Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sicily, again

I have 2 more weeks of vacation in October and I intend to return to Sicily to finish seeing the rest of the island. I found a great flight (not fare) on Air France and Alitalia that will take me in and out of Catania, Sicily from Los Angeles. There is no time to take the train between Catania and Rome though I would have loved it. At the water's edge, the train breaks apart (with passengers inside) and gets loaded onto ferries and taken over to the other side where it gets reassembled on the tracks. This time I will head west to see Segeste, Erice, Trapani and Piazza Amerina and will also return to some cities I saw on my last trip.
Palermo- I intend to see more of the works of the Sicilian scupltor, Giacomo Serpotta. His 'putti' works at the Oratory of Santa Cita is so delightful. He is able to make plaster shine like marble and he decorated the whole room with plaster figures' they were placed haphazardly but into scenes depicting the rosary. The rosary are a series of prayers; when one prays the rosary, one prays a whole series of prayers to Mary. It is a very catholic thing to do. I am not a catholic. The rosary has special significance to Sicily. There was this famous battle of Lepanto. Sicily, being in such a strategic position was always the target of foreign invasions. In the battle of Lepanto, the Sicilian fleet helped in defeating the Ottomans. It was a fierce battle and the pope at that time asked the people to pray the rosary everyday. They credited the victory to Mary's divine intervention. There were a whole series of cults dedicated to the rosary springing up in Palermo, each having their own oratories decorated to honor the rosary. An oratory is just a small chapel. Giacomo Serpotta was commissioned to decorated a few of them. In fact, in Palermo, his work is found in a lot of oratories and churches. There is a special tour called the Serpotta itinerary where one can see all his works. His work at the oratory of Santa Cita is the most memorable. At the end of the room, he made a depiction of the battle of Lepanto. The little plaster figures look almost alive on the walls of the oratory. They are playful and yet meaningful. I have just acqquired an out of print book by Donald Garstang called, 'Giacomo Serpotta and the stuccatori of Palermo 1560-1790' that shows and explain all the works of Giacomo Serpotta. While he is the most famous, he didn't work in a vacuum. He had 'mentors', Gagnini, who preceded him, for one. Gagnini's work can be seen all over Palermo also. Giacomo's father, Gaspare did plasterwork in the cathedral of Palermo. So did Giacomo's brother, Guiseppe, in fact, both brothers have collaborated in a few commissions. Giacomo's own son, Procopio has numerable commissions all over Palermo. There were a lot of others but Giacomo's work stood out.
In fact, during this period in Palermo's history, the plasterwork of all these artists is what makes the churches and chapels of Sicily so unique. This, together with the colorful marble inlay work and the mosaics and the baroque style architecture makes Sicily an amazing destination. The island, while small, has everything to enthrall everyone.
If one is into the baroque, there are whole cities rebuilt in the baroque style notably Noto, Ragusa and Modica. If one is into food, Sicilian food, while not having too many dishes is delicious, substantial and unique. It is rustic at its very best. Beaches, anyone? The whole island is surrounded by water. Baroque interiors- one needs only see Casa Professa, a Jesuit church where every inch is richly decorated with colorful marble inlay and plaster figurines.
If one is into something older, there are ruins of ancient Greek temples and amphitheatres all over the island- Taormina, Siracusa, Agrigento, Selinunte and Segeste.
The food, I've said before is memorable. In fact, since I came back, I have made 'Caponata' twice. I love it.

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