PALERMO: MAKE ME AN OFFER I CAN'T UNDERSTAND
I don’t speak Italian. I have never had to.
In most of my adult life, whenever the opportunity to travel to Italy has arisen, I have headed off to Spain instead.
I don’t regret that for a second, Spain being, well, Spain. But, now I am in Italy or Sicily to be more precise, it does mean I have to resort to the old British skill of pointing and repeating the same thing in English at increasing volume until Johnny Foreigner has the decency to understand me.
Fortunately, the people here are
a)Very patient and friendly
b)More bothered about enjoying themselves than worrying about my grasp of the language.
It is a very Italian take on having a good time and, again, noticeably different from Spain. Here, it seems as important to be seen having a good time and to be doing it with élan than just having a good time for its own sake.
I cannot be readily accused of doing anything with style but, thanks to some research and the help of Claudio, owner of my lovely B&B in Via Vucciria, I have managed to eat well. Very well, in fact.
Few people I have encountered on the trip seem to eat as much as the Sicilians and I have done my best to join in. During the day time, eating my way through the local pastries in the morning, mid morning snacks of Panelle, batter cakes made from chickpeas, large bowlfuls of the local Pasta “Con Sarde” and even the local variant on the Pizza, Sficione (still dreadful) for lunch.
After sleeping some of that off, I have taken it easy in the evening with simple plates of ham and local cheeses, including the staggeringly good sheep’s milk ricotta, which I smeared onto bread and helped down with glasses of the local wines made of Nero D’Avola, Grillo and Insolia grapes.
Best of all, however has been the Pani Ca Meusa, a sandwich made of spleen and lung meat simmered in bubbling lard, piled in a mound on top of a soft roll, sprinkled with salt and doused with lemon juice.
It is a winning combination and washed down with a cold beer has provided a mid morning pick-me-up for each of my three days here.
Given that The Pound and The Euro are seemingly hell bent on parity, Sicily is not a cheap option, but the quality is very high and, outside of the tourist districts, there is little attendant cynicism.
With the amount of food on offer, it is a great surprise that people here are not all the size of the late, great Luciano P. As for me, I have worked it off by mooching around what is a pleasingly rough old city, which shows all the hallmarks of its mixed past with Arabic, African and Italian cultures sitting side by side.
No one could ever call it a pretty town and some parts of it are as coarse as a Jim Davidson pantomime, but the people are welcoming and, even in the old bars and taverna near my guesthouse, where I have done battle with some dodgy old spirts, I have never been given anything but a warm, if incomprehensible, response.
As if to reinforce this view, Claudio and his Tunisian girlfriend invited me to join them for supper last night and prepared a simple arabic meal of charred peppers mixed with garlic and tomatoes alongside Brik, little pastry parcels of tuna, capers, eggs and cumin.
Given the avowed aim of my trip, a half Welsh, Half Bengali man sitting in a guesthouse in Palermo eating Tunisian food did not actually seem that strange.
I have only two more stops to go before the trip ends and I have to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Now that will seem strange.
Palermo, however will definitely have played its part in the story and that sandwich may well find itself in the top ten of things I have eaten although, in the interest of accuracy, I may have to have another couple to make sure
Claudio is taking me on a little food tour this evening. That is obviously an offer............... Well you can fill in the rest yourselves
Next stop, Rome