Sunday, July 31, 2011


Italian politicians, often deservedly, receive a bad press but today several other world leaders could do worse than follow the example of President Giorgio Napolitano who, besides having cut back on expenditure at the Quirinale and being thus in a position to pay €15 million back into the Italian Treasury, has also declined, from now until the end of his term,  the automatic index-linked rise in salary to which he is entitled.

The President would normally be on holiday on Stromboli at this time of year but has postponed his departure until at least Tuesday in order to be able to monitor the turbulent domestic and international political situation from Rome.

Let's hear it for the President! 

Saturday, July 30, 2011


As a curtain-raiser to Silly Week, which Man in a Shed is running again this year and which officially starts on Monday, this is what happened when the Welsh went to Rome:

Max Boyce - The Glory That Was Rome

Friday, July 29, 2011


A campaign to bring the Gioconda or Mona Lisa back to Italy was launched today in Florence with the first of a series of petitions. Other cities in Italy are also participating and it is hoped to bring the lady back to Florence for an exhibition in 2013, one hundred years after she was rescued following her "abduction" from the Louvre:

On 21st August 1911, it was discovered that the painting was missing from the room in the Louvre where it had been on display for five years.  Both the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso came under suspicion but in 1913 Vincenzo Peruggia, a Varese man who had emigrated to France and who was a Louvre employee,  tried to sell the painting to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  It turned out that he had smuggled the painting out of the Louvre under his coat and had been hiding it for two years.  His impatience was his downfall.

Peruggia apparently believed that the painting should be returned to Italy but this may not have been his only motive!  The Italians, at least, thought he was a bit of a hero and he only served a short prison sentence. Later he returned to France and opened a paint store.

After the painting had been exhibited all over Italy it was returned to the Louvre but now campaigners, supported by the Province of Florence, believe it should be displayed for a while in the city where Leonardo da Vinci trained as a painter. Councillors are considering opening a Leonardo museum in the former Convent of Sant'Orsola, where the painter's muse, Lisa Gherardini, may be buried. She is always known in Italy as La Gioconda and in France as La Joconde because her husband was Francesco del Giocondo - a fortunate surname because giocare in Italian means "to play" and Italians have enjoyed the pun on the "playing smile" for 500 years.

The organisers of the petition hope to collect 100,000 signatures in six months and then present the petition to the French and Italian Ministers of Culture and to the Louvre Museum.  The Italian media has not yet reported French reactions to the idea but I can tell you that the initial response from the Louvre is "Non"!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


The recession has hit Italy hard and, according to a survey carried out for Fedalberghi, only 55% of the country's citizens will be going on holiday this year.  Of these, 13% will be visiting Sicily, 10.2% will be making their way to Sardinia, 9.7% to Calabria and 9.5% to Puglia. The  Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany are fifth, sixth and seventh on the list respectively. It seems that 70% of Italians prefer seaside holidays and most of them like to take these in the South.

Just 21% of Italians will be travelling abroad for holidays in 2011 and most said that they will be taking a shorter break away from home than usual.

Italy was the third or fifth most visited country in Europe in 2010, depending on which set of statistics you believe, but there is no doubt that the top European country for tourism remains France.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Sicily Scene loves an animal story with a happy ending so tonight I am delighted to bring you the tale of Teresa, the uncowardly Sicilian cow:

Teresa made national headlines in May when she escaped from a farm in Castiglione di Sicilia [Etna].  So desperate was she to get away that she followed the River Agrò until she reached the sea at Messina.  There, she threw herself into the Strait and started to swim towards Calabria.  She was rescued a mile out from the Sicilian coast by the joint efforts of the Italian Coast Guard and Fire Service.

Once rescued, Teresa's troubles were not over, however:  there had been cases of brucellosis on her farm and she seemed destined for the slaughterhouse.  But Teresa's doleful eyes had softened hearts all over Italy and, after a campaign by animal rights groups, facebook supporters and others who admired her courage, today it was announced that she is to go to a petting zoo in Messina Province where I am sure she will make many new friends.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Ever since I made the chicken salad with grilled peaches, I've been wanting to use their cousins, nectarines, in a salad and this is what I came up with today:

First, prepare your rice.  I've got about 500 gr salad rice in here but obviously you can adjust the quantity.  Cook the rice according to the instructions on the pack, drain it in a sieve and run cold water over it quickly.  Put it in a large serving bowl and, as soon as it is cool enough, put it in the fridge for at least a couple of hours.

Next, prepare a cucumber in the time-honoured Jennifer Paterson way:  peel and deseed it, then chop it finely and leave in a dish with a little fine seasalt sprinkled over it for about an hour, preferably in the fridge.  

Now slice 4 nectarines - no need to peel them - and grill them in a little oil on a griddle pan.  If they are very juicy, you won't get many griddle marks but you will get enough to make things look smart.  Be sure to stand well back to avoid getting splashed.  Lift the slices out with a fish slice and let them drain on kitchen paper.  Put these in the fridge when cool enough, too.

I decided I wanted to add some mushrooms and you can either toss some sliced ones in a pan with a little olive oil with oregano or use antipasto ones as I did today.  You also need to finely chop a red pepper and a celery stalk or two.  Sicilian celery has very slender stalks but you don't need much of it!

Chop 6 - 8 black olives, too.

When you are ready to assemble the salad, make a dressing from 6 tablesp olive oil, 1 tablesp balsamic vinegar, 1 tablesp your favourite honey [as a homage to the nectarines] plus seasalt and freshly ground black pepper.  Drain and rinse the cucumber, dry the pieces on kitchen paper and add them to the rice along with all the other vegetables and the nectarines.  Stir well, then pour over the dressing and mix well.  Scatter over a few basil leaves if you like.

This doesn't really need any accompaniment but, influenced by a television advert, I put some salame slices on some of those very thin slices of Galbanino cheese.  My touch was to tie the "parcels" with blanched chives.  Yes, some of the cheese cracked a little and I couldn't do perfect bows but that's life!  

Monday, July 25, 2011


That Summer in Sicily: A Love StoryThat Summer in Sicily: A Love Story by Marlena De Blasi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I wrote about Ragusa's Castle of Donnafugata for Italy Magazine, several readers contacted me to say that it was the setting of this book. Sadly, that is not so but I am grateful to them for pointing the book out to me. As Marlena De Blasi states in an introductory note, Donnafugata is the name of several real and fictional properties in Sicily, most famously the one near Palermo in Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard. However, De Blasi's tale is none the less fascinating for that:

In 1995, De Blasi travelled to the island with her Venetian husband to complete a journalistic assignment. For various reasons this work project did not come to fruition but one day, the couple stumble upon the Villa Donnafugata and there they meet the fascinating Tosca and the community of women over which she presides.

De Blasi's powers of description are superb and, although I live in Sicily, I felt transported to a world within my own world as she set the scene: I could almost smell the perfume of the gardens, feel the texture of the table linen and taste the feasts which the women prepare with ingredients that I have come to know so well. As a reader I often skip descriptive passages but here I did not want them to end.

As the couple become more and more drawn into their surroundings and the life of the Villa, Tosca decides to tell her story to the writer De Blasi and we are taken back to the Sicily of seventy years ago as the magnificent Tosca weaves the strands of her tale: poverty, riches, great love, crime, loss and a fateful journey to Palermo during which she finds both herself and her purpose in life.

But the story does not end here for there is a twist in the plot towards the end of the book which will have you weeping and jumping for joy at the same time.

I admit I couldn't put the book down and what else are summers for if not a little romantic indulgence? Is the story true? De Blasi says it is and the book is classified as a travel memoir. One thing I do know is that anything can happen in Sicily and, however much of it you believe, this is a jolly good yarn.

There is an interesting interview with Marlena De Blasi at the end of this edition and I would agree with much of what she says, but not with her assertion that "Sicily is not really Italy". Sicily is, if anything, an exaggeration of Italy and for me Barzini's words sum it up:

"Sicily is the schoolroom model of Italy for beginners, with every Italian quality and defect magnified, exasperated, and brightly coloured... Everywhere in Italy life is more or less slowed down by the exuberant intelligence of its inhabitants: in Sicily it is practically paralysed by it."

My guess is that Marlena De Blasi would agree with the second, but not the first, sentence of this quotation.

The Leopard

View all my reviews

My friend Patricia in California has also reviewed a Marlena De Blasi book recently.  Do take a look as I want to read this one too!

Sunday, July 24, 2011


One of these is a flavour I'd never tried before!

Answer in the comments tomorrow.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


This is how I feel about my tomato squashing machine, soon to come out of hibernation for sauce-making:

Le Petit Théâtre de Jean Renoir -  La Cireuse Électrique

Thursday, July 21, 2011


It was windy down at the sea this morning - the type of weather that Sicilians describe as "like winter" but which is still positively Saharan to me.  But then, I am British so come from a proud line of ancestors for whom sand in their sandwiches and at least a shower or four of rain a day are the stuff of which seaside holidays are made.  Once at the sea, I don't give up, come hell or, literally, high water!

Penne all'arrabbiata and a gelato rounded off the adventure:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Tonight I bring you the 2011 version of the summer dish that started out as a chicken and artichoke salad, then became in turn a chicken and grilled courgettes salad, and a chicken with fresh and grilled vegetables salad.  

This time I've gone back to marinating the chicken escalopes in balsamic vinegar before griddling them and I have added the contents of a jar of grilled yellow peppers, a jar of artichoke hearts and a jar of chiodini mushrooms.   Oh, I almost forgot - I added some salad leaves too!  As usual, I made up a dressing from 3 - 4 tablesp olive oil, 1 tablesp balsamic vinegar, 1 tablesp Sicilian orange blossom honey, dried oregano, seasalt and black pepper:

Sunday, July 17, 2011


A double helping for you today:

I do not often go to Rosy Bar because although it is quite near where I live, it is not on my way to or from anywhere. However, I was proud to see its ice creams mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and I have my friend Patricia over in California to thank for tipping me off about the article.  Therefore, notwithstanding the fact that this bar has or had a grumpy cleaning lady who once, having just cleaned the loo, barred my way to it when I was desperate, I strolled along there this afternoon to sample their ice cream again in the interests of blog research.  And I must say, the fruit flavours taste as if the fruit has just been delivered and crushed - which it probably has.  What do you think I have got in here?

Talking of newspapers, a certain media tycoon could have saved himself a lot of trouble had he employed Mr Fargione of Modica's Bar Fargione:  Mr Fargione delights in scribbling wry comments in dialect on the stories in the bar's newspapers and sometimes composes alternative, dialect headlines too.  He'd have alerted you to something fishy going on behind some of those scoops straightaway, Rupert! Mr Fargione's wit also extends to his fiscal receipts, on which advice in dialect is printed along with the prices.  This week's have read:

"Tu, tu e tu, smammamu a' casa sho' ",  which, roughly translated, means, "You, you and you, go home".

Sometimes, when you enter his bar, Mr Fargione will tell you which fruits have been freshly delivered that morning and which ice cream recipe he has just made. Believe me, they are all mouth-wateringly good.  Which flavours do you think he has put in this creation?  Clue:  Nuts!

 Answers in the comments tomorrow.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Dear Sirs,

I write to inform you that I, too, have far too much stress in my life [much of it caused by yourselves] to be able to pass a “stress test” and that,  like the eight European banks that failed the stress tests on Friday, I do not have “at least 5% core tier 1 capital”.  I have no idea what this may be but am absolutely sure I do not have it as I do not have any capital at all.

Therefore I feel that I, too, would benefit from a meeting with the top political representatives of my two countries, namely Messrs Cameron and Berlusconi – on second thoughts, perhaps we had better leave Mr Berlusconi out of it – so that they can urgently advise me on how to raise 2.5 billion euros against the “adverse scenarios” that are sure to befall me in the near future.

I look forward to your help in arranging this and to your earliest, favourable reply.

Yours faithfully,

Patricia Micawber

The Young Ones - Letter to the Bank Manager

Friday, July 15, 2011


You know it's hot in Sicily when...

  1. British-style, the hot weather makes the front page of the local newspapers, though the headline is not "Cor, what a scorcher!" but "Afa!" [heatwave].
  2. There are power cuts throughout the morning as everybody hits their aircon buttons.
  3. There is absolute silence in the afternoons.
  4. You hear cicadas at noon.
  5. The older women carry fans.
  6. Everybody is buying anguria [watermelon] and....
  7. .... the greengrocer provides a parasol for his angurie.
  8. You walk into your hairdresser's and find him and his staff sprawled out on the various sofas, fast asleep!

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Today is a day to honour another wonderful country whose language was the first foreign one I learned and whose literature has so shaped my life.  I refer, of course, to la belle France and I have never forgotten her.

As many of you know, Charles Aznavour does it for me and if you are wondering what, the answer is "Everything"!  This is a song of his that is much on my mind as I grow older:

Charles Aznavour - Hier Encore

Ieri si

Ah, "Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait."  Never mind - I cheer myself up by remembering the sentiment on this little plate that I bought at the Pont du Gard 40 years ago:

"You are always 20 in some corner of your heart."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


"He who sings prays twice", said St Augustine.  The Archbishop of Messina, Calogero La Piana, however, does not seem to agree, for he has suspended Father Domenico Manuli from his duties as a priest for one month after the Padre sang on television during the second series of Italia's Got Talent.   Father Manuli admits having disobeyed the Archbishop to appear on the programme.

I couldn't find a video of Father Manuli singing on the show but I did find this one of him performing in concert at Saponara. The good Padre says he simply wants to bring the love of God to people via his voice - a worthy ambition, if you ask me. The people of his parish of Mandanici are organising a petition on his behalf.

Monday, July 11, 2011


"You don't want lonza [loin] for spezzatino", said my trusty butcher when I explained that this was the cut specified in the recipe.  "It's too lean",  he continued, so I told him I would take the cut that he advised.   And I'm jolly glad I did because the dish, of pork marinated in lemon juice with pink peppercorns and the unpeeled slices of another lemon, then cooked slowly in abundant olive oil with a red onion, a bunch of fresh herbs and no extra liquid save two ladlefuls of brodo, turned out to be meltingly tender and absolutely delicious. 

Those of you who are in Italy will find the recipe in the July edition of Vero Cucina.  You must use Sicilian lemons, of course!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Four flavours for you this week, two of which are obvious, two not so.  Clue:  one is connected to Christmas!

Answers in the comments tomorrow.

Saturday, July 09, 2011


For all who have suffered in love and wondered why the other person cannot hear the cries of their heart.....

Alessandra Amoroso - Urlo e non mi senti

Friday, July 08, 2011


Greece, Ireland and Portugal have received them, Spain may be next, Italy waits in the wings and I could do with one but no one has made any offers! I refer, of course, to bailouts.

But just a moment - maybe Sicily has the answer to the eurozone's woes:  If counting out minute amounts of money in gigantic denominations will make you feel better, if the thought of handing over some of your hard-earned cash in bureau de change commission renders you misty-eyed with nostalgia, if you are a eurozone finance minister in need of cheering up or you are not Christine Lagarde, or if, like me, you have simply lost all grip on financial reality, the Sicilian town of Siculiana in Agrigento Province is the place for you!  There, from now until the 30th September, you can make your purchases using the good old lira!

Patty Pravo - Mille lire al mese


Some very unhappy passengers who disembarked from the Rome - Palermo express today may take Trenitalia to court for "illegal confinement of the person", reports La Sicilia Online.

When the train entered the ferry for the jourmey across the Strait of Messina, passengers in one carriage found that they could not open the doors.  They therefore had to remain shut in the carriage for the entire crossing:  it was dark, the air conditioning had stopped working, there was no signal for them to make mobile phone calls and the temperature had reached 40 C.

The doors connecting the affected carriage to others in the train had also somehow self-locked and a doctor travelling in it pointed out that, earlier in the trip, he had had to go to another carriage to help a passenger who had had a heart attack. What, he asked, would have happened if the doors had been blocked then?

I'll bet those passengers needed their iced tea with granita upon arrival in Palermo!

Thursday, July 07, 2011


A glass of iced tea with a goodly dollop of lemon granita in it:

The last of the spring lemon crop.  These are so big and round that they could almost be mistaken for grapefruit - until you are close enough to enjoy their scent, that is:

And my favourite fruit of all, the tabacchiere ["snuff box-shaped"] peaches from Etna:

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


I don't have many photos of Mario, my first Italian boyfriend from 1969.  Several of them were spoiled, you see, by the developers and, for those of you too young to remember the pre-digital era, I'll explain:  we used to take our photo film to the chemist's to be developed and not often, but sometimes, the chemist would make a mistake and ruin some or all of the exposures.  Then you'd get an apology and a free, new roll of film but of course, they couldn't give you the occasion back.

The other day, however, I found a picture of Mario and me standing together as we bade a tearful farewell at Malpensa Airport [Milan] and I decided to see what I could do with the photo editor.  It is a strange thing indeed to see someone's features reappear before your eyes after 42 years and of course, they brought back with them memories of my days with this Romeo from Bergamo.

With Mario I ate my first watermelon, a fruit unheard of in Britain then, and it was so cool and refreshing that I thought I was in heaven.  When it was time for me to return home, I naively asked him if I could get a small one to show my Dad and he roared with laughter at my stupidity.  

But now, caro Mario, my pazienza is rewarded for this year Sicily brings us the mini-anguria!

"Everything comes to those who wait."

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


Giorgio, last summer's gecko

Yes, another summer and another gecko!  Giacomo, who I think must be the grandson of Giorgio, has taken up residence indoors and he is driving both Simi and me crazy!  He seems to be living behind the bathroom door - at least, that is where Simi lies in wait for him - but he eludes the camera and us.

Until a year ago Giorgio and one or two of his ancestors lived quietly in the gas metre cupboard on the balcony when they were not prancing and dancing among the plants but last summer Giorgio decided to come out - or in, to be accurate.  I can only assume that we have gay geckos or that they are all as disgusted as we are by Italian gas prices!

Of all the apartments in all the towns in all the world, he leapt into mine and of all the geckos in all the world I had to get one with learning difficulties;   for Giacomo, like his grandad before him, is deaf to my pleas for him to go and complete his gecko education among the geraniums.  If any of you have any tips on cajoling geckos, I'd be glad to receive them!

Monday, July 04, 2011


Thursday and Friday were external oral examination days at the English International School and I am happy to say that all our candidates got through.  One of my adult students was so pleased with his result that he took me out on Saturday evening to celebrate and this is what we ate:

Here is the restaurant's idea of a "small" plate of antipasti for one person:

Then my student had "007" pizza.  Neither of us had any idea why it was given this name - it contained peas, eggs, frankfurter sausage, ham, mushrooms and, of course, mozzarella cheese:

I went for an aubergine pizza and very good it was, too.  The crust was sinfully crispy!

And for dessert there was almond semifreddo:

A meal worthy of any celebration!

Saturday, July 02, 2011


Today is the 71st anniversary of the sinking of the Arandora Star, a shameful episode in British history for which no British government has ever apologised.  It is, therefore, an appropriate day on which to remember my friend, Margo Giovannone, who was instrumental in the successful fund-raising campaign for a memorial to Welsh-Italian victims of the tragedy.

Campaigns formed an important part of Margo's life and I was often amazed at the speed at which, well into her sixties, she could march on demonstrations!   I'm sure she has a picket organised on St Peter's Gate by now.  Her political hero was Tony Benn and she even named her beloved cat, Wedgie, after him.  Margo lived according to her socialist and multi-cultural principles and  was always true to her Rhondda Valley roots:

Dyfnant Male Voice Choir - There's a Valley Called the Rhondda

Nowhere were her ideals on multi-culturalism more evident than in her classroom and she was the best ESOL teacher I have ever known.  Margo's classroom  was a refuge where difference was celebrated and many now integrated Cardiffians owe their English language skills to her.  In her classroom there was always laughter but this tiny woman was also capable of defending her charges like a lioness protecting her cubs.

Her interest in politics, contact with young people, travel and her tireless search for her Arpino ancestors kept Margo young at heart so this is for you, my friend:

Frank Sinatra - Young at Heart

A few years ago, not long before I moved to Italy, I was unhappy over a man and it was Margo who picked up the pieces and took me along to line dancing classes which, to my surprise, I enjoyed immensely.  This was one of her favourites:

Desert Rose Band - One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

Margo died on June 13th of breast cancer and I ask, in her name, how many wonderful, witty, life-enhancing women have to die of this disease before governments the world over divert even one tenth of the money they spend on killing people into cancer research?

My special Welsh-Italian friend also loved this so "Ciao, bella" and be sure to sing it on that picket line!

Rita Pavone - Bella ciao

For Margo Giovannone, please remember the Arandora Star and cancer research today.


View My Stats