Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Old factory at Sampieri beach, often seen in the Montalbano films

Which fictional character has done the most, in recent years, to improve Sicily's image and attract tourists?  The answer, unsurprisingly, is Il Commissario Montalbano, both in Andrea Camilleri's books and in the TV films based on them, which have been shown all over the world. Now you can see Montalbano's supposed house [in Santa Croce Camerina], partake of Montalbano arancini [rice balls] and other gastronomic delights and tour the film locations in Modica, Scicli, Ragusa Ibla and at the beach at Sampieri.

Why, then, would the show's producers want to stop filming in Sicily and transfer the sets to Puglia? The answer this time, again unsurprisingly for anyone with a knowledge of how Italy works [or doesn't] is the production company's frustration at the lack of financial report from the Sicilian Region over the last 15 years and it seems that author Andrea Camilleri agrees. 

As you may imagine, there has been an outcry in Sicily and this evening producer Carlo Degli Esposti met [after a long wait] with Sicilian Governor Rosario Crocetta, who has said that no one had told him about the situation and that he would do all he could to resolve it.  

I can't help thinking that, whilst a British Prime Minister is tonight at risk of going down in history as the "man who lost Scotland", Mr Crocetta may be remembered as "the man who lost Montalbano."

Don't let it happern, please, Mr Crocetta - Sicily needs and loves her Montalbano!

Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano
Image:  Wikimedia Commons

Monday, September 15, 2014


The news that there have been two major new migration tragedies in the Mediterranean is tonight breaking all over the world and one of these may, according to an IOM [International Organisation for Migration] spokesperson, be "the worst shipwreck in years", for this time we may not be dealing with an accident, but with cold-blooded murder. 

Neither incident occurred in Italian waters but both affect Italy, so I will report them here. I should emphasise that reports of the incidents differ in detail and that the sequence of events has yet to be confirmed .

In the more widely reported incident, which IOM believes happened on Wednesday but which UNHCR thinks happened on Friday, it is possible that up to 500 migrants died after people traffickers deliberately sank their boat off Malta when an argument broke out on board. According to two Palestinian survivors of the wreck who have been brought to Sicily, the migrants started their journey towards Europe from Egypt and were forced to change boats several times. Finally the traffickers,who were travelling in another boat, ordered the migrants to transfer to a vessel which they judged too small and when they refused, the traffickers rammed the migrant boat until it capsized. 

Nine survivors were rescued by Maltese and Greek ships but the other passengers, of Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese nationality, are feared dead.

The Italian police have begun an enquiry into the circumstances of the wreck.

In another incident which took place on Sunday, a boat carrying 250 migrants sank off Tanjaura, east of Tripoli. The British press are reporting that 26 survivors have been rescued by the Libyan Navy but La Repubblica puts the figure at 36. All these migrants are said to be from North Africa and many of them are women,  This rescue has proved difficult as the Libyan Navy say they do not have specialist boats for the task.

A further 18 people may have died in the wreck of another migrant boat which got into trouble in international waters 300 miles south-east of Malta on Friday night, bringing the total number of deaths in the Mediterranean  in the past few days to over 700 if the rammed boat story is confirmed.

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, who has been visiting Maltese Naval Rescue HQ, said on Monday,

"We all need to wake up to the scale of this crisis. There is a direct link between the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere and the rise in deaths at sea in the Mediterranean. We have to understand what drives people to take the fearful step of risking their children's lives on crowded, unsafe vessels; it is the overwhelming desire to find refuge. It is also part of a bigger problem - the soaring numbers of people displaced by conflicts around the world today, which now stands at over 51 million. Unless we address the root causes of these conflicts, the numbers of refugees dying or unable to find protection will continue to rise."

The Italian Navy rescued 2,380 migrants in the Mediterranean during the weekend.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


The soprano Magda Olivero died on Monday, aged 104. La Scala honoured her with a minute's silence before that evening's performance.

Magda Olivero - Un bel dì vedremo

Thursday, September 11, 2014


"....and damned if you don't." Thus might the thoughts of the priests of Palermo Cathedral have run last week, when they were subjected to much criticism because of a prominent "WC" sign in a side chapel. Where is the loo in question? Directly behind the altar, a fact which has astonished locals and tourists alike.

One of the priests has said it was the only place in the cathedral where they could have put a toilet facility and that it is needed because there are no public conveniences, or other premises with toilets, nearby. He also said that the general feeling among his colleagues is that it is better to offer the facility than not and emphasised that the altar in question is not used for Mass or to store the host and wine.

What do you think? Would you expect to find a toilet in a cathedral?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Happy birthday to Rosa, who is my friend and also sorts my house out. I made her a summer pudding and Simi thought it was a good idea, too!

Monday, September 08, 2014


After writing about so many tragedies and so much sorrow regarding migrants in the Mediterranean, it is nice to be able to bring you a positive story on this theme: When I read about the Barca di Cioccolato ["Chocolate Boat"] project, I contacted Pierpaolo Ruta of the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, Modica, who in turn, put me in touch with the project's creator, the artist Jonida Xherri.

Jonida is from Albania and is currently living in Modica and Florence. Jonida, too, had dreamed of coming to Italy so felt that she could identify with the migrants and, having received a Modican welcome herself as an immigrant seven years ago, she wanted migrants at the Pozzallo Reception Centre to have a similar experience. Thus, in January this year she launched the first Barca di Cioccolato project and, at the end of August, the second. 

Jonida wanted to demonstrate not only the economic links that we have with Africa, but also the important cultural ones and the ways in which our traditions are connected. The project was carried out in three phases:

1.  The historical phase: It was the Spanish colonisers who brought the Aztec method of making chocolate to Sicily but the cocoa bean of course had to come from Africa.  At first, it arrived by sea, just as migrants in search of a better life do today, even risking that life to do so.  For this reason, it was decided to make the second "chocolate boat" out of 'mpanatigghi [the word has variant spellings] the traditional Modican pastries containing chocolate and minced beef which, in times gone by, were carried on long journeys, because they would keep. In all, 600 'mpanatigghi were made by the migrants with the help of the staff at Bonajuto. The public were able to see the finished boat from 29th August - 1st September and when it was dismantled the 'mpanatigghi were distributed to the migrants in the reception centre.

2.  Ceramic tiles:  The migrants painted their own designs or wishes on to the tiles, often using African colours or chocolate themes.  Then the tiles were fired and displayed in the reception centre.

3.  Video: the viewing of a video about the first Barca di Cioccolato project, with the aim of showing people that even the poorest countries have a rich cultural heritage and can contribute to the world economically.

After making the boat, the migrants were offered lunch at the Osteria dei Sapori Perduti and ice cream at the Caffè Adamo, both in Modica. They visited the Salvatore Quasimodo exhibition at Modica's Palazzo della Cultura and the town's Garibaldi Theatre.

Jonida writes.

"The young migrants want to use art to express their dreams.  These dreams have led them to undertake a very difficult journey and to risk their lives.  They want to say that they are here and that they need the help of the whole of Europe to have a normal working life."

Slideshow - Barca di Cioccolato 2

Jonida did not receive any public funding for the project and wishes to thank the following private sponsors:

Girolamo Pavingross Srl Carpentieri
Giovanni Modica Scala (fotografo)

Thank you, Jonida, for the information and photos.
All photos are the work of Giovanni Modica Scala.
Giovanni Modica Scala on flickr

Saturday, September 06, 2014


Here are two Italian Americans who make beautiful music together:

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga - Anything Goes

Friday, September 05, 2014


I'm not a very nutty person - well, not foodwise! - but I do like pistacchi, so when I saw that you could get a pizza containing them, I couldn't resist it. My local pizza takeaway calls this a "Bronte" pizza because, as every Sicilian knows, the best pistacchi come from that town.  Here's my "Bronte" pizza, which also contained mozzarella, tomatoes and mortadella:

Now, in 1799 Admiral Horatio Nelson was created Duke of Bronte. Click here to discover how this happened and to find out about the town of Bronte's possible connection with the British Brontë sisters.

Gateway to the Nelson Castle at Maniace

Pistacchi from Bronte

Thursday, September 04, 2014


"These are sweet, like you", said the student who brought me these scrumptious cannoli today. One is filled with Modican chocolate and the other with ricotta:

What a sweet thought!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


I'd studied several recipes for polpette al limone and was particularly inspired by one which suggested cooking the polpette on a bed of lemon leaves but we can't get lemons with the leaves on at this time of year. [They will come in the autumn.] I wondered for a few days what I could use instead and then it came to me - I would try with fresh bay leaves! In my version, I added pinenuts, for the very good reason that I like them in polpette and I used pane grattugiato [very fine dried breadcrumbs which we can buy in packets in Italy] instead of soaking bread in milk and then squeezing it.

OK, you need:

500 gr minced veal
2 large Sicilian or unwaxed lemons
1 clove garlic, crushed
c. 1 tablesp. chopped parsley
a few cut rosemary needles
about 8 leaves fresh sage, chopped
125 gr pane grattugiato
80 gr grated Ragusano or Parmesan cheese
olive oil
seasalt and black pepper
50 gr pinenuts
2 eggs, beaten
about 20 fresh bay leaves

In a bowl, mix the veal, grated zest of the lemons, garlic, herbs, cheese, pane grattugiato, pinenuts, seasoning and eggs with a fork. Roll the mixture into balls with your hands - it should make about 14.

Lightly oil a small roasting tin and place the bay leaves in the base. Put the polpette on top of the bay leaves, then cut the zested lemons into wedges and put these in the gaps.  Drizzle some olive oil over the polpette and scatter a few rosemary sprigs over the top.  Cook at 180 C for 25 minutes.

These are also pretty good cold, so would make interesting picnic food.

Serves 4 generously.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Let's hear again from fabulous 60-year-old Fiorella Mannoia, who is currently touring Sicily and appears in Palermo tonight:

Fiorella Mannoia - Caffè nero bollente

Friday, August 29, 2014


On Tuesday I reported that Mare Nostrum operatives had rescued 73 people and recovered 18 bodies from a migrant boat which had got into trouble off Lampedusa on Saturday night. The poor souls who lost their lives were thought to have died from asphyxia but, even more horrifically, it now emerges that some of them had cranial and spinal fractures which would indicate that they had been hit with metal bars and survivors are saying that this happened as they were embarking in Libya. Investigations continue as I write.

There has, however, been one heartening story from Pozzallo where, among 439 migrants arriving on Wednesday, were a young girl and her beautiful, white cat. The two were separated upon landing despite the girl's protests, for the cat had to be taken to a veterinary centre to be medically checked and vaccinated and it has to be said that, following the ordeal of the journey, puss was not happy either. His owner is hoping to get to Germany where she has relatives and everyone is hoping that her feline friend will be able to accompany her. I somehow think that Italian officials will do their best to ensure that this happens.

A total of 800 migrants were brought to Sicilian ports during Wednesday and 546 more were saved by Mare Nostrum operatives in the Sicilian Channel during the night. Seven people traffickers were arrested and helpfully presented evidence against themselves in the form of selfies taken during the journey.  [This is not the first time this has happened.]  Sadly, the 24 bodies recovered from the wreck of a fishing boat south of Lampedusa on Tuesday were brought to the Port of Augusta.  

Wednesday was also the day when Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano met European Home Affairs Commisssioner Cecilia Malmström and it has been agreed that a new Frontex operation will, from November, complement what Italy is doing. Commissioner Malmström's  press release on the meeting can be read here.  As she says, the success of such a joint operation will depend upon the willingness of all member states to contribute and Italy, as the current holder of the EU presidency, is expected to be instrumental in finding funding solutions. Let us hope that this is the help that Italy has been requesting for so long.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Once again it has taken a tragedy for the migrant situation with which Italy is dealing every day to make the international press: on Saturday night the Italian Navy saved 73 people and recovered 18 bodies from a boat which had partially sunk 120 miles south of Lampedusa. The 18 dead were found on the bottom of the boat and they are presumed to have died from dehydration or the inhalation of petrol fumes. Ten migrants who had either fallen or jumped into the sea were saved by inflatable life rafts thrown to them by the crew of the naval ship but it is thought that up to another ten migrants were lost at sea. On Sunday evening the survivors and the bodies were taken to Pozzallo where Mayor Luigi Ammatuna spoke of an unending tragedy, a genocide with consequences that Italy, and Pozzallo in particular, cannot shoulder alone. The bodies have now been transferred to the Protezione Civile morgue in Ragusa while Mayor Ammatuna makes arrangements for their burial in the cemeteries of neighbouring towns. The Mayor has asked both the Prefect of Ragusa and the Italian Interior Ministry for help.

Meanwhile another Italian naval ship has arrived in Reggio Calabria carrying 1,373 migrants who had been saved in recent days. Fifty people aboard had scabies and the ship was also tragically carrying the body of an Eritrean man who had, according to survivors, been hit with a metal bar by a people trafficker as the migrant boat left Libya. 

Yet another overcrowded migrant boat sank half a mile off Libya on Friday night and it is estimated that 250 passengers have died. Bodies were still being washed up onto Libyan beaches today [Tuesday].

Tuesday as a whole has brought no better news, with another fishing boat carrying migrants having capsized south of Lampedusa. The Italian Navy and Coast Guard have rescued 364 people and six bodies were initially recovered, a figure which has now risen to 24.

It is reported that a total of 4,000 migrants were rescued or recovered by Mare Nostrum operatives last weekend alone. Perhaps the Vatican City newpaper L'Osservatore Romano put it best, saying that a "silent war" is taking place in the Mediterranean.

Today representatives from the Italian Interior Ministry, Frontex [the European External Borders Agency] and the European Commission met to discuss the situation and an urgent meeting between Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano and European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has been scheduled for Wednesday. Cecilia Malmström has said that this is to define priorities and decide how Italy and other Mediterranean countries can be helped in this situation. Can we really hope that words will be accompanied by deeds this time?


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