The route from Selinunte to Palermo takes you past the turn off to my ancestral town of Partanna. I looked twice at the sign as we went by, as if to verify that it in fact exists and my past in part lies here. After that you drive past large and steep mountains along the coast, near the airport and elsewhere. Flat areas lead up to them so you get great views of their breadth and number, not just the height.
The first time I drove in Palermo was back in the 90’s. We rented a car in Luxembourg, driving south to Genoa. I think by then I’d learned that Colombus was actually Colombo, born in this very coastal city, and not Spanish. We went through the Alps to get there, descending to the city through long tunnels on well engineered highways. The Italians do know a lot about road building. We descended to the port to take the ferry to Sicily. We passed Corsica and Sardinia along the way, the latter far off the starboard, and then some coastal islands on the Sicilian coast. I imagined seeing Ulysses float by, tied to the mast. There was no Ulysses on this drive, but a Garibaldi or two instead, with notes of The Leopard floating around there somewhere. Sicily rolls out before us, changed much yet there is much the same.
Once in town we easily found our apartment, right across from Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, home of the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana, which played in the plaza across the street the next evening. The apartment is in an old building – there are many thousands of those in Palermo. We had a code to get in the main entrance, where we retrieved the key. The apartment is just a floor or two up. There’s an old elevator that stopped a half floor above the apartment door. Once inside we could see that the apartment was built in two buildings, unless strange layouts and a living room on a lower level are somehow typical. The kitchen is one butt wide, stuck in a closet along the hallway.
There’s a bronze four horse chariot at the Teatro entrance, and three bass reliefs. The huge plaza in front affords a broad view of the impressive structure. Cross it and you are on Liberta, the main drag that’s now a pedestrian zone. It has many posh shops and eateries galore. In this area you find several churches that house amazing works of art. You come to Cuatro Canti – Four Corners. Up the hill is the Cathedral with its impressive mosaics.
Perhaps the most impressive art is to be found in Chiesa Gesu ( Gesu means Jesuit), and not just impressive compared to other churches, but it holds its own to any other structure anywhere, even St Peter’s in Rome. Innumerable Ph.D. dissertations are packed into this Baroque structure completed in 1636, measuring a mere 72.10 m compared to St. Peter’s 212m in length.
It suddenly struck me as equally astounding as the art in Gesu is the complexity of these constructions projects. You have building materials to collect, stone workers to organize, artists to hire and train as well as their materials to find and transport. All of this has to be financed, with monies collected and disbursed. No doubt there were lots of problems, some imposed by nature and others by clever crooks, but here it is today still with us, as astounding as ever.
Santa Caterina is a veritable art museum for Baroque painters as well as sculptors, and a great bakery to boot, as you find out as you wait in the cloister for the numbers of visitors to subside to safe levels. Lots of pistachio based goodies.
While our friends were still with us we had some delightful meals as well as some less so. We went to one of our favorite local places. It had declined compared to two years. The same with another we went to after it was just the two of us left. Similarly the famous street market, the Mercato della Vucciria, is all but gone, a victim of the pandemic.
By that time we were tiring of Sicilian food, which had become repetitive. We found a Roman restaurant, named Cacio and Pepe. Cacio and pepe is one of the four truly Roman pasta dishes, served in almost every restaurant in its home city. The food and service at Cacio and Pepe was so good we returned for the final night out for the six of us. Antipasto came out but we had to wait for the wine, which was white and still very warm. They offered to chill it at the table. I turned down the bottle. On a warm night like this one it would probably take 20 minutes to chill a bottle of very warm wine and in the meantime we already had our antipasti. I had them bring another. It was well chilled. Otherwise it was a delightful experience, outdoors in an attractive setting on a side street off Liberta.
The next day our friends departed by train and plane. After checking into a strange little basement apartment we went to the Regional Archaeological Museum Antonino Salinas. We went there in 2019 during our month long sojourn. Immediately I regretted not taking our friends, for it contains many superb items collected from Selinunte.
My second regret was not taking them to see more of Serpotta. You can not see his work elsewhere. See some of his superb sculptures, mostly in plaster, see photos and video on my post: https://garyjkirkpatrick.com/the-heights-of-serpotas-art-the-oratorio-santissimo-rosario-in-santa-cita/