Thursday, March 29, 2007
Palermo- once experienced, never forgotten. That's the motto of Palermo. It is true of the whole of Sicily, a small island but with a history as ancient as the ancient greeks. The ancient Greeks settled on the shores of Sicily and had thriving communities there; they built massive temples to their gods and amphitheatres that seats up to 19,000 people. Ancient Rome fought the Carthaginians (modern day Tunisia) over Sicily in three punic wars. Two adventuring Frenchmen from Normandy, France established their kingdom in Sicily and built cathedrals and castles of immense proportions and beauty, borrowing from Arab and Byzantine influence. The mosaics in some of these churches is second only to those of the Haggai Sophia in Instanbul, formerly Constantinople. Sicily was associated with various christian crusades and with the Knights Templars. Over the subsequent centuries they were ruled by a whole hosts of other Europeans. While being a land of immense wealth, the wealth was concentrated in the few landed gentry. The rest of the Sicilians were poor contadinas. The land is still being farmed by small farmers, no big tractors, no massive trucks to haul produce picked too soon. The salads on restaurant tables were probably picked the same morning- at least they tasted like they were. Sicily is in a class of its own- wild, yet one can find respite. It has everything- beautiful monuments, lovely people, incredible food and quaint old towns. I am still being asked, after returning, why Sicily? It was a trip to Southern Italy the year before that made me decide on Sicily. The movie, 'The passion of the Christ' made me take that trip to Southern Italy, to Matera where it was filmed. While in the south, I visited the Baroque city of Lecce. I couldn't get enough of those cute Baroque buildings. I read that most of Eastern Sicily was rebuilt in the Baroque style after the big earthquake of 1693. On further investigation I realized that Sicily is the place to go for a Baroque aficionado like me. Then plans were made and off I went. Did I see Baroque? Sicilian Baroque is in a class of its own. Sicily is her own persona. It does not apologize for its state of poverty and decay; it does imitate mainland Italy. Sicilians are Sicilians first and Italians second. They travel on a Sicilian identity papers, not an Italian passport. I left my heart in Sicily. Why not Sicily?