Palermo airport is called Falcone-Borsellino airport – for the two judges who were murdered by the mob there in 1992. Getting there at 1.00pm Monday for Alitalia’s 3.20pm flight to London seemed ample time. It was: the crews went on strike and I got home at midnight Tuesday. I won’t go as far as the guy who set up a special website to complain about his Alitalia experience, partly because the airport staff were incredibly helpful, but mainly because the guy is being sued by the airline. But next time I’m going by sea.
The amazing thing about Palermo is that whenever you think you’ve seen it all, another marvel pops up. The Piazza Pretoria is just one of many: a 16th century square – except it’s round – with a fountain in the middle, hidden around a corner from the Via Roma, surrounded by statues, which, instead of concealing their genitalia, Botticelli-like, with fluttering gauze or long hair, do it with their hands, like footballers facing a free kick. The square seems too small to hold so many statues together, until you try to photograph them - then you find it’s too big to fit into the viewfinder.
About five miles south of the city is a 12th century Benedictine abbey with a panoramic view across Palermo and its bay. It was founded by William II (William the Good), as a penance for the fact that his father, (appropriately, William the Bad), embezzled the country’s money on earthly pleasures. Williams I and II (pair Williams) are buried alongside each other in the abbey. Strolling the cloisters on a quiet autumn afternoon, you could imagine William II checking off his beads and meditating on his future image, eight centuries later. Just to make sure, he put old father William in a black sarcophagus. His own is white.