No one in the UK at the moment needs me to tell them what is happening in Calais and I do not trivialise events there for a moment. I can understand that the situation must be very frightening for anyone having to pass through the Channel Tunnel and that it must be very worrying for the people of Kent. Some of the language being used by politicians and media alike is, however, unhelpful and I can only hope that the human dimension of what is happening will not be forgotten and I do mean for all involved.
Back here in Italy there has been no let-up in the arrival of migrant boats and no one expects any change as the summer wears on. Last week we had the tragic news that a ten-year-old Syrian child had died crossing the Mediterranean because traffickers had thrown the rucksack containing her insulin overboard before departure. Her poor father had no alternative but to abandon her body at sea.
On 25th July 785 rescued migrants were brought to Palermo and among them were 27 children, some of whom were unaccompanied and had to be taken into city council care. The good news is that many locals have responded to requests from Caritas for volunteer helpers.
Some of the migrants initially taken to Palermo have now been transfererd to other Italian cities and sadly there have been some ugly protests. Fiesole [Province of Florence] has, however, set a shining example of what can be done in organising a football match [for tomorrow night] between 12 new migrant arrivals and council employees and representatives to welcome them and help them integrate.
Yesterday saw 453 migrant arrivals aboard an Irish vessel at Messina and the ship [on which a migrant woman gave birth last week] was also carrying 14 bodies. The causes of death have not yet been established. Yesterday alone 1,300 migrants were rescued in eight operations off the Libyan coast. Of these, 241 have been brought to Pozzallo today and 533 to Augusta.
Yesterday in Siracusa I found myself near the Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime [Shrine of Our Lady of Tears] and took the opportunity to revisit it. The Shrine is built on the site where a statue of the Madonna is believed to have shed real tears in 1953, hence its teardrop shape. I remember that, when I first visited the Shrine, shortly after its completion in 1994, I wasn't sure if I liked it. Now I rather think I do.
A copy of the Turin Shroud is displayed in the Shrine.
Italians, look away now! I know anguria is usually kept for the end of a meal but why not try to be different for once?
Here is a very quick and cooling watermelon appetiser which also looks pretty. You will have to assemble it just moments before serving, but you can cut the watermelon and keep it in the fridge, grill the courgettes [if not using frozen ones] and make your own pesto [if you wish] and chill it in advance.
First cut as many watermelon wedges as you have guests plus a few extra. Leave the rind on what will be the outside edge when the pieces are on the serving plate, as they will be easier to pick up that way. [In Italy, a greengrocer will cut the watermelon for you.] With a very small coffee spoon, scoop out all the seeds you can see, on both sides. Arrange the slices on a plate and top each one with a slice of grilled courgette, then add about 2 teasp pesto. [I do usually make my own but this time I didn't and sorry, Masterchef UK people - I don't do quenelles.] Top with a datterino tomato or half a cherry tomato and decorate with basil leaves.
Many congratulations to 26-year-old Modican fencer Giorgio Avola, who, with teammates Andrea Baldini, Andrea Cassarà and fellow-Sicilian Daniele Garozzo won the men's team foil gold medal at the World Fencing Championships in Moscow last week. Italy also won the men's team sabre and women's team foil events.
Italy came second overall in the medal table and Rossella Fiamingo from Catania won the women's individual épée gold medal with Arianna Erigo taking bronze in the women's individual foil event.
Giorgio and other members of the Italian team will meet President Mattarella at the Quirinale tomorrow.
Well done, Giorgio. Your home town can celebrate again!
Most Modicans have a house in the countryside or at the beach, to which they repair in hot weather, and my neighbour upstairs is no exception. On the way up in the lift tonight, she insisted I go and get a bowl when we got to my floor, and proceeded to empty into it a great many of her pomodori di campagna [home-grown tomatoes].
"You'll see", she said. "They'll taste better than any you've ever bought!" I'm sure they will and it was very kind of her.
"Ti amo, ti adoro
come la salsa di pomodoro."
"I love you and adore you
like I love tomato sauce."
Around here that Italian saying is regarded as one of the best compliments anyone could receive!
This song from Tiziano Ferro is number 6 in the Italian singles chart this week and it has sort of grown on me. It is a song that means a lot to Tiziano, who wrote it three years ago, as later in 2015 he will be touring Europe and performing in many stadiums.
Happy Bastille Day to all who love that other country that has meant so much in my life, la belle France.
Last night I was thinking about just what it was about its literature that impressed me so much as a schoolgirl and then as a young woman, and I remembered that, coming from a generation that did not study Classics, I learnt about the Greek myths from Corneille and Racine. I learnt the exuberant cadence of the French language from Molière and about how it can sound as sad as a violin from Verlaine. My feminist consciousness was activated, of course, by de Beauvoir but above all, in studying 20th century French literature, I came across, for the first time, books that offered no answers but which asked the questions I had begun to ask myself. For that awakening, ma chère France, I shall always be grateful - "je t'ai gardée dans mon coeur"..
The world's attention may now be centred on Greece but that other tragedy in the Mediterranean goes on and, as more and more migrant boats attempt the dangerous crossing, heartbreaking stories continue to emerge:
Last Tuesday an interfaith funeral was held in Catania for the first 13 bodies to have been recovered from the wreck of the boat involved in the 18th April tragedy, in which up to 850 people are estimated to have lost their lives. The wreck is lying on the seabed 85 miles northeast of the Libyan coast and the Italian Navy is painstakingly carrying out the recovery operation, which is likely to take many months. Premier Renzi has promised that all the bodies will be recovered and that the victims will receive a dignified funeral.
While this was happening two young Nigerian men were being treated for horrific arm and leg injuries in a hospital in Siracusa. They say that they were thrown from a fourth floor window in the Libyan building where they were being held prior to their departure because they were unable to find all the money that the people traffickers required for their journey. They were then forced aboard a dinghy. Somehow they survived the journey but one of them nearly lost his leg and it is due to the skill of the surgeons in Siracusa that it was saved,
Meanwhile the world seems to have forgotten the migrants of Ventimiglia, some 51 of whom continue to protest and camp out on the rocks there, with the French border closed to them. All these migrants want to do, like Nonno Abdel in a story carried by several Italian newspapers, is to join relatives in Northern Europe. Nonno Abdel is a 92-year-old Syrian refugee who crossed the Mediterranean with some of his family. His one wish was to see his daughter or sister again [there are conflicting accounts] but once he got to Germany after being looked after by nuns in Siracusa, his relative was not there to welcome him. He now waits for official refugee status in a German reception centre. Nonno Abdel is the oldest migrant to have reached Italy and you would have to have a heart of stone to look at his picture and remain unmoved.
No one reading Saturday's Corriere della Sera online edition could be unmoved, either, by the image of a little girl clutching a teddy bear as she gazes at the sea from the Port of Palermo. She was brought there on Saturday by an Italian naval ship after being rescued from an overcrowded dinghy carrying around 130 people. The dinghy had almost sunk when the Italian Coast Guard reached it. Twelve bodies from the dinghy were also brought ashore at Palermo and among them was the little girl's mother. The Italian Coast Guard saved 393 people from this dinghy and three others nearby on Friday. The ship carrying the little girl and the bodies brought a total of 717 rescued migrants to Palermo and 11 people traffickers have now been arrested in connection with these arrivals.
On Friday evening the Italian Mission to the UN tweeted that that the Italian Coast Guard had rescued 969 migrants in six operations on that day alone.
Apart from the rescues, is there any good news on migration this week? Yes, there is: after reading about so much cruelty and sorrow, it was heartwarming to learn that, in the Veneto, where a tornado struck the Riviera del Brento on Wednesday, causing one death, several injuries and much structural damage, around 30 migrants from a reception centre in the area are voluntarily helping to clear up and rebuild homes. They say they are doing this to repay the kindness shown to them by locals.
I'll end with some words from a perhaps unlikely source, namely Richard Gere, speaking in June at the Taormina Film Fest. [Rumour has it that he came to Modica, but nobody saw him!]
"The whole world is very aware of the problems of displaced people, and people running away from conflict, people running away from poverty. In Sicily you are in the epicentre of the problem....And it begs the question, 'What is our responsibility towards people?' Even from a selfish point of view, we should be providing homes and security to people who need it. It makes us more secure for other people to feel secure, for other people to not feel damaged. Those of us who have more should be giving more back. Europe is getting very serious about this. I think the U.S. should do more to help people out in these situations. If we want security, we have to create a world where everyone has the minimum, in terms of food, shelter, opportunities, healthcare, all these things - 99% of the problems go away, right there.”
This may seem simplistic but solutions often are. They are words which the world would do well to heed, and not only with regard to migration.
Now I must admit I'm an ice cream rather than a granita girl - granite are flavoured sugar syrups which have been frozen - and I haven't acquired the Sicilian habit of dipping bits of my morning brioche into either. On the hottest days, however, I do like a goodly dollop of lemon granita in a very cold peach or lemon tea and if I am going to have a full glass of granita, I'll usually go for a gelsi [mulberry] one.
I was interested to read today that in last year's Dissapore ranking of the top 25 establishments offering granita in Italy the first 21 were in Sicily, with the Caffè Sicilia in Noto topping the list. Modica makes an appearance at no. 13.
Many congratulations to the city and Province of Palermo, whose most important Arab and Norman buildings were collectively named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at a meeting in Bonn today. The Palermo buildings are:The Palazzo dei Normanni, the Palatine Chapel, the Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, the Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio [Martorana], the Ammiraglio Bridge, San Cataldo Church, Palermo Cathedral, the Zisa Castle and The Cuba Palace. The Cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalù also form part of this new World Heritage site.
This is the 51st UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy and the 7th in Sicily.
Today is the 75th anniversary of the Arandora Star tragedy, one of the most shameful episodes in British wartime history and about which I first wrote on this blog in 2009. Since then, due to the tireless work of campaigners, memorials have been unveiled in Cardiff and Glasgow and public awareness has been raised but no British government has ever apologised.
Today, in memory of those who died and their loved ones , I am re-posting this:
At the outbreak of World War II "enemy aliens" living in Britain were divided into three categories: those in class A were deemed to represent a high security risk and were interned; those in class B were "doubtful" and were subject to some restrictions; and those in class C were thought to pose no security risk at all. However, following the Fall of France in 1940 Churchill decided, in his own words, to "collar the lot" and the majority of class B aliens were interned. When Italy declared war on Britain and France on June 10th the internment of Italian males was ordered. Many of the Germans interned had opposed the Nazis or were German Jewish refugees. Most of the Italians interned had lived in Britain virtually all their lives and many had sons who were serving in the British military. Others were in Britain because they had opposed Mussolini and later fled their country in fear of their lives. The majority of the men were detained in internment camps on the Isle of Man or Orkney, where they were treated inhumanely.
A policy of deporting internees was in place and on 1st July 1940 the SSArandora Star, a converted cruise liner, sailed from Liverpool for Canada with 1,864 people on board. Of these 734 were Italian internees, 479 were German internees, 89 were German prisoners of war and the rest were guards and crew, 80% of the crew having been newly signed on that morning. The internees were forced to sail in appalling conditions, packed onto a ship built to carry only 250 passengers and extended, in wartime, to carry 200 more.
The ship was painted battleship grey, making her look like a troop carrier, and displayed no Red Cross flag, which would have distinguished her as a vessel carrying civilians. On her second day out from Liverpool the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine off the west coast of Ireland. There had been no lifeboat drills, the rafts were immovably strapped to the sides of the ship anyway, and few lifejackets had been issued. In addition, the decks and the lifeboats were separated by walls of barbed wire - a measure which the Captain had protested about before sailing. Most of the Italians did not stand a chance , as they had come from mountainous areas of Italy and had never learnt to swim. Those few who did survive the freezing sea were again harshly treated after being rescued and some were then deported to Australia.
When the British media reported the tragedy, the public were told that Nazis on board had dashed for the lifeboats knocking everyone else out of the way. No mention was made of the fact that respectable people who had made positive contributions to British society had been on board, along with refugees who had risked their lives, in their own countries, for the very freedoms the British now claimed to be fighting for.
In total 486 Italians lost their lives in this tragedy. No apology has ever been made by a British government.