Today we tell you about an unusual weekend with the theme “The future in our hands“.
It was a journey so full of exciting experiences and stories that it was necessary to divide our story into two parts.
Are you ready to fall in love with this new adventure?
As usual, we leave early, have a coffee break, and get back in the car for Palermo.
This time it’s our turn to be catapulted into a completely new experience, where the only watchword is “CONTACT WITH NATURE” to be shared with unknown people and without having any anticipation of the program that awaits us. We can’t wait to find out what it is!
The meeting place is the Botanical Garden of Palermo, where we find part of the group waiting for us, together with the two organizers Beppe and Emilio and it is right here that our experience begins.
Accompanying us in this first adventure is Antonio, who will be able to take us around the world through the thousands of plants of various species and origins, from the desert to the east to Latin America, to Africa.
We begin our walk in the square facing the garden where the busts of the founders are the masters, from Agostino Todaro, an illustrious figure in Italian political life and Sicilian botany, director of the garden for 34 years, to Father Bernardino da Ucria, who was demonstrator of the plants in the Botanical Garden of Palermo, and introduced in Sicily the classification system of Linnaeus to that of Francesco Bruno, the last among the historical directors who had the merit of reconstructing the collections, recovering the archives and permanently removing the threats of dismemberment of the garden and no less important the bust of Vincenzo Tineo, the very young successor of the father Giuseppe in the direction of the garden, to whom various merits must be recognized, including enhancing the live and dried collections of the garden.
After getting to know the founders, we enter the Gymnasium, built on the project of a French architect. A neoclassical style structure, in which a staircase leads to a colonnaded portico and on the roof in correspondence four imposing statues, depicting the four seasons. At the entrance, two stucco statues representing Dioscorides and Theophrastus. But upon entering, the decorative elements attributable to different artists stand out, the frescoes in the vaults, including the Goddess Flora, and the statues representing some important botanists, doctors, and naturalists such as that Carlo Linneo. Among statues and frescoes, in the showcases against the walls, you can admire various historical collections of seeds, wood, spices, and jars containing fruits immersed in a substance that has kept them intact over time; A library and historical herbarium, which houses precious collections of dried plants of various geographical origins, collected and donated by illustrious naturalists in different periods and is still today very frequented by scholars and university students.
Our world tour starts from the desert, to learn more about the plants that surround us. Entering the greenhouse we find various succulent plants, whose characteristic is the spherical shape, developed to be able to store large quantities of water, thorns, and fluff to defend themselves from animals that would otherwise suck all the water retained by the plant. Some are used both in the textile field and to produce alcoholic beverages, including the “pulque“, a typical Mexican alcoholic drink.
Among the other greenhouses, we visit the oldest, a winter garden that houses plants grown in pots or on the ground, such as coffee. The greenhouse houses plants like the traveler’s palm, some oranges, and other plants typical of tropical and equatorial hot-humid climates. Next to it, two smaller greenhouses house orchids and carnivorous plants respectively. Finally, a greenhouse with temperate-humid climate conditions houses a small collection of ferns.
Along the way, we admire the variety of other plants, including some carnivorous plants and bougainvilleas of various colors. During our journey, Antonio shows us the “bottle tree“, so called for its characteristic swelling of the trunk covered with thick spines, useful for collecting water to be able to withstand periods of drought. In fact, by tapping on the trunk based on the sound that is reproduced, one can understand the year of flood or drought. Another characteristic of this marvelous species is the large colored flowers and above all the large fruits which, taking advantage of the wind, disperse a light fluff similar to cotton with the seeds; from here it also takes the name of “cotton tree“. We cannot fail to collect a little of this fluff to experience the sensation…we assure you that it is soft like cotton wool!
While walking we hear the chirping of hundreds of birds and Antonio explains to us that they are budgies that have escaped over time from the cages of the citizens of Palermo, who have found their ideal habitat right here; this curiosity is also part of our world tour….it almost seems to be in a jungle!
Another tree that struck us very much is the “soap tree“, coming from China, characterized by its fruits with a high concentration of saponin, so much so that the Chinese use it for their washing machines or just to wash their hands. We are amazed when Antonio picks up a seed, approaches a fountain, and begins to rub it in his hands until he produces a soft foam…. it’s soap!!!! We too collect some seeds from the ground to take them home: we have to try!
During this demonstration, Antonio tells us something that makes us think: in ancient times, in the inland areas of China, when the land was conquered, the inhabitants said: “We belong to this piece of Earth“. Something that makes us reflect on respect for the earth, for nature, which unfortunately has been somewhat lost over the years!
Continuing to walk we arrive at the spectacular Ficus Magnolioide, the most representative specimen of the 173-year-old Botanical Garden, whose foliage occupies an area of 2900 square meters, the perimeter of its stems measures 45 meters and its overall circumference is around 15 meters. For all these characteristics, it is considered the tree with the largest crown in Europe.
And it is precisely in this magical place that we stop for our first moment of knowledge; we all sit in a circle using the roots of the Ficus as a seat. A first moment of connection with nature that puts us at ease and makes us open to discussions with our fellow adventurers.
Let’s start with the introductions, dwelling on a question Beppe asked us: Where do we feel our roots? We thus begin to answer one at a time, reflecting on our life, on our affections. It was a very emotional moment.
After a small break, we resume our walk to arrive at the magnificent Aquarium, the largest tank in the Botanical Garden, full of aquatic plants and flowers of all kinds, and turtles that swim undisturbed. What a show! After a few photos, a stroll among the beautiful bamboo and we walk towards the exit. Without realizing it, it’s already lunch time and we’re all starting to feel peckish. We meet on the seafront to enjoy bread and panelle and sandwiches with mackerel, onion, and tomato, accompanied by beer, a chat, a little relaxation, and the warm sun of Palermo.
After the lunch break, a small stop in Sant’Ambrogio where Giovanna, already our partner, is waiting for us, making us experience the pleasure of tasting her oils again at the old family oil mill. Then a walk through the narrow streets of the village, where we discover “the social oven“, a space forgotten long ago and restored to give life to moments of exchange, conviviality, and the rediscovery of the knowledge and flavors of the Madonie regenerative process carried out by the Palma Nana cooperative together with the Rediscover Sant’Ambrogio Committee. It’s quite hot and so we refresh ourselves in the belvedere bar, with ice cream and “dog’s heart”, a refreshing drink made with tonic water and lemon granita (proposed by us islanders, as it is very famous in the province of Catania), he drinks especially on hot summer days: he conquered everyone!
We set off again towards Serra Guarneri, an integral nature reserve of the Madonie Park, where we are catapulted into a paradise surrounded by greenery that immediately offers refreshment to our mind and body, to the point of making us forget immediately the frenzy of our daily life.
This is how our surprise weekend begins!
Photo Isolani per Caso and Helen