Tuesday, March 20, 2007


FRIDAY, MARCH 17 One way to quickly become initiated into Italian life is to drive anywhere. The streets for the most part are narrow, sometimes with barely room for cars to pass. This is why motorcycles and smaller vehicles are the norm (some with only three wheels.) Traffic signals are few and far between, perhaps because they would only make people mad, interrupting the vital flow containing its own irrepressible logic. Most people want to get where they are going as fast as possible. Quickly passing others is a serious game. If you are the least bit slow, forget it. In Palermo, sometimes the streets are entirely clogged with cars and cycles, all within inches of each other. Miraculously, there are no collisions, but then, this is the only rule. Palermo sprawls from the Tyrrhenian Sea upwards into the steep hills and valleys inland. It is the fifth largest city in Italy. When I arrived I had only a faint idea how to get to Monreale, a locale adjacent to Palermo with a famous cathedral. Lost, I parked on a corner and got out to ask directions. Spotting the first person, a swarthy man with stubbly beard and rotted teeth, dressed in work clothes, I asked, “dove Monreale?” He smiled and said, “O di qua, Monreale.” Amazed at my luck that he was going there, I watched him get in his midget car and followed closely behind for a memorable chase through twisting streets, up steep hills and around hairpin turns until my little Fiat, giving all it had up a vertical incline of cobbled stones, spilled out onto a Piazza, where my guide pointed to a grand old cathedral. I waved thanks as he disappeared. From the cathedral are breathtaking views out over Palermo. It is amazing that the soaringwalls were built on a mountain ledge 800 years ago. Inside are stupendous 12th – 13th century mosaics occupying the nave and aisles, choir and transepts. They illustrate scenes from the old and new testament.

No comments: