With the eyes of the world very much on events in Calais this week, the plight of migrants attempting the Mediterranean crossing to reach Europe has once again been largely forgotten by the international media. Yet it goes on, changing weather conditions render it even more dangerous and someone, somewhere, it seems, always profits from tragedy.
On Wednesday - Thursday night 51 people died in the Sicilian Channel because, according to survivors, a rough sea had caused the inadequate dinghies they were travelling on to capsize. Of the 339 survivors brought to Augusta, 25 were women and 31 were unaccompanied minors. Some were taken to hospital with burns caused by leaking fuel and two suspected people traffickers have been arrested.
On Tuesday a Médecins sans Frontières boat saved 107 people from a dinghy off the Libyan coast but their operatives found the bodies of 29 people lying in a mixture of fuel and seawater on board. These poor souls had died from their burns, from suffocation or from drowning.
Calais is not the only place where there have been ugly scenes this week as residents of Goro [Ferrara] protested against the planned arrival at a hostel there of 12 migrants by setting up road blocks. [I should point out that many migrant hostels are overcrowded and short of resources in Italy.] As one of the women was pregnant, a decision was made to take the group elsewhere but Interior Minister Angelino Alfano was quick to point out that this incident is not representative of Italy. The country, he said, is characterised by the young people who go to the quayside at Lampedusa to help with new migrant arrivals or Dr Bartolo of Lampedusa [who works tirelessly for both the inhabitants of Lampedusa and the migrants who arrive there].
Prime Minister Renzi, meanwhile, has said that, though it is clear that Europe cannot open its doors to all, EU states that build walls to keep out migrants should expect no funding from Italy. He said EU states should work together to solve the migration crisis rather than playing on hatred and intolerance.
Pope Francis, as usual, put it simply and succinctly but managed to show that he understands the reasons for hardening attitudes. In St Peter's Square on Wednesday he said,
"Today, the context of economic crises unfortunately fosters the emergence of attitudes that are closed and unwelcoming. In some parts of the world, walls and barricades are being erected. Closure [of borders] is not a solution as it ends up encouraging trafficking. The only path towards a solution is that of solidarity.”
As another night begins, I am sure that many of us are thinking of those affected by the earthquakes in Central Italy yesterday. We can only imagine the fear, following the quake of 24th August and there is devastating damage to buildings in those beautiful little towns.
The first, 5.4 quake struck at 19.10 Italian time on Wednesday and the second, a 5.9 quake, at 21.18. The epicentre of both was Visso [Macerato, Marche] but they were felt in Trentino, Friuli, Veneto, Rome and even Austria. Several buildings in Rome, including the Italian Foreign Office, were evacuated as a precaution and today it was reported that cracks had appeared in some. However, historic buildings such as the Colosseum have been declared undamaged and safe today. All school buildings in Central Italy are being inspected.
In Amatrice - the town that was virtually wiped out in the 24th August quake - the last building standing in the centre, the four-storey palazzo rosso, succumbed to last night's quake.
There have been at least 530 aftershocks and at 10.21 today there was a 4.4 quake at Castelsantangelo sul Nera [Macerata, Marche]. At 20.50 there was a 3.1 quake between the same town and Norcia.
Thankfully only four injured have been reported but sadly one elderly person died of a heart attack caused by the quake in Tolentino [Marche]. Reports last night that a child in Camerino [Macerata, Marche] was badly injured appear to have been unfounded. No one is thought to be trapped under the rubble but 2,000 - 3,000 people have been made homeless.
Premier Renzi, who visited the quake zone today, said in Camerino that Italy is stronger than any earthquake and urged Parliament to quickly pass the "earthquake decree" which would enable the necessary funds and resources to be provided more quickly in such cases.
I do hope that it will be some consolation to the people of Amatrice to know that Sicily has not forgotten them: last Saturday the Rotary Club of Palazzolo Acreide "Valle dell'Anapo" organised an event called "I love Amatrice" to help those affected by the 24th August earthquake. In the town square, chefs gave their services free and cooked pasta all'Amatriciana and a range of pastries, using products donated by sponsors. Wine was also donated and musicians happily gave their services free. A sum of €2,150 was raised to help the earthquake zones.
I've always thought that most cooks are naturally helpful and unselfish, willing, as they are, to share their recipes at the drop of a cranberry and to give tips and encouragement to others. But last Friday, on Bakeoff Italia - Dolci in Forno, we saw a quite extraordinary example:
In this seventh episode of the fourth series, the contestants who had already been eliminated from the contest were invited back for a cookoff in which one of them could be reinstated. They had to make the ever-exacting Ernst Knam's seven-layered torta extreme and the twist was that the contestants still in the competition, not the show's resident judges - Knam, Clelia d'Onofrio and Antonio Lamberto Martino - would do the blind tasting. Then the two best cakes would undergo scrutiny from the resident judges. The cakes chosen were baked by contestants called Annalisa and Stefania but neither seemed very happy. After a few minutes, we learnt why; they both felt that there was another cake on the table which was better than theirs and that their peers had made a mistake in their tasting. Obviously, in pointing this out, they had sacrificed their own chances of being allowed back into the competition. Presenter Benedetta Parodi asked the resident judges to taste all the other cakes, which they did, and they agreed with Stefania and Annalisa that the best cake had been baked by a contestant called Bartolomeo.
How nice to see such altruism in a reality TV show!
As a young Italian graduate, one of the voices that I felt spoke to my generation was that of Dario Fo - dramatist, theatre and film director, actor, writer, painter, political activist, Nobel Laureate  and so much more - who died today at the age of 90. I continued to read the work of Dario Fo and his wife, Franca Rame and it never failed to surprise me and make me think. As I've said before, the literature of the 20th century asked the questions but did not, usually, provide the answers and Dario Fo asked the questions that politicians, in particular, did not wish to hear.
A stationmaster's son from Sangiano [Varese, Lombardy], Dario Fo joined Mussolini's Repubblica Sociale Italiana army at 17, a fact that would haunt him in later life. When he did talk about it, he said that he had joined the only Italian army in which he could enlist so as not to be deported to Germany to work. There was also a theory that he joined to deflect suspicion from falling upon his family, who were partisans.
After studying at the Brera Academy in Milan, Dario Fo joined Rai as an actor and satirical scriptwriter. He and Franca Rame wrote sketches together but their material was so often criticised by the Italian equivalent of the British "establishment" that the couple abandoned television for the theatre, founding their own company. Fo's theatrical solo piece Mistero Buffo was famously declared blasphemous by the Vatican and became all the more renowned for that. Other internationally well-known pieces by Fo include Morte accidentale di un anarchico [Accidental Death of an Anarchist] and Non si paga! Non si paga! [Can't Pay, Won't Pay].
Two books by Dario Fo which I have enjoyed recently are La figlia del papa [a biography of Lucrezia Borgia] which I reviewed here and Dario e Dio, a long interview in which he expounds his ideas about God - or the lack of such a being. I especially like a passage in which Fo says that the God of the Old Testament "demands tests of love that not even a Sicilian ... [would expect]."
To a man who never stopped fighting, questioning, campaigning, surprising and making us laugh, I would like to say, "Thank you".
Dario Fo died on the day it was announced that Bob Dylan is to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. I think he would have approved.
In this Apple advertisement from 1997, Dario Fo narrates and Bob Dylan makes an appearance among the innovative thinkers of the last century:
I am more often than not ashamed of my own country these days and am particularly so today regarding a gaffe involving my beloved Italy:
Online enrolment forms for certain schools in England and - I am sorry to say - Wales, ask parents to indicate their child's nationality. For Italians, however, there is not one code but four and they read as follows:
ITAA Italian [Any Other]
ITAN Italian [Napoletan]
ITAS Italian [Sicilian]
Is this stigmatising the South or is it just ignorance?
The Italian Ambassador to the UK, Pasquale Terracciano, protested yesterday, pointing out that Italy has been unified since 1861 and today the Foreign Office has formally apologised to Italy, promising that the forms will be amended.
Whoever compiled the form seems not to know the English word denoting a person from Naples, either.
I would be interested to know what kind of schools were involved and if I find out, I will update this post.
Update: 13.10.16 It seems that these were state schools and that the forms were compiled by the British government. A government spokesperson has said that there was "an historic administrative error" in the language codes used. Are we to believe, then, that in the 21st century, the UK government is using pre-1861 language codes for an online form? The first complaint is reported to have come from the city of Bradford.
The name Cesare Bocci is not a household one in English-speaking countries, but if I were to say "Mimì Augello" and post a picture of Cesare, many of you would recognise him as the actor who plays Montalbano's deputy.
It is often true that we can look at people, particularly celebrities, and think that everything must be fine in their lives but we usually have no idea what those lives are really like. Until I read an interview with Cesare Bocci and his partner Daniela Spada in an Italian TV listings magazine, I had no idea what they had been through in the last 16 years:
This part of their story begins in Rome on 1st April 2000. The day before, they had brought their newborn baby, Mia, home and today all is well until suddenly Daniela cries out that she has a terrible headache. Her condition worsens with terrifying speed and she is rushed to hospital, where the doctors are convinced that she is having a panic attack after a row with Cesare, who has to fight to get her seen by a neurologist. She has suffered a massive stroke. She lies in a coma for 20 days and when she wakes, her body has changed forever and , though she recognises Cesare as someone she loves, her memory is affected. Tragically, she cannot hold her baby daughter.
What follows is the story of Daniela's long road back, Cesare's unstinting support , the family and friends who in turn support him, his battles with hospital staff and bureaucracy alike and the bond that grows between him and his daughter. Cesare at last finds an Austrian doctor who treats Daniela as a human being first and a patient second and this proves to be the turning point. Slowly, and with great determination, Daniela is rehabilitated, not to her old life, but to a life which she can lead. There are still heartbreaking moments, such as those which describe the reactions of strangers to her disabilities or when she thinks of all the things she will never be able to do for her daughter. However,
"Never, never give up", she says, and Cesare says of her,
"Daniela taught me that, in difficult times, your uncertainties, fears and frustration can bury you or they can motivate you to start again."
Daniela Spada decided to think of sweet things so as not to think of her illness and became a cook and pastry chef. She now runs a cookery school, which she insists has the atmosphere of a welcoming family kitchen, in Rome.
This book is for anyone who has suffered, or been close to someone who has suffered, a stroke or other brain injury. It is also for everyone who has ever kept a long vigil at the bedside of a loved one, not knowing if they will wake up, or who has had to make a hospital corridor their home. It is, above all, a story of courage, determination and of course, love and so it is a book for all of us.
I've posted this song before, but not recently. As it's the eternal cry of that dangerous creature most single women will, at some point, meet, the bored married man, I thought it deserved another airing. Here are two versions [the Italian one is implicit whereas the English is explicit] from the lovely Mr Buanne:
On Monday, the Day of Memory for Migrants, I wrote that over 6,000 had been saved in Italian-led operations in the Mediterranean on that day. In the two days since, a further 11,000 desperate people have been saved in 72 operations coordinated by the Rome Coast Guard. Sadly, 28 bodies were also recovered, 22 of them from an inadequate boat crammed with 1,000 migrants.
Some of the migrants were transferred to the Coast Guard ship Dattilo, on which three babies were safely born. All are said to be healthy.
Today 1,020 of the rescued migrants were brought to Palermo but almost all will shortly be taken to centres in other regions. How awful it must be to make that perilous sea crossing in terrible conditions, then not even know if you will be allowed to stay in Europe as your fate is held totally in the hands of others. I am ashamed to say that migrants can now expect even less help from my own country, which has lurched dangerously to the right, and the mood has obviously hardened in several other European countries obsessed with building walls.
On the third anniversary of this tragedy in the Mediterranean, at least 6,000 migrants have been saved by the Italian Coast Guard, Navy and ships belonging to international non-governmental organisations. The Coast Guard reports that there were 18 rescue operations involving 39 migrant boats. Sadly, nine bodies have also been recovered in the Sicilian Channel. On one dinghy a man was found dead and several migrants had burns and other wounds caused by leaking fuel. Two children and a woman with serious burns were rushed to hospital.
The surge of boats again heading for Italy from Libya is due to calmer weather conditions after a week or so of rough seas and no one expects them to stop coming. Laura Boldrini, the Speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, again asked the rest of the EU to take their share of responsibility for migrants, reminding these countries that they do not hesitate to take their share of incoming EU resources. It is with little optimism that I express my hope that her words will be heeded this time.
To mark this Day of Memory for Migrants, Rai 3 tonight showed the film Fuocoammare, directed by Gianfranco Rosi. I wrote about this film some months ago but had not seen it before tonight. The director spent 18 months on Lampedusa, filming a migrant boat trying to reach Italy, the rescue and recovery operation, the processing of the migrants once they reach the island and the daily life of the islanders, including that of ER medic Dr Pietro Bartoli. Prior to tonight's screening, Gianfranco Rosi told Panorama magazine that on Lampedusa he found a much more complex and multi-layered story than he had expected . He said,
"It is not a political film but we cannot let the Mediterranean be the tomb of people fleeing war, hunger and desperation... It is useless to erect barriers as walls have been toppled throughout history... People fleeing desperation and death have no choice."
Fuocoammare is to be Italy's entry for Best Picture in the 2017 Oscars but its nomination has given rise to controversy. Paolo Sorrentino, director of La Grande Bellezza, has raised an objection not because he doubts the film's merits but because he believes it should be entered in the documentary section. Others do not think the film is sufficiently commercial. I have an opionion but will leave those of you who intend to see it - and I hope many of you do - to make up your own minds. I will say that I couldn't speak for at least half an hour after watching it and twitter revealed that many Italians felt the same. It is my belief that the film should be compulsory viewing for all would-be builders of border walls.
I would also like to say that I am very proud of Italy tonight and will close with a quote from Dr Bartolo: "È dovere di ogni uomo che sia un uomo aiutare queste persone - It is the duty of every man who is a man to help these people."