SICILY IN RETROSPECT
After their move to Trapani for rest and rehabilitation, men of the 443rd had opportunity to reflect and trade stories about the island they had just conquered. Some could remember the cathedral at Monreale, southwest of Palermo. According to legend, William the Good (son of William the Conqueror) found his fathers treasure and built the beautiful cathedral dedicated to "Our Lady". Begun in 1172, Arab, Greek, Byzantine and Sicilian masters of arts worked for 12 years to complete the cathedral, with its beautiful mosaics and images of gold, dominating the interior. The French artist, Valadier, fashioned the all-silver main altar early in the 19th century.
Travelling along the Sicilian roads the men had seen any number of roadside shrines nestled into rock formations. Many village homes also had small shrines, built in niches facing the road, where candles were lighted to guide travellers at night.
Palermo itself was a mixture of attractive, old, turreted buildings as well as dingy, small hovels and dirty streets. Stained glass windows, broad walks, fountains and arched gateways of times past contrasted with old factories with macaroni and spaghetti hung out to dry. Street cars, electric buses and beautiful parks, carbineri (policemen) with dark blue uniforms, gold buttons and a white diagonal across their front, gold stripes down their trousers legs and Napoleonic hats all made Palermo an intriguing city on the Mediterranean. It was here that 443rd men became aware of the many two-wheeled carts drawn by miniature donkeys and small Sicilian horses. Not only were the carts painted gaily with all kinds of designs and biblical or Roman scenes and events, but the donkeys wore brightly colored plumes on their harnesses and atop their heads. Most Sicilian towns cling to the tops of precipitous peaks. Even though Garibaldi, from Italy, conquered Sicily in the early 19th century, and provided a new freedom, the trappings of centuries still remained absentee landlords, poverty, sickness and poor government. On the road to Messina some towns were deserted and in others people were living like animals in one room homes with naked youngsters and babies living in dirt and squalor. Many were barefoot or wore sandals made from rubber auto tires. It was not uncommon to see some people sharing their lodging with poultry and pigs. And too often, fireplace smoke had left its dark smudge everywhere. Water facilities were rare, even in the larger towns, and sanitation was primitive. Clothes were always hanging on drying lines on balconies and usually, dish water was simply thrown into the streets.
Many 443rd men temporarily lost their appetites for spaghetti when they saw busy Sicilian housewives cooking spaghetti sauce and spreading it out on large boards to cure in the hot sun. Although it was soon covered with flies as well as dust from passing military vehicles, the ladies would occasionally stir the mixture and then spread it out for more curing.
The Sicilians were overjoyed at liberation, some breaking down in tears. During the previous four years their food rations had been meagre, since Mussolini had confiscated the major portion of all food raised or grown. People would pick food from Army garbage pits and most expected the conquerors to feed them. But many tried to show their gratitude by bestowing kisses upon their liberators and offering gifts of fruit, wine, cookies and vegetables. In the few minutes it took to pass through Misilmari, on the coast road, the 443rd S-3s jeep had a half bushel of hazelnuts tossed into it by people lining the road and giving the only thing they had of value: Grapes and lemons were also abundant as were the Sicilian favorites Marsala and vermouth.
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