Mary's Hotel

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Mary's Hotel


Something happens to a mind after travelling 20 hours on a plane. After flying from one side of the world to the other. All kinds of imaginings occur.

Waiting alone at the airport station, the train becomes a giant underground darkness worm; its single eye glowing brighter as it inches its way towards the end of the track. A Cyclops steel worm. Sicily is the home of Homer’s Cyclops. On this new airport train you can’t open the windows but on the old trains windows can be opened, and young men can kiss sweethearts goodbye.

I was sitting waiting for a train to leave for Santa Flavia, when a young man standing on the platform, leapt and gripped and hung on to the partly opened window and kissed his sweetheart goodbye.

She sat opposite me and we passed apartment blocks and setting sun lit orange and lemon groves on the way to Santa Flavia. Nearing Palermo, a trickle of passengers begin to board. A teenager; studs and vinyl, and retro West Side Story hairstyle, looks like she’s had a long day. She alights before Palermo.



In Palermo, a night - time via Roma is deserted and strangely familiar, reminiscent of the main street of the town where I grew up. My map says I won’t have to carry my bags far until I find Julie – Anne’s. Arriving in March, Easter is early this year. I anticipate it will be cold up in the mountains at night.

Easter Sunday Easter Sunday follows the first full moon after the spring equinox. The moon waxes, becomes full, wanes, disappears for three days, then returns. The moon gave promise of life after death and in Old Europe moon goddesses, like Mother Goddesses, shared in the mysteries of regeneration and renewal. Then, during the Bronze Age, divinities acquired masculine features, and Mother Goddesses acquired a consort / lover / son.

Mezzo Juso Thursday night

Mezzo Juso is about an hour’s drive, in a Fiat 500, from Palermo, and after mountain roads and dark, meandering streets, arriving in the piazza is a gift. It wraps itself around you and makes you feel warm. Paolo describes it as “womblike”. A Catholic Church leans against a Greek Orthodox Church. Musicians mill around and towns people gather. Gazing across the piazza, a marble Madonna wears a halo of twelve stars as did moon goddess Innana-Ishtar.

Her stars go out with the streetlights. With a blast of a trumpet the church doors swing open and the procession begins. First there are the streams of women carrying candles, then white robed, hooded figures, then the brass band, and finally the men carrying the Madonna. The men step side to side, backwards and forwards, funeral-march style, making the Madonna lurch with a mesmerising sway. She is looking for Jesus. She won’t find him tonight.

On Thursday night, in Mezzo Juso, it is only the mother Mary carried through the streets, but in Il Capo and Erice and Trapani on Friday, there will be retinues of sons. Jesus will be garrotted. Jesus will be flogged. Jesus will be speared. Jesus will be thorned. Jesus will be nailed. Jesus will be dead.



Erice

In Erice I’m lost in a maze of dead ends. No one hangs around in these labyrinth - like streets after dark - they are completely empty. A small hotel provides a map. Saved, I leave for Trapani. I arrive after midnight.

Trapani

Twenty-five teams of sixteen men leave the Church of Purgatoria in Trapani on Friday afternoon. They shuffle through the port town streets all night, then return to Purgatoria around midday on Saturday.
It takes a couple of hours to manoeuvre the weighty loads through the church doors and the last to enter is a black-cloaked Madonna. It’s the climax. She has power. To greet her, a young woman in a white dress and blue robe steps forward, her luminous blue eyes the colour of the sea and sky.

On Sunday the Sacro e Profano in Prizzi

On Sunday, the Sacro e Profano in Prizzi is fun. Devils dance in the Spring sunshine while a resurrected Jesus searches for his grieving mother. Approaching from opposite sides of town, Jesus and the Madonna meet with a rush and the beating of drums. The Madonna’s black robe is stripped away to reveal another of blue, and the crowd applaud and cheer. Kaoru says it’s more like a lovers’ reunion rather than a mother’s and son’s. Paolo laughs.

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Kevin Ballantine