Monday, February 19, 2007

cannoli experts already

The drive to Palermo from the airport was uneventful until we passed the crash site; one car with its front wheels on the top of the wall separating the motorway from a back yard, its charred front and top smashed as if it had rolled a few times; the other sideways on the shoulder a few ahead, its insides burnt, front and sides smashed through to the back seats. The fire trucks were still at the scene. Anywhere else, a scene like this would cause traffic to back up for miles as cars slowed to see, out of respect for the potential danger of the automobile; here, the vehicles continued, full speed ahead, ignorant or jaded.

Arriving on a Sunday, even during Carnevale, is probably a bad thing. Italian cities usually hibernate on Sundays, save a few small cafes or bars that remain open for the die-hards. A 4am start time did not make for happy 12-year-olds, though they remained hyper as ever, relishing the hundreds of embalmed former nobility in the Cappucino Crypt and the numerous sugary sweet snacks we mistakenly didn't forbid them from eating.

Today, however, we saw the true Palermo: shouting, honking drivers unafraid to scream obscenities at us for making them stop at the crosswalk for 16 kids; crowded street markets of cheap jewelry and plastic children's Carnevale costumes; sidewalks are covered in vomit, rubbish and dog poo. Once grand buildings cling to their facades to prove their faded prominence, and the mix of Greek, Roman, Moorish and Baroque architecture flirts with fascinating. Shaking our heads, we felt sorry for these sad buildings and their rich history. The hissing is back, too; perhaps a Mediterranean thing? I haven't been hissed at since I lived in Lisbon. Then there is the classy Museu de Pupi, or marionette museum, and its guide who gave the kids a nice tour, and the tiny café around the corner unafraid to let us monopolize their space for an hour and make us all food we enjoyed, and the lovely Botanical Gardens and its charming gardener who told us stories of the plants and their habitats. The beach is concrete slabs; the sea a deep, dark blue due to the permanent clouds covering our sky. The roads are bursting with old cars and even older Vespas, their drivers aggressive and pushy, probably the only way to drive around here. My throat hurts from inhaling fumes all day. We have already become cannoli experts.

We leave the city tomorrow for the ancient ruins sites of southwestern Sicilia.

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