Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Road to Sicily - Part 1

I love those Hope-Crosby-Dorothy Lamour road films where they joked and sang their way through all those exotic places. We recently got back from a week in Sicily, and I wanted to share my impressions of this beautiful island in the Mediterranean, so situated as to look like it is being kicked by the toe of Italy's boot. We had studied a little Italian before leaving, but it didn't help because in Sicily, Italian is spoken sideways. Cultural influences embedded there from all the peoples who have occupied the island have left it with a language all its own. We managed to communicate, mainly because my son is the most ardent fan of things Italian that I know, and his unique combination of speech, gestures and charm got us through.

We arrived on October 17, 2011 in the modern city of Palermo to begin our son Matt and his wife Alicia, and Jasmine and me. Our first stop was the Grand Hotel Wagner, smack in the middle of town. It is a formidable old palace that looks like Versailles on the inside. The rooms were comfortable, but in the European style which usually means no bath tub. They also have a sensible energy conservation policy where the room lights go off unless you leave a coded card in a slot in the wall. If you forget to leave the card in the slot, it usually means a toe-bruising stumble to the bathroom at night in pitch blackness. The breakfasts were very good though, something you can't take for granted in Europe. As for other meals, Palermo is full of restaurants, one of which, Antica Focacceria San Francesco, serves a spleen sandwich that my son insisted on trying. It tasted like you might imagine.

Like the rest of Italy, Sicily is full of churches. Every town of any size has its duomo, basilica or cathedral that dominates the main square. With our local guide Virginia, whose voice could be used to break down prisoners of war, we toured St. Mary of the Assumption and the Palatine Chapel of Sts. Peter and Paul (left) whose architecture was clearly influenced by the Byzantines. These are serious churches folks, that dwarf the tiny, modern churches we are building in America these days. The labor and craftsmanship required to build them means we will never see their like again. The altars, statuary, ceilings and columns of these houses of worship are awe-inspiring, and one can't help feel the presence of the Almighty while inside. It's a little off putting to see cheesy souvenirs being hawked outside, but I guess everybody has to make a living.

We had lunch outside Palermo at a magnificent estate called Casale Del Principe (which was billed in the brochure as a "working farm"). It may have started out as a farm, but this place is now an architectural gem with impressive rooms and breathtaking views in every direction. The staff there served us a lunch that would kill most men, but Italians take it in their stride. The meal was accompanied by pitchers of local wine that tasted wonderful, and they brought as much as you can drink. The stop was a good one in that once the folks in our tour group had their fill of vino, the shyness evaporated and people were table hopping and taking pictures of one another like they were old pals.

That night we made the first of what turned out to be regular visits to a combination wine-coffee-dessert shop called Spinnato around the corner from our hotel. They don't really have places like this in the U.S. which is unfortunate because you couldn't think of a nicer way to end your day. One of the treats tourists to Italy always talk about is the gelato, and Spinnato had a dazzling array of flavors. One could sit outside as most people do, or at one of the booths in the rear of the shop. One thing I can't understand is that Italians eat lots of pasta and gelato, and drink lots of wine, so how come they all look so slim and fashionable? You could pick the tourists out of the crowd in a heartbeat, the tip-off being the brand-new (and ugly) sneakers they all wear when they travel.

In Part 2 of this journey, we will visit the stunning city of Cefalu, the wineries at Marsala, and the picturesque seaside town of Mondello, home to the mountaintop shrine of St. Rosalia. On the bus everyone! Andiamo.


Children's Craniofacial Association

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