Taking a break …

24 February, 2010

I will be away from Palermo for the next few weeks – which means that both my exploration of the city and my blog postings will be coming to a temporary halt. 

A big thank you to everyone who has been reading so far.  I’m already looking forward to being back and getting started again.  I hope you’ll join me then.

See you at the Kahlesa! …

23 February, 2010

Not very much remains of Palermo’s old city walls: several 16th century gates and some short stretches of  wall; nothing more.  But inside part of the remaining wall that faces the sea you will find the Kursaal Kahlesa – bar, bookshop, restaurant, music venue, and general meeting place.  Palermo is good at turning the ruins of its past into magical entertainment venues; nowhere has it done it better than at the Kahlesa. 

On my first trip to Palermo, I stayed in a hotel built on the site of the demolished wall, next door to the Kahlesa.  One night I was driven back to the hotel after dinner with friends in a restaurant in the old city.  As we stopped beside the wall, they said: “The Kahlesa will still be open – if you haven’t been there, you must go in!”  I hadn’t been there – in fact, I hadn’t even heard of the Kahlesa – but of course I went in.  The door is unobtrusive, set into the wall without any signage at all.  I didn’t know what to expect, and I was surprised.  The space is impressive  – stylish and modern, but at the same time suggestive of Palermo’s exotic past.  Read the rest of this entry »

A perfect starting point …

10 February, 2010

They don’t really exist, I know, ‘perfect’ starting points! But I think a visit to the richly ornate church of S.Caterina, with its huge, now almost empty, monastery, must come close. It is, in many ways, a perfect introduction to Palermo: it gives you a glimpse of the city’s soul.

I first visited the church on a dark winter’s morning. A shaft of light was coming in through windows high up under the central dome, illuminating some of the church’s incredibly rich decoration, leaving the rest in deep shadow, no more than a promise. The effect was overwhelming: I stood perfectly still at the entrance and instinctively, quite involuntarily, drew in a sharp breath.

The church is generally, and I believe justly, regarded as one of the finest examples of Palermo Baroque architecture, and many hours can be easily be spent admiring its artistic and architectural features. But there is something else. This fabulously decorated church, and the huge silent monastery attached to it, evokes other aspects of Sicily. You feel you are in touch with something that is essentially Sicilian, but difficult to define: a mixture of richness and austerity, worldliness and spirituality, past and present, light and darkness. I have been drawn back to this complex time and again, partly to admire the physical features of the church, partly to experience its evocative power. Read the rest of this entry »

This week I had a particularly interesting conversation with Antonietta –or perhaps, to be more precise, I should say that I was on the receiving end of a particularly interesting monologue.  With Antonietta, what starts out as a conversation often ends as something closer to  a monologue. This week she barely drew breath.  The subject was Palermo.

It’s a subject Antonietta returns to over and over again.  Although she’s Italian, she’s not Sicilian and is critical of the way of life here.   We had barely exchanged pleasantries when she launched into an attack on Palermo and the mafia.      

“There are things about this city I really hate”, she began.  “I really detest the mafioso behaviour of the people here.  The mafia isn’t just a group of mafiosi – it’s a state of mind, a way of looking at the world”.   Read the rest of this entry »