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.