Monday, 17 October 2011
All life is here
Wow, what an amazing city Palermo is. I wouldn't quite say I conquered it today, it's much too complex for that. But I dived in, I experienced it, I survived. And, can I just say, I loved it too!! I didn't think I would, but I did. I'm so glad I opted not to take the open top bus sightseeing tour today (that's saved for tomorrow) and to head out on foot instead. There was so much to see and experience, it kept me going all day and I finally feel a little bit more at ease in this wild, untamed city.
I decided this morning (after quite the worst breakfast of the entire holiday so far - note to self: business hotels and breakfast buffet are definitely things to be avoided in future bookings), to take the walking tour described in my trusty guidebook. By the time I stopped for a restorative coffee 2 hours in, I had already been lost about 4 times. Not lost as in, no idea at all where you are kind of lost, but not where I'm supposed to be and not really sure where that actually is anyway, kind of lost. But it was all part of the adventure, and I can safely say I loved every single minute of it. OK, the part where I couldn't find the way into the Palazzo Reale was a bit annoying, but otherwise, it was a blast!
I started off in familiar territory at the Teatro Massimo but quickly broke my own rule about empty streets by diving off - as the guidebook told me - down a fairly quiet one. I knew where it was going, the guidebook had directed me there, surely it would be ok? I confess to a momentary flutter of nerves, but I pressed on and I'm so glad that I did. Very quickly the environment changed from major city street to residential barrio - a place where real people lived and worked real lives.
Palermo is a decidedly real city. There is none of the sterile modernity you get in a lot of European urban areas. Here, even right in the city centre, are people's homes and places of work. Not office work either, workshops - people making real things for real use, not just pieces of tourist ephemera. And despite the grime and obvious poverty, it is a city that feels loved. Yes, there's litter overflowing from the communal rubbish collection points, and there's dust and broken buildings wherever you look. But there's also a sense of pride - stubborn, love or leave me, take me as I am kind of pride, but pride all the same.
Of course, heading off down the side street I immediately got lost but fairly quickly found my bearings again - the trick is to find a few landmarks (in reality or on a map) when you start, and orient yourself by them when you lose your way. But once I found my feet again (and again. And again!) I managed to wind my way round several churches in various flavours of Norman, Arab, Roccoco, Baroque and Mediaeval, a full on market, a legendary Palermo eating establishment, several palazzos, the Cattedrale, and the Sicilian Assembly building and attached Palatine chapel and Royal Apartments! Not bad for a day's walk/work.
But the biggest achievement was finding a way to love this city. I didn't think I would manage it, and I might change my mind again tomorrow. But for now, we're an item. And I'm pleased about that.
Why not have a look at my photos on Flickr and see what you think...