Electronically Serving Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel, & Rosemead


This is the third in a series of articles about southern Sicily, chiefly the interesting town of Agrigento that we visited in the 1990s.


By Charles N. Stevens

Salita S. Spirito is one of many narrow byways that lead off from Via Atenea, the main artery of Agrigento. Once we begin to trudge up the steep cobbled stairway that scales the hill, the sounds of traffic and the bustle of shoppers immediately fades away. We enter an ancient quietness, a hushed atmosphere of aged stone walls where any sound at all—a television set, a church bell, a whistle or shout, even footsteps echo through the silence. Only the alley cats are quiet as their soft padded feet step silently over the cold stones of the stairway.

As we climb the stairs, a gray-haired woman, her ankles swollen with age, walks down. She takes each step carefully and slowly, waddling slightly from side to side as though each movement is painful. Her face wears the mask of a difficult life. How many times has she had to labor up and down these stairs during her lifetime?

We pass washing hanging on a line—white socks, brassieres and black leotards—, and through a gateway, a shrine with red votive candles flickering in the shadows. We pass by rough-stoned houses with old wooden doors and walls so weathered that their plaster has sluffed off, baring the yellowish sandstone blocks beneath, the same kind of stones the Greeks had used to build their temples down the hill.

Finally, after a stiff climb, we come upon the Monastery and Church of S. Spirito, relics of the 14th and 17th centuries. We walk across a stone-paved square to the open door of the church. We gasp at the striking beauty of the interior. The entire back of the altar is alive with white life-sized stucco figures, all in frozen movement, saints and angels flying in all directions within the rays of the holy spirit. The array reminds me of paintings by Rubens.

On each side of the interior are scenes from the life of Christ, all in the same baroque style with large stucco figures—the flight into Egypt, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi. Captivated by the impact of the art, we stand in the silent church, taking it all in. Behind us, a short, almost toothless woman strides in the church door. She walks briskly down the aisle toward us, then presents us with a collection basket. We get the idea, then give her a 1000 lira note which seems to satisfy her. Obviously, a caretaker, she motions for us to visit the monastery outside.

We stroll beneath what is left of the 14th century yellow sandstone cloisters, the remaining ones badly weathered. The day is dying, and a cool wind breathes through the shadowy cloisters. A pigeon rests on top of one of them, looking down at us as we walk, and others, hidden somewhere in the old stones, coo their mournful songs. The cloisters open out into a large square patio planted with grass and flower beds accessed by stone walkways. We relax in the patio and watch the pink glow of the setting sun wash over the old stones of the monastery building.

In the blush of evening, we notice several groups of well-dressed people hurrying along the walks toward the monastery. We discover that the people are attending a computer session only a few feet from the cloisters, the cavernous old room crowded with interested men and women. In one of the ancient chapels, stains and seepages marking the cold stone vaulting, are four women learning to use computers, the bright flickering colors of the screens contrasting sharply with the dull walls.

In front of the church again, we take our last look at it in the fading light. We take in its scalloped arched facade, its bell tower that reminds us of Spanish missions in California. A scraggly bouquet of weeds has found its niche in a crack between the stones.

We start back down Salita S. Spirito, down the long flight of cobbled stairs. We meet a man coming up the stairs, taking the steps slowly, planting his cane firmly on each step. As we pass him, he stops, smiles at us, and says, “Bona sera”. We return the “bona seras” in our “best” Italian, feeling sorry that this nice old man and many others just like him must negotiate stairs like these at this time of their lives. Life just becomes more difficult with age. Several cats crouch along the stairs or slink silently along the walls.

Passing beneath a window, we hear where the chants of a mass are being shown on television. We walk by a shop selling Persian rugs and then an open printshop, the smell of ink and metal drifting out from its presses, its metal type scattered over a soiled table. The sounds of cars, motor scooters, voices and walking feet begin to seep in from the Via Athenea; we are almost back. Salita S. Spirito had been a fascinating little street full of surprises, beauty, and unsuspected views of life, all of them unknown to us before we went exploring the byways of Agrigento.

MONTEREY PARK AUTHOR PUBLISHES 4th BOOK – Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s:

Charles “Norm” Stevens, a 43 year resident of Monterey Park has recently published his 4th book: Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s. This is the story of a young boy growing up in Inglewood, California in the l930’s. This was a time during the depression when unemployment was affecting many and the banks were closed, while the clouds of war were gathering in Europe. But he was lucky enough to be raised in a loving family, the power of that love reflected throughout his stories.

Stevens is the author of three previous books about his experiences during WWII:

An Innocent at Polebrook: A Memoir of an 8th Air Force Bombardier (Story of his 34 bombing missions from his base at Polebrook, England over Germany and France)

The Innocent Cadet: Becoming A World War II Bombardier (A prequel to the first, telling of his training in the U.S. before going overseas into combat.)

Back from Combat: A WWII Bombardier Faces His Military Future from Combat: (This book details the time from when he returned from combat in England until the end of the war.)

He is known to the readers of The Citizen’s Voice as the author of Travel Log Articles including “Cruising the Rhine and Mosel”,” Best of the West”, “In Search of Snow” ,  “From Paris to Normandy on the Seine”, and “Exploring New York”.  He is retired, having taught for 32 years, primarily in the Montebello Unified School District.

Those interested in purchasing an autographed copy of any of his books, may contact the author at 323-721-8230 or  Normstevens24@gmail.com.

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