Yesterday we spent church hopping, to see the mosaics created by Venetian and Egyptian artists for the Arab-Norman churches in the 12th century. The Venetians created these beautiful Byzantine-style religious mosaics, while the Egyptians decorated floors, columns, and walls with elaborate geometric patterns, in the Islamic tradition of not rendering anything found in the natural world. Occasionally we find stone mosaics with images of animals inlaid.
La Capilla Palatina in Palermo:
El Duomo in Monreale:
This huge church complex (in a town 310 meters up on a rocky peak),was completed in only ten years, so you can imagine the labor force involved. The other day, Domenico informed us that Palermo has over 200 churches, and remarked,“Building churches was the main business back then.”
I will refrain from caustic remarks on the wealth misspent on such projects. They are beautiful, and a testament to human organization and artistic appreciation.
Driving to Monreale was a testament to Larry’s ability to drive in Palermo, or anybody’s ability to drive in the city for that matter. It is not for everyone, and if you can avoid it, do. Rule 1:you cannot be on cruise control, attention is primary. Rule 2: go slow, but go with the flow. As a passenger/navigator, it was fascinating for me to watch as drivers of cars, trucks, motorcycles and scooters braided through the streets, hairs apart. Everyone gets where they are going, and the pace makes it easier to maneuver and not lose the way. Furthermore, the city designers have made arteries that facilitate the movement of traffic in and out of the city, especially in the newer parts; if go down streets in the old section, good luck to you!
The more challenging aspect of having a car in Palermo is the parking. Expensive in the parking garages, hard to find on the streets. We considered our space quite a find after only ten minutes yesterday, a quarter mile away from the pad.
Our host Max showed us the quickest way to get out of town, which we sort of followed, and got to our destination of Scopello easily. On the way the landscape had the drama of the Southwest and Iceland: huge bare mountains fanning into fertile plains by the edge of the sea. It never ceases to amaze.
On the way, driving on a busy two-way road, we passed a group of horseback riders. An hour later they rode into town, to refresh their steeds.
We are staying at the Pensione Trachina, cool and quiet.
Our hostess Marisin came here from Panama nearly forty years ago to start a new life with her husband, whose family has lived here for generations (he emigrated to Panama briefly for work). She told me the town was centered around a hunting lodge for an aristocrat in the 13th century, the two-storey building with the arch being the remains of the original structure.
I assumed the well and watering trough were very old, but Marisin said her mother-in-law (scrubbing away in photo) would have to go further out of town for water when she was younger.
Dinner was served at eight: pasta, fish, roasted veggies, fruit, and a chocolate ricotta cake. Very good.
Breakfast included fresh sheep ricotta, toast, tomatoes, local olive oil and honey, freshly juiced fruit, cappuccino.
A great day for a hike in the Zingaro Reserve, which was established after a hard-fought battle by conservationists and the local population. We hiked for several hours along the coast, stopping for a rest at this beach of white marble pebbles, clear turquoise water, and a school of silver fish swimming among the bathers. Sublime.
Dinner at another restaurant: pasta with sardines and fennel leaf, swordfish in a mint butter sauce, sautéed zucchini. Just right for our last night in Sicily. On to Rome!