236 – 238: Puppets and Corpses to Brucoli – the centre of the Universe!

236 – Saturday 12th December 2015:  Corpses and Puppets

We caught the now familiar bus into the centre.  We must be becoming local as there was little need to recourse to the map and by accident we found ourselves in the cafe of yesterday – the phones auto connected to the wifi!

We walked up Corso Vittoria Emanuele and James shopped for enough e vape juice to keep him going for about 3 months.  We poked our noses into the Cathedral again, which we had visited with the Aged P’s … it had not changed … still much more attractive on the outside.

We walked past the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti.  A bit too pricey for us to go in, but I reckon we saw the best of it from outside.  It was built in 1132 and is set in a small citrus garden.

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San Giovanni degli Eremiti:  The Arab influence is clearly visible in the shape of red domes and cubic forms.

We also balked at the EUR9 each to go into the Capelle Palatine … I know it is supposed to be one of the main sites in Palermo, but we had seen and enjoyed the mosaics of Monreale cathedral and looking at the images in the guide book, the design at the Capelle look very similar.

We continued walking up to the Catacomb dei Cappuccini.  I’d read a bit about this … catacombs with the corpses still there.  We had really enjoyed the catacomb tour in Siracusa where the guide explained about the history and rituals.  Stupidly we expected a similar level of information.  It is a cynical money making exercise.   Most of the corpses have name tags and dates, are dressed, some have embalmed skin and hair.  They were segregated into men, women, virgins (!), children and professionals.  Some were on shelves, but a lot were wired up and hanging in niches.  Some faces were distorted into an Edvard Munch like Scream.  Gruesome.  No information about anything:

  • Why were they here?  We knew from the Siracusa catacombs that Christians started using out of town cemeteries in the 4th century.
  • Why were some up right and others on shelves?
  • Why segregated?
  • What was the embalming process?
James found this info later.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catacombe_dei_Cappuccini  Interestingly, the Capuchin’s held the deads’ families to ransom … pay up or your dead relatives stay in division 2 shelves.  No photos allowed out of respect, BUT you could buy postcards and TV programs have been in!  So much for the Capuchin philosophy of ‘life was to be one of extreme austerity, simplicity and poverty’. 
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The pix are all easily found on the internet.  
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And we walked and shook off the unpleasantness of the Catacombs to the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette.  This houses puppets from around the world, including shadow and water puppets.  We learnt that the Catanian puppets were bigger 1.4m and heavier so consequently the stages were shallower only allowing for limited movement.  Puppets can weigh as much as 20 kilos.

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This car was as battered on all side.  The interior was just as full, leaving small person shaped gap in the driving seat.

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Amazing attention to detail.

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Punch and Judy represented in the overseas section

Leaving here, we walked to the puppet street we had seen two days ago to attend the 6.30 pm. show.  Time for a glass of wine and as they brought so many snacks out, we did not need supper later!

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The square in front of the Teatro Massimo was buzzing with street performers and a procession … put on for us whilst we enjoyed our wine.

 

The performance was brilliant.  No other words for it.  A small theatre with a high stage, so all could see.  One man did all the voices, hardly changing his tone, but you know which puppet was talking by their movement.  Movement of the main arm was by a pole, and there were some double jointed arm movements!  Other movements were using the more familiar strings.  The story line is that of the Crusades; Christians defeating the Arabs.  There was a puppet who smoked a cigar and blew real smoke.  A maiden burnt at the stake.  Swashbuckling sword and sabre fights, where limbs and a head flew off.  Just brilliant.  Really brilliant.

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You probably picked up that we walked  a lot today.  James had very sore feet.  I have not yet told him, that we may have done about 15km on hard pavements!

237 – Sunday 13th December 2015:  Brucoli – the Centre of the Universe

With Maddy arriving on Tuesday, we needed to be near Catania airport, so it was another flit across the middle of Sicily on the motorway.  We are getting quite familiar with this route.  We stopped off to do our Christmas shopping at the Outlet Centre.  How times have changed … what use have we of designer brands?  We came away empty handed.

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Excellent views of a now gently smoking Etna as we approach Catania

Closer to Catania, we saw what I initially thought was black smoke, but then it moved … flew.  A flock of birds doing the most amazing formations.  They swarmed up and down and across.  I was driving and so fascinated, I could have added to the Sicilian road stats, had James not reminded me to keep my eyes on the road!

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I only knew what it was as I had seen video footage of the birds over the Somerset Levels

Our desination was Brucoli – not even in the guide book and the internet described it as a small and quiet fishing village.  How wrong!

J here – as we turned down another very small road to identify our overnight parking, I was a little nervous of the passing places…. it got narrower – has our reader heard this before ?  Around one bend – and we were faced with another motorhome coming in our direction – absolutely no millimetres to pass. K gave me directions from the road behind – to retrace my centimetres and allow the other van to pass by – he was in a rush and countered each of K’s moves with – the Sicilian Defence !  All you avid chess players will know that this defence is actually an aggressive attack ! I’m no Grand Master but my dilemma was apparent – following K’s moves – or being outflanked by Boris Karlovski ! (Apologies – I cannot think of the 1970s well known Russian Grand Master who had that legendary battle with his American opponent…). Either way, I was going to be stuffed, so I retreated my pawn en passant to a gateway – Boris shot past without as much as a “Grazi”  He would have been truly “Prego’d” if `i was 50 years younger ! (Was it Fischer the American chess Master – Bobby)?

We retreated to a nice sandy parking – Tim (who with Karen was parked there) helped us navigate a steep step and directed us to the best view – looking out across the bay to Etna and Catania – see K’s photos…..

Intros all around and chats – and Tim made what was to become the quote of the evening “We’re off to the bar !”. Could we resist ? Fat dogs and lino – again, Amelia/Thomas O’Reilly ?  First bar – wine – ok an innocuous start – good. We also had Arancini – Sicilian dumpling/roll filled sometimes with rice, cheese or other delicacy – no need for dinner later…  Second bar – did not stock wine – Aperol for `k and beer for moi – still innocuous…. We had by now met Natale, Francisco and Gaedano – all local friends with wonderful stories and very good English. Gaedano had gone (Tim said) to light his Christmas tree.  We supped – and Gaedano appeared into the bar- wearing his Christmas tree – see photo !  Then Tim said “How about some Sambucca ?”  (The fat dog perked up).  We supped again and chatted….. Then back to the first bar for – you guessed it – Sambucca ! Innoculous ? Inoculated ? Innoculosis ? Something like that….  We eventually strolled back to our Vardonnay… Slept for England and Ireland – a great start to our stay in Brucoli….

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The view from the door.  Yes, that is Etna still smoking in the background.  On the right you can just make out the Blackpool / Brucoli Illuminations:  Tim’s tinselled, decorated and lit up Christmas Tree.

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 238 – Monday 14th December 2015:

Leisurely start.  Tried running along the coast, only to be blocked by a large and locked gate.  Nothing for it but to head up the looooong hill up out of the town.  James tells me it is good training!  We pottered and replenished our wine supplies.  Sat on the beach and read and pottered some more.  We eventually made it out for a walk along the coast, for a little way, clambering over rocks.  The path was between the sea and the bottom of some rather nice villas.  We had assumed that the villas were unoccupied in the winter, but barking dogs proved otherwise.  A German Shepard on the way out and three Dobermans, who really looked as if they would hurl themselves off their property walls at us.  Security is obviously taken seriously here, and yet Tim and Karen don’t lock their motorcycle etc.

Later Tim and Karen popped over for a wee drink before supper.  Supper became cheese and biscuits … too late and too pickled to cook the planned risotto!

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Looking across to the town of Brucoli

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Nestling amongst the fishing boats

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Wild orchids growing on a common along the coast

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234 – 235: Pulsating Palermo

 234 – Thursday 10th December 2015: Nothing for it but to go for LUNCH

Having checked the weather forecast, we planned to go up to Monreale Cathedral, above Palermo, however, heavy rain hit the roof.  And then did not stop.  Pretty much all day.  So we walked, dodging the dog faeces on the pavements (worse than Paris ever was) and caught the 101 bus into the centre and checked out a few things with the TIC.  Sicily and particularly Palermo has a strong tradition of Puppetry and there are several museums.  We had been directed to one of them, but it was shut.  Virtually the whole street was given over to puppetry – workshops and a theatre.  A show at 6.30 on Saturday sounds tempting.  

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I was ‘permitted’ to take one photo of a puppet being created – you can just see the workshop through the door.

Given the weather and the Italian long lunch everything was shut until 3.00, so nothing for it, but for us to have a long (and boozy) lunch too.  We walked to the Trattoria we have eaten in with the Aged Ps … and were recognised.  Knowing how much food is thrust at one, we opened ‘just’ for the mixed starters.  Despite the wine, we were both feeling chilled and damp through, so we aborted the catacombs, which were planned for the afternoon and headed back to Chardonnay to get warm under the duvet until the heating was well cranked up.

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We got all excited that the Messiah was on tonight … any spare tickets?  No, we would have to come back next year … we’d spotted the 2016 programme!  A lovely carpet of poinsettias up the stairs.

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Attempting to dry out … clothes, not us!

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The restauranteur kindly gave us ponchos in balls … James is pointing to his dangly balls!

 

235 – Friday 11th December:  Mosaics and Tiles … and Parrots

No rain, but chilly so we were well layered up with water proof trousers packed in the ruck sack – just in case.  Despite yesterday’s heavy rain having washed away the dog droppings, we had to mince our way around the fresh batch!  Up and at ‘em to catch the bus from the central train station to Monreale, where the driver kindly alighted from the bus in order to direct us and a Spanish couple (we obviously all looked like tourists) to the cathedral.  

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Street side welding taken from the bus …note H&S: gloves, face mask etc – Not!

The cathedral is listed as one of the Palermo highlights.  It was commissioned by William 11 -the Good, who wanted to compete with the cathedrals in Cefalu (and somewhere else, that I’ve forgotten!).  According to the audio guide, it is a harmony of architecture and decoration influenced by Arab, Norman, Byzantine etc …. in other words a complete hodge podge.  But the mosaics are truly stunning and there are some impressive inlaid marble work of a later date.  I went up on the terraces (aka, roof) and got a view of the cloisters (we balked at EUR6 each, even though they are supposed to be special) whilst J headed off for a coffee.

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The mosaic tiles are usually set onto a slow drying base which is marked out by the main artist … slight angles make the light catch the tiles to give the shimmering effect … or least when the sun is shining! 

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Many of the scenes depict biblical stories

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 Amazing inlaid marble curtain folds behind the figure

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Commando man … should check his underwear is also camouflage! 

I know we have both mentioned the driving in Italy and Sicily, but Palermo is a whole new ball game.  We both dozed off on the return bus, with the sun streaming through the windows and the very sedate (mostly stopped!) pace through Palermo.  There was congestion at EVERY junction, despite the traffic police attempting to direct the traffic … not sure if they made it worse.  There was, of course, the odd prang for the bus to navigate around.  

We had about an hour to kill before our ‘appointment’ at the tile museum, so we wandered down to the Botanical Gardens … too expensive (we are not tight fisted, but we do have to consider value and interest levels before parting with our cash).  However, just beyond was a free leafy park.  An American lady asked if we knew where the green parrots were.  Parrots?  What parrots?  Caged?  Whilst we chatted to this charming couple, we heard their squawk followed by them do a fly past.  Just lovely.  If we had not got into conversation, we would have completely missed the parrots and heard about some of the wonderful national parks in Washington State.

The Stanze al Genio is a tile museum and ranked number 2 on Trip Advisor, but you have to pre-book, as I had.  It is completely invisible from the outside.  We pressed the buzzer on the panel of buzzers at number 11 and were told to come up to the first floor of what is essentially old palazzos converted into apartments.  An English speaking Croatian chap met us as the door and explained everything from the production process to the changes through the centuries and the styles from Campagne (Naples area) and those made in Sicily.  The tiles are presented in a most usual way … they are the personal collection of one man and they are displayed in his home.  They are nearly all floor tiles, but are displayed in groups on the walls, mounted on wooden boards.  They make for really warm and intimate wall coverings.  The mix of designs is staggering …. birds, flowers and geometric shapes that could be from the 60’s.  In fact, one set of tiles is a dead ringer for some of the floors that we saw in the Palazzo Nicolaci in Noto.  We were also really lucky in our timing:  the owner had purchased the apartment next door, knocked through and only since Saturday, was now displaying 5 rooms of tiles, instead of 2.

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Being part of a Palazzo, the original ceilings had been uncovered.

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The owner’s living room

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James is hoping to be invited to dine

 

The bus ride back to our parking was again slow:  constant horns and again we saw another accident …. Palermo really is a good argument for the congestion charge and out of town parking.  There is no way anyone in their right mind would cycle here – we’ve only seen a few bikes, despite the number of mopeds.  Very few people bother with seatbelts, even for children.  It is really NOT uncommon to see people on their phones, despite apparent  legislation that it is illegal.