Monday, April 30, 2012


The perfect Sunday afternoon pastry, as served at Modica's Bar Cicara.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


How it feels when a relationship begins to go wrong:

Gigi D'Alessio - Chiaro

Friday, April 27, 2012


So anxious are certain Italian politicians to rid themselves of what they regard as the "burden" of the South that one of their number, Mario Borghezio of the Lega Nord,  has suggested that Sicily and Campania be sold to the USA.  The idea that Sicily might become a US state dates back at least to the end of World War 11 and the era of Salvatore Giuliano so its resurgence in another unsettled period is hardly a surprise.  But let's take a light-hearted look at what the idea could mean in practice:

As far as I know, no one, this time round, has asked the Americans if they want to buy but their arrival might speed up transactions at the post office.  On second thoughts, the narrow street that is home to the Modica Sorda post office is far too narrow for all the indigenous cars whose drivers insist on entering it so I can't quite see Cadillacs managing the parking. Most of Modica's streets would have to be widened, in fact, and I think the Modicani would be accommodating about this, understanding as they do the necessity of driving wherever they want to go.

The only time when it is permitted not to drive is during the passeggiata, which takes place after work but before dinner on weekdays and any time after siesta until dinner time on Sundays.  This is when men and women parade in their finery along a set route and when you reach the end of the street or promenade you turn around and walk its whole length again.  It is also where boy meets girl, man courts woman, local gossip is exchanged and fashion trends are set.  It is essential, ladies, to throw on as much bling as possible and the men will blend in once they get used to wearing trainers with suits.  [The trainers, by the way, must be by Gucci.]

But we are jumping ahead, for our happy band of American administrators will need to take a siesta after all that driving and competing for parking spaces, followed by lunch. When they wake up, it will not be time for dinner, as at home, but to head back to the office for a few hours.  Then, having fulfilled their passeggiata duties and survived until the earliest possible hour at which a Sicilian might consider dining - at around 8.30 pm - they may be relieved to know that Sicily does have its own fast food in the form of focacce and arancini.  [Modica even saw off a McDonald's a few years ago so it is better not to mention Big Macs here.]

Pizza, though, is definitely not fast food and should you decide to go out for one you will have to show pazienza while it is cooked in a traditional, stone oven.  It will occur to no one to offer you an aperitvo during this considerable wait so you will have to do what the locals do and order a plate of chips to fill both the time and your stomach.  You are expected to consume one whole pizza each, not between you but don't worry because when it comes it will be so delicious that you will have no difficulty.

Afterwards you will take another passeggiata as you move on to a bar known for its pastries and you might even get to bed at around 1 am or later on Saturdays.  Oh yes, the pace of life might be slower but believe me, you will need all your energy!

Talking of the pace of life, the pace of Italian bureaucracy, as everybody knows, is even slower. No sale has been agreed and I think that, in Sicily, we 'll be happily staying exactly as we are.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


We've had the cyclone, or "hurricane" as Sicilians termed it and now we have anticyclone "Hannibal" from North Africa, which has brought with it a temperature of 30°C in Sicily today.  

Naturally, one of Mr Fargione's amarena and pineapple ice creams was in order, served with a sublime dark chocolate wafer:

Don't worry if you're in Northern Europe - "Hannibal" is coming your way, too, it seems.  The Germans named it "Ignaz" but, "We saw it first and it's called Hannibal", an Italian meteorologist proudly told La Sicilia Online.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "The Edge of your World".

When we are children, the edge of the world is represented by the limits of the world we know - the comforting scent of a mother,  the bars of a play pen or cot,  a garden wall, familiar rooms - and  perhaps this is why so many of us scream at our first children's party at another house or on our first day of school. 

For most of us, there is always a loving adult policing our surroundings when we move from that edge

and if we feel we are alone, even for a moment, we become pretty miserable:

However, I think I wanted to test the waters from an early age

and go off on the big ships

but always come back:

As a member of Churchill's "island race" it is not surprising that I am drawn to islands

Me, Elba-bound in 1977

and one day, more than half a century after the black and white photos above were taken, I flew to the biggest island in the Mediterranean and knew that I would not turn back:

In Donnalucata, Sicily - 2005

Sampieri, Sicily

I've written before about how, even then, leaving the comfort zone of my house in Britain was scary but tonight I want to think about one of the things you lose when, having stepped off the edge of your world, you arrive in your new one:  you lose what Alexander McCall Smith calls your "anchor-points".  He puts it thus:

"Just as Freddie de la Hay was missing him, so too was he experiencing that sense of incompleteness when a familiar presence is suddenly no longer there. Such feelings can be profound and long-lived..... or they may be less substantial, more transient, as when a shop or coffee bar we like closes down, or a favourite office colleague is transferred. These may seem little things, but they constitute the anchor-points of our lives and are often more important than we imagine."
- Alexander McCall Smith:  The Dog Who Came in from the Cold

If this is the case even in a city where you have lived all your life, imagine how important such "anchors" are when you change not only your city but your country.  You find new ones, as I wrote here, and you have to cultivate them but when you in turn lose one of these, you can feel quite disorientated for a while. Perhaps that was why I was so upset when Mr T shut up shop.  Yet this regret, for the loss of landmarks in an unfamiliar place, also means that you have integrated, so can be celebrated in a way. These days, though I still miss Mr T, I have become used to the new folk in what used to be his shop, and the butcher who occupies part of it has turned out to be a treasure - an "anchor", in fact.

So for me, stepping beyond the edge of what was my world has meant finding new anchors and it is still an adventure!

I couldn't find a suitable picture of an anchor, so here is my paternal grandfather in naval uniform, complete with anchor on his cap:

Below is the full list of bloggers participating in this week's theme:
Note: This is my last "Let's Blog Off" post as the project has now been wound up. I have enjoyed participating and would like to express particular thanks to Paul for inviting me to do so and for his unfailing support and courtesy. I've made some new friends along the way and I hope we can keep in touch. The "Let's Blog Off" archive can be viewed here.

Monday, April 23, 2012


During my study of Sicilian proverbs, I have become very interested in the ones that have near equivalents in English or French, and how they differ slightly to fit the particular culture.  One such proverb is,

"Si çiùri 'na porta e si ràpi 'm purticàtu - A door closes and a gate opens."

I understand that a similar proverb is not in the Bible but may be originally Jewish.  It became known in Britain mostly through the Julie Andrews film, The Sound of Music, where it is rendered,

"When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window".

Window at Castello di Donnafugata, Ragusa, Sicily

I have some troubles at the moment and a door has closed for me, so I would like to say to God,

"Hey, I know you're very busy and I am trying to exercise my Sicilian pazienza,  but please, if you are going to open a gate for me, could you make it kind of soon?"

Entrance to the Nelson Castle, Maniace, Sicily

Saturday, April 21, 2012


One of my favourite songs by a singer who gets easier on the eye as he gets older:

Eros Ramazzotti - Una storia importante


There are times when we would all like to insult someone but usually it's better if we don't.  There's nothing to stop us thinking about the insult, though, so here are a few Sicilian sayings for those times when, to quote a British proverb, "There's nought so queer as folk".  For fun, why not see if you can match the sayings 1 - 6 with their meanings a - f ?  You'll find the answers at the end of the post.

1.  A chiddu ci l'agghiu supra ô stomaco!

2.  Chiddu faĉia càlari 'u latti sulu a sintillu! [This is said of a boring person.]

3.  Beddu spicciu ri miènnula amara!

4.  Siri còmu l'uòvu: ciù assài còci cciù ddùru addivènta.

5.  Siri farsu comu 'n sordu catanisi

6.  Chi caristi ra naca?

a.  That one makes the milk dry up as soon as you hear him! [This is said of a boring person.]

b.  Have you fallen out of your arse? [Meaning: "Have you gone completely mad?"]

c.  I've got him on top of my stomach! [This is said of someone you really can't stand.]

d.  To be like an egg: the more it's cooked, the harder it gets [said of someone who gets stupider and stupider.]

e.  You're like a sliver of bitter almond!  [This is said of a real rotter.]

f.  To be as false as a banknote from Catania [with apologies to any Catanesi reading this!]

On the whole, perhaps we should remember:

" 'A lincua nunn'havi l'uòssu e rùmpu l'uòssa" - "The tongue has no bones but can break bones".

For quiz answers, please highlight the space below:
1c, 2a, 3e, 4d, 5f, 6b.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


When I first arrived here, only one or two supermarkets issued loyalty cards but in the past few months Italy has gone loyalty-card-mad:

I have had some nice "gifts" using my supermarket points - sets of plates and saucepans, a cake knife that plays "Jingle Bells", a quilt, even a vacuum cleaner - but I can't keep up with all the new cards. I'm going to have to buy a bigger purse, not to keep my ever-dwindling cash in, but to find room for the cards - unless I take to keeping some up my sleeve!

Update:  One of the comments has prompted me to point out that "purse", in British English, is a wallet [for women] or small coin purse, not a handbag.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


After our morning in San Biagio Platini on Sunday, it was onwards to Agrigento for a guided walk around the old town, culminating in a visit to the Church of Santo Spirito.  This church is not normally open to the public, as its convent is home to a semi-closed order of Cistercian nuns, but our guide had arranged for it to be opened for us.

The Church was built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries but those lucky enough to enter are surprised by a Baroque interior with sparkling white figures in stucco on three sides.  These are probably the work of the Palermitano sculptor Giacomo Serpotta [1656 - 1732].

Now to the cloister:

And my ambition? Ever since I first visited Sicily I'd wanted to be able to buy dolci made by nuns and exchange my money for them through a grille. On Sunday I finally did this at Santo Spirito.  Well, it wasn't really a grille - more of a hatch - and a lay assistant was taking the money.  It was nice, however, to catch a fleeting glimpse of a face peeping from a wimple as the tray of almond biscuits was pushed towards me. I assure you they are delicious:

Nowhere is the tale of how Sicily's nuns traditionally made dolci better told than by Maria Grammatico to Mary Taylor Simeti in the book,  Bitter Almonds.

Many thanks to the person who uploaded this onto youtube:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


About 38 kilometres north of Agrigento, nestling in hills even higher than the Valle dei Templi [which is not, of course, a valley at all] lies the little town of San Biagio Platani and that is where I headed with two friends on Sunday.

First of all, some views of the surrounding countryside:

These red flowers were everywhere and I'm not sure what they are but I think they might be wild red cyclamens:

But what was going on in San Biagio Platani, a town of 3,547 people?  What was so important that this nocturnal blogger was willing to get up at 4.30 am to see it?

Well, in the second half of the eighteenth century, the people of San Biagio Platani, who at that time numbered less than 1,000, began to make arches and pictures to celebrate Easter:  It was a chance to do something creative and produce objects of beauty in lives which consisted mainly of toil and preparing the decorations allowed the inhabitants to forget their poverty for a little while each year.  They used the materials that nature provided - grain, bamboo, willow, lentils and other pulses, beans and dates - and the women made bread dough and pasta which could also be used.  Rosemary was used as a symbol of death and remembrance, palms symbolised Palm Sunday and bay symbolised knowledge.  The arches and pictures as a whole represented Christ's triumph over death.

The tradition has continued to the present day and two confraternities, the Madunnara [representing the Madonna] and the Signurara [representing Christ] begin preparing the decorations months ahead.  There is no bitter rivalry:  those involved just want to create the most beautiful objects they can and all is unveiled on Easter Saturday morning when the images of Mary and Christ "meet" in the middle of the town's main street.  The Madunnara colour is blue while the Signurara's is red and each confraternity decorates their own half of the main street.  Whilst the overall theme remains the triumph of the Resurrection, a different artistic style is used for the arches each year.  This year it is oriental.

Confraternity banners outside the church

Now, without further ado, I'm going to let you enjoy the sights that we saw on Sunday. Remember that everything you see is made from natural materials or bread dough:

There were 33 of these white bread symbols on Christ's and on Mary's main arches, 
to symbolise the age of Christ at the Crucifixion.

Symbols of palm, rosemary and bay

And finally, who could resist this lovingly crafted bread, decorated with sesame seeds, to take home?

If you are coming to Sicily, the bread arches and other decorations in San Biagio Platini are on show until 1st May 2012.


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