Agrigento. Relax? Me?

A view of the sea from Agrigento.
A view of the sea from Agrigento.

This morning, I took the train from Palermo to Agrigento, a city near, but not immediately beside the sea. The centre of town is a fair ways up a hill, and the city climbs higher still. In addition, there’s a not especially small plain between the base of the hill and the sea.

On the map, Agrigento looked hiking distance from the seaside. I figured that would be a good activity while I’m here. Um, I don’t think so. According to my eyes, it’s not as close as it looked on the map.

You can see the sea from here. But it’s a fair piece off. Being downhill then flat, the walk there would probably be pretty easy, if a bit long. But the walk back would likely be something of a strain for a man my age. I haven’t got an automated external defibrillator (AED) with me. So, I’m hesitant about the return trip.

Then there’s another problem in addition to the line-of-sight distance. The vista from Agrigento did not show me any roads or paths directly to the sea. It might be just that my old eyes can’t spot them, but I don’t think so.

I could try exploring to see if there are any direct routes, but, if I do l, they won’t exist. They can exist only if I don’t look for them. There are a lot of Schrödinger’s paths around. Believe me. (I try to not be superstitious. Sometimes I fail.)

Agrigento's main shopping drag
Agrigento’s main shopping drag

What’s more, I didn’t see any publicly accessible areas at the seafront at the end of the shortest line to the sea as the crow flies from the centre of the city. (I thought about lassoing a crow and forcing it to fly me there, but I might be a tad too heavy for it.) From a distance, it looks like mostly agricultural land on the plain immediately below the centre of the city.

That having been said, there does appear to be a town on the coast only a very little south of Agrigento, with a not entirely straight road leading to it. Google maps tells me it should take a little under an hour and a half to walk there. Maybe I’ll find the strength at some point. Probably not.

For that matter, I don’t know what I’d find when I got to the seaside town. Maybe it is like Palermo, where they provide limited access to the seaside.

I came to Agrigento primarily because of a major archaeological site that Google Maps tells me is just a 30-minute walk away. I plan to go there tomorrow.

Worrying About Relaxing

Apart from the archaeological site, there don’t seem to be many attractions of note here. I booked three nights in Agrigento because, based on what I read in the tour book I’m using and the city’s proximity to the sea, I thought it’d be a relaxing place to stay. That thought no doubt displayed an astounding lack of self-awareness. I rarely achieve a state even vaguely resembling relaxation.

I worry about the difficulty I have in relaxing. Therein lies the crux of the problem. I worry about everything, making it difficult to relax. It’s a vicious feedback loop.

I’m beginning to think two nights here would suffice. We’ll see what happens. I might not have much to write about on my last day here.

Then again, before leaving here, I will pick up a rental car for the following three days of my trip. Considering how aggravating I find driving, whatever infinitesimal reserve of relaxation I can build up might come in handy.

My Accommodations

But enough about my plans and expectations. My accommodations here are nice.

The hotel I booked at has a couple of apartment units in a nearby building. I’m in one of them. (Not all the units in the building belong to the hotel.)

The apartment I’m in has three rooms: A combined bedroom/living room, a kitchen with a kitchen table, and a large bathroom. There are also a couple of small balconies, one off the bedroom/sitting room, and one off the kitchen.

Both of the balconies face the city, not the sea. Sigh.

Look at the picture I placed near the top of this post, the one with the distant view of the sea.

The building on the right of the picture, i.e., the building behind the palm tree, is the train station. The apartment I’m in is on the third floor of the sand coloured building on the left of the picture. (Third floor by North American numbering standards, so the second floor here.)

Walking Around

Another Agrigento street
Another Agrigento street

After a late lunch of a surprisingly good smoked swordfish sandwich and a glass of wine, I walked around Agrigento for a while.

Agrigento is a pleasant city, although I tend to think of it more as a large town than a city. That might just be the big-city snob in me. People in, say, Tokyo may feel the same way about my hometown, Toronto.

What makes it pleasant? First, there’s that distant view of the sea I mentioned. It’s quite aesthetically pleasing.

Second is the city’s main shopping drag. The cobblestone street allows only one-way vehicle traffic. And that traffic is light enough that, at least when I was there, I can accurately call it intermittent. That’s fortunate because the sidewalks are narrow to non-existent for the length of the shopping street.

There also weren’t a lot of pedestrians when I was there. But, there may be a reason for that. By coincidence, most of the shops were closed for their long afternoon break at the time. I imagine the street is much livelier when they’re open.

Two side-by-side churches
Two side-by-side churches

There are two interesting side-by-side churches in the city core. Neither seemed to be open when I was there, so I can’t tell you about their interiors.

Somewhere near this paragraph you’ll find a picture I captioned “Two side-by-side churches.” The church on the left is obviously a church. But the one on the right, the one that doesn’t look at all like a church, but rather like a building voted most likely to be demolished with great fervour, is also a church.

According to the tour book I’m using, the shabby building, the Church of Santa Rosa, used to have a Baroque front on it. Apparently, the facade was taken down for repairs in 1951. They carefully numbered the removed pieces so, after repairing them, they could be reassembled exactly where they were. The problem is, the pieces went missing. The tour book author imagines that they might be decorating a local convent’s garden. Some convent. Stealing a church facade. That doesn’t sound holy to me.

The other church, the one that actually looks like a church, is the San Lorenzo Church. According to the location sign affixed to its facade, it sits on “Piazzo Purgatorio.”

I don’t speak Italian, but I consulted Google Translate. It means exactly what I assumed it meant, “Purgatory Square.” So, to go into that church, you have to pass through Purgatory.

I wonder how the parishioners feel about that. Maybe, while inside, they pray that Purgatory won’t swallow their souls on the way out.

The Journey

Before I close off this journal entry, let’s backup a bit.

I’ve often heard the aphorism, “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Or, sometimes it’s stated as “life is a journey, not a destination.” Being a philistine, I didn’t know who originally said that.

Not wanting to make a bigger fool of myself here than I usually do, I consulted Google, the fount of all knowledge. The references I found almost all attributed the saying to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Generally, they quoted it as, “It’s not the Destination, it’s the journey,” typically with that capital “D.” Those few internet sources that provided a specific citation attributed it to Emerson’s 1841 essay, “Self-Reliance.”

Here’s the thing. I found a couple of websites that purported to provide the entire essay. So I searched the full text for “destination,” and then for “journey.” But I couldn’t find the alleged quote using either word. So I’m not convinced that Emerson said it quite that way, if at all. At least, not in that essay.

But never mind all that. It’s just filler.

Here’s my point. If Emerson did indeed write those words, I’m sure he had some intelligent thoughts as well. That wasn’t one of them. At least, not for me today.

I could have done without today’s train journey. The destination, Agrigento, beats my particular train trip, by far.

The train ride isn’t a long one. About two hours. It makes a lot of stops, but they’re included in the two hours.

The train was a small one. About three cars.

Being neurotic, I got to the station early and was among the first to board. (Keep that neurotic thing in mind. It will be important later in the story.)

I chose a seat on the end of a set of three on one side of the train, facing the aisle and parallel to the direction of travel. I was the first person seated in that set of three. Another set of three seats on the far side of the train faced mine.

The train filled up quickly. By the time of departure, a number of people had to stand as there were no empty seats..

An Old Man Who Wasn’t Me

An old man sat beside me. I say old, but he might have been younger than I am, but if so, he wasn’t all that far off my age. Like I said, old.

Across from me sat two females who I estimated to be of an age such that I don’t know if it is appropriate to call them girls or young women. A youngish man (youngish compared to me, but not compared to the girls/young women), who might have been related to the girls/young women, sat in the third seat on my side of the train. A woman who didn’t appear to be affiliated with anyone in our section sat in the third seat on the same side as the girls/young women.

Shortly after he sat down, the old-man-who-wasn’t-me started coughing and clearing his throat. The girls/young women silently giggled and made rolling “oy!” expressions with their eyes.

Foolishly in this time of COVID, I didn’t have a mask on. But I quickly donned a heavy-duty mask and became the only person on the train that I could see wearing a mask.

When I put on my mask, the girls’/young women’s silent giggles turned into silent laughs, and they amplified their “oy!” expressions. I didn’t care. I kept my mask on.

The old-man-who-wasn’t-me’s coughing and throat clearing continued intermittently throughout the two-hour train ride. If I end up dying from COVID, I’ll never forgive the old-man-who-wasn’t-me for not wearing a mask despite his symptoms. Not that he’ll know or care. Harumph. I hope he ends up in Purgatory for eternity. And I don’t mean the piazza.

Try taking one of those journeys, Emerson or whomever said such nonsense and see if you still feel the same way about journeys versus destinations.


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