MM 4.5 — Day 9: Sicilian Immersion

How weird a feeling that is: coming back to the European continent feels like coming home, even though we are in Palermo, Sicily, today, which is still “rather different” from those countries further up north.

A visit to Palermo would be incomplete without seeing the catacombs. Being around all those mummified bodies was bound to be a special stop on this tour, but I was not prepared for the deeply spiritual experience this turned into. Some of the mummies are very well preserved, and on a few you can still make out all the facial features. It’s not just a “carcass” in front of you, if I may say so, but a human being, who just happens to be dead for some time.

Palermo Catacombs

It makes you wonder what that person’s life was like; what his daily job entailed; what the city looked like when he lived; who his family were, etc. I wish we would have had more time to really let these thoughts develop and unfold. But there was a bus waiting outside…

Joining a guided tour is just not the same as exploring on your own, at your own pace. It was about time to do some exploring without someone rushing you through all the sights, sounds, and smells, so four of us — Rachel, Jonathan, Erik, and me — got together to go see Palerma, and it was fabulous.

That feeling of being totally immersed in a foreign city kicked in as soon as we had left the harbor gate behind us. Strolling at a leisurely pace and taking a frightful amount of photos among the four of us newbie photo geeks (thanks, Jack!), our two main points of interest — and navigation within Palermo! — were the Teatro Massimo with its sculpture of Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, and La Martorana fountain.

Teatro Massima and Verdi Sculpture

There was only one issue to solve: Palermo isn’t all that far away from Tunisia, so, here, too, it was swelteringly hot. By sheer coincidence we ended up on a little piazza, far beyond any tourist bus routes, had a few drinks at a little kiosk, and just “inhaled” the atmosphere. Having only friendly locals around you is just so much better than being part of an isolated tourist group (however pleasant the air-co on the bus may be!).

It’s this contrast between guided tour and our little exploration that made me cancel the Sorrento/Pompeii tour I had scheduled for tomorrow. First, I do feel like I could use at least one full day without any scheduled appointments, and I’d rather go see a bit of Napoli on my own. It’s what worked for me for years before going on this cruise, and I guess I’ll more or less go back to that mode of traveling, anyway.

There was one more scheduled class on Friday: David Pogue’s seminar on running Windows on an Intel Mac. Thanks to my buddy Francis’s MacBook, I could already check out Parallels myself, so I had no plans on attending David’s class to start with. Therefore, yesterday’s Automator session was to be my last one for this cruise. But, you know, sometimes there are these little surprises that make your heart pound with joy. Like tonight’s ad-hoc intro to AppleScript by Sal Soghoian.

Somehow, Neil simply must have forgotten to publicly announce that class. I can’t think of another reason why it was just Sal, fellow-cruiser Bill, and yours truly who attended that class. A two-on-one session with The Sal. Neil will have a damned hard time trying to top that one on a future cruise!

It was an intense 75 minutes during which Sal gave us a few useful handouts, went through the first “few” slides of his WWDC 2005 AppleScript presentation, and patiently answered all questions Bill and I came up with. This little presentation with Apple’s AppleScript guru already made being on this geek cruise worthwhile all by itself. Thank you very much, Sal!

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