From Sicily's sunshine to Geneva's grey day and grey Calvinist cathedral. Here's an original E. C. Bentley Clerihew about John Knox.
The sermons of John Knox
Teemed with disapproval of frocks
There was no acquiescence by him in
The monstrous Regiment of Women.
It's our last day in Italy and we intend to spend it in an gentle way. We're very aware that there's lots waiting to be seen just down the road, but our feet are tired and a nosegay of each place we've touched upon is all we can expect to cover with the itinerary we've adopted.
Villa Giulia is top of the list for a place to do nothing much in. Built in 1777 and extended a hundred or so years later it was the first public park are in Palermo. The original entrance overlooking the Foro Italico is of a monumental neoclassical design. The heart of the villa is the dodecahedron fountain, featuring a sculpture of a dodecahedral marble clock created by the mathematician Lorenzo Federici, each face of the dodecahedron featuring a sundial. This is supported by a statue of Atlas by Ignazio Marabitti, set in the centre of a circular fountain. And, today, a seagull sits on top of it all. Around this fountain are four exedra, designed by Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda and intended to be used for musical performances.
But today the park is not awash with musicians, rather with photographers. A succession of families and bridal parties are entering the villa garden dressed to the nines. It is a fabulously sunny day. And the setting with bougainvillea, red roses, white blossoms, Palm trees and Cypruses provides an ideal backdrop for the snap-fest. Young sons, and some dads, are kitted out in shiny satin suits with piping and overstated shiny contrasts. Preadolescent girls are dressed as brides (could this be a first communion thing going on?). Elder daughters are in high platform stilettos, self coloured floating dresses, some full length, many not. And mums wear fuller versions of the same sort, best jewellery on, false eyelashes and talons shining in the sunlight. The photographers are dressed down: polo shirts and jogging bottoms, but are very firmly in charge constructing poses in front of the buildings or by popping heads though arches of bougainvillea, or leaning back to back with heads facing front cheek to cheek.
We both paint and get broiled in the full sun..... glorious.
For lunch we went back to the cantina on our street and shared a lunch of vegetables in oil and I had a fabulous arancini-esque fried wonder. It was the size of a small brick. When you bit into it the discovery was that it was an outer bread layer containing a minced beef and peas centre. The whole thing was encrusted with breadcrumbs. I imagine that the bread was folded around the meaty centre as uncooked dough, then the brick chilled for a bit before egging and coating with breadcrumbs and deep frying. I can't find the name of this variety as yet.
In the afternoon I shuffled around the waterfront and Marion returned to the Ortico Botanico for gentle plant-spotting fun.
Our hopes for a Sunday concert in the Piaza Magione gave been dashed. There was a sound check for one band around 7.30pm then under the guard of four soldiers the soundstage was unplugged and the men in black tee shirts went home for the night.
We consoled ourselves with an aperitif and street food apero deal at a bar on Magione. Marion has the tried and tested G&T, I opt for a Mojito, despite the lack of further Earnest Hemmingway Iconography on our Italian trip. The food was like an Italian tapas, tasty and filling. I then asked for a spina beer, because I'd noticed 'spina' being used for 'pression' on Sicilian menus. The patron heard Piña beer, which turned out to be a weiss beer (and was very palatable).
I'm never much good at sleeping when I know there's an early alarm to be heard.... we put both tablets on for 6am call.... and I proceeded to toss and turn through the night. I'm sure you could persuade me that I must sleep better than I think I do, but all that I know is the impression that I'm day dreaming all night long, aware of the room and sounds around me, but following a dream story in my head.
Come 6am we sprang to life, showered, had a cup of coffee in reception and were at the central station coach stand for 6.35am. The coach was there and we sat aboard until the 7.00 leaving time, watching Palermo coming to life. To the airport, more breakfasting and then in the air for two hours. We were in Geneva by mid morning, but the weather was indifferent and we discovered that museums and galleries are shut on Mondays ..... Bugger.....
We saw the jet d'eau, We found the hotel that we started this holiday in, did a fair bit of walking around .......but mostly sought shops and cafes for warmth. Eventually, settling in a bar with entertaining bar staff, we ate sandwiches and had a drink.
The cathedral, a Calvinist institution, seemed a bit lack lustre after all the mosaics of Sicily. John Knox got a number of mentions in the cathedral and would have loved it's austerity. Gothic structures of plain stone internally and externally. The best bits were the choir stalls in the misericords: 16C hand carved wood, the underneath of each meagre monk's seat with a different image. We saw a crayfish, a dog, turtle, a man sleeping, and a small boy sliding down a pew.
With tongue in cheek, we chose for our final meal of the trip to be in a Swiss pizzeria!
The flight home from Geneva was half full, and on time.
Orlando or Roland, he's the very same knight
Sicilian or French he still gets in a fight
Romance and chivalry is what the man does
And fighting with dragons gives him a buzz
Monreale. 8 Km out of the centre is a hillside town called Monreale a pilgrimage point for tourists..... because of the beauty of the interior of the church. Full shine greets us as we leave the hotel door for the Central Station. We're catching the AST white bus. All the bus firms seem to use white, and there are many buses but no formal bus stops. The Tabacceria Ticket Man said over the square to the left and this is accurate enough advice for us to find one waiting. We sit on the bus for 25 minutes before setting off ..... The principle seems to be to wait until the bus is near full before starting ..... timetables pah ......
Through markets and university buildings we exit the main city and climb through suburbs. It's a short half hour and we arrive in a back street. Up those stairs and to the right is the instruction.
We reach the Main Street which is narrow and over hung with large arches of Christmas lights... those reading this at any time but December might ask, 'Why Christmas lights at this time of year, Ken?' And my immediate danger response would be, 'I've no idea, Reader, but they mean business, there's a lot of them!'
Founded in 1172 by the Norman King William ll, it flanks a monastery of the Bendictine Order. There's a pedestrian square with a museum of modern art in old buildings on one side and a an entrance to the cloisters in the corner before the next side which is the southern end of the church, an18C porch sheltering a bronze door from 1185, between two square bell towers.
The cloister capitals are supported by pairs of graceful marble pillars, plain pairs alternating with highly ornate mosaic inlaid pairs. The arches themselves are Norman in that they are rounded, not peaked, but their doubling of layered decoration make them seem quite Saracenic. The cloister is a good long walk for the monks, plenty of time for a spot of meditation.
The interior glitters with mosaics carried out by Byzantine and Sicilian artists, it was said the the Norman King was trying to outdo the Archbishop of Palermo with this royal sepulchre. The mosaics depict biblical scenes as a cycle: Noah's Ark and Old Testament stories on the nave, the Gospel stories on the side apses. And the ceiling is panelled in gold.
The outside is more plain except for the three apses which has a rich decoration in marble and tufa. And just past the exterior of the apse end ops the church you get a superb elevated view of the Conca d'Oro: the Golden Conch enclosed by hills and the sea which is now over-filled with Palermo.
Back in Palermo we searched the Asian shops of Via Maqueda for presents and stopped for a sandwich near Piazza Bellini and the Quatro Canti.
Then further along north west before reaching the Teatro Massimo the third biggest opera house in Europe. There's a weekend of The Beatles programmed today with a 24 hour marathon of local bands playing The Fab Four's back catalogue. We heard 'Don't let Me Down', 'Hey Jude', 'Something' in the background as we took a guided tour of the building. The main theatre space is impressive with boxes in tiers all the way around the sides and back and a single raked floor of seating on the ground floor. From the Royal Box we saw a rehearsal with a female vocalist and an oud player improvising above a recorded sitar drone, a great version of 'Across the Universe'. There was an round oratory chamber with a domed ceiling that gave it a very specific acoustic... mostly for the orator him/herself if you stood on the centre spot it markedly amplified your own voice. And some dancers being put through a routine.
It was interesting seeing some rehearsal in progress, but a it was a bit of a disappointment... not much info and the fabric of many of the rooms and entrance halls is eroding fast.... It could do with some loving restoration work.
Then to the marionette museum. This is a Patterson / Farmer tradition that we follow to seek out puppet centres on our travels. And this was a great example. The core of the collection is a vast set of Sicilian Knights and Saracens who are for acting out the traditional tales of the island. These were a range of puppet type and size, including a number of dragons and royal figures. There's Orlando (Roland), one of Charlemagne's knights, and the Norman knights of King Roger of Sicily. And Saracens (Moors). Baroque paladins, really, since their costumes are often more reminiscient of sixteenth century decoration than medieval armor and clothes.
Then were rooms devoted to the Puncinello tradition from different countries, Asian shadow puppets and stick puppets, Vietnamese puppets on a blue table featuring fish and mermaid figures, and a number of specific shows and their puppets: abstract table puppets, waxwork life size children 'Classe Morte' sat in forms representing Jewish children lost in the Holocaust.
As we pass by on the way back to the hotel Piazza Magione's rock stage doesn't look ready for a performance tonight, may be Sunday?
Later we shared our Saturday night with lots of Sicilian families in a back veranda space at the restaurant we frequented on our first night. It was fine... we asked for the TV to be switched off when we first sat down but as people arrived the football went back on......... we slipped away...
Location: Palermo, Italy
Giovanni Falcone hero and judge
A fighter for truth, who would never budge
For all the progress that was won
Killed in the nineties by the Mafia gun
Our first full day in Palermo.
We set off of a trail of ecclesiastical sites starting with San Domenico, a church from 1640 but whose Sicilian Baroque facade is from 1726. Internally it's a big, light and not showing off too much although the alter features inlaid marble, and hammered silver work. The cloisters to the side of the church are graceful featuring paired slim columns, some with barley sugar spirals, in while marble.
Just down Via Maqueda are the Quatro Canti. It's essentially a crossroads with gateways to each of the four roads which meet, highly decorated with sculptures and topped with Sicilian Eagles. My favourite church of the day is on the SW corner of the crossroads: San Giuseppe del Teatini. It's ceiling is lush with full paintings in browns, blues and flesh tones, the floor is a grid of white, terracotta and green marbles, its pillars topped with golden decorations.
Close by is St Caterina's but it is fully closed for renovation at the moment. Sharing the site by the Bellini Square are St Caraldo's and St Maria dell' Ammiraglio. The first is medium sized and internally is completely covered in Norman mosaics: golds, Browns and navy blues predominating. It's a mixture of Norman and Arabic Mosque styles, with Arabic writing on some of the pillars. St Maria's is a fine example of a 12c Norman church sporting red Arabic domes on the roof. It was used as a post office in the 20 C but renovated in the '80's. It's lost most of its decorations, but it has a fine mosaic floor, and the crucifix and stained glass window both are adorned with Templar Knights red crosses.
This is tuk-tuk and horse carriage country ...... 'yes please, you speak English?' .......but it's a bony sight and many of the roads in the centre storico are pedestrian, which is a joy.
After the magnificent churches we've seen and having been wowed by its exterior, the Duomo is a bit of a let down internally. Outside you are impressed by its size, the mixture of Gothic, Catalan and Norman styles from 1184 up to the 18C dome. But inside it's white marble a creamy white decoration, simple, large but lacking the mosaics and interest of the other buildings.
Above the government accommodation there a huge helicopter is hovering and a second helicopter, a police aircraft is circling around it or investigating it. Eventually they both head off.
At the Palazzo dei Normanni close by there's a great ceremonial coach on display with Mother Mary riding at the back. It's quite old, we think, but is covered in new hessian in navy blues and golds which give it a contemporary look.
After mozzarella and tomato sarnies we're ready to paint in the grounds of San Giovani degli Eremiti. Similar to St Caraldo's and St Maria dell' Ammiraglio, it sports a bell tower which we scale with building site helmets on and a church complex with Arabic domes, Norman styling (1132) and a 13C cloister where we settle to sketch for an hour or two. Beautiful.
We got a bit lost on the way home, trying to but presents and also take diagonal short cuts across town. There was a wedding to spot on the way with lots of men in plumed hats, navy blue uniforms with white epaulets and white sashes, red stripe down the leg to knee high boots!
But then we hit upon the Piazza Magione, close to home and where there's a concert and information days planned to mark the anniversary of Gionvanni Falcone a Sicily judge who achieved a lot in the fight against the Mafia only to be assinated in his car on a country road. Tired but home after going twice as far as we should have done we drank a little vino rosso and got ready for an evening pizza.
It was at 'Ciccio Passame l'Olio' .... 'Chubby Pass the Oil'..... a posh joint on Plaza Magione. It's painted white throughout with white tables and chairs. The senior management all wear white and the chefs and waiters are in black.
For our first time on this Italian trip they didn't have a house wine available by carafe, a house wine, or a wine list. Our main criterion in all wine choice is price, then by grape variety if there's not too much of a differential between prices. So, said the waiter, what wine would you like? .....red ..... but fruity, or dry ........how do we like our wine?..... I'll bring one and you can taste it. I was a bit blunt when he brought the bottle and started to take off the foil. 'What is the price of this wine?' I asked, feeling a bit gauche and uneasy but needing to know. Anyway he quoted a price of 14 Euros, which is fine compared with UK restaurant prices, and that was the price on the bill at the end as well. And it was lovely wine. Nice pizzas. The management bods in white mostly chatted together around the cashier's area but kept breathing down the necks of their hard working staff for no real purpose other than to assert power, it seemed to me. On checking 'Trip Advisor' back at the ranch I read one or two similar comments about the lack of published drinks prices.... one person being stung for expensive beer in the bill tally at the end (prices different to those quoted at the table).