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The Passeggiata in a Sicilian Hilltop Town

Posted by Suzanne on 20 Mar 2015


The passeggiata is an Italian wonder; played out all over the country. And some of the best that have 'entranced' me the most have unfolded in Sicily

From the waterfront of Ortigia to baroque Noto to the small interior hill towns the people come out around 6pm or so and start to stroll up and down the main street, piazza or water front with no obvious purpose.

As the writer Harry Eyres notes 'the point of the passeggiata is not to go anywhere; it is customary to do a series of 'laps' repeatedly covering the same stretch of ground'. And he also notes there are a few rules.

I have seen many 'rules' played out during the last 12 years in my adopted Sicilian mountain village Polizzi Generosa; they feature below.

The passeggiata is carried out for a couple of hours or so depending on the season, the weather and the day of the week and it is taken very seriously in Polizzi; it still has me intrigued. 


A passeggiata in Polizzi

In Polizzi the passeggiata is simply captivating. The village seems to be out walking up and down the meandering narrow main street, Via Garibaldi until the sun lowers and the mountains are almost silhouetted or surrounded by a soft low cloud.The street hums, people look good and they simply walk to one end pause a while, turn around and walk back.

Via Garibaldi is made for the passeggiata: a 700 metre or so stretch, narrow with gentle curves, lined with a few cafes, houses and shops and finishing in a Michelin star view from the belvedere where people linger a while.

The passeggiata starts in either Piazza Umberto 1- the centre of town- or the belvedere Piazza Santissima Trinita, which overlooks the surrounding mountains.

The people saunter, chat and gesture; some set out solo and meet up with others along the way; men stroll together; young parents push babies in smart strollers; children dodge grandparents, young teenagers gather and stroll without parents hovering, and enamoured couples hold each other with ease on this 'public' stage.

The belvedere often becomes an informal soccer field as some young boys call out and kick the ball. And groups of old men sit and watch ‘the game’ and the setting sun before moseying back down Via Garibaldi.


A Chance to 'do business'

The passeggiata is also a chance to 'do business'; hold a quick meeting on the street corner. Often some of Polizzi's professionals will be deep in quiet conversation after greeting each other with a 'bouna sera dottore, avvocato or ingegnere and when done they will often say 'bouna cena' as they exit down a long flight of stone stairs.

Exiting and entering the passeggiata in Polizzi can be done with ease; numerous small side streets and flights of ascending and descending stairs lead off Via Garibaldi into the silent back streets of the village.


Una bella figura and taking an aperitivo

Everyone is dressed well as they stroll, cutting a ‘una bella figura’ – ‘a good form’ greeting and kissing each other and stopping for an aperitivo or a gelato in one of the many cafes that line the 700 metre stretch from Piazza Umberto to the town’s belvedere. The steps of the doorways to the houses along the route, make a perfect spot for children to sit and enjoy a gelato.

The young buy an aperitivo for the old, ages mix and this high spirited social performance is full of dapper, playful and natural moments. I like to stop at Bar Trinita or Bar Cristallo on a summer’s passeggiata and have a Martini Rosso with a slice of orange, say hello and watch everyone.


A few rules when making a passeggiata

Look your best; smile and greet people; walk very, very slowly – the word passeggiata comes from the Italian verb passeggiare ‘to stroll’; linger nonchalantly; enjoy watching others and perfect the art of doing nothing. 

You must do all of this while remaining confident and natural while you too, are being watched.

And if you find yourself in Polizzi having a passeggiata and it all gets too much just make an exit, left or right, and enjoy the quiet of the back streets or retreat to one of the cafes for an aperitivo.





Edited: This blog has been reviewed August 2015. It now includes references to Harry Eyers' article 'A Passeggiata to Italy' October 26, 2012 Financial Times; which was background reading for the original blog. This was not noted in the original blog. Suzanne


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