Friday, November 30, 2007


October 20,2007
Here we are, on the train bound for Trapani. We met 4 other Americans on the same train. Two girls attending school in Perugia is going to spend a week at an Agriturismo farm in Segeste-Calatalfimi. Another 2 are just headed for the beach at Castelelomare, then headed back to Palermo to catch their train for Rome. It is raining pretty heavily but we're prepared with rain coats and umbrellas. I don't know if we are able to see Segeste this afternoon in the rain, of course, we can, what's a little rain anyway. In March, we went everywhere rain or shine.
No sooner have we left Palermo and our train broke down. We're being bussed out to Monte Pellegrino where there's a free train sitting on the tracks. We've just been loaded onto the new train, hopefully we'll be on our way soon. Who knows? The 2 beach going Americans decided to turn back to Palermo. Our 2 Perugia going college girls alighted from the train in Calatalfimi but we don't see anyone meeting them, the station is pretty deserted, hope they are alright.
Arrived in Trapani, found our hotel in the old part of town which is a 15 minute walk from the train station. The historical part of town is really pretty, clean too, very unusual for Sicily, full of baroque churches and palazzos. Our hotel is in an old palazzo, our hotel is actually an apartment hotel, we enter through a huge and pretty courtyard and was shown to our apartment, it is really pretty. I didn't have a reservation, unusual of me, I'm usually organized to a 'T'. I had in my notebook the names of a few places I could stay in. The Ai Lumi, (I found it in Rough Guide's Sicily) had a vacancy and that was where we stayed. They owned the restaurant downstairs too and we had dinner there and got a 20% discount on the meal because we were staying in their hotel, a really nice and handsome Sicilian couple. It's a fancy hotel too. I had fish with Couscous, a typical Trapanesi dish, very good. The rate was 70 euros a night with breakfast thrown in. The restaurant is really pretty, the bread was so good. I can't say enough good things about the bread in Sicily. They make such good and tasty bread. We had a choice of at least 8 olive oils on the dinner table. I love Trapani, it's slower and cleaner and newer, after Palermo and Catania, you're not sure if you're still in Sicily, that's the feeling I got in Trapani. It is a good base to explore the west side of Sicily and also the outlying islands.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

San Cataldo

It was early afternoon when we returned to Palermo from Bagheria and we rushed over to this cafe that sold Sicilian food, it's a modern 'McD' but it's all Sicilian food; roasted vegetables, pasta, arroste of assorted meat, roasted potatoes and sometimes involtini. We loved it because it is cheap. When you have to eat every meal out, it gets very expensive and the Euro is so high. It is across the street from Palermo Cathedral. They're not opened for dinner, pity!
Sophie decided to take a nap so I took the opportunity to go out and do some sketching. I was around Piazzi Bellini, sketching San Cataldo. There's no mistaking it with its red domes. We were inside of it the previous day and took pictures of the inside of the domes. It is a peaceful and spiritual place, more so than others because of its association with the Knights Templar's. Notice the Maltese cross on the curtain. Even though the interior is stark and devoid of ornamentation, it is more moving because of the Knights Templars connection. There's no mosaics to gawk at, to detract your attention from the spiritual. When you sit in the pew, it is just you and God, very moving and the memory of the sacrifices made by the crusaders and the Knights Templars. San Cataldo is only opened in the morning, that's why we missed the first trip to Palermo.
Surprisingly Palermo was full of visitors. The piazza was crowded because they were filming a movie. I'm sure I saw Sicilian movie stars, I couldn't tell.
We leave for Trapani the next day.....

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Villa Palagonia 3

These are pictures of the upstairs rooms and also of the garden as seen from the upstairs. Every vantage point upstairs look at some monstrosity starring at you and mocking you. Goethe visited it in 1787 and described it in his 'Italian Journey',
' Our entire day has been taken up with the madness of the Prince Pallagonia. His follies turned out to be quite different from anything I had imagined after hearing and reading about them....The following list may give you a better idea of what Prince Pallagonia has perpertrated in his madness.
Beggars of both sexes, men and women of Spain, Moors, Turks, hunchbacks, deformed persons etc. ...a horse with human hands, many dragons and snakes....
A description of the chapel alone would fill a book. .... In the house, the fever of the Prince rises to a delirium. The legs of the chairs have been unequally sawed off.....'
Obviously Goethe saw a very different villa. The rooms are empty of furniture and the paint is peeling and fading. There used to be a lot more monsters up on those walls, only a few are left. We never saw the chapel, it was locked. Mind you, we saw the villa almost 300 years after it was completed and whatever we saw still worth it.
Three days later Goethe actually saw the perpetrator of the absurdities. He was in a shop in Bagheria and was accosted by a crazy man. He asked the shopkeeper who the wierd man was, the shopkeeper said, that was the Prince himself.
I am so happy I saw Villa Pallagonia. It's a fascinating place with a fascinating history. I'm glad I made the effort to return to Sicily to visit the villa.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Villa Palagonia 2

According to Badeker's Sicily (an old guide book), the small town of Bagheria is situated 12 km to the east of Palermo. In the 17th and 18th century, villas were built here by the aristocracy of Palermo who wanted to reside away from Palermo and didn't want to be too far away.
The most lavish is the Villa Valguarnera (just across the piazza from Villa Palagonia), we tried to see it but it wasn't opened to the public. Like many of the villas in the Bagheria and the palazzos in Palermo, most if not all of them are not opened to the public.
The Villa Palagonia was built in 1715 and Goethe visited it in 1787 and wrote about it. It was acquired by the Castronovo family ( in 1885 and remains in the family to this day. Thanks to the Castronovo heirs I was able to see Villa Palagonia.

The perfect turkey

I've found the perfect turkey recipe. My sister gave me this recipe last year when she and her family spent Christmas at my place. This Thanksgiving I had to get coaching from her. To cook the bird whole stuffed or unstuffed takes hours and hours and no matter what you do, the meat is dry because of the many hours of roasting. The trick is to split the bird and have it lie flat (spread eagle) while roasting. The roasting time is cut to more than half.
Last year, I watched my sister, this left handed, diminutive woman, hacking into a 12 lb turkey in my kitchen. This year, I had to repeat what she did, with the greatest trepidation. A week before, I made sure my kitchen scissors and my cleaver were both sharp, so I went to the knife sharpener guy. He always does a great job, so $9 later, I am ready.
The night before, I hacked into the bird with my cleaver and assisted by my kitchen scissors, removed the backbone (not the chest bone), I had to cut the wishbone in the neck as well so the 11+ lb bird could lie flat on the roasting pan. Then I soaked it overnight in a salt water bath.
Just before putting it into the oven, I placed a whole bunch of chopped garlic and rosemary under the skin of the turkey. It was then roasted at 350 f for 2 hours (only). It came out perfectly seasoned, fragrant and incredibly moist.
I, usually dread turkey leftovers. I have very little leftovers, either my guests were extremely hungry or I cooked too little food, maybe it is a combination of both.
I'm expecting a bigger crowd this Christmas. I'm working on the menu right now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Take time to play with little puppies, the little white dog tied in the yard at Villa Palagonia in the Bagheria suburb of Palermo.
Take time to smell the roses, the lone rose left in the rose garden of Notre Dam cathedral in Lyon.

Coffee with a little zucchero.(sugar)

Take time to slow down and be thankful. It has been a great year only because I made it a great year. I am truly thankful for the year it's been. Happy Thanksgiving!

Take time to smell the coffee or drink the coffee, mmmmm, some great Italian coffee.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Villa Palagonia

October 19,2007 - We took the 10 minute train ride from Palermo to Bagheria to see Villa Palagonia ( We came in by the backdoor, it was locked and I thought we couldn't see it. I made this second trip to Sicily because I read that Villa Palagonia was opened to the public. In it's hey days it was a much visited place, even Goethe visited it and wrote about it in his accounts of his travels to Italy. Today the property is owned by the Castranovo family who allow it to be opened to the public. It looked old, decrepit, wacky and yet beautiful. Rimming the stone walls of the property were placed carvings of all sorts of creatures- dwarfs, maidens, animals, all in whimsical poses, some animals were even humping each other.
I suggested that we walk round the property, even is we can't get in, we can still see the whimsical statutes from the outside. We'd only walked half way when we found the entrance, paid the 4 euros (per person) and in we went. The garden surrounded the villa and the road cuts through the villa from front to back. It had a beautiful garden. All the statutes faced the inside of the property and we are able to see their mocking expressions. Then we climbed the huge staircase, typical of baroque villas in Sicily, to get into the house, the ground floor are where the kitchens and service areas were. The interiors looked really worn, with paint peeling and murals fading, some have fallen off completely revealing the wood paneling of the ceiling. It is still beautiful, mind you it was built in 1715. Every window looks out into some part of the garden and some section of the wall with their whimsical statutes starring back at you. The prince, Prince Palagonia who added these statutes to the walls was thought to be crazy. He went crazy over his wife's indisgressions. I say, he has a different sense of humor, I rather liked it.
I was not disappointed. I'm glad I went back to Sicily, Villa Palagonia, among other things made this return trip well worthwile.
I have a lot more pictures of the villa which I'll publish at a later date.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Palermo, again

I should have set one of the photos upright first before uploading but I forgot, sorry.
My journal reads, October 18, 2007, we are on a train bound for Palermo right now, left Catania half an hour ago. We change trains at Caltanisetta xirbe. This train takes us to the interior. This trip we saw a lot of the interior, we're going to the lesser sights in the interior, but not less interesting. They are very much interesting and unusual. Even in Palermo, there's still a lot of great sights we missed the first time. I don't mind seeing again some of the sights we've seen before in Palermo. They're wonderful and unusual.
But we won't have the time for a do over, alas.
Arrived in Palermo on a hot and humid afternoon. We went to the hotel we stayed in before. Palermo is a mixture of old, decrepit, dirty and smelly buildings, among some gorgeous monuments and churches. We went to the Carmine, a 17th century church with its gorgeous dome but it is in the midst of the very lively Ballaro market, there's trash strewn every where, dog pop, smell of urine and dead and rotting fish permeate the whole atmosphere. It's in a scary neighborhood but just the glimpse of that gorgeous dome was worth the trip. The whole area is so built up, we couldn't get a better picture of the dome, it is different than the others, most are just colorful majolica tiles. This dome stands out, the tiles are bright and the base is beautifully carved with giants holding up the dome, incredibly beautiful, these pictures does not do it justice. Only Rough Guide mentions this church and described it exactly like I just did. It was worth getting hurt (we weren't) just to see it. The place surrounding it was appalling. That's Palermo, one has to come prepared for the filth because there's a lot of it. In spite of it, this is my second visit.
'This island was deadly beautiful, very old, most powerful and strange', Theresa Maggio in the 'Stone Boudoir'
To this I add, 'it charms you and puts a spell on you'.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


We took the train from Catania and headed for Caltagirone, an hour away (I think, I don't remember), arrived in a daze, asked some old guy where the historical part of town is. There are always old guys hanging outside train stations preying on confused tourists. This old guy was there hustling, using his car as private taxi, we said we will walk, he pointed in some direction, so we started walking in that direction. We haven't gone many steps when he came after us in his car, he gave us a lift up the hill to the historical part of town and dropped us off. We wandered around trying to find a tourism office, we came to see 'La Scala' the famous stairways. We found it on our own.
It was originally intended to be a road cut out of the side of the mountain, to get to the church on top of the hill. Later it was obvious that it was too steep to be a road, it was changed into a steps, 142 of them to be exact. The ceramic tiles on the risers were added in the 50's, each layer is different, no one layer of tiles on each riser is the same. The view from above of the old city is beautiful, there are quaint little vignettes at every corner, really charming, the town was rebuilt in the baroque style after the 1963 earthquake. Ceramic tile making is a major industry here, there's even a ceramic tile museum. There is a large and beautiful garden in the middle of the town.
Caltagirone is a really pleasant place to spend a little time in.