At long last I have Hope and Greenwood's delightful Sweets Made Simple book and am really looking forward to trying more of the recipes but first I have to equip myself with some liquid glucose, a substance I have never seen here, and, as Miss Kitty Hope emphasises so charmingly, a sugar thermometer.
The liquid glucose is not going to be a problem as when I asked where I could get it in the local pasticceria they kindly said they would give me some. The sugar thermometer, however, is proving more elusive and when I asked if they had any in a big electronics store that also carries kitchen equipment I was told,
"Oh, we don't have sophisticated appliances like that in Italy!"
I find that rather strange in the land of the espresso machine, Zanussi and Ferrari, not to mention world-renowned pastry-chefs and chocolate makers. I'm after a sugar thermometer, for goodness sake, not Bill Gates's entire stock of microchips! But I tried, Italy, I tried.....
Now let's see what one of my favourite Italian Americans has to say about it:
Sorry, Britain, but I'll be rooting for Il Volo in Eurovision tonight! I posted their entry song in February, when they won Sanremo but it's so lovely that I know you won't mind my posting it again. Good luck, boys!
My visit to Noto on Sunday would not have been complete without an ice cream and slice of cake in the Caffè Sicilia:
The cake is an old favorite of mine, flavoured with bergamotto and white pepper. [Believe me, it works!] The ice cream flavours were citron, spice and orange salad and yes, there was just a hint of the onions that Sicilians add to this most refreshing of salads. Delicious!
I've been to many Sicilian festivals and in my opinion the Infiorata [carpet of flowers] in Noto is the best organised and has a lovely atmosphere, not least because there are plenty of green spaces in which to sit. When you've finished looking at the Infiorata in via Nicolaci, you can watch the effect of sunlight on the city's Baroque buildings and dream away!
People form an orderly queue [which is a novelty in itself for Sicily] to walk up either side of via Nicolaci to see the tableaux of flowers in the middle so you end up taking photos from awkward angles but I hope I have succeeded in giving you a flavour of the beautiful display below. This year's theme was Catalonia and there was some very jolly Catalan dancing going on in front of the Cathedral all afternoon. Those who had the energy - not me - were invited to join in.
Now, won't you wander along via Nicolaci with me?
You're looking down most of the time as you walk up the street, but you mustn't forget that there are some interesting balconies to see:
My favourite representation was simply called "A rose and a book". I've looked up the significance of this and have discovered that, on St George's Day in Catalonia, the men traditionally give their lady friends a rose and the ladies give the gallant gentlemen a book.
I liked the way pulses were used to complete some of the tableaux [top left]:
Well, the world is certainly paying attention, the European Commission has this week published its proposals regarding migration in the Mediterranean and the British Navy has been involved in a large-scale migrant rescue operation. But are we any nearer to the coordinated approach that the situation requires? Yes, in that at least there are some proposals on the table, no in that they are inadequate and no because Britain and Hungary are refusing to take a migrant quota.
Other proposals set out by the Commission are to destroy the people traffickers' trade and to face up to the factors - such as terrible conditions not only in countries of origin but also in countries of initial asylum and transit countries - which push people into the smugglers' hands in the first place. In addition, an updated policy on legal migration into Europe is envisaged.
Whilst UNHCR has welcomed the proposals, Oxfam has been cautious, pointing out that the plan for the resettlement in Europe of only 20,000 migrants initially is woefully inadequate and that attacking smugglers' boats before they leave Libya could expose migrants to further danger.
There has been much debate in the media about the possibility of military action in Libya itself but this was ruled out by Mr Renzi some weeks ago. The Italian Foreign Minister has today said that neither the EU nor the UN anticipates any military action within Libya.
The irony of migrants being saved by the British Navy while the British government refuses to offer them asylum is not lost on the Italian press. British Home Secretary Theresa May says that to take the migrants would be to encourage people traffickers, whose trade in human life, like all of us, she deplores. But where is your humanity, Mrs May? Of the 617 migrants rescued by the British Navy on Thursday and who landed in Catania today, 48 were women, some of whom, it is thought, had been subjected to rape and other forms of horrific violence on their long and perilous journey. What would you expect them to do? Mrs May does say that countries such as Britain should work with migrants' countries of origin towards a situation in which people do not feel that they have to leave but how do you work with a state in chaos? What happens to people while politicians talk about talking? History, I think, will judge the hard-line European states harshly on this issue.
I will end tonight with this quote from the European Commission's press release:
"The plight of thousands of migrants putting their lives in peril to cross the Mediterranean has shocked and it has become clear that no Member State can or should be left alone to address huge migratory pressures."
Today, the anniversary of the first public reading of Under Milk Wood in New York in 1953, is the first International Dylan Day. Events will be held in many countries to celebrate the work of this great Welsh poet.
As part of the celebrations, people are being asked to post selfies on the theme of reading Dylan on twitter [#DylanSelfie]. Here is ours:
How could one not love the poet who wrote this line?
Just a quick Friday night note on how the two main events of the week in the UK are being viewed here:
First let's take the little princess, being called the "royal girl" by the Italian press. Quite a lot of people I've spoken to seem to be under the misconception, if you'll excuse the pun, that the public had been lied to about the birth date. The reason for this is that my Sicilian acquaintances find it incredible [nearly wrote "inconceivable"] that mother and child should have been discharged from hospital on the same day as the birth. I have assured them that this is normal in Britain and have pointed out that this particular mother and baby are hardly likely to lack adequate care at home. It is strange to find myself defending the monarchy but here I am, feeling honour-bound to point out that this is not the 18th century and that members of a royal family with no political power have no reason to lie about a birth. "Ah, but we all know that the rich have their reasons", I am told and who am I to be so sure what century it is anyway? Then there is surprise that the baby has three rather than two names and at the order of them. Diana, say outraged Sicilians, should have been the second name, if not the first. I've stopped arguing on this one and just teach them how to pronounce it.
As for the UK election, there was little coverage here until Wednesday and interest surged, as elsewhere, with the publication of last night's surprising exit poll which, of course, turned out to be spot on. Today the events of the last 24 hours are being referred to as a terremoto [earthquake] in the Italian press and the news that not one but three party leaders have resigned and did so within a mere 90 minutes has been greeted with complete astonishment. [In Italy no one in politics resigns until the whole country is baying for their blood - which usually takes at least a decade - and certainly not over a matter as trivial as having the party they lead wiped out in a general election.]
Meanwhile this newspaper appears to think that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are "regions" of the UK. I give up!
What is judged to be really hot weather here does not normally kick in until the beginning of June so we were all taken by surprise yesterday when the temperature shot up to 38°C. I'm not ready, my clothes aren't ready and, most importantly, my toes aren't ready! My taste buds, however, are:
As many in my home country continued, on Monday, to exult over the birth of Princess Charlotte, 1,257 miles away, in Pozzallo, attention was focused on a very different kind of birth that had taken place: On Sunday night, during a migrant rescue operation in the Mediterranean, Italian naval personnel found that a woman on one of the migrant boats was in labour. Transferred to the naval ship Bettica, the mother was safely delivered of a baby girl by a medical team which included volunteers and helped, of course, by the military.
The sailors gave the little girl the name Francesca Marina - Francesca for Pope Francis and St Francis of Assisi [who is also the patron saint of Italy] and Marina for the Marina Militare [Italian Navy]. Following their arrival at Pozzallo, Francesca and her Nigerian mother were brought to the Maggiore Hospital in Modica, where both are said to be doing well. The doctor who delivered her said in a radio interview that Francesca is a calm, smiling baby and that the whole experience had been very emotional for all concerned. Today it has been revealed that her mother wants to call the baby "Gift" but will also keep her daughter's two Italian names.
I am not the first person to point out the contrasts between the two births today and several Italian newspapers have published pictures of the princess and Gift side by side but I do want to say this: I do not often make a plea, but I would like to ask anyone who is considering, for the best of reasons, sending a present to the little princess, to think of Gift Francesca Marina, and others like her, first.
It is estimated that over 7,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean in Italian-led operations over the weekend and on Monday and at least 50 migrants have died.
There were those, as Mr Renzi said at the opening of Expo 2015 today, who thought that Italy would never be able to get it ready in time. Yet it did, and now, as the Premier also said, it has the six months of Expo in which to prove itself worthy of the responsibility.
The prelude to today's opening of the exhibition site was last night's televised concert from Milan. The undoubted stars were Andrea Bocelli and Lang Lang who, along with Simone Piazzola, Maria Luigia Borsi, German soprano Diana Damrau and the company of La Scala, performed against the fabulous backdrop of the city's illuminated cathedral. I must say I thought that Miss Damrau should have been advised against wearing a [presumably real] fur stole and perhaps she was, but otherwise it was an uplifting and dignified show, reminding me of why I still love Italy.
As always, in this country, there are contradictions - the wonderful and the absurd: I read recently, for instance, that the organisers of Expo were finding it difficult to find the employees they needed because young people had decided they didn't like the shifts [presumably the idea of working through the lunchtime and the summer]. In a country where it is notoriously difficult for young people to find any work at all, this just makes me want to cry or scream - I'm not sure which.
The wonderful, the absurd - and the ugly, of which we have seen plenty today in the form of "Black Block" protestors who have devastated Milan, damaging property, setting cars on fire and terrifying locals and visitors alike. The good news is that the Milanese have not caved in and by mid-afternoon the Italian media were carrying photos of bar and shop owners clearing up the mess in the streets themselves.
Sicily, I'm happy to report, is being well-represented at Expo, as the region was chosen to coordinate the Bio-Mediterranean Cluster, the largest of the themed pavilions, in which 12 countries are participating. The Cluster focuses on biodiversity and the Mediterranean diet. Sicily also, of course, features in the Italian pavilion, where a Sicilian square has been created. Two Sicilian "guest stars" at Expo are the "Dee di Aidone" or "Aidone godesses", acroliths of Demeter and Persephone which have travelled from the Aidone Museum [to which they were returned by the Bayley Museum of Virginia University in 2009]. I hope the ladies enjoy their trip!
Now I want to tell you about a great gesture of solidarity that has already come out of Expo and it is this: following last week's tragic events in Nepal, Nepalese workers on their country's pavilion understandably wanted to go home. Everyone was sympethetic when they did so and their pavilion was finished, voluntarily, by other foreign workers in their spare time and by Italian Expo employees from Bergamo and Brescia.
Finally, there couldn't have been a dry eye in the house this morning when the children in this video clip changed the line, "We are ready for death" in Italy's national anthem to "We are ready for life", a sentiment also expressed in Mr Renzi's speech