Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Now Afghanistan Private Security Sex Scandal Hurts U.S. Image Negatively Impacting Its Mission

The spring of 2006 I was on my third assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan. Providing professional development training for the Afghan men and women employed by the Department of State, I returned to a large newly built Embassy – one of the largest in the world. Embassy size indicates level of U.S. entrenchment. A commanding presence of nearly 1000 U.S. Diplomats, staff and Afghan nationals employed at the Embassy to promote Democracy, there are hundreds of private security contractors inclusive of the “kill on command” Gurkhas of Nepal and Northern India. Their sole responsibility is to ensure the safety of Americans. With this awesome task to protect against constant threats from the Taliban, it is about time security guards for the Wackenhut subsidiary ArmorGroup North finally got caught in their vulgar sex scandal. Former FBI agent and Wackenhut founder George Wackenhut is turning in his grave.

The firing of security personnel involved in this outrage does little to erase another embarrassing U.S. blemish showcased around the globe while fighting terrorism. If anything, this incident inclusive of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo serves as another great marketing tool to recruit more terrorists strengthening the Taliban’s resolve believing Americans are proving their hypocrisy in Afghanistan by imploding. The lewd acts by these men enliven anti-American sentiment; making the work more difficult.

In Afghanistan, I spoke to guards who worked for various private security agencies about their work. With top secret security clearances enabling them to interface with ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), our troops and the Embassy’s Regional Security Office, nearly all of the men proudly served in the military and/or some sort of paramilitary organization. A pay of $180k annually, men from the private security agencies said they enjoyed a month off every three months with paid leave to go anywhere in the world. Instead of going home to their families many flew to Thailand, Dubai or some other exotic locale for R&R. Some men claimed having bad marriages, and other life stress that eclipsed their desire to go home. All enjoyed living on the edge, carrying semi automatics and an extra fifty pounds of body armor in case something “jumped off.”

The men bragged they were the ones who kept Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai alive – stating if it was not for them, the warlords would take him out. Over lunch or dinner, it was fascinating to hear stories about their work. It was hard to tell if what they told me was real or hyperbole, but in a place like Afghanistan when lives are continuously in jeopardy, the exaggeration was perhaps real.
Every morning, I’d leave my hooch to go train I saw the guards execute their security routine. At various events on Embassy grounds, the men drank beer and hard liquor throwing back more than a few in an evening.

The drinking led to loud talk and feeling uninhibited to make hard passes at the women present explaining in the most pitiful ways how long it’s been. Not completely blaming them for wanting to fulfill a perfectly normal biological need, the concern was how inebriated some men became. How could they properly protect us should an attack on the Embassy take place? A short muscularly built African American supervisor began to walk around telling his guards to chill out, it’s time to go back to their compound, or they had enough to drink. It was common knowledge a few of these guys were “out of control,” but not enough to do anything about it until now.

When the American Embassy was attacked around Memorial Day of 2006, I was relieved the security force emerging to defend us was the U.S. military. The private security forces were present doing their part, but after observing what I saw in a non-emergency setting, I was thankful I did not see them when bullets flew over the Embassy.

To work in Afghanistan for an extended period of time is physically and psychologically grueling - at times extremely lonely. However, the work of high level security in Afghanistan at all times is for the honorable, mentally and morally strong – there’s too much at stake - American lives and the reputation of the United States of America.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Park, The Prostitute, Palermo and Prayer

My last two days in Palermo was both an entertaining and sobering experience. Despite the romanticism and affection I have for Italy and it's neglected sons and daughters of La Provincia, there are some real realities one has to take in and then balance it out with your experience and still come away from it happy and completely satisfied.

I am sure you have heard this all before, but the only way to really experience a country is to get with the locals. This has always been my practice and I certainly did this in Sicily. I was not a tourist of sort (although I did two tours - one in Palermo and one in Catania). I wanted to get to the nitty gritty, the heart; finding out what is really happening.

You remember earlier during my trip, I mentioned that I met on old man who gummed my arm? Well later that same day, I met another gentleman who was a real local who spoke no English - I got my chance to really get down to really knowing Palermo better. Over gelato, I shared with my experience about the old man and he laughed. Well, unbeknownst to me, he shared with his uncle about La Ragazza Americana who was nearly gummed to death by an old man in the park, and lo and behold his uncle whom he calls "Cici (Chi - short for Siciliano), knows this guy. When I was in Catania both of them went on a mission to talk with this man about how he approached me and wanted to know what this was all about.

The Old Man Gumming Incident took place in the English Gardens. The old man, proudly admitted he met me and tried to kiss me, but missed and went for my arm. He said he could not help himself because I was so beautiful and he had to do it. This man named Vincenzo (I later found out his name) is 76 years old and he sits in the park every day scouting out younger women he can spend time with on the park bench and if he is ever so lucky more.

Old man Vicenzo got a little scolding, but it was all for naught because I met Vincenzo again yesterday - yes in the park sitting on a bench donning a black and white striped derby hat with a matching shirt. He is really short; more shorter than I had originally remembered. With a big pancia (stomach) and little legs, Vincenzo was perched on the bench like a real Don Giovanni.

I asked him in Italian why he felt he could gomma me (gum me)? He just smiled and said, "I wanted to have a kiss so I thought I would try." The young man and his zio (uncle) made so much fun of him; it became a drama in the park Sunday morning. Other older men joined the group, one-by-one hearing and listening to the same story being told over and over again, but of course with some added information and fabrication added each time it was told. I no longer owned the experience or the story. It was now owned by the Gummer himself Vincenzo, Zio Franceso, Nipote (nephew)Caruso, Giovanni, Salvatore and anyone who came to join us.

I could not contain my own laughter and at one point, tears were flowing because I was laughing so hard. I am not sure if the men came because I was present or because these guys always attracted such a crowd. But while in the park, I received a free espresso (I drank it because I was being polite, but it was hard and what I did not finish - which was most of it - Zio and Caruso sucked it down for me), gelato, water, sweets and other little treats to make me happy. I had a camera so the men took over the shots and told me what ones they wanted me to take with them and of them. It was quite a spectacle. There was a lot of gossip about what is happening with various persons and of course continuous ranking on each other; particularly Vincenzo, the old Gummer.

I received many questions about my visit to Italy such as, "Why did I come to Sicily, How did I find Sicily, What is more beautiful Palermo or Catania, Do I have any friends here, Why did I come alone," etc. - you get the picture. The main question they really wanted to know is about my love life - Do I have a Sposare (Married), Marito (Husband), Findanzato (Fiance), Amante (Lover) or what. The second big question is, do you have kids? With the answer to these two most important and nosy questions being "No," they all speak at once in Italian; wondering why this is and perhaps they can help me with my situation in what ever way they could to first find me someone in Sicily and then work out the other situation; but perhaps not necessarily in that order.

Several of the men did a little walk and talk with each other; looking over to me periodically and then motioning and coming back. At the end of their walk and walk discussions, I would hear, "She's nice girl and really smart too." To keep repeating that I am Bella would sound arrogant and to self indulgent, so I will not write this any more.

When Italian men in the South greet each other it is with a kiss; there is a real affection that is shown to friends. Similar to Arab men, this is what they do. I am curious if they got this practice from the Arabs when they dominated the area. The body language by the men is most amusing. The hand gestures, the emphasis when they talk and walk and the decibels they speak in are so similar to that of African American men who hang out on a Sunday morning.

In other countries, hanging out does not seem to be a problem. It is nothing to see groups of three, six or more men sitting on a bench drinking cappuccino or eating a light sweet shooting the breeze about everything from soccer (calcio), politics, the mafia (this is a subject that comes up often) or their favorite topic women.

Families come to the park on Sunday morning as well. Children are playing, little babies are struggling to walk teetering at a rapid pace with both hands in the air trying to balance themselves - their papas are nearby to catch them before they fall.

Women come to the park too in small groups walking and also talking about whatever is on their minds, making it a point to sit away from the men, but in an area that they can see them.

Everything is in slow motion in the park. People walk slow, drink their coffee slow and eat their gelato in a cup leisurely as well. The parks of Palermo are meant for what Caruso says, "Tranquila and Non Stressato." I think this is something Americans really do miss in their lives. Europeans have something special here when it comes to allowing life to just happen when it is time to relax and chill out.

Now back to Vincenzo, the Old Gummer. Vincenzo has a philosophy about women and perhaps this is something you are familiar with or can relate too. He feels if he goes after every woman he meets and sees who are decent looking enough for him, his odds of landing a shared bench with them of course a visit to his casa later are good. He says everyone woman needs love and he is available to give it.

With his philosophy in tact, Vincenzo went into action twice during my visit at the park. I think he wanted me to know that no love was lost because he was dissed by me earlier in the week, but he also wanted me to see he is true to his own game. With Caruso and Zio as Vincenzo's cheering squad they pointed out a younger woman sitting on a bench alone encouraging Vincenzo to share his bottle of water with her. They told him she looked like she is thirsty.

Vincenzo, takes his little pea sized head with hat, leans over and peers over to the left viewing her like a predator. He then leans back mumbles something in Italian, looks to his fans and asks if they think he should try. Caruso is overjoyed with glee because he sees Vincenzo the old Gummer is about to go in for at least attempted kill.

After more pumping up, the old man stands up and belts out a line or two from O Sole Mio at the top of his lungs and I lost it with more laughter. But the old man has a beautiful voice! I mean a real bel canto!!! His sound captured the attention of the entire area in the park including his prey and after he finishes singing, he stands up straight (more than when he met me), and scoots over to the young lady. He takes out his warm bottle of water. By this time, I am in tears again because I can't stop laughing and imagining how hot that water must be as he is offering her a drink from his used bottle of aqua naturale. His rap did not last too long however and Vincenzo, the old Gummer was back with us.

I told him that I wish I had a video tape because I would put this on YouTube for sure. All of us continue talking about various things from here in Sicily to the United States. All wanted to say they really like Obama and how good it is for the world to have a black President. Of course I thanked them on behalf of Obama and black people in America.

When the sun begins to take over an area, the leader of the park group tells everyone to move to another area of the park that has more shade and fresca (fresh air). Motioning us (by the way, the hand motion away means to come or follow in Sicily. I got that confused a few times while I was there). The leader was Zio and he chose a nice spot of rock like benches under one of those big spider trees. As we sat there, another woman came and sat there too eating some gelato. She sat off to herself quietly watching and listening. She was from Brazil and living in Palermo.

One of the men who works on a ship spoke to her for a little while, but then joined us and later left. She continued to stay and listen. I spoke to her because she asked me if I was from Brazil. Not shy of course, I spoke to her and told her the basics. After about forty five minutes she left and began to take a walk. As she is walking away, we see Vincenzo eyeing her something fierce. Not deterred by the last rejection, he was at it again, but this time he knew he would score.

His park buddies again playing as the popcorn crew encouraged him and off he was again. Scooting at a seemingly more rapid pace to catch up to Ms. Brazil, he met up with her and they began to talk and walk and talk and walk. I was shocked. She must be at least half of his age, but Vincenzo had her attention. They walked around the circumference of another tree area at least twice and then took a detour off to the right of us. For about 5 minutes or so it seemed, they sat on a bench far away from us so we could not hear what they were talking about. Moments later, Vincenzo and she began to walk arm-in-arm, out of the park and I guess to sua casa (his house).

By then, the men were dying with laughter. They bellowed that Brasiliana was a prostitute. I was shocked because she did not look like one; at least not the typical ones you see on the streets. She worked the parks in a discreet and conservative manner wearing everyday normal clothes - not even showing any parts of her body to attract attention. If you saw her, you would think she is a mom wearing an oversized shirt over shot 3/4 length pants.

I surely learned a lesson about the different styles of Prostitutes. I am sure I will get a phone call in America reporting to me about Vincenzo since they are going to ask him how much he paid and other details I really don't want or need to know. Prostitution, like other countries is a major problem in Sicily. Most of the women who sell sex are Africans, Polish and Romanians. Since the Mafia is there as well as other forms of low life criminal behavior accompanied with sex trafficking, there are men running things. The African women mostly come from Ghana and Senegal.

Vincenzo, got what he wanted, even if he had to pay for it.

A part of my last two days in Palermo involved going to beaches. I went to Mondello and Sferracavallo. Both places house a lovely view of the sea, but due to the gross neglect of the leadership of the Province and its country, it is in serious need of an upgrade. Poles need to be painted, new boardwalks need to be added; the whole area, just needs to be cleaned period.

Despite how "sporco," (dirty) the beaches were, people were still proud and walked around in bathing suits and shorts; many too small for their larger sized body frames that hung over the panty or man boobs that hung like a bra was desperately needed. Beautifully bronze skinned youth stroll the area taking photos of each other pretending to model for Dolce & Gabanna.

In all of Italy, it would be really stupid to talk to Italians about low carb diets. They will laugh in your face and make that face and sound when they don't agree - "Eh," followed by Sei Pazzo or scemo (You are crazy). If you are going to lose weight in Italy, it would be to control portions and walk more than you eat. I ended up walking 45 miles in total during my trip and I am most sure I lost a few pounds - it was not done on purpose. I am very curious if Sicily is one of the fattest places on the planet and how close it might be (particularly Palermo) competes with U.S. obesity.

My last activity of the evening Sunday happened upon a little church (Chiesa) just outside of the walk way of beach Sferracavallo. My last two photos were taken in front of that church. I was ushered inside the church and sat in the back. The parishioners were singing a song praising God and various persons (mostly women) got up and read scripture from the Bible; there was a call and response by the priest. I felt this was the last and best place I needed to be for a visit; a house of prayer. I got a bit emotional thinking how things come full circle - even on a vacation like the one I just had. I was thankful for everything and all that happened to me while I was on the trip.

It was a really spiritual moment for me personally, and I was very thankful for the company I was keeping at the moment.

The bus ride back to the hotel was long and late. I was so glad I decided to do most all of my packing Saturday night. It seemed one of the buses I needed to take stopped running; so I had a long walk back. For the one bus I did take there was man on the bus who talked so loud to himself and anyone who would listen, the whole bus was laughing because he was literally yelling. When all of us got off the bus and changed for the bus that never showed, he was still talking. One person next to me remarked to him that our bus is not coming because he scared the bus driver from the previous bus and he told the new driver forget about picking us up.

The guy was yelling about a drink and panino (sandwich) he purchased and felt he was taken advantage of. Someone with me asked him in a loud voice if he thought it was Mafiaoso? The guy responded that he did think this was the reason why since the Mafia is involved in everything including the drink and the sandwich. People really cracked up.

My evening ended around 10 p.m. Walking back to my hotel for one last time, I thought to myself how fun and splendid it truly was to be in Sicily at this time. My usual visit is the Amalfi Coast, but this time, I chose to go to a place people don't always say the nicest things about. Sicily is special. Its golden people are unique and I am glad to have been a guest of a place with so much history, complexity and passion.

I think I will come back again.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Catania, Beautiful, Naughty and Nice - But Palermo Wants Me Back!

Catania is certainly showing up Palermo in more ways than one. The way the body of Catania is built, it creates for a better experience in beholding its historical beauty in the City Centro. Piazza Duomo (Cathedral) is where the hang out is at leading to a long via (street) housing many upscale retail stores, trattoria's, and gelaterias, on each side of the street hugging tightly.

A breeze is always coming in from the Mediteranean from several directions; thus the heat is not so concentrated as is Palermo. Much cleaner is Catania; caring more for how it looks for their guests, hiding its ruggedness on various side streets at dawn and at dusk.

I arrived in Catania at 1 p.m. or in Italiano e luna yesterday. Not knowing where I was walking when I got off the bus, I walked too far away from the hotel I was staying at and the hotel had to send a taxi for me to get me at a gelateria by the sea. I had walked about 2 miles away from where I thought I was going. By the way, I know how far I am walking because I have had a pedometer on my person since I have been in Sicily. To date, I have walked a grand total of 33 miles since last Thursday. Every evening my legs are sore and worn out, but I felt this was the best way to do a work out here. I think running on the streets would have drawn too many comments.

My hotel Il Principe is a new establishment barely 5 years old. http://www.ilprincipehotel.com/

It it modern with an historical Italiano flair to it. Nestled at the bottom of ancient stairs that take you up 4 flights to another cathredral, this hotel is a 4 star with 5 star qualities. My room is spacious with two balconies - one from the bathroom and one from my bedroom. Catania made sure the hotel gave me a corner room; for those who travel know corner rooms are the best!!!!

After settling in my room for a minute, I immediately set out to do some shopping. Completing a few requests while dropping some (sometimes people get too askie - I know that is not a word, but I just made it up): I am on vacation and do not want to spend it shopping for other people. I know this is selfish, but since people who know me know I am NOT selfish, they know this trip is about me being selfinterested and taking good care of myself.

So, as I am walking on via Girabaldi - this guy is molto famoso in Sicily http://www.thinksicily.com/guide-to-sicily/sicilian-history/to-rome-or-death!-garibaldi-in-sicily.aspx, I start to get that feeling again - like someone is watching me. I stop look around me and then continue to walk. About 3 minutes later or so someone walks towards me and says, "buon giorno." I reply and keep on walking. I have been taking more than a few photos on this trip and there have been many occasions in which I am able to shoot breathtaking scenes and architecture. I saw an interesting statue and ventured down the side street to take the photo. After snapping the second shot, like a genie a young man appeared to my right - the same ragazzo (boy) who walked by me before. My thought was, "Oh he is casing me, so let me hear what he has to say." He asked me what country I was from and my name. I asked him in Italian what country he was from and his name. He replied, "I asked you first." And I replied, "I asked you second and I am a woman, so you must from Morroco and his name was Yousef. I told him I am right again, you can hardly tell the difference between a Sicilian and an Arab; at least a good portion of them. I told him my information and then you can guess what he asked next - MY AGE!

It is really something how men over here do not have a problem asking a woman's age and yes her weight too if they feel like it - clearly not at all like the U.S. When I told him I was 43, the shock sprang all over his face and he accused me of being a liar. I guess I could have got angry with being called a Bugiardo on the streets of Catania, but since something like this scene is quite the norm for me, I just showed him my Connecticut Driver's license and told him he should be cautious about who he calls liar. He apologizes.

He offers me some coffee which as you know I do not like; but I immediately say to him A Salaam Walaikum and Ramadan Mubarak and Ramadan Kareem. He was completely shocked that I said this too him. I also reminded him since it is Ramadan out of respect for him, I would not go to a cafe and drink front of him even if we are in a Christian country. I asked him if he were keeping Ramadan and his answer did not give me the assurance or clarity that he was. I actually thought he was a bit embarrassed by my reminding him.

All in all we had a great discussion about Southern Italy, its history and also the fact that if Rome did not exist or Northern Italy or if Italy were not a part of the EU or even geographically attached to Europe the way it was, we were not sure if Italy could really be classified as a First World country - since the southern part is so poorly neglected. There is a lot unemployment in the Southern regions and the only time work is some what plentiful is from May to October - tourist season.

You would think that after all of this great discussion about Italy's history and even a talk about Islam and Chritianity, this discussion would end with some sort of intellectually stimulating experience. After all Yousef talked about his family and how long they were in Italy and he even talked about Morocco and his home country's needs.

Well in the midst of the end of our discussion, Yousef told me where he worked and then he suddenly said he really needed to know what hotel I was staying at. I asked him why was this so important. He said he really needed to know. I told him Silencio Stampa (No comment to the press). He pressed again and again and again. Finally, I said, "Young man (he was 32), do you think being this aggressive really impresses a woman? This is not how you find out about a woman and where she is staying. Furthermore, it would be stupid of me to tell you anyway."

He was shocked at my boldness, but then again he was quite bold. Instead of stopping with that question, he said, that he wanted to know because he said I looked so good, he could just eat me right now like a chocolate gelato.

I had to do a lot to keep from laughing because my laughing would definitely be seen as giving him permission to continue - I kept a straight face (very hard for me to do since I envision myself falling to the ground laughing at this fool) and said "Senor Yousef giovane (Mr. young Yousef), may I kindly remind you from a Christian about Ramadan and the practices today? No eating, no drinking, constantly in prayer mentally and physically and nothing of a carnal or sexual nature." Now, with my Italian being a lot better by the day, I was proud of all that I said even if I knew inside myself I mixed up a few word orders here and there, but homey got the point.

He then claimed he was keeping Ramadan and I told him he just broke it and since I am not sure what that means when you break it, I think I should go now and leave you to you and Allah to work out this situation. I told him he was a very nice man, good looking and quite smart, but he needed to get back to his reality and religious observance. He laughed, shook my hand and said I was a very nice and respectful woman, and although he still wanted to eat me like a chocolate (after sundown now), he liked how I respected his religion. We parted company.

I walked another 3 miles after this and purchased some chatskys for my family. I met two dynamic women in a souvenir shop and we talked for a good while in Italian about my visit. I was sharing with the ladies a few of my adventures and they just howled with laughter. They asked me to come back again and I think I must might before I leave in the morning. They were admiring my dress; particularly my blouse. It was a deep purple.

There are two types of Italians in this part of Italy, the dressy fashionable (simple, clean and a touch of elegance) and the not so great moda wearers (musty looking, in need of new clothes or just wearing the same stuff daily period). Men that were clean cut carried themselves a certain way. Women here of all ages, weight and sizes do not mind showing some cleavage in a big way. I saw many women with their boobies press up and almost out. Many women, did not regard how their clothing fit their body in terms of whether their body hung over their pants or stomach did giant protrusions. Hey, I am not perfect sized either, but I found this somewhat amusing because it appeared the fashion was more important that the body that fit in it. There are loads of beautiful women here however. Just like the kind you see on television and in the magazines they exist naturally. The women also have a good sense of pride in who they are. This is what I get when watching them.

Dinner was about 7 p.m. which is way early in Italy. I had pasta and salad and a half liter of water. Like I mentioned earlier water is so necessary here. I know I am drinking at least 1 gallon per day. I am thirsty right now as I am writing this blog.

At Caffe del Duomo, I met three American women from New York City. Small world since I am from Connecticut. They were on a cruise ship and were having lunch. It was the first American accents I had heard since I had come. Americans do not seem to visit these parts that much unless they are on a cruise. The ladies told me how boring Ibizia really was and it was mostly hype. One young lady said the odd thing about their nightclubs was that you would see baby strollers parked outside, and inside were the babies with the parents. Now, that would be a bit strange in the States eh? I had a real visual about this and let out a loud laugh. Since these ladies were from the Big Apple, I know they know something about dance clubs so I took their words for it.

The waiter was very nice to me and the other ladies, but more nice to me. I asked him to take a photo of my me and not only did he do that, he took me inside his restaruant took me to the winery room and took photos of me in front of that too. I really appreciated the extra effort. He was so happy to have me as his guest, I got a free dessert and lemon soda. He also told me if I wanted to have free massage services he would be glad to help me there as well. Now, I know you wonder how this came up. I mentioned to him I was tired and was going to go my hotel to take a short siesta before going out again and then he launched into the massage services. Prior to that mention, he did try sweet talking me with compliments about my look.

I paid the man and told him, "Senor ho paura di massagio d'Italiano. C'e molto pericoloso. Non grazie - Sir, I am afraid of an Italian massage. It is very dangerous. No thank you." He smiled gave me his card I took it. A great restaurant and very good food.

I went back to my hotel room and fell out (sleep) for 3 hours. This threw off of my evening sleep and so I decided to stay in for the evening. When I awoke, I opened the doors to my balcony and went out to watch the people dine. Dozens of tables were filled with people enjoying dinner well into the late night. People were laughing, singing and talking making a beautiful sound that buzzed throughout the area. I knew at that moment I chosen a great hotel to stay in. I was happy.

My bed beckoned me to come back to it. I did, but I was not tired. So, I lie awake and meditated and prayed for quite a while. I am always thanking God for All things that happen; even the strange. When I was finishing my last prayer and feeling I am starting to get drowsy again, my phone rang, it was Palermo - he was calling to tell me he really missed me and..................

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Dear Palermo,

When I least expected it, you show up with gifts of the exotic. What a wonderful surprise.

Of course a part of your heritage a mista (mix) of so many cultures your ancestry birthed it - nothing can be more hypnotic to tempt and tantalize.

Your skin is so bronze, deep brown with a few bleeding through with Normanie white and summer burnt red skin.

Your eyes are also brown, green, hazel and even black. I also see a few blues. The hues of autumn is what is moda, fashionable and in.

Your voice is full, thick, rich, melodic and sensual; every word you utter can romance and soften any woman with a broken heart that turned to stone.

Hearing the call "Che Bella," a soft song whispered in the eve of the night, she can now be contenta because she does not have feel or be alone.

Although you need a clean shave, the prickliness of you there is something about your being rough and rugged that I insatiably desire.

You call to me in a most unusual way - I am the moth flying straight into your wild and frenzied fire.

I want to thank you Caro mio Palermo for the beautiful sera -evening and notte-night I shall never ever forget.

Fun, laughter and history in the making, so much of you to know, I’m anxiously waiting for you to give the best yet.

Tomorrow, I plan to temporarily leave you for your cousin about 2 hours away; his name is Catania.

Don’t be jalouso (jealous) or mad, when I return back to you, it will be like a new beginning again spring – I will be your primavera.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Let L'Adventurosa Begin

I went to bed at 3:30 a.m. I was awakened later that morning by the sound of my hotel room phone. It was Giuseppi from the front desk calling to tell me that men had to come to my room to fix the air conditioning. It was about 11 a.m. anyway and it was really time to get up. Prior to the telephone ringing, I had a dream about being in the Sudan. It was quite a remarkable dream I feel to be prophetic in some ways for my future.

I made the mistake to tell Giuseppi that I could get dressed in fifteen minutes, but really I meant to say twenty-five. I took the twenty-five. I saw the men standing on my balcony. As I dashing in out of the bathroom with various things and at times with not much on, I thought they could not see me because there are sheer drapes that people cannot see through. Well, I was way wrong and guess what, they had an inadvertent peep show courtesy of me. No wonder they really lingered on my balcony. My mind screamed at one point - "Stupida, why don't you check those curtains to make sure they are what you think they are!" I did and found out otherwise. I guess I made their work day most gratifying.

I went back to Caffe Mazzara again to read another journal article this time about anxiety and fear. Some of you on Twitter and Facebook have read and responded to my questions surrounding this issue. The author of the 30 plus page document asserts that there is not empirical evidence that directly links what is happening in the world to the cause of anxiety in a person. While there are claims that say there are events or media coverage that are causal, because anxiety is subjective and has a lot of variables to it, one cannot necessarily say that events or troubles in the world are the contributing factors to anxiety. There was also a back and forth discussion about fear versus anxiety - fear being something that is based upon something that is tangible and/or real and anxiety based upon something that is perceived.

Prior to commencing my reading, I ordered some sort of spinach and cheese pastry thing with pear juice and water. I saw the same waiter from yesterday (the one who gave me the free Iced teas) coming in to work. He was all smiley seeing me. I smiled back, but I knew if I smiled too much, he might think I came back to see him - which is not the case. It is the best cafe around for a morning hang out and reading. He's nice so I was not going to be mean. At one point, when I got up to get something; I almost collided with him - which would have knocked all of the dishes off the tray he was carrying. I said molto apologies for this. I think he would have liked for a collision to have happened actually.

For those who travel to Europe and do it European style, you will notice that when seats are full, Europeans are not afraid of asking to share a table with you. Since I was commander of my table, I shared my table with two elderly people at two different times - a man who ordered penne with a ragu sauce and cheese and a lady who got the same thing. Now, I know I have a tendency to eat fast, but these two persons scarfed down their food like there was really no tomorrow. They sucked up that pasta like it was in a straw. I got napkins for both persons at the two different times they were sharing a table with me and even offered the woman some of my water. She said she did not like water and then proceeded to take her cup and offer it to another strange man who had coke on his table; asking him to give her some.

He poured a half of a cup and she said Grazie and drank it. The man was a table with his buddies and they inhaled their bowl of pasta and his was about half eaten. As she scooted out of the cafe, the man stood up and could not finish his food. I guess he was disgusted by what happened and then after standing for about 2-3 minutes he sat back down and got up again and then walked out. His posse followed him after about another 2-3 more minutes of wondering what was going on with their friend. I shook my head at this and smiled. I mean the woman did not stink; or I would have left the table. She was old and just asked for what she wanted.

I completed my reading and then went to the Gelateria - bad habit over here - and asked for this thing called Brioche con Gelato. It is a French Sweet Bread split and filled with your favorite gelato topped with whipped cream. People are killing this treat here. At the moment I was there, the gelato stand must have had about 30 people just standing around and eating it. The people eat the whole thing licking their fingers too! I could not resist and ordered one. It was all that and more! I finished a little over half and actually got full and ditched the rest in the garbage can.

By the way, I saw the Garbage men out today doing trash pick ups and I waved to a few; blowing kisses and thanking them for picking up all of this mess. I asked one of the hotel attendants about this problem and they immediately said Naples has and had the same problem. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "What can I do?" I notice that a lot of Europeans will say this when they don't have answer to something. We talked a bit about Il Presidente Silvio Berlusconi and the new thing that he may be a sex addict. Oh WOW! It seems to be the new thing when the man finally wakes up and realizes his stupid escapades cavorting around with an 18 year old or someone else has caused him to really look badly hurting his power and political image - then he cry sexual addiction. My heart bleeds for Silvio really.

Any way, I mentioned to you yesterday that Palermo is full of beautiful garden style parks; once known as The City of Gardens, these small, but artfully designed spaces are very nice places to walk, just sit, read and relax. Headed in the direction to one of the parks (can't remember the name), I did a lot of window shopping and even browsed inside a few places, but nothing has really struck my fancy in the clothing department as yet.

After crossing Sentimo Piazza, I walked past a group of old heads sitting around talking (actually they are gossiping, but they won't call it that). Out of respect, I will always say Buona sera. All said it back and one of them really said it. I kept it moving. Suddenly, I hear some sliding behind me. You know the sound when someone is dragging their feet. It was one of the old men following me. I said to myself, "Here we go." "Che Bella," said the feet dragging elderly male. "Aspetti" (Wait). I stopped and waited and he asked me my name and then asked where I was going.

Perhaps this is a mistake of mine, but with some people; particularly men of a certain age and height - I size them up. Since I was about 5 inches taller than him, I figured he won't be hard to manage if I quick have to Ich Ni Sun Chi him. I told him I was going to the gardens and he offered to lead the way. I figured that he might share some information about the park I did not know, but that did not happen. He wanted to know about my business - was I married, did I have kids, was I libera (free from relationships) and if I was da sola (alone). Also, he asks for the age too. What I usually do is throw the same questions right back first and of course he answered. He had 6 children, but they are all grown and have children. He claims he left his wife in Milano some years back.

I think there might be something with Italian men in Sicily and going to park benches. He led me to a park bench and then sat 3/4 of the way down leaving me with barely enough room to sit - which would mean I'd have to sit close to him. He then puts his arm along the side of the park bench so it appears he is staking out a territory; so when I sit down, his arm can easily drape around me. So to be a little sarcastic I sit down and then moved him over a bit with my body and then moves to the very end of the seat; which with my big butt does not give me much room, but I did it anyway.

I asked him questions about the park, Sicily, if he's ever been to the U.S. before and more. He said his brother lives in Astoria, Queens, but he's never been. He then asks me if I have a house here. I reply, "Non." I ask him if he has a house here, he says, "Si," and it is of course nearby. He asks me if I want to go, I reply, "Non." He then asks if I am staying at a hotel, and I reply, "Si,and you are not invited." I knew that was coming next.

The guy is 66 around the age of my father so this is all a big joke to me in my head, but meanwhile he's acting like a Big Dawg in a little dog body. After asking me to reconsider his invitations, I told him I had enough speaking to him and had to go. Suddenly, out of no where, he smiled. When he smiled I counted 3 front teeth and the rest gums! It was a like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock for me and then he did the unthinkable - LIKE A PSYCHO HE GUMMED MY FOREARM! I yelled, Hey and then elbowed strongly back into the bench and told him goodbye old man. He must have liked being flung back because he said, "piacere." I felt like I was in one of those British comedy scenes where there is a younger woman with a dirty old man.

Walking through the rest of the park, I replayed that scene in my head and shook my head again. Nearly completing my journey, I saw a young teen couple showing some serious public displays of affection - they were kissing in a most unusual way. I was intrigued at how aggressive the young boy was kissing the girl because it looked like it was a marathon show for kissing and she could not breathe - it was amusing actually and so mechanical. They would kiss facing one direction for about 10 seconds and then move around and face another direction. After doing this 3 times, I think they felt someone was staring at them - I was. Then they stopped and I burst out laughing. I said to myself, if they were in the UAE, they would have been taken to jail by now. Kissing in public with no holds barred is definitely a Western thing. However, I learned from two men visiting from Amsterdam that Sicily gives the highest fines for doing the you know what at night on the beach, but during the day; no fine. They were both alarmed and upset that Amsterdam wants to improve its moral image by working to close down the Red Light district - those windows. Perhaps they can get some protestors together from the U.S. to hold signs that say, "We want to keep gettin' freaky in Amsterdam." Do you think the Birthers want to help with this?

Nearing the end of the park, I spotted someone out of the right corner of my eye donning a green polo shirt. He was slowly casing me like a lion hunting for his prey. I walk slowly; so when I walked slower, he walked slower too, but he was not intimidating. Just as I was about to step onto the side walk and head towards the street I hear a melodic voice say, "Scusi (Excuse me), Signorina (Miss), Prego (please) would you like to go for a gelato? I would be pleased to take you."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mazzaro Caffe, A Bus Tour, Dirty Walks and Trash Leads to Siciliana Providence Incredible!

For a person who usually is up before or by 6 a.m. every morning, it is such a lazy leisure to sleep in until 11 or Noon without feeling any ounce of guilt. This is what vacations are truly about. Rolling over in your bed and thinking about NOT being on deadline for a client or strategizing on behalf of one is a really nice feeling. My brain is taking a well deserved rest.

I've been having some strange dreams of sort about two past relationships - ex husband and someone else whose name won't be mentioned, but the surname has an open vowel. Conversations in both dreams were quite pleasant. I was expressing myself about my feelings about life and how I see things and both (at different times and not together) were really listening to what I had to say. I awake quite surprised because it would seem that the feeling I would get from dreaming about these two characters would be negative, but it is not. I guess it can only mean that I have finally buried my past. Now, don't start thinking that it means anything beyond the dream because trust me it does NOT!

Before I went to bed last night, I did some research on the Internet to find some great places to have a great Italiano breakfast with pastries and dinner. Determined to walk everywhere and find it on my own; well almost on my own, I wanted to make every venture out of my hotel an adventure.

So, my first great stop today was the molto famoso cafe called Caffe Mazzara! Known for its most fantastic pastries and coffee (which I don't drink), by tourists from around the world, it is a great place to come to on a Sunday morning or in my case early afternoon. No stores are open on Sundays and some of the main roads are closed for pedestrians. With the exception of table conversation, it was nice and quiet. I stayed for an hour enjoying my lasagna, insalta mista and a nice chocolate dolce my waiter picked for me. He surely delighted in this act and brought me a small, but artfully placed piece of torta. When I finished, he asked, "posto?" as in "tutto posto," is everything alright? I had to confirm the posto part with my teacher Paolo via text message this morning. Don't want to say yes to anything.

I wrote several post cards to friends I know who get into receiving these posts from me and read another article on the social scientific and scientific discovery of stress by a Czech named Selye. Like Louis Pasteur, the academic community really slammed his butt, but guess who had the last laugh on both accounts? Very interesting to read about these viscious academic wars between "scholars" with such huge egos trashing one another's study. Really no different than the wars in politics and other arenas; many just pretend their fights are "more noble." They do dirty things to each other, students, et al - the Ivory tower ain't no saint.

Any way, the waiter enjoyed visiting me and I enjoyed him visiting me too because I felt a free something was coming my way soon and guess what there it was -free glasses of iced tea and I happily accepted. He asked me about the United States and I told him a story or two and he seemed pleased. Everytime I get a compliment about my Italian, I get all girly because I feel proud of myself for improving in the language I don't get to speak much in the U.S. (except with Paolo and with myself when I am practicing. Oh, I make my real friends listen to me sometimes. I love them for being so patient since they don't know what the hell I am saying). After I said my goodbyes, I decided to head south on via Sentimma for a long afternoon stroll, but just as I was taking probably my 1,000 step, I saw the Sightseeing Bus and dashed for it while it was sitting at the light. I screamed, "Senor, Prego, Basta, Io voglio venire suo l'autobus." He looked at me kind of strange seeing a black woman cut across the street so rapidly towards the bus, but I got on, paid my 20 Euros and was on the tour.

I am really glad I took this tour because I was able to see the beauty of Sicily and learn so much about its glorious architecture and its great influences of Oriental, Persian and Greek. You still see buildings built by the Arabs who ruled for 2 centuries; this culture called the Saracens or Moors influenced cuisine and day-to-day culture in a tremendous way. Sicilian food has a nice kick to it. For example, there is a great street delight called arancini - it is risotto (rice) balls filled with a ragu (meat sauce) tomato sauce, mozzerella and peas. It is deep fried. The spices added give it a kick and reminds you of some of the spices used in Middle Eastern cooking. Sugar cane came also from the North African Arabs. Cous Cous is another great staple in Sicily. Saffron is another spice brought by the Arabs. It is interesting to note had the Normans not conquered the Arabs in Sicily (Sicily was an Arab state), there is a possibility that this part of Italy would have been Arab.

So, what I always say to Italians from the Southern part of the country or at least from Naples on down, your cousins are the Arabs and when I go to the Middle East I make the same joke that has truth ringing all over it. Arabs who live in Palermo one can't tell the difference between a Siciliano or Arab; they look the same. These are things that make you go Hmmmm....

Anyway, the architecture here is really impressive. My favorite sight was further down from the smelly port I encountered on my first day. Seeing the magestic Mediterranean sea and the beach area was so aweinspiring. The curve of Palermo's body couching the sea looked very sensual. My tour lasted for two hours - I took bus 1 and 2 and I am really glad I did because I was really getting disappointed walking the dirty streets of Palermo seeing beauty veiled in ugliness. I went back to the hotel at 4:30 p.m.

Following suit to the climate, I did an afternoon siesta reading until I fell asleep. I woke up again about 6 p.m., showered again and set out to go to the sea. On the way, I stopped at a Granita stand and got a strawberry banana flavored one and sat down with the locals and enjoyed it. Siciliani people are different from people from Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast. Sicilianis are more suspicious and reserved; it may be in part due to the city climate. I don't think tourists just plop themselves down with where the locals really hang to enjoy a granita. I forgot to mention, I bought some arancini 2 Euros worth and got a whole box of them - too many, but they were hot and so good! This was my dinner. I ate about 5 of those bad boys okay six actually and really enjoyed them. The rest are still with me, but I think I might have to ditch them; can't keep them overnight.

One man, came over near me to break a coconut right behind me beneath my seat - Go figure! I guess that was some sort of message. Chuckling to myself, I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he moved to the side of me and ate his raw coconut. I was impressed how he was eating it so - must be that Berber Northwest African influence the way he sucked down the coconut I thought. I don't like raw coconut, but it was a natural part of him. An older lady sitting in the seat nearby smiled at me a lot and geeted me with a few "seras" (evenings) and then a ciao when she left with her family. I liked her spirit. Her eyes danced with friendliness.

Leaving the stand I walked down towards the Giuseppi Garibaldi Villa Park Gardens to look at the beautiful, but odd looking trees that have these long root branches growing from the top of the trees. In slang they are called "creepy trees," "trees of gold," but they are really called Ficus magnolioides. This Youtube video will give you a sense of what they look like http://www.youtube.com/user/Panormus08. Palermo has many gardens that are beautiful, but there is a problem - there is trash and other bits of garbage that frame the gardens on the outside and sad to say the inside.

This is one really huge issue I have with this ancient city with so much beauty, history and passion. The people here don't throw away their trash in the trash cans. Now, they might blame the tourists, but I am not buying it. It is sloven! You walk past a great looking Trattoria and then some nice benches and people are sitting on the benches with trash besides the benches. I am giving the city the benefit of the doubt thinking that the city garbage collectors don't come every day to do a pick up, but my Gosh, the people have to have some pride in their city.

Whether you like him or not, the one thing Rudolpho Giuliani did for New York City when he was Mayor was clean it up quite a bit. You don't see the tacking or Grafitti on the walls like you used to; yes there are designated art spots, but not like it once was. You'd never see grafitti marked on our monuments, but here in Sicily, people have tagged up statues, walls, sidewalks, park benches and so many places. Most words written in Italian professing some eternal love for someone T'amo Antonio (I love you Antonio) or the universal dirty F you know what word of course. My favorite word written in Italian on the side of a wall was the word "Insurrezione" (Insurrection).

Back to the garbage, I don't think there is a recyling program here, but I am almost sure there is a rodent problem here as well; although the only sign I saw of a rodent was a big truck that advertised killing rats and roaches. This link here tells it all. http://www.bestofsicily.com/mag/art309.htm or http://www.blogfromitaly.com/palermo-sicily-the-smouldering-rubbish-crisis/

Listen, I know some of you are thinking, why did you go there? I am glad I am here really, but I must say I was a bit taken back by the trashiness of Palermo. I say to Palermo, that it must find a way to love itself enough to pick up after itself; taking more pride in the cleanliness that is long overdue and truly deserves. Naples had a similar issue and some believed that was linked to the Cammorra (Mafia of Naples).

President Berlusconi should stop feeling on his girl friend of 18 years of age, and begin to pay attention to this beautiful city that deserves so much more. It makes Italy look deficient and distracted.

One can't forget the trash, but when people are rude, that is trashy too. I experienced an old lady who did what my friends from the Caribbean complained about in Rome - throwing your change at you down on the counter like you have leprosy or exposed HIV or something. She did this to me this evening after I purchased some gelato. I stood and watched her hand the man his change and then I said to her in Italian Vecchia - Old woman, but then in English I see how you treat the man better than me.

It really angered me that there are people here in Italy and in Europe that do this and they do it selectively. I did not want this experience to influence my evening out in the streets, but between the trash and the old hag, it was starting to go in that direction.

Before, it became too dark, I hurried to the sea and my it was a sight to behold. I prayed to God and asked him to help me to stop being so pissed off right now at what happened to me. There is a certain amount of humiliation that takes place when something like this happens; especially when you can't do anything about it per se. In a strange city and one that is full of corruption as well as the Mafia, you have to be careful with whom you speak and what you say.

Palermo is headed for a great catastrophe in tourism if the President and the Municiapli leaders do not get their behinds in gear. It is a shame that my beloved Italy for the second time will have to be embarassed by the trash.

I am getting familiar with the city so finding my way back is pretty easy now - it does not matter from what direction I go, I can get back to lovely and cute Hotel...

Back at the hotel, I met a remarkable woman named Sabrina Colomb www.rocksymphony.it.
She and I actually met last night in the lounge; both on our computers, but we only exchanged pleasantries. Well, suffice to say and without divulging too much on an historic idea I shared my client which we will do God willing in 2011, I was meant to meet this woman to be a part of this exciting advent. She fits not only in terms of talent and capability, but fame and most importantly her philosophy about life and the world.

I did not realize she was one of the stars of the Rock Symphony concert here in Palermo in early September. I really wanted to come to this concert, but I am leaving. She speaks French and Italian and so we conversed in both when at times I would become inept and forget a word here and there in Italian. Her English was not good at all; so I had to do the work, but you know I did not mind that.

I put her on the phone with my client on SKPE (will be really sad when they go out of business), to say hello and you know out of the entire day, she was the blessing for the evening; meeting a new friend we talked about many things in this world like how do we proclaim and get to world peace through song and music? When people perform who do they do it for themselves or the people? What is our purpose when we speak, write, sing, play and instrument or dance. My first real serious conversation in Italian (mostly that is). A beautiful soul she has - she kept saying molto incredibile - we meet last night and then today we talk and we have so much in common. On her computer, she played for me her songs and her voice and it is remarkable - Opera trained she calls herself a Soprano Colorature Legere. Her name is out there y'all Yahoo or Google her. I am honored to know her and know we will be working together in the future.

Finally, two of my friends asked for shoes from Italy. Well, one I mentioned it too because Lord of Mercy he needs some new kicks. Just friends everyone don't go thinking anything. I am hoping they have their sizes 10 & 12 or 42 & 44. Do you really think that shoe size for men really has anything to do with....Oh never mind, forget I even raised the issue. 100% leather shoes, latest styles for 15 Euros that's a deal.

Tomorrow is another day, actually in 4 minutes it will be Monday morning for me. Thanks for reading and see you again God willing tomorrow. Bacione!!!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Perfect Day in Sicily

Another day has passed and it was most beautiful and relaxing. My day actually started in the afternoon about 1 p.m. when I finally got out of bed. "Wow," you might think, "Did she party all night?" The answer is "no." I went to sleep at about 11 p.m. my time and then did that jet lag thing again and woke up in the wee hours of the morning; wide awake.

By the time I fell back to sleep and really got shuteye, I woke up at 10:15 a.m. told myself I am fasting today with my Muslim friends on the first day of Ramadan and then fell back to sleep until 1. Now, it was not necessarily my plan, but since I was not eating or drinking anything, I figured that I would really just concentrate on getting good rest - and that I did.

Since it was Saturday and I usually take it easy on this day, I thought I would just lounge around in my room praying and meditating on God and the good things that this world still has to offer. When one is fasting, I guess a key thing I learned is perhaps not to put yourself in harms way for food. Well, I remembered on my shelf in the closet I had some fresh pears and peaches I brought from a little old Siliciano man at the mercato yesterday afternoon - but I immediately put that out of my mind and just went about my business. After I brushed my teeth for an extra long time - toothepaste and mouthwash never tasted so good, I thought that perhaps since it is a day of reflection, sacrifice and relaxation, I would treat myself to one of those very, very long showers with warm water splashing all over my body at a high speed while I luxuriate lathering myself in bubbles galore. It was so great to just do this. I closed my eyes, inhaled the hot steam and really let go and forgot nearly everything that might cause me some stress for a moment. I just allowed myself to be in the moment to feel the water pelting my body like thousands of little massagers.

When you live in the moment and allow all of your senses to take full effect, it has a transformative feeling. The lesson one learns is all you can do in life is be in that moment; whatever it is and experience it and then let it go.

After I got dressed, I went downstairs to do my usual chat up with the front desk. Two of the three men manning the desk are really cute; so the chatting with them is not hard at all. I asked them to please speak just a little piano, piano (more slowly), so I can practice my Italian and not have to rely on going back to English (which is an easy crutch). I notice Siciliani people when they speak tend to do a slight mumble or lazy speak - now I don't mean this in any pejorative way, but as they speak and sing song, it is a bit of a mumble; so I found myself saying "come?" or "cosa?" a few times or more. It is true the Siciliano dialect is a language unto itself, but everyone here speaks Italian.

By the time, I started out the door for another one of those marathon walks on piedi (foot) with heels, I made a final decision that I would go to Catania this Thursday. I asked about four Sicilianis about their thoughts on Catania and all said it is the same as Palermo, but very beautiful.

So, folks, I am headed to Catania by pullman (bus) and can't wait for this. Anyway, today was a busy day with people selling all sorts of things on the cobblestoned side streets. The sellars are Asian Indian mostly speaking fluent Italian. Now, it is somewhat of a comedy for me to hear an Asian Indian speaking Italian with their own country accents. If you can imagine this for a moment you might smile and that I did. I was not used to it.

There are many cultures here from all over the world; just like any metropolis in the West, people from different parts of the world have made Sicily their home, except instead of hearing different languages, you hear only Italian. Different from New York City in which every block you walk you hear a different language and not much English.

I walked past a group of old men doing the numbers - yes, doing the numbers - some betting was going on and Il Capo ("the boss") was taking down the numbers and the old heads had to anti up the soldi (money). Now, you know what was going through my head - the theme song from the Godfather and all of that Mafia stuff. I admit it. I cracked myself up.

On this mafia thing, I have a few comments about it. Sicily is known throughout the world about its Mafia history, past and present. The government and the police have recently done some serious crackdowns to try and put a dent into La Cosa Nostra. They are still around here though.

But, while many Italians in America get upset when people connect the Mafia to being Italian (which is not fair because it is a viscious stereotype), here in Sicily they do play it up a bit with the memorabilia. Walking down the alley way to look at all of the goods being offered on the table, what I do hear? The song from the Godfather blasting down the entire street.Do you remember when Anthony Corleone son of Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) sings and plays bringing back memories to Michael in Sicily being married to Apolonia (his true love)? The song also curses him for all of his sins he has had to commit in the name of being the Godfather. The Godfather breaks down and weeps in a moment of anguish. In case you forgot the beauty of that song, here it is. http://www.boxxet.com/The_Godfather/video:godfather-sicilian-song/

There are also hats of The Godfather and other movie souvenir for Il Padrino; so it is somewhat of a marketing tool, but store and restaurant owners know all to well how unmarketable it really is when one of these guys show up on your door step or a La Bomba explodes.

When I recall the story the driver tried to tell me yesterday and I did not completly get, I replayed it in my mind and then did some searching and discovered that it has been about 17 years since Sicily's most distinguished anti-Mafia crusader Giovanni Falcone was murdered when his car and escort were blown up by a bomb planted beneath the road leading to Palermo's airport - right by those mountains I mentioned yesterday. It is a part of their history story has to be told to any new visitor coming to Sicily. Oh well.

I got ripped off when I purchased a little souvenir bag. Something I should have paid 3-4 Euros for, I paid 10. He of course tried to charge me 15, but I thought was being cute getting him down to 10, but that was not even good. Later I purchased two more purses - full leather (Italians don't fake on the leather and don't believe in pleather) for 8 Euros and it is very cute and beautiful and later I purchased a bamboo/chocolate bag for less.

The retailer for the third bag brought me in the back of his store and told me, "Shhhhhh, I will charge you what you want to pay me, but don't tell anyone." I said, "Okay, and then whispered 3 Euros." He replied, "No 6 Euros Signorina." I said, "You said I could pay anything," and then we settled on 4 Euros. He then grabbed my arm and declared, "If you need anything you come to me and I will get it for you, anything." Just then I knew what this was going to be about and I replied, "Okay, thanks for your kind offer, but I will be fine." He replied, "I will get you anything you want and need." A slow creepy feeling came over me and I looked down at his brown cruddy teeth. Since I was taller than him I could look down on him literally. I also felt if necessary I could also whup his butt too, so I just replied again more firmly, "Thanks, but no thanks." This is all in Italian by the way. The guy was not Italian, so imagine he and I speaking in the back of the store in whispers. "You are so beautiful," said the man. "I just have to help you if you want it." At this point, I am quite sure of the help he wanted to give me, but I am not in the taking.

I don't get scared of these types of things. They are amusing because these fools are serious. I mean if a guy is going to rap to a lady, he should at least brush his teeth and for that matter have most of his teeth. I guess when he showed me a photo of himself when he was in England when he was younger, it must have been about 15 years ago.He wanted me to know that perhaps if I close my eyes, I will imagine him at that time and perhaps need him for something? I am not sure, but I got out of there with another little cute bag. It was time to begin to find a restaurant to break my fast.

Something happens when you are getting towards the end of the day and you know you will be eating soon; suddenly your body begins to scream - I AM HUNGRY, I AM THIRSTY, FEED ME, FEED ME. Like a baby having a fit if it doesn't get to the breast of its mother soon, my body was yelling and groaning inside, my mind begins to play tricks on me and it seems that I can't find a restaurant in downtown Palermo. Really crazy huh? But it was like that for a moment. I asked about a half dozen shop owners - Dove e il ristortante per la cena mangiare? (Where is a restaurant to eat dinner?). All of the directions were about the same, but I could not come to one place.

I started getting frustrated. As I was walking and mumbling to myself in English, I felt someone staring at me. Have you ever had that feeling when you know someone is casing you? I have had this experience many times in my life from my travels; so I am acutely aware. I looked directly to my right and there he was - a dude with peppered colored hair that looked like he had put his index finger in a light socket. He was in a station wagon looking at me. I looked back straight ahead immediately and then I was getting a bit more irritated because it was time to eat! I walked three more blocks per the advice of a final shopkeeper and guess who was driving along the side of the road on Via Roma (Rome Street), you figured it out - Station wagon dude. So, to throw him off, I decided to dart into a store for about 1 minute and then go out again to meet my most important need food and drink. At the corner he was there and then I asked some people to take a photo or two of me he finally disappeared.

Again, not surprised or tormented by it, he just looked like a guy who watched a lot of porn or something. Just had that crazy look about him - harmless I am sure, but perhaps he thought he was going to make his own movie. I don't know,but a dude attempting to holla at a girl in a station wagon? It is also like a guy trying to talk smack in a Yugo. No can do. I had to laugh though to myself because he thought he was being smooth, but in the U.S. we call that stalking!

I finally found the restaurant and it was one of the most historic restaruants in Sicily. Called Casa Del Bordo Dal Dottore, its history is lovely. The owner of this restaurant years long ago made a broth that people of Sicily claim healed people of their sickness and sadness during Sicily's most troubling and darkest financial periods in time. The owner/cook fed hundreds and hundreds of the nearly starving Sicilians charging them nothing. Affectionately called the Doctor's Place becaused the magical broth was rumored to heal. Here is the site. Check it out. Just quaint and so Italy http://www.casadelbrodo.it/

What a irony to end up at this restaurant to break my fast. These little miracles are great blessings and there is no such thing as a coincidence by the way. I was the first guest at the restaurant this evening, and the only guest for about one hour, but by the time I left (after having a great Siciliano dinner with dolce), the place was completely full.

The walk home was slow and lovely; just the sound of mopeds, little gas saver cars beeping and laughs from groups of young men huddle around a street vendor getting something to eat. Sicily, thank you for welcoming me to your home and introducing me to Palermo; so far he is a good host. Bacione (Big Kiss) to ALL!