My first full day in Palermo saw me traipsing all through town. Before I woke up, in my sleep, I could hear the rain pounding outside. I hoped, even in my slumber, that the rain gods would get it out of their system so I wouldn’t be drenched.
After I woke up and got dressed, I went down to the hotel cafe for the continental breakfast. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. The scrambled eggs and bacon were ice cold and the milk was warm. The cappuccinos were decent, though.
I showered, brushed and flossed and ran my hands through my ever-growing mane. Hmm, the waves help make the unkempt look work. Is this the way authors wear their hair? No matter. I I walked outside. The rain became intermittent throughout the day and actual blue sky sitings occurred on occasion.
I started walking towards the Teatro Massimo opera house, determined as I was to see if there were any performances that I might attend before I leave. I remembered going to a concert of 100 Hungarian violins at the Concertgebow in Amsterdam and a Brahms concert held in a villa in Vienna and both were wonderful. I wanted to recreate the experience here.
I found the theatre and, lo and behold, the opera Gisele was to be performed the same night. The ticket was pricey–eighty euros–but the seat was on the main floor in the eighth row. I nabbed it.
With my beloved cultural ducat in hand I began to explore the city. I found parks, piazzas, ristorantes, statues, and cathedrals. And, as is my wont, I found door ways, window boxes and alley ways
Palermo is the capital of Sicily and has about 665,000 people so it’s a bit larger than Portland, Oregon, although the metro region of 1.2 million is half the size of Portland’s. The earliest settlements have been determined to be from around 8,000 B.C. Romans, Greeks, Germans, Phoenicians and Muslims have all, at one time or another, occupied this area. A settlement was built on the site of Palermo in 734 BC.
I have to admit that I have not yet had an opportunity to sample the culinary delights of Palermo the way I would like. Last night’s meal was good, just good. I guess I’m expecting eye-poppingly delicious. That’s what I’ve been told about this area. When one considers the impact of so many cultures on this area with their own requisite foods, spices and cooking techniques, one would expect food from the gods. This I must find.
I don’t know how many miles I put on my loafers today, but they’re holding up well. I found the Politeama Theatre, the Quattro Canti, the Piazza Pretoria, Chiesa della Martorana, the Palermo Cathedral and San Domenico Church. Although I’m not knowledgeable on architecture, I was able to recognize the influence of Arab culture on some of the buildings that made for an interesting juxtaposition of styles.
I was looking forward to the opera this evening. After so much sightseeing, I came back to my room for my requisite nap. For those of you who are much younger than I am, don’t laugh. In 20-30 years, you’ll be doing this, too!
Afterward I got up and just started walking. I grab out-of-the-way alleys and streets and start snooping. It is through this type of experience that one has adventures. Although, it is important to always be aware of one’s surroundings. Nevertheless, I felt completely comfortable.
I had not eaten since breakfast so I was getting a bit hungry, The night before I had walked past a number of kebab shops and the more I thought about them, the more I determined I was going to have a kebab. I walked for at least an hour without finding anything. I found a million clothing stores, though. Indeed, I don’t know how they all stay open. I know Italians are sartorially fluent, but it was getting ridiculous!
Eventually, I found an Indian falafel restaurant which was okay. By this time, I was ready to eat anything due to my advanced hunger. I went from there to a cafe for my dessert and an ambrosial espresso.
It was nearing time for the opera house to open its doors. I walked over to Teatro Massimo and was told to wait as the doors opened at 7:30 p.m. It was 7:15 p.m. When I finally did enter, I was greeted with magnificent columns and elaborate woodwork. But it was the theatre itself that took my breath away.
The inside ceiling was a rotunda of rosettes, sconces and frescoes. It had a 3-D effect and I truly couldn’t tell if it actually was three dimensional or just painted in such a fashion. The colors were brilliant and vivid. Red velveteen drapes hung over the stage. The floor seating consisted of chairs also covered in red velveteen.
I suppose what surprised me the most was that seating in the “mezzanine” or balconies consisted of personal boxes each holding five seats. I had begun to wish that I had purchased one of those tickets because they just looked, well, cool! I pictured royalty sitting in their private boxes, not to be disturbed by the Great Unwashed down below.
The acoustics were perfect. As I sat, patiently waiting for the opera to begin, I heard voices. I thought that someone had left a microphone on backstage. As I listened, I heard a distinct Chinese accent. There had been several Chinese women waiting in the lobby with me. It was then that I realized I could hear (although not understand) their conversation perfectly from the upper boxes down on the floor.
Since I was one of the first ones to arrive, I settled into my seat and just allowed my mind to wander and drift. There was an orchestra pit with an actual orchestra. Many live performances nowadays are using recorded music because it’s cheaper–no unionized musicians. Some venues pay musicians to act like they’re actually playing instruments. I’m sorry, that’s just wrong.
The time came for the opera to begin. Now the closest I’ve come to an opera is Phantom of the Opera which I’ve seen twice. I have played the CD until it practically warped. I fully admit that I am completely ignorant of opera. But, attending sounded elite and snobbish so I went to indulge myself, even though I was wearing Levi’s 501 jeans.
Gisele is a German opera. I did not know this (I told you I’m ignorant of opera). But it was of no matter to me. The entire opera was sung in German with Italian subtitles on a screen above the stage. I found it whimsical that I, an English speaker, was attending a German opera, sung in German in Italy. Initially, I was a bit enamored by what I was seeing even if the starting music seemed to be an acquired taste.
What transpired was, for me, a bit of hell. While the singers had magnificent voices, the supporting cast were dressed like masked, ersatz Popes, fresh from an asylum. Their whole demeanor suggested performance art gone mad as they gyrated and moved their bodies first rhythmically, then spasmodically.
All of this I could have handled if the orchestra had just played music. Color me plebeian, but the musical score for this opera can best be described as baboons on meth. It consisted of plinking piano keys, staccato horns, screeching Hitchcock violins a la The Birds and drumming that I could have performed with too much Jack Daniels.
I didn’t mind that it was in a foreign language. I’m in Italy, after all. I didn’t mind that it wasn’t even in Italian. The freakish costumes and support cast I could have gagged my way through. But that music. It was like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
At the intermission, I left. Walking out into a steady rain, I was relieved to be away from the cacophony. Perhaps this is what is considered art. For me, it was tantamount to a bad acid trip.
So now I’m back at my hotel listening to the rain and the traffic. If I want entertainment, I’ve got my sixties, seventies and eighties playlists. God bless technology.
Tomorrow I plan on traveling to one of the outlying towns. One city I will visit is called Cefalu’ and I haven’t decided if I will go there tomorrow or Monday. There is also another small town about an hour away that is supposed to have magnificent Roman ruins.