Sacha Distel - That Italian Summer
Saturday, May 21, 2016
Friday, May 20, 2016
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
As I've mentioned before, no one really knows why, in the 18th century, some Italian towns started celebrating the Festival of Corpus Christi or Corpus Domini by creating "carpets "of flowers but one theory is that people were simply using what they had to make something beautiful for God and what they had was an abundance of flower petals. The town of Noto's Infiorata tradition started more recently, 37 years ago, and the event is always held over the third weekend of May so I made my way there on Saturday.
The "carpet of flowers" is spread out along the town's via Nicolaci and this year's theme was "The Infiorata Welcomes the World". I'm sure you will understand that, as you have to walk up one of the sides of the display, it is rather difficult to take well-angled photos, especially in glorious sunshine so that you can't see what you're doing! Nonetheless, I hope the photos I managed to take convey something of the beauty and the atmosphere of the occasion for you.
I thought the cat was rather magnificent so here he is again:
Half way up via Nicolaci, I spotted a great menu on offer at €12,90. As it was 1 pm I entered the establishment and to my surprise, was served one of the best, and most generous, plates of bruschette I ever had and certainly the best chicken and vegetable couscous I've tasted in Sicily!
You can see panoramic images of the Infiorata here.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Voting in the Eurovision Song Contest is taking place as I write. Here is Italy's entry, which I think is rather good and at least it is sung in Italian as well as English. [I think it's sad that contestants don't sing in their own language any more.] A pretty song:
Francesca Michielin - No Degree of Separation
Thursday, May 12, 2016
If you come to this part of Sicily and want something really special to take home with you, you may like to visit I Monili Aprile in Modica and by the sea in Pozzallo. Both are run by my friends the Aprile family and elder son Salvatore has recently created the website I Monili Aprile. Today I talked to Salvo about the shops, his life and jewellery in general:
Salvo, when did you decide that you wanted to be a jeweller?
I decided to be a jeweller when my parents and I had the idea of opening a second jewellery shop in a seaside town called Pozzallo but I had always felt like a "little jeweller" because I grew up in my parents' jewellery shop.
Did you help in the shop as a child?
Sometimes. I was very happy to help and I enjoyed discovering the world of jewellery.
Tell me about your studies.
I remember when I chose to study business at Pisa University and after that at Catania University, it was very important for my family and for me because it enabled me to grow personally and culturally.
When did you graduate?
I graduated in November 2011.
And later you studied gemology?
I studied gemology in November 2015 at the Istituto Gemmologico Italiano [IGI] in Milan because it was time to get to know the world of diamonds and now I'm going to learn about all kinds of gemstones.
What’s your favourite stone?
My favorite stone is the diamond because it has a long history, like the history of the world. The diamond is generally formed inside the earth and its birth dates back to the origin of the earth.
Describe a typical day for a gemology student.
First you meet your lecturers and you can talk about different subjects such as natural science, geophysics and the history of gemstones. It’s very important to study different topics from those that you studied before. You can look at gems with a microscope to identify their types and their properties.
|Inside the Pozzallo store|
When did your family open the shop in Pozzallo?
My family decided to open the shop in Pozzallo in July 2013 because it is a small, young town and it is a tourist attraction, especially in the summer.
Do you have any help in the Pozzallo shop?
Yes, I have some help in the Pozzallo shop. In our team we are fortunate because my brother Gabriele is a qualified watchmaker. He works in Modica but he likes coming to work in Pozzallo in the summer.
In your shop, can people buy any souvenirs of Sicily?
Yes. I’ve met a lot of tourists who like ceramic jewellery and Italian jewellery in general.
One final question, Salvo: Do you think Britain should give back the Koh-i-Noor Diamond?
Via Resistenza Partigiana 25,
Tel: +39 0932 763308
C.so Vittorio Veneto 69,
Tel: +39 0932 957512
Monday, May 09, 2016
Leafing through an old recipe book the other day, I was reminded of Moroccan preserved lemons. I used to be able to get these in the UK and, indeed, had sometimes made them myself. However, being short of both time and patience, I started to think that, in this land of citrus fruit, there ought to be a quicker way of approaching the taste. Then I started to wonder if I could get anywhere near it if I used cedri [citrons], which Sicilians like to just slice and eat with coarse seasalt. I decided to try and the result was better than I'd expected! Here's what I did:
Chicken in Prosecco with Grilled Cedro
First, slice one cedro into rounds as you would a lemon. [Sicilian cedri are enormous!] Halve the slices, put them on a plate and sprinkle with coarse seasalt and about ten grinds of cinnamon from a cinnamon mill. Leave them for at least an hour, then heat 2 tablesp olive oil on a ridged griddle pan and grill the slices over medium heat for about 1 min. each side. Stand well back when you put the slices on the griddle and when you turn them. Put them onto kitchen paper on a plate.
Marinate 6 - 8 chicken drumsticks [skin on ] for about 2 hours in 200 ml Prosecco, 2 tblesp olive oil, 1 tablesp honey, 0.5 tablesp Chinese plum sauce [which I have recently been able to get my hands on again and have missed], about 0.5 tablesp dried herbes de Provence, some sprigs of fresh thyme [lemon thyme if you can get it] and some freshly ground seasalt and black pepper.
Heat the oven to 180°C.
Lift the chicken out of the marinade with a slotted spoon but keep the marinade. Lay the chicken on a rack in a foil-lined roasting dish and cook for about 45 mins., checking now and then. When you think it is nearly ready, put the marinade into a pan with the cedro slices and about 20 preserved green olives, drained but still with the accompanying small vegetables that have been used to flavour them. [In Sicily olives are always preserved with slices of sweet Sicilian carrot.] Heat until the marinade comes to the boil.
Place the chicken on a platter , surround with the cedro slices and olives [removed from the marianade with a slotted spoon] and garnish with some chopped, flat-leaved parsley and some more sprigs of thyme. Put the marinade in a sauce boat for those who would like some.
Serve with garlic-roasted small potatoes or these from Nigella .
Saturday, May 07, 2016
Thursday, May 05, 2016
At the beginning of April I wrote that Sambuca di Sicilia in Agrigento Province had, in a TV poll, been named the most beautiful village in Italy, much to the consternation of the inhabitants of Cervo [Liguria], whose beauty I am able to vouch for.
|The towers of San Gimignano|
Three weeks after this announcement, however. the Spanish newspaper El País ran its own poll and named San Gimignano in Tuscany as the most beautiful borgo in Italy. I have been to San Gimignano two or three times and it is certainly impressive but I would say it is more majestic than pretty. It also has a torture museum which caused me several sleepless nights after my last visit!
Not having been to Sambuca di Sicilia - a state of affairs I hope to put right in the near future - I couldn't say which of the three villages is the loveliest but the competition, like the Sicilian weather, seems to be hotting up.
|Me in San Gimignano in the 1970s - sorry about the fashion!|
San Gimignano has been the setting of, or has featured in, several well-known films, notably Tea with Mussolini in 1999:
Tuesday, May 03, 2016
When is an installment not an installment? When Rai [Italy's public service broadcasting company, owned by the Ministry of Economy and Finance] has anything to do with it, that's when!
For some time now, Italy has been trying to solve the problem of TV licence fee evaders, of which there are many. A couple of years ago, it was decided that, if the fee was added to electricity bills, everyone would have to pay it on time, for everyone has electricity and if you have electricity you are bound to have a TV, right? Who, after all, could live without one? Well, quite a few people are actually claiming that they can and do.
If you genuinely don't have a TV and therefore wish to be exempted from licence fee payment, you are going to have to prove it, this year and every year, and, quite honestly, I don't fancy your chances. I have a friend here who has never had a TV and who has to date fought a ten-year battle in order to be believed - a fiasco which began long before some bureaucrat came up with the combined licence fee and electricity bill idea.
But let us get to the installments: as a softener, the licence fee has been slightly reduced from €113,50 to €100 per year, to be paid in ten installments. Parliament finally passed the measure last year after much to-ing amd fro-ing and if you're British, like me, you might have expected to be billed for the first installment with the first electricity bill of 2016. This didn't happen and nobody seemed to know if or when the payments would have to start. Now, however, it has been announced that the first "installment" will be requested with the July electricity bill - only it won't be one installment, but six, as the January - June installments will have to be paid in one go. To my mind, this renders them non-installments but a down payment, though everybody else just sighs and regards the situation as perfectly normal - which of course, it is in Italy, a country not known for its ability to simplify such matters.
Something tells me there is going to be a fair amount of chaos in July!
Saturday, April 30, 2016
Ten days after news came in of a migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean in which up to 500 people may have died, the world has lost interest and I wish I could say I am surprised. But when all that most countries care about is keeping migrants off their own territory, politicians cannot stop bickering for long enough to even ascertain what has happened. For the record, and according to information pieced together by UNHCR in interviews with survivors, it appears to be this:
In Libya, human traffickers put 100 - 200 migrants onto an inadequate, 30-metre-long boat then tried to transfer them, somewhere between Libya and Italy, onto a larger boat which was already carrying 100 people. This boat suddenly capsized and sank. Most of the 41 survivors managed to swim back to the first boat which was then left adrift in the Mediterranean for at least three days before help arrived on 16th April. No further confirmation of the numbers involved in the disaster seems to be available and, as I have said, few people in a position to change things are interested.
There has really been some shameful political posturing over the past week, with Austria threatening to build a barrier at the Brenner and the German Interior Minister having the gall to tell Italy that it is a country "far from being overwhelmed by asylum seekers." That's right, Mr de Maizière - overwhelmed she is not but Italy continues to save thousands of migrants every day, processes them, provides the medical care required and, despite some isolated ugly incidents, generally treats arrivals with kindness and humanity. In the last five days of March alone, Italy saved 3,700 migrants. The barrier at the Brenner - which Italy correctly says would be against EU rules - is off the cards for now but only for now. Austria has said that it will be erected "when needed" and is putting in place more border checks at the Pass.
In other developments, Italy is ready to contribute 50 Carabinieri and army personnel to a possible UN force of 250 which would help Libya protect its oil wells and refineries. Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano is asking for an agreement with Libya on migration so that most migrants would be prevented from leaving in the first place and others would be sent back under a scheme similar to the one agreed by the EU and Turkey. Here in Sicily, Frontex [the European External Borders Agency] has set up its Italian headquarters in Catania.
Meanwhile, my own country continues to make me ashamed, having refused to admit 3,000 Syrian refugee children who are in dire need of a safe haven.
One of the saddest stories that has come to my attention this week is that of a three-year-old Somali girl who, two weeks ago, survived a Mediterranean migrant crossing with her mother, brother and uncle. She was taken to the migrant hotspot of Taranto [Puglia] and was waiting in the long queue to be processed when the Mayor of Taranto, Ippazio Stefàno, a pediatrician who helps out in the medical facility at the hotspot, realised that she was extremely unwell. He got her family to the front of the queue, examined the little girl and had her transferred to hospital. At first all seemed to be going well but sadly the child died on 25th April.
I now have two simple questions for all politicians involved in this sorry mess: How many children have to die before Europe comes to its collective senses and what do you think the effects of such tragedies will be on the siblings of the victims? Governments, take a look at history.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
On Monday evening my friends Giorgio and Giovanna, who own Casa Natia, were expecting their first guests there and I was delighted to be invited to join the welcome party.
Giovanna and her friend had been working all day making culinary delights such as scacce [focacce] and I can honestly say I'd never seen so many focacce in one place at one time! These were filled with cauliflower, ricotta, sausage and ricotta, aubergine and tomato, tomato and onion - and I'm sure there were one or two more fillings that I've forgotten to mention! There were also girelle biscuits and of course, Giovanna's homemade cannoli:
This was the welcome basket for the lucky guests:
You can read more about Casa Natia here.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
What with all the excitement of our do on Thursday in honour of a certain lady, I almost forgot it was the tenth anniversary of this blog too!
When I first started writing the blog - and I confess I didn't really know what I was doing - I thought it would discipline me into writing almost every day and enable me to give something back to Sicily by dispelling a few myths. I think it has done those two things but I have gained so much more from it: The blog has kept me going through good times and bad, has given me the opportunity to learn new technological skills and has, on occasion, led to professional writing assignments.
But most importantly, through the blog I have made friends all over the world and I have met some of my fellow-bloggers, such as Katia Amore of Love Sicily, Liz, James, Bill and Eric and Ellee Seymour. To all of them, and all of you, I would like to extend my love and my thanks for reading Sicily Scene.
I don't have the time to post as often as I used to, but I have no intention of giving up! I'm currently working on a cookbook.
Here is a song from the island that inspires the blog:
Tariqa - Luna, luna
Friday, April 22, 2016
I'm not known for my monarchist leanings but it would have been churlish not to dress up for the Queen yesterday, wouldn't it?
And over at London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale, we decided to have a bit of a do. Many thanks to Cicara Caffeteria and Delizie D'Autore.
The Queen arrived a day late because she couldn't fit us in yesterday. But today she popped in for a nice cup of tea and our students had some questions for her.
These included the most important question of all which is, of course, a culinary one!
Buon compleanno, Maestà!
Thursday, April 21, 2016
I cannot leave the long-running water saga out of my posts from the archives! If anyone had told me, before I moved to Sicily, what an issue water would be, I would probably never have come. It is not the problem it used to be, as for the past two years we've had water from underground pipes instead of having to have a cistern filled every week or so but every now and then, particularly in summer, there is a morning when I turn the tap on to find...... nothing. Believe me, I never waste water now!
Here is an early post from an August when we not only ran out of water in the condominio, but had a cistern leak too, so that when the tank was refilled we lost it all. This was no joke in a temperature of 40°, as you may imagine.
ACQUA LONTANA... 16th August 2006
"Acqua lontana non spegne il fuoco"
[Italian proverb = "Far-away water won't put out the fire".]
This proverb has a figurative meaning but I am taking it literally and personally at the moment.The water saga continues and yesterday I had a veritable army of men here trying to sort out the situation.
I heard the plumber hammering away in the cistern area early yesterday morning but he left after an hour and I didn't get a chance to speak to him. So I didn't know if he had gone off to get something, was coming back or had given up till after today's bank holiday. No one else was in for me to ask.
In desperation, facing a sixth day without running water, I reluctantly called the owner of this flat, then, there being no reply, her husband, who happens to be a plumber. ["Why didn't you call him in the first place?", I hear you ask. Because there is a hierarchy regarding who makes these calls here, because I didn't want to disturb the family at holiday time and because the man upstairs had already called in a plumber.] Eventually, through a friend, I tracked down Luigi the husband at the sea and he very kindly said he would come at 3pm., which he did. Luckily, just as he arrived, the man on the first floor and the one on the fourth floor came back, so they were able to explain to Luigi the technical stuff about what the other plumber had, and had not, been able to do.
Luigi then explained to me that he could probably get the system working again, but not before yet another water lorry arrived [as the supply had already leaked out]. I knew that one of the neighbours had requested another tank from the Comune, but, it being nearly 4pm by then, Luigi said that he "knew a man who knew a man" who could get a private water carrier to come straightaway, probably. The first floor man and I agreed that this would be best [the other tenant having had to rush back to work] so Luigi phoned "the man who knew.." and, sure enough, within ten minutes we heard a chug-chug-chug up the street and the private water carrier appeared, followed by Luigi and the "man who knew a man". The lorry driver put loads of water into the cistern, shook hands with us and wished us all a buon Ferragosto [Happy 15th August holiday] and, no sooner had he reversed out and chug-chug-chugged down the road, than we heard the chug-chug-chug up the road of the Comune lorry! Well, we weren't going to refuse another fill-up, given the circumstances, and, although the Comune lorry driver did not seem happy at first, having seen the other lorry go, when we explained everything to him he fairly happily siphoned another tankful in. By this time, of course, we were providing great entertainment to all the people hereabouts who had not gone away for the season; they were all out on their balconies watching, wondering, no doubt, why we were receiving our fifth lorry-load of water in six days, and making the pazienza gesture [throwing your hands up in the air] whenever any of us looked up.
Simi dog and I were worn out by the end of it as the water did not come back on immediately after the fill-ups, oh, no! Something was still wrong down there and we had to go up and down god knows how many times and shout, "C'è acqua!" ["There's water!"] or "Non c'è acqua!" ["There's no water!"] from the balconies as the men tested the thingamajigs in the cistern cupboard.
Eventually, there was water and I'd never realised before what a lovely sound water gushing from a tap can be! Do you think my problems were over at that moment, though? Not on your nonna's nelly! At this stage, we learned that someone had left a tap on in the block. [I can quite understand how this had happened, as when you are always testing to see if water comes out, you reach a point where you can't remember whether the tap is on or off.] So the man downstairs said he'd have to turn the water off again to avoid a flood if the other tenant didn't come back soon. Then my friend Linda and her family whisked me off to their house for supper, as they had surmised, correctly, that I needed to get away from the situation. I was so relieved, on returning, to see all the tenants' cars in the parking space and to find the water still on when I came upstairs!
Tomorrow the first plumber is coming again - I think to replace the original pump that broke - and soon we are to have a meeting regarding exactly who will do what when "non c' è acqua"!
Update - 2016: We never did have that meeting. That would have been planning ahead, which is too much like tempting fate. Although there are less problems now, I still keep a supply of filled bidoni - just in case.