Friday, August 19, 2016

Erice to Palermo and Our Way Back Home

Last day on the big voyage.

On the way back to Palermo we drove up to the old Phoenician town of Erice.  Like much of the area, it was sacked during the Punic War, coped with Norman invasions, and generations of incursions, leaving enticing remains of its travails. So we explore them trying to learn something, trying to make sense of some of this experience.

It was our last full day in Italy as we make our way to Rome.  We wake up early and made our way out for a final dip in the clear blue waters of Taramina.  An old man in a bathing suit greets us. Bon Giorno, we greet him.  Come va!  He puts his hands up, looking around smiling.  We feel the same way.  We'll miss this a lot.  The  girls and I pick up sea glass, digging in the sand exploring the treasures on the beach.  Some kids are kicking soccer ball. I swim out as far as I can swim, following a flock of seagulls passing the day away.
Below the surface, I think of my parents' epic journeys through the classical world, with friends from school, in days now long past, when they were young and had their whole lives in front of them.  Most of those friends are gone. Dad is gone.  And this is the first summer in a long time that Mom has not been able to travel.  Caroline and I are acutely aware that the time for such adventures with the family sometimes passes.  Moments end, trips cease.  For now, swimming through the blue waters, looking at the walls of this ancient city, I breathe a sigh of appreciation for the adventure we’re enjoyed as we’ve made our way around Sicily, from Palermo, to Cerfalu, Stromboli, to Taraminia, to Siracusa, to Arigento,  to Trapani, Selinunte to the yesterdays island voyage to Favignana, along the Egadi Islands back to today.
Swimming through the water, I think of time passing, of the kids growing older, the trips we’re taken in the past the year,  the water around me, the fish swimming by, the birds in the distance, the Punic Wars that have taken place on these shores, the myths of the Cyclops which Odysseus eluded on this island, and Virgil who chronicled it all.   Borges suggests our lives take us into a labyrinth. I wonder about where this one is taking us, between New York and Sicily, time everlasting. 
Walking back to the hotel, we pick up the last pieces of sea glass for our collection, pieces of tile, molded from the waters and waves of the ocean. 
I look at the fortifications along the shore, protecting the city, which has endured so much.  The city is built to last, having some ten times the recorded history of our new but already decaying empire. 
We go back to the room and I pack my wet shorts, the same shorts that have covered for swimming trunks for six weeks now, alternating with my one other pair of shorts. 
On the way to Erice, Caroline and I recall our honeymoon when we drove around Lesvos in Greece, the car winding through the curvy roads, making our way up to the ancient city,   
We talk about the trip and the summer, making our way to Jamaica after a few delays to stay in Princeton.  A week later,  we made our way back to pick up the kids from camp and left for Florence, Venice, Ravenna, and Rome, before our Southern voyage from Naples to Sicily.  Our twelve-day hike from Assisi to Rome was the highlight of the journey. There are so many kind people we met.  A morning walking along the Nera river at 7 am, strolling through the crisp air, looking at fields, through some hills, up a mountain to a Roman waterfall, before making our way to a lake. These walks stay with me.  They are some of the best moments of my life. Still, it all seem a long time ago The difficult ones are also part of this journey. But we walk through them.  We have to.  Hopefully the sea will stay with me, the views of the cities, the panorama of waves and skies, sunsets and seagulls, last islands and ancient walls we've seen everywhere here.  The stones of Erice, the views from the top of the mountain, the lovely Sicilian wines, the easy going Italians, pushing their way through lines, the legends and ceramics, and the piazzas, and bikinis, and bikes, and train rides, and road trips, and flights on our way back to Rome.
The kids think I have an Italian soul.  Maybe I do?  Who knows?  The Shepards do hail from Dorchester, England which was a Roman colony for a while there.  Sp who knows.  Its never easy leaving.
Buying gifts on the way home, a man asks where we’re from.
New York we tell him.  We’re sad to leave, we explain. 
Well, there are a lot of Italians in New York, he consoles us.
We buy a bottle of lemoncello to put in our bags.
Hopefully, it’ll make its way back home in one piece.
We eat some fresh margarita pizza in the square, overlooking a 14th century church, at Latin inscription on the side, and make our way for the trip back to Palermo.  

You can’t get a bad meal in Italy. 

We have not yet.

Towering over the west of Sicily at 751m above sea level and often covered in its own personal cloud, Erice is a wonderfully preserved Mediaeval town offering the most breathtaking views and a palpable sense of history.
Originally an Elymian city (the Elymians were around before the Greeks ever set foot in Sicily) Erice, or Eryx as it was first called, was a town of no little importance and renown and is said to have attracted the likes Hercules and Aeneas.
Like so many Sicilian towns, it passed from one invader to another as all the usual suspects came and went, leaving their architectural calling cards and their cultural footprints. The name changed from Eryx, to Erice to Gebel Hamed and Monte San Giuliano but its essential character remained, obstinately repelling any attempt to change its real identity.
...often covered in its own personal cloud, Erice is a wonderfully preserved Mediaeval town offering the most breathtaking views and a palpable sense of history.
Amongst the most visited sites are the two castles, Pepoli Castle and Venus Castle. The former was built by the Arabs while the latter was a Norman construction with imposing towers that derived its name from the fact that it was built on the site of the ancient Temple of Venus, allegedly founded by Aeneas.
Other attractions include the sixty (yes 60!) churches including the Gothic Chiesa Madre (1314) and the Mediaeval Church of Saint John the Baptist. Otherwise the maze of cobbled Mediaeval streets are a pleasure to wander around and the views are stunning. On a cloudless day, theEgadi Islands off the coast of Trapani are vividly visible, rising from the sea like giant, motionless whales while to the west the panorama takes in vast swathes of eastern Sicily, the Tyrrhenian Sea and the coastline towards San Vito Lo Capo, Monte Cofano and the Gulf of Castellammare.

Next time, we'll try to make it to the Palermo Archaeological Museum.  But we ran out of time
on the journey.
You can't see everything. I found a few pictures.  These'll have to suffice.
Caroline says she's going to get me the catalog.

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