We learned that in addition to our tour director, Susanna, we would have a local guide in many of the towns we were to visit. Today’s guide was Jackie Alio, a Sicilian who lived in California for years and writes books about Sicily. With Jackie, we walked through the old Jewish neighborhood of the city. There the street signs are in Italian, Hebrew and Arabic. Today this area houses cookware shops, both retail and commercial, where we saw enormous pots and pans. Soon we reached the Mercato di Capo. Sicilians wouldn’t think of cooking or eating food that wasn’t 100% fresh. That means they go to the market every day. The market twists and turns through many city blocks, and there are lots of stands, each selling fruit, veggies, meat, cheese, fish, or eggs, their merits being hawked in loud voices. The fact that this was not tourist season didn’t impact the market, because it was packed with locals. Nick and I ate lemon ice in remembrance of my grandparents’ Corona neighborhood in Queens.
I asked Jackie if she was familiar with nucatoli cookies. She replied that although she was not familiar with the word nucatoli, Palermo definitely had fig filled cookies. I would continue to search for them.
We visited the Church of the Gesù, built by the Jesuits in 1549 and redone in the 1720s in Sicilian baroque style. Every square inch is decorated with marble bas-reliefs of angels, cherubs, and flourishes.
Next on the agenda was a bus trip to the Cathedral of Monreale, which is among the most impressive creations of the Italian Middle Ages. Built in 1184, the cathedral is filled with extremely impressive mosaics that told Bible stories to an illiterate population. We had been there eleven years ago with my cousin Giuseppe, and we were looking forward to the return trip. As we were preparing to board the bus, Giuseppe phoned to find out how I was feeling!
We weren’t disappointed. Our guide described each story from the Old and New Testaments and gave us time to explore on our own. She told us that Monreale contains 33% more mosaics than St. Mark’s in Venice. Next to the cathedral are the Cloisters, in which arches support columns that are decorated with mosaic patterns. Monreale is not to be missed.
For lunch, Nick and I ordered pizza, “uno per due.” Our pizza was topped with artichokes, spinach, “regular” mozzarella and buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, and pancetta. A few of the shops were open. At one of them, we purchased a ceramic Trinacria, the symbol of Sicily.
Our next destination was the Museo Archaeologico Regionale. Yes, we had been there earlier in the week, but different tour guides explain different elements. Jackie traced the history of Sicily from the Phoenicians, to the Greeks, to the Romans. We learned that Sicily has a similar problem to one they have in Rome. Both cities want to construct subways to help ease the traffic problems. However, every time they start digging, artifacts from ancient civilizations are discovered, and all excavation must stop.
Back at the hotel, it was time to pack, because we would be leaving Palermo in the morning. At dinner time, we walked into a restaurant near our hotel to find that two of our fellow tourists, KB and SweeMee, were dining alone. They invited us to join them, which, of course, we did. They are a delightful couple from Indonesia who now live in Canada. Nick ordered pasta with squid ink, one of his favorites, and it was more risotto with seafood for me. For dessert Nick ordered a slice of seven layer chocolate cake. It was truly amazing. Sure, it tasted good, but each of the seven layers was about 1/4 of an inch high, so the entire slice was less than two inches in height.
We walked 11, 553 steps.