Hi, my friends,
For the first time in months, I have willingly skipped a weekly post on my blog because… I was on holiday! I spent three days in Palermo with L thanks to the voucher Ryanair gave us when they cancelled our flight back in October 2017. We didn’t choose Palermo for any reason other than it was one of the available destinations within the value of the vouchers we had. We didn’t know much about the city, I was mainly interested in the world-famous quality of food and L always wants to travel and explore, whatever the destination. We didn’t read much about the city either until we were in the aeroplane when we had a look at several blog articles L printed about what to do in Palermo. However, I don’t think any guidebook could have helped me anticipate what I actually found.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about my blog posts and how I write them because they currently don’t really follow a thread. I try to write about myself, beauty products and travel destinations but there is no proper style that defines my posts. From now on, I want to try and dedicate each post to a question. The idea is NOT to provide an answer, it’s rather to introduce a reasoning around a problem so that a) it will help me clear out what it’s in my brain at that moment in time and b) it might be of interest for you, my beloved readers and who knows, you might even have the answer I’m looking for!
Having said that, today’s question will be the one friends are asking me right now: Ester, did you like Palermo? The quick answer is: I don’t know (I told you, I don’t really have answers). The long answer is about to be written.
Once upon a time, when we were at a party in Australia, a guy started talking to me about this trip he made to India and I asked him how it was, I’ve always been interested in such a fascinating country. His answer was that when he was there, he hated it, but when he came back he realized that it had been one of the best journeys of his life. Now with Palermo, I feel like I’m experiencing something similar. When I was there, my eyes were too concentrated on gathering information that my brain did not really make a sense of what I saw. I’m only now started to question what I actually saw and how it relates to me and whether I liked it or not.
The first thing I noticed about Palermo was that streets are very dirty, there are lots of those residential buildings that were built around the 70s that are quite ugly in their yellowish colours, each and every single car we saw had at least one scratch, and there are still a lot of local shops as opposed to high street shops (which is not a bad thing at all). That made me feel like I had travelled back to a time when skyscrapers didn’t exist and city councils couldn’t afford to keep the streets clean. When we started to walk around the very first morning, I saw the poverty of a city that is not able to offer a future to its citizens.
A few hours after, though, we were in one of the most magnificent churches I’ve ever seen: Monreale cathedral. When you read in the guidebooks that there are over 6,500 m2 of swirling golden mosaics you are impressed, but you don’t truly understand it until you step in the Duomo. Never have I seen such an imponent church shining that much. Every detail in the Duomo is unique, no two columns are the same and the mixture of Byzantine and Arab style is incredibly fascinating. While standing there, in the middle of the church, you can easily picture the richness of Palermo’s past, when kings and queens gifted the city with spectacular buildings covered in gold mosaics.
This contrast between the poverty of the present and the richness of the past was the first thing that I noticed, together with the wonderful taste of food. We tried arancini, cannoli, ice creams, sfincione, sfincia (the typical dessert that is made only on Father’s Day), ricotta, the famous pasta with sardins, fish, fried eggplants and it was all delicious. While eating, we interacted with people and discovered how friendly and kind most of them are, besides the difficulties of living in a city like Palermo. Everybody was ready to give us advice and suggest yet another place to visit or street food to try, which made our life as tourists much easier. On the other hand, we could see everyone was able to tell straight away that we were not locals and most people actually approached us in English rather than Italian. It was quite weird, it made me feel a stranger in my own country.
On our second day, we visited the Norman Palace and the Ballaro’ market. The first one is a wonderful palace that was used by the Normans and the Spanish as the royal residence and it is splendid. Ballaro’ is a market that is held every day in the streets around the city centre where you can find anything at a cheap price. It is quite crowded, yet some vendors move around the stalls using motorbikes.
Again, we saw the vivid contrast between past and present, the gold of the Cappella Palatina and the grey dust of the streets in the city centre. Here though I noticed another curious thing: Palermo is full of local shops that sell tuxedos and long, elegant dresses for events such as weddings, baptisms, confirmations and so on and so forth. It was as if the city was shouting: if everyday life is miserable, let the events be like stars that sparkle at night, where we’ll all forget who we are, where we come from and simply have fun! Most probably I’m just exaggerating
as usual and people in Palermo carry on with their lives as we all do, in fact, they most probably have a happier life than most of us. One of the reasons might be they live so close to the wonderful beach of Mondello (another highlight of our journey)!
I still have to understand whether I liked Palermo or not. I think the problem here is that I truly loved some places such as the Quattro Canti or the story behind La fontana delle vergogne and the streets in Monreale where we stopped to take pictures and videos, but I also felt quite scared and unsafe in other parts of the city centre, where more than once we saw people taking stuff from trash. The most unsettling part was that it made me question the concept I had of what Italy is and now I just really want to go back to Sicily to explore the country I thought I knew so well but turns out I really don’t.
How about you, have you ever experienced something that weird?
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