Saturday, January 31, 2009

DAILY DOINGS - 19

"Drive someone crazy to start the weekend": you'd have thought that was my motto this morning as I'd asked Rosa to come and help me reorganise my books. First of all, I'd decided to move my Italian section to where my French section was and, as I have the language categories subdivided into grammar, lexis and literary criticism sections, followed by literature in chronological order, this was quite a task. "Why can't we start on the left?" asked Rosa, logically enough. "Because we'll get them out of order that way," I explained, "so we have to move those on the right first." When we began putting the books from the last pile of French literature in their new place I yelled, "Hooray - we're in the twentieth century!" whilst Rosa seemed to be watching the door for men in white coats to appear. I also thought it would be a good idea to rearrange my cookery books, as finding room for the Cucchiaio d'Argento meant buying a new bookcase [don't ask!] Anyone who has seen my library, like James, will understand. Anyway, three hours later we were done, exhausted and even Rosa was satisfied. "Oh, it does look better this way", she declared and believe me, that is praise.



Next on the agenda was a visit to Raffaele's as today he was offering his clients a buffet d'inverno. He and all his staff are talking in Obamaisms at the moment, their favourite answer to every question being, "Yes, we can!" Here we have the maestro opening the vino, maestro and team plus maestro with favourite client [!]





Later I made for the sales and look what I got me for 11 euros, ladies. Now I just need a purple top, purple shoes and a chunky piece of purple jewellery to go with it.



I also did something I'd promised myself I'd do a while back: I walked into what I call a "thin shop". Any woman who is or has been - well, voluptuous - will know the type of shop I mean: one which you avoid if you are woman-sized, for they look you up and down as if you've no right to exist and then pretend they are sorry they only stock clothes for stick insects. However, needs must when you have lost a lot of weight, and the 70% discount encouraged and emboldened me. A girl can never have too many black trouser suits, in my opinion, so out I came with a beautifully cut one plus a couple of tops. [The "little mice" in the alterations shop have made a good job of all my jackets but I am still awaiting the trousers to go with them!]

Time for a lemon tea in the pleasant bar adjoining the newagent's by now and along with it came more treats. [I don't ask for them, honestly!] You will notice the sfinci [a traditional type of doughnut] and ribbons on the magazine cover; that reminded me we are coming up to Carnevale and in the food shops I saw that the chiacchiere [literally "gossips"] biscuits are in. They get their name either because the sound they make when being fried resembles that of whispering women or because their shape reminds people of tongues.





Towards evening a friend gives me a lift to Modica Bassa where I buy dog treats and shoes and from her moving car I take this photo [no time to press "zoom"]. How could I not love a place where sights like this are a regular occurence?



I hope you've all had a good day too. Buona domenica!

Friday, January 30, 2009

FOODIE FRIDAY


I couldn't resist this pretty romanesco broccoli in the supermarket today. Isn't the colour alone sufficient to lift your spirits? - Very good for you, too.


Continuing my journey through the Cucchiaio d'Argento, last night I made this spezzatino di manzo [beef stew] and was very pleased with the result: Here, when you ask for spezzatino meat to be cut in chunks, you get bigger pieces than you would in Britain. They also believe in giving you meat with a bit of fat on it. I'm used to it now and take the advice of the knowledgeable butchers, because it always turns out fine. This particular stew was very easy to throw together - just onion, celery, carrot, a goodly slug of wine, peeled tomatoes or 2 or 3 tinned ones [here I must confess that I cheated and chucked in a large can of tomato polpa, which is different from concentrate / paste, as I was in a hurry and couldn't be bothered peeling fresh or straining tinned tomatoes] plus seasoning in it, apart from the meat.

My Cucchiaio d'Argento now looks more like a "Welshcakes"- owned book, by the way, as my notes are beginning to appear all over it!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A BIT MORE NOSTALGIA

"They don't write 'em like that any more!" Well, actually, they do, for there are so many beautiful, romantic songs around these days. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, "They don't perform 'em like that any more". That's how I feel when I listen to the tempo of this song, one of the first that I ever heard in Italian. Oh, yes, I still have my vinyl of this one, too, performed by velvet-voiced Emilio Pericoli. But for tonight, dearest readers, enjoy being serenaded by the great Claudio Villa:

Claudio Villa - Romantico amore

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

UNITED BY GRIEF

Today has been the fourth day of a general strike on the beautiful but troubled island of Lampedusa. For newer readers, Lampedusa is often the destination of would-be illegal immigrants from North Africa. Some manage to get as far as its shores unaided whilst many others are rescued from their inadequate boats or from the sea itself and are taken there. The island has a "welcome" centre built for 800 but currently said to be providing accommodation for 1,800 people. The residents of Lampedusa are fed up, as the situation affects their tourist trade and of course changes their lives in other ways not of their choosing.
Now the Italian Government wants to build a second centre on the island and claims that this centre will be used to identify and deport the clandestini more quickly. The inhabitants of Lampedusa believe this will only make matters worse and, at the end of their tether, they began a general strike on Sunday and are also staging protests, led by their Mayor. 600 detainees temporarily escaped from the original centre on Sunday and joined the protest, as they are unhappy about their treatment, especially given the overcrowding. Thus the interests of these two groups strangely coincided and the residents applauded the clandestini.
Over 36,000 clandestini have landed in Italy by sea in the past year, some 31,000 of these on Lampedusa. Wherever one's sympathies may lie, it is clear that such a small island cannot be expected to cope. The Italian Interior Minister has today reached agreement with the Tunisian government, which will take back its nationals who are at the moment on Lampedusa. However, it is going to take more than this to impress the Mayor.
Italy is by no means a heartless country and Sunday's protest ended with a ceremony to commemorate the clandestini who had drowned on their dangerous voyage and fishermen from the island who had also lost their lives at sea. The priest's words touched my own heart and expressed the feelings of many: "Siamo accomunati dallo stesso dolore che è universale e non ha colore" = "We are joined together by the same grief which is universal and has no colour."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I SECONDI

Here's a great scene from another favourite film of mine - Big Night [1996]. I can't tell you how many times, in Italy but especially in Sicily, I've felt exactly like the people at this table! You are replete and content; in fact, you could really do with a sleep, when suddenly a pièce de résistance dish arrives! You think you are dreaming - "Surely there can't be any more!" - but the aroma wakes you up and you find room. [I've also felt the way the cooks do!]

Big Night - I Secondi

Monday, January 26, 2009

WHAT IN SICILY? - 14


Pretty obviously used as a coat rack now, but what was it originally?

Answer in the comments tomorrow.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

IL POETA

On Burns Night I think it is appropriate to celebrate poets and poetry in general, so I am delighted to be able to bring you, with Professore Lonardo's kind permission, two more of his poems with my own translations. Both are from his collection, Le Stagioni del cuore.

IL POETA

Si dilata il sé
in un'intricata visione
di sogni sospesi:
il reale si scoglie
in mille rivoli
di un policromo prisma,
illuminato da un sole,
eternamente presente
tra i chiaroscuri della vita.

The Poet

He expounds the soul
in a tangled vision
of abandoned dreams:
reality melts
into the thousand streams
of a many-coloured prism
lit by a sun
which is always there
amidst the light and shade of life.

ORACOLO POETICO

Nel respiro degli Dei
ho ritrovato la poesia:
parole del cielo,
condite con la terra
degli uomini, alla ricerca
di un ponte per la vita.

Oracolo dei Numi,
custodi di metafisici misteri
donati all'eletta umanità,
quale benefica pioggia
ristoratrice delle menti,
confuse da meschini interessi.

Oracolo dell'Universo,
quale eco di arcane forze,
incalza gli uomini
a fissare se stessi
e scoprirsi infallibili
depositari di evidenti certezze.

Oracolo dei Poeti,
inascoltati vati
di un futuro già vissuto
nel misterioso inconscio.
suggerito dalle intriganti Muse,
pronte a scogliere
gordiani nodi dall'Olimpo.

POETIC ORACLE

In the breath of the gods
I found poetry again:
words from heaven
seasoned with the earth
of men, in search
of a bridge for this life.

Oracle of the Numina,
guardians of metaphysical secrets,
a gift to chosen humanity,
like providential rain
refreshing minds
perplexed with petty concerns.

Oracle of the Universe
like an echo of arcane powers,
urging man
to look at himself
and find himself the unerring
keeper of obvious truths.

Oracle of the Poets,
unheard prophets
of a future already lived through
in the unfathomable unconscious,
inspired by the scheming Muses,
ready to untie
the Gordian knots from Olympus.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

DAILY DOINGS - 18

A day that begins with a nice man bringing you these has got to be a good one:



Later I had a tea in my "new" bar . With it came this pretty plate of temptation, to which I immediately gave in [because chocolate biscuits are like chips - their calories absolutely cannot count when you are out!]



Later still, my new cookery experiment turned out well: this is maiale alle mele [pork with apples], again from the Cucchiaio d'Argento. The instructions tell you to strain the sauce [of red wine, brodo, mustard, cloves and seasonings] and to pass the diced apples through the sieve as well. I was half-way through doing the latter when I thought , "Why?" and stopped. What is wrong with serving a few pieces of caramelised apple with this? So I did.



Such a day requires only a song to make it perfect. Let's have a Welshwoman singing an Italian lyric. I think you'll all recognise the tune!

Katherine Jenkins - L'Amore sei tu

Friday, January 23, 2009

NOVELLA

In youth, she would have lingered, confided in the barman and probably allowed him to get her drunk. But the sophisticated older woman, looking every inch the confident European, calmly sipped her tea.

His mobile number was keyed in, yet pride and considerable experience in the art of being stood up prevented her from making the call. Incredible as it may seem to a younger generation, she had not given him her own mobile number. She had lived in this country long enough to know that its inhabitants were rarely punctual so after what she judged a reasonable 20 minutes she paid the bill and left.

“Fool, fool!” she chided herself on the way home: “It serves you right for agreeing to a blind date at your age.” Then the self-doubt kicked in: What if he had peeked through the café window [she had been the only customer at that time of day] and not liked what he had seen? “Stop it!” she told herself sternly. “You’re not that bad for your years, you know - unless, of course, he wants a young trophy, in which case it’s a different ball-game.” She quite forgot that she had been watching the street like a hawk whilst pretending to read her magazine.

And yet.. and yet… When they had had their one telephone conversation he had not seemed the kind of man who was looking for an airheaded bimbo. But then, he had not seemed the kind of man who would not turn up, either.

Originally, they had agreed to meet the day before. However, the afternoon had brought torrential rain and she had called him to postpone their “date”. As she had expected, he had offered to come and pick her up but she had declined, not because she felt that there was any danger – he was, after all, known to her friends – but because she had wanted to go to the hairdresser’s first and hadn’t liked to say so. She had thought she could hear the near-relief in his voice as they rearranged their encounter: it is a type of relief common among those whose lives are built around theatre, cinema, art gallery and café visits – all activities which can be satisfactorily enjoyed alone – a sort of self-protective mechanism that enables you to keep the familiar barrier around you, even when companionship is what you tell yourself you want.

Later, she deleted his landline message without listening to it. Thus are chances lost among the timid.

To be continued [maybe]....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SICILIAN BEANFEAST


I visited Gina yesterday and found her happily soaking dried broad [fava] beans. After draining them and removing the black parts, she was going to boil and cook them with tomatoes, celery and onion.

She told me that, in times gone by, the women would gather together around a brazier on winter evenings and remove the hard, black parts of the beans whilst telling each other family tales or stories from local legend. They didn’t bother to soak the beans first because they liked this way of keeping warm and passing the time.

Maccu, a thick soup of dried broad beans, is an ancient Sicilian dish and a special version is prepared for San Giuseppe [19th March]. People give thanks to the saint for delivering them from famine.

The broad bean [possibly the first vegetable known to man] was and is much loved all over Sicily but particularly in the Modica area which produced the tenderest ones on the island. Personally I am not keen on them [though don’t mind them as an ingredient ] but when I tasted some fresh, very tender raw ones with a slice of pecorino [a famous combination here] even I had to admit that this was a culinary marriage made in heaven.

Sadly, Gina says, young people do not have the pazienza to prepare the dried beans so she fears that both her dish and maccu will disappear within a generation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

EASIEST CHICKEN RECIPE EVER


I've adapted this from the Cucchiaio d'Argento and it is a great success. My version of pollo al limone adds oranges, simply because I think they work well with chicken: All you do is rub the outside of a whole chicken with half an orange, then half a lemon. Put some slices of orange and lemon in the chicken cavity with an unpeeled clove of garlic and a knob of unsalted butter. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil and another knob of butter in a roasting pan and add the chicken, breast-side up. Sprinkle with coarse seasalt and freshly ground black pepper and roast for 40 minutes in an oven heated to 180 C. After 40 minutes, baste the chicken with the juices in the pan and pour over the juice of a freshly squeezed orange and a freshly squeezed lemon. Cook for another 40 minutes. I added some orange and lemon slices for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Carve the chicken and serve the pan juices as a sauce.

No pre-browning, no mess, few ingredients, can be left alone for most of the cooking time and easy on the washing-up. What more could a cook want?

For those of you who have asked how I am getting on with the Cucchiaio d'Argento, I can honestly say that none of the recipes I have tried from it have failed yet!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

CINEMATIC PERFECTION

Moonstruck [1987] is, for me, the perfect film, for it has Italians, it has the moon, it has romance, it has comedy, it has Nicolas Cage being masterful and Olympia Dukakis being ironical and it has dogs!

I don't usually have much time for Cher, as the way she has had herself cut up in order to get a figure like a boy's is hardly a good role-model for women, but I have to admit that here she proves she can act and is wonderful.

Cage's line, "Now would you come upstairs - and get in my bed!" is beautifully delivered and the grandfather's line, "Someone tell a joke" is a masterpiece of comic timing.

If the film mocks Sicilians, it does so gently and certainly there are still mammas like Johnny's in Sicily - and sons like Johnny everywhere!

Here are my favourite scenes:

Moonstruck - Johnny in Sicily; Loretta meets Ronny.


Moonstruck - Ronny is masterful; Johnny answers a question.


Moonstruck - all is resolved.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"LA BELLEZZA PUÒ SALVARE IL MONDO"


“The world needs more poets”, said the reciter at a book presentation I attended last night, “for beauty can save the world.” The lovely poetry and musical interpretation of it that I heard at this event affirmed my belief that this is so.

I was particularly pleased to have been invited for two reasons: that the new poetry book was by Professore Antonio Lonardo, a Modican teacher and poet whose work I have come to love and the fact that the presentation took place at the ITC Archimede, the school that first welcomed me to Modica as a teacher in charge of an exchange and with which I feel I have a special bond. Professore Lonardo had taught there for 16 years so there was a very happy atmosphere and you could immediately sense the pride of both his former colleagues and newer members of the “Archimede family” in “their” poet.

In November 2005 I attended the presentation of Professore Lonardo’s first collection, Desiderio di Luce [Wishing for Light] and, with his permission, I now quote from this work the first two verses of his poem, Shalom, as it has resonances for the world situation today:

Shalom!
Shalom!
È il grido
dei popoli in ansia,
è la voce
della coscienza tremante,
è il desiderio
degli uomini liberi.

Shalom!
È il suono
lontano che cresce,
è il desiderio
inconscio di tutti,
è l’eco
diffusa del mondo.

Shalom!
Is the cry
of those who live in fear
is the voice
of trembling conscience
and the desire
of all free men.

Shalom!
Is the distant sound
which is growing louder
is the unconscious desire
of all of us
which echoes
throughout the world.

[My translation.]

The new collection is entitled Le Stagioni del Cuore [Seasons of the Heart] and I think the title tells you much about the subject matter. Professore Lonardo expresses in verse his love for poetry, family, people in general, life itself and God. He also explores the phenomenon of time.

My favourite poem from the collection is this one [again quoted with Professore Lonardo’s permission]:

Chiave
Per un attimo
ho perso la chiave
del mio cuore;
l’ho ritrovata
in fondo al tuo sguardo,
che ha spalancato
il mio intimo.

Key
For a moment
I lost the key
to my heart;
I found it again
in the depths of your eyes
which threw open
the door of my heart.

[My translation.]

After each reading of three or four poems, a pianist played a piece of evocative music chosen to enhance their effect on us all. There were cries of “bellissima!” and much applause each time. At the end of the reading Professore Lonardo, visibly touched by these interpretations and by the obvious affection for him in the room, thanked everyone and invited us, before partaking of a feast of dolci, to take a little ribbon-tied bigliettino; on each of these he had written an extract from one of the poems. Mine, appropriately, read:

Ho scoperto l’orizzonte
Dove spunta il sole;
è nei profondi occhi
di chi sorride alla vita.

I have discovered the horizon
where the sun rises;
it is in the depths of the eyes
of those who smile at life.

[From Singolari Esperienze – my translation.]

When I read or hear poetry and music like that I know I was right to come and live among Sicilians.

LOST IN TRANSLATION

Ever since Thursday's post about the difficulties of translation I have been trying to think of a famous example that would illustrate the point: this morning I was talking to someone about 1984 and I suddenly thought, "Eureka!" [And I wasn't even in the bath at the time.] The beginning of that novel reads,

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

"Thirteen" in this context sounds strange and even sinister to a mother-tongue English speaker as the 24-hour clock is not normally used in conversation or descriptions. How does the poor translator convey this to an Italian reader in whose language it is quite normal to say, "Ci vediamo alle tredici" ["See you at 13.00"]? The answer is that he / she cannot, without resorting to a footnote, so the sentence has been rendered as,

"Era una fresca limpida giornata d'aprile e gli orologi segnavano l'una."

L'una, just as acceptable as tredici, has no sinster overtones whatsoever.

So we see that, as with our song title Et Maintenant being kept for the Italian version, there are some problems you just can't resolve. We won't go into what "one o'clock" means to an Italian!

A VERY DIFFERENT SKY


The sky yesterday and today has been very different from the eerie yellow one that I showed you on Tuesday. For the moment we are sunny Sicily again!

Friday, January 16, 2009

SOME SICILIAN FAST FOOD






It's a while since I've shown you any of this and there are one or two items here which I haven't featured before.

There's always a good variety of freshly prepared fast food in the larger supermarkets from about 11 am onwards, including mouthwatering pizze, arancini [rice balls or cones, both large and small] pollo allo spiedo [spit-roasted chicken] and various breads.

As I can never resist the aroma of arancini, today I came back with a container of mini ones, plus potato crochette, which I can't resist either, alette di pollo al forno [roast chicken wings] and a girella agli spinaci [spinach "whirly bread"]. Don't worry! I didn't eat it all this lunchtime and this sort of food reheats well.

Now here's an interesting linguistic detail about arancini: sometimes the word is spelt arancini [masculine plural] and sometimes arancine [feminine plural]. Even my friends here don't know why and some of them are mother-tongue teachers of Italian. Logic would lead you to suppose that the correct form is arancine, as the -ino/a suffix means "little" and the word is a diminutive form of arancia [orange] which is feminine. Anyway, by chance this week I came across an article which states that the feminine form is only used in Palermo and Agrigento, with the masculine form being used everywhere else in Sicily. I bet you've always wanted to know that, haven't you? [This linguist has, anyway!]

Thursday, January 15, 2009

ET MAINTENANT [PLUS A BIT OF A RANT]

When I was a kid proudly collecting 45 rpm records, as we called them, there seemed to be a Connie Francis song in the hit parade every week. On the "B side" of many of these vinyls [which, being me, I still have] was an Italian song. I would learn the words by heart and I often wonder if my interest in the language began right there.
This version of What Now My Love? is not one of the songs in my Connie Francis collection but I have chosen it because I like it and because it makes a point about translation: the Italian version keeps the original French title and opening line, because "E adesso" has the tonic stress in the wrong place, is too sibilant and just wouldn't sound right.
Indeed, the translations of some songs are not translations at all: they are just words that happen to fit the music in another language as a "close" translation would be impossible. Any translation is a "version" [with translations into the mother tongue going by that name academically] and should read as if it has not been translated. The eternal dilemma of the good translator [who should translate into, not from, his /her mother tongue] is "Have I been too 'free' here?" [ie., "Is the version I've come up with, which now reads like good English, too distant in shades of meaning from the original?"] Making these fine judgements takes ages and requires cross-referencing in bilingual and monolingual dictionaries, the use of thesauruses in both languages and, very often, specialised dictionaries [legal, medical, etc.] This is why automatic online translation services are rubbish and I go crazy if I see a student using them.
Now that I've had my rant I will take you back to the great Miss Concetta Franconero: this "version" is not too far removed from the French and I hope you enjoy it.


Connie Francis - Et Maintenant [1965]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WHAT THE SAVVY DOG IS WEARING




Hi, folks. Simi here!

I bet you’ve been wondering where I was! Well, I’ve been very busy trying to keep my mummy under control and for two days I’ve had to bark all the way through a hurricane! And mummy’s always on the computer so a dog can hardly get a paw in edgewise on the keyboard these days.

But I knew you’d all want to see my new toy, which I got for Christmas. It’s called Mr Bally-squeak. [My mummy says I mustn’t put those two words together the other way round. I can’t imagine why – it must be just one of those human things I can’t understand again.] I also got this rather slinky top for my birthday. I had to wait for it as mummy ordered it especially from my friend Mr Enzo’s shop. She says I’m a BIG girl now I’m 10 and that BIG girls who mean business wear black! [She must be right because when I stroll saucily down the road in it I stop that old poodle in his tracks.] Ever since the top arrived mummy’s been chasing me around the house trying to persuade me to pose in it. This morning I decided to humour her and I lay on the bed so that you could all see the pretty heart. Don’t I look a sassy girl? Mummy said it was like trying to photograph Princess Diana so then I posed with my Diana eyes. “That’s enough of that – I’m off!” I said when she’d taken that one. My new auntie, la zia Rosa, was cleaning the shower by then so I had to go and help by getting under it and jumping up at her. I like la zia Rosa because she calls me “amore” and tells mummy I am “troppo intelligente” [which is true, of course!]

Well, ciao for now, fans. I hope you get all the doggie-chews you can eat this year!

Love from

Simi xx woof!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

WELSHCAKES IN OZ



Update, 14.1.09: It's official - yesterday's wind was a hurricane.

No, I’m not planning a trip to the Antipodes; rather, when I woke up this morning, I thought I was Dorothy on the yellow-brick road as everything outside was bathed in a strange, yellow light that I had never seen before. [ It was actually yellower than the impression given by the photo, which was the only one I dared take as I was in imminent danger of being blown off the balcony at the time!] I rubbed my eyes, closed and reopened the bedroom window, looked again and there it still was – a yellow world.

I’ve seen many disturbing sky colours in Sicily and usually , when this happens, the girls at Raffaele the hairdresser’s helpfully tell me that we are about to have an earthquake. But I’d never seen anything like this, so I immediately decided to ring Linda, the most sensible person I know. “Don’t worry”, she counselled, before I’d even told her why I was calling: “It’s just the Scirocco or Ghibli wind picking up sand on the way. The Sicilians call it terra rossa." She went on to say that she and her family had had a dramatic night as one of their pine trees had fallen on a neighbour’s car. [No one was injured, thank goodness.] At 1 am the fire brigade had arrived to cut the rest of the tree down, which saddened everyone, and they told Linda that they had been felling trees all over Modica for the three previous hours.

Sicily has, in fact, had two days and nights of torrential rain and high winds and there has been a lot of damage all over the island, with streams overflowing, roads and level crossings becoming impassable because of fallen branches or roadsigns upon them and some roads having been turned into a mass of mud. Agricultural land near Nicosia is at risk of flooding and the exterior of the Casualty department at Agrigento’s hospital has been damaged.

According to the forecast, the winds will be with us until tomorrow afternoon, though they did die down a little after siesta today, so I managed to get to Raffaele’s and back in one piece and no one, by then, was talking of earthquakes!

Monday, January 12, 2009

WHAT IN SICILY? - 11



It was a bit difficult to know how best to photograph this one, so here are two views of it for you.

Answer tomorrow.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A TRIP TO CALTAGIRONE


It occurred to me the other day that it is many years since I have visited the "ceramics town" of Caltagirone. It is about an hour and a half's drive from here in the Catania direction but not easy to get to by public transport. I mentioned it to Rosa, who immediately exclaimed, "But my husband will take you anywhere you want to go on a Sunday!" Thus it was arranged. [I paid him, of course, as he usually does casual work on Sundays. He said he much preferred the idea of an outing!]

So this morning the three of us set off in jovial mood, with the car stereo playing cheerful Greek music. It crossed my mind that here I was, a Welshwoman in Sicily, in a car with two Albanians with whom I speak Italian, listening to Greek lyrics. That, to me, is what Europe is all about - or should be.

How, you may ask, did Caltagirone become the ceramics capital of this side of Sicily? It seems that there was already a ceramics industry there at the time of the Arabic invasion and the Arabs taught the local craftsmen techniques such as glazing. The town's name derives from Arabic and means "Castle / Fortress of Vases / Genies".

Arriving at our destination at around 9.15 am., we hurried towards Caltagirone's main attraction, La Scala, a monumental stairway built in 1608. In 1954 local artists decorated the 142 steps with ceramic patterns which were used as far back as the tenth century. This stairway is illuminated for 25th July, the day of the town's patron saint, San Giacomo. On either side of the stairway you can see craftsmen at work in their shops, as you can all over Caltagirone. Here are Rosa and Fulvio [both have Italianised their first names] on the stairway:

And Rosa and me:

A detail from the steps:
There are ceramics everywhere in Caltagirone:


Many of the craftspeople make cribs and the figurines for these. I have always loved the way that, in Sicily, the onlookers at the Nativity are portrayed as ordinary, local people of a century or so ago. This must make it easier for children to identify with the story and also enable people to feel closer to their religion. There is a presepe [crib] museum in Caltagirone and here is a crib from one of the shops we visited:


I would have liked to have purchased the central figurine in this shop window but I couldn't afford it, nor would I have room for it. Fortunately for me, the shop was closed!

The same goes for these owls in their little dwellings. [Owls are a symbol of good luck in Italy.]


Here is a detail of the Cathedral façade

and the bell tower:

The municipal park has this lovely gazebo. In 1693 much of Caltagirone was destroyed by the famous earthquake and the town's reconstruction left many irregular corners. However, that is not the reason why this first picture is slightly wonky; I was taking it using one hand whilst holding on to Rosa for dear life with the other, as if I absentmindedly step back to focus a photo I still fall over! [I don't know how to "unwonkify" it.]



The park is really very pleasant with some attractive vistas:



And my purchases? Well, I like lemon squeezers

and I have long coveted one of these. [What is it for?]

For stacking your plastic beakers when you entertain your hordes of friends and relatives!


Here are the links to some shops we visited as you can view their wares on their sites better than in any photographs I could take:

Vincenzo Velardita
Ceramiche Conarce s.r.l.
Brillantino

I liked Caltagirone very much on my first trip there and I like it even more now.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

OUT AND ABOUT


It is so good to be able to get out and about independently again and, as today has been gloriously sunny, I ventured down to some of my old haunts in the via Sacro Cuore and found a new one, too: “Where’s the paper shop gone?” I asked myself in a panic the first time I was able to walk down there. It was a couple of days before I realised that it has been modernised, having become a bookshop as well and that the café, which at first glance I thought had replaced it, has merely been built in front of it, which is quite a good idea. I checked out the latter at aperitivo time for I always say that you can tell what a café is really like by whether they bring you a complimentary plate of tramezzini [little bites] at that hour and if they do, by the speed and generosity of the service. Those in the photograph came along immediately, were attractively arranged and the plate contained a good variety of tastes. This café is not somewhere to have a meal but could be a pleasant stopping -off place to have a coffee or g&t whilst playing my favourite game of "people-watching".

In the stationer’s the owner wanted to know all about my recent absence from Raffaele the hairdresser’s and the street in general and much empathy was expressed. Then , in the perfumery, the manageress asked how I was and added, “You know, when you came in looking so pale, leaning on your friend’s arm a couple of months ago I was really upset to see an independent, capable woman like you having to be supported like that.” [This was in October, just before I went into hospital and I was purchasing a few essentials to go in such as perfume – a girl has to keep trying whatever the circumstances!] I have, of course, visited the shop since my recovery but, due to the Christmas rush, this is the first time the lady has had a moment to chat. Isn’t it strange, how other people see you? - “Independent and capable” is certainly not how I see myself!

Just now, coming back with Simi, a voice behind me yelled “Signora!” and, turning in the darkness, I recognised the gentleman from the bookshop in our street : “Buona sera”, said I, thinking he only wanted to greet Simi and me, but then he came up to us proffering a tray of handmade biscuits, encouraging me to take not one, but two. “What’s the occasion?” I asked. “Oh, it’s my cousin’s birthday and I thought I’d celebrate it at work as well as later on when I see him.”

No outing is dull in Sicily!

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