Tuesday, July 26, 2016


"The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."
- Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, 1914

It seems much like that now, given the events of the past ten days, and one could be forgiven for thinking that the lamps are going out all over the world, as the extreme right closes ranks and even reasonable people blame the easiest, most identifiable scapegoat, the migrant or immigrant, for their woes.

Meanwhile on the "forgotten" migrant route in the Mediterranean people continue to die. I have not seen one report on this in the past week in the British media so here are the facts:

On 20th July Médecins Sans Frontières doctors on board the SOS Mediterranee ship Aquarius went to the aid of a migrant boat in trouble off the coast of Libya. What they found was horrific: bodies were lying at the bottom of the boat in a pool of fuel and it was obvious that these people had died an awful death, crushed or suffiocated, as they had been, in the crowded and inadequate dinghy. Survivors, who had been on board with the bodies for many hours, were stretching their hands out in desperation towards the rescuers and are unsurprisingly said to be still traumatised.  Of the 22 bodies found, 20 were those of women and this tragic event is being called the strage di donne [massacre of women] in the Italian press.  In all, 209 people were saved.

On the same day, over 1,000 more migrants were saved in the Mediterranean in eight operations coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard and 1,146 migrants who had been rescued previously were brought to Palermo. Of these, 23 were pregnant women and 63 were unaccompanied minors. The next day a Spanish naval vessel brought 841 migrants and one body to Catania and a MSF ship brought 628 rescued migrants to Pozzallo. Among these were a 73-year-old man and a baby aged seven months. Does anyone really believe that a man of this age, the mother of this baby and others like them would undertake such a hazardous journey if they were not fleeing for their lives?

Rescues and arrivals continued over the weekend, when 375 migrants, including six children and a newborn baby, were brought to Messina.  Two suspected people-traffickers were arrested in Vibo Valentia [Calabria] and are thought to have been involved in bringing a migrant boat containing 16 bodies in the engine room into Italian waters. The bodies of 41 migramts were discovered on a Libyan beach, also over the weekend. These poor souls had drowned five or six days ago trying to reach Italy

UNHCR has tweeted  that 3,000 lives have been lost in the Mediterranean since January.

Now it seems to me that we either accept migration as a fact of our era, stop drawing pretty useless and difficult to prove distinctions between "economic" migrants and those seeking asylum and see that safe corridors are created for them or we accept an ever darkening world.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. "
- Martin Luther King Jr.

Let's keep those lamps lit, ladies and gentlemen.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I'm a bit sad at the moment, but I cheer up when Margherita fixes me a summer chignon:

Seeing friends is always good, especially with a backdrop of Modica by night:

And this original way of serving pre-pizza chips, a spiced pork pizza and gel all'anguria with a foam all helped no end!

Sunday, July 17, 2016


Il Volo again this week, ladies and gentlemen. I think you'll recognise the tune!

Il Volo - Io che non vivo senza te

Thursday, July 14, 2016


For the other country which has so inspired me:

Yves Montand - La Chansonnette
Bonne fête nationale à tous!
Vive la France!
Vive l'Europe!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


I haven't indulged in a post office rant for some time and I must admit that the service is quicker [by Sicilian standards] and friendlier than it used to be. 

But what has happened to the posta prioritaria, the option whereby, provided you were posting within the EU - of which the UK is, at the moment, still a member - and that the letter or packet weighed less than 2 kg, you could send items at a reasonable price and be fairly certain that they would reach their destination quickly? At one time, items sent from here to the UK or vice versa would arrive in two days. The only drawback used to be that you couldn't track or get a receipt for your posted item.

Alas, things have not been arriving speedily for some time now and last week I learned that the service has been changed to a two-tier one, with a tracking option. I thought I'd give this a go and was handed a slip with a QR code and tracking number.  After a few days, I attempted to track my item online and was informed that the number wasn't valid. I don't know why I was surprised!

When I made enquiries at the post office, I was told, "Oh, no, it doesn't work from this end for items sent abroad but you can tell the recipient in Britain and they can trace it from there." This might be fine if you are posting something to friends or family but I had sent an important document to a government department, where the employees are unlikely to have time to trace it or to have Italian speakers on hand to deal with the hardly straightforward post office site! And anyway, why hadn't the clerk who took the item informed me that you couldn't trace it from Italy? Because he didn't know and this, in turn, would be because nobody had bothered to tell him.

Come on Italy, it's traceable or it isn't traceable.  Stop saying it is for show and give us back our speedy prioritaria service [until the Brexit, at least].  I'd be interested to know if anyone is having difficulties with "priority post" from the UK.

There endeth my rant, along with my pazienza.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


I need to calm down, so I'll let Mr Einaudi do the honours again this week:

Ludovico Einaudi - Oltremare

Wednesday, July 06, 2016


And for any Italians still in doubt, yes, it's a NATION, not a region!  

Tuesday, July 05, 2016


"The Proud European Challenge:  Post five photos that make you proud to be European and show what that means to you."  

This was a friend's suggestion on facebook and I thought it was a good idea. Here is what I wrote and the first collage shows four of the photos I posted. In these I am in Montpellier, France in 1970 [yes, I know we joined the EU in 1973 but we were on our way in and things were already getting easier];  in Messina in 1998; on my way to Elba in 1977 and in Legnano [Milan] in 1996. 
"Freedom of movement has allowed me to study and work in several European countries, where I have been lucky enough to meet people from all over the world. If the barriers go up again, we will all be the poorer, in every sense, for it."

But of course I didn't want to stop at five photos so I'm posting some more here. Below is the Charles Bridge in Prague, which became one of my favouite haunts in that lovely city; in 2009 I am being interviewed in Buggiano [Tuscany] about my translation of the poet Antonio Lonardo's book; I have very happy memories of my 45th birthday in Modica in 1995; and Prague again with colleagues in 2003 [the 5th photo I put on facebook].

Then there is what being in Sicily means to me:  it means being in a particularly fascinating, culturally mixed, part of a country I've loved since I was 19. Sicily for me is the purple sea at Eloro, the bread arches of San Biagio Platani and having the opportunity to share a little of my own culture with Sicilians, for whom I always make Welshcakes on St David's Day. The island is also rich in the Greek heritage from which culture as we know it in the West first blossomed. When I'm feeling low, I remember Agrigento and am reminded why I am here.

Being in Sicily also means looking across the Strait of Messina to the Calabrian coast, the beginning of a journey to the New World for so many in the last two centuries. They were economic migrants trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, a perfectly natural desire that is being derided these days. They weren't caged and beaten before they left, killed on board ship for asking for a drop of water or thrown overboard when they grew weak but their journey was long and arduous, as was their path to work and acceptance at their destination.

I, too, am a migrant, albeit from choice and I am here to understand.  I want to be part of a Europe of opportunity, not a Europe of barriers and I want the country that made me to be part of that too.

Saturday, July 02, 2016


Number 4 in the Italian charts and it's in Spanish:

Enrique Iglesias e Wisin - Duele El Corazón

Friday, July 01, 2016


OK, Wales, just this once I'll support you, even though you voted "Leave".  But if it's you and Italy in the final, I might have to think again!

Here we are at London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale:

I must say, HM's outfit is much improved by the flag!

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Ludovico Einaudi has no competition this week!

Ludovico Einaudi - Elegy for the Arctic

Friday, June 24, 2016


On this portentous night when, to quote the newspaper La Sicilia, "the fate of Europe depends on the mood of the British", how is it all being viewed here?  With incredulity, puzzlement, dismay and a little grudging admiration, it seems to me.

To understand the first two reactions, you have to understand that in most EU countries the organisation is still seen, notwithstanding its faults, as the best guarantee we have of peace in the region.  This is a view to which I subscribe, for you cannot spend most of your life studying and teaching French and Italian without being influenced by the literature those countries produced during the Second World War and its aftermath, nor can you ignore the ideals of Jean Monnet.

Dismay enters the picture because most people here think that if Britain leaves the EU, it will signal the beginning of the end, with Italy, a country which has suffered greatly during the recent recession, exploring the "out" option next. It has to be said that many people I have spoken to would not consider this a bad idea.

I am, as you will have gathered, culturally and emotionally European and this would be the case whether I still lived in the UK or not. However, as an expat Brit living in the EU, I have other concerns about a Brexit, for the jury is still out on whether or not the "acquired rights" of British citizens who have settled in EU countries would be affected.  I have read two contradictory articles about this in two days and have concluded that actually, no one has a clue.  Italians and other EU citizens who have settled in Britain
have similar worries.

Yes, it is unlikely that Italy would deport all the Brits and that the UK would deport all the Italians  - what would happen to the UK restaurant trade?!  There would probably be an agreement between the two countries and indeed, I have a feeling that there already is one, which pre-dates Britain's membership of the EU. However, a country like Italy, never happier than when it is inventing new bureaucracy that in the end even its authors do not understand, would surely create new legal hurdles for expat Brits to jump. As I have often had to deal, here, with officialdom that thinks that because Britain is not in the eurozone it has never been in the EU, I am not hopeful that the average Italian town hall clerk would be familiar with the terms of any international agreement on my status.

My impressions of this referendum campaign and of my countrymen during it come mostly from the media and obviously, I am viewing the situation from afar but tonight I want to make a plea: Both sides have, in recent weeks and for different reasons, used the slogan, "I want my country back." Well, I want my country back too and, before I get shouted down, in some quarters, because I "don't even live in the UK", I would point out that I pay taxes there and still have UK voting rights. and of course I care what happens to the country that made me.  

I want my country back because I want the fun of being British back: what happened, during this campaign, to our healthy scepticism about almost everything, to our understatement, to our sense of irony and our ability to find humour, but not at the expense of those unable to take it, in all but the bleakest of situations?  What happened to our ability to laugh at ourselves [a characteristic we share with the Italians]? I also want  to be able to say that in my country racist posters are illegal, that we can have a disagreement without name-calling or yelling untruths at one another and that politicians are not gunned down in the street for their beliefs.  I want to say that I come from a nation that cares about the fate of those less fortunate than its own citizens, that takes pride in diversity and that is, above all, tolerant.

Whatever happens later on tonight and in the early hours of tomorrow morning, I want my gentle, self-deprecating, tolerant country back.

De toutes les superstitions, la plus dangereuse, n'est-ce pas celle de haïr son prochain pour ses opinions? 
Di tutte le superstizioni, la più pericolosa non è quella di odiare il prossimo per le sue opinioni? 
Of all superstitions, is not the most dangerous that of hating your neighbour for his opinions?

Voltaire - Traité sur la Tolérance / Trattato sulla tolleranza /  Treatise on Tolerance, 1763

Saturday, June 18, 2016


More nostalgia tonight, for here is the late Franco Califano with the Italian version - which he penned himself - of the 1972 French song, Une belle Histoire.

Franco Califano - Un'estate fa


On Tuesday evening, off I trotted to Modica's annual Fiera della Contea and came back with ..... Calabrian food!  There were enormous olives, taralli biscuits in various interesting flavours and dinamite - a condiment made from chilli pepppers and other vegetables which, I can confirm, fully lives up to the promise of its packaging!  It was especially good on a fresa calabrese:

Hot, hot, hot - bring it on!


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