Sunday, June 24, 2007

May 2007 - Palermo, Italy - Nightlife

As you can imagine, in a town where people do not work very hard during the day, the nightlife scene thrives bringing hundreds of people onto the streets from about 8 p.m. to midnight. Most of the streets seem pedestrianized in the evening because the people strolling and socializing spill off the sidewalks and block traffic making driving nearly impossible (unless you're a Sicilian on a scooter).
At about 6 p.m. when the locals get off work you'll find almost everyone at streetside cafe's having an aperitivo (often just a glass of house wine or a beer).

Our first night out, we went to a casual, homey restaurant called Casa del Brodo ("House of Broth"). They served excellent local seafood and pasta dishes. Our favorite part was the two traditional sicilian desserts, canolo, made with mascarpone and ricotta and a piece of cassata, a vanilla cake with a ricotta filling.
At night the buildings are beautifully lit, especially the palazzi on Via Roma, the city's main north-south thoroughfare.
This makes Via Roma (above) a safe and attractive street for a post-dinner stroll. And trust me, we needed it.
Another evening, we treated ourselves to a night at the opera. We thought this would be the best way to see the inside of Teatro Massimo, which after a 25-year restoration effort, had reopened last year with Verdi's "Falstaff", just as it did when it originally opened in 1897.
The interior of the theater is so rich and opulent; everything is covered in gold and red velvet. We felt transported back in time.

The ceiling was adorned with frescoes set within painted architecture . . .

. . . and the six levels of boxes that rise above form a horse-shoe around the orchestra level are laced with delicate bronze chandaliers and sconces.
The opera had not even begun and we already felt like we got our money's worth.

That's the orchestra pit . . .

. . . and those are pretty much all of the actors. It was a performance of the French opera "Manon" by Jules Emile Fred Massenet. Kenny snapped this shot in the third act (of 5!). That's not the curtain call; her curtsy was part of the story. We were sitting in the cheap seats on the top level and still had an amazing view.
The opera lasted nearly 4 hours with 4 intermissions (smoke breaks). Here's a great shot of the theatre after we left. Isn't it gorgeous at night, and tremendous?! In order to make room for it, the city walls of Porta Maqueda, the Aragonese quarter, San Giuliana convent and church, and the Chiesa delle Stimmate di San Francesco and its monastery were all demolished. It was constructed entirely in the ancient style without any mortar; just huge blocks of beautiful brown sandstone exactingly set atop and beside each other.
After the show, we jumped in a taxi and headed over to La Kalsa, the old Arab quarter of town, for dinner at a Tunisian-fusion restaurant. La Kalsa (from the Arabic al-Halisah, or the "chosen") comprises a maze of narrow streets and blind alleys built in the first half of the 10th Century as the seat of the Emirate, the government and the amry. During the subsequent Norman era, it became the sailors' and fishermen's quarter. La Kalsa served as the seat of the Spanish Inquisition courtroom and Aragonese court, which ruled Palermo after the Norman era. Most of the monuments from the Aragonese period, dating from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, are in La Kalsa. It was badly damaged during World War II, as was much of Palermo, and many parts are still being restored. Though some parts are a bit dodgy, it's the trendy area of town with many of the hotest bars, clubs and restaurants so we had to check it out.
A small colony of cats seems to have made the outdoor terrace of the restaurant their home. Half-way through dinner, they started to congregate around our table. I think they sensed a crazy cat lady nearby, who of course couldn't resist feeding them her leftovers.
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As we were leaving the restaurant, I realized that my lifeline and link to this world (my Palm Treo) was missing. After racing back to the table and scouring the area around it, we concluded that it fell out of my pocket during the cab ride to the restaurant. We contacted the very kind taxi driver who didn't charge us because he couldn't break our 50 euro note, but he said he didn't see it and that another customer must have taken it.
I guess if losing my Treo is the worst thing that happens to us during our stay in Palermo, we will have done pretty well in this former hot bed for the Sicilian Mafia. And Luckily, it's insured and AT&T will be sending me a new one shortly.

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