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Palermo, Sicilia - 5 November 2011


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to Palermo

Our plan is to decelerate for the last couple of weeks of the trip, to give us a chance to relax, digest, and recuperate ...so that when we return home and people ask, "How was your vacation?" we don't bite their heads of. "Whadaya mean, vacation? That kind of travel is WORK!" As one acute visitor to this site observed, the gift given by such a long itinerary is the severance of many of the conventional bonds of rootedness, so when one actually returns "home" it is with a new perspective and altered perceptions. Giving ourselves time to solidify those perspectives while still breathing Italian air seems like an important step, and it feels as if today's trip is the first "reduced duty" day of the adventure.


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Our short ride today took us past the salt pans again, and I couldn't resist stopping and asking, "Do you sell salt?" One of the guys makes an expansive gesture taking in the pans, windmills, ocean, piles of salt, as if to say, "How not?" I ask for a half kilo (about a pound, about as much as I think I can handily fit into my luggage) and he gets a plastic bag out of his car and sends Salvatore off on his Vespa. I follow, so I can get a picture of the place where the salt came from. I end up with a 2E, 1 kg bag of gorgeous, greyish, sale mareale artiginale.

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One of our guide books effuses over the ruins at Segesta, and as we come closer we keep seeing pictures of them, so we could not bear to drive by without stopping for one more manifestation of Magna Greca in Sicilia. It's amazing how these structures loom above the trees, a solid, surprising presence unlike anything we erect nowadays.

This temple is thought to be unfinished -- the inner walls are missing, and there's no evidence that they existed, and some of the construction "tabs" used to life the blocks, usually removed during the final finishing, are still present, providing important clues as to how such structures were erected. This is a stout, semi-protected temple, and so it is pretty much as it was 2,300 years ago when the Carthaginians invaded and work stopped. 

The site here is forested and green, on the brink of a deep canyon with a stream in the bottom. Plenty of stone nearby, and fertile fields all about. There's no village anywhere near now, and one wonders if the site was bought by someone in former times and the villages removed so that the Temple and theater could be given the space they have now.


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<p>The old girl

The old girl's had a little work done -- some of the pillars have had some cement-and-brick patches applied, and there's some steel reinforcement under the top blocks -- but with reasonable care, there's no reason she won't be standing 2,300 years hence. One thing more clearly visible here than at the Acropolis or Valle dei Templi is the subtle curvature of the base, so that from a distance, the building appears orthogonal to our eyes.

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Segesta's other treasure is its glorious hilltop Greek Theater. This building has suffered more through the years than the stolid temple, partly because of its wind-whipped site -- it was nearly blowing hard enough to knock us down -- and partly because this hilltop has hosted a succession of later villages -- Roman, Muslim, Norman -- and much of its structure has been repurposed more than once. Nevertheless, archeologists have been able to tease much of the original plan out of what's left, and starting at the beginning of the 19th Century, the Sicilian owners have been working to restore it to its original plan.

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Wind-whipped though we were, it was easy to sit in the last row (the seats with backs) and imagine watching Oedipus with the green Sicilian valley and hills for backdrop.

The wind continued as we rode down the hill into Alcamo Marina to Hotel La Battigia where we were awarded the nicest room. Out our enormous deck the drama of clouds, mountains and sea has been playing out all afternoon as I write this. We went for a walk, and are anticipating a good dinner in the restaurant downstairs.

Onward to return the car at Palermo Airport and then into the heart of the city for our three day stay in Fabrizia's apartment. Stories to come!


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