In Sicilia: Arrival

Fountain near via Butera

Fountain near via Butera

December 28-29, 2016

The wait at JFK for our flight to Palermo (via Rome) was a trial, to say the least. The concession stand food was uniformly bleak. Everywhere you looked, TV screens set to CNN, though on mute, displayed irritating crawls. One TV, sound on, flooded the waiting area with insipid shopping prattle. The desk clerk of whom I asked whether there was a place free of the noise looked at me as if to say, “Are you crazy? Just imagine what it’s like for me, working here all day.”

Fiumcino Airport, Rome

Fiumcino Airport, Rome

Landing at the sleek Fiumicino airport in Rome, we felt as if we’d been airlifted out of a blasted heath—or, to borrow Lampedusa’s words, out of “an open heath swept by searing winds”—and dropped into the civilized world. Not a single TV screen to be seen, and no piped-in music. A young man at a grand piano, on offer for anyone to play, performed with skill sufficient to prompt a passer-by to hum along. With cappuccinos and a sandwich to share from a concession stand in hand, we sat near a shop that sold elegant handbags and watched as people stopped to window-shop, and every now and then to buy.

view from window at Butera 28

view from Butera 28 window

We arrived at Butera 28, our quarters in Palermo, settled in, and strolled out to find a place to eat. The places recommended were booked up, so we chose another on Piazza Marina, the name of which I don’t recall. We reserved for the earliest possible time and, on arrival, had the place to ourselves. A thin slice of lightly seasoned swordfish, crayfish, and calamari, a piece of sponge cake dusted with chocolate, and an after dinner cordial, compliments of the house, persuaded us we’d indeed managed to escape, at least for a time.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Listening List

Ottorino Respighi’s Feste Romane (1928)

On Spotify here.

Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd also piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, piccolo clarinet (D), 2 clarinets (B♭, A), bass clarinet (B♭), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns (F), 4 trumpets (B♭, C, A), 3 trombones, tuba, 3 soprano buccine (B♭), timpani, triangle, tambourine, sleigh bells, ratchet, tenor and snare drum, wood blocks (high and low), cymbals, bass drum with cymbals, tam-tam, glockenspiel, tubular bells, xylophone, piano (2 players, 4 hands), organ, mandolin, strings

The four movements are:

  1. Circenses (Circuses)
  2. Giubilio (Jubilee)
  3. L’Ottorbrata (October Festival)
  4. La Befana (The Epiphany)

Respighi’s description of the four movements:

“Games at the Circus Maximus — A threatening sky hangs over the Circus Maximus, but it is the people’s holiday: “Ave, Nero!” The iron doors are unlocked, the strains of a religious song and the howling of wild beasts float on the air. The crowd rises in agitation: unperturbed, the song of the martyrs develops, conquers, and then is lost in the tumult.

“The Jubilee — The pilgrims trail along the highway, praying. Finally, from the summit of Monte Mario, the holy city appears to ardent eyes and gasping souls: “Rome, Rome!” A hymn of praise bursts forth, the churches ring out their reply.

“The October Festival — The October festival in the Roman castelli covered with vines, hunting echoes, tinkling of bells, songs of love. Then in the tender evenfall arises a romantic serenade.

“The Epiphany — The night before Epiphany in the Piazza Navona: a characteristic rhythm of trumpets dominates the frantic clamor; above the swelling noise float, from time to time, rustic motives, saltarello cadences, the strains of a barrel-organ from a booth, the barker’s call, the harsh song of the intoxicated, and the lively verse in which is expressed popular sentiments. “Lassàtece passà, semo Romani!” — “We are Romans, let us pass!”

Full program notes may be found here and here.


Credits: The sources for quotations may be found at the links indicated in the text. The photograph of the cordial is from Josie Holford. The remaining photographs, as always on the blog unless otherwise indicated, are mine.


13 thoughts on “In Sicilia: Arrival

  1. larrymuffin

    I see by the address that you are staying with the Prince of Lampedusa. Tell us how it was. I have been several times to Sicily and found it wonderful each time.

    1. David N

      Not the Prince himself. Gioacchino, Lampedusa’s adopted son, and his wife Nicoletta go by the title of the Duke and Duchess of Palma, but only my parvenu friend Mr Damant pays much attention to that. I’m delighted my recommendation after our two very happy stays bore fruit.

  2. David N

    I prayed the trip would give you the momentum to blog again, and it has – vittoria! Looking forward to more from both you and Josie on hers.

    Feste Romane is much maligned for its cheerful vulgarity, but there are some amazingly haunting things in it, especially the depiction of the Ottobrata with its phantasmagoria; it’s not just the mandolin here which brings it close to the world of Mahler 7. Interestingly I was asked by BBC Music Magazine to suggest a ‘where next?’ after Mahler 6 and suggested Respighi’s very dark and powerful Sinfonia Drammatica.

  3. Curt Barnes

    You reminded me of our first arrival at Fiumicino, when I ordered coffee while waiting for our ride. It was served, not in paper or styrofoam. but in a cup and saucer. The first small sign of a culture that places form above expediency. Accordingly, Butera 28 looks delightful!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Curt: A cup and saucer no less! I think we had that option, too, though not for carry-away, which only makes sense. And, indeed, Butera28 was delightful. Having the owners on the premises–not to mention getting a a tour of the restored Palazzo, with so many of Lampedusa’s effects (notably his magnificent library), made it a one-of-a-kind experience.

  4. newleafsite

    Happy New Year, and a warm welcome back to WordPress, Sue! What a delightful travelogue and photos! I might have found it hard, tearing myself away from that charming kitchen – my blue and white dishes cry out for their place in it. Since you have abandoned us on Facebook, it is my pleasure to share your writing there. Or, you might consider joining David and me on LinkedIn? Anyway, so good, seeing you here! — Elizabeth

    1. David N

      Elizabeth – you have to go too! My big aim is to set up a human chain of people full of curiosity who I know would just love it. Surprisingly, Via Butera 28 is not by any means expensive for its fabulous location.

  5. shoreacres

    Your description of your arrival in Rome perfectly conveys the pleasure of a beginning holiday: not to mention the civility you found in a rather different airport. I’m so pleased that you’re beginning to share some words and photos from your trip. I’ve wondered how it was. Of course I expected it to be deilghtful, and filled with all things literary and musical, but this is a better start than I’d imagined. I enjoyed reading about Via Butera 28. It’s a far cry from a favorite Houston deli that I used to frequent in the 70s and 80s — now shuttered.

    Welcome home!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: It’s such a pleasure both to re-live and to share it with you and all here who stop by. As always with a trip like this, the delving into context and history surrounding what we experienced after coming home, as I’ve started to do a little bit in today’s post, serves to extend and enhance the pleasures of the trip itself (one of those gifts that keeps on giving).

  6. hilarymb

    Hi Susan – I keep coming across people who’ve been to Sicily and loved it … this entices me even more … sounds the most wonderful of experiences … thanks for posting and please keep doing so! Cheers Hilary

Comments are closed.