I was pleased to find yogurt on the breakfast buffet this morning. Cheese, ham and sweet breads and croissants don’t cut it for me first thing in the morning. Ooo, and it was a mango yogurt – yummy. I kept digging and digging for mangoes and wondered where they were hiding. Then I reread the label: not mango but magro, which means plain!
Ah, well. I was off to explore the market before meeting up with the group. It was sunny again which meant that it would be good for photos and I took lots of the huge trays of tomatoes and peppers, and the strange fish with faces! I became so enthralled by the whole scene that I had to run back to the hotel to meet with the group at 9 a.m.
Alicia met us to tell us the news that we dreaded, but anticipated. Ian had died, and his family were en route from England. She recounted her horrendous day having to deal with the police authorities and British embassy officials in Rome who were unhelpful.
We should have been heading out by bus but Alicia couldn’t face going to a bus station again and so she had ordered two vans to pick us up and take us to Monreale, a small town perched high above Palermo. Parts of the newer sections of the town reminded me
of the homes in the Berkeley Hills. The whole economy of the town is built on tourism, centered around the duomo. It was filled to capacity with groups of school children in their brightly coloured caps, reminding me of my trip to Japan in 2006. The ceiling was one mass of mosaics, begging the question in my mind – when is so much too much?
After, we wandered round the town which was obviously preparing for some sort of festival with men putting up huge lights across the narrow streets. Then back in the vans to Palermo. We were all hungry and I found a place to eat outdoors and ordered a selection for fresh veggies to make a change from all the pizza and pasta we’d had over the last couple of days. Sheryl and Alicia joined me and as we were heading back to the hotel we passed a horse drawn carriage. On a whim I asked how much it would be to take a ride. How touristy is that? But we’d been walking around Monreale for 3 hours
and so it seemed a good way to see other parts of Palermo. Alicia negotiated with the driver, and after much, I mean much, gesticulating, she settled on 30 Euros each and rather than going on the regular route Sheryl and I would be taken for a ride along the waterfront. It was a surprisingly calm ride despite the cars, police cars and vespas whizzing past and almost, but never quite, colliding at crazy angles. We passed three opera houses and, on the recommendation of our driver, we stopped briefly at the Botanical gardens. The large greenhouse had very little inside and I was quite disappointed, expecting to see ‘weird and wonderful blooms.’ (That’s the name of one of my piano compositions). We did get to see the most amazing trees, however, with strange interweaving trunks that looked like human limbs intertwined. There was also a bamboo grove and an avenue of trees with spikes on the trunks. The trunks were bottle shaped:
most un-treelike and had cotton balls along the branches. We passed yachts in the harbour and real fishermen gathered together mending their nets. This was for real, not a tourist ruse. It was a pity we couldn’t stop for a photo of that. It would have looked great in sepia!
After the hour’s ride I was ready for a drink before heading off to the catacombs. So Sheryl and I found a lovely outdoor place and we swapped life-stories. Is there something about meeting fellow travellers that allows people to be so open. Perhaps it’s because you suspect you’ll never meet them again. If so, what does that say about society in general?
Sheryl returned to the hotel and I headed off to the catacombs which were just off the top of my tourist map. I knew they closed at 6 and I suspected that perhaps the last entry would be at 5, so I walked pretty briskly. Well, as briskly as possible with vespas parked on the 12″ pavement making me walk into the traffic every couple of yards. Uneven pavements, potholes, sink holes, dog shit – yet it was totally exhilarating. Why? I think it was because I was alone in a huge city, finding my way around. Books that had spoken to me about such adventures filled my head: ‘Without Reservations,’ ‘Eat Pray Love.’ The day before I’d left for Sicily I’d watched a couple of documentaries and learned of these catacombs. Here the bodies are not skeletons but have been mummified and the bodies clothed.
Initislly only monks were buried here but over time it became the final resting place of the aristocracy too. Some of the bodies are posed in chairs and in family groups. Some wealthy merchants left clothing and instructions as to when their clothes needed to be changed. I knew that there was also one much more recent body, that of a two year old girl who died in the early 1900s. I hoped that there was some warning of that burial because, judging from the documentary footage, I didn’t think I could handle that. There were only a couple more people in the underground crypt at this late hour and I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about being so close to these mummies. If I’d have stretch out my hand I could have touched them. No photography was allowed. All of a sudden I nearly jumped out of my skin. Someone’s cell phone rang! The newer grave was clearly marked and I avoided that section of the crypt. I wondered if I’d have nightmares, but I didn’t.
Returning along via Victor Emanuel I passed through the original gate to the city from where you had a direct view to the sea. The huge statues adorning the gate certainly
looked more African than European. I wanted to give myself an hour’s rest at the hotel before I met with the group for dinner but just before I arrived I caught a glimpse of a courtyard leading to the opera library and opera museum. Ah well, I thought. I’m not going to pay an entrance fee since I don’t have the time to spent there. Whoops! It was free, so here I go. There were costumes and pieces of sets from various operatic productions including a tiger, an elephant and a horse. In the library people were actually doing research with big books of old newspapers stretched out before them on enormous tables. I asked someone to take my photo ‘inside’ one of the props!
I found a bookshop close by. “Montalbano. Inglese.” The shopkeeper understood me perfectly and showed me to a shelf of Detective Montalbano books in English. I bought one. By the time I got back to the hotel I only had 15 minutes before we left for another al fresco dinner in the square. I’d walked 11.6 miles. Yeah for me.