I’m not going to lie. My coffee consumption has increased since moving to Palermo.
I try to limit the number of coffees I have a day. During the week this is easy; one in the morning at home, then one during my lunch break at work. Basta.
The weekend is another story.
You see, wandering around the city, stopping off for coffee is one of my favourite activities.
Palermo has huge number of bars. When I first arrived here I though it strange that I was invited to a bar at 9 am by a friend. But I then realised that “bar’ in Sicily means a coffee bar.
Real Sicilians usually take their coffee standing up. They pay at the till, then go to the bar and order their espresso. I sometimes do this, but I admit that I prefer sitting outside and enjoying my coffee in a leisurely fashion watching the world go by. I can’t be Palermitana in all things!
A coffee in Palermo – and by coffee I mean an espresso or a macchiato – will set you back between €0.80 and €1.20, depending on the bar. You can choose from a stylish Belle-Epoque bar near Teatro Massimo, or a down-and-out hole in the wall near the station. Wherever you go the coffee is ace and will set you up for a day of exploring!
This is something that you are bound to hear if you are ever in the proximity of a group of Sicilian adults with a baby. It is the Sicilian version of “dolce”, meaning sweet or cute.
It seems that many of my friends are having babies at the moment, and they are all, of course, duci!
This was a good starter word in Sicilian for me, as it isn’t too far from its Italian counterpart, and so I didn’t feel like a fraud using it.
A gateway Sicilian word, if you will.
So if you see a baby that is cute as a button, say “che duci” to the parents and watch them beam with pride!
This is probably the first in a series of Driving in Palermo posts. It is a subject about which there is much to discuss.
Everything that people tell you about driving in Palermo is true. It is chaotic. Drivers don’t exactly follow the rules. Parking is atrocious. There is occasionally some pretty heavy traffic, and almost everyone is angry behind the wheel.
All that being said, I do love driving in this city.
Almost all the cars here are beaten up. I once was told that scratches and bumps on cars where called “Neapolitan kisses”, but I think that “Palermitan hugs” would be better. My car was in my care for barely a week before someone scratched it when trying to park next to it. Prissy car owners need not even bother here.
You don’t really need a car for a trip to Palermo, as you can get around fairly easily by foot. But many visitors have a rental car as they then go on to explore the rest of the island.
If you do choose to drive in Palermo, my advice is as follows:
- stay calm
- forget the highway code as you know it – driving here is more intuitive
- keep your eyes open at all times, and if possibile grow another pair of eyes before signing the rental agreement
- watch out for scooters
- ignore the honks, shouting and swearing from other drivers
I tell you from experience that once you have completed your first journey in the car in Palermo you will feel on top of the world. So park the car as soon as you can and go and enjoy an aperitivo – you deserve it!
Today is the feast day of Santa Lucia.
She’s the patron saint of Siracusa. There, they celebrate with a beautiful procession, the statue of the martyred saint being paraded through the streets of Ortigia.
Here in Palermo, however, things are slightly different. As ever.
Santa Lucia is maybe one of the favourite saint days in Palermo. But not for any religious reason.
According to the story, the people of Siracusa were saved from a famine by the saint sending ships of grain. The people were so happy that they ate the grain whole. So, according to tradition on the 13th December, no processed grain should be eaten. That means no pasta or bread.
What’s a hungry Palermitano to do?
The city erupts in a celebration of arancine. These fried rice balls are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner (by some). Offices get them delivered for their staff. The smell of frying oil surrounds us. Post-lunch siestas should be mandatory (I speak from experience).
Palermitani love Santa Lucia as it means they can indulge in one of the tastiest snacks around, with no shame; in honour of a saint, no less!
Let’s start with a simple one: amunì.
Amunì is likely to be the word that you hear the most when you are in Sicily.
It means, “Let’s go!”
Wherever you are in Palermo, you will hear this. In the markets, in a bar. By old men sitting outside under the sun, by children begging their parents to be taken home.
Old, young, Sicilian and otherwise. This is the easiest Sicilian word that I know, that even I utter every now and again.
In my three years in Palermo, I have never spent Christmas here. The lure of my grandmother’s Christmas feast, log fires, and pints of beer in the pub is too much for me. I always fly home.
So truthfully, I can’t really say anything about Christmas proper here in Palermo.
However, I can tell you about the build up.
It starts on the evening on 7th December. Everyone is at home, playing cards and eating sfincione.
And so the season begins.
The 8th December is a national holiday in Italy- the Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione. Offices are closed (although shops are open for the all important purchasing of presents) and local spend time with family and friends.
There’s a procession (when isn’t there a procession in Palermo!), with a statue of the Madonna leaving San Francesco church and making her way to San Domenico. Here, firemen place flowers on top of the statue. I cried the first time I saw it. Although I must admit that it was probably more atmospheric when a ladder was used, rather than a fire engine!
From now until Christmas Eve, Palermitani are in holiday mode. Cards are played in continuation. Eating is mandatory. Aperitivos are rife.
One day maybe I will experience Christmas itself. But not this year. Not yet.
I’ve got potatoes to scrub back home and a grandmother who needs her annual panettone. Maybe this year I will get her one with a nativity scene made of white chocolate
Buona Festa a tutti!
Don’t come to Palermo for Carbonara. Italian food as you might know it doesn’t exist here. Go to Rome for Carbonara, go to Bologna for Ragù and go to Liguria for pesto. Trust me.
Do come here for food bursting with fish, vegetables and the occasional north african accent.
Food is the central theme to an evening. We are either eating, talking about what we just ate, or planning what we will eat tomorrow. The classics are sacred, although everyone has their own way of doing things.
In restaurants, Sicilian food prevails. Caponata, cous cous, pasta alla norma, cannoli, panelle, arancine. Each has its history and each has its charm.
Come to Palermo and try it – you won’t be disappointed.
The air is accented with the scent of cooking onions, ripe fruit and the impenetrable local dialect. I am in Ballarò. Scooters brush past my legs, hot and smelling of petrol. I could buy whatever I wanted here: electric fans, coffee machines, knock off watches, shower heads. As well as fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and dried goods. Dirty hands wrap onions in paper, throw fish guts into boxes on the floor and take cash happily.
But I have discovered another side to this market. One that isn’t obvious. Nor is it mentioned in the guidebooks. Or at least not the ones I have seen. A hidden world. Yes. You have guessed it. The world of eyebrow management.
With the sun beating down sunglasses were – don’t forget we are in Italy – obligatory. Having jumped wholeheartedly into this aspect of Italian culture my sunglasses were large and dark. I am essentially just a chin and a big head of hair these days.
The young guy – perhaps the grandson of the two old fellers who run the vegetable stall – approached, asking what I wanted. For a while I was engrossed in what sort of tomatoes I should buy and then I looked up. And it dawned on me. He tended to his eyebrows more carefully that I. Wow. Thank heavens for the ridiculous sunglasses. The blood drained from my face as I realised I am letting myself go. Past 30 and not giving a damn. My cheeks burned. My bushy brows tingled. I paid and left, heart a flutter. My eyebrows would have fluttered too, and for once I was grateful for Palermo’s heavy, breezeless air.
While walking home I took stock. I saw that in fact all of the young men in the area had immaculate brows. Shamed, I threw myself into the nearest cosmetics shop and bought some tweezers. A new regime, I promised myself. A new beginning. Let the youth of Ballarò be my style guide from now on!
Needless to say, the new tweezers are still unwrapped, sitting by my sink. I am 30 and don’t give a damn. And I have soup to make.
Since the start, Palermo welcomed me into its hungry, chaotic and utterly charming arms in a way that has taken me completely by surprise.
Accompanied by potent glasses of gin and tonic, which have gradually transformed into the far more Sicilian Negroni Sbagliato, bad Italian grammar and an English dress sense that now has some serious Sicilian accents, I have met the kindest people, made some cracking friends, been exasperated by the Palermitani’s love of walking slowly and have fallen in love with this irresistible city. Oh, and obviously I have eaten rather a lot of outrageous Sicilian food.
So. Palermo and me. We’re definitely past flirting. This is a long-term relationship.
There’s some seriously great food in Palermo. And it isn’t the usual Italian stuff you’re used too.
Of course, you’ll find great fish, delicious pasta and some fantastic pizza.
But dig deeper, get yourself right into the heart of the city, and you’ll discover a whole other world: one that is particular to this city.