The End of the Affair?
I’m ready to go home. I wrote some weeks ago, somewhere else (http://kelloggoxford.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/a-postcard-from-palermo), that I was a little in love with Palermo. I suspect that this is the end of the affair. It was always one-sided, anyway. Did Palermo ever care for one more middle-aged Englishwoman enjoying its rough edges? No. It will continue on its filthy, courteous, way, refusing to conform to the tourist industry norms, defiant of tripadvisor to the last.
A long Palm Sunday helped speed the end. My daughter had come out to Sicily, on the spur of the moment. I thought it might be interesting to make the journey to the archaeological wonder that is Selinunte. Perhaps it was having my daughter here, but I slipped back into a northern European mentality. I checked timetables on websites: if it was on the web, it was true. I made a plan, it would all work out. Selinunte was ‘the most beautiful and evocative Greek archaeological site in Sicily’. Just look at this website: http://www.thethinkingtraveller.com/thinksicily/guide-to-sicily/archaeological-sites-in-sicily/selinunte.aspx.
We never got there. Instead we spent five hours in Castelvetrano. Despite the best efforts of the flower-seller (who sent us to the bus-stop by the cathedral in the lower town), and then the old man (who sent us back up to the bus-stop by the park in the upper town), and then the woman in the bakers who said we could phone a taxi from the police station, and, much later, the officer who let my daughter use the loo in the police station, I cannot say I warmed to Castelvetrano. There was no bus. There was, however, the taxi driver from hell.
It being Palm Sunday, the town was going about its own business, people carrying food to each others houses. It was hardly welcoming, but so be it. We ended up sitting in the square outside the police station, waiting for the evening bus back to Palermo. The only people left on the streets showed an unhealthy interest in my daughter. It didn’t help that she cuts a rather striking figure in Sicily. She is six foot tall for a start, which despite the Norman input in the eleventh century, is not common here. A number of gentlemen thought it would be rather fine to sit in their cars and stare at her. Some even made suggestions as to what she might like to do with them. This got rather wearing after the first two or three hours. There were probably better ways to handle the day, but right then and there, I couldn’t think of them.
Not quite the end of the affair? Last night, my final evening in Palermo, the city revealed, yet again, why it has won my heart. It was partly sitting by the dock of the bay, drinking wine, a final aperitivo, the light on the water of the Kala harbour, the fishermen mending their nets, the encircling mountains sharply defined in the early evening light. And then, walking home, and witnessing the Good Friday procession as it moved, inched, from the waterfront up through the Piazza San Domenica, our piazza, turned in homage but did not enter the alleyway into the Vucciria market, our market, where in a few moments, I will go to buy my last loaf of sesame-seeded bread. There was none of the well-drilled pomp of English ceremony. Instead, there was sweat on the brows of the men carrying Christ’s body, those carrying the weeping Madonna. Instead, the band played, over and over and over, a relentless dirge. I cannot share their beliefs, but I can be touched, hugely, by the effort and integrity of their rituals. I felt the weight that they were carrying.
This morning, checking the news, I see an article, written yesterday, in the Guardian newspaper. About Castelvetrano, a town I had not heard of until this week. And I am reminded of the other Sicily, present in Castelvetrano, and no doubt in those Good Friday rituals last night, if only I had eyes to see it. I start wondering about those men in those cars. And I feel slightly ashamed, again, of my romanticism.
Maybe it is time to go.