I don't know if there is any city I could fully appreciate exploring in the rain, except maybe Atlantis, so I have to give Palermo and Catania the benefit of some imagination. I enjoyed walking around on the first day I arrived in Palermo, the one day of nice weather, but I was truly wiped out from trying to sleep on the ferry on the way there. Then the rest of the time it was raining cats and dogs, so I don't know if I can give Sicily any justice in my report, but I'll try anyway.
My first impression of Palermo, spreading out before me, was from the deck of the ferry with the early (6:30 AM!) sun bathing the surrounding mountains and adjacent waters in the soft light of a Mediterranean morning. This island has truly been given a gift of natural beauty. After collecting my belongs and some of my wits, I began walking the streets, and was struck by a strange feeling. Palermo is strange by how strange it is not. Rather, how familiar it is. If I was plopped down one morning in the streets near Piazza Dante and told that I was in one of the dirtier parts of Manhattan or in Central Square, Cambridge, I would probably believe it at least until I saw the first palm trees and Fiats.
Even the people look like people I know. If northern Italians look like fashion models, and Romans look like, well, Romans, Sicilians look like Mike and Gino from the corner auto-body shop. In other words, they look like Americans. Or rather, Americans look like them. Over the years, thousands and thousands of Sicilians emigrated to the States: to Philly, to Staten Island, to Medford, Massachusetts. For a second I could have sworn I saw Tony D. from my junior high football team. I almost punched him out until I heard he was speaking Italian. Tony would never have been smart enough to learn a second language. I had to keep reminding myself that these were Italian Italians, the descendants of thousands of years of history, and not Italian Americans, the kids who drive Iroc-Z s and get in fights in Faneuil Hall. The resemblance can be stunning, though. It makes it hard to spot the tourists. Who would have thought fashion sense was genetic? (Note to my Italian-American friends: Don't worry, I'm joking. Ha ha, it's funny! Get it? Or should I use smaller words for you? No, no, really, I love you guys. Clowns.)
After some time, differences become apparent. For one thing, when Sicilians do slums, they really do slums. We're talking about falling-down buildings that appear to have been carpet-bombed in World War II and never rebuild. At one point, I was scared for my safety at 3:30 in the afternoon in a neighborhood close to the touristic center. In general, I would say the people I encountered are friendly, if a bit reserved toward tourists. I did see some menacing stares that made me walk a little faster, though.
After Palermo, I took a bus to Catania. On the bus ride, there were a few hours of spotty sunlight, and I got some glimpses into the Sicilian countryside. There were a few moments when I actually had to remind myself to keep breathing, that's how beautiful it is. In some ways, it reminded me of the Irish countryside, in County Kerry, but with more jagged edges. After vista after amazing vista of cliffs and mountains and green fields, the coupe de grace was unexpected: a small, unadorned farmhouse, possibly abandoned, with nothing around it except the display of God's artwork, with two palm trees just in front of it. Something about the tinyness of it compared to the majesty all around seemed perfect.
Then the rain came back.
Catania in the rain hinted at niceness, cool-ness, fun-ness, albeit hidden behind incessant dampness. Supposedly there is a great view of Mt. Etna. I'll have to take their word for it, since I saw nothing but clouds.
It's unfortunate that the weather didn't cooperate on my trip to Sicily, but I can't complain too much, since I've been pretty fortunate overall in my travels, weather wise. Overall, I have to say I got enough glimpses of what Sicily has to offer to declare it a worthwhile destination, for whatever my opinion is worth. It's on my list of places I need to re-visit. (After checking the weather forecast, of course!)