature for cars sold in Sicily – Cool!!! We drove through the beautiful countryside of the  Province of Trapani. The rolling hills were painted by wildflowers  with patches of red, pink, yellow, blue and purple. Ah, Sicily in Spring – I just knew it would be beautiful.

Because I would not be with my Road Scholar group for its visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Agrigento, Ciro and I decided that I shouldn’t miss it – since one of my biggest interest is archaeology. Ciro dropped me at one entrance and parked the car at the other entrance so we would walk through the huge site and not have to go back through to get to the car. Thank goodness because the sun was scorching that day. I can only imagine what it must be like in the summer.

The site sits on a high plateau overlooking the twinkling turquoise sea. This site has some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece itself.  Its impressive array of archaeological ruins include seven monumental Greek temples in the Doric style, dating back to 6th and 5th centuries BC. The Temple of Concord  is the most impressive surviving Doric temple in the Greek world after the Parthenon in Athens.

Saturday, May 5, 2012 – Selinunte
This morning we decided that since I enjoyed Agrigento so much I needed to see Selinunte since it is so close to Santa Ninfa. It is situated on the Southern coast of Sicily. It is considered to be the largest Archaeological Park in the Mediterranean and in fact in the whole of Europe. It has the ruins of ancient temples around an old city or Acropolis. Even though Hannibal and earthquakes managed to destroy it, it is easy to imagine just how large and important a city Selinunte must have been during its glory.

As we walked through site ominous clouds hung over us. At one point I could see a rain squall out over the sea coming towards us and we took cover under a large olive tree. The rain made the details of the temples truly stand out as if they had been polished just for us.



Sunday, May 6, 2012 – Monreale

Just above Palermo, the massive Norman cathedral at Monreale is adorned in the interior with Byzantine medieval mosaics of the highest workmanship. Two sets of Romanesque bronze doors, of which there are only a handful remaining in Europe. They depict 42 reliefs of biblical scenes set within decorative frames. While Monreale is an enormous and beautiful cathedral, I am still most enamored with the Palatine Chapel.

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How The Search For My Roots Began

When I decided to take a vacation to Sicily (birthplace of my maternal grandparents) I knew I wanted to thoroughly cover the island – not just a 4/5 day tour. So I selected a 16 day tour through Road Scholar – The Treasures of Sicily.

Once I’d booked the tour, I decided that even though I had been unsuccessful many years before trying to find my grandparents immigration information that I would try again before going to Sicily. This time the research was successful and did not take long to find Ellis Island immigration documents for Vincenzo Palmeri and Francesca Giaramida from Santa Ninfa, Sicily. Finding them in the 1930 U.S. Census assured me that I the right people because the address where they were living was the same one I would visit them at as a child in Akron, Ohio. Having found Grandma and Grandpa Palmeri, I decided to see if there was anyone related to me still living in Santa Ninfa or nearby. There had been a devastating earthquake in 1968 and all contact with the family there had been lost. I reached a bit of stumbling block when I was unsuccessful in contacting the local “clerk” for the town via email or telephone.

One last Google search brought me to someone who recommended a couple of researchers in Palermo, Ciro Grillo and Giovanni Montanti. I emailed them the Ellis Island information I’d found about my grandparents immigration (departure date, arrival date, ship’s name) and their approximate dates of birth. Within a few weeks Giovanni was able to send me copies of my grandparent’s birth certificates. From there he found that my grandfather’s brother stayed in Santa Ninfa and from that discovered that I have at least 50 relatives in a town of 5,400!! Oh how I wish my mother could have been around for this news.

And so my journey to find my Sicilian family roots begins. I have decided I will leave the Road Scholar tour near the end and go to spend three days in Santa Ninfa meeting MY FAMILY!!

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