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Ken Patterson’s Travel Diary

Monday, 23 May 2016

Location: Palermo, Italy

MapGiovanni 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? ..... but fruity, or dry 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).