Our man [formally] of Amsterdam

Take me to your Godfather
December 22, 2009, 21:08
Filed under: Italy

I’m not sure what the track record of the Sicilian rail network is like but the central station in Palermo has a fully-fledged chapel. It’s right beside the ticketing counter in the main lobby. This can be looked at in one of two ways; either travellers feel the need for prayer before embarking in the hope of arriving safely, or they can give thanks on completing a successful journey.

This is just one of many surprises encountered during my 36 hours here. The first is the cold, and I left my thermal gear in Amsterdam thinking it wouldn’t be needed this  far south. The town feels a bit unkept, grungy, even ‘unshaven’, but it oozes a character and charisma quite different from its more illustrious urban counterparts on the mainland. It seems you have to really look for the historical gems, the architectural treasures, the piazzas, for they are hidden or tucked away, not like the in-your-face monuments of Rome or Florence.

Grand architecture and garbage piles, side by side

And in Palermo, these testaments to Greek or Roman or Phoenician or Spanish or Arab or Norman occupation are just as likely to have washing hanging off the portico or rubbish piled beside a 2000-year old Corinthian column. This nonchalance is refreshing in a weird way. So is the freezing cold air moving swiftly from snow somewhere. Perfect timing if a White Christmas is want you want.

Via Maqueda is closed to traffic but very open to pedestrians. Lights are strung up between buildings, shops trade, people buy, bands march, Santa arrives and children cry. I defer lunch; well actually, it was two cannoli and an espresso machhiato. Dinner is seafood risotto, plus what seems like an entire loaf of sourdough and a half bottle of vino rosso de cassa.  Supper is a pistachio biscotti and grappa.

Back at the hotel, the security door, “locked after midnight”, won’t open, and I do my best to convince the night manager through the intercom that I’m a legitimate guest and that the door seems to be jammed. She bellows instructions but to no avail. My fingers are numb and I can’t tell if I’m pressing the speaker button properly for her to hear me. After that, she comes down the two floors to the street to let me in and all the way back up the stairs she is talking very vigorously and passionately in her native tongue, though I’m guessing it wasn’t about Aussie Marco Bresciano’s starring role that afternoon for Palermo in their stirring win against Siena. Welcome to Palermo; mind the weather.

See Sicilian photo set on Flickr here.


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