Monday, September 16, 2002

I'm in the process of upgrading my computer to Windows XP, so I'll take this opportunity to fill in all who are interested about Zingaro and Palermo. We'll go in increasing order of complexity.

Zingaro Nature Preserve was essentially a beach, but it was the best beach that I'd ever been to. I guess it was a fifteen or twenty minute drive from the dig house, and people went fairly frequently - I guess there were maybe four or five trips to Zingaro over the course of the dig, which is pretty good for six weeks. You had to pay two euro to get in (~$2), but that was ok because the place was absolutely gorgeous. You got to the beach itself by walking, and after you walked through this big tunnel cut into the rock (for which you were heartily glad, given the ferocity of the sun) it was like you had entered Jurassic Park or something. The Mediterranean stretched out before you to your right, windswept and a deep jewel blue, and ahead and to your left were these great cliffs that jutted into the air, and were all the more dramatic for the fact that they were covered in the greenest grass despite the precipitous incline. The first time we went we hung out on this rock outcropping and swam in the water (which was absolutely clear and warm enough that even I didn't get cold). That was cool, and I got to meet people on the dig for real for the first time. But the sun and complete lack of shade, plus the fact that the rock we were on was inhabited by tiny worms that would poke their heads out of the holes they'd burrowed into the rock and bite you, detracted somewhat from the trip.

The second time around we hiked around this outcropping - and hiked for about thirty minutes in sandals, which was less than pleasant despite the spectacular vistas it afforded. I was very glad for the CamelBak I was carrying. The beach we got to, however, was worth it. The water was even clearer than before, and really shallow for about sixty yards or so, so you could see the bottom really clearly even without goggles. The beach was little pebbles instead of sand, which was all to the good in my opinion since sand has an irritating habit of gluing itself to you when you're wet whereas pebbles do not, and these pebbles were just as soft as sand. And the beach was this sheltered cove, too, so we even had shade. Oh yeah, and the beach was almost deserted. Quite phenomenal.

So, as Her Majesty would say, to Palermo then! Palermo is Sicily's largest city at about 700,000 residents. It felt like a big city, anyway, even though I know 700,000 isn't all that much compared to the places I've spent most of my life. I went with a group for the weekend in an attempt to ration my leisure activities (which, at the dig house, were essentially limited to cards, books, music, and Phoenix Earth) by doing something that got me out of the dig house. As most of you know, I'm not much for big cities (in point of fact, they make me uncomfortable), but I figured the company would be enjoyable. As it was; I got to know the Conservator and Tango on that trip.

The plan was to walk around the city enjoying the sights for the first day, those sights including the outdoor market, big cathedral, and a number of smaller ones throughout the city, renting a hotel for the night, and then visiting the archaeological museum and catacombs on Sunday. So we mostly wandered around for the first day. The outdoor market was noisy and sprawled for street after street of the most random stuff: lingerie hanging from lines drawn across the street, bootleg CDs, coffee percolators, handpainted ceramics, groceries, and on and on. The cathedrals ... well, I guess I can't say much about the cathedrals, which is strange because they were really breathtaking. I am most indebted to Chaminade (my high school) for giving me the ability to appreciate and comprehend Catholicism. That has proved important any number of times, and it came in handy again when taking in the cathedrals at Palermo. The thought I had most was taken from Gladiator: "I didn't know men could build such things." There is something curious about cathedrals, which I find neither beautiful (despite the beautiful artwork) nor stately (despite the grandeur of the architecture) but simply ... well, grand.

We stumbled upon a traveling exhibit of Elymian Sicily that first day, which was really cool because they had the niftiest stuff in it. There were several stelae that they had dug up, which gave a chronology of this one site (unfortunately I couldn't read the Greek, to my great frustration). We saw some reconstructed pithoi, which were huge (and rather ugly) and I also saw some bronze arms: a bronze spearhead (ceremonial, I conjecture), a greave, three helmets ... it was so cool.

The hotel was only a one-star hotel, but it was remarkably nice. The room (well, my room; we got three) was rather spacious, even, and certainly clean. And the amenities were nice. Anyway, the next day we saw the archaeological museum, which was like the traveling exhibit only a hundred times cooler. And all the stuff was rather poorly displayed, so our little group went around explaining stuff to each other. We saw a whole bunch of sculpture that still had the original paint on it, which was way cool for the Conservator since that's what she's interested in, and whole pieces of temples, and vase paintings of all kinds - most particularly interesting to me were those depicting hoplite battle, since those very paintings are critical to our modern understanding of what went on on the Greek battlefield.

The catacombs were also interesting, but from a more philosophical standpoint. They were mostly in use in the 16th century, if I recall correctly, and haven't had another interment for about 80 years. Some people thought it was creepy - which I guess I could see, given that the bodies were just there within arm's reach (beyond the chain-link, of course) and some of them were kind of falling apart. Mostly I thought it was interesting to contemplate the mindset of a people who would inter their dead that way, and wonder how much of it was sociopolitical and how much of it was actually theologically motivated. The latter was particularly interesting to me since the text seems to indicate to me quite clearly that when the Resurrection occurs we get new bodies ... so what use in preserving the old ones?

So that was about the size of my big outside adventures. Now you're all caught up with Sicily. And I'm about to go back to school, so probably I'll have to skip the rest of summer unless there are some specific requests.

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