Palermo. Where do I begin? Words swirl in my head at trying to aptly evoke the feeling that is this city.
Imagine, if you will, an apple.
A little withered, puckered perhaps, but natural. This apple is not coated with wax and polished to within an inch of its life before being displayed on a supermarket shelf for shoppers to stare at. It has spots, little rotten patches, it has lived. But if you dare to take a bite you will see that the fruit that is still good is sweeter, richer, filled with memories of sunshine. My lonely planet guide says Sicily is more of a expresso than a cuppacinno and I see this now. And no where more than Palermo. There are old parts of the city that if you walk through you feel as if you are not sure if you are still in Italy. The middle east, perhaps. Or here you are in Africa.
The markets are an explosion of color and noise and smells, all vying for attention. Stray dogs prowl between stalls, eating scraps from under the tables of the fish vendors. Artichokes piled so high you fear for their health nestle alongside zuchinis and abundant herbs.
Everything is wildly cheap. 1 euro for a kilo of almost any fruit or vegetable that is available. Trays of spices in little bags. Fennel, each bulb looking more appetising than the last.
Half rabbit carcases hang from hooks and enormous swordfish heads displayed alongside shiny trays of squid of every size… The vendors are all yelling at you in Sicilian and the sun is shining and your nose becomes assualted with a deluge of smells. One moment there is the aromatic scent of fresh oranges the next you are hit with wet dog. Fancy a sniff of salty seafood followed by a blast of hot black coffee? You got it.
I am staying at the house of a wonderful spanish girl in the old part of town. Last week I stood on the roof terrace. 360 panorama. In one direction is a huge baroque church, ornate and imposing.
An apartment building so modern it wouldnt look out of place in Sydney.. all shiny white plaster and repetitive square windows.
A narrow street, alley even, lit only by a dingy light that spills from small windows and between cracks. Large rusting sheets of tin lean lean against walls, bordered by piles of rubbish and a rummaging wild dog or two. Beams of wood criss cross between houses, for what purpose, I am not sure. The words ‘slums’ scuttles across my mind.
Ancient stone building, crumbling and graphitied. Held together by sheer character and possible a little mortar.
And above and beyond all this the mountains sit. Ancient and unchanging. A beautiful thing, really, to see mountains while in a city.
From this roof you can get a feel for this mismatch city. A metropolis ran just as much by the mafia as by the government. It was under middle easter rule for over five hundred years, a trading port, this is a city where it is sometimes hard to breath.. but it is easy to fall in love with the temerity of this puckered, spotted, sweet, sweet apple.
I have been in Sicily for just over two weeks now, and I am wonderfully glad that I came south. It may be december in Europe but it is hot and sunny by day and refreshingly cool by night here on the Island that gets that most days of sunshine of anywhere in Europe. I have spent a weekend in Favignana ( the dot of an island renkown for tuna fishing) swimming in crystal clear beaches and exploring rock mines that we later found out to be extremely dangerous…whoops!
We bycycled, cooked, talked and lay in the sun drinking beers.
This week I explored Syracusa’s ancient Roman and greek ruins with a Belgium guy named Gijs before bussing it to Agrigento to get all gangsta in the sun while enjoying the breathtaking valley of the Temples.
Almost defying gravity due to the awesomeness of this place…
Back in Palermo the night life spills out from the bars onto large piazza’s.. a thriving mass of humanity. On saturday we went to a live performance by a local band that was a fantastic blend of balcun and celtish sounding music where we danced till we were sweaty and laughing and out of breath…
The people I have met here are a wonderful bunch. Life somehow moves faster and slower here in the South and I am now in the process of organizing to do wwoofing (wordwide oppertunities on organic farms )… Next week the farm adventures will begin and a whole different experience awaits.. Excited plus! Come to Sicily.. Its glorious here!