My Granmother and the handmade reproduction Sicilian vase.
I must start this story from the end as it will explain what has been missing from this blog. I told you in the beginning that I was making this journey as a celebration of my mother's mother's family and their immigration from Palermo to the United States of America 100 years ago. I have always been proud to be part Sicilian. So, I saved Palermo for the finale of this Sicilian odyssey.
There are no pictures. There is no real blog for my experience. I was robbed by 2 young guys on a scooter. They had been stalking me (the police told me this is how they work) and found an opportunity to exploit.
I was in an open area but at that moment no one was around (but their was traffic on the street next to me). I was putting my camera back in my backpack and had just wrapped the straps around my wrist and put my hand through the handle (this was my "safe" way of carrying it when not on my back). It was just too hot to have it on my back. Within seconds I heard the scooter, felt the backpack being pulled - release, and then I was pulled forward. The backpack straps and handle had been cut with a knife. I was propelled forward and hit the side of a stone building with my head and right shoulder. I was lucky that the knife hadn't cut me. The police told me that there have been many sever injuries from this type of scooter robbery.
The Cathedral of Palermo
I was in shock! A man pulled up in a car next to me and rolled his window down and asked if I was ok and was shouting "I saw what they did to you". He offered to take me around the area to see if we could find them.
My initial thoughts were that he may be apart of their scheme and then who knows what will happen to me but, he seemed sincere. It was probably stupid but, I got in his car. He asked again if I was ok, if I he could take me to a hospital, do I want him to take me to the police? My head was spinning. I didn't know what to do. Even though I was with someone, I felt alone and exposed and scared. We went around the area a bit. He kept telling me how sorry he was that they did this to me. I told him why I was here and he expressed how truly sorry and embarrassed he was that his people had done this. We continued on. I really didn't expect to find them and if we did....what then???? He asked again about the hospital and the police. I asked him what he thought the police would do......he really didn't have an answer. I asked him if he wouldn't mind taking me to a place that was near my guesthouse. I was still unsure about this person who was helping me even though he had been so nice. He dropped me off several blocks from my guesthouse.
Snowglobe of Palermo showing Arab domed church in front.
I walked to it as fast as I could, climbed the stairs, went in my room and locked the door.
Symbol of Sicilia
After a call to Rob, he said that I really needed to go report it to the police. I hung up and put on my shoes and looked over my balcony.....I guess to make sure it was safe.....I was a mess. All the scooters now looked like the robbers. I think this was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I fought the instinct to stay there (safe) but I went out and remembering where a Tourist Info station was. I head there, walking as fast as I could. The main police station was just behind it. Looking around I realize that the robbery took place within 2 blocks of here.......2 blocks from the Parliament and main police station. Anyway, I went through the process along with 3 British girls, and another American in front of me. All reporting robberies. The girls had their purses stolen at knifepoint.....passports gone.
The police took a very long time to process what was very little paperwork. They had stolen the contents of my backpack including my new mega camera (6 months old), my new glasses (1 week old), my ipod, B&O headphones, and a nice watch. some cash, the blog I had written about the day before, sea glass collected in Taormina, sea glass that I had just collected along the waterfront, several small paintings from a artist in the park, and a cap for my brother, bobby. They said "sorry". Most importantly they had taken my sense of security, that I was able to be aware of my surroundings and protect myself. I have always prided myself in my awareness of my surroundings while traveling alone. I had also had my photographic record of my journey of the ancestral home of my mother's family. I had hoped to be able to share it with whole family. I am the first to see this place and I know that they will never venture here. This was the change to see a piece of our heritage. Also, my pride in being part Sicilian was now disgust. I now, not only hurt for myself, but for my family because I know they will be as disgusted with this place as I am. If this had happened anywhere else.....it would be different.
Donation card from the Chapel of San Cataldo, and Arab/Norman church built in the 12th century.
I had only a bit of money left on me, none in my account as I had emptied it to buy souvenirs for my family......now stolen. I wasn't sure if I would ever return so, I chose to spend the last of my money on replacing what I could so that they would have a reminder of Palermo. This left me with no money for dinner. My European MC wasn't working...a consistent problem lately, out of the Netherlands. I had some snacks, peanut butter, and protein bars that would serve as dinner and breakfast. I returned to the guest house and locked myself in my room. I sat on the balcony and just stared at the church at the end of the street, thinking about the day, while scooters with potential thieves swarmed below. The previous day I had marveled at the view from the tower of this church. I wanted so badly to return and try to burn the image of the beautiful view into my brian but, I couldn't leave the safety of my room.
When Giorgio (the owner of the guesthouse) came home, he asked if I was ok. I told him the whole story. He expressed his sympathy as we had discussed only the night before my concern with visiting this place. That many stories posted on the internet of this type of behavior had kept me away since I moved to Europe and now has the ease with which to come to Palermo. We talked about the challenges facing tourism in Palermo and this being one of them. He refused to take payment for my stay. He said it wouldn't be right. This was very kind of him. So, it left me with a bit of money to pay for transport to the airport and possibly a snack.
He insisted that I join him and a couple that had just arrived, for gelato. The girl had just been robbed, the previous day in Rome, so I felt that I probably couldn't bring her down more than she already was. Giorgio took us to a nice place that was close by and insisted on paying for the gelato. I tried to be pleasant but, it was very difficult to "chat". Soon after finishing we returned to the guesthouse. Giorgio gave me instructions on getting to the airport, safely. He then gave me a hug, goodbye, as he was leaving and I wouldn't see him in the morning.
I was filled with anger, paranoia, and fear the whole day. I was due to be back in Amsterdam by 11 am. A part needing replacement on the connecting plane in Forli, Italy lengthened the travel time by 3 stressful hours. At least, the airport gave us all a meal during this delay. I was hungry.
Upon landing in Amsterdam, I made it home as fast as I could, dropped my things, and just lay on my bed trying to feel safe, now. All I felt was anger, sadness, and fear. It wouldn't be until the next day that I would feel pain from my injuries as I awoke in agony.
This has lessened and I have committed to return to Sicily and Palermo in September. I will return with Rob and recapture my photographic record for me and my family. I refuse to let them just has that.
We have learned that the agent that sold us our renter's policy in the Netherlands had misrepresented or misinformed us on the policy as we were told that we would be covered for such a tragedy but, we are not!
This was the end of the story. The Palermo finale began with an uneventful bus ride from Catania. I did injure my thumb that I had broken 2 years ago, in the first month I lived in the Netherlands.
Giorgio picked my up at the train station (next to the bus station). His guest house is a comfortable place and he made me feel very much at home. He gave me some general directions to orient myself. He told me to be back by 7 or so and we would all go together to see a bit of Palermo at night and then have dinner together.
I left and followed his instructions to the Palazzo Norma which is the beginning of the amazing old area of town. During this day, I saw the main cathedral, many many other beautiful churches of gothic, Norman, Catalan, Arabic, and baroque design. I visited parks and piazzas with cafes full people enjoying a cold drink on a hot hot day. I happened upon a four way stop that was massive 4 story fountains of all 4 corners....amazing. I visited several street markets that had a North African or Middle Eastern feel. The variety of goods for sale was immense. The fruits and veggies were colorful and enticing. Men cutting meat and chicken as I walk by yelling what they have for sale. I visited a fountain where all of the statues are covering their private parts in shame. I also visited the contemporary art museum. On my way back to the Giorgio's guest house, I visited the the church at the end of the street that I could see form my balcony. It's baroque but, with an attached bell tower from the Arabic period complete with red dome. I climbed that tower to the top and was rewarded with panoramic views of Palermo to the Tyrrhenian Sea. I could see many church spires and a giant mountain/rock at the shore to the left of the marina area. Behind me were sharply sloped mountians. I was in awe of this view. I wondered if any of my ancestors had climbed this tower and had taken in a view of Palermo, although different I am sure. All in all, quite a day.
I even stopped in at a few shops. There didn't seem to be many with interesting arts, crafts or souvenirs for sale. I did find shop selling porcelain recreations of pieces from the 17th, 18th, and 19th century. I did go back and buy my mother a special gift with the last of my money post robbery. I wanted her to have something special from here.....over even myself. I really didn't care about a memento for myself, now.
Returning to the guest house, Giorgio was resting and looked sweaty. I was drenched with sweat and smelly. I told him that I would take a shower and be ready for the evening’s events. He told me to take my time. So....I showered ......with COLD water. It felt so good. Cleaned up and ready to go, I sat and talked with Giorgio until the other were ready. We were waiting on 2 guys from Belgium to arrive and they were a bit late. We talked about the mafia hold on Palermo and how it was so limiting for businesses. We talked about the tourism money that Palermo had wasted within the last few years. They had 1.6 billion euro to spend over the last few years. This is quite a bit considering the low number of tourists that visit. He told me of one of the examples of the waste. There were beautiful signs with Sicilian beach scenes that were placed on the sides of busses in Palermo. This is senseless as if you are able to see them.....you are already there. This makes no sense but, someone's friend got the job. This is the way of the Sicilians.
The Belgians arrive and we all head out....6 of us in a Citroen C3. Now for those of you that are not familiar with this car, it's TINY! Four people are all that it is really meant for and two of the six were very tall, large Belgians. It was amazing that we were able to fit...but we did. Giorgio took us to some of the Piazzas and historical sites that were a bit farther away as we might not visit them on our own. It was an interesting look at a different part of Palermo than what I had seen earlier in the day.
We had dinner at a restaurant that Giorgio frequents so; the food was reasonably priced and tasty, as well. The bill for the six of us totaled only 75 euro.....amazing but, Giorgio got us a discount and the actual bill was 50 euro. Giorgio gave the change back to us to split. How nice was that!
From here the two Belgian guys and one of the girls continued out to drink. Giorgio, the two girls from Hong Kong and I returned to rest for the night.
The nest morning I had my breakfast of wonderful Sicilian pastry and juice and then set out to walk in the direction of the water. I wanted to see the coastline. I found a little old man in the park along the way that was painting scenes of Palermo in the "old days". I bought four of them but, only had part of the money. I owed him 6 euro. I told him that I would find an atm and return. I asked at the Tourist Info Center near him where to find one. They told me Piazza Bologni.....a 10 minute walk down the same street I was on. Ok....so I walk and walk and walk. I reach the specified Piazza and there wasn't a bank or atm. I continued to walk, and walk, and walk. I am almost to the water when I see a sign for Poste. Now, most post offices in Europe have atms. There was one. I withdrew all the rest of this month's allowance as I planned to buy things for my family and a nice souvenir for myself after my walk at the beach.
I walked from the Poste to the beach, which was close. I walk through a grand gate and cross the main street along the coast and I am there. There is a little park with flowers in bloom but, a few seedy characters in the bushes. I stay in the open and enjoy the view of the coastline and the mountains behind. I walk along the shore and pick up some beautiful sea glass in colors of while, green, blue, and amber. I then walk up from the beach and along the marina. This was the last of the pleasant experience as from here I decided to head back inland. Within minutes my whole day, journey, pride in heritage, and sense of security was obliterated.
So, that's the story of my return to my mother's mother's ancestral home of Palermo. The 100 year anniversary of her birth and their immigration to the United States of America. I have told you of my experience without the wonderful details of the places that I visited and without beautiful pictures. I had hoped to be able to share all of this.
If you travel and feel that you know how to assess your surroundings and feel that you are seasoned in techniques of staying safe, here, it's a different game. Indivual travelers.......I would stay away from Palermo. Catania.....ok, as there is a police presence but, not here. The massive amounts of youth on scooters is more of a problem for Palermo than Catania. Other places in Sicily may be different but, Palermo is really so very different than the rest of Sicily or even anywhere in Italy. Great caution should be used when venturing into this true urban jungle. Don't journey here with anything that you can't part with.......the sad thing is that this could include your sanity, and even possibly your life.
After I return in September to reclaim my photographic record, I have no desire to ever return.
This saddens me. Brian