This year, Antonio celebrates 40 years of publishing poetry and I was delighted, in the summer, when he asked me to translate his new collection, Alla Ricerca dell'Oreb - In Search of Horeb. Most of the poems in this new collection are on the theme of migration and the plight of migrants, a cause which, as many of you will know, is close to my heart.
There is no good time to be forced to leave your country but the era we are living in is one of the most dangerous and precarious the world has witnessed so a collection of poems on this theme is, in my opinion, timely.
As you see from the poster above, the book launch takes place in Modica on 4th March 2017 and I shall be proud to be part of it.
Thank you, Antonio, for giving me the opportunity to work on these poems.
Finding myself in Catania yesterday, I decided to try out a restaurant called Fud which had been recommended to me by a student.
Fud, you see, is how the word "food" sounds to Italians [the u is pronounced like oo in English] and the whole menu is deliberately written in this way, as are all the notices in the establishment. I must say, I was a bit peturbed at the notice telling me to "use my ends", but then I realised that this clipped, aristocratic pronunciation, prevalent in the UK among the upper classes until about the 1960s - "hends" for "hands" - is exactly what is still, incredibly, being taught in some schools here. Drop the h, as Italians tend to do, and you have "ends"!
I ordered Fud cips, which the cooks there do not stint on, and a beefburger which looked and smelt so good that I forgot to take an elegant photo before I bit into it decisively. It was both enormous and excellent.
I loved the phonetic spelling of "cheesecake" but not as much as I loved eating it!
I also enjoyed the appearance of a favourite man of mine, chef and MasterChef Italia judge Carlo Cracco last night. Goodness, Carlo scrubs up well! He had time to tell us that the dish he would choose for presenter Carlo Conti is a Tuscan ribollita and for co-presenter Maria De Filippi spaghetti with tomato sauce, "because it's every Italian's favorite dish." She, lucky girl, got a kiss from chef Carlo, before the other Carlo sent him back to the kitchen.
There couldn't have been a dry eye in the house last night when Zucchero sang a duet with a virtual Luciano Pavarotti and the press dubbed this performance "the real winner." You can see this here from 01.38.00 mins.
I thought the best song in the whole competition was this one, which was knocked out on the fourth evening and I also liked this and this, both of which made it to the final evening. The winning song was this, ably performed by Francesco Gabbani and a monkey and I can say for it that it certainly cheered everybody up!
The Sanremo Festival always makes good TV and I thought I'd keep you abreast of it tonight. I haven't decided on a favourite song yet but I have no doubt about my favourite moment so far: it happened last night when the underwiring in singer Giorgia's gorgeous dress failed her.
Hasn't it happened to every woman - that moment when your strapless bra refuses to behave, you're in the middle of the street and you just want to get somewhere where you can hitch it up? Giorgia finished her song and then, when presenter Carlo Conti came to interview her, calmly handed him the mike and, with a style that brooked no nonsense from either the underwiring or her boobs, yanked the dress into position. You can see the moment here.
"I'm not very well-endowed", joked the singer.
Believe me, Giorgia, it happens even when you're more - err,... curvy. Well done, though - you have freed women everywhere!
It is always good when hard work is rewarded and no oganisation deserves recognition more, in my opinion, than the Italian firefighters, who, on 27th January in Ulm, were awarded the Conrad Dietrich Magirus Award 2016 as the best firefighters in the world. They were chosen from a shortlist of firefighters from nine countries by a specialist international jury.
Receiving the prize on behalf of firefighters throughout Italy were four representatives, including two from Agrigento. The prize was awarded to the Italian corps for their incredible work following the earthquake of 24th August 2016 in Central Italy, when they tirelessly pulled humans and animals from the wreckage, made people safe and comforted them. The important work of their colleagues from Genova and Imperia, who took photographs documenting the events of that terrible day and its aftermath, was also recognised, as were the organisational skills of national coordinators, who sent firefighters and equipment to the scene from all over the country within hours.
As well as winning the Conrad Dietrich Magirus statuette, a team of Italian firefighters will visit the world-famous New York Fire Department but I am sure that they would say that their reward is in the number of lives saved.
There are high days, there are holidays and then there are "take me high" or tiramisù days.
Now this most beloved of Italian desserts is to officially get its own day and, just in case you need an excuse to make or buy and eat it, that day is 21st March. It will be celebrated in 34 locations around the world and is the initiative of Eataly and Clara and Gigi Padovani, who have written a book about the dessert and its history, including the hotly disputed topic of which region of Italy can claim to have invented it.
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day and I am sad to say that never has the danger of such horrors happening again been greater and never has it been more important for us to reflect upon the words below:
First They Came
First they came for the Communists And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.
The words "storm" and "hurricane" are often bandied about in Modica to describe any winter weather that is not sunny but we certainly had a storm at the weekend. Starting on Saturday evening, relentless rain fell in sheets throughout the night and all day Sunday and did so with quite frightening noise. A girl from Cardiff - Britain's rainiest city - does not scare easily when confronted with the wet stuff, so I'm sure you will agree that it must have been quite something to terrify me and confine me to my flat!
The area where I live escaped the worst of it but there were floods in Modica Bassa [the Old Town], Modica Alta, nearby Scicli and the surrounding countryside with considerable damage to property, cars and goods in shops. In via Fontana in Modica Bassa - a street to which I am sentimentally attached because it is where my dog Simi and I lived when we first settled in Modica, twelve years ago - several cars were swept away. In the early hours of Sunday the Mayor of Modica, who had been out on reconnaissance for most of the night, announced on facebook that all schools in the city would be closed on Monday as a precautionary measure. Later. we were told not to drink the water until further notice.
Flood in Modica Bassa, 22.1.17
The rain eventually stopped on Monday but more is forecast for next weekend during i giorni della merla - the days of the blackbird [29th - 31st January], traditionally the coldest period in Italy. There are several legends that purport to explain the reason for this name but the one I prefer tells us that, long ago when January had only 28 days, a proud blackbird [who was actually white], fed up with the cold, asked January if he could cut a few days off his "reign". January, it seems, got in a huff and asked his friend February to lend him three days so that he could use them to make the blackbird's life even more miserable. February agreed and when the blackbird, thinking that the weather would be warmer and drier now that January had gone, next went in search of food, mean old January blew up a snowstorm. The bird found shelter in a chimneystack but when he emerged three days later, his beautiful plumage was black and thus it remained, with all but a few blackbirds, forever, the rare white blackbird being a sign of good fortune. Let's hope that one appears on via Fontana soon!
Today the Mayor of Modica has met with Regional President Rosario Crocetta, who has thanked Modicans for their fortitude and determination to carry on with business as usual after the storm and it is likely that some regional funds will be directed to the city to help with the clear-up.
When Simi and I left via Fontana, I bought this souvenir of our time there:
Take it away, Dino:
There is a lovely Juliette Gréco song called Un Merle Blanc but I cannot find a video of it.
Both Britain and the US have had a good, or a bad, week, depending on your point of view but there is no doubt that Italy had a tragic one:
As further eathquake tremors again brought fear to Central Italy, on Wednesday an avalanche weighing 120,000 metric tonnes and travelling at 100 km per hour struck the Rigopiano Hotel in Abruzzo. So far six people have been declared dead, 23 are missing and 11 have been pulled out alive. Among the missing is a young Senegalese, Faye Dame, who had refugee status in Italy and was proud to be the factotem of the hotel. I keep thinking of this young man who had, like so many others, come to Europe in search of a better life. He must have been so happy to have been granted permission to stay and to work and to be able to live in a little apartment near the hotel.
Geologists say the tragedy was caused primarily by three strong earthquake tremors combined with heavy winds blowing in from Siberia, much heavier snow than usual and ground that was already wet.
We were all cheered when the Rigopiano's's Abruzzese shepherd dogs, Lupo and Nuvola, were found alive and well in a village 11 km away, where they are being cared for. Lupo and Nuvola, who are symbols of the hotel, always greeted guests and enjoyed their attention. Fortune was also smiling last week upon this young man, a member of the singing group Il Volo.
On the same day, another earthquake hit Amatrice, the town that suffered so badly in the quake of 24th August. "What, in God's name, have we done to deserve this?" asked the Mayor on Italian radio. The people of Amatrice could certainly have done without Charlie Hebdo's cartoon [not for the first time] but the Mayor's response was, "We will reply to this macabre provocation with life."
Better news from Amatrice was that the first 25 wooden houses have been allocated, by ballot, to some of those made homeless by the 24th August quake.
Tonight my thoughts are with all affected by the avalanche and tremors, all who grieve and all who wait for news of their loved ones. I'm sure that yours are with them too.
Update at 16.34 on 23.1.17: Lupo and Nuvola's three puppies have been found alive and well in the wreckage of the hotel.
Most of my regular readers will know that I view Brexit as a disaster and I explained why on the night of the referendum. I have to say that my spirits have not risen regarding the matter since then and I have spent the past few days in shock and disbelief at what the UK Prime Minister said in her "Brexit Plan" speech on Tuesday.
What, though, is the general view in Italy? We all know that members of the European Parliament- with a few exceptions including one notable British one - are fuming but reactions within Italy have generally been calmer than those in many other EU countries. But then, the Italians have not yet been insulted by Mr. Johnson.
To say that the Prime Minister's speech went down well here would, however, be overstaing the case and the threatening tone she used towards the end of it did her no favours. Il Giornale di Sicilia asked how the UK can expect to enjoy free trade with the EU post-Brexit but not contribute to the EU budget and commenters on the article ranged from those who called us selfish and wanted us "chucked out now" to those who congratulated us upon "freeing" ourselves.
Several papers highlighted the fact that work permits are likely to be necessary for Italians working in Britain post-Brexit and it is ironic that this comes from a country that still demands documentation which should not be necessary under European law for non-Italian EU residents here.
La Repubblica reported that we are going for "hard Brexit" and will therefore be "out of everything". Il Sole 24 Orecalled our insistence on border control and withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice the "British Maginot Line" and I empathise with the incredulity implied - freedom of movement of people is, after all, one of the founding principles of the EU and we signed up to the organisation in full knowledge of that.
Alessandro Barbera, writing in La Stampa yesterday and referring to Mrs May's Davos speech [she's having a busy week!] asks how we can close our borders and, at the same time, claim to be a champion of free trade. He suggests that Mrs May, "the new Iron Lady", dreams of a "global Britain" but would rather it wasn't too global. Spot on, I'd say!
Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has been measured in his comments, welcoming a commitment from May to cooperate militarily with the EU [made prior to Tuesday's speech and I can find no details as to the extent of such cooperation] and saying that Italy would discuss the issues with Britain in a spirit of solidarity and friendship.
Meanwhile Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said, while Mrs May was speaking on Tuesday, that the Italian government will defend the interests of Italians living and working in the UK. Now wouldn't it be nice if the "new Iron Lady" showed such concern for British citizens living and working in other EU countries?