Conclusion #1 from yesterday is that I do not like the overnight ferry. At least the overnight ferry as it was accomplished by Grandi Navi Veloci (our ferry company, literally “big fast boats”). It was a boat. And it was certainly big. It might even have been fast once it got out of the harbor. But we took so long to leave Tunis that we ended up arriving in Palermo somewhere in the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately, we were in our own cabin, so we just went to bed at our normal hour. In the middle of the night we were awakened by banging on our cabin door, presumably to let us know that the ferry would be docking soon in Palermo. We dragged ourselves and our children out of bed and stumbled into the corridor to wait with hundreds of other equally disheveled passengers. We finally disembarked over an hour later. We’re not sure why they woke us up so early. Italian customs was so quick they didn’t even stamp our passports! Luckily, we’re here for reasons that have to do with our Tunisian visa, not an Italian one. But still. Isn’t the entire rest of the European Union hopping mad over Italy’s current border security woes?
However, lest you think that Italy is totally dropping the ball, there was a convoy of nearly a dozen military vehicles lined up inside the gate to the port and bristling with troops. I can only assume that they were there to meet our ship, since there was nothing else going on in the port at that hour of the night. The fatigued army personnel were mostly sitting inside their vehicles in various states of alertness. But they did succeed in passively blocking up the gate so that we were unable to exit through it, and had to drag our bags several blocks to another gate, and then backtrack those same several blocks to arrive at the Cafe where our hotel had helpfully sent our taxi. Have I mentioned yet that it was three in the morning?
Actually, we’re not quite sure what time it was. The next morning we went down to breakfast at what we thought was 7 a.m. Tony had cleverly remembered that Europe observes Daylight Savings Time, while Tunisia does not, and accordingly set his watch back while we were still on the ferry. What he had not remembered was the old adage, “spring ahead, fall back.” It was actually 9 a.m. Which meant we had even less time for our impromptu whirlwind tour of Palermo than we had thought.
Perhaps it was a blessing that, it being a Monday, all the museums were closed. Except one: the puppet museum! It wasn’t exactly an art gallery, but it turned out to be quite fascinating. Puppets are a thriving cultural tradition not only in Sicily, but in Korea, Bali, Indonesia, Japan, Mali, and probably other places too. The most interesting puppets might have been some from Vietnam, which were aquatic. The “stage” the puppeteers use is the surface of the water. They have a regular proscenium like other puppet theaters; it just sits on the surface of a pond (or a flooded rice field). Very weird, but impressive. Especially when it involves multi-jointed dragon puppets undulating in the waves and spouting water at each other. The museum is gearing up to produce a grand chivalric marionette show about Orlando (Italian for Roland). The last room of the museum has hundreds of two-foot-high marionettes dressed in miniature but very real-looking Medieval armor. Tony is already formulating plans to build our own gigantic marionette stage. I think we should build a house first . . .
We have spent half of our time in Italy during the past three years. Nowadays when we have “homesick expat” conversations, usually they revolve around things we miss from Italy. Even though we’ve never been to Sicily, coming back to Italy is almost like coming home. There are so many little (and big) things we’ve missed. Like the lovely porticoes. And the ubiquitous marble monuments. And of course, the gelato. We had amazing pasta for lunch yesterday, and delicious Sicilian pizza for dinner. Today we went on one of our familiar Italian picnics, with fresh bread, three kinds of cheese, spek, and an eggplant tapenade. The landscape in Sicily looks different from Piemonte, of course, and even different from Tuscany. But I didn’t expect it to seem so unmistakably Italian. It must be that eternal Italian knack for fitting human architecture seamlessly into the landscape. No matter the state of disrepair, Italian buildings look picturesque, whether they were built twenty years ago or two thousand.
Hopefully, we’ll be able to eventually psyche ourselves up to take that ferry back to Tunisia in a week.