29 June 2013 The Bells

We awake each morning here in our hotel room in Palermo to a tune rung on the bells of the nearby church. It is quite tuneful and we can count on it being 8am. Tomorrow, however, I have asked for a 7am wakeup call as we are catching the 9:29am train to Castellammare de Golfo for another day trip. It is an hour and a half west along the coast from Palermo. From there we may take a bus up to Capo San Vito to take in some more sea air. I’m tempted to go by bus to Corleone, too, to look up Don.


Incidentally, we have stumbled upon many little (often semi-derelict) piazzas in ethnically distinct migrant areas of Palermo that just bubble over with life – and Palermo is nothing if not ethnically diverse. It seems they have been taking in migrants by the ton (over 1 million Bangladeshis for one) for years, while Oz tightens the screws on the legal ones and locks up the illegals or does its best to turn them back to appease its white voters. It is our pleasure to rest awhile in these piazzas, sup on a bevvy or two and watch the children and adults at play and work. The children kick footballs about and generally play together on the streets and piazzas. On one occasion Rachel fortuitously caught a ball that flew straight at her – her hands were free of her glass at the time. Mothers watch from balconies above and the men go about their daily lives below. It is obvious their lives aren’t easy, but there is a great sense of community, small as each area is, especially evident in the children. Yes, there is a fair bit of poverty and begging here in Palermo and it’ll probably increase as the Crisis bites harder. There is a lot of drinking done in these harder-edged areas but there is plenty of good food available too and the areas attract a lot of outsiders as well as us because of the vibrant atmosphere. Though we are always cautious, we never feel threatened.

Oh, I did come across one solitary bottle of wine with a screw cap on a shelf in a bar. The label proudly announced it was Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I have seen, literally, hundreds of different Italian wines displayed on supermarket shelves and not a one of them has a screw cap – only their aperitifs, liquors and digestives. And I do believe they have been producing wine here for over 2000 years – but what would they know . . . eh!

These big cities get pretty grubby and there is often the smell of sewage wafting up through drains (and we still have to step around lots of dogshit) but when you consider the age of the infrastructure (tens of centuries) it would be unfair to compare it to our relatively newly built cities. And the Seas around here, including the Mediterranean, take a lot of plastic and rubbish from ships and shore and this is sometimes washed back to the coast as murky sludge, but their waters still gleam deep-blue and poster-perfect from afar, as the Seas are large.

300613 Last Train to Palermo

CastellemareDidn’t get to Cabo San Vito (I think Hollywood made up those names for The Godfather from ’round these parts – Don Vito Corleone . . . eh!). We had a 5k walk from the station into Castellammare de Golfo proper, first through the beach strip with its beachside restaurants and bars and then up and over into the old town; a town that tumbles down from up high down into a small fishing port. After finding an excellent little restaurant off the tourist trail that served superb seafood dishes (we started with stuffed sardines, whose stuffing included pine nuts and currants, and which were baked with bay leaves) and local wine we walked up to the highest part where, at an old, umber-coloured stone church there was a wedding due to take place with all the family gathering at the entrance – so we stopped to gawk and take photos. It wasn’t a huge wedding but I have never seen such a colourful one in that the women’s dresses were absolutely bloody fabulously colourful – and expensive looking. I couldn’t help noting that the bride’s car was a beautiful Maserati saloon. Hmmmm, and we were getting these looks from the blokes as we were taking the photos . . . Eh, I flashed my tattoo and they backed off – hahahah. Never mind, no one came to rip our camera from us and they had professional photographers milling among them anyway. Beautiful. There is going to be heaps of photos for those interested, at a later date. Castellammare de Golfo is visually another fishing-village gem. It is to do with the houses, their particular old style of architecture and use of local stone, built on narrow streets that cascade down the hillside; the sunshine, the sparkling-blue sea and the fishing and pleasure craft scattered in the harbour seen from various heights and angles as you walk around, the many restaurants and bars to whet your appetites and so on. An ambience that is pretty much typically Mediterranean – I’m sure you are familiar with it – it just ain’t Perth.

Getting ready for our exit to Pisa for a few days prior to flying to the UK.

040713 – A piece a cake, Peace a mind. Ahhhh, Pisa.

Been here two days now. Our accommodation, only 10 minutes’ walk from the airport, is spacious, clean and comfortable and not noisy (double glazing). On the flight from Bari to Palermo with Blue Panorama we got away with 2 on-board cases and 2 shoulder bags. Not so with Ryan Air to Pisa. We were sprung at the boarding pen (use of the word ‘pen’ deliberate) and, in front of a plane load of bemused passengers waiting to load, were made to pay a penalty fee of 72 Euros there and then – we ended up giving them both cases for the hold (they were on the baggage retrieval belt before we got to it – amazing.) Anyway, it was a humiliating experience, which I have to say I handled deftly with a mix of dignity, aplomb, anger, bullshit, humour and a touch of savoir faire, hahahahah – I wish. When asked how I was going to pay, I replied “Well, I could wash the dishes.” This was met by a stony stare. I realised later that I should have offered to fly the plane – they could not have known my capabilities. It took me a while though, once I had recovered my composure, to calm Rachel down. Ryan Air is the epitome of ‘cattle class’, and we have flown in quite a few budget airlines. Will not use them again, but have redistributed our baggage, paying for one in the hold on Easy Jet to avoid any further humiliating experiences.

PisaAh, Pisa? Pisa is quite a small city of 100,000 inhabitants and a permanent trail of tourists. We have walked over most of it already, covering all of the old part (we fly out tomorrow morning) and taken some good photos of the remarkably tilted tower. It must have been a truly beautiful city in its prime. Industrialisation and a couple of World Wars haven’t benefitted it. It was one of the four major maritime centres during the first millennium; the other major ports were Genoa, Venice and Amalfi. The sea has receded from Pisa and it is no longer a port but its river – the Arno – still flows murkily through it.

050713 Before we retired to bed last night we had an interesting and long conversation with the owner of an Enoteca (selling wine and local produce) over a glass or two of excellent wine (from La Spezia). He spoke no English, and we barely a word of Italian, but with a mix of mutual enthusiasm, some Spanish and much understanding we learnt a lot more about this country, its politics, people and foodstuffs. This is, once again, the Tuscany region and they grow and manufacture a lot of superb quality produce. Their bread, alone, is such a pleasure to eat, but while saying that, it is difficult to describe because in our part of the world bread has become of so little importance to most of us we have allowed its quality to suffer. We are talking stone-ground flour (with the wheat germ intact) from water-driven mills, and the grain from ancient varieties of wheat. The resulting bread is astonishingly good. Their economy? Not good. He informed us that on their television (of which we can’t understand a word) the news is that 100 businesses are closing throughout Italy EVERY DAY. These businesses are varied in size but that is a phenomenally bad statistic. While he has to pay IVA (GST) of 20% now (up from a recent 17%), other taxes push it up to 60% of his takings. Berlusconi and his cronies are not entirely to blame he considered; the Italian people are not political, in that they are more interested in eating and drinking and are easily taken advantage of by the politically aware (I have heard the same thing said about the Greeks in their demise).

The Imperial Great Britain awaits the return of its wayfaring son and his wife – we’ll give it a few days, but want to get back to the ‘Continong’ and all its contrariness.

Photos to come separately as with the others. We’ll be in Blighty this afternoon (that’ll be strange) to visit with my Uncle Fred and his wife Sue and my cousins – that’ll be great.

070713 And so it came to pass, a most enjoyable fambly reunion.

And now, as we leave the bowels of London I am reminded of what a seething mass of humanity this not-so-grand a-dame of England has become. On our fourth leg of a rail journey that will take us from rural Bicester North to Eastbourne to catch up with an old friend reminds of the cattle crush of Ryan Air – suitcases and people crammed and spilling into the aisles of the carriage. Mine jew, we didn’t have time to get above ground at any stage (again), as the six sections of the rail journey are pretty tight. I guess we should expect this with such a large population but it’s still a bit of a surprise.

Where my family lives in rural Buckingham England is charming, but we learned some more of the county’s tribulations – some related to the Crisis and others related to its open-arms policy to migrants. I can see the latter has become a problem in its strain on the economy in this time of GFC and am somewhat relieved that I’m also a citizen of NZ and Australia and don’t have to live there. But it is still a ‘green and pleasant land’ and we were looked after right royally and the weather was perfect (they kept complaining about the heat – we couldn’t understand it).

Eastbourne on the southern coast of England is an architectural gem in its many Victorian sea-front buildings and those built up on its surrounding hills. Distinct, charming and far more pleasing to the eye than our modern architecture. So pleased they have retained them.

Rachel has booked our next leg departing from Gatwick to Santiago de Compostella in Galicia on Tuesday.