Friday, September 21, 2012

Grand Tour, Part 10: The Music of Palermo

The mainland of Italy has faded behind us as our packet heads across the blue, blue waters toward Sicily. Even a half hour out we can see Mount Aetna rising from the sea, steam obscuring its summit. Who knows, we might even witness an eruption while we’re visiting!

However, we don’t need a volcano to be hot. Even this late in the season the sun beats down unmercifully. We are cautioned to keep a good sturdy bonnet on our heads anytime we are out of doors. Yet how can we be concerned in such a charming place? As we near the island, we can see the city, cupped by lofty and barren hills with Mount Pellegrino standing on its headland. Palm trees and weeping cedar overhang the shore. And flowers are everywhere.

The harbor is crowded as we enter, yet all we can hear is music. A boat full of musicians has come to greet us, playing us right up to the quay. And close to hand is the best hotel in Palermo, the Prince of Wales, run by Mr. and Mrs. Page. She speaks faultless English even after years in this exotic locale.

We have only one night in Palermo, alas, so we must make every moment count. Mrs. Page advises a trip to the Marina, an amphitheatre with marble seats where the nobles of Palermo gather to listen to music. On the way we pass along the Toledo, the main street on Palermo, where cloistered beauties watch from overhanging balconies. A mustachioed gentleman approaches, one of the famed Storytellers, offering to beguile us with tales of Arabia. For a silver coin, he tells us about the giant skeletons found nearby. Surely they are the Cyclops!

Down in the Marina we are given a further taste of Arabia. We listen to the music, harp and flute, in lilting songs so foreign to the precise music we were taught at home. Then it’s up the stairs into the public gardens for a promenade. Oh, I do believe those gentlemen are staring. Quick, put up your parasol!

Another Storyteller draws nearer. Perhaps the adventuresome young ladies might like a tour of the catacombs? Usually it is forbidden for women, but for the right price . . . . A few of our number, who shall be nameless, decide to throw caution to the winds and accompany him deep under the cathedral, where more than the chill air raises gooseflesh. And there seems to be music here as well. Is that the wind moving past the boxes and statues or the voices of those long gone? Hand me my shawl, will you?

Thankfully, we all return in time for a dinner replete with delicacies from the sea. How sad we only have night here! Normally we would tarry among the mountains of Sicily, but the nights are getting longer, and soon it will be difficult to reach home. So, tomorrow it’s overland by litter to Catania, and then on to Athens!

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