Monday, May 30, 2016

Getting Out of Dodge

OK, we are sitting in the Palermo airport waiting for our flight to Paris and I have to tell you our brief feeling of content in Piazza Armerina evaporated pretty quickly.  In Agrigento we checked into the Villa Athena, the only hotel actually on the grounds of the Archeological Park of the Valley of the Temples.  The Villa has rooms with views of the Temple of Concordia and we snagged one when we made the reservation.  Well, sort of.  The view was from the little terrace attached to the room but it was nice nonetheless, particularly since the line of temples on the crest of the hill was visible from the dining terrace and the swimming pool as well. You will get that it was a nice hotel.

We arrived, had lunch and in the late afternoon headed for the temples.  Two of these are impressively virtually intact, another couple are just lines of standing columns.  Coming close to them is an extraordinary feeling, trying to imagine a life that included them even more so. 

The greatest of them is a collection of blocks that represent the Temple of Jupiter which stood about 90 feet tall, and the length and breadth of a football field.  The upper part of the exterior walls were held up by male figures called Telemons, at least 25 feet high.  One remains in the local museum and dwarfs anyone standing nearby.  A walk along the length of the valley takes about three hours.  It's hot and tiring but well worth it.

Getting back to the hotel I stepped out on our terrace and heard American voices from the tables below.  I moved closer, past the blocking plantings, and saw my doctor from Berkeley not ten feet away.  Smaller and smaller world.  I decided not to ask her about my troublesome indigestion.

There must be tourists who do their in-depth research and spend days seeing the wonders of the Valley of the Temples.  We are not among them.  We thought of going back the next morning but didn't.  Instead we drove out to see another less historic sight that several local people had recommended us not to miss, the Scala dei Turchi, Turkish Staircase.  We managed to get lost on the way and found ourselves in Porto Empedocle, the hometown of Andrea Camilleri, author of the much loved Inspector Montalbano series of mystery novels.  Italian TV ran this show for 12 seasons, the most popular in TV history.  Although Camilleri changes the names of the towns, Porto Empedocle is meant to be Montalbano's Vigatà and bar owners all over town use Vigatà or Montalbano in their business names.  It was this show playing for a time on US television that seduced us into coming to Sicily.  Great art direction, not so much a reflection of reality we have learned.

When we finally got to the Scala dei Turchi we were underwhelmed once again. A white chalk cliff steps down to the sea.  That's it.  Maybe we had just reached the point where nothing would please us, like cranky children.  

Yesterday morning we hit the road for Palermo where we would spend one night before this morning's flight.  We had originally planned to spend a week before I upended the schedule to decamp for Paris. We can only say thank god.  Palermo has some wonderful old churches, mostly rundown and crumbling away.  Other than that, niente.  True, we missed seeing some of the most important sights because the Palazzo Normanni closed at noon and we couldn't stop at Monreale to see the renowned mosaics on our way into town as we had been warned by local people not, on any account, to leave our baggage in the car while visiting the Duomo. There are many people who love Palermo, who rave about its markets, its street life.  It was a Sunday we spent there so the shops were closed and the traffic limited by a military parade.  We had some forgettable food at a table in the street at what looked like a popular place in the Vucceria market, and later had a good meal at a trattoria.

On the way to dinner we thought we would find a café to have a drink and watch the passeggiata, hundreds of people of all ages watching each other walk up and down the main streets off the Piazza Politeana, but apparently Palermitano culture doesn't permit sitting and watching.  No cafés along the streets.  At all.  It appears you have to keep moving like a school of sharks until you go home for dinner.

I'm sounding pretty grumpy,  I know, but in fact I'm grateful we recognized our lack of connection with Sicily early enough to do something about it and I'm quite happy to be waiting for the flight to rainy Paris.  You can't have everything.

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