Some of you may recall that earlier this month I wrote about some despicable racist remarks that had been directed, by someone who should have known better, at Italy's Integration Minister Cécile Kyenge. To be fair to Italy, Senator Calderoli, who uttered the remarks, is now under investigation for defamation but that has not stopped others from insulting the Minister in a similar way.
In Cervia [Ravenna] on Friday - and I can hardly bring myself to write this - bananas were thrown at Cécile Kyenge at a Democratic Party festival. It is not known who the instigators were but politicians from both Left and Right were quick to express their disgust. Ms Kyenge responded to the incident with dignity, lamenting the waste of food at a time when many people are starving and she has been praised for this, most notably by Maria Carfagna, spokesperson for Mr Berlusconi's Pdl Party in the Lower House. Ms Kyenge also later said that the solidarity shown towards her has made her proud to be Italian.
However, more insults were to come: Yesterday, when Cécile Kyenge was about to enter the town council chamber in Cantù [Como] at the invitation of the Mayor, two Northern League councillors and a former councillor from their party walked out in protest at her presence.
Today Ms Kyenge has said that, although the insults and threats will not cause her to resign, she is beginning to fear for the safety of her children. Calling upon Northern League Federal Secretary Roberto Maroni to put a stop to the insults she is receiving from members of his party, she has said that, if the situation continues, she will withdraw from a scheduled debate with Luca Zaia, the Leghista Governor of Veneto [who has also condemned the insults] at the beginning of August. Ms Kyenge also said that politicians with differing views should talk to each other about ideas, not insult each other or indulge in discourteous behaviour of the type exhibited at Cantù.
Italy is bound by EU anti-discrimination directives and, despite its economic problems, remains the fourth largest economy in the organisation. This is hard to believe at times!
The Etna area, so proud, a few weeks ago, to have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site , has been given a definitive thumbs down by tourists because of a perceived lack of cleanliness there. A dearth of decent toilet facilities also featured high on the list of tourists' complaints. Something, it has been recognised, must be done but before the whole of Italy closes down for the "silly two weeks" around ferragosto [Assumption Day], I have some other suggestions [which some areas will need to heed more than others] for Italian tourist boards:
1. Yes, Italy, you need good toilet facilities at tourist spots. Tourists are not in a position to "wait till they get home" or even to their hotel and they want to be able to relieve themselves in clean surroundings without an interminable wait. Note to Sicily: If the tourists are women, they will also expect the toilet to have a seat!
2. Still on bathrooms, I'm really sorry if some tourists have taken things from or treated yours disrespectfully. The majority, however, have no intention of doing this and to be instructed how to behave in crappy, curt English scrawled on scruffy notices is hardly welcoming.
3. It is not normal, in most other countries, to see overflowing rubbish containers in the street but having them emptied here depends on your town councils paying their refuse collectors, which is quite a normal thing to do elsewhere. People even get paid every month, without question. So put some pressure on your councils!
4. Bus stops need to be clearly indicated as do the locations for buying tickets.
5. Tourists need easy transport links from large and small towns to nearby tourist attractions. They do not expect to have to take a taxi or to pay an exorbitant fare for one!
6. Not everybody is capable of climbing 500 steps to get into every church they see.
7. In the rest of the world, tourist offices exist to give tourists information. That is their function! They are also OPEN during the peak tourist season. Incidentally, the rest of the world does not close down for most of August.
8. If you're going to use English, get it checked by someone who is a native speaker or an English teacher and preferably both. What the hell is "next opening" supposed to mean, for instance? I have recently seen an advertisement in English for a house built in the year "800" [which to an English speaker means 800 AD] when what was meant was obviously the nineteenth century. OK, I'm British and therefore precise but even an Italian would have to admit that there is quite a difference here!
9. A "Bed and Breakfast" and a self-catering house or apartment are two completely different concepts - yes, they are! A British or American person does not expect to have to prepare his or her own breakfast in a "B&B".
10. We do still love you, Italy but a little consideration of tourists' needs would not go amiss!
500 gr sirloin [in Italy just tell your butcher you want to make tagliata]
3 nectarines [not soft ones]
20 datterini or cherry tomatoes
drained contents of a jar of grilled peppers, cut into smaller pieces if necessary
c. 500 gr rocket leaves, torn if they're large
12 mint leaves
4 tablesp olive oil
1 tablesp red wine vinegar
1 tablesp runny honey
pinch chilli flakes
seasalt and a twist or two of black pepper
Start preparing this a few hours before you want to serve it:
First, oil the steak lightly on both sides and place on a heated, ridged griddle pan. Cook for about 3 mins each side. Put the steak on a board and, when it has cooled a little, cut it diagonally into strips.
Let the griddle pan cool and wash it.
Next, slice the nectarines [not too thinly], drizzle the slices with olive oil [about 1 tablesp] and cook them on the griddle pan too, until stripes start to form on them. Lift the slices off the pan and leave to cool.
Halve the tomatoes.
When the steak and nectarines have cooled, put them in a large serving bowl with the tomatoes, rocket, peppers and mint leaves. Leave it all in the fridge for at least a couple of hours.
Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together with a fork in a small bowl and leave that in the fridge too.
When you are ready to serve, whisk the dressing again with a fork, pour it over the salad, toss it and there you are!
With the world's attention having been on babies, and one baby in particular, for the past few days, I did not post yesterday or on Monday. What do you think about when you think of babies? Cribs, cradles, rattles and baby buggies? The babies themselves and how irresistibly cute they are with all the smiles, gurgles and cuddles? Or perhaps you remember the more stressful moments, like those of teething.
You could be forgiven for imagining that there are rather a lot of teething babies in a district of Modica called "Dente". Or could it be that the area has more than its fair share of dentists? Perhaps the area is shaped like a tooth? The area where I live is called the "Sorda", after a deaf woman who had a café here, so maybe a somewhat toothy lady owned a similar establishment in Dente? No, none of these provide the reason for the district's name and I've always wondered about it. Now, thanks to a student of mine, I can tell you the etymology of "Dente":
It seems that, at the beginning of the last century, a wooden sculpture of a Byzantine Madonna was found in the area and afterwards that part of Modica was always called "Urenti", the Sicilian dialect pronunciation of "Oriente". But this is also the way in which "dente" ["tooth"] is pronounced in Sicilian dialect. Later, when the term was translated into standard Italian, a mistake was made and the district acquired the name "Dente" instead of "Oriente."
Some friends of mine who are watchmakers were opening a new store so I made them a "clock" Tipsy Cake. The sugar flowers that were supposed to be the hands melted a little in the heat but no one seemed to mind.
From yesterday's sorry tale of Italy at its worst to a story that shows the country at its best. I'm particularly happy to be able to tell you that this is happening in Sicily:
On Friday afternoon a 13-year-old Somali boy landed at Portopalo [Siracusa Province] from a migrant boat. He was alone, confused and very frightened. The right side of his face was disfigured, he had lost an eye and his jawbone had been crushed by a shell which had exploded in his face in an ambush in which his father was killed.
The boy was immediately airlifted to the Cannizzaro Hospital in Catania. There, he has won the hearts of all who work in the Paediatrics Department and staff have been buying him clothes and necessities with their own money. He is currently undergoing treatment with antibiotics but needs an initial operation to reconstruct the right side of his face. As he is a minor with no one to give permission for him to have surgery, a local court will shortly appoint a guardian. A scan has revealed that a shell splinter remains in the boy's cranium and doctors are evaluating the possiblities of removing this. He will also need reconstructive surgery on his jaw.
Cultural mediators have been brought in to help the boy communicate and he is said to be happily watching television and playing games with other young patients. Nothing is yet known of the boy's journey as those treating and helping him believe he is still too traumatised to be asked about it.
This poor boy must have suffered unimaginable horrors and I know you will all join me in wishing him well. The island of Sicily has once again demonstrated its capacity for kindness and for taking a stranger to its great heart.
I write tonight as a resident of a country in which a senator who has held ministerial office can make a disgraceful sexist and racist remark and, seemingly, get away with it. As a lover of Italy, this saddens me.
Most of you will by now have read or heard that Lega Nord Senator Roberto Calderoli, who served as Minister for Legislative Simplification [quite what he simplified I am not sure] in the last Berlusconi Cabinet, insulted the current Integration Minister, Cécile Kyenge, on Sunday by saying that when he saw photos of her he "couldn't help thinking of an orangutan". He also said that, although Cécile Kyenge had done well to become a minister, she should carry out this role in her own country [a reference to Miss Kyenge's Congolese origin].
To be fair, expressions of outrage quickly followed from all sides of the political spectrum and from all sectors of Italian society: The PD [Democratic Party] has called for Mr Calderoli's resignation, President Napolitano has expressed his indignation and Prime Minister Letta has spoken of the bad press that Italy is receiving all over the world because of this episode. Mr Letta has not called for Mr Calderoli's resignation but, in a strongly-worded statement, has urged Lega Nord Federal Secretary Roberto Maroni to "close this page quickly" - that is, to put an end to such racial slurs from members of his party. Meanwhile, petitions calling for Mr Calderoli's resignation are circulating on facebook and twitter. All this has caused Mr Calderoli to issue an apology, in which he said that the remark had been a joke, born out of his love for animals.
Miss Kyenge said today that it is not her place to call for Mr Calderoli's resignation but that she would ask people to reflect on the role of those who hold public office.
I would pose another question: disliking our politicians is one thing and disagreeing with them is a democratic right. However, being ashamed of them, time and time again, is quite another matter. What are you going to do about it, Italy?
It is not only because tomorrow is Bastille Day that my thoughts are with that other lovely country whose language and literature have meant so much to me. It looks as if celebrations there will be scaled down following yesterday's tragic train crash and my heart goes out to all affected.
Here, for all who have loved, is an old favourite of mine:
Some years ago I wrote about the consternation caused to a class of mine by the expression "as white as a sheet"; this was because they pronounced the word "shit" [which, of course, they all knew] as "sheet".
Well, now I appear to have a group of students who go on holiday on a "sheep"! Good luck to them, say I.
Seventy years ago, on the night of 9th - 10th July 1943, the Allied invasion of Sicily began, with the landings from the sea beginning at dawn on the 10th. Codenamed Operation Husky, the landings involved the 7th US Army under General Patton [the "Western Task Force"] and the 8th British Army under General Montgomery including the 1st Canadian Infantry Division [the "Eastern Task Force"]. It is worth noting that, with seven divisions, this was a bigger force than that which landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day . The beaches at Pachino were stormed by 25,000 Canadians and, whilst the Americans made rapid progress in the West, the British and Canadian soldiers met with fierce Italo-German resistance in the East. In the campaign, 562 Canadian soldiers lost their lives.
It is in memory of these soldiers in particular that commemoration ceremonies in Sicily have been organised by Canada Company during this month and volunteer marchers are retracing the route of the original march by the Canadian soldiers. There has already been a commemoration ceremony at Pachino and on Friday it will be Modica's turn. Among the visiting Canadians will be 92-year-old veteran Captain Sheridan ["Sherry"] Atkinson who more or less accepted the surrender of Modica. You can read the thoughts of another veteran, Charles Hunter, on the Canada Company website. On July 30th a morning roll call for the Canadian soldiers who lost their lives will be held at the Canadian War Cemetery at Agira.
In January I visited the Allied Landings Museum [Museo dello Sbarco] in Catania and tonight I would like to tell you that there is a smaller, but very lovingly curated, museum on this theme in Modica: The brainchild of Andrea Blefari and Antonino Montalto, the museum has a well annotated collection of uniforms, medals, unpublished and personal documents, arms, military equipment and photos. Andrea and Antonino's aim is not only to keep the memory of Operation Husky alive but, in their own words, "to teach the young about the price that is sometimes paid for freedom."
You can visit the Museo della Memoria in Modica by appointment and you will find details on their website.
Andrea and Antonino have now collected so many memorabilia of the campaign that they need more space for their museum and this Commonwealth citizen hopes that the Comune di Modica will soon provide it.
The museum photos speak for themselves but my favourite is the enormous WW2 field kitchen. The second portable kitchen that you will see is from WW1.
The island of Lampedusa, which has so often featured on this blog as the hoped-for "gateway to Europe" for desperate migrants, is to receive a very special visitor today. The visitor is none other than Pope Francis who, in a symbolic gesture, has chosen Lampedusa as the destination for his first trip outside Rome as Pope.
Pope Francis wants this to be, above all, a simple visit and he has dispensed with the usual protocol surrounding a papal visit: he will not be surrounded by ministers or bishops and he wants to meet migrants, Lampedusa residents and coastguard, military and civilians who have participated in rescue efforts or who have helped the migrants in other ways. The Pontiff will lay a wreath upon the water for those migrants who lost their lives trying to reach Lampedusa and the altar at which he will celebrate Mass is made out of wood from a migrant boat. He will be given a pastoral staff which is also made of wood from one of the boats.
I feel sure that a Pope who sees the poor as central to his mission and who told young people gathered in St Peter's Square today not to be afraid of joy can bring a message of hope to Lampedusa.
I've been wanting to make a savoury semifreddo for some time and, as it's the cherry season in Italy, invented this one a few days ago. It makes an interesting starter for a summer meal and a semifreddo is a lot less hassle to make than a sorbet!
First, peel and deseed a cucumber. Then chop it finely, sprinkle it with salt and leave it on a saucer for about 30 mins. Meanwhile, lightly oil a 2lb, long loaf tin with groundnut or sunflower oil. Then put 250 gr digestive biscuits in a clipped plastic bag and crush them to crumbs with a rolling pin. Stone and halve about 30 cherries. After 30 mins, rinse the cucumber very well in a sieve and pat the pieces dry with kitchen paper. Sprinkle about 1 tablesp of the biscuit crumbs into the base of the loaf tin. Whip 500 ml panna da montare or whipping cream to the soft peak stage, then mix in all but another tablesp of the crumbs, the cucumber pieces, the cherries and any of their juice from the chopping board. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin, level it with a palette knife and sprinkle the rest of the crumbs over. Wrap the whole tin in clingfilm and then in foil and put it in the freezer overnight. When you are ready to serve the semifreddo, unwrap it, run a knife around the edges to loosen it and dip the base quickly into very hot water. Then - keeping your nerve! - invert it onto a long serving dish. Decorate with cucumber slices and some more cherries.
If you have some mini loaf tins, you can make about 8 small semifreddi instead of one big one if you like:
This is an updated version of the "Sunday salad" I created last year: This time, I used a packet of frozen, grilled courgettes [blanched for a couple of minutes in water to which I added the juice of a lemon] instead of the grilled aubergines. I left out the mint because I didn't have any and really I'd used it last year only because it is the traditional herb for aubergines here. I used cubes of pecorino and grana cheese instead of mozzarella. I also added balls of canteloupe melon. I prefer this year's version!
Let's start the week with belated congratulations to Mount Etna, which on 21st June was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, becoming the 49th Italian site listed. There are 981 sites listed altogether and of these 759 are cultural, 193 are natural and 29 are of mixed properties. Sicily now has six sites in the list and these are:
Part of the Italian Delegation's submission reads, " "Mount Etna has erupted many times in human history; its intense and persistent volcanic activity is at the base of myths, legends and naturalistic observation since classic times. Consequently Mount Etna has been known, studied and visited by innumerable scientists and tourists from all around the world." It goes on to say, "Mount Etna has been, and still is, a major centre for international research with a long history of influence on volcanology, geology and geomorphology." You can read the full justification here but anyone who has seen Sicily's most famous smoky lady will need no convincing!