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Ken Patterson’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Location: UK

MapSicilian Puppetry


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...