Thursday, September 03, 2015


"What will it take", I have often asked in my migration posts,"for the rest of the world to notice what has been happening in the Mediterranean?"  The answer in April was an appalling tragedy and now that the crisis has spread to the land in other parts of Europe, it has taken a heart-breaking image to wake the world up

Looking at reactions to the crisis in my own country, I must admit that I have despaired over the past week and have been wondering just when we lost our ability to empathise. As a country the British have often made grave errors but we have also often done "the right thing" instinctively rather than waiting to be shamed into it, as our Prime Minister was today. I have hesitated to make the following point because I do not want to be accused of taking a cheap shot but after today's events I feel I must: David Cameron is a man who knows the pain of losing a child so it should not have taken a whole 24 hours for him to react to the image that has so profoundly shaken those he claims to represent. As even his own Members of Parliament began to criticise him earlier today, did he wait for his spin doctors to tell him what to do? 

I am well aware that, as one who no longer lives in the UK, I coud be accused of not really having my finger on its pulse any more but I do pay taxes there, still have voting rights and I care very much what happens to my country and how it is seen internationally. But more than that I care about its humanity.

Meanwhile in the Sicilian Channel 838 people were saved yesterday and were brought to Pozzallo this evening. This morning a further 105 were saved by the Italian Coast Guard off the coast of Libya. Premier Renzi of Italy and  Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta were right to remind the world, in a joint press conference this evening, that the publication of images such as the one that has upset us all is an almost weekly occurence in their two countries. Premier Renzi also had this to say:

"Europe must not just be moved - as some leaders are more than others; it must act."

Count your blessings if your children have been playing safely in the sea today.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Bertie-Pierrine has taken the Italian proverb "una mela al giorno toglie il medico di torno" - the equivalent of "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" - to heart!

Saturday, August 29, 2015


With news of further migration tragedies this week, this song has come to mind. I've posted it before with regard to migration but I find this version particularly moving:

Phil Coulter - For Those in Peril on the Sea

Friday, August 28, 2015


At the end of yet another week of migration tragedies, I have to admit that I do not know what to say. I had hoped, you see, that once the desperate situation that I have been writing about for nine years finally came to the world's attention, migrants would be helped and that we would see an end to the perilous journeys they feel compelled to make. I did not anticipate an end to their coming, but an end to deaths on migrant routes. Instead, more and more people are dying and attutudes are hardening in several parts of the world. 

Last weekend Italian and other operatives in the Mediterranean saved 4,700 people and on Wednesday alone, in ten Italian Coast Guard operations, 3,000 people were rescued. However, Wednesday was also the day on which a Swedish ship rescued 439 migrants from an overcrowded boat but found 52 bodies in the hold. The arrival of these bodies in the Port of Palermo late last night was another sad sight of a type that we have, I am afraid, become used to in Sicily. Italian police said tonight that survivors have told them that migrants trying to get out of the hold to access water and air were held back at knifepoint by the people traffickers in charge of the boat. In addition, this afternoon the BBC started to report that hundreds of deaths are feared after two boats capsized off Libya earlier. 

Other reports tonight say that the number of bodies found in a lorry in Austria has risen to 71 and that four of these poor souls were children. It is also being reported that UK police have arrested 27 migrants found on an Italian lorry in the County of Surrey. [The driver was also arrested but later released.] Meanwhile Hungary builds a barbed wire fence and security in Calais is still being increased. Suspected people traffickers continue to be arrested in all the receiving countries but the basic problem, which is that people are literally running for their lives, is not being addressed.

To cries of,  "They only come to Britain for the benefits" I would say that few people would put their lives in such obvious danger for a few hand-outs after a bureaucratic process. Besides, would you rather live in a country that people want to come to or one that people flee?

Mrs Merkel, a lady I have not often praised in these posts, braved booing crowds this week to condemn racism and attacks on asylum seekers and later in the week she and President Hollande called for a faster and more unified EU response to the situation. Could it be that these two leaders have woken up or was the statement prompted by the fact that Germany is taking in more asylum seekers than any other country in the EU? Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni saw the statement as grounds for cautious hope, so perhaps we should, too.

You may have noticed that I have used the word "people" instead of "migrants" several times in this post for, as Al Jazeera English pointed out a few days ago, the term "migrant" is fast becoming pejorative. This set me thinking, for language, of course, matters. When I first started writing about the crossings to Sicily, I used the term that the Italian media used at the time, which was clandestini. Sometimes I used my own unsatisfactory coinage, "would-be illegal immigrants" because they were not illegal immigrants if they were arrested and sent back, as they often were. Over the past few years I have dropped the term clandestini, as has the Italian media, in my case because the term had a negative connotation and because there is nothing "clandestine" about braving the Mediterranean Sea in an inadequate, open boat. I despair when the media talk about the migrant "burden", as Sky News did last night in an otherwise insightful report, as until we start seeing refugees as human beings with the same aspirations as ourselves, there is no hope - for them or for us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I enjoyed being taken out for dinner on Saturday and took advantage of the occasion to go nutty!

For the main course both my friend and I had fillet steak in a pistacchio sauce and there was an interesting contorno to share. Then my friend chose pannacotta with caramel whilst I couldn't resist one of my favourites, parfait alle mandorle [almond parfait] which was.....well, perfect!

Saturday, August 22, 2015


I like this arrangement of the famous Luigi Tenco song.

Bianca Atzei e Alex Britti - Ciao amore, ciao

Friday, August 21, 2015


And now, for old times' sake, let's hear from a much-missed Italian American:

Dean Martin - Sleepy Time Gal

Bertie-Pierrine says she can dance but she's working on the cooking and the sewing!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Remember this advice from Coco Chanel?

"Once you've dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off."

Well, my motto is,

"Look in the mirror and put at least one more thing on!"

Monday, August 17, 2015


I would very much like to be able to tell you, this evening, that the Ferragosto holiday passed peacefully in the Mediterranean but, to no one's surprise, it did not: 

To no one's surprise but to everybody's horror, for the scene that greeted Italian rescuers directed to help the passengers of a 14-metre boat 20 miles off Libya on Saturday was beyond even their imagining.  At first they thought that this was an overcrowded migrant boat like so many others but as they boarded, the stench was horrendous and when they opened the hold they found dozens of bodies, piled one on top of the other. The stench turned out to be that of human excrement and petrol fumes. These poor souls had died of asphyxiation and around them women were crying for their lost loved ones.

As is becoming common in these cases, a sick kind of "class system" had been in operation, with those migrants who had been able to pay more being allowed to travel in the open and some - but few, according to the rescuers - were given life jackets.

Italian rescuers managed to save 413 people from this horrific scene, among them 45 women and three children.  It is thought that their prompt and professional action averted a much bigger disaster. With the help of a German ship, 49 bodies have been recovered.  These, along with the survivors, were brought to Catania today on a Norwegian ship to which they had been transferred.  The pictures of a large, white, refrigerated container with the letters UN painted on the side are indeed a distressing sight, for this contained the bodies.

The Mayor of Catania has declared tomorrow a day of mourning in the city and has said that from now on the migrant crossing from Africa to Italy will be known as "the most deadly route in the world". It is estimated that 2,300 people have died on this route in 2015 alone. Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has said that if the chaotic situation in Libya is not resolved, tragedies like this will continue to happen and he has appealed to the international community.

The migrants know the risks very well so surely anyone who has cause to believe that taking this route is better than remaining where they are deserves international help and support rather than censure? I ask again.  "How many people have to die?"

Update, 18.8.15 at 14.00:

It has now been reported that there were 14 children among the survivors and that some of the men on board may have given up their places in the open to women and children. Eight people from the boat have now been arrested by Catania police on suspicion of people-trafficking.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015


Looking at the TV pictures of migrants sleeping rough in Izmir [Turkey] while they wait to cross to Greece and of others being forced to endure overcrowded and insanitary conditions on Kos, what struck me was the contrast with the natural beauty of their surroundings. Then, when I heard a spokesperson from Kos asking not for funds but for international organisational help with the situation, I understood that request but reflected that it was sad that officials and forces of order seemed to be in need of instruction on how to treat people with simple humanity.

While the international media focus this week has shifted from Calais to Kos, there has been little reporting outside Italy of the latest migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean, in which over 50 people are believed to have died. A migrant dinghy in difficulty was spotted by an Italian naval helicopter 40 miles off Libya on Tuesday afternoon. The helicopter crew dropped life rafts and alerted other ships in the area. The naval vessel Fenice, which already had on board 119 migrants who had been saved earlier, was first on the scene and saved 52 people but the survivors told the crew that many more were missing.

This Ferragosto I'll be thinking of  migrants, their rescuers and all in peril on the sea, of people across the world who cannot enjoy the beauty of where they are because their basic human needs are not being met and of all who hope.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Because I created this recipe a few days before this year's Ferragosto holiday and because it's a bit unusual, I am calling it Ferragosto surprise. And yes, Italian readers, you'd better look away again as it's certainly not traditional and mixes sweet and savoury ingredients [which you say you never do but I know differently!]

Ever since I read that an ice cream maker was using Himalayan pink salt in a creation for last month's ice cream festival in Catania, I've wanted to use it myself in an ice cream or semifreddo. [Himalayan pink salt is very popular here, particularly in restaurants.]  I was wondering what other ingredients I could use in such a recipe  and how I could serve it when I saw these tiny peppers in the supermarket. [If you can't find mini-peppers, you could just cut interesting shapes from a large one and serve the semifreddo on top.]   The gelato became a semifreddo as it is much easier to make. It also behaves better!

This is what I did:

Ferragosto surprise

3 eggs, separated
100 gr sugar
200 ml whipping cream [panna da montare if you are in Italy]
250 gr mascarpone
10 grinds Himalayan pink salt
Half a red pepper, finely chopped
about 12 mini-peppers

Line an ice cream container with clingfilm, leaving an overlap.
Whip the egg yolks with the sugar and set aside.
In another bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks.
In a third bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks.
Combine the three mixtures in the largest bowl, add the mascarpone, chopped pepper and Himalayan salt and mix well with a metal spoon.
Scoop into the lined container, bring the overlap up to cover, put the lid on and freeze overnight.
When you are almost ready to serve, make a cut in the mini-peppers as though to halve them, but don't cut right through. Leave the stems on so that people can use them to pick the peppers up.  Use a teaspoon to fill the peppers with the semifreddo and close them a little,  Once filled, they will "hold" in a container in the fridge for an hour or two.

I nearly decorated with some basil leaves but remembered that Chef Carlo Cracco would say that if an ingredient isn't an integral part of the recipe, you shouldn't use it as a garnish. I think it's good advice.  If I could have got a few whole flakes of the salt out of the grinder to garnish, I would have done so, but it didn't seem worth breaking the grinder to do it. Anyway, decorate as you like!

These quantities will make more than you need for filling the peppers but you can refreeze the rest.

Buon appetito.

Monday, August 10, 2015


It's San Lorenzo night so I hope you're all out spotting shooting stars! And when you see one, may your dearest wish come true.

Andrea Bocelli with David Foster - Bellissime stelle

Saturday, August 08, 2015


Tonight let's listen to a golden oldie from Mr Al Bano Carrisi, who is performing at the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento as I write.

Al Bano - Io di notte

Al Bano has said that his concert will be a homage to all those people who have reached Sicily and who will continue to arrive:

"When I see these people arriving by boat and fleeing poverty, war, hunger and oppression, I think of my friends who left for Northern Italy by train and of my uncles who left for Argentina. Then it was my turn  In 1961 I took the train of hope, looking for a better place, which I found in Milan. So when I see these poor souls fleeing hunger and war I understand them. The countries of the world should unite to find a way to manage the phenomenon, then perhaps the influx would decrease. But I can already see that all this is inevitable."

Note:  The singer is from Puglia, a region where he still has a home and which he continues to love. When he says " a better place", he means somewhere with more opportunities.


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