Our plane landed in Rome, and we made our way to the gate for our flight to Palermo. I realized that November 17 was the 109th anniversary of the birth of my uncle, John Nucatola. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Uncle John traveled around the world to promote basketball. In addition, his wife introduced Nick to me, so I have very fond memories of them both! I wondered if Uncle John had ever been to Palermo. We so enjoyed our 2005 trip there, and I looked forward to seeing my Palermitan relatives again. We would be having dinner with two of them that evening.
We bought bus tickets and found our bus. We sat back and spent an hour on the bus looking out the window. I wondered if I was related to each passerby.
Our hotel was a short walk from the bus stop. We dropped off our luggage and went out in search of lunch. Rick Steves always recommends restaurants in which the food is fresh and delicious, the menu is small, and many locals are enjoying their meals. We approached a cafeteria-type place and pointed to a few things that looked interesting. We were served plates that contained calamari prepared several ways, shrimp, eggplant rollatini, and artichokes. The seafood had been in the sea hours before we arrived!
Feeling fortified, we walked through the neighborhood and then down to the dock, where I thought of my grandfather, Stefano Nucatola, who worked there before he left for America in 1904.
We went back to our hotel for a rest. Our hotel, the Ambasciatori, was wonderful. Our room faced the courtyard rather than the street, and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. And the elevator was like the one in our B & B in San Francisco and in the movie Charade, a cage that you could see through as you ascended or descended.
When we awoke, we prepared for dinner with my cousins Giuseppe Nucatola and his wife Maria. Although they speak no English, their son and daughter are fluent English speakers. Their son enabled us to communicate easily by cell phone using WhatsApp.
Maria and Giuseppe picked us up at 8:15 PM, a typical dinner time in Palermo. That’s because things close at 1 PM when locals go home, have lunch and a siesta, and then go back to work from 4 to 7 PM. All of my conversations with them were done either by speaking Italian or by acting out what we meant. When they asked what we wanted to eat, I replied in Italian, “Sicilian food.” They took us to one of their favorite places where they knew the chefs and many of the patrons. They ordered, and ordered, and ordered. We ate slices of eggplant that had been floured but not breaded, potato croquettes, sardines, sardines marinara, “pizza” that was essentially salted dough topped with onions, chickpea fritters, artichokes, cactus fruit, and sandwiches. We would see this many times later: the sandwich rolls were hollowed out and the centers were discarded. The sandwiches were filled with meat that had been cooked with onions.
While we were eating, Giuseppe told me that my husband, who is never seen without a huge camera around his neck, looked like a tourist. Giuseppe told me that I must make certain that he holds his camera with both hands. Anyone on a Vespa could grab it with one hand and make a quick getaway. As if that weren’t a sobering enough thought, Maria told to turn my engagement ring (the one I couldn’t get off my finger) around so the stone did not show. I explained that I couldn’t remove the ring. She replied that thieves have been known to cut a finger off to get the jewelry! After that, I kept my left hand inside my sleeve!
We went to a gelateria for dessert, but I was so stuffed that I couldn’t indulge. Then Giuseppe drove us through the city, pointing out the “Champs-Élysées” and the “Rodeo Drive” of Palermo. He took us to a florist shop and introduced us to the owner, a gentleman named Nucatola. The florist said his mother had received a letter from someone in America many years before. I was the sender of the letter!
What a great first day in Palermo we had! We walked at least 7,237 steps that day.