In 1965 the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan became the first person to use a certain four-letter word on British television. Despite the intellectual context of the remark, the incident caused a sensation and I remember, from that time, a newspaper cartoon in which a man, flicking at leisure through his own newspaper, is unmoved by reports of war, tragedy and disaster. When he comes upon a report of the Tynan incident, however, the man is so ouraged that he starts shouting and threatening all kinds of legal action and protest.
I was reminded of this cartoon when I read the other day of the 139 people who had complained to the BBC about TV presenter Holly Willoughby's attire in the final programme of this season's series of the British talent show "The Voice". In the end the BBC had to apologise and even the quality British press had a field day with "boob" puns. The dress in question is revealing and might not be very tasteful but it is hardly offensive or scandalous - or have I become Italianised?
The matter of Miss Willoughby's dress has been reported in Italy, too but with considerable puzzlement because no one can see what is wrong with it. How times have changed! When I first came to Italy in 1969 I was always being told that my dresses were "too low" [I didn't have the legs for mini-skirts but I did have boobs] and I felt I had to cover the upper part of my body wherever I went. [In a photo I've kept of myself in one of these "low-cut" dresses, there is no hint of cleavage at all to be seen.] These days, necklines are not only much lower here but you are nobody if you don't have half of your breasts exposed vertically as well. Even Sophia does it so it must be all right. [You have to have the right bra, of course, and, as I've written before, Italians are absolutely brilliant at bra manufacture.]
I've still got boobs and am getting to the age when I shouldn't show them, I know. I've got a few low-cut day dresses and every time I wear one I remind myself that I wouldn't get away with it in the UK, where men often deal with femininity by insulting it. My dresses - and my body - are nothing like Miss Willoughby's but , with the help of the Italian lingerie industry, I'm enjoying my final seasons of the "If you've got it, flaunt it" variety!
This is my friend Gianpiero Puma who in May opened Puma Studio Makeup with his partner Enrico Basile in Modica. Gianpiero is from Venezuela where he worked as a make-up artist for the television network Venevision. So ladies, if you're visiting Modica and want to look and feel fabulous, I recommend a visit to Gianpiero and his team in their beautiful salon.
Modica is preparing to celebrate the feast day of one of her two patron saints, St Peter, on Saturday and, as part of these celebrations, a very special restoration has been unveiled. It is a statue of the saint which has stood in a niche on the Corso Umberto [Modica Bassa's main street] since the 1940s and is known locally as "San Pietro ri petra". I must admit, I had never noticed it before [which again proves the truth of the saying that you should not forget to look up when in Sicily].
The restoration was the inspiration of the Modica Rotary Club and one reason for their enthusiasm for the project was the determination of the war generation to have spiritual representations among the houses where ordinary people went about their daily business and lived their lives. The restoration has been lovingly and faithfully carried out by Gaetana Ascenzo and the statue is now protected from atmospheric pollution by special glass. [Sorry about the reflection.]
Long may San Pietro, protector of fishermen, fishmongers, cobblers, locksmiths, reapers, watchmakers and doormen, continue to bless Modica.
Summer moons and calmer seas continue to bring with them the "boatloads of sorrow" and it is estimated that some 1,000 migrants reached the Sicilian and Calabrian coasts during Saturday - Sunday night.
Among these were the 95 survivors of a tragedy which took place 85 miles south of Malta in international waters. Some of these migrants were on a dinghy but others were clinging to a tuna fishing cage being dragged by a Tunisian fishing boat. Of these, at least seven were drowned when the boat crew cut the rope. Some of the migrants tried to jump onto the fishing boat but were pushed back into the sea by crew members. The passengers on the dinghy, by now adrift, and the migrants who were still clinging to the cage were spotted by a Maltese naval plane and, advised of their position, the Italian Coast Guard effected the rescue of the 95.
At first the survivors' accounts were treated with caution while investigations were carried out but they have now been verified. It is still not clear why or for how long some of the migrants had been clinging to the cage but it is possible that they threw themselves towards it in desperation because of the cramped conditions on the dinghy.
Yesterday Laurens Jolles, the UNHCR delegate for Southern Europe, thanked the Italian Coast Guard for its numerous actions, which have saved hundreds of lives. Monsignor Giancarlo Perego of Fondazione Migrantes called for "humanitarian channels for people to escape situations in the Middle East and Africa". He would like to see patrols accompanying the migrants in a spirit of welcome and a new European policy which would look upon asylum seekers and refugees more sympathetically. Meanwhile Italy's Integration Minister Cécile Kyenge has said that immigrants should be regarded as an important economic resource for the country and has pointed out that if their lavoro nero [illegal work] were regularised, the Italian Treasury would receive an extra five million euros in revenue.
As some of my commenters have pointed out on my other posts on this subject, there are no easy answers: The "Welcome Centre" on the island of Lampedusa - a structure built for 300 people - is reported to be housing 855 at the moment and there are no immediate plans to transfer them. Jobs are scarce in Italy and, when times are hard, it is always easy to blame an identifiable community. Yet, despite the problems, I do believe that we are beginning to see a change in attitudes towards migrants in Italy.
There are days when I wonder, "What on earth can I write about tonight?" but I have learnt that, if I pay attention to the detail of everyday life and am quietly observant, a subject will usually present itself. Thus it was in Catania on Saturday, when, stopping for an ice cream at a bar which had become a favourite of mine in that city, I overheard not one, but two conversations which I thought were interesting enough to report to you. I justify my eavesdropping by pointing out that listening in seems to be all the rage at the moment and anyway, both conversations were loud enough to be heard by everyone in the busy street.
As I sat at an outside table watching the world go by, I noticed a young woman seated at the next table. I suppose I first looked across at her because the unpleasant odour of her cigarette smoke was coming in my direction but there was nothing I could do about that, although we were in a small, confined, space. The terrace of this bar is enclosed by a screen on three sides, so whether it is "outside" or "inside" is debatable, but for smoking purposes such spaces are deemed to be "outside". [Come on, Italy - ban smoking in outdoor enclosed spaces, too, and ban the stupid electronic cigarettes while you're at it!] The waitress, using halting English, was speaking to the young woman, who I gathered was Eastern European. I also understood that she had gone into the bar to ask for a job. By now, the waitress was explaining to her that the bar owner also owned a lap dancing club and that he was looking for dancers. "You wan' dance in the local?" [By "local" the waitress meant "club".] "Yeh!" replied the young woman enthusiastically. Then the bar-owner appeared and, with the waitress still using bad English to translate, offered the young woman a job at the "local", which she accepted.
First I was peturbed at the involvement of one woman in the degradation of another and then I began to wonder if the young woman really understood what kind of job she had been offered. I thought about asking her but decided against it as [a] she probably did; [b] it was none of my business; [c] she was not a minor and [d] she had polluted the entire terrace with her vile cigarette smoke and I did not feel like risking a nasty scene on her behalf. Well, what would you have done?
Finally, as I asked for my bill, I heard the same waitress tell the cashier, "The customer is Italian". This would indicate that the bar charges foreigners more than they charge Italians, which is quite scandalous. I haven't made my mind up yet whether to boycott the bar in future or ask, next time, if, as a Sicilian resident, I have to pay as an Italian or a foreigner!
The story of the insulting sexist menu featuring a "Julia Gillard dish" went around the world last week and of course, as this Guardian report proves, it was neither the first, nor will it be the last, time that a woman politician has been the victim of sexism. [Our old friend Silvio naturally appears in the Guardian article.]
However, an appallingly sexist and racist comment aimed at Italy's first black cabinet minister, Cécile Kyenge, the Minister for Integration, did not make international headlines. A quick internet check revealed that the British Daily Mail and the Toronto Sun had the story but I did not find it elsewhere in English. I report it here because every now and then, in Italy, a public figure makes a remark which simply could not be uttered, much less written, in Britain and when I first read about it the incident rendered me speechless.
On Thursday Dolores Valandro, a Lega Nord Councillor in Padua suggested, on her facebook page, that Minister Kyenge should be raped, "so that she would know what it feels like." [This was in response to an online article about crimes allegedly carried out by immigrants.] Cécile Kyenge said that such language was an incitement to violence and that all Italians should feel ashamed. Prime Minister Enrico Letta quickly agreed with the Minister and condemned the remarks, as did Dolores Valandro's own party, who said they would expel her. Laura Boldrini, the Speaker of the Camera dei Deputati [Lower House] also expressed her outrage and said that the original remark was made worse by the fact that it came from a woman with a political role.
Dolores Valandro has since apologised and her facebook page has been taken down. Cécile Kyenge, speaking from Genova's Suq [multicultural] Festival today, said that she would always meet the language of violence with the language of non-violence. All Italians I have spoken to about the incident have expressed their shame that a remark such as the one made by Dolores Valandro on Thursday could be made by a public figure in their country.
Well, I do eat my peas with honey when I put them in salads, and that's just what I did the other day when I felt like inventing a new chicken salad for the Sicilian summer:
2 tablesp balsamic vinegar
8 chicken breast escalopes, pounded very thin by your butcher
300 gr fresh or frozen peas plus mint sprig
a goodly chunk of Sicilian peppered Pecorino, cubed
6 - 8 plums, sliced
100 gr pack rocket leaves
a handful of other salad leaves of your choice
a handful of basil leaves, torn
about 8 mint leaves, torn
2 tablesp olive oil
2 tablesp olive oil
1 tablesp honey
1 tablesp balsamic vinegar
seasalt and black pepper
Marinate the chicken escalopes in the balsamic vinegar for at least 2 hours, then lift the chicken pieces out and leave them on kitchen paper.
Cook the peas in salted water with a sprig of mint until they are just tender, then rinse them in cold water.
Drain the peas and put them into a large salad bowl with the Pecorino, plums, salad leaves and herbs. Put the bowl in the fridge.
Make the dressing by simply mixing all the ingredients together well and put this in the fridge, too.
Heat the oil on a ridged griddle pan and cook the chicken escalopes on it - about 1 minute per side. As they are cooked, lift them onto a plate and leave to cool. When you can handle them, cut them into small pieces with a kitchen scissors and add to the salad bowl. Just before serving, give the dressing a final whisk with a fork, pour it over the salad ingredients and toss well.
*A pea-souper was a thick, London fog which was so polluted that it was said to look like yellow pea soup. I never saw one, as they were largely a product of an age of heavy industry and coal fires. However, when I was a child I heard my parents talking about them and I thought the fog had got its name because it was so cold and miserable outside that it made you crave a warming pea soup!
Today a sailing boat left Ortigia in Siracusa for Ancona, from where her very unusual crew will sail her in the ORC International World Championships which will be held there from 21st - 29th June. The crew, made up of 18 young people who have been in prison or have been addicted to drugs, have been trained to sail as part of a social inclusion programme called "Liberi di... liberi da" [Free of.... free from"] which is funded by the Sicilian Regional Government.
The young people were trained for two years and then given work experience placements in various shipyards in Siracusa. There, reports Corriere della Sera, their co-workers imparted to them their own love of the sea and boats. What is more, the experiment worked so well that the young people are now regarded as indispensable by their employers.
I am sure you will join me in wishing the Nerina and her crew good luck.
The Mediterranean - a playground for some, but increasingly, in these times, a sea of sadness for so many. As the Sicilian summer brings clear, moonlit nights with open-air dining, dances, concerts and parties, so it also brings more of what I have come to call, in my eight years here, the "boatloads of sorrow" - that is, inadequate, overcrowded boats of would-be migrants willing to risk everything in order to flee the unimaginable and to seek a better life.
In the early hours of Tuesday one such boat ran into trouble in the Sicilian Channel and was saved because, at 4.30 am., one of the passengers managed to contact the leader of Turin's Egyptian community by satellite phone. Help was summoned and at 6.30 am Italian Coastguard boats managed to reach the migrant vessel. On board were 119 migrants, including five women and 56 minors. All are thought to be Egyptian. The craft was sinking due to the length of the journey and the sheer numbers on board, some of whom had to be brought to Modica for hospital treatment.
A 26-year-old Egyptian man, whom police found after questioning the migrants, has been arrested on suspicion of people-trafficking.
A new law which aims at protecting the human rights of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, is before the Sicilian Regional Assembly at the moment. Among its provisions are measures to ensure migrants' rights to health cover, education, help with housing and cultural integration. Barriers which prevent migrants from working in the voluntary sector would be lifted and there would be a job creation scheme. Anti-discrimination measures are also envisaged.
If Sicily can pull this off, it would be a shining example to other regions affected by the migration crisis.
I pride myself on being at my cantankerous British best whenever a Sky Italia employee calls, usually at the most inconvenient of times, to offer me a sports package and the conversation often runs like this:
Me: Sorry, but I hate sport.
Sky lady: What, all of it?
Sky lady: But don't you want to see some of it? Didn't you want to watch the Olympics in your own country last year?
Me [for I have to grudgingly admit that even I was teary over the Olympics]: Yes, but I watched them very well on Rai, thank you.
Hapless Sky lady [the idea that you might live alone and dislike sport being too much for an Italian]: Well, isn't there anyone else in your house who likes sport? There must be!
Me: No, I'm afraid not. My dog's not interested in sport either!
Sky lady [despairing]: Allora, buona sera, signora.
But if I am the despair of the Sky sales team, I must admit that Sky often get their revenge - as they did two years ago when they cut the BBC Entertainment channel, for instance, and as they do these days every two months when they send out their bills: There I am after a hard day in the whiteboard jungle, unwinding by watching some inane repeat documentary about British royals, when all of a sudden, a message flashes onto the screen, accusing me of not having paid my bill. What bill? I haven't received one!
Angrily, I rush to the phone and when, after much sleep-inducing music and numerous useless messages, I actually get to speak to a real, live person, I am told that the bills have been sent out but that they must be delayed in the post. That, surely, is Sky's problem to resolve and, as they admit it is happening to everyone, I cannot understand why they do not do just that. Last month, the guy in billing said he was telling everyone to go to the tobacconist's or other Sisal [lotto outlet with a bill-paying facility] shop a few days before the bill is due, ask the shopkeeper to key in their client number on the lottomatica machine and lo and behold, the amount due would show. That's fine, but what about people who cannot get to a Sisal shop or do not have time to do so? When I went to the tobacconist's to follow this advice on Friday, he told me that everyone who pays their Sky bill in cash has the same problem - namely, that the bill arrives two weeks after the final date for paying it - and that they are all heartily fed up with Sky, who then add an extra charge!
Come on, Sky Italia: you have brought us HD, "My Sky" and have managed to incorporate Italian digitale terrestre channels into your little box, so surely it is not beyond you to change your private postal service and get the bills to your customers on time?
This week's sabato musicale is dedicated to Franca Rame, the great actor, playwright and political activist, who died, at the age of 84, on Wednesday.
I was a young Italian graduate when I discovered the theatrical works of Franca Rame and her husband, Dario Fo and I felt that they spoke directly to me and for my generation. It has often been written that the literature of the twentieth century asks the questions rather than providing the answers but Franca Rame had some answers, too; among them were being politically vigilant, questioning the policies of every political party and never giving up hope.
As the Mayor of Milan said at Franca Rame's lay funeral,
"She had the greatness of one who dreams and one who fights."
Franca Rame fought tirelessly for women and, some years after being abducted, tortured and raped by fascists in 1973, she courageously told her story in a monologue entitled Lo Stupro [The Rape], thus encouraging other Italian women to speak out against this most horrific of crimes. [ Rape was designated "an act of violence against women" in Italian law only in 1996].
At the funeral Dario Fo recited an unpublished monologue written by his wife: in this story, Eve appears on earth not fashioned from Adam's rib but modelled by God in fine clay. When God asks the couple to choose between the fruits of immortality and the apple, Eve says,
"Just to have consciousness, consciousness, doubts and to experience love - come, death!"
Adam echoes her, saying,
"I have some doubts but I am very curious to discover the mystery of love, even if immediately afterwards I meet my end."
Dario Fo and Franca Rame's son, Jacopo, said, at the funeral,
"Dinosaurs are extinct and people with no love or respect for humanity will become extinct one day too.....I want you to go home with a little faith because, as my mother said, 'God exists and is a communist.' I would add that she is also female."
As Franca Rame had requested, women wore red and sang the partisan song, Bella Ciao at the funeral. I would like to add my own thanks for the life and work of Franca Rame.