I recently made my Italian pilgrimage to the land of Nonna, Palermo in Sicily. Despite numerous visits to Italy, I had never ventured to the land of my DNA and I had absolutely no expectations other than wanting to see Teatro Massimo because my grandmother loved playing outside of it as a child. I was greatly surprised by what I found.
On arriving, I was greatly saddened by the dirt, the absolute filth, in the streets. The smell of urine permeated the air wherever I went, even on Palermo’s toniest shopping streets of Via della Liberta and Via Settimo. At night, roaches the size of mice escaped from their denizen in the sewers to crawl near my feet. I was nauseated.
The next morning, I regrouped and found the soul of the city in its people. I felt at home, not threatened, not even at night as a solo traveler. The heart of any city is its people and the Sicilians of Palermo are friendly and helpful.
I was mystified that a people so warm and open could not have more pride in their beautiful surroundings…and Palermo is beautiful. Its architecture is magnificent. However, the clean-up starts with just one person refusing to toss trash in the streets or tolerate anyone urinating in them.
I felt my Nonna’s spirit with me and I knew this was not her Palermo. This was not the Palermo where a little girl could skip rope in front of the grandest opera house and not risk illness in the process. This was not the Palermo where she could run down to the sea and still be able to view the majestic mountains. She was awed back then and she was only six when she left. She left the beautiful memories behind. I left the beautiful memories of Palermo as well, but not of the city, of its people.