From red faces in Napoli earlier this week to red faces in Poland - or at least, there ought to be some! The publishers of a new Polish guidebook to the island have caused much offence to all decent Sicilians by including the Mafia bosses Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore [Totò] Riina in a section entitled "Eminent Sicilians", reports La Sicilia.
Whatever were the authors thinking of? How did the editors, employees of a publishing house in the city of Gliwice, let this pass? Right there, on the same page as the entry on the author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa is a long entry on Provenzano and Riina appears alongside the Modican Nobel laureate Salvatore Quasimodo. Do the compilers really imagine that the island counts these criminals among its greatest citizens? Furthermore, do they think people want to come here to follow their trail? What about Sicily's creativity, cuisine, history and outstanding beauty? One can only hope that Poles reading this guidebook have the sense to throw it into the nearest bin, where it belongs.
In the next few days there is to be a conference on Sicilian tourism in Taormina and among the delegates will be the Sicilian Region's Councillor for Tourism, Michela Stancheris. You can bet that this book will be on the agenda!
As I reminded Lidl Italia [because I want to know when they are going to get some dried cranberries in] on twitter this morning, it is nearly Christmas and that means it is time for Il Sole 24 Ore to publish their annual Quality of Life in Italy survey.
The figures, which came out on Monday, ranked Italian cities according to six criteria: standard of living, business and work, environmental and health services, population, public order and free time. According to the results, the top ten cities to live in in Italy are:
Rome is in 20th position and Turin, surprisingly, in 52nd. These are the Sicilian results, with last year's ranking in brackets:
84. Ragusa 
88. Enna 
89. Siracusa 
91. Messina 
96. Agrigento 
98. Trapani 
100. Caltanissetta 
101. Catania 
106. Palermo 
Ragusa at least has the comfort of being top of the Sicilian list! There is little comfort for Naples and its province, coming in last at 107th, and still less for the city's beleaguered Mayor, Luigi de Magistris who, on the same day as the figures were published, was hosting Transport and Infrastructure Minister Maurizio Lupi and other dignitaries at a ceremony to open the new Garibaldi metro station. Just as the party were taking the escalator to the top level of the station, the wretched contraption decided to break down, leaving all to walk up the many stairs and not a few red faces.
Never mind, Napoli - I'm sure Julia still loves you:
I can't say I'm feeling very festive and, as even stores here do not usually decorate until the 8th December holiday, I have not been in a hurry to get started. However, I've noticed a few shops getting ready earlier this year and now that my neighbour across the way has got her glittering snowmen in her windows, through which I can glimpse her tree sparkling away, I suppose I had better get on with it.
Thoughts turn, too, to Christmas baking and yesterday I decided to give a trial run to Rachel Allen's Raspberry Upside-Down Cake, a recipe which appears in the Christmas edition of Good Housekeeping UK. I used frozen raspberries, as that is the only kind you can get here in any season and, as we cannot get self-raising flour, added two sachets of vanilla-flavoured lievito [raising] powder. I must say that, once I had finished bashing my head on the cupboard shelves trying to find the right pan, this was a very easy cake to make.
OK, I probably overdid the pink icing sugar and the star shape I'd wanted to create in the middle went a bit wonky but the cake sliced up very nicely and my students today thought it was great!
Here, at last, is some news to cheer Sicilians up and boost tourism on the island: The messinese actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta, along with Massimiliano Cavaleri, president of the cultural association Prima Stella, has come up with the idea of creating a "Walk of Stars", inspired by the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along the shores of the Messina Strait.
The idea is to put Messina back on the film map of the world and celebrate its cinematic heyday in the fifties and sixties. At that time, film stars from Italy and beyond would come to the Rassegna Cinematografica Internazionale di Messina and let themselves be seen there as they do now in Hollywood, Cannes and Taormina, where the Festival was relocated in the 1970s. The project, which looks to the future, too, has won support from all quarters of the Messina Council and Port Authority and architects have already been appointed.
It is envisaged that there would be a permanent commission to choose which stars would be honoured and now two star designs are being considered: a traditional star to be inserted into the existing paving or a three-dimensional design with room for some biographical details about the film star it represents.
I have just one tip for you, Messina: if you don't want a certain politician lobbying for a place on the Walk, keep calling it the "Walk of Stars" and not the "Walk of Fame"!
There are no prizes for guessing the top story in every Italian newspaper and in other media here today - it is, of course, the final and definitive expulsion of Mr Berlusconi from the Senate. "Didn't that happen at the beginning of October?" you may ask and the answer is that it did, sort of, but that was a vote by a Senate committee. The process required another vote by the full Senate in order to be confirmed. What you have to understand about Italian politics is that nothing is straightforward, no one ever resigns and everything is as complicated as possible and designed to take the maximum amount of time. If you can comprehend these three principles, you are on the way to grasping the essence.
Tonight I am not going to repeat a tale which has been well reported all over the world but I do want to focus on some of the language being used here in reaction to it. Prior to the vote yesterday - for he can have had no doubt as to its outcome - the former Premier declared the day to be one of "mourning for democracy". Following the decision, some Senators changed into black outfits and many of Mr Berlusconi's supporters donned black armbands.
Then words like "tragedy" were heard and among these voices was that of Miss Francesca Pascale, Mr Berlusconi's 28-year-old fiancée. So upset is she at the spurning of her partner that she has asked to see Pope Francis in order to explain the "tragedy" to him. [The Pontiff's reaction has not, as yet, been reported.] Now, whilst it is disappointing to lose one's job at any age, no matter whose fault it is, Silvio Berlusconi is hardly your average pensioner trying to make a few extra pence to pay his winter fuel bills. He is one of the world's richest men, is well past the age of retirement and remains leader of his Forza Italia party. Even allowing for Italian exaggeration, what befell him yesterday cannot be described as a tragedy.
Miss Pascale has not, to my knowledge, expressed indignation or sorrow at events such as the 3rd October migration tragedy in the Mediterranean or last week's disaster in Sardinia and one wonders whether these people have lived unusually charmed lives. As for mourning, Silvio, I'll save that for deep personal loss.
Oh, dear - just when it was all going so well for Fontanarossa [Catania] Airport, along comes the EU and cuts off its funding for the next ten years. The airport, the sixth in importance in Italy and among the top ten in the country for traffic, no longer appears in the Core Ten-T and Connecting Europe Facility upper band, having been downgraded because of poor transport links - especially by rail - with the centre of Catania and the port. It is a ruling which will affect not only Fontanarossa, but the whole Catania area, including the port, the Circumetnea rail service and even the new airport at Comiso [Ragusa]. This means that the area will not feature in the new trans-European network corridors planned by the EU for the future and is a cruel blow for the Sicilian tourist industry.
Governor of Sicily Rosario Crocetta and Mayor of Catania Enzo Bianco have met today to decide upon a strategy and will soon be announcing an initiative, in conjunction with other partners, to support the airport. In some quarters this is being regarded as too little too late and there has been much criticism of local institutions for not putting more pressure on the EU.
The continued development and efficient functioning of Fontanarossa is essential, not only to the economy of this part of Sicily but to the island as a whole. Let us hope.
Friday morning was grey and drab, just like my mood. I was walking along, thinking of Tennyson's line,
"On the bald street breaks the blank day",
when I happened to glance up. And there, above Modica, was one of the most beautiful rainbows I had ever seen. [The photo does not do it justice.] It was only there for a moment but it really lifted my spirits and my thoughts turned [not for the first time in Modica] to some lines by Colette, which she attributed to her mother, Sido:
"Regarde la couleur du ciel au couchant, qui annonce grand vent ettempête. Qu'inporte le grand vent de demain pourvu que nous admirions cette fournaise d'aujourd'hui? Regarde la première pousse du haricot, le cotylédon qui lève sur sa tête un petit chapeau de terre sèche..... Regarde, vite, le bouton de l'iris noir est en train de s'épanouir! Si tu ne te dépêches pas, il ira plus vite que toi!"
"Look at the colour of the sky at sunset, warning us of strong winds and a storm. What do the strong winds of tomorrow matter as long as we can admire today's burning fire? Look at the first shoots of the bean, the seed leaf popping up with a little hat of dry earth on its head...... Quick - look! The bud of the black iris is opening. If you don't hurry it will go faster than you!' "
Actually, Sido probably didn't say it but what matters is that the words were written.
Afterwards, I suddenly I found myself humming this song:
The 22nd November 1963 was a normal, grey, drizzly Friday in Bristol, UK. Aged 13, I went to school as usual, came home just after 4 pm and couldn't get out of my uniform quickly enough. It says something for the significance the day would eventually have that I can remember the clothes I changed into - a burgundy corduroy skirt and pale blue jumper which probably didn't go. After "tea", as we called it then, I settled down to watch my favourite medical soap opera, Emergency - Ward 10, with Desmond Carrington as the handsome young doctor, Chris Anderson.
There had been a lot of talk of war in the preceding months, for the world had held its breath during the Cuban Missile Crisis of only a year before and my parents still talked about World War II. I don't think that people of their generation ever realised how much they scared their children by doing so and maybe it's because of this, and not only the songs of Bob Dylan, that we became the generation of "peace and love". When the programme was interrupted and a picture of President Kennedy was shown on the screen, my immediate thought was that war had been declared and I was terrified. Then came the announcement - the President had been shot in Dallas.
We didn't have live news pictures in Britain at the time and the announcer said that the programme would continue and further news would be brought to us as ITV received it. A few minutes later, the programme was interrupted again and we were told the devastating news that the President had died. Then the announcer said that, in view of the gravity of the news, solemn music would be played for the rest of the evening. There were still no pictures.
We all glanced at each other in shock - my mum, dad, grandpa and me. My great aunt Mabel, who also lived with us, was out at a church meeting and when she came in, my dad gently told her the news. Great aunt Mabel was a widely-read, self-educated woman and I remember she buried her face in her hands, immediately grasping what this meant for the world.
For my generation of Brits President Kennedy represented all that was new and all that we loved about America: he was handsome, he was a war hero, we could understand his speeches and he was the first young politician we had ever seen. Every girl in my class wanted a "Jackie" fringe and how we loved her pillbox hats and style! The thought of her screaming, "Oh, no, no!" in the car was too much for us to bear. Of course, none of us knew then that the marriage was far from perfect but I don't think it would have diminished our hero-worship if we had.
Jacqueline Kennedy, much maligned later for the Onassis interlude, was a product of her time and class and admitted as much after Onassis's death:
"I have always lived through men and now I realise that I can't do that any more."
I am glad that she found love, reliability and true companionship in a man towards the end of her life and I am certainly not going to judge a woman who, on that fateful day half a century ago, cradled her murdered husband's head in her arms as their motorcade sped through Dallas to the hospital.
I believe, to this day, that it was hope that was cut down in Dallas on 22nd November 1963 and I don't think it re-emerged until the end of the decade, in the protests and demonstrations that young people held all over the world. Now, 50 years later, in Sicily, Italy, I find myself dealing every day with young people who feel they have no hope and they have no Kennedy figure to inspire it.
It is impossible to know in what ways the history of the world might have been different had President Kennedy survived but I would venture this opinion: Had he lived, faculties intact, into his nineties, he would have been appalled to see young people in such despair in a crisis brought about largely by people in a position to have known better. He would have known little of the situation in far-away Italy but he would have realised that this was a world-wide failure involving far more than money and he would have spoken out.
Everyone has their favourite Kennedy quote and mine is one of the less famous but I believe it is appropriate for our time and, indeed, for Italy. It is this:
“If we cannot end now our differences, at least
we can make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most
basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the
same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy: Address at The American University, Washington D.C.,
The other evening I decided I just had to have a warm rice salad to go with my butcher's excellent spiedini [kebabs]. The shops being closed, I had to use what was in the store cupboard and [newly working] freezer, so here's what I did:
Cook 500 gr long-grain rice - in Italy we can get special salad rice - in salted water for the time indicated on the pack. If this time is no longer than 10 minutes, chuck 200 gr frozen peas right in there with the rice. If the time indicated is longer - and please note it's the time from when the water comes to the boil - throw the peas in for the last ten mins.
While the rice and peas are cooking, chop a large red onion and a couple of peppers from a jar of grilled peppers in oil. Halve some datterini or cherry tomatoes and tear up a handful of basil leaves.
When the rice and peas are done, strain them and transfer to a serving dish. Mix in the other vegetables and basil and season well. Stir in 1 tablesp olive oil and serve.
Today some people in Sardinia have been able to return to their devastated homes as the clear-up operation continues. There are conflicting reports about the number of dead - some newspapers say 18, others 16 - and at least one person is still missing.
From the Sant'Antonio district of the badly hit town of Olbia comes a tale of bravery and friendship, among many others which will emerge in the coming days, I am sure: A young German hairdresser called Martina Feick, who has been living in Sardinia for seven years, did not hesitate, when what has been described as "the water bomb" arrived, to swim across her street in order to rescue an elderly lady who lived opposite her with her dog. Having rescued both the lady and her beloved canine companion, who had been at risk of being drowned in their home, Martina took them into her own house, where the three spent Monday night together.
To the people of Sant'Antonio, Martina is a heroine and I am happy to be able to bring you this story of hands literally reaching out across cultures in a time of great danger.
Update, 22.11.13: The final death toll is 16 but one person is still missing.