Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Not much tonight. I am tireder and weaker than ever. And there’s a new episode of Fruity Knitting, with which I and my iPad can go to bed. Again, no knitting.

Palermo: I left you as Archie and I were leaving the Catacombe dei Cappuccini on Saturday morning. I think there are several other places in Italy where you can see skulls and bones piled up in church, but Palermo may be unique in offering mummies in their Sunday best.

Since it is in the same quadrant of town, we went on to see the Royal Palace – which contains the Cappella Palatina, No. 2 on the mosaic list. Unfortunately, just as we arrived, they were launching into a baptism (you’d think it was a Roman Catholic church or something), and there was a good deal of standing around on the part of the tourists before we were allowed in. And I was feeling pretty feeble by the time that happened. And the seats were roped off – one could but lean on a pillar.

And the crowd which had gathered behind us, once admitted to the chapel, was of Sistine Chapel dimensions.

So I don’t have very happy memories of the Cappella Palatina. Archie dispatched some pictures to his mosaicist mother.


I reported every evening while we were there to friends and family back in Blighty, and the reaction from London, at least, was that we must take Sunday off. So we did – except for going (by taxi) back to the restaurant Jamie Oliver mentions in his Italy book. I asked our young, intelligent waitress about him. “Celebrity chef” was beyond my Italian vocabulary. I settled for “English writer” and told her that it was because of him that we were there. She had never heard of him. The restaurant is small and very Italian – clearly, despite Jamie, not yet on the tourist trail. Da Pippo la Gondola, should you find yourself there.

Monday, January 15, 2018

I’ve still done no knitting to speak of, since we got back: but I think perhaps I feel slightly better today. I watched the programme last night, with great pleasure, in which the Queen talked about her coronation . There was mention of burying the Crown Jewels in a biscuit tin somewhere in the grounds of Windsor Castle. And I wondered – I am pretty sure I have mentioned the thought here before – about where they were planning to hide the Princesses, when the invasion happened.

That winter of 40-41, when invasion was expected with every full moon, must have had an extra measure of anxiety for families – like that of the King and Queen – who had adolescent daughters. Churchill (let alone the King and Queen) was very thorough in his planning. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know what he had in mind. I wonder if the Queen knows.  It could have been somewhere close to Kirkmichael, which is close-ish to Balmoral. What you need is a village united in not talking to Germans (we’d have been great for that), and a big house (but not too big) where an extra English girl with her auntie – I think the sisters would have had to be separated – wouldn’t have attracted too much notice.

Palermo: we’re now finished with the Gattopardo, at least for the time being. The next day, Friday, was one of the best. We embarked on mosaics, and by good luck rather than good management, saw them in the right order. We started with the Church of the Martorana that day, well-attended but not what you would call crowded, beautiful, interesting.

Then we went on to the market we had visited the day before with the Duchess.

On Saturday, we started with the Catacombe dei Cappuccini. Archie is something of a connoisseur of horror, so I thought he really ought to see that. Well-off Palermitani used to leave themselves to the Cappuchins to be mummified and then dressed in their Sunday best and suspended from the walls. There they still are. It was a bit on the depressing side, but not quite as bad as you might expect.


I learned afterwards that Giuseppe di Lampedusa is buried there –not, thank God a suspended mummy, but in the adjacent cemetery. I am sorry not to have seen his grave, but profoundly glad not to have walked past his skeleton.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

On our second full day in Palermo, we went “Cooking with the Duchess”, with me still shaking from my fell.  This needs a bit of preliminary explanation.

Giuseppe Tomasi, Prince of Lampedusa, author of the “Leopard”, had no children. Late in life he adopted Gioacchino di Lanza, a distant cousin from an even grander family. Gioacchino is still alive – indeed, some months younger than I am. Giuseppe never did much of anything in life, except write a masterpiece. Gioacchino has had a distinguished career as a musicologist.

The title character in the book is based on Giuseppe’s great-grandfather (Burt Lancaster, in Visconti’s film). The great-grandfather had a princely nephew who appears in the book as Tancredi. His adventures may or may not be vaguely historical – but his physical presence and mannerisms are based on Gioacchino.

OK: so here we are, me and Archie, presenting ourselves at the Palazzo Lanza Tomasi on Thursday morning. Lampedusa lived there during the last months of his life, and sets the death of the Gattopardo in an hotel next door. He – Lampedusa – actually died in Rome.

It all went swimmingly. Archie said afterwards that he had feared they would be “snooty”. They weren’t. We strolled with the Duchess on the terrace, picking herbs and lemons for lunch. We went with her to the market to buy fennel and fish and olives and bread. We worked in the kitchen. All was brilliantly organised and totally calm. We had a break for wine and another for coffee. And, somehow or other, at one, we discovered that we had cooked a four-course lunch for 14 people.

White-gloved servitors appeared at that point to serve lunch to us in the rather grand dining room. We were all good friends by that time – an American couple, a German one, and me and Archie. A bit of a WWII morality play. And I sat next to Tancred. And I can tell you that his eyes are, indeed, blue. And that he is delightful.

Most of the time, however, he talked to the German woman on his right, and I to his son Giuseppe on my left. When I read about that fatal dinner party at Donnafugata, I always picture Concetta to the left of Tancredi, with Angelica beyond, in the position of the German woman. I don’t know if there is any textual evidence for that.


Now I will go watch the Queen on television and knit onwards with Archie’s sock. I must get back to that shawl.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

I am greatly encouraged, Mary Lou, by your comment which suggests you know what it means to sit next to Tancred. But that’s for tomorrow. We’ll start at the beginning.

I am very grateful for all your comments. Tamar, you are never wrong – I will see a doctor if weakness and unsteadiness persist. I gather that the NHS is currently overwhelmed by flu. I’ll stay away if I can.

So: our outward journey was smooth. I was consumed by anxiety – could a taxi really thread its way through the post-Hogmanay detritus? Would a train really be running on 1/1/18? Yes, to both. Branson had us on starvation rations – a choice of Sandwich A or Sandwich B, and no alcohol, for 1st Class catering. But we got there, and took a taxi to Sydenham, where we fared a good deal better with Cathy and James.

Uber and EasyJet went smoothly on Tuesday. Archie persuaded me to take a taxi from the airport – the slippery slope. The Hotel del Centro, chosen because it offered single rooms, proved to be an excellent choice. Quiet, clean, comfortable, as conveniently located as its name suggests. I’ll write something for Trip Advisor soon.

Wednesday was our Gattopardo walking tour with a local expert. It was excellent, although it stretched me to the limit. The best part was when we went to the site of the Palazzo Lampedusa, where the author grew up, an only child who loved the house. It was destroyed by an American bomb in ’43 – Palermo had a hard time, that year. But for that bomb, however, we wouldn’t have had the book.

For many years, it lay in ruins, but has now been rebuilt as an apartment block. In the book, it is Prince Fabrizio’s town house. His principal residence is a couple of miles out of the city, just beyond Monte Pellegrino. We walked along the route the carriage took from that house to the ball at the Ponteleones’, -- it's not far -- past the church where they met a priest carrying the Sacrament to someone in extremis, and the Prince got out of the carriage and knelt on the paving stones.

I rested in the afternoon, but in the evening we set off – too far – to a restaurant Jamie Oliver mentions in “Jamie’s Italy”. We ate well, but it was on the return journey that I fell. I didn’t trip on anything, I just fell. At least I didn’t hit my head.


More tomorrow.

Friday, January 12, 2018

I enjoyed “Three Billboards” a lot – but is it that good? The end seemed to me to drag, as ends often do. The actor who ran away with it, secondo me, was neither Frances McD (whom I love) nor Woody Harrelson, but Sam Rockwell (whom I had never heard of before). I guess you’d better go see it.

Otherwise, nothing to report. No knitting.

At the end of our first full day in Palermo – might as well plunge in at the deep end – I fell, on our way back home in the evening, only a few yards from the hotel door. No bones broken. I got to my feet unaided. But I was both shaken and stirred. And for the rest of the week, both weak and lacking in appetite.

I thought I was getting better the last couple of days, but have been weaker than ever, these two full days back here. Archie and I took taxis to and from the Filmhouse this afternoon. This can’t go on.

One thing on the knitting front, though: perhaps in itself a worrying symptom. We “West Highland Way” club members have had our first pattern from KD, a delicious hat and mitten set. My reaction was, that’s great! But what about the yarn? I signed up for that, too.

Then I discovered – from no less a source than this blog – that I had already received the yarn. Then I looked where it should be, and there it is. Perhaps I should knit the hat as an act of penance.


I hope, tomorrow, to get started on telling you about the actual Palermo adventures.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Here I am in Edinburgh. Tired, weak – but it was a very successful venture, thanks to Archie. The high points were “Cooking with the Duchess” and the cathedral of Monreale. You’ll hear all about it in the days to come. It will be more interesting, at least at first, if you love “Il Gattopardo” as I do. I sat next to Tancred at lunch and I can tell you that in old age – he is some months younger than I am – he retains presence and charm. And blue eyes.

There is little to report on the knitting front. I think I looked up Palermo at some point and found little. I gave no thought to the matter while we were there, and no LYS’s presented themselves as we walked about in the Historic Centre. I started a pair of socks for Archie with an Arne & Carlos self-patterning yarn. I've nearly reached the heel – and I knit gents’ socks big. The socks I turn out to be knitting are not those illustrated on the ball band, although obviously from the same stable.

One piece of news, though: I had sort of hoped for an episode of Fruity Knitting this week, but there is nothing. However, someone asked a question in the Ravelry group which produced an answer from Andrea revealing that she is going to take a class in pattern-writing at the EYF!

They were here last year, but that was before I had discovered them. This year, surely, they will be in the podcast room at some point, and I can admire them from afar, as I did Jared last year.


Tomorrow Archie and our niece C. and I are going to see “Three Billboards” on its opening day in the UK. We will represent the three ages of man.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The promised extra message…

I have been very touched by all your comments. They are much more than I deserve. I’ll have my beloved iPad with me on my hoped-for travels, and will try to send at least an “Eccoci a Palermo!” message from the spot. Assuming we get there.

Kate Davies’ yarn arrived today (the day after the solstice). It’s pretty wonderful. I’m not entirely keen on tweed, and I am ever wary of scratchy, but I’m very glad that I went for the Full Monty with this club. The yarn is marvellous, beautiful colours, soft to the skin – no doubt because of the mohair. The club itself begins next month, I think. And I’m more or less in a position to begin to think of knitting it.

Indeed, I finished the second ball of lace yarn last night, knitting the borders of the baby shawl. That’s a big step forward.


So here we are at the dread pivot of the year, but at least with the solstice behind us. It’s rather good to have a two-day Christmas Eve. Tomorrow for last-minute shopping, Sunday for setting up the tree and once-in-royal-david’s-city and tears.