November 8, 2015
Today marks the completion of one month since we arrived in Licata, so it seems like time to post some impressions of life here. Sarah has flown back to the US from Palermo, and is now at work in her new job, and Mark Halgren has come and gone after spending almost a week here. We’re on our own in Sicily now. The Italian classes have begun, and we’re learning more about the town, and about what our lives will be like here over the winter.
Sarah’s visit ended with a car trip to Palermo and a couple days there before her flight, and then Mark arrived at the Palermo airport a few hours after her departure. Driving both ways was an experience, culturally and in terms of heightened adrenalin levels. The roads are often in poor repair, and the other drivers can be frightening!
Palermo is a wonderful city, with its ancient center full of tiny streets, restaurants, palaces and scores of churches, some crumbling from hundreds of years of the elements, some active and well maintained. The Teatro Massimo is a huge opera house and a centerpiece of the old part of town, still an active music venue.
Palermo has also played a big part in the creation of modern Italy, with Garibaldi’s 1860 drive towards nationhood for Italy getting its dramatic launch in the city. Palermo is more famous in history, though, for a town-wide riot ”the Sicilian Vespers” that in 1282 left some 3,000 French men and women dead in the streets of Palermo, and eventually drove Charles I out of Sicily. It began with an evening church service that was disrupted by French soldiers. Following a period of turmoil, the Sicilians invited the Spanish (Pedro III) to assume power in place of the hated Bourbon king.
The uprising inspired Giuseppi Verdi’s grand opera in five acts, “I Vespri Siciliani.”
There’s quite a story about King Henry IV of France boasting in the 16th century to the Spanish ambassador that he could subdue the Spanish in Italy should the King of Spain try his patience too far. He bragged that his army could travel so fast that, “I will breakfast in Milan, and I will dine in Rome.” To which the ambassador replied: “Then Your Majesty will doubtless be in Sicily in time for Vespers.”
Settling into Sicily has required some adjustments. We’ve adapted to different electrical power and connectors, we’ve learned that water on the docks is not necessarily ok for drinking, and that toilet seats (and paper) are luxury items. I’ve had to get used to European underwear, European butane fittings and sudden, violent squalls. It’s far from all bad, though. Sicilian artichoke are younger and much more tender than the ones in American supermarkets, meat is always cut to order, bread is fresh and varied, and driving isn’t really necessary.
And just this morning we were thinking how pleasant it is to sleep as much as one wants. What a reasonable human desire, so difficult in so many lives.
Birgit made a short trip to Germany, to visit friends, take care of some administrative things, and to pick up my EU (German) residence card, which makes it legal for me to be in the EU longer than 90 days. A relief, after some concern about how that process would go in the midst of the refugee crisis.
Mark made his usual positive impression on the cruiser community here. For a while after he left, people we met would identify us by saying, “Oh, you’re from the boat that Mark is on…”
Some eighty boats here are cruising boats spending the winter in a safe harbor. They are virtually all Europeans, predominantly Brits, with only one other American couple in the harbor. It’s a gray-haired community that has some of the feel, at least this time of year, of a retirement RV park. That has its positive and negative sides. We plan to try to spend most of our time with the Licatans we meet, practicing our fledgling Italian and learning more about life in the town.
After remarking in the last blog post that I was wrong once in 1983, Sarah pointed out that disaster has struck again, in October of 2015. She admired some patent leather shoes in a store in Palermo, and I said “Why would you want plastic shoes.” “They’re not plastic, they’re leather,” she remarked. I contested her assertion, but Wikipedia is just too damned available these days…