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Trip Overview
Part 1: Palermo
Part 2: More Palermo
Part 3: Segesta and Trapani
Part 4: The Greeks and Longi
Part 5: Gangi
Part 6: Siracusa and Modica
Part 7: Enna
Part 8: Mondello and Rome

Sicily Part 5



I chose Gangi as our destination based on one reference made by a backpacker that I read somewhere online. I was never able to find his comments again and it never occurred to me that he was probably 25 years old. Never mind. The idea of the remote town perched on a steep, steep mountain crest in central Sicily had seized hold of my imagination. When Gangi was mentioned as having a special Palm Sunday festa, there was no letting go of the idea. I would celebrate my birthday in Gangi with locals wearing hoods, carrying crosses and their Grandi Palme.

But then I discovered that the town had but one hotel. Google street view showed me an image of a building that looked like it housed car repair shops on the street level. Never mind, I was able to book a room online, the room pictures looked OK, and how bad could it be?

However, during the nearly three-hour drive from Longi on a road that had started as narrow, had gotten even narrower and lost paving, whose edges became ever more decorated with warnings of washouts, falling rocks and detours, I began to worry. Maybe Gangi would be this trip’s dud.

I was relieved to finally see the town draped over the crest of a mountain. It took some driving back and forth, some Google map pins, and finally asking someone, to discover that the ugly entrance on street view actually did hide the hotel’s reception door. But that’s where the awkwardness ends.

A beautiful girl named Antonietta was the receptionist. She took me next door to the bar of the same name as the hotel and bought me coffee. Then she checked us into our amazingly modern, newly remodeled room upstairs. Jeff stayed behind (because Anto spoke no English) and she drove me up the cliff to the main part of town. She showed me the Chiesa Madre where the Palm Sunday procession would take place, she pointed out where to eat, and she stopped to say hi to her friends who were working on their palm decorations for the next day.

Skip ahead to Palm Sunday. It turned out that Antonieta’s brother Carmelo made our morning coffee. He spoke good English, we chatted about everything, and then he offered to drop us off up near the church. We had walked up the hill for dinner the previous night and it was a hike, even for us who are in pretty good shape. We bid Carmelo goodbye at the top of old Gangi and walked to the church where people were milling around. Antonietta had showed me where the confraternities assembled with their people, their drummers and their own grande palma. Let’s go up there, I said. We’d only walked a few minutes when we heard the drums. The procession was already making their way toward the church. We stepping into a side “street” of steps and had a perfect vantage point for the entire procession as it made its way to the church for the benediction.

When the last confraternity passed, we followed them to the church and sat outside with the drummers (too big to all fit in the church) while the priest got everyone blessed up. When the procession began to pour from the church to make its route around the town, I stood with the drummers who were drumming at full intensity waiting to step into their own group when it came from the church. The energy of the drums pounded against me and I felt possessed. But not so much so that I didn’t shoot picture after picture. Jeff was shooting movies and recording sounds nearby.

I couldn’t have asked for more.

To finish the day (and finish us off), we went out to the countryside to Villa Raino for a typical Sunday lunch. Carmello and Antonietta had recommended we go, and not long after we showed up for our lunch, so did they—to help their father and mother who run the restaurant!

It was a great day and a great birthday. Jeff and I got some great shots.