Lucky lady and queen of pop Madonna received a distinctive, seasonal gift following her three tour appearances in Turin last weekend, namely a Sicilian panettone specially made and personalised for her by young pastry chef Mario Fiasconaro.
Traditionally made Fiasconaropanettoni contain only the finest Sicilian ingredients, such as citrus honey, Avola almonds and Bronte pistacchi and Madonna's cake was "carved" to reveal a sugar sculpture of the singer on stage during her tour.
Madonna's personal chef Travis Dorsey visited the festival Una Mole di Panettoni, also in Turin, to receive the gift on his employer's behalf and is said to have been very impressed, particularly by the beautiful aroma of the cake. He promised to take it to Madonna's hotel suite so that she could enjoy some "sweet" post-performance time.
Let's hope the lady's health and beauty régime allows her to partake of this Sicilian delight!
Plaque on Salvatore Quasimodo's birthplace in Modica
A little piece of Sicily is to go on sale next week in the form of the Nobel Prize medal awarded to one of Modica's most famous sons, the poet Salvatore Quasimodo, in 1959. This will be the first sale of a Nobel medal in Italy.
The lot, to be auctioned by Bolaffi of Turin, consists of the medal, the diploma, the original photos of the ceremony and a DVD of it [although the latter is available online anyway]. The starting price is €50,000 but it is estimated that the collection will sell for €100,000 - €150,000.
Bolaffi have decided to set aside €20,000 of their commission to create a scholarship which will enable a student from the Istituto A.M. Jaci, the Messina high school which Quasimodo attended, to study in Milan, the city where the poet lived from 1934 and in which he is buried.
It remains to be seen whether a Sicilian cultural association or other entity will bid for the lot but the Bolaffi decision does mean that Sicily will derive some benefit from the sale. Who knows where the lucky student's Milan experience will lead him or her and what ideas he or she might bring back to Sicily?
There are, in my opinion, two ways of seeting yourself up for the day: one is a full British breakfast [without egg, for me] and the other is a freshly squeezed Sicilian orange juice. On the right you see the first of the season:
As I've mentioned before, no self-respecting Sicilian barman will squeeze a non-Sicilian, out-of-season orange and, even though the orange season started a month ago, our local bar did not deem the fruit good enough for juice until this week. And long may things continue thus!
So after visiting the UK for the first time in eight years, what changes did I note? I tend to notice weird, often insignificant things, so here are my weird observations, in no particular order:
Handbags are still on the small side.
Eateries are noisier than Italian ones but at least they are free of the ubiquitous televisions you find in the latter.
Why did I get a separate "glass of ice" every time I asked for ice in my mineral water?
There is a craze for sweet potato chips.
Halloween has become a more pleasant festival than I remembered.
When did people start saying "See you later" to mean "soon/sometime/never"?
I was interested to see what kind of shops have survived the recession and was surprised to find several novelty shops in the centre of Cardiff still there.
I was negatively flabbergasted at the cost of public transport and positively so at its efficiency [after 10 years in Modica].
I was relieved that most people I talked to were more sympathetic to refugees than when I left and than the media would lead one to believe now. I was also relieved that most people I met did not think the UK will leave the EU.
Et plus ça ne change pas.....
As a post scriptum on my trip home, here is a note to Comiso Airport, a clean and efficient facility that we are justly proud of in these parts: I know Sicilians don't like to be comfortable, but the rest of the world does, so please can we have some seating outside the airport? Weary travellers waiting to be picked up after you close need somewhere to sit!
Just in case you were wondering, Bertie-Pierrine was very well looked after while I was away. She was full of wags to have me back, though, and I was so relieved to see her! She also thoroughly approves of my new, British duvet cover - Italian single beds are slightly smaller than British ones so the covers don't always fit my faithful old duvet. Somehow I don't think this cover is going to last long!
However much we love our new country, sooner or later most expats feel like this:
But that wasn't the only reason I took a quick trip back to the UK a couple of weeks ago, as you will see.
Firstly, it was an opportunity to spend some time with my new-found sister and meet the rest of my birth family and their friends.
"We're having a little party for you tomorrow", announced my sister Jill upon my arrival. I was astonished and delighted to find that she had invited what seemed like the whole of Norwich and I must say, she was rather Italian about food, as it kept coming! Don't you just love brother-in-law's specially made shirt?
The "sisters" poster was made from a photo taken when Jill and her husband were here in Sicily last year and yes, there were fireworks too!
As I said, the delicious food just kept on coming.....
I very much enjoyed walking around Norwich with my sister and it made me feel closer to my birth mother to walk through the market there, as I had learnt it was something she often did.
Then there was a visit to the Norfolk Broads:
Here I am the next day, hair done and ready to go and meet my blogging friend Ellee Seymour for the first time! We were off to London for a very special occasion indeed and Oxford Street looked beautiful from the bus:
The occasion was the Charles Aznavour concert at the Royal Albert Hall and all I can say is that both Monsieur Aznavour and the venue were merveilleux. And thank you, Ellee, for the dedicated copy of your very interesting book, The Shop Girls. I loved it!
Wednesday morning and I was off again, to WALES at last! I'd had the hiraethfor a long time, you see and I also needed to reconnect with the mum and dad who had brought me up. Of course, I cried as the coach came into dear old Cardiff but was "the 'Diff" going to be ready for my Catania hat?
It turned out that it was and one of the first things I did was to have a walk in the park in the rain. I met up with lots of friends, gazed open-mouthed at the sheer number of new shops in my hometown and spent several hours just trying to orientate myself! I was very relieved to find that the universal greeting there is still, "Hiya, love".
Later I visited the Senedd or Welsh Government building - it hadn't been built when I was last in Cardiff - and was impressed, especially when I was told that it is probably the first Assembly in the world to have achieved gender equality in its membership.
These lovely gentlemen deserve a BIG photo all of their own for they are none other than the members of the fabulous Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir and they kindly allowed me to attend their rehearsal. There's nothing like the sound of a Welsh male voice choir and a more rousing version of the Welsh national anthem I have never heard in my life!
There was another concert, this time at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and performed by the students of the Brass and Percussion Ensembles. I'm sure some of these young people are going to be stars.
I had to have a "full Welsh" breakfast before leaving and the dear friend I stayed with lovingly prepared this excellent Jamaican Pepperpot Stew. Then it was time to go and, as I passed the entrance to the Castle grounds at twilight, I couldn't help shedding some tears for the little dog I walked there so long ago. "Ta'ra, love", I said to the 'Diff. "I'll try and come back soon!"
Not that Cardiff is full of "tumble- down old shack streets" and not that my friends there are "corny country cousins" but this is for my hometown and for them:
My post was going to be quite different but then the shocking news from that lovely city that we all associate with freedom came in. I can only say that, like millions all around the world, my heart is in Paris tonight.
Two developments this week would seem to indicate that the wider world is at last beginnng to recognise the humanitarian work that Italy has been doing for so long with regard to migration:
On Monday we learnt that IFRC [International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies] is to award its biennial Henry Davison prize to the Sicilian Red Cross for its humanitarian work on behalf of refugees. This award is given to individuals or societies who have significantly improved the lives of vulnerable people.
The President of the Sicilian Red Cross, Rosario Valastro, will receive the award in Geneva on 6th December. Mr Valastro has written to all Sicilian Red Cross volunteers to thank them and has said,
"I only want to think of everything that you have seen with your own eyes, the real-life stories that you have heard, the hands of men, women and children that you have touched: men, women and children, not numbers, nor just migrants, but people to help without asking questions."
Yesterday the UN announced the appointment of Italian Filippo Grandi, formerly of UNWRA, as the new High Commissioner for Refugees. This is being seen in Italy as a positive development and Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has said that it shows recognition ofItaly’s efforts and commitment over the years on behalf of refugees. Outgoing High Commissioner Antonio Gutteres said,
“Filippo Grandi has huge experience in the field: his capacity and deep knowledge of forced migrations will be of great help for the agency and for its mandate to protect and assist millions of people.”
Just back [details coming later in the week] and I find that Sicily can still surprise me, for I had never seen these on sale before:
Come to think of it, I had never seen them anywhere and I wasn't the only one, as even elderly Sicilians were asking the greengrocer what they were. Sorbe is the answer and I gather they are related to rowans and are the fruit of this tree. They seem to be a largely forgotten fruit and these come from the Etna area. The greengrocer said they can be eaten when they turn brown and I can tell you that they have a pleasant, peary taste.