Part 2: Falling in love, sushi and racing horses through the streets of Palermo

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February 28th 2010
Published: April 9th 2010
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Messina to Palermo

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 Video Playlist:

1: calcio 21 secs
2: jazz 45 secs
3: 4 Corners 29 secs
4: market 13 secs
5: Cathedral 38 secs
6: Nursery 14 secs
7: pottery 20 secs
8: Communist Rally 15 secs
9: Cat on Roof 16 secs
10: greensquare 37 secs
11: Four corners 29 secs
12: Fountain Pretoria 43 secs
13: Cafe Noir 33 secs

That damn watch again

I thought I was on time. My brand new watch indicated I was about 20 minutes early for our 1pm encounter. This was the same watch that I had bought just a day earlier at the Reggio Calabria wharf.
That watch is shit.
I was an hour late to meet Bruno. Bruno and I hadn’t communicated well via email and we had misunderstood each other due to the errant performance of Google translation software on both ends. He was not able to host me, only to show me around Palermo a bit. I first went and deposited my items at Hotel Firenze (€10/day), and then tried to return to Piazza Castelnuovo. I say “tried” because I got severely lost trying to return. By the time we were ready to go exploring together, it was 3pm, and Bruno had to leave at 4pm.

Hotel Firenze

At hotel Firenze there was a fat old man dressed like a sea captain, smoking a pipe and screaming on the phone all afternoon. I kind of wanted to use the phone, but I wasn’t going to interrupt. When he finally left, the reservation clerk, an attractive young Sicilian, turned on her music

Me with Alessa and Federica.
- exactly as I would if I had her job. She played about 30 minutes of The Mamas and the Papas, then some Elton John and I was happy.
To return the cultural acclimation favor, when I came up to my room to use my computer and “Hune,” my German roommate, introduced himself, I played some Herbert Gronemeyer for a while.
The hotel is located on the central nightlife street for drinking and carousing, and the music, the mess, and the mayhem goes on all night - leaving plenty of evidence for the next morning. In fact, the streets stay filthy after each night of abuse until the late afternoon of the next day, when bar owners finally sweep it up just in time for the evening assault.

Mild explorations

Bruno did an extremely good job of showing me around in the time we had. Churches, theaters and squares. He led me to a pupi theatre (mannequin puppet shows), and showed me the traditional shops on a common street. Bruno even offered to hold my bags for me while I am in Malta, though this became unnecessary.
Later, I wandered out into the streets, following where Bruno had told
covered in babiescovered in babiescovered in babies

Crawling all over me.
me that I could find some very typical Sicilian food near Piazza Marina.
Indeed, I found a delicious Panini filled with potatti and pesca, talking with the men in Italian. I ordered my Panini as the “Massimo Siciliane possible.”
They handed me a Forst beer, and I used my long legs to step over a fence and plant myself on the steps of a nearby fountain to drink it.
One of the things I love about Palermo is the great ratio of infrastructure to public Green Spaces. I didn’t notice this very much in America, and I assume American cities do a fair job of it - but in Europe it is often a problem. It becomes almost intolerable in some cities. You may be in a beautiful ancient city in France or Italy, and realize that you haven’t seen a single GROWING THING all day. But Palermo is fantastic. There are public green spaces (parks and trees and fields) all over the place.
While I ate, I appreciated the banyan tree in the nearby park. When I was a child in San Diego, I used to climb on a banyan tree in Balboa Park. Of course many other children

Random fatty likes his ice cream.
did as well, and when one of them fell and hurt themselves, they tried to sue the city for negligence (how dare you have this unsafe tree in the city!). The result was a garish fence depriving the tree of the children’s love for all generations to come.
I moved along the fine restaurants near the harbor, and finished my beer while scribbling some notes. I wrote about considering Palermo as a place to live, given how unique it is. Ironically, it has frustrated me (traffic, closed streets, filth) as much as any city I’ve visited, but I don’t hold it directly responsible. There are three or four different kinds of architecture, plus the best of Italian cuisine, fantastic weather, theatres on every corner, and dopplebocks on tap. They even have black people!
While I took my notes, I watched an entire family helping to direct the parking of a car against a huge garbage bin.
On the way back to the hostel, I stopped to eat a cannoli. It was full of delicious ricotta in a very crispy shell. I received a personal cannoli-eating lesson from an old Sicilian man, while watching a live action version of an Asterix
Street horseStreet horseStreet horse

Horses racing in the street
movie on the restaurant television.

Internet, Palermo style

Okay, this is a circus sideshow now. It’s Sunday morning, and I am in the lobby of the hostel. It’s pitch black and the Internet isn’t working. There is a reason for this: showering people are overloading the circuits with their hot water usage. The pipe-man from the day before saw that I wanted to use the Internet, which resulted in me getting to observe this amazing phenomena first hand. He went and got a chair to stand on while outside while he reached up and turned the lobby room circuit on. His effort was quickly nullified about 30 seconds later when it shut off again. So he went out and did it again, and another 25 seconds later it flipped off. We repeated this comedy about 6 times. I tried to tell him it was unnecessary, mostly because it pained me to see his row of computers hard-reboot themselves every time it happened, but I realize this may happen every day, so I can’t feel responsible for their undoubtedly terrible performance.

Observations by the Cathedral

I wandered down to the cathedral, and was fairly blown away by the beautiful square all

This saint was apparently shot by arrows.
around it. The weather is perfect, and this city, of all cities in Europe, has a fantastic ratio of open/public garden space to concrete. It doesn’t seem too hurried, but still very alive, and I am very fond of it. I haven’t made up my mind about the people yet, but that requires more observation.
Outside of the cathedral, I found a bar and had a cappuccino while I ate a croissant and ricotta pastry. The ricotta was a local treat, and quite good. It made me wonder how delicious my friend Rocco’s ricotta would be if it was sugared and made into a fresh pastry.
While I ate this collezione, my searching eyes found a cat on the roof of the cathedral. I watched it as it paced in a circle all around a particular tower. I concluded that if it lives there, it must exist mostly on birds. Certainly there are many birds that land on that huge building, and the decorative spires can make great hiding places for a kitty to pounce from.
On the same topic of domesticated animals and cathedrals, in the middle of the mass, a stray dog wandered it. It ran to the

Great Gelato
middle of the aisle, and when the usher came out to catch the canine, the dog refused to be caught.

Instead of waiting for the dog to find its own exit, the man decided to chase it back and forth across the entire cathedral, and it was quite entertaining to watch. At some points the old man actually ran after the animal. I desperately wanted to get a video of this, but wasn’t fast enough.

After church, I walked to Palazzo De Normanni and another church called Chiesa San Giovanni. This church is famous for being perhaps the only Catholic Church in the world build in the style of a mosque.

Basket of flowers

On the way back to Hotel Firenze, I had the immense pleasure of watching an old woman standing on the balcony of her third story apartment lower a basket to the street level by a rope. She had bought some flowers, and the man on the street placed them in her basket for her to pull back up to her balcony. This too, I missed the chance to photograph.
I do feel like a tourist here. My observations are kneejerk and without context. Sometimes life is more interesting that way, but it’s a temporary condition of new exposure.
On my way to visit the fabulous Fontana Pretoria at the town hall, I walked through a small market near my hotel. The children were playing calico in the street, using a smashed plastic bottle as one end of the goal post and another piece of garbage for the other. The kids excellently navigated the passing foot and motorcycle traffic, moving the game into and back out of the street as necessary.

Horsing around

One distinguishing difference between Palermo and many other cities I have visited is the high number of horse carriages available (for tourists). Have you ever wondered what the horses are doing when they are not in service? Well, in Palermo, sometimes the children race them through the narrow alleyways.
While I watched the kids playing calico, suddenly two children, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, rode their horse to the bottom of an inclining alleyway, the rider of the lead horse, a charming but tiny bay, waited for his friend to line up with him. Then, they raced up the alley at top speed. I would have murder a small orphan child to have caught a video of this, but it happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance.
At the nearby market, I bought some cheese and bread for my new host SERVAS host that I had called just a few hours earlier, and a woman gave me an apple and refused to take my money for it. “Mangia,” she said, waving off my coins. It was the end of the day, and she had been hoping to sell bulk kilos, not €.20 single apples.

”Are you falling in love right now,” said the beautiful woman I had been talking to all night, as she leaned into my ear.

I didn’t know what to say; I certainly wasn’t going to say “no.” Instead I played my foreigner card and explained that we don’t ask questions that way in English. I decided Federica was trying to discern if I was currently in love with anyone. I explained the difference, and we laughed about the confusion.
I had tried a few SERVAS people the previous day without any luck. Today though, I decided to give it one last try. I gave a call to Alessa, a 29-year-old journalist, and amazingly, she said she
at Cathedralat Cathedralat Cathedral

I love the Palermo Cathedral.
could give me a tour and keep my Vespa for me while I am in Malta!
I am now staying at a bachelor pad with a very cool guy named “Gandalf” and his two wiener dogs. Yes, his name is Gandalf. I want to meet his nerdy parents.
Below me on the street, there is the biggest party in Italy going on, with African immigrants, a DJ and fresh fish and fried sweet potatoes.
It wasn’t possible for Alessa to host me at her home (she lives with her family), but she did introduce me to her friends Federica and Rosario, who found me a bed at Gandalf’s house.
Together with Alessa and Federica we tried sampled the local gelato, attended a communist political rally for diversity, ate sushi while listening to a jazz band and ate a buffet dinner. Along the way I met six other friends of theirs, including a professional translator who had spent the last five months in Luxembourg. It was fantastic!
I left the bike at a special pre-school for diversity that Alessa runs with Rosario. There are only 14 students, but they come from many different African countries. When I returned from Malta, I
Cat on RoofCat on RoofCat on Roof

This cat just walked around in circles, looking for birds.
visited the school and played with/watched some of the kids.
Federica taught me a new phrase in Italian. As an exclamation of annoyance, you can put your palm against your head and say, “Santa Pace.”

Santa Pace!

Today I was to fly to Malta. I got up at 5am and my day started out all right. I got to the bus/train station on time, and picked up a morning snack at the pasticceria.
That was about as far as I got though. Immediately the storm hit. I asked where my bus was to pick up, and they pointed out in front of the statue in the center. I waited there, and didn’t see the bus. A few minutes later I saw a smaller bus that said “Terravision” (the name of the bus company) drive off. It was 5:45, ten minutes before my bus was supposed to leave. I waited at the correct place, and asked all of the bus drivers in the vicinity, and they confirmed everything - but the bus didn’t show.
By 6:10, and I had to do something fast. I couldn’t find another bus to Trapani (the bus drivers weren’t much help), so I decided to take a leap of faith and hop on a train headed for Trapani at 6:38. The engineer told me it would take 2:30hrs. That puts me into Trapani at 9:08, with my flight leaving at 10:30am.
I felt ALL better, and starting thinking about my $40 refund from Terravision. At first I was mad at TrenItalia for not mentioning this early morning train on their website… but soon the situation unraveled in to further chaos.
I sat and typed some random sleepy, frustrated spiritual gibberish, which you will find at the end of this piece, if you are prurient enough to read it.
Then I suddenly discovered that the train I was on actually wasn’t heading toward Trapani. I learned that it was headed for Marsala, which is north of Trapani, and would then double back to Trapani. It would be a full 190km, and more than 4 hours. This would put me into Trapani after my plane was set to depart. The engineers on the train coalesced around the idea of me getting off at the next stop and calling a cab - the only certain way for me to reach the airport on time. I exited the train 15km north of Alcamo, and Francesco, the most amazing cabbie in the world picked me up. He straddled his big chair, with its independent suspension system that rocked and rolled while he flew by traffic like nothing I’d ever seen. The fare was €80, but he let me off for €50, given my misfortunes of the day. After I paid Ryan Air €40 because I hadn’t had the opportunity to print a copy of my ticket out, I was ready to fly to Malta without a moment to spare. Here I come!

Promised 5am ramblings from the train

I am exhausted and I have 2 ½ hours to Trapani. It is going to be VERY CLOSE for me to catch my plane, IF it is possible. I am a bit scared, but it’s kind of like when I was riding the motorcycle on Saturday. I rode through dark tunnels and sometimes I had trouble seeing. Sometimes I saw water on the ground in them, and looked behind me see a car directly behind me. I was scared. But then I thought of Peter, walking on the water with Jesus. I thought, “What I’ve done so far is impossible, it’s a miracle that I have reached this far - why would I doubt that it is God’s will for me to continue?” After that, I calmed down a bit and felt very content. Indeed, like the devil testing Christ, just because I feel secure that God will be there for me and see me through to the destiny he has planned for me - that doesn’t give me a license to test him by being reckless.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


With the kidsWith the kids
With the kids

Nursery pic 1

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