The Great Plotnik

Monday, October 21, 2013


The jury is out on Palermo. Soul and garbage. The Arab-Norman presence, visible in the narrow streets, the huge, indecipherable churches, the historical overlay of a city occupied by invader after invader for thousands of years, very cool. But, the garbage.

Everything is behind a wall. You walk down an alley and hear someone singing opera. Small children kick a soccer ball, several sit on stools in the alley eating bowls of pasta, while as you pass you catch a glimpse through a small door of a kitchen table covered with an oilcloth and plates of food, chairs pulled up for Sunday supper, but then you pass and you're once again outside, where you started, behind the wall. Church bells blanging away.

A dead rat in the narrow cobblestoned street outside our sumptuous designer apartment. Every day it gets run over by more and more motor scooters or tiny cars, its fly-ridden bloody corpse pushed further down into the cobbles.

The huge outdoor markets, the cheese stall where the old man cuts off pieces of caciocavallo, pecorino and some other Sicilian sheeps-milk cheese, hands pieces to each of the four of us with a scowl, the salami stand, the biscotti and marzipan stand, the place where the tops of loaves of fresh bread poke up from a basket, the North African kids selling sheaves of green herbs and over-ripe tomatoes. The man in an Arab caftan selling enormous broccolini, and next to him a pile of broccolini trimmings the size of the pile of leaves Charlie Brown used to leap into, smelling like old cabbage, along with rotten fruit and tomatoes and dog and horse shit.

Jeez, man, clean it up, somebody!

They say the Americans brought all this on, during WW2, when they recruited the Sicilian mob bosses to protect the island, so the Allies could begin the European invasion there. Which they did. Everybody was happy. After the war the mafia took over the politics of the entire nation, but in Sicily most of all. The mob has been involved in every huge construction project ever since, and has ignored the old city centers. Not enough profit. 

Is this it? Is this why? The Mafia? I don't think so. I think people must just be used to it. How about just a few (hundred) trash cans? And people to empty them? And a place to dispose of it all?

At night, Palermo is incredibly lively and crowded. It feels like the mean age of the population is 17. Strutting boys, groups of 4 to 6 young women holding hands, bass-heavy music thumping, everyone smoking and laughing and eating slices of pizza.

A whole sea bass, baked in rock salt, served with olives and capers and peppers.

Two hours later, after some invisible clue, the streets are completely empty, like a curfew was imposed on fun. Silence. Church doors. Garbage.

So, what about the churches? ALL the churches? Can't the fathers ask the brothers to ask the sisters to ask the bosses to help the people clean the place up? Wouldn't this please God? Can't bleeding Jesus up on all those crosses look down for just a few seconds and send over a request?


At 4:51 PM, Blogger mary ann said...

You are a fabulous writer, especially when traveling. We are both loving these posts.


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