Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Granita and Graffiti

Illegal chiringuito, the last night

Ridiculous car hire queues


Been back from Sicily a few days now, and I think the post-holiday blues are starting to lift a bit (though really, I can't complain as I'm not back at work for over a week). These month-long southern European holidays are really great but they can make getting back to the grindstone that much harder - a month off gives you enough time to get a taste for 'mini retirements' a la Tim Ferris in The 4 hour work week - whereas when you take a week off you never quite forget the office. Anyway, here I am, coming to terms with the fact that most of us have to work in order to survive and telling myself that the guys in the office are quite nice really, my boss doesn't throw rotton tomatoes at me and I can work from home occasionally, so hey things aren't that bad :-) And what did I make of Sicily? Well Palermo welcomed you a bit like a big dirty slap in the face (no, really), sweltering in August and piled high with stacks of refuse, anyone who could get away from the city in August clearly had. There were some beautiful monuments, but the impact of these was somehow lost when seen through the filter of extreme humidity, crazy queue jumping (yes, more than in Spain, and there it's not just the grannies) and bus fumes. But after a day or so in Palermo, something strange begins to happen, you start to warm to the place; you take a walk along the shoddy but delightfully multiracial promenade (delightfully multiracias sounds so cheesy I know, but it's true!), you discover once-charming little squares, illegal chiringuitos (street bars) in the previously Arab La Kalsa neighbourhood and somehow the general dirtiness instead of obscuring the more beautiful aspects of the city, actually enhances them somehow (a bit like putting Joan Rivers next to Jocelyn Wildestine... Joan Rivers starts to look beautiful... sorry, that was a punch below the belt). There's also no denying that the people are incredibly warm, friendly and eager to help you which always makes life a bit nicer. The food is very good, and the fruit and vegetables, taste, well, like fruit and vegetables - fresh and unmeddled with. A couple of weeks back I did a 'most refreshing summer drink' poll on the blog (just for curiosity's sake) and homemade lemonade came out tops - Sicily have their own version of this, granita de limone (a kind of lemony crushed ice, or slush puppy if you grew up in the UK) which we basically lived on for the whole 10 days. However, do not make the mistake of asking for a granita de menta because it tastes and looks like Listerine mouthwash. If however, there are any italians out there who know of a granita de menta that does not taste like medicine, please let me know! Another foodie delight of Sicily are the fruit stands, serving fresh, cold peeled and cut fruit (with granita poured over if you wish) which is perfect for lazy people such as myself who claim to like fruit but are too idle to actually prepare the stuff. Those of you who read the blog more or less regularly will know that I like to harp on about customer service, I don't know why I'm so obsessed with it (perhaps from working as an account exec in advertising for a few years where we practically had to tie clients shoe laces for them). Don't worry, I didn't ask anyone to tie my shoelaces in Sicily, but it was interesting to contrast the service with Spain. Ok, I admit I have occasionally bemoaned the sometimes moody service in Spanish restaurants and bars, but I can't deny that waiters here are pretty efficient and very speedy. Well, in contrast, Sicilian waiters were incredibly friendly and warm, but unfortunately kindness doesn't quell my ravenous hunger after a day's sightseeing, and it sometimes took what felt like centuries for a meal to be served. In one particular place in Sicily, we were the only customers and we were tended to by no less than six waiters (so we had three people each in theory), who nevertheless were unexplicaby unable to provide us with ice, water, cutlery or any of the other items that are key to a basic meal without being politely asked about 10 times. At first, I didn't understand why they were taking so long, but then I realised that each person had an assigned job, e.g. one was the napkin folder, another the antipasti plater etc, and there was no way you could get them to do anything (no matter how urgent) that would interrupt the all-important the napkin-folding, antipasti-plating etc until they had finished said job. The lady operating the open air barbequeue was also delaying proceedings as she grilled on a 'one for me, one for you' basis, openly gobbling up every other morsel of meat she cooked in front of our very eyes, before cooking the next item. In any case, none of this really pissed us off, as the staff were so good humoured and were probably paid absolute peanuts and had no lunchbreaks and are as such forced to eat on the job, it just made me smile. The best of Palermo? Perhaps the last night there was the nicest, in the La Kalsa neighbourhood, in a street bar we had previously discovered in the middle of a deserted piazza. listening to live cuban music, eating fresh fruit. The funniest? In the 2-hour queue for the hire car which was not remotely funny, especially when you had grown men constantly tyring to push in front of you using the 'I won't look at you, so you can't see me pushing' method - things got funny when our queue was dramatically fragmented by the spillage of a little juice (or some other liquid) on the floor)... All sounds quite normal so far, until someone calls the cleaning man to wipe up the albeit small but hazardous puddle on the marble floor... My Italian's not so good, but he basically edged his way up to the mess with a look of disgust on his face and a broom in hand and proceeded to say that it wasn't his job to clear up this kind of mess. It would seem that he was only in charge of paper mess, and after much moaning, he scuttled off and returned with a huge bag of used paper refuse, poured it all over the tiny drop of liquid on the floor and mashed the paper into it with the mop in attempt to dry it up, speading the originally small dirty zone all over the floor. He must have also added a bit of Fairy Liquid to the mix as it started to froth up and smear the floor, the paper breaking into little pieces. Finally he cleared up all the paper, putting back in the rubbish bag it came from, leaving the floor even dirtier than before. Talk about making mountains from molehills :-)


Anonymous said...

u miss an amazing night watching stars fall from the sky and also aritificial satellites orbits...

Nadya said...

:-) xx

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