Wednesday, October 31, 2007


A tragedy regarding would-be non-EU immigrants to Europe via Sicily and Calabria has, for once, caught the attention of the British media: During Saturday - Sunday night, which was one of force 8 gales, a 30-metre fishing vessel carrying around 150 people, 12 of whom were aged between 12 and 17, broke into 3 sections off Roccella Jonica in Calabria. 7 are dead but it is not known precisely how many are missing. The survivors claim that all the passengers were Palestinian but this fact has not been confirmed. [It is thought that the passengers may have claimed to be Palestinian so that they would have a better chance of being offered political asylum.]

During the same night 9 clandestini were drowned off Siracusa. Another body was found today. At least 8 others are missing.

The people traffickers, it is reported, have, for the past couple of months, been using a "new" tactic of bringing their poor, desperate passengers most of the way to Italy in a "mother ship" and then cramming them into inflatable dinghies that may or may not reach the shore.

2 such "mother ships" were blocked at Porto Empedolce [Calabria] on Monday and 27 scafisti [traffickers] have been arrested. 4 others have been detained at Pachino.

These journeys have been called viaggi di speranza [= voyages of hope]. They so often turn out to be voyages of tragedy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Here are the food pictures from Sunday's lunch. My goodness, it's difficult to take photos of whole dishes of food when Italians are involved, as they pounce on them as soon as they appear at the table! - There is no sedate waiting for everyone to be served, as in Britain:

1 - 3: Antipasti of ricotta, sun-dried tomatoes, olives , local hard cheese, salciccia, toasted local bread with cheese; scacce [focacce] and pasticcio; a dish of tripe for those who wanted it - I just can't!
4. Soup of mixed pulses. [I so want a serving dish like this!]
5. I've made chilli oil in Britain but had never put this many chillis in it! I'm going to try doing it this way. A dollop of this in your pulse soup is guaranteed to more than warm the cockles of your heart!
6. Primo [first course]: Fresh, homemade ravioli and cavatieddi pasta filled with ricotta and served with a sweet tomato sauce, a local speciality.
7 - 8: Main course: Involtini of pancetta and aubergine, filled with breadcrumbs, cheese and herbs; bollito of mixed meats.
9. Little chocolate puddings for dessert.

Later the limoncello and amaro came out, followed by coffee and we were there until 6 pm! What better way to greet a change of season?

Monday, October 29, 2007


My dear friends Roberto and Roberta, who will be away from Sicily at Christmas, decided to invite all their friends to a "welcoming the winter" get-together at the agriturismo La Tenuta Carbonara in nearby San Giacomo yesterday lunchtime. An agriturismo is a converted farmhouse that serves meals and sometimes provides bed and breakfast accommodation. Sometimes parts of the farm are still producing. First of all, I want to show you some of the interesting objects displayed in the lovely dining room:
1. Traditional bread or grain basket.
2. Wall of the converted room, showing where the animals would have been tethered.
3. Traditional olive jar. These now fetch quite a price at antiques markets!
4. Sicilian dresser - note the marble surface, so it has to be Italian. Note also the traditional lace decoration on the shelf edges. [Sorry about the glare here.]
5. These pretty objects were crocheted, then stiffened.
6. Hay forks found in the loft during the conversion.
7. Scales of a kind which dates back to Roman times.
8. Scales of a type which is still seen on the little trucks which sell fruit and vegetables by the roadside.
9. Kitchen implements, many of which would have been used during the making of ricotta cheese. The containers on the far right are called cavagne and they were used so that mice couldn't get at the cheese.
The food pictures will follow!

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Friend Chiara has been making cotognata [quince paste]. As you see, she does not enter into the task half-heartedly! Tomorrow she will put the paste out onto the balcony to dry in the sun.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


1. The olives, duly bashed, are now in a solution of coarse salt and water, which will be changed twice daily for 10 days.

2. The quinces for the quince liqueur have been grated and must sit thus for 4 days.

3. The alcohol for the liqueur has been poured onto bashed [I seem to be doing a lot of bashing lately] cloves, coriander seeds, cinnamon and almonds plus a little nutmeg [in the absence of mace]. After 4 days I will press the quinces through muslin and add them. After 10 days, the sugar should be added and the mixture left for another 10 days before straining.

By the way, if any Italian government bureaucrats are reading this post, the title does not mean that this blog supports a profit-making company! Se sta leggendo quest'articolo qualche burocrate del governo italiano, il titolo non significa che questo blog costituisca un'organizzazione imprenditoriale del lavoro!

Friday, October 26, 2007


It doesn't take much to cheer me up here in Italy:
A super-long hug from Raffaele the hairdresser this morning. He has an uncanny knack of knowing just when I need this.

These lovely mushrooms in the supermarket.

And this complimentary tartlet which came with my coffee at the Altro Posto at lunch time - by way of an apology because they thought they'd kept me waiting.


Gentlemen, avert your eyes.

Ladies, you know what this is....

Right, so how did it get into my sugar jar?!

You think you put things in strange places, Liz?

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Now, at last, Times Online has a take on it here. We have the amendment, which states that "Persons who have or use personal or collective internet sites, whether or not they carry products, and provided they do not constitute a profit-making company, will not have to register with the roc [Registro degli operatori della comunicazione]". Beppe Grillo is as unconvinced as I am that this is the solution, for he asks, as I asked on Tuesday, whether sites which, for instance, carry Google Ads, could be deemed "profit-making companies". This being Italy, I fear they might. The whole thing is still ambiguous. Grillo also points out that the rest of the world is now laughing at Italy.

I still think all this has happened because a group of politicians see bloggers as possible sources of revenue, first and foremost, but it could also be that they wouldn't mind shutting down blogs such as Grillo's. To me he is a very welcome thorn in the side of authority.

This is what I think will happen, for what it's worth: I think we will all, eventually, have to at least begin some ridiculous, costly - in time if not in money - process of "registering" ; we will be fed-up, irritated and worried to death as the procedures are very unlikely to be simple. And finally, when the government [whichever is in by then] realises that the idea is a non-starter and impossible to regulate, there will be a climb-down - not least because this law will be out of line with EU statutes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I watched my neighbour and his wife spreading a net beneath their olive tree, ready for the harvest, this morning, and thought, "Oh, I wish I had some fresh ones". Then lo and behold, a friend brought these lovely green olives from her tree around this afternoon. They need to be bashed a bit and soaked in coarse salt and water [changed daily ] for 10 days before I can flavour them and some of you may remember I did this with black olives last year. I can pretend I am bashing the hell out of the blog-gagging Italian government when I set to with my hammer! [OK, I've calmed down now...] When my friend takes her olives to the collective press, I understand that she receives 13 litres of oil for 100 kilos of olives. Families and friends often "pool" their olives to make up this amount.


So now the totally out of date Levi has proposed that an additional clause be added to article 7 of the " gagging law" [ which would require all blog writers to register with the authorities and to pay a tax on their activity] stating that blogs which operate for "private" and not "collective" use would be exempt from this regulation. But blogging is by definition a collective activity! What's the point of bloody well writing one if it is not going to be read and commented upon? - Might as well keep a nice, secret diary, like the Victorians. "When you are in a hole", I would like to say to signor Levi, "stop digging": ie., admit it's an ill-conceived, ridiculous law in its entirety, scrap it and start again!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Here in Modica about 1400 citizens were issued, at the beginning of the year, with identity cards which are useless - because the wrong sort of toner was used in the Comune printer and the ink fades quickly. The Comune has said it will "try" to reissue cards to those affected without their having to pay administration fees or for bolli all over again. Bolli are special stamps which you have to purchase for nearly every document in Italy and they are a source of much revenue and fun for town authorities, as the officials just love sending you to the tobacconist's to buy them and making you wait all over again when you come back. [The trip to the tobacconist's may be a long one as the nearest might not have a bollo of the value that you need for the particular document.] The citizens have already had to pay themselves for new photographs for the replacement cards. I'll be interested to find out what other fees they are actually charged.
In a Warholist gesture, a 54-year-old man threw red dye into the Trevi Fountain in Rome on Friday. It has been cleaned up today. I think it looked rather pretty myself, and it seems I am not alone in this opinion, as now artists and celebrities are pointing out that it's not a bad idea and that the incident has generated a great deal of publicity for Rome. The photographer Oliviero Toscani has gone just a little over the top, though, in declaring that "Rome still menstruates - it's still fertile!" - Oh, I do love Italians!

Monday, October 22, 2007


UPDATE: 23.10.07, 6.30 PM: Corriere's online edition has this, in which the minister proposing the law has stated categorically that no gagging of bloggers is intended and that the law will only apply to professional online publishing, bringing the law for online newspaper editions into line with that for printed versions. An amendment making this clear is to be announced tomorrow. However, it is my opinion that an ambiguity remains: how do you define a "private blog?" Could blogs which carry even a little advertising be judged "professional", for instance?
It has happened in China, there have been attempts in the US, blogs in Burma have been shut down and in Britain a rich businessman has attempted to have parts of the blogosphere silenced. James has been warning us all for ages, I have to say. Now we have this in Italy: if this ridiculous ddl [draft law] is passed, a blogger like me will have to appoint an editor and a registered journalist as editor in chief, register the blog with the government, produce a myriad documents and pay taxes on it! I am not joking! Thank goodness for Beppe Grillo who has hard-hitting articles on the proposal here and here. I think this crazy idea is less to do with censorship than with certain ministers having espied a source of possible revenue.


I have a guest post up here at Andrew Allison's. As we are coming up to the Sicilians' favourite festival of I Morti, it is an edited version of a post I wrote in the early days of this blog about death traditons in Sicily.


Who could not be cheered by the sight of these frutti di Martorana - fruits and vegetables crafted from almond paste - on sale this morning? I showed you some last year but this year there seem to be more vegetable shapes around. I think the tangerine is exquisite and deserves its own photo.

Andrea Bocelli sings 'Les Feuilles Mortes' (Autumn Leaves)

James - - got me thinking about this song today. I can't find an Italian version on youtube, but here is the wonderful Andrea singing it in the original French. I miss autumn leaves.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


When I got these excellent quinces home yesterday, I weighed them and found I had exactly 2 kg - the precise amount needed to make quince liqueur. It is obviously meant to be, reader, so watch this space!


A whole chicken can be a very good friend to you if you are on your own, although to buy one may seem, at first, extravagant. But you have a homely, hot meal for one day, cold meat to see you through the next two, or to make sandwiches with and I always use the carcass to make and freeze stock. The butcher still gives me a funny look when I ask for a whole chicken, as it is not an Italian habit to roast the whole bird: "You don't want it cut up at all?" he asks. "Well, you can cut off the head and feet but otherwise, no", I reply. The poor man always looks so disappointed, as though I have stopped him from showing off his art! My all-time favourite whole chicken recipe is here and this is my second favourite, which I have adapted from the excellent Elisabeth Luard:

Simple supper chicken
Put a chopped-up lemon, a halved onion and a bunch of fresh herbs of your choice [include a fresh bay leaf if you can] into the cavity of a chicken. Place the chicken upside-down in a roasting pan. Pour on 6 - 8 tablesp olive oil, about 5 finely chopped garlic cloves, some chopped fresh thyme, a little ground cumin and cinnamon, a little garam masala and some freshly ground black pepper and coarse seasalt. Roast the chicken at 180 C for at least 90 minutes, turning it the right way up after 45 minutes. Baste it as best you can at this point. Note: I don't bother trussing the chicken: the legs will be looser that way and at the end of cooking, the chicken should be ready to fall apart, making carving easy. You can use the hot juices to dress a bowl of salad leaves. Note: this is a totally unposh, unrefined dish!

I like to serve my spiced potatoes with this: Boil some unpeeled new potatoes, or unpeeled old ones chopped into large chunks, until just tender, then drain well. In a wok or other wide pan, melt a little unsalted butter and about 3 tablesp sunflower, groundnut or corn oil. When the oil sizzles, add spices of your choice: I find that cumin seeds marry well with potatoes, and also add a few mustard and fennel seeds, some ground chilli pepper, fresh, finely chopped ginger root and some crushed garlic. Stir the spices around for a minute or 2, then add the potatoes and keep stirring , over a low heat, for about 10 minutes. Add some coarse seasalt at the end. Garnish with chopped parsley or coriander leaves if you wish.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


That’s the situation regarding keeping warm at the moment. I am sitting here shivering, telling myself, “I must become more Sicilian”, for the response of most Sicilians to feeling cold at home is to put on an extra jumper or, heaven forbid, a woolly vest, rather than to turn the heating on.

Newer readers may be surprised to know that the whole of Italy has restrictions regarding how and when you can use your central heating: the country is divided into 6 climatic zones and here in Modica we are in zone C. This means that we can switch on from 15th November till 31st March for 10 hours [though this was reduced to 9 following the Ukrainian gas crisis]. Some parts of the Catania province are in zone B and cannot legally switch on until 1st December! It is illegal to heat your home to more than 20 C [again, because of the Ukrainian situation, this was reduced to 19 though I’m not sure if the ruling still stands]. 20 C is certainly not sufficient to keep me warm though I have not felt that I needed to have the heating on for longer than the 10 hours. But the idea of having it on even that long horrifies some friends and they think it is being “soft”. Indeed, some pride themselves on not using the heating all winter! Well, some people just feel the cold more than others and I have Raynaud’s. This affects my fingers mostly so putting extra layers of clothing on my body, apart from making me feel inelegant, does not help.

No one checks up on your heating use in private dwellings but in some apartment blocks the radiators are centrally controlled so they will always only come on during the permitted period and to the permitted temperature. Legally they cannot be turned on before 5 am and have to be turned off before 11 pm. Often they will come on only for a couple of hours in the morning and again for a few hours in the evening. The heating in my apartment is autonomous but I do not want a shocker of a gas bill such as I received for the winter period last year – the equivalent of nearly £800!! The water is heated by gas too and there is the hob, but I use my hob much less than I use my oven.

I do have a nice coal-effect electric fire with surround which I brought from Britain and I had the plugs on it changed when I came. “Why not light that?” I hear you ask: because the good old Italian State has you all ways! Each home has only 3 kw of electricity [unless you purchase more] so you have to watch how many electrical appliances you have on at a time: for instance, I can’t have the oven and the washing machine on together. Anyway, that fire is in the lounge and I spend most of my time here in the study. I might, though , get a space heater to put in here: that should be OK with the computer on too, as long as the oven, washing machine or kettle aren’t switched on, as it does seem profligate to heat the entire apartment when I am just in one little room!

The State’s reasons for all these restrictions, by the way? – It is to conserve energy. I’m not sure I believe that one!

Friday, October 19, 2007


Lady Mac has tagged me with the “What’s the view from your window?” meme. [Note: I will do memes only if they interest me and I think I can make a half-decent post from the idea; otherwise, I leave them and I don’t tag.]

The first question I ask myself is “Which window?” but I suppose it has to be the lounge one. From my study and kitchen windows [glass doors really] I can see only the long balcony of the house facing this block. The lady of the establishment is one of these energetic souls who always has her washing hanging from the balcony by 8am and between that hour and 10 am she can be seen dashing about, cleaning, sweeping and scrubbing the shutters, windows and the balcony itself. So I don’t look across there very often , lest I become infected with this “housewife” virus, though I think I am immune to it.

My lounge window, at the narrower end of the apartment, looks onto another neighbour’s house and, although I can see the balconies and windows, I cannot see inside, nor would I look if I could[unless Al Pacino or Tom Jones suddenly decided to use the space as a changing room]. My neighbours can probably observe my lounge activities, as their windows are higher, but they probably don’t bother and if they do I can only surmise that their lives are very unexciting! The garage of this dwelling has a flat roof and it is by looking down at that that I can tell if it is raining but sometimes in summer you think you can see raindrops on it then, like a desert mirage, they turn out to be only what a friend calls “gocce di caldo” – heat drops. I can also look down upon the top of my neighbour’s olive tree [which makes a nice swishing sound in the wind] and upon the run where he keeps his dogs [who have ruined my life. Yes, Simi still gets up at 5.30 am if she hears them. She has given up barking at them but does expect me to “rise and shine” with her!]

The left hand side of the street is obscured by the olive tree but to the right I can make out who is walking up and down and keep a look-out for my elderly “discerning shopper” neighbour: if he appears carrying a crate on his shoulder or grinning broadly I realise that he has found some beautiful, fresh, in-season produce and, as I know his route by now, I sometimes rush down to discover which roadside lorry he has been buying from. I can’t carry the crates, but if I decide it’s produce that will keep a while or that I can preserve in some way, the sellers will decant it into carrier bags, with which I can just about stagger back.

Sometimes I amuse myself watching all the motorists searching for parking spaces near the post office here. [In Britain no one would drive to a city centre post office.] Reader, if you saw them later, backing out of the street into lines of oncoming traffic, you would be anything but amused, I think!

At siesta time in summer, of course, the street resembles one from a ghost town: you see nothing and nobody during those hours. And when the shutters are open on summer nights, the moons I behold are glorious: that’s the time to put on some Bocelli and dream!

That is what I can [or can’t] see. What I can hear through my window is, I think, more interesting: at around 8 am the splashing of water as the women clean their halls and throw the contents of their buckets down the street; the man who comes around in a small fruit & veg truck announcing his wares on Wednesday and Friday mornings; the chorus of the cicadas on summer evenings and sometimes around midday if it is very hot; and when Simi and I hear “chug-chug-chug” we run out onto the balcony to see where the water lorry is headed. But my favourite sound has to be one I have mentioned many times on this blog: it is that of everyone opening up their shutters to let the cooler air in on summer evenings.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


A Sardinian man resident in Germany has received a reduced sentence for rape - because he is Sardinian. The man, who was insanely jealous, tortured his Lithuanian girlfriend for 3 weeks, forced her to take heroin and to sleep with him and another Italian at the same time. The details are here in English.

The German judge made the ruling almost a year ago but the Italian documents have only just been released. Reducing the possible sentence from 15 years to 6, he gave as a reason "a different cultural and ethnic background ". As you may imagine, politicians, feminist groups and most Sardinians are up in arms and even the man's mother, to whom he has declared, "I only hit her" has said that if her son committed this crime, he didn't deserve a reduced sentence.

As for the girlfriend, I am sad to have to tell you that she wrote in her diary that she still loved her abuser: this is not love but obsession and it is a sentiment indicative of a woman who feels powerless.

Now the man, who has been beaten by other prisoners in the German jail, has asked to serve his term in Italy and the German President of the Tribunal has remarked that all circumstances had had to be taken into acount when sentence was passed: the man had a history of drug use, might have been at some risk medically, he had confessed and had no previous criminal record in Germany. Could it be that the original judge erred on the side of a strange interpretation of political correctness, then? The Tribunal President says that, in cases of jealousy, nationality is not an issue because relationships founded upon it exist in all countries.

But what on earth did the sentencing judge think or know of Sardinians? Did he research them or call in experts? It doesn't look that way to me: it looks as if he based his decision on age-old misconceptions. These may have been founded upon racism or ignorance; they certainly were not founded upon any sense of justice.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Well, I've tried everything else in my efforts to get rid of this 'flu so at lunch time I made this red onion soup, which has worked for me before. The use of butter instead of oil indicates the northern Italian provenance of this recipe:

Red onion soup

4 oz unsalted butter
1.5 lbs red onions, sliced thinly
2 cloves pink garlic, finely chopped [not an authentic addition, but I felt I needed it]
0.75 pint good vegetable stock
chopped fresh herbs - thyme, rosemary, sage
coarse seasalt and freshly ground black pepper
2 slices hard, Italian bread per person

Melt the butter in a heavy pan and add the onions and garlic. You want them to sort of melt into the butter but not brown, so put the lid on and let them cook over a low heat for c. 15 minutes, stirring once. When the onions are soft, add the stock, herbs and seasoning, put the lid back on and simmer for another 15 mins. Towards the end of this time, toast the bread and butter it and put 2 slices in the bottom of each soup bowl. Pour the soup over and serve. Sprinkle with parmesan or not, as you prefer. These quantities will serve 2 generously.

My head already feels clearer!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


UPDATE, 20.10.07: Yesterday it was reported that the price of bread had risen by 79% in a single day in a Rome supermarket!
James is doing some research into food prices around the world and has asked his readers for the prices of certain items where they are. I reproduce the information I have given him here for readers who do not read both blogs as it may be of interest:

As of this morning, supermarket prices in Modica, Sicily:

1 kilo minced beef - €7,89
No frozen chicken here but fresh is sold by weight - €3,45 per kilo. Most of those on sale are pretty large and even if you say you don’t want the head and feet, they will be weighed and the weight included in the price.
Fish – I have some difficulty with this as I never buy it and the smell of a fishmonger’s turns my stomach, but according to a friend: swordfish - €25 per kilo, anchovies - €7, cod - €15.
1 litre carton semi-skimmed milk - €1,13
Cheese: Swiss Emmenthal - €9, 19 per kilo. Mild local cheese - €6,10.
Bread: Baguette weighing 0, 350 kg - €0,75. Local bread - €2, 60.
Eggs: Never seen any battery eggs here. Local eggs - €0, 81 for 6.
Coffee, 250 gr medium roast, hard pack - €2,05.
Sunflower oil is difficult to find here. Corn oil - €1,10 per litre, extra-virgin olive oil, popular brand - €6,41 per litre. Most of the olive oil sold is extra-virgin.
Bananas - €1,69 per kilo.

All fruit and vegetables can be purchased more cheaply from roadside lorries but you have to buy them by the crate and I can neither carry nor use that amount quickly enough.

I mentioned the increase in the price of wheat here and, interestingly, it was reported today that the price of bread in Rome has gone up to €3,60 per kilo and there is to be an enquiry there, the results of which could have repercussions for other towns. [Remember that the type of bread on sale varies greatly from town to town here.]


Look what arrived in the post this morning - these fabulous fridge magnets and a bookmark from my blogging friend jmb in Vancouver! The Aboriginal art magnet, representing kangaroos, is very interesting, the Alaska magnet is an unusual one to have and the French one could have been made for me. It reads: "Take my hand and walk with me." "Learn my language and talk to me." Thank you, jmb!


Isn't this pretty? It was a gift from my friend Esmée whom I saw in Britain last week. And doesn't it look perfect sitting on Great Aunt Mabel's sewing machine in my hallway? I just had to bring the latter with me to Sicily and people here think the table belongs to it. It does not, however; the machine is not a treadle one. I saw the table the first week I was here and knew it was right for the machine. Part of the "Jones" label on the top of the machine got rubbed away over the years as Auntie used to insist on tying a piece of felt into which she would stick pins over it - such a pity. It still works but I can't sew to save my life! However, every time I pass the machine, I see Auntie sitting at it, working away.

Esmée's first question was, "What do you notice about fashion in Britain?" and I asked, "What's with all these waisted smocks?" for these ubiquitous items were the first that caught my eye in the fashion shops at Gatwick. "Oh, a fad for the young and thin, or at least it should be", replied my friend. I reflected that no Italian woman over a certain age and size would wear such an unflattering line. Esmée designs hats and wedding dresses, so her second question was, "Am I any nearer to being able to make the black wedding dress for your marriage to one of the 'Sicilian friends' ?" I think she will have to wait a while yet....

Monday, October 15, 2007


I must be unwell as I don't feel like cooking, which is very rare for me. There are no frozen ready-meals here and I wouldn't buy them if there were but I do have portions of meals I have made in the freezer and was going to defrost one of these. However, I liked the look of this freshly concocted dish in one of the larger supermarkets this morning: it contains chicken wings, onions, carrots, new potatoes, tomatoes, capers, garlic, olives, seasoning, olive oil and herbs. No, of course I'm not going to eat all that in one go! I'll cook it, have some tomorrow and freeze the rest. James might be interested to know that it cost €5.33 and there is easily enough for 4 servings.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


In the intervals over the past couple of days when I have not been lying around feeling sorry for myself because the 'flu has dared to visit me, I have been running my fingers over the smooth wood of this smart new pepper mill that I bought on Friday. My old one - a plastic contraption that you could use with one hand - decided to disintegrate and that's the second time this has happened to me with that type of mill: after a year or so, admittedly of quite heavy use, the refill compartment opening just loosens and pepper gets everywhere. You can't get that kind here anyway, so I decided I might as well go for beauty this time. What I would like to know is, what do readers keep their pepper mills on? I keep mine on this Sicilian gel mould, though I did write to Lakeland [a UK kitchenware company which does take note of customers' suggestions] a few years ago and I believe they did stock a pepper mill stand at one time.


Please forgive my absence from your commenting sections but I am still full of 'flu and have asthma with it. I so rarely get a cold these days that I am really angry about it!

It has taken all my willpower to get the previous - admittedly long - post up tonight and I hope to be back on form by morning [or later in the morning!]

I also want to comment on all the wonderful guest articles that have been posted on my blog during my holiday.

Please bear with me.

Auguri a tutti.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


A quick diary of my trip back to the UK:

Let’s start with arriving at Catania on Wednesday 3rd: I always get off the bus at the airport as it’s easier to find a taxi there than at the town stop when you are laden with luggage. “50 €”, declared the driver when we arrived at my hotel. “That”, I informed him, “seems a lot to me. I live here and I know what the prices should be.” “Oh, 30 €, then”, said he, apologetically, then shook my hand but still looked as if he was expecting a tip. What he got was a lecture about not judging by appearances: “I may be pale and blonde but I am neither unfluent in Italian nor stupid”, said I and with that I swept off. Hopefully he’ll be more careful next time! Silly man – had he asked for 30 or even 40 € in the first place I’d have given him 10 more, as I was in a benign, holiday mood. Then a wander around Catania, a city which has always treated me kindly, in the evening and back for a wonderful meal in the hotel restaurant: You see it above, beginning with an orange salad flavoured with fennel, dressed with olive oil and garnished with anchovies and toast. No, I still don’t eat fish and could have ordered it without, but I wanted to see how they would use the anchovies. This is such a simple idea and so easy to copy. I don’t normally care for fennel, though it is much beloved of the Sicilians, often, in season, taking the place of fruit at the end of a meal, for it does clear the palate. I do like it like this, though. As a second course I partook of veal scaloppine served with a mushroom sauce and finally treated myself to this semifreddo of almonds. I seem to be known at the hotel now, so got my liqueur and coffee free, which sort of made up for the naughty taxi driver! One thing that struck me was that I see the same maître d'hôtel and other waiting staff there year after year; there doesn’t seem , in hotels at any rate here, to be the quick staff turnover that we have in Britain.

Next day at the airport you could, as ever, immediately tell who was British, for the women wore clothes of understated elegance – every one of them dressed at least partly in beige – whilst the men seemed ill at ease in the lighter apparel of late summer. And however well turned out, British women don’t “walk tall", telling the world they know they look good in the way that Italian women do. I also noticed the impatience of the British, strutting around as if we still ruled the waves and some even turning quite nasty when told that an airport shop would not open before 8 am. A couple of years ago that would have annoyed me too but now I look on with amusement and pazienza. Help! I might be acquiring the latter!! There is a smart new terminal at Catania: it lacks places to sit before you go through security and there is no bookshop after the x-ray machine but otherwise it is a much better place to wait in than the old one, apart from the facts that the bar has nothing remotely recognisable to a Brit, American or even a Frenchman as breakfast fare and they have started to charge for trolleys. Why?! If the busiest airports in the world can survive without introducing such a fee, I don’t see the necessity at Fontanarossa. Where do they think anyone is going to take the unwieldy things?

The flight was on time and I got my Cardiff bus but, with the Laurel and Hardy of National Express driving, although we left Gatwick on time, we were 45 minutes late out of Heathrow, for Messrs L & H weren’t very good at checking who had reservations and who was on standby. Bring back the dragon hostesses, who were “jobsworths” as far as what hand baggage you took on board but who would have sorted this in an instant! Then we hit the traffic so it was 7pm before I could text my friend Christabelle, with whom I was to stay, with the magic word, “bridge!” [meaning crossing into Wales] and I was an hour late getting to her – and a gin and tonic. [You can see Chris and me in picture 9.]

The first thing I noticed in Britain was how much closer to you the clouds seem and the second was the tapestry of green. Yes, I cried! And I also cried at the majesty of Caerphilly Castle [near Christabelle’s house] and I unashamedly offer you a photo of it in the middle of a blog about Sicily.

On Friday I walked around Cardiff, took a photo of an English breakfast for Raffaele the hairdresser, who doesn’t believe my description of one, and neither, come to think of it, does Gina, who, although she has spent plenty of time in the UK, asked me the day before I left if we ate “fresh green” beans in the morning. John Dickie is correct when he writes, in Delizia, that "the very notion of frying anything so early in the day is enough to make most Italian stomachs turn". Then I met a friend who, arriving in her car, asked, “Where do you want to go?” “Tesco!” said I.

Saturday brought the highlight of my trip and the real reason why I went at all: the annual Cheltenham Literary Festival. I had to get up at 5am in order to get there in time for the midday lecture I had booked as there was railway engineering work between Gloucester and Cheltenham causing delays. Here the true genius of the British is revealed : stage a prestigious event and then ensure maximum difficulty for the travelling public in getting to it. The talk was by Germaine Greer - I hear you groaning now, James! – and as mornings and I don’t get on I was not a happy bunny, until she spoke, that is. I can honestly say she is the best speaker I have ever heard, on any subject, anywhere and it was well worth the effort to attend. She has written a book on Mrs Shakespeare, to whom she believes history has been unfair. After that, I wandered around elegant Cheltenham, bought a few more books in the tents and had lunch in an Italian – of course! – restaurant. This was pleasant and reasonably priced for Britain, but I wondered why an Italian establishment listed pasta dishes under antipasti, unless it was to discourage the British from ordering them as a main course, which they never are in Italy. Then a rush back to Christabelle’s for dinner with friends there.

Sunday and I met a former teaching colleague for coffee – I am finding that I can no longer take the British “long” coffee or brodo [broth] as a friend here calls it – lunch and a shopping expedition. I was shocked to learn that so many of the people I worked with in one particular school have forms of cancer, have had breakdowns or are otherwise ill. I can only suppose that the stress of such a situation catches one up and I truly feel for all of them. How lovely it was, later, to read the papers as papers and not as online editions! The very process is so different.

Monday was the big day when I at last met Liz and Shirl [photos 6 and 7] and some of the details are already on our lunch blog [and it was clever Shirl who put the link to that in my sidebar!] I am going to post there again tomorrow. We got on famously, as I knew we would and I had a lovely time. Kind Shirl gave me the “make-up” fridge magnet which you see above, a little book of “friendship” quotations [in the last picture] and some chocs which I can’t show you – guess why?! I don’t know why but I navigated [with clear instructions from Shirl’s husband, Pete] Liz to Shirl’s place in Bristol, then got her lost back in Cardiff on the way to Penarth where I was to meet Christabelle and my former neighbours for supper! Sorry, Liz! This couple have just adopted a dear little girl of two and here’s a secret : I’m scared of 2-year-olds and the like, because I haven’t had children and was not used to little ones in my own family, so I don’t know what you’re supposed to say or do around them! Give me a hall of unruly teenagers, however, and I’d be fine. However, this little girl is especially delightful and has already learnt to say “Cheers – together!” so she is being well taught. My friends cooked me this stunning shepherd’s pie and had crumbled a little of the Sicilian oregano I had brought them into it. Just what I needed!

British early dining - although not as early as American evening meals – was a shock to my system throughout the trip, though. Here it is not unusual to dine as late as 10 or even 11pm and certainly no one would think of it before 9. That suits me, with my “owl’s blood” as my Dad used to call it.

On Tuesday I met my friend Jo the artist for a leisurely lunch in Cardiff and afterwards we wandered around Borders, where, the Dodos will be pleased to learn, Jo asked me, “Now, what book can I buy you for Xmas?” and I pointed to theirs. I’ve been wanting it for a while and I’m sure it will cheer up my winter. Jo had also brought me some more "Welsh" fridge magnets and you will see that they have joined the conglomeration on the door above. [That’s the best photo I could take – sorry.] In Borders I also bought an inflatable daffodil – how did I live without one for so long, I wonder? – and, as you see, I got my “Klippits” from Lakeland!

And suddenly that was the end, for I was travelling back to London for an overnight hotel stay on the Wednesday. [I can no longer do the midnight coach plus a 1200 mile flight plus a further 2 hours to get to Modica in one go.] I have to say the loo at Cardiff Bus Station remains disgusting: people grumble about the facilities here but, although some of the contraptions may lack a seat, they are not dirty. At Gatwick I noted, anew, the impatience of the British: “Huh! You wait around for 2 hours and then you have to spend 20 minutes walking to the gate”, huffed one of my compatriots when boarding was announced. I thought: “You are obviously fit and on holiday; you are going to a lovely place; what’s the matter with you?”

In Cardiff I even passed the man’s house several times on my way to and from from London and en route to other places: it doesn’t hurt any more and I’m not even sure I could pick out which one it is in the row now. It’s just a memory. "Forgive yourself", said Shirl on Monday and I rather think I will. I also managed to walk by what was my own house – or the building society’s – and it seemed somewhat forlorn. I could have coped with that better had the present occupier made some alterations to the outside!

The visit was tinged with sadness not only because of the former colleague situation I have mentioned, but because there is one friend who is not well and who has deteriorated so much that I fear I will not see her again. Admittedly, parting is always difficult, for who knows what the future holds for any of us? But it was a little harder to leave my father’s land this time.

However, it seems that in Britain, if al-Qaeda doesn’t get you, bedbugs on the London underground will, so on the whole I am glad to be back, with Simi, on my other island. I have returned to a temperature of 25 C but the women have decided it is autumn, apparel – wise, and I am glad of that. There just comes a moment when I want to don my blacks, shoes rather than sandals and tights! “Welcome home!” my kind neighbour who always brings me packs of mineral water when he visits the supermarket shouted from his balcony last night. “Do you need any water?” And at lunch time yesterday I was given a very big box of torroncini as a ben tornata present by the manager of the Altro Posto. Most importantly, Simi is here: I got into the apartment at 7.30 pm on Thursday, unpacked a bit, but then found myself wandering around sighing, “I want my baby!” until she arrived, as beautiful and as full of energy and wagginess as ever, at 8pm with “Mr Enzo”. Then I knew I was home! Oh, yes – I cried when I landed upon the soil of the “land of lands”, too!


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