Sicily is full of energy and history; a land of Greek mythology. Until now most of our time has been spent around the small village of Chiusdino, home to around 1000 people. In Palermo the sound of car horns is so consistent I think the passengers and pedestrians must have them as well. We arrived in Palermo rather late and after a tired but beautiful ride into the city found a bar open all night not far from our bed and breakfast. Bar Nuit, but we ended up just calling it “Nut Bar,” since that pretty much wrapped up the after-hours clientele (including us). Between beers we sampled a Sicilian specialty called arancini which are fried balls about the size and shape of an orange filled with rice and various savories. We finally decided to retire and from our balcony in the small B&B we heard the sounds of the city all night, and some yelling and tire screeching from the nut bar as well.
The next morning began our intense tour starting with a trip to the cathedral at Monreal which has an extraordinary mix of Pagan and Catholic Baroque decor. From Norman double arches to opulent nudes to golden mosaics of the old and new testament it was difficult to pin this place down to any one style or time period. We soaked up as much as we could then headed back down to Palermo to look at tiles in a small antique market. We got a hot tip on a discotek from Salvatore at the mobile phone store and ended up dancing all night in an spacious stone building that was once part of the old harbor. There are so many Guiseppes and Salvatoris here!
We woke up late and made it back to the tile shop and then off to a few more. We also got a tour of Casa Zisa, an old hunting lodge in the process of being renovated. It was another example of many architectural styles mashed together and bastardized as generations of families modified it before the state got it back.
After an earlier night we rented a car and made for Caltigirone. On the way there we visited an old roman hunting lodge and baths (Villa Romana del Casale) with incredible tile mosaics on the floors. After many mudslides not everything was intact but my two favorite parts were the room of Roman ladies recreating in bikinis and the Domini’s private lavatory. The ovens for heating water for the baths were also fascinating.
Then we jumped back into our little Punto and made it into Caltigirone (something like “round castle”) and made a beeline for the ceramics museum. There we were granted entrance gratis even though we did not have written proof of our statuses as students of ceramics. We were also furnished with VHS tapes of a film about the museum, also gratis. Probably the most interesting thing about this regional museum was how locally the pieces had been collected. The staff was also quite warm and passionate. I think we were the only visitors. We headed out of town a bit to find a certain ceramics shop called Cotto Calatino. The owner/operator was very kind and gave us a special tour of his studio and talked to us (in Italian) about the technique of glazing volcanic stone.
Then we drove to Siracusa. Siracusa is like, WOW. A freshwater spring just a stones through from the ocean where a little papyrus still grows in reference to ancient times. The cathedral in Siracusa stands out for me because the Greek columns that once surrounded the temple have had the spaces between filled in to create the outer wall. To be able to touch these columns and see the oceanic fossils still in them was such a direct connection to the past. The cathedral is dedicated to Santa Lucia so there are many ominous pairs of eyes watching the visitors.
In the evening some squares fill in with food and drink vendors attracting both locals and tourists. We ate outside and found some places where people were dancing. Well, mostly it seemed they were just interested in seeing how many people could fit into a small room. In the south, people eat dinner much later so we were able to get a table and have my favorite pizza yet which had ricotta and spinach, a much needed respite from cured pork.
The following day we visited the Archeological museum which was simply mind blowing. The sheer number of greek ceramic objects brought the history to life more than anything else I have seen. Both the pottery forms and sculptures were inspirational and again I feel anxious about not having time to make. I forgot my camera in the car so you will have to wait for Brian’s photos.
We headed back to Palermo to drop off tiles to ship back to Chiusdino and to catch our plane to Pisa, but we went by way of Messina to see more of the landscape. Before stopping at Cefalù to see a megalithic wall we took a little break and swam in the sea which was as cold as it was clear. A minor wrong turn put us in Santo Stefano di Camastra, a small town full of ceramics shops and laboratories. Somehow we still managed to put gas in the rental and get to the airport in time for our flight. From Pisa we got so deep in discussion and fatigue we missed several turns. We made it back to the hill after midnight but waxed philosophic until after 3am. I will not forget Sicily.