Quite an arrival in Palermo
30 May 2012
|He seemed kindly enough. We had watched him on the bus from Palermo airport take about 50 incoming text messages, several phone calls and play a game on his iPhone in between. He had leapt into guide mode when John had lurched to the front seeking the bus driver's advice in his impeccable Italian about where we needed to alight. Having worked out the number in the street but not knowing the hotel, the iPhone man told us that we should get off with him and he would show us the way. Meanwhile he wrote down a new museum we should see and in the ten o'clock at night darkness pointed to places we should go and rattled off places we must see. John still not being clear that we were to get off with him and perhaps not quite trusting him was distracted and worried that we were going to end up miles from our hotel. Me, being Polyanna, was convinced he was a nice man, and was just concerned to be polite to this very helpful Sicilian.
We alight from the bus and he points out the street and off we set on our way. He hasn't tried to shepherd us to his cousin's hotel a la India so all looks well.
Picture this. Darkness, Two foreigners, their cases clunking behind them over the polished flagstone footpaths, as they hurry along a narrow street down which Sicilian cars hurtle and beep, and scooters whine. Four storey buildings overshadow the street.The street is lit by old fashioned four paned lights of the kind that once were used for gas lights and that stretch out over the footpath on elaborate wrought iron brackets. But they don't notice that, only that the street seems dark and that the footpath alone is lit. What they are aware of us as they rush on is roller doors, and the fimly closed massive doors of what appear to be crumbling mansions, well what were probably mansions a couple of centuries ago, but now look abandoned, decrepit and grimey. Few shops. No street signs. Doubtul youths wander the streets. There's an edginess here.
They can't find number 92 and where it looks like it should be certainly looks nothing like a hotel. Nothing in the area looks anything like a hotel. Are they in the right street? Was the man who sent them down here a nice man after all? Have they perhaps just miss-heard him? They are very tired. John enters a Morrocan fast food shop crowded with the doubtful youths and asks about the name of the street. Yes it is the right street. He asks about the hotel. No one has ever heard of it but two young lads seems to know something about 92 or the hotel or god knows what but one has a nice face thinks Polyanna.
Off they plunge back up the street behind the two lads one of whom has a nice face. One peels off to buy cigarettes, Polyanna vaguely registers, through some weird push button slits cut into a roller door, and the other takes the couple to one of the crumbling sets of arched doors they have passed before that is no different from any other set and has no distinguishing signs. This is apparently 92. They thank him and off he goes into the night. This can't be right. The doors tower over head, maybe 20 or 30 feet. Dusty, dirty, brown. Surely no one lives here, let alone this being a hotel. It's not that this is decrepit or run down - after all they've travelled through India, decrepit and run down doesn't bother them. It's that it all looks so abadoned. John notices some buttons on the side. Aha, signs of life, someone does live here. Nothing about the hotel. He pushes a button that corresponds with the floor address of the hotel. No response. Again. No response. Then clunk, they jump. Creeeaaaak, the giant doors slowly open inwards. It is exactly like all those films with innocent wayfarers arriving at the entrance to Dracula's castle.
Polyanna is in danger of losing her faith in humanity but thinks rationally that this must be a good sign. They enter a darkened court yard. Still no sign of life. Then a voice calls out something from some distance away. It seems to come from somewhere above them. The confusion caused by not seeing the source of the voice renders it senseless - Italian, English, Sicilian? Then high above their heads they see a figure outlined dimly, waving at them and leaning out of what appears to be a verandah like structure surrounding and jutting out of the inner building some thirty feet up.
They have arrived. The man with the iPhone was a nice man and the doubtful youth with the nice face wasn't so doubtful and Polyanna is really a very astute judge of character.
Back in the old days if my students had written a story like this I would have told them not to be so cliched so apologies to all you English teachers out there but this is really what happened and my imagination just ran to cliches I'm afraid.
But there's more ....
We are shown into our apartment. Baronial desk and chairs on ground floor - just what you need on holidays - with sweeping marble stair case leading to what we assumed would be our bedroom on the mezzanine we could see above. Wrong. Leading to very comfortable living room, leading to dining room, to kitchen, and down the other end two bedrooms one with dressing room. After so long in a single room we get tired walking around the place and we can't find where we've put anything - poor us!
Then we are shown around the rest of the house which is in the process of being renovated. It is an old Palazzo with frescoes on the cellings etc. It is not quite up to Lampedusa's standards (I'm just about to start re-reading The Leopard having just finished a book about Sicilian food/history/culture - mainly food) but it's certainly no slouch of a place and is a wonderfully evokative landing place for Siciliy.
We breakfast around a long oval dining table with our fellow guests in one such room with some deity looking down on us. Excellent coffee and warm pastries or cakes. Something different each day.
Unfortunately there are some limitations to this place not least being poor/no wifi connection but these aren't apparent on that first night or morning.