Today, I wore a dress. What doors open when you show a little leg!
I started my day headed to the illusive Oratorio di San Lorenzo, which I was convinced I had been before and yet had never been able to find. True to form, I missed the street I was supposed to turn onto and had to re-route. I ended up in a better position than I thought, as overshooting the street put me on a more direct path to the hidden oratorio.
I did learn a valuable lesson on my way: don’t use sidewalks in Palermo. I was THIS CLOSE to being defecated on by what appeared to be a large pigeon with a relative appetite. It was gross but my grandmother told me that such an experience means good luck, so I walked on in optimism.
I found myself venturing down Via Paternostro, which is exactly where I needed to be. I stopped to get my bearings and, while snapping a few photos of La Chiesa di San Francesco, I noticed Via Merlo. Now, I had studied my little map so often to try and figure out how I once again missed San Lorenzo that Via Merlo was permanently stamped on my brain. I turned left and there was San Lorenzo! I definitely had not been to this oratorio before, but that’s better right?
The oratorio itself is simpler than that of Santa Cita but has some really skilled stucco work by Giacomo Serpotta, completed at the height of his career. Of course, there are no photos allowed but as the nice attendant lady left me alone for a good ten minutes, and since photography does no harm to stucco, I snapped away. First win of the day! I was especially impressed with the delicately textured trees in the teatrini, which are posted here.
I was so happy to have found the oratorio that I decided to take the smaller streets to the Oratorio di Santa Cita. Note: smaller streets in Palermo are definitely not the way less traveled. On my way I encountered the most fragrant street on earth thanks to the vendors selling fruit, fish, meat, herbs, perfumes, bread, and sweets. I breathed deeply, bought some sunglasses, and continued to La Piazza di San Domenico.
I have passed the Piazza di San Domenico many times in my trips back and forth from sites, dinners, and being lost. Having not passed directly in front of the church before, today was the first time I noticed La Societa’ Siciliana per la Storia Patria. The door, which was slightly ajar, had signs that indicated a library, a cultural center, and a dedication to Sicilian history. Therefore, I was compelled to enter. I met the Secretary General of the organization, Signore Salvatore Savoia, who told me that I was in an archive of Sicilian historical texts and it was adjacent to a cloister. After a little chat, he permitted me to see the closed cloister. While we strolled through the Normanesque aisle, and then the Baroque aisle, I told him about my interest in Sicily and asked if the archives were public (they are!). I think he liked me because he offered to give me a tour of the monuments and art work in the building, and I took it gladly.
The museum has some work appreciating the Norman era, but is strongly geared towards Garibaldi-love. I have been trained to dislike Garibaldi, and my own reading has somewhat confirmed my training, so I am a little surprised that the Sicilians are so fond of him. Didn’t he leave them in the dust? Wasn’t Sicily sort of forcibly introduced into an alliance with a somewhat hostile continent because of him? Still, my tour was great and interesting, and I am happy to have seen one of Palermo’s archives. Big grin there.
I left my new friend Salvatore to get to Santa Cita by 12:00PM. I made it, and after some banging on a few doors I found an open one where I encountered another new friend, Gian (his full name was difficult to pronounce let alone remember). He thought I was French before he thought I was American, which is interesting, and also told me that for 4 euro I could see five sites! Gian took me to the Chiesa di Santa Cita, where I saw some impressive (if overwhelming) marmi misti, and then to Santa Cita. In Santa Cita he let me take as many photos as I wanted, which is absolutely unheard of and a real treat. I mean, I was armed with euro to pay someone off for the these shots. We also started a nice conversation in Italian, which was good practice. Gian is 27, so it was also nice to talk to someone my age. We moved on to San Giorgio, a Baroque-styled church, and Santa Maria di Valverde for more marmi misti, and finally the Oratorio of San Domenico. Gian watched the door at San Domenico while I took a photo of get this: every one of Serpotta’s virtues. YES.
I walked along Via Roma, finally feeling like I pretty much know what I’m doing, and headed up Via Bara all’Olivella – my favorite street in the neighborhood. I had lunch at Dal Pompiere: fresh spaghetti, spicy pomodoro and mussels prepared by Pino, a Sicilian who loves Sicily and literally shouts about it in the street. This neighborhood is turning out to be a better choice than I had originally thought and I am enjoying exploring all of its myriad offerings.
After lunch I went for an afternoon walk to the Cattedrale di Palermo, which was closed, and back again, stopping at Il Rintocco for a cappuccino. It was an excellent day, filled with a nice balance of intense learning and Sicilian indulgence of quiet moments.
When I got back to the hotel I found a large group of American senior citizens looking for the Soup, Salad & Breadstick special in Sicily. Nina, who was drunkenly demanding her eyeliner and lipstick, was especially funny. Molly, who was sipping her scotch (at 7:30PM. athankya) was a tiger. I don’t mind being mistaken for French.
Finally, I had a great conversation with the Americans’ tour guide, Rita, who shares a deep love of Sicily and the Sicilian spirit.
Things learned today:
Dresses work wonders, but should probably be used sparingly.
Smoking in the archives is not a good idea, though it’s probably been done for centuries.
Walking into open doorways can prove to be incredibly fruitful.
Sometimes, it pays to be the last tourist in line – special consideration and fewer restrictions.
Italian television is the single biggest detriment to the country’s productivity: addicting!