Clive finds the Scilian capital of Palermo once more at the centre of things

In Palermo, a lawyer told me that Sicily, long used by NATO and American forces, now supports one of the centres from which the USA controls its drones. The people of the countryside around about are concerned at finding themselves on the frontline. Whatever problems London might have pale by comparison.

Although a bigger player in the conflicts of the world, Britain watches from a distance, but you only have to look at the unseaworthy vessels, with their desperate cargoes of humanity, struggling towards Lipari to realise that Sicily finds itself, once again, in the middle of things. It has always been a place of cultural intersection.

The mosaic of Roger II in the church of the Martorana shows him being crowned by Christ—a bit of a cheek, when you consider that he kept a harem. Arab tastes survive in the cuisine, with pasta spiced with sultanas and almonds. Before catching my plane home, I just had time to visit the puppet museum.

The pupi, wooden puppets several feet tall and dressed in feathered plumes and armour, were hugely popular before the advent of television. To the accompaniment of dramatic stamping from the puppet masters, they enacted medieval romances, with a different instalment presented each night for several weeks. Christians fought Moors, in tales derived from the Crusades. An updated version would feature drones.

* This article was first published in Country Life magazine on September 10 2014

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