Wednesday, April 23, 2014


The subject of this post is not the second in line to the British throne but a much older Will, the bard of Stratford-upon-Avon, whose 450th birthday - or the generally accepted date of it - is being celebrated today.

Yesterday evening a friend who also comes from Stratford-upon-Avon gave a little party in the poet's honour, and tiramisù alle fragole, made to Matthew Fort's recipe which I've mentioned before, was my attempt at a themed dish:

As I tend to do everything arse-backwards, I'd decided on the quote I wanted to use first, and then tried to think of a dish. The quote, in case you cannot see it clearly, is,

"The strawberry grows underneath the nettle"
- Henry V

The "leaves" at the top were my best effort at making pasta di zucchero nettles and, by the time I came to the second one, I decided to leave out the fancy work on the edges. Most of the strawberries, of course, were underneath the mascarpone!

At the party the place settings were decorated with rosemary "for remembrance":

These were just some of the lovely treats:  Ah, sausage rolls!

 Another friend had brought hot cross buns all the way from the UK!

As you see, there was quite a mix of traditions

and in Sicily, in spring, there had to be ice cream!

My friend also provided what, as a teacher, I would call some "realia":

Then there were some readings from Shakespeare's works. [I read Sonnet XXIX, for  my Dad, who died 41 years ago this Easter.] Three friends made rather fabulous witches, I must say!  Finally, I lowered the tone by reading a little ditty I had composed: 

Will Day

Will Shakespeare, yours was quite a muse
from errors down in Syracuse
to propaganda for Queen Bess –
- your plays were thirty-eight, no less.
Poor Hamlet – what a tortured bloke,
for him existence was no joke.
He could have saved some brouhaha
if he’d just said, “Siamo qua.”
But let us find a cheerful fellow,
Macbeth won’t do, nor will Othello.
Bottom, Touchstone, Mistress Quickly
meddled in the plot quite thickly.
Down the ages comes their laughter,
hope it reaches the hereafter.
If it’s true what some folk say,
you never loved Anne Hathaway,
the sonnet lady was a lad,
we don’t care ‘cos your rhymes weren’t bad.
They claim that Bacon wrote the plays –
- one must admit, he turned a phrase,
but not like you, dear Stratford bard,
held for centuries in regard.
We celebrate your birth this eve
and some among us really believe
that though the thing is still the play,
you were Sicilian, anyway.

© Pat Eggleton, 2014


"Siamo qua" = "We are here" - a common Sicilian saying. It took me some time to realise that it is not an acceptance of physical location, but a reference to the fact that we are still alive and should be grateful!

The idea that Shakespeare was Sicilian is taken quite seriously here and books have been written about it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


It all started when, in response to this post, I was contacted by Maggie Ayre of the BBC. To be honest, at first I thought it was probably someone "having a laugh", as the British say, but I googled Maggie and found that she really was a BBC radio producer! I emailed her as requested, then she called me here and we talked about the Welsh song, Myfanwy.

Maggie explained to me that, in a news programme, people will put up with audio that is not of the highest quality because they understand that it cannot always be delivered, but in a radio feature programme, where there is obviously no visual backup, they will not. Therefore, she asked me if I knew of a studio where the recording of my contribution could be done. I didn't, but a student of mine did, and he kindly took me to a private studio owned by a friend of his in Scicli. No landline was available to us there so our next problem was possible interference on the mobile line but we got over this with the help of my student, who took the phone from my hands and dashed with it to the door before I answered each question. It was a bit of a performance but the studio owner knew what he was doing and was able to send Maggie a perfect audio file.

Now the BBC Radio iplayer link is up on the Soul Music programme website and, if you missed my minute of glory this morning, you will be able to hear it, for a while, by clicking the link. 

I am proud to have been interviewed on the same programme as Welsh singer Cerys Matthews and others to whom the song means so much. I love Cerys's version and here it is in full:

Cerys Matthews - Myfanwy

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014


As a linguist, I'm always emphasising the importance of communicating with the people one is trying to attract to one's business, product or city in their own language and of making an effort to do it properly [which will probably involve employing a qualified, mother-tongue interpreter or translator, not using the awful translator sites]. 

Hats off, then, to Marco Zambuto, Mayor of the lovely city of Agrigento, for this advert in which he says a few words in Chinese himself at the end.  Mr Zambuto has not forgotten to invite the rest of us to "invade" his city as well!

Thanks to Corriere della Sera:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


If you have a few moments around 11.30 am BST or 12.30 Italian time next Tuesday, 22nd April and can tune into BBC Radio 4,  you will learn a lot about a very beautiful Welsh song and a certain "Welsh woman living in Sicily" may say a word or two!  The episode will also become available, for a while, on the Soul Music programme website
BBC Radio 4 [known as the "Home Service" when I was a child] has, for as long as I can remember, formed the background to my life and I missed it desperately when I first came to Sicily, before you could listen live on the internet. I'm excited to feature in a Radio 4 programme, even for a few seconds and I'll tell you more after the broadcast!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


House arrest, in Italy, is not an unusual sentence in cases where the defendant is not deemed dangerous, has health problems or if the person has nearly completed a prison term. Its conditions, contrary to popular belief abroad, are strict, though it is not difficult to imagine that the time would pass more pleasantly if it were "served"  in a luxurious mansion. 

A Milan court  has, since Thursday, been considering whether Silvio Berlusconi should serve the remainder of his sentence in this way or do community service - a far cry, it would seem, from the case of a 54-year-old man from Ragusa who has decided that prison is preferable to eight months at home with his wife. After just 25 days of house arrest, the man has begged police to take him back to prison and "escaped" from home so that they have to do so. 

But we all have our difficulties and house arrest, for Mr Berlusconi, would severely limit his networking possibilities. As it is unlikely that he will be allowed to do community service as patron of an as yet unbuilt centre for the disabled, I understand he would like to help the elderly. Hey, Silvio, that includes me and I could sure do with a little help! 

This bit of nonsense from The Guardian - which I enjoyed immensely -  has made its way into every Italian newspaper I have read, both local and national, and has been reported with amusement here, though also with some bemusement at how the British may spend their time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


This thoughtful love song from Francesco Renga came fourth in the overall Sanremo classification this year:

Francesco Renga - Vivendo adesso

Friday, April 11, 2014


Even as I write, migrant boat after migrant boat is heading for Italy from North Africa and last night the Italian Navy and Guardia di Finanza saved a further 800 migrants travelling on rust buckets and dinghies, this time 70 miles off Lampedusa. This was only one of several rescue operations carried out over the last 24 hours and brings the total number of migrants saved by the Italian Navy, Coast Guard and others involved in Operazione Mare Nostrum to 6,000 since Tuesday and almost 20,000 since October.

In response to criticism of Mare Nostrum - I have personally heard people saying that the operation is encouraging migration because people know they will be saved - the Chief of Staff of the Italian Navy, Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi, has said that the increased numbers are not due to the military operation but to social and political problems in migrants' countries of origin.  He has also said that the rescues are costing Italy €9 million a month and has voiced the opinion that the EU should send funds rather than more ships. 

Melissa Fleming of UNHCR has today called for more help for Italy from its allies. Meanwhile, Sicilian mayors and regional government representatives have requested an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Renzi and relevant ministers and this is expected to happen on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

Several people traffickers, some of whom had tried to hide among their former "passengers", have been arrested by Italian police in the last few days.

Sadly, a 20-year-old man from Mali who was rescued on Thursday night has died in hospital in Ragusa.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Looking at the situation from Italy, it often seems that the rest of the world notices the migration crisis only when there is a tragedy but today the sheer numbers of people who have had to be rescued, mostly in the Sicilian channel, have made international headlines. The figure this afternoon was estimated at 4,000 since Monday and Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has said that 15,000 have been rescued since the beginning of this year.

Over 1,000 of the migrants rescued on Monday have been brought to the Sicilian ports of Augusta and Pozzallo and a naval vessel carrying a further 300 is tonight heading for the Port of Catania. Sadly, this ship is also transporting a dead body found on one of the inadequate boats which got into trouble at sea. 

Mr Alfano has repeated his earlier claim that 300,000 - 600,000 people are currently preparing to risk the voyage from North Africa so no let-up is expected during the summer months. Whether or not this figure is correct, Mr Alfano has, with justification, again lamented the fact that there has been little help from the rest of the EU. 

At the end of March José Angel Oropeza, Director of the International Organisation for Migration's Italy and Malta Coordinating Office, advocated the setting up of "migrant stations" along the routes from Africa so that people can receive assistance and information on how to reach Europe legally. In Italy, it is being said in some quarters that Operazione Mare Nostrum is encouraging people trafficking but how can a humane country which, whatever its problems, is the fourth largest economy in Europe and ninth in the world, leave people to die in its waters?  Dr Christopher Hein of the Italian Council for Refugees says the mission must continue and that legal and safe channels for migration must be opened. 

Meanwhile, with Italy's reception centres bursting at the seams, many of the migrants rescued so far this week are being taken to private accommodation such as hotels. The cost of such measures has already scandalised some Northern League politicians, who recently challenged Prime Minister Renzi and Mr Alfano to put migrants up in their own homes. [I think they should do just that, not only to call their opponents' bluff but also to show humanity.]  Silvia Canciani of Asgi points out that many of the problems which ensue once the migrants are brought to safety in Italy are caused by the country's outdated system for dealing with asylum-seekers.

Update at 12.47 pm., 10.4.14:

A friend told me this morning that she had seen, in Modica, a large group of migrants, some without shoes, who had obviously run away from a reception centre. They were just walking in the middle of the road, presumably with little idea of where they were but trying to continue what they hope will be a journey to Northern Europe.

Interior Minister Alfano has said,

"At the moment Italy is the reception centre of the world. Our ships are going as far as 30 miles off the Libyan coast in order to stop the Mediterranean from becoming a cemetery, to prevent people from dying in their thousands. This is a job we are willing to do, but we ask not to have to do it alone."

Monday, April 07, 2014


Here is a heartwarming tale of honesty:

One day in 1975, a Sicilian man who had moved to Turin to work for Fiat attended a lost property auction at a railway workers' recreational club. As the man was an art lover, his eye was drawn to two particularly attractive paintings, a still life and a portrait of a young woman in a garden. He bought the two paintings for 45,000 Italian lire, worth £19 or $31 in today's values and, until a few weeks ago, both paintings hung in his kitchens, first in Turin and then back in Sicily following his retirement. There, in the heart of the home, he could gaze at them to his own heart's content.

Recently the man's son, an architecture student in Siracusa, happened to be looking through a catalogue of paintings by Gauguin and noticed some similarities with one of the paintings on his father's kitchen wall. After further research by his son, our honest Sicilian pensioner alerted the police and an extraordinary story came to light:

The paintings, now verified as a Gauguin from 1889 and an undated Bonnard, had been stolen from a London collector in 1970 and he, in turn, had bought them at a rather more prestigious auction in 1961. No one knows exactly how they ended up in the lost property office of the Ferrovie dello Stato but it is thought that the thieves were carrying them on the Paris to Turin train when they realised that there was to be a check at the border, so they abandoned them. They are now, obviously, worth a lot more than £19!

Having made enquiries in London, the Italian police have discovered that the art collector was a relative of the Marks and Spencer family and had no direct heirs. At the moment the paintings are still in police custody but, if there are no claims, it is possible that our Sicilian pensioner will be able to continue to enjoy them if he so wishes.

Saturday, April 05, 2014


I like this new song from Italy's favourite rocker, Vasco Rossi . This week the song is no. 2 in the Italian charts.

Vasco Rossi - Dannate Nuvole

Friday, April 04, 2014


A selection of lovely, light cakes flavoured with fresh fruit, pistacchio and chocolate at a small party for a friend who is leaving Sicily last night:

This morning, I happened to walk into my local bar for a coffee at exactly the right moment, for I discovered it was the owner's birthday and he was about to cut this very clever cake and offer a slice to all his lucky customers:

Yes, they all tasted as good as they looked!

Monday, March 31, 2014


Modica, Santa Maria di Betlem

I've often said that a lot of the problems Modica has with promoting tourism could be overcome if the tourist board and council would realise the importance of one word - aperto [open]. Nothing is more frustrating to a tourist who only has a day to spend in a certain location than to arrive at the most interesting or beautiful building in the place only to see a notice saying, "Chiuso - torni domani" ["Closed - come back tomorrow"].

To be fair, it doesn't only happen in Modica, in Sicily or even in the South but I do have to say that every time I have passed Modica's Church of Santa Maria di Betlem in recent years - this is the church with the famous crib featuring Sicilian characters - I have noticed that it has been closed and felt sorry for any hapless tourists visiting the city that day.

Now, though, an agreement has been signed between officials of the churches of Santa Maria, San Giorgio and San Pietro, a consortium of tourist companies and the cooperative Progresso Ibleo, which will be charged with the security of the churches during opening hours. Under the agreement, the churches will remain open all day during the tourist season.

Far be it from me to be cynical but I do hope that those concerned realise that the tourist season includes August and that "all day", to folk not from these parts, encompasses the hours between 1 and 5pm!

You may be interested in this 2010 article of mine for Italy Magazine, "The Bells of Santa Maria".


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