Every city has some distinguishing common visual features that serve as our first impression. In Manhattan it's tall buildings and yellow cabs. In Milan it's the treeless, heavily cobbled streets. Amsterdam has canals and bikes; Paris has street cafes and wide boulevards.
The first impression in Palermo, Sicily is visual abundance and frenzy. All manner of things and people are exposed for public viewing. Everything and everybody “hangs out”. There are chaotic traffic jams that no one seems to mind and public markets where sea creatures, lamps, vegetables, spices, shoes, jackets, linens are hung out for everyone to see and anyone to buy. Click here to see. The goods are not styled to seduce you, nor presented discreetly in cute boutiques. Wine might be sold from a gas station pump. Swordfish are displayed nose up with their dark eyes staring at you accusingly, rather than as pretty filets on ice. Signage is colorful, eclectic and bold and refreshingly basic.
Walking around the older neighborhood the texture intensifies. Steamy, meaty things (like whole cow’s livers) hang on a rack in an alley, women’s boots are suspended from an awning, used scooter seats are tacked on pillars, air conditioners and kitchen pans are stuck on walls, and more. Everywhere there is a canopy of colorful laundry, a reminder that designer black is not the ultimate fashion statement down here.
We often take the visual elements in the cities where we live for granted. For example, if someone asked me to identify the signature visual elements of San Francisco, I'd say "steep hills" and, next "a connection to nature". But what would a Sicilian say? What would they see that I do not see? Perhaps back home in Palermo, nobody notices the hanging laundry. Perhaps other travelers to San Francisco see things hanging out in my city that I do not. Help me out here – I'm curious.
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