On my last full day in Palermo, a few of us decided to visit the Capuchin catacombs, which play eternal host to preserved and mummified remains dating from the late 1500s to its last permanent resident from the 1920s.
At some point, some monk concluded that a place full of dead people wasn’t disturbing enough and decided to arrange many of the bodies in ways that suggest they’re still alive.
Believe me, it’s super-creepy to walk along underground halls with bodies mounted on the walls on both sides. It’s even creepier that some look like they’re talking to each other (or worse, talking to you), holding hands, or otherwise engaged in some enterprise of the living. I would show you, but pictures weren’t allowed.
Since I can’t show you any catacomb pics, instead I’ll show you pics from the street market we walked through on our way to and from the catacombs. This was an unexpected pleasure for me. The market is in what looked like a working class area long on personality and atmosphere and short on English-speaking people.
Walking through and hearing the calls and conversations entirely in Italian and seeing the sheer variety of things for sale was an immersive experience for me. Where else can you see someone selling homemade bread out of the back of their van alongside others selling everything from fresh seafood and produce to shoes and shrines? And the braids of garlic laid out on the sidewalk smelled delicious!
One of my favorite experiences in Palermo was our lunch stop that day. We picked a restaurant where no one spoke English and we’re pretty sure we showed up just before they actually were open for the day. Communicating with our waiter was a bit comical – he was trying really hard and so were we.
At one point, he said, “Sorry. My English no good” to which I replied, “Your English is better than our Italian.” This of course was lost on him, so I pulled out my phone and typed that into Google Translate. He looked over my shoulder in curiosity as I typed, then I showed him the translation. Our conversation (if you will) stalled for a few beats while he read it and then his face broke out in a smile. Then he reached for my phone and started typing.
We repeated this exchange, which is one of the oddest and more interesting (albeit brief) conversations I’ve had. Type type type. Pause. Share. Smile. Trade places. Repeat.
Just a fun example of how technology helped overcome a language barrier. Thank goodness for apps.