Sparkling mosaics and food
3 Jun 2012
|I am going to put all the rest of Palermo bar one day into this blog, that is two days. And I will make it brief partly because we have just now almost finished at Paceco near Trapani so need to catch up, and partly because the owner of this B & B has just given me some absolutely delicious and lethal home made limoncello so my brain is somewhat scrambled.
I will start with the third day because that is the day I remember best. On that day we caught a local, painfully slow, hot and crowded bus, which stopped at every stop seemingly to let more passengers on without letting any off, to Monreale in a village on a mountain overlooking Palermo. I was lucky to get a seat part of the way but poor John had to stand and suffered from lock knee by the time we got there.
Monreale is a cathedral built by William II, grandson of Roger II around 1172. They were a high achieving family. The cathedral was built as part of a tug of war for power between William and the Pope. Building this gave him the right to establish a bishopric which gave certain powers. Of course there's a story about a dream and a message from a divine being being the instigation for the building, but we know the truth.
There are two exceptional things about the cathedral - the mosaics as I intimated in a previous blog and the cloisters.
The cloisters first. Double rows of short columns surround a large courtyard. Very Islamic in style. Each is oor was inlaid differently with marble, to create geometric patterns in red, black, white and gold. But it is the capitals that are the striking feature. Each is carved intricately, with figures for the most part, sometimes animals or birds only. On one occassion a new take on the acanthus leaf top where they are wind blown in a swirling pattern horizontally around the capital. For the most part though little figures go about their lives, they ride camels, or participate in bible stories or stories from myth. On one capital figures with the bodies of owls and human faces. On another, Jacob's ladder ascends to heaven as he lies dreaming beneath. The figures are precisely carved, each capital a busy world or just decorated with birds pecking leaves or atlas figures holding up the top of the capital. They are full of life and character. There is individuality of expression and vision. They give you access to the imagined world of the carvers. We spent an age walking around that courtyard looking at each side of each capital. Exceptional and exciting.
Next the cathedral. Here again the mosaics are startling. Again they are in perfect condition. We were glad we hadn't arrived too late because by the end of the time we were there, about 4.30, the light was getting too dim to see them. We love those that tell the stories of Noah, Isaac, the old testament stories of people. These are energetic, have a strong sense of movement and have the quality of folk art. Compared to these, those telling the stories of Jesus and saints seem finer and more formal. They are beautiful but they are more remote.
We climbed a tower to walk along the roof and look down on the courtyard and over the fertile valley and craggy hills beyond.
I need to report on one magnificent dinner we had. I had sardine polpette which consisted of mashed up sardines and probably breadcrumbs pine nutsnuts and currants in meltingly soft little balls in a rich but mellow tomato based sauce that had the flavour of the fruit and a little of the fish in it. It was a dish to die for. And I'm not a great fan of sardines - well wasn't. I followed this with swordfish involtini which was a thin slice of fish rolled around a stuffing and put on skewer and cooked. The stuffing - breadcrumbs, almonds, mint and lemon (I would guess). John had a sardine bucatini (type of thickish spaghetti) with sardines, pine nuts and other things and magnificent fish of the day for main, a whole fish with an excellent very light sauce which he reported as the best fish dish he had ever had .... until then.
Apart from in panini we haven't eaten meat since we arrived and think Sicilian food one of the best cuisines in Europe.
Just briefly other things we did in Palermo so that I record these events somewhere.
We tried to visit the archaeologicalical museum but it was closed for renovation - very disappointing because it has some Greek metopes John wanted to see and it is supposed to be excellent.
We visited the Duomo, an extraordinary looking church from outside but nothing on the inside - think this too was Roger II but so many updates it's an odd pastiche. Best bit the crypt with very old tombs, 12th century, but the sarcophogi often re-used Roman. This is in the oldest and barest part of the church, down below in the semi-dark, here you feel connected back through time in a way you don't elsewhere in this building.
Had a spleen roll from a man in the market - very nice. Savoury and a bit spicy, not hot spicy, more aromatic. Traditional Sicilian snack. We knew what it was but the man in the market thought we wouldn't eat it if he told us so kept obfuscating about traditional Sicilian speciality.
If i've missed anything will include in blog for last day.