Wednesday, July 30, 2014


It's getting on for five years since Italy banned the distribution of plastic carrier bags in shops but I'm still the only person in Modica who carries a shopping bag. I'm also the only person who walks everywhere. People do now produce fabric shopping bags from their car boots or the depths of their handbags to use at the checkout but they wouldn't be seen dead carrying them any further than the distance from the supermarket doors to their cars unless they were by Prada! Therefore I shouldn't really have been surprised when, walking into the hairdresser's this afternoon carrying a rather inelegant shopper, I was greeted with a firm, "Questa borsa non va" ["That bag won't do"] and was then presented with this prettier [and seasonal] substitute:

Two of my students have just come back from London and have seen to it that I do not lack one British essential:

And I have finally imbibed enough cups of coffee in the bar opposite to be rewarded with this rather snazzy cup and saucer:

A very pleasant day!

Monday, July 28, 2014


Congratulations to the prisoners, officers and officials of the Casa Circondariale [district prison] Luigi Bodenza in Enna for agreeing to participate in this video. As the opening sequence tells us, the aim was to show that, even amidst so much suffering, it is possible to experience moments of happiness, so there is a deliberate play on words in the title - a lesson for us all. Thanks, also, to director Paolo Andolina.

Happy dentro - Happy inside

Saturday, July 26, 2014


I loved the scenography for this performance by Fiorella Mannoia at Una notte per Caruso on TV last week. Fiorella Mannoia is the winner of this year's Premio Caruso.

Fiorella Mannoia - Pescatore

Friday, July 25, 2014


It is good to be able to end the week on a positive note and to be able to say , "Well done, Italy."

I'm sure that many of you, like me, were in tears when you saw the arrival of Meriam Ibrahim and her family in Rome yesterday. What a moment that must have been for Meriam, after having been imprisoned, forced to give birth in chains and threatened not once, but twice with execution.

Of course there has been an international campaign to free her and many countries have played their part but Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli was instrumental in securing permission for Meriam to leave Sudan this time. He accompanied the family on their flight to Rome on an Italian government plane and it gladdened the heart to see him carrying 18-month-old Martin down the steps as Meriam carried baby Maya. Prime Minister Renzi made time to be there, as did his wife and Italy's Foreign Minister, Federica Mogherini. An airport policeman gave Meriam's husband a reassuring pat on the shoulder and other officials played with Martin. Then, as the world has seen, the family were taken to meet Pope Francis.

This is the Italy we all love - not the Italy that talks about harsher and harsher immigration laws, that taxes the entrepreneurs it so desperately needs out of existence or the Italy of the 7,850 amendments. Yesterday we saw the kind, compassionate, humane country that can move mountains when it wants to.

To Italy I would like to suggest that we see more of the same and to Meriam and her family I wish a safe onward journey to the United States and a happy life, free of chains at last.

Corriere della Sera - l'arrivo di Meriam a Roma

Thursday, July 24, 2014


I'm always on the lookout for new antipasto recipes so I was pleased when I found one for aubergine polpette in a local newspaper, especially as they are cooked in the oven rather than fried. They also contain garlic, Parmesan, pinenuts, pangrattato [ready-prepared breadcrumbs] and rosemary. They should contain parsley as well but, as I didn't have any, I used mint, which is traditionally used in many aubergine recipes here. I made a roasted tomato sauce to go with them as per the recipe, but next time, if I'm serving the polpette as finger food, I think I'll leave the sauce out. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


In Britain, as I write, a very famous baby is celebrating his first birthday; in Messina, as I write, arrangements are being made for the burial of a migrant baby of the same age who was found dead on arrival in the port.

Having been advised of a migrant boat in difficulty by a satellite phone SOS call at 4 am on Saturday, the Rome Coast Guard alerted a Danish tanker bound for Tunisia and the Coast Guard in Lampedusa. The tanker was first to arrive on the scene, between Libya and Malta, and immediately set about rescuing the passengers from the inadequate fishing boat. Some, however, drowned during the transfer.

But worse was to be discovered: 29 poor souls are known to have been asphyxiated by fumes in the hold, which they were prevented from leaving by the people traffickers and the 581 survivors who arrived at Messina on Sunday are saying that more than 60 people were killed at random by the traffickers; they were allegedly kicked, stabbed and their bodies thrown into the sea. It is estimated that the boat could have been carrying up to 800 people and that there are 180 dead but neither figure can be confirmed.

It has also been revealed that the people traffickers were operating a two-tier fare system, with migrants of Arab origin paying  $1,000 - $2,000 each for the journey and those of African origin paying $250 - $500.

Five men have now been arrested by Sicilian police on suspicion of mass murder.

The world watches Gaza, the world watches Ukraine and the world watches the little prince but no one outside Italy, it seems, is watching the Mediterranean.

UPDATE, 23.7.14

It now appears that the men who randomly killed some of the passengers were not the people traffickers, but passengers themselves. Presumably they thought that the boat was going to capsize and wanted to lessen its weight. The people traffickers, according to survivors, did nothing to stop the killing. Four men have now been arrested for people trafficking. This is in addition to the five arrests for mass murder.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Leafing through some British magazines yesterday, I realised it had been years since I'd made a summer pudding, so I decided to put that to rights and give the dessert a Sicilian touch by using mirtilli [whortleberries] and adding the rind and juice of an orange.  

My trusty pudding basin is bigger than the one needed for this recipe so I was expecting a right mess as I turned the pudding out but it was OK!

As the recipe is quite simple and people who like cooking can often follow instructions in the language they are learning, I've just put it on my blog for English students and you can see it here.

If you try it, I hope you enjoy this slightly Sicilian version of summer pudding!

Saturday, July 19, 2014


When Aida, directed by Enrico Castiglione, opened at the Greek Theatre in Siracusa last Saturday, the production received a ten-minute standing ovation. There is also a performance tonight and next Saturday, so let's take a peek:

Teatro greco, Siracusa, luglio 2014
Aida - Marcia trionfale  


"Non importa dove si nasce se si combatte per le stesse idee e si crede nelle stesse cose."
"It doesn't matter where we come from if we fight for the same ideas and believe in the same things."
- Judge Paolo Borsellino

Twenty-two years ago today the antimafia Judge Paolo Borsellino was killed, along with five members of his escort, by a bomb as he rang the doorbell of his mother's apartment in Palermo. Sicily does not forget.

Strage di via D'Amelio, 19.7 92

Judge Paolo Borsellino
Agostino Catalano
Walter Eddie Cosina
Vincenzo Li Muli
Emanuela Loi
Claudio Traina

Friday, July 18, 2014


Every Italian man's favourite diva, Sophia Loren, will be 80 on 20th September and she has decided to celebrate early!

Tomorrow, as part of the Napa Valley Festival del Sole, Michael Chiarello and Modican chef Piero Selvaggio, owner of the Valentino restaurant in Santa Monica, will cook for Sophia and 400 guests at the Far Niente vineyard. Robert Redford will be Master of Ceremonies. Sophia's son Carlo Ponti Jr. will conduct the LA Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra in their debut concert and they will play the themes from some of Sophia's films.

The tomatoes, olives and capers used in the dishes will be from Sicily and the olive oil from Ragusa. Modica plays its part too, for there will be a croccantino of Bonajuto chocolate for dessert.

Congratulations, Sophia and, as you've always said you owe everything to spaghetti and we know, thank goodness, that you are not one of those skinny stars who are afraid to enjoy their food, buon appetito!

Sophia Loren receiving an honorary Oscar in 1991

Thursday, July 17, 2014


As soon as I saw dried goji berries in the supermarket here, I knew I wanted to use them with chicken and this is what I came up with:

12 chicken escalopes, pounded very thinly. [In Italy just tell the butcher you want breast slices for involtini.]
12 thin slices pancetta
400 gr risotto rice
juice and rind of 1 lemon
0.25 litre white wine
1 white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
50 gr dried goji berries
100 gr pinenuts
basil leaves
cinnamon, preferably freshly ground from a cinnamon mill
seasalt and black pepper

First, make the risotto: Heat 3 tablesp olive oil in a wide pan, add the onion and garlic and cook, strirring, over a low flame until soft but not brown. Pour the white wine and lemon juice into a measuring jug and make up to 1 litre with water. Add about 100 gr of the rice to the pan and stir around, then add the rest of the rice and about a quarter of the liquid, stirring. When the rice has absorbed it, add another quarter and repeat the process, until you have all the liquid in the pan. Add the berries, pinenuts, 3 - 4 twists of cinnamon from a mill or 1 teasp powdered cinnamon, the lemon rind, seasoning and a few torn basil leaves.  Turn the heat down and let the risotto cook for about 15 mins., stiriring occasionally. When it tastes right, take it off the heat and let it cool for up to 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 180 C.

Lay the pancetta slices on a chopping board or a couple of large plates and put a chicken slice on top of each one. Spread some of the risotto - about a dessertspoon for each one -  along the slices, then roll them up in the pancetta.  You won't need to secure them with anything - they will hold. Lightly oil a large, Pyrex-style roasting dish and place the involtini in it. Cook in the oven for 30 mins.

I served these with roasted datterini tomatoes which I had sprinkled with herbs, seasoning, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

You can freeze any leftover risotto mixture for the next time!

Serves 6.

Buon appetito.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Hi, folks.

It's Simi here!

I've just had my summer haircut and I'm driving the Italian dogs wild - especially that ole black poodle!

But I couldn't spend all day parading up and down for them. I had serious things to do!

My mummy has gone all curly-wurly. What do you think?

I think she looks almost as cool as me!

Well, see you soon, fans.  Be good and have a waggie summer!


Simi xx woof!

Monday, July 14, 2014


As many of you know, the language, culture and literature of France have also played a big part in my life so I always commemorate Bastille Day on this blog.  And who better to sing today than the great Monsieur Aznavour and one of my favourite Italian singers, Laura Pausini? After all, it's nearly August!

Charles Aznavour et Laura Pausini - Paris au mois d'août

Also, because I'm a sentimental old fool and it's a long time since I saw Paris, here's Dino

Dean Martin - The Last Time I Saw Paris

Bonne fête de la Bastille à tout le monde!

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Let's hear from the palermitano baritone Nicola Alaimo, who tonight sings Raimbaud in Le Comte Ory at La Scala:

Nicola Alaimo - Di Provenza, il mare, il suol [La Traviata]: Muti

Friday, July 11, 2014


Two claps of thunder, five minutes of rain, a pause for brilliant sunshine then another clap of thunder and three more minutes of rain - that was enough to cause chaos in Modica Bassa yesterday morning.  The "storm" sent everybody scurrying back into town from the sea for the duration and, being modicani, those who usually travel on their motorbikes abandoned them for their cars. No one, naturally, considered catching a bus.

This would have caused a traffic jam in the old town anyway, but with the closure for maintenance work of the Ponte Guerrieri, one of the main arteries into the city and the highest road bridge in Europe until the French spoilt it by building a higher one a few years ago, it was a disaster.

Now the Mayor has promised that the bridge will reopen in September, which is rather strange as the maintenance contract runs until the end of December, so no one's betting on it.

Meanwhile, how about bus lanes and an efficient bus service with a revolutionary commitment to taking people where they actually want to go?

Ponte Guerrieri, Modica


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