Monday 5 April 2010

No Two are the Same

Souvenirs from Sicily, Part V

Monreale, that is where Gianni and Luca intend to take us on what I think is our last day in Palermo in that sunny October in 1987.

The small town on the slope just above Palermo is quickly reached by car, and even though I may have forgotten some of it in the course of the past 23 years or so, I honestly do not think there is that much to see there apart from the cathedral and the cloister.

That, though, is truly worth seeing, especially the latter!

Far from being an enchanted place like San Giovanni degli Eremiti where time seemed to be standing still for me the previous afternoon, this cloister has a fascination entirely on its own: the columns.

The arches surrounding the cloister are supported by pairs of slim marble columns, alternatingly plain and covered in mosaic work from top to bottom, and no two are the same.

It is true - the geometrical patterns are unique to each column, sometimes similar, but never repeated, and all 216 of them are beautiful.
Brigitte and I walk around, admiring the columns adorned in gold and rich colours, and we are impressed by the skill of those who, back in the 12th century, made all this, still there for us to see.

Sadly, this really is the only thing about our visit to Monreale that I can remember. Most likely, Gianni and Luca took us for a meal as well, and later they probably went back into Palermo with us, helping us with our luggage to get to the train station - or did we use a bus next?

It is too long ago, but I do at least know the name of the place we went to after saying good-bye to the pair of friends who were so generous with their time, never expecting anything back from us for their kindness.

We never saw or heard from them again, and I wonder whether they sometimes remember those few days back in October 1987, when they were taking two girls from Germany under their wings, two girls who almost managed to get themselves into serious trouble when they so stubbornly insisted on going out on their own.

Brigitte has friends living in a small harbour town called Porto Empedocle, and that is the next station of our trip. The town's name refers to philosopher Empedocles, who was supposedly born there early in the 5th century.

There is a big family with many children ready to accomodate us, and I am a bit overwhelmed by everybody hugging and kissing me and asking me lots of questions - none of which I really understand, because I am tired and they are talking too fast for my brain to disentangle one word from the other (which is, back then, the stage of "understanding" of the language I have).

Of course, Brigitte does all the talking, and after a while, we are left in peace in the big bedroom where we are going to stay for the next few nights. I wonder where the usual occupants of the bedroom are, and Brigitte tells me that the husband is away to work in Germany, while the wife, Nunzia, is going to sleep on a mattress on the balcony while we are here, and of the four children, only the girls have their own room, while the two boys always sleep on the settee in the living room.

Although I feel bad about Nunzia sleeping on the balcony, Brigitte convinces me that it is what our hostess wants, and she would be most offended if we did not accept her arrangement.

We can hear loud voices through the closed door; I don't know what Anna, the 15-year old, is arguing about with her mother, but I can tell they sound very angry with each other. Brigitte tells me the girl wants to go out tonight, but none of her brothers feel like going, since we are here and it is far too exciting to have visitors from Germany. Anna is not allowed out after dark on her own - one of her brothers has to be with her at all times. After all, she already is a Signorina - meaning she has started to have her period some time ago, which for a traditional Sicilian family back then means the girl needs watching with eagle eyes, not so much because of herself but because of the menfolk out there, and even more so when the whole town knows that her father is 2000 km away and can not act immediately if anything... should happen.

For teenagers like Anna, though, going out for an evening stroll ("passeggio") is very important; it is THE way to see and be seen, as Brigitte explains to me. Why spoil the girl's evening, then? I suggest we all go for a walk after dinner, and when, over an excellent meal, Brigitte tells Nunzia that I would like for Anna to show us around town in a bit, the face of the girl lights up instantly - now her mother can't say no, can she, with a guest expressing a wish!

Nunzia graciously concedes for Anna to accompany us and of course sends the boys along as well, while the younger daughter (whose name I have forgotten - not so, though, her extremely ugly specs and spotty, pudgy white face with a little moustache) is to stay home and help with the dishes.

I remember Anna taking my arm and squeezing it and smiling at me, and at some point stopping to touch my straight, thin, henna-red hair, which is so totally unlike what she is used to seeing.

Once again, Brigitte and I stick out among the others promenading up and down the main street and around the piazza. Anna is proud of us, and there seems to be no end of schoolmates and friends who want introducing.

It all turns into quite a blur, and eventually, we head back home, really grateful now of Nunzia's sleeping arrangement for us - we can shut our door, which feels like an undeserved luxury. No more arguments tonight!

(To be continued. All pictures, again, nicked from elsewhere.)


  1. Are you sure you are commenting about my blog, imelda, and not spamming? Nothing in my entries has anything to do with work from home, so actually I doubt you have really "visited this site". I'd much prefer REAL comments, thank you... (actually wondering why there aren't any. Are my Souvenirs from Sicily that boring?)

  2. No, they aren't! Reading them makes me feel like being there myself. I've been to Italy for the first time at the age of 20. My girlfriend and I stayed at a camping site somewhere near Venice. So I don't know anything about Sicily. Thanks for sharing your "souvenirs".

    Gabi (Gagea)

  3. Hello Gabi, what a nice surprise to hear (or, rather, read) from you on here :-)
    Since you posted as Anonymous, I guess you don't have a blog here, otherwise I'd love to read it!

  4. So sorry for your loss of your husband...

    the Yorkshire pudding story was delightful though...i enjoyed reading it...

    sending heartfelt sympathy,

  5. Thanks, kary :-)
    Glad you liked the little episode!