Tuesday, June 13, 2017

6/13 -- Another Day in Palermo

We got a short bus ride through Palermo past some of the sights within walking distance from our hotel. We learned that Palermo has been conquered by several groups, including Phoenicians, Moors, Normans, and Spanish (for 500 years, the longest occupation). As a result, the architectural styles are a mishmosh with several different styles possible on a single building.

We left the bus to walk through a food market with Isabella, who bought us some goodies along the way. Although this was similar to many of the other markets we have seen, it was a first seeing a swordfish and a tuna being sectioned for sale. There were also VERY dinky strawberries -- quite sweet but too  mushy for most of us, so lots were left over. We also tried an alcoholic beverage made from a prickly pear cactus and a very rich macaroon-like cookie as well as a small sandwich cookie partially chocolate dipped with a strawberry cream center.

Start of the market

At 1.99 Euros per kilo, cherries here are about the same price
as in our Chinatown.

Interesting looking tomatoes


Tuna was 10 Euros per kilo

The long green things in the back are a variety of zucchini.

Fresh Octopus
As we approached something that looked more like a mosque than a church, we saw a bit of Roman wall and mosaic that had been excavated and covered to preserve it. It was there that we met our local guide, Laura, who was as funny as she was informative. She told us the big building was actually a cathedral, but had started out as a church which became a mosque and then returned to being a cathredral. Its style is a combination of Moorish and Norman influences, with the dark decorations made of lava from Mt. Etna.
Roman Ruins

Exterior of the cathedral, which has been added to several
times. The fancy entry, the lower exterior walls, and the
tower are all additions. The tower used to be a shorter, plainer
watch tower -- you can see just a bit of the walkway between
the cathedral and the tower on the left.
Across the street was an enormous boarding school, elementary through high school, that opened in the mid 1800s. It was notable because this was the school that the man who became the judge who tried to stop the mafia graduated from. We will learn more about this chapter of Sicilian history in a couple days. This church is actually THE cathedral of Palermo, and is rather plain inside. It also houses the body of a martyred priest who was stationed in the poorest section of Palermo and making inroads in the minds of the mafioso children to the point that the mafia decided they needed to take him out, though their general rule was not to mess with children, women, or priests.

Cathedral interior
It also houses the patron saint of Palermo, Rosalia. She is the fifth patron of Palermo, and replaced the preceding one because she got credit for saving the city from the plague when the previous saints were ineffective. She was born noble and chose to give up wealth and live as a hermit in a cave where she died alone in 1166, When the plague came to Palermo in 1624, she appeared in a vision asking to be found and brought to the city. When that was done, the plague ended.

Rosalia chapel -- all in sterling silver. Her bones in a silver
box are paraded around town every year.
The last thing we looked at inside was a meridian in bronze on the floor with various astrological symbols set in marble along its length. It marks the 38th parallel and there is a window positioned to shine light on the meridian in such a way that the astrological  markings match up with the time of the year.
The meridian with the astrological signs for Jim and me.
We took a rest break at a coffee shop -- Jim and I shared a wonderful raspberry sorbet -- before continuing our tour of a baroque cathedral, that started as early baroque (highly decorated but not totally) and ended up as late baroque (much more intensely decorated but not totally over the top like rococo). Laura explained that much of the design of the church was to counter Martin Luther's radical ideas about simplification and direct connection to God without a priest. The pulpit moved to the center of the sanctuary so everyone could hear the sermon, there were bunches of confessionals all around, and decorative elements became more important.

Early Baroque interior

Late Baroque chapel above and altar ceiling

Laura also promised to tell us about the last confession she gave once we left the church. She and her brother enjoyed visiting a variety of churches instead of just one and went to church around Easter. Since confession should be done at  least once a year, preferably around Easter, they decided it was time. There were long lines at every confessional but one, so they went there. Her brother, being a gentleman, let her go first. The priest, however, was nearly deaf, so whatever she said, he repeated loudly ("I haven't been to confession for a year." "YOU HAVEN'T BEEN TO CONFESSION FOR A YEAR?") When she managed to escape, her brother confirmed her fears that everyone one in the area had heard her words repeated.

We walked to the 'Fountain of Shame' (officially Pretoria Fountain) which is being renovated, and finally to another church with a variety of styles. The fountain was built in and for Florence, but they decided they didn't want it and sold it to Palermo. It was so large, there was only one square big enough to hold it, which happened to be bordered by a nunnery. The rampant nudity combined with its location led to its unofficial name.

Fontana Pretoria, the Fountain of Shame
Norman on the left, Baroque in middle, Moorish on the right
Laura left us and Isabella offered an option to meet a puppet master, an entertainment style that is dying. Giacomo had puppets galore lining his walls. They were bigger than the marionettes on a string, and had a combination of metal and stout string pulls, which gave them amazing movement options. We learned about some of the makings of a puppet and his family's involvement in puppetry for the  last 6 generations. Puppetry used to be opera for the masses and was offered daily, often telling a long serialized story. Each 'chapter' might take 3 hours (they are down to one hour now) and they could go on for months. Currently shows are held weekly and this company travels all over the world, and has been to San Francisco.

If you look closely, you can see a metal rod in each head and
attached to each right hand.
Giacomo with a marionette
Heads are interchangeable and this one has 3 sides, to represent
different aspects of the character.
Based on our interest level, Giacomo took us into the theater and demonstrated how puppets were worked -- at least two puppeteers work together and hand off the puppets as they cross the stage. There was also a hand-cranked mini player piano that supplied the music and is typically run by an apprentice, who from his position, can  look up into the works and see how the puppeteers manage their display. We were further invited into the workshop (no photos) where puppets are carved, painted, and clothed. Because these puppets are so large and heavy and sometimes people want souvenirs, they have a light weight smaller style, which is similar to the smaller ones that children learning the art are given to practice with.
The theater holds about 100 people.
Scenes from 'chapters', sort of like movie trailers

Giacomo next to the stage with the curtain closed.

With the main curtain open, there are four layers of background
available to use. All were painted by Giacomo's grandmother.

Giacomo behind the stage framing lifts it up so we can see
where he works the puppets.

Knight puppet in action

The mini piano player with hand crank.

Then we had a choice of lunch or exploring or hotel. The heat here is something to adapt to and I am not there yet, plus I was full from all the noshing, so we took a break to cool off and work on the blog.

We went back out with the group to visit a new Grand Circle Foundation location called  Orotorio Santa Chiama. Sicily gets a lot of refuges fleeing through North Africa, and this is one of many non-profits working to support their transition to Europe. This is run by three priests, provides a low-cost kindergarten from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm and student activities during non-school hours from 7:30am to 7:30 pm. We got a chance to learn about the project and then to see some of the kids involved with the program.

Before we left, we were taken to an unused portion of the building that was excavated to reveal part of the original Phoenician walls, dating back to 750 BCE. It looked like the room had been an auditorium, and there were interesting paintings on the stage opening too.We also visited the original baroque church which is sadly falling into disrepair.
The Phoenician walls below with the stage
front behind.

Above and below, apparent frescos on the stage front

The center's church, Santa Chaimo

Then it was on to a typical street food Sicilian dinner -- deep fried rice balls with meat or vegetables inside, some sort of thin, light fry bread and dinky pieces of tomato pizza on a fuffy thick crust with honeydew melon for dessert. The rice balls were huge and very filling but the other 2 hot items tasted better.

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