Sunday, April 4, 2010
In a recent New York Times article, Jim Lewis wrote about a visit to Palermo. In it he describes a city that some of us would barely recognise. While his observations are not actually inaccurate, they may be colored by certain preconceptions and a rather haphazard itinerary. What is most striking is that he fails to mention the extensive restorations of historic buildings in the older part of town, and it seems that he didn't bother visiting the more important sights most people come to Palermo to see: Monreale Abbey, the Martorana Church, Saint John of the Hermits Monastery. Nothing in the piece suggests any awareness of the various sights around Palermo: Segesta, Erice, Cefalù.
Most large cities have their "seedy" side: certain parts of New York's Bronx and London's Brixton are less than inviting. That's obviously not what people come to see. Palermo is no different. The city is not without its problems: high unemployment, political corruption, mediocre public services, organised crime. This is no secret. Best of Sicily has published articles on all these topics.
But the thesis that Palermo offers no social life is simply illogical. I recall, for example, attending a performance of the Kirov Ballet at the Teatro Massimo, one of Europe's most beautiful opera houses. The ballet and music were excellent, the setting superb, and the ticket prices were far less than what you would pay in New York, London, Paris or Milan.
I'm struck by the author's observations about some of the restaurants. An important point should be made for visitors. There are some "quasi-legal" restaurants in Palermo - the kind without written menus. By law, all restaurants in Italy must have written menus, with prices clearly indicated. That is true of all the establishments reviewed in the restaurant pages of Best of Sicily and See Palermo. Most of the restaurants in Via Orologio and Via Bara all'Olivella should be avoided, while those in Piazza Olivella nearby are compliant with regulations. The same is true of those in Piazza Marina. Restaurant reviews (for any city) are written precisely to ensure that the reader has good choices.
Palermo is an unpolished gem waiting to be discovered, but we've never said that every single part of it is flawlessly beautiful. What's important is that you plan your trip to focus on the more interesting things. (Shown here is the recently-restored Basilica of Saint Dominic.)