I was delighted, a few days ago, when my new British-Modican friend Emma called and invited me to "the Royal Wedding - with bacon sarnies", for what Brit - even a diehard Republican like me - could resist the lure of all that pageantry, a big television screen, wonderful company and bacon sarnies? So it was that a group of about fifteen of us gathered at Emma's house in the Sicilian countryside this morning.
It was easy to pick out the house, although I'd never been there before:
And once inside the gate, there was no mistaking the nature of the occasion.
Emma is an artist and furniture restorer, so indoors there were details like this vintage bunting:
No sooner were we all seated than the bacon sarnies arrived - with "proper" bacon!
And then, during the interval between the arrival of the bridal party at Buckingham Palace and their balcony appearance, lunch was served:
The main course was Emma's delicious Coronation Chicken.
Our friend, artist Marjorie, had made the superb wedding cake, there was also a Victoria sandwich and you can just see my strawberry tiramisùagain behind the champagne on the right. I'll let you have another look at the wedding cake
and the glorious Victoria sandwich:
If these two were the stars of the day for some
for me the top of the bill was Emma's lovely dog, Malaki
who was obviously feeling patriotic too:
Thanks for a lovely day, Emma!
If you are visiting Modica, do stop by Emma's shop. There you will find the lady herself, plus many objets d'art and other beautiful items.
With the above proverb in mind, this is my strawberry tiramisù, in British colours [well, almost] for a Royal Wedding party here in Modica tomorrow morning. I toyed with the idea of forming the silver balls into an ER but then remembered what Rita Levi-Montalcini said about knowing your limitations!
Well, now, this is very strange: according to an article in today's online Corriere di Ragusa, a tomb erected in Modica's cemetery at the end of the nineteenth or beginning of the twentieth century bears a symbol which is remarkably similar to the golden snitch in the Harry Potter novels. Local children, apparently, are sure that the carving is of the famous snitch.
The tomb, sadly, has not been cared for over several decades but what is very curious is that no name or date was ever inscribed upon it. The journalist informs us that a woman is buried there and that she had a surname which is common in these parts but he does not tell us what it was.
I am not an expert on Harry Potter myself and I cannot copy the picture of the tomb onto this blog for copyright reasons. However, you can see the original story here and I'd love to know what you think.
I am not, as most of you will know, a royalist but when my Italian friends and students ask if I will be watching this Friday's extravaganza, my reply is, "Yes - for the sheer, British precision of it."
When I explain further, my students do not believe me when I tell them that everything is timed not to the minute, but to the second and when I show them the timetable of events, they are even more incredulous.
"10.51??!! Mamma mia!" they shriek when they read that the bride will leave for the Abbey at that time. "But why not 10.50 or 10.55?"
"Because everything is worked out with military precision", I reply, hiding, I hope, a smug, British smile.
In a country where an event planned to start at, say, 9pm can begin as late as 9.45 pm [if you are lucky] this obsession with punctuality that the British seem to have does, at the very least, raise eyebrows and when everyone has finished being incredulous, they express a certain admiration.
Then I shrug my shoulders like a Sicilian and ask them to indulge my compatriots on this one day: we are not good at very much any more, but nobody does precision like us!
Meanwhile, I am ready with my Royal Wedding sick bag:
My Italian heroine, Rita Levi-Montalcini, is 102 years old today so what better time could there be to review this book about her? La Clessidra della Vita di Rita Levi- Montalcini is not a chronological biography: it is what it says it is, an "hourglass" view of this great lady's life and achievements through themes such as her closeness to her artist sister Paola Levi-Montalcini, her thoughts on science, women's rights, world peace and the internet and, most importantly, her rapport with and inspirational effect upon young people.
Born in Turin to a Sephardic Jewish family, Rita Levi-Montalcini decided early on that she wanted to go to medical school. She overcame her father's opposition, which was based on a traditional view of a woman's role, and graduated from the Turin Medical School in 1936 - just in time to be barred from her professional work by the Mussolini government.
Undaunted, she set up a laboratory in her home and in 1943 she fled, with her family, to Florence, where she set up a second laboratory. She returned to Turin in 1945 and was invited to work at the Washington University in St Louis, where she was made a full Professor in 1958. She returned to work in Rome in 1961. In 1986 she received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work with Stanley Cohen on nerve growth factor.
In 2009 she told a Times interviewer that she had never married because she had not wanted to be "dominated" in the way that her mother was and that she puts her longevity down to getting up at 5 am, working hard to keep her brain active and eating only one meal a day, at lunchtime.
In this book we learn that this modest lady attributes her success in scientific research to trusting her intuition and knowing her limits. Never afraid to speak her mind or to change it, in 1998 Rita Levi-Montalcini called upon the UN to liberalise drug use in order to free young people from what she calls the "drug war" . She now believes, though, that the use of soft drugs can lead to dependence on hard ones and has thus modified her view somewhat. She remains interested and concerned about the problems of the young, believing that much unhappiness arises from wrong choices made during adolescence.
She also believes that genocide, violence and war are not the result of man's natural aggression but of our blind obedience to those in power. She champions a new Charter of Human Rights for all states and in this the banning of the atomic bomb and further weapons of destruction of any kind, plus a commitment to improving the quality of life everywhere, rather than only in certain areas, would be fundamental.
The governments of the world would do well to listen to the words of Rita Levi-Montalcini. Meanwhile, if you read Italian and would like to know more about her, I recommend this book.
The Vice President of the Italian Senate, Vannino Chiti, has sent a congratulatory message to Rita Levi-Montalcini, thanking her for her commitment to science and to scientific and educational institutions and for being a valuable role-model and example for young people.
Yes, this blog shares a birthday with Queen Elizabeth 11 and is five years old today! In celebration, I am republishing the very first two posts I wrote on that April day when I had no real idea what I was doing:
From April 21st 2006:
When I was a little girl, in Bristol, England, in the 1950s, you could only get tangerines at Christmas. They were about the most exotic food you could buy and we didn't differentiate between tangerines, mandarins, satsumas or clementines. Any round, orange, citrus fruit that was too small to be an orange was a tangerine!
I can still see my father's delighted face as he came home on winter nights and produced a tangerine from each of the pockets of his long, dark blue overcoat. I thought the smell of the tangerine was heavenly and even now, it signifies Christmas for me. I didn't know where the fruit came from but I knew I wanted to go there!
Coincidentally I am writing this almost 33 years to the day since my father's death. How happy he would be to know that I have come to live in the land of the tangerine!
BUON COMPLEANNO, MA'AM!
I'm not even a royalist so I am surprised to find myself in the least affected by the Queen's birthday.
But one of the elements of culture shock, about which I have done a lot of research, is that an event in your country of origin which wouldn't even interest you, were you there, can suddenly take on importance for you as an ex-pat. As an Italian linguist and someone who knows and loves the culture of my adopted country, I didn't expect to suffer from this condition: but, as my research bears out, the more you do know and love the adopted country, paradoxically, the more you are likely to suffer to some degree; it's as if, at times, your very perceptiveness works against you.
So today I, the Republican par excellence, found myself feeling strange because it's Lizzie Windsor's birthday and very few people here know about it or give a damn! - and, indeed, why should they?
This morning I talked to the nice old gentleman who always greets dog Simone and me on our walks and for some reason I found myself telling him that the Queen - I did add "of England" as he looked a bit puzzled - is 80 today - and, whilst he didn't exactly shrug his shoulders, I could see that he was wondering why it should matter.
And why, indeed, should it matter to me, of all people? It was one of those times when you can feel a bit isolated, that's all, because if I had been in the UK on this day I would have been arguing about the occasion with everybody on the bus and being my iconoclastic self.
It's a very British thing, this "collective memory" that the Queen represents: it's hard to explain to others. It's just that, whether you are a monarchist or not, you do remember her being "there", at every important national event.
And for me, the monarch's ageing is a reminder of my own: I was 3 when she was crowned and I thought it was like the Presidency of the USA - I thought anybody could get to be the Queen [or the "Preen", as I called her, as I couldn't pronounce "Queen"] . Then my Dad explained that I would have to marry Charlie to be Queen, and that certainly didn't appeal! Then, as I grew up, the whole absurdity of the monarchy as an institution struck me.
Nowadays, whilst I am quite happy to wish Her Majesty a happy birthday, I cannot understand these "fans" of her gracious self who send / give her cards and flowers! [And I couldn't understand those who did the same for her mother, either.] Why don't they go to their nearest care-home and do something [ in Her Majesty's name, if they must!] for those who are really in need?!
Incidentally, every Italian I have spoken to today thinks that "gli Inglesi" are a little mad. [Being Welsh, I can happily dissociate myself from this, of course!]
Not a word about any of it in "Corriere della Sera" today - at least, not in the edition I read at lunchtime for, hypocrite that I am, I strolled along to my favourite bar to read the paper and drink to HM!
22.4.06: Incidentally, HM is referred to as "Queen Elizabeth", not "the Queen" on BBC World and "la regina Elisabetta" in the Italian press. I note that the event is covered in "Corriere" online today.
Well, now Lizzie Windsor, my blog and I are five years older and I think it's fair to say that we are all three still going strong! If I didn't know what I was doing on 21st April 2006 I had still less idea where it would all lead: My blog has disciplined me as a writer, enabled me to see my own country through Italian eyes, helped me settle in Italy and indirectly brought me paid work. But most importantly, it has brought me into contact with you, my dear readers and today I would like to thank you all for your pazienza, encouragement and friendship over these five years. Cincin!
This recipe from the Madonie mountains around Palermo turned out to be one of the best lamb dishes I've made here. It consists of layers of lamb, onions, garlic, dried porcini, peppers and herbs, all marinated in olive oil and lemon juice and then cooked slowly in the oven. It's another recipe from my "birthday cookbook":
There have been some red faces, as well as red fruit, in the town of Cassibile [Siracusa Province] where the good citizens are justly proud of their annual strawberry festival. Preparations for the 2011 festival, to be held over the two weekends 29th April - 1st May and 6th - 8th May, were going well until some publicity posters like the one below, using a woman's cleavage to extol the "beautiful, firm and fragrant" qualities of the fruit, appeared:
Complaints that the posters were degrading to women were immediately made to the town council, whose members agreed to withdraw the offending publicity, but something went wrong and not only did the posters continue to appear, but they appeared bearing the town's logo and sponsorship approval. When further complaints reached the Mayor he immediately withdrew both and the Province of Siracusa also had its logo removed.
The organisers of the festival say the "cleavage" poster was only meant to be an experiment, however, and that no offence to women was intended. A more innocent advertisement now adorns the festival website and preparations are once more in full swing. In the words of John Lennon, "Nothing to get hung about", then.
We didn't have an all-night festival here last night but we sure had a notte bianca, with thunder, rain and hailstones the size of rocks. This was the scene as I looked out of my bedroom window at 8 am:
I was delighted to receive this award from my new friend, The Addicted Baker. I'm supposed to tell you some things about me in accepting it but I'm going to pass on that and tell you a little about The Addicted Baker instead: She loves trying out new recipes, she has an interesting blog and she's still at high school. Oh, and she also loves ketchup! I think all this is great and I know you will, too, if you visit her blog.
As for passing the award on, I'd like to offer it to all my blogging friends, old and new.
During the week in which Mr Berlusconi suggested that Italy leave the EU because of that organisation's failure to help in the North African migration crisis and even the Holy See weighed into the argument by criticising the EU, there has been yet another tragedy at sea and Italians, in their reaction to it, have shown themselves at their best.
At around dawn on Wednesday a fishing boat which had sailed from Libya with about 250 people on board was being guided into Pantelleria harbour by the Italian Coast Guard. Suddenly the scafista or people trafficker who was steering the boat made an abrupt turn - presumably to avoid being taken in for questioning himself - and hit a rock. At that point many of the migrants on board panicked and jumped into the sea. Two women drowned and a third person is still missing. The Italian military battled for hours in rough seas and saved over 100 people, including six children.
Now one of the migrants, Kamil Fuamba, who is of Congolese origin, is in hospital on Pantelleria with his five children at his bedside. Mr Fuamba's wife was one of the women who drowned and, as she is to be buried on the island, he has asked to be allowed to remain there with his family so that they can all always be near her. The Mayor of Pantelleria, Alberto Di Marzo, has granted this request. He has already allocated the family a home and has promised to find Mr Fuamba a job as a house painter, the work he did in his own country. Meanwhile the kind inhabitants of Pantelleria have taken toys, clothes and other gifts to the children who are in hospital.
Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said yesterday that the migration emergency is over but the ensuing humanitarian crisis remains to be resolved.
The negotiating skills of flying squad officers and a Provincial Councillor were instrumental in averting a suicide on Tuesday when Bruno Nativo, a former school porter, threatened to throw himself off the balcony of the office of Ragusa Province Education Authority.
Mr Nativo, who had chained himself to the railings of the building for the previous six days, had been protesting because his work contract had not been renewed but when no one seemed to be listening, he made the threat to end his life. He had, in fact, been employed as a school porter in Vittoria for five years but was dismissed when it emerged that he had lied in a declaration stating that he had committed no criminal offences; it was found that he had committed several minor offences such as driving without a licence. Mr Nativo was later reinstated after appealing to an industrial tribunal but in August last year his annual contract was not renewed.
The last straw for him was to be told that he would no longer receive any unemployment benefit and, as he has a wife and three sons, two of whom are disabled, he decided to make his desperate protest. On Tuesday he said he wanted to speak to the Prefect of Ragusa Province and came down from the balcony after he was promised that the Prefect would be informed of the situation.
Those in public jobs should not, of course, lie in their declarations to their employers but how different is what Mr Nativo did to exaggerating a little on a CV, which we have surely all done at some time in our lives? Personally I think this man has suffered enough. What do you think?
I inaugurated this cookery book that I received for my birthday by making riso al forno alla siciliana. As I love both risotto and pasta al forno, this combination is my kind of recipe. The dish contains yellow peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, mozzarella and one of my favourite ingredients - capers:
Flags flew at half-mast in Sicily today for the migrants drowned when their boat capsized off Lampedusa in the early hours of Wednesday morning. In my last migration update, I reported that a tragedy had been waiting to happen and did, but now, as so many of us feared, a much larger one has occurred. It is impossible to be sure exactly how many poor, desperate souls lost their lives, just as it is impossible to be certain how many were travelling aboard the inadequate boat, which sailed from Libya: it may have been carrying 300 passengers, it may have been 350 and some reports put the figure at 400. They were from Bangladesh, Chad, the Ivory Coast, Somalia, Nigeria and Sudan and some of them had fled from their own countries to take refuge in Libya. Then, when violence erupted there, they became refugees again. UNHCR estimates that 213 people were drowned, the Armed Forces of Malta say 150 and the Italian media are reporting 250 deaths.
What we do know is that the boat got into trouble in appalling weather conditions in Maltese waters 32 miles off Lampedusa and that a distress call was received by the Maltese Coast Guard at around 1.15 am. As the Maltese apparently do not have the fast boats at the disposal of the Italian Coast Guard, they contacted the Italians, who sent two rescue boats to the scene immediately. The Italian military battled for several hours to save the migrants, but it seems that some panicked and, rushing en masse to one side of their boat, caused it to capsize. Some managed to swim towards the Italian boats but others could not do so or were dragged back by their frightened companions. There were 40 women and five children on board the migrant boat but only two of the women were among the 48 people saved by the Italian Coast Guard, a Maltese helicopter and an Italian fishing boat.
All the survivors are said to be in a stable condition tonight. The dead will be buried in Agrigento and Nichi Vendola, the Governor of Puglia who is tipped as a future Prime Minister, has asked President Napolitano to declare a day of national mourning for them.
Tonight La Siciliareports that only 72 migrants now remain on Lampedusa, the others having been evacuated to other parts of Italy or repatriated under an agreement reached by Mr Berlusconi and the Tunisian government when the Premier visited Tunis on Monday. The Tunisians are said to have agreed to some, but not "collective", repatriations in a deal under which the Italians will help to smash people-smuggling rings operating out of Tunisia. Prior to his departure for Tunis, Mr Berlusconi had said that a "human tsunami" was waiting to sail for Italy on the Tunisian coast.
The governors of other Italian regions, needless to say, are not happy about having to house the migrants and have, with some justification, pointed out that management structures to help them do so are not in place. Renata Polverini, the Governor of Lazio, refused permission for tents set aside for visitors to Rome for the May Beatification of Pope John Paul 11 to be used for the migrants, although she is reportedly working with humanitarian agencies to find a solution. Sergio Chiamparino, the Mayor of Turin, blocked plans for a tendopoli or "tent city" in his area because he had received no guarantees of help from Rome. Mr Chiamparino says he would welcome genuine refugees but not illegal immigrants, though he admits that he does not know how the authorities could decide who is a refugee and who is not.
There have been hunger strikes in some of the accommodation centres for migrants and escapes from several, notably the one in Manduria [Puglia]. There have also been clashes between migrants and police as the first migrants to be repatriated have been put onto coaches.
In another effort to resolve the problem, Italy has this week granted temporary permessi di soggiorno ["permission to stay"] documents to some of the migrants as this will enable them to travel to other Schengen states. This move has caused particular anger in France, a country which many of the migrants wish to reach, and relationships between the two governments over the past two days have been decidedly frosty. However, Corriere della Sera is reporting that an agreement has been reached tonight under which France and Italy will jointly patrol the Tunisian coast with a view to stopping any further departures of migrant boats.
Mr Berlusconi, whose plans to buy a villa on Lampedusa are on hold for the moment as the one he wanted is on common land and too near the airport, is to visit the island again tomorrow and is said to be looking for another home there.
The main shock of the 2009 Abruzzo earthquake struck the town of l'Aquila at 3.32 am on 6th April, also causing devastation in Castelnuovo, San Gregorio, Paganica, Poggio Picenze, Sant'Angelo, Tornimparte, Fossa, Onna and other towns. Today I am thinking of earthquake victims everywhere and would like to dedicate Gianna Nannini's stupendous homage to the women of Onna to all of them:
Gianna Nannini, Laura Pausini, Giorgia, Elisa e Fiorella Mannoia - Donna d'Onna
Gianna Nannini - Donna d'Onna
E chissà se ci sarà
Un letto così grande
Che copre la città D’amore
Sogno che si salverà
Tra le memorie
Sogno che non finirà
Scende la notte nel cuore
Donna non smetterai
Di far nascere il sole
Donna non mentirai
Nel nome della madre
Donna corri nel cielo
Tutto il coraggio è con te
Donna dentro ai tuoi occhi ritorna
Luce che ferma la terra
E per la vita resterà
Cade giù dal cielo
come pioggia quel respiro che
ha tremato assieme a te
Non aver paura guarda
la dolcezza cosa fa
Apri le tue braccia e poi sei madre
mentre Dio non guarda più.
Non aver paura guarda
la dolcezza cosa fa
Donna corri nel cielo che affonda
Tutto il dolore che c’è Bellezza
sogna Donna fuoco che sale nell’ombra
Nelle tue mani la guerra
È il figlio che raccoglierai
Cade giù dal cielo come
pioggia quel respiro
che ha tremato assieme a te
Non aver paura
senti la dolcezza che rumore fa
Donna canto nel cielo che affonda
Tutto il coraggio è con te
Donna dentro ai tuoi occhi
ritorna Luce che ferma la terra
E per la vita resterà Donna D’Onna Donna.
Woman of Onna
Now she is sleeping
and who knows if there will be
a bed big enough
to cover the city with love
A dream that will be saved
among the memories
A dream that will not end
Night is falling in the heart
Woman, you will not stop
making the sun rise
Woman, you will not lie
in the name of the mother
Woman, run in the sinking sky
All courage is with you
Woman, the light that stops the earth
returns in your eyes
and will stay for a lifetime
That breath that trembled with you
falls from the sky
Don't be afraid, look
at what gentleness can do
Open your arms and you are a mother
while God is looking away.
Woman, run in the sinking sky
All the pain that there is, beauty
Woman, dream of the fire that rises in shadow
War is the son
you will hold in your hands
That breath that trembled with you
I kind of invented this the other day and was pleasantly surprised by the result:
3 tablesp olive oil
6 bone-in, skinned chicken thighs
10 very small onions, peeled but left whole
1 leek, finely chopped
handful of baby carrots
c. 500 gr new potatoes
a few sage leaves
sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme
c. 10 ml red wine
seasalt & freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a wide pan. Add the leek and onions and cook, stirring for about 5 mins. Add the sage leaves and stir around a bit. Add the chicken and brown on all sides, then add the carrots and swirl them around. Chuck in the potatoes, seasoning, rosemary and thyme. Stir everything well, then add the wine. Simmer for about 50 mins.
We all want to be loved and politicians, judging by the recent pronouncements of even the most warlike of the breed, are no exception. Now it has been revealed that the best loved regional Governor in Italy is the Valle d'Aosta's Augusto Rollandin of the independent Union Valdôtaine Party. Leghista politician and former Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia, Governor of Veneto, is the country's second most loved Governor, Enrico Rossi of Tuscany and the PD was third and Sicily's Raffaele Lombardo of the MPA came in fifth.
Valle d'Aosta Coat of Arms
Of course, there are those who say that, as Governor of Italy's smallest and least populous region, signor Rollandin has less people to please than his colleagues but let us not be churlish, reader.