Weather: drizzle, shading into storm as the day progresses
Woke at 7am after restless night. Walked down to breakfast after showering and shaving before heading out. Breakfast was canteloupe, strawberries, kiwi, baby strawberries the size of blueberries, granola yogurt, and one Sicilian style cannoli. The Sicilians invented them, and this is the best cannoli I’ve ever had. Also fresh orange juice and coffee.
We packed up after Breakfast. We met our cab driver and guide, Antonio Gallano, who took us to the Mercado Vucchiria, the oldest market in the city. The street is no wider than me with my hands spread wide, and it is lined with tiny stalls selling fruit, cheese, and spices. Saffron packed into plastic bags, bunches of rosemary or basil, packages of tarragon… the smells were heavenly. The central square is filled with fish stalls, all selling fresh fish. A man gave me a taste of freshly boiled octopus caught that morning. Delicious!
Larger shops off the street sell coffee from huge glass jars and tiny espresso makers; bread; pastries; and paper goods like towels and toilet paper. No shop sells more than a few things. You might have to do business with a dozen merchants to do what you would do in a supermarket in the US. The smells are simply heavenly.
We got two cups of espresso from one shop, and a biscotti and a jam cookie from another shop, and had a wonderful second breakfast. Neither the shop owner nor his assistant spoke English, and their Italian was so accented with the Sicilian dialect that we had difficulty understanding what was said. Mostly we communicated with sign language and smiles.
Several restaurants overhang the Vucchiria’s main square and side streets. There’s no space for them on the ground floor, but the balconies reduce the sunlight to a narrow opening above the central fountain. One of them was the Shanhai, a restaurant which has been around in one form or another since the days when Sicily traded with China. Peter Robb mentions it in his book. At night, the main square of the Vucciria is supposedly the hangout of the transvestite and transgender hookers. We didn’t stay to find out. Besides, we’re going to Agrigento on the south coast later today, and it’s a three-hour drive.
After the Market, we went into the baroque Chiesa di San Domenico, and walked up and down the main commercial street by the Mercado. There were some men’s fashion stores, and some watch and jewelry places. Most of it was women’s clothing, which seemed (by American standards) very youthful and more than slightly on the trashy side — tight jeans, tank tops in vibrant colors, frilly blouses. The women everywhere clearly wore this clothing — I noted them everywhere — but there was a strict “don’t talk to strangers” policy everywhere. Women would talk to women, apparently, or to a man while in the company of another woman, but a man and a woman alone, except with a baby in tow, was a fairly rare sight today. Crowds of kids— two or three girls and five or six guys — seemed to be ok. One girl and many guys, not so good. Guy and girl alone, without wedding bands… no. Didn’t seem to happen.
Antonio was dismissive of our interest in the Vucchiria. He thought we should go to the Mercado Capo, near one of Palermo’s old gates. He drove us by it to see, and it seemed much more lively. with a wider street and more market stalls.
Ended our day at the Teatro Massimo, the Opera House in downtown Palermo. It’s huge, built out of stone from the same quarry that built some of the temples at Segesta in the V century BC. They were showing Turandot, and dad wanted to get tickets for us. Alas, sold out. The tickets are only five Euros, though, about $7.00 US. A ticket to Turandot in New York, for a nosebleed seat, must run $75-100. It turned out that our cabbie Antonio had been to see Turandot. It was not his favorite opera, but he did a passable rendition of several songs as he weaved in and out of noontime traffic. Dad loved it. Watching several close calls, I wasn’t so sure that opera and heavy machinery mixed.
Back to the hotel to fetch our luggage, and then another hair-raising trip through traffic to the airport. We’re going to depart here and drive through Palermo to the town of Villabate, where we’ll pick up the Autostrade to Agrigento, on the south coast.