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October 7, 2017

Sicily: Palermo 2016

Filed under: Architecture, Europe, Food, Italy, Photography, Travel, Travel, Writing — Tags: , , , , , , — anotherheader @ 4:10 pm

Visitors tour the roof of Cattedrale metropolitana della Santa Vergine Maria Assunta, Palermo’s cathedral.

Eight years had passed since we visited Palermo. Palermo was far from affluent in 2008. And when returned in December of 2016, it was clear that the intervening time hadn’t helped things. What was then a gritty and rundown city is now grittier and more run down.

The infrastructure in Sicily has taken a beating from the Great Recession. The island has a per capita GDP around €17,000, little changed from 2008. Sicily remains one of the poorest regions in Western Europe. It shows.

Quattro Canti, at the intersection of Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele

But even with its economic problems Palermo is still a favorite. Indeed, Palermo’s economic plight might well have kept open a window to the life and soul of the city that would otherwise be obscured by generic swaths of gentrification brought on by creeping affluence. Not that I am rooting against Sicily’s fortunes; Sicilians deserve a break.

A major difference we noticed from our first visit was that the main streets leading to Quattro Canti, the intersection of Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, were closed off and pedestrianized. It wasn’t clear to us whether this was a temporary change, possibly for just part of the day, or whether roads would be forever designated for non-motorized traffic; at the time of our visit, no permanent barriers had been installed. We do know that keeping this central section as pedestrian only greatly improved the atmosphere in Palermo. The change was extremely popular. Pedestrians, mostly locals, jammed the streets, especially during la passeggiata in the evening. Undoubtedly the removal of a primary traffic corridor has worsened Palermo’s legendary gridlock elsewhere. Nevertheless the traffic-free corridor has changed the heart of the city for the better.

Inside the baroque Church of Most Holy Saviour (Italian: Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore)

Pani câ mèusa, a spleen sandwich

Walking in Palermo awakens the appetite. It is a city of culinary pleasures.

Soon after we arrived our search for pani câ mèusa began. Pani câ mèusa, which literally translates as “bread with spleen,” is a sliced spleen meat sandwich. A little funky and salty, this popular street food is an acquired taste. After eight years, I’m still working on acquiring it. Nonetheless, I can see the appeal. I imagine that it could be particularly good after several pints of beer.

Arancini, a deep-fried stuffed rice ball, is a Sicilian speciality.

Antica Focacceria San Francesco, a popular deli that serves Sicilian specialties.

I figure, perhaps wishfully, that as long as there are still stalls selling pani câ mèusa, Palermo will stay true to its roots. It will be a sad day when the march of McDonalds and Burger Kings pushes out traditional foods in Palermo. And that day may not be so far in the future.

For 35 years Starbucks avoided entering the Italian market. But that has changed. In 2017 the coffee store giant began opening in Italy the first stores. A total of 200 to 300 outlets are planned. Affluent Milan gets the first Starbucks in Italy. For now Palermo has been saved by its lowly economic status.

On the roof of Palermo’s cathedral

Chiesa SS Salvatore

 

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