Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SOMBRE DAYS AND DREAMS

Late on Monday night I suddenly found myself, like people all over the world but particularly British people, unexpectedly glued to my television screen as horrific events unfolded in Manchester, UK and the gravity of them became clear. The next night, two brave Italian anti-Mafia judges would, I believe, have forgiven me, when Nicola Piovani conducted a performance of the theme from La Vita è Bella at the very place where one of them was murdered exactly 25 years ago, for thinking of the Manchester children who had set out so eagerly for a concert, only to meet with unspeakable carnage. Yes, these two men, who loved life, would have understood.

On 23rd May 1992 [the year I first came to Sicily] Judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and his bodyguards Rocco Dicillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani were killed by a bomb as they travelled from Palermo International Airport [now Falcone-Borsellino Airport] to the city. His friend and colleague Judge Paolo Borsellino was killed, along with his bodyguards Agostino Catalano, Walter Eddie Cosina, Vincenzo Li Muli, Emanuela Loi and Claudio Traina 57 days later, on 19.7.92 as Judge Borsellino was ringing his mother's doorbell.

Yesterday Italy remembered and, in the three-hour Rai special programme, Manchester was present in everyone's thoughts too. If you go to 23.34.46 [scroll down on the right] in this link, you will be able to see the moving performance of the La Vita è Bella theme as a car, a replica of Falcone's - the judge was driving himself - travels along the autostrada to the final notes.

Life, as we all know, goes on, as does death and on Wednesday news came in of the loss of 34 migrants at sea: A migrant boat, carrying 500 people, had got into trouble off the Libyan port of Zuara in bad sea and weather conditions and there was a sudden movement of migrants to one side. This may have been caused by panic as the Libyan Coast Guard threatened them, according to MSF and SOS Méditerranée crew who had gone to back up the Italian Coast Guard but whatever happened, around 200 migrants fell into the sea. The Italian Coast Guard and NGO operatives saved most of them but 34 bodies have been recovered and we do not yet know how many were those of children.

As I think of all three tragic events, I am reminded of the words of bodyguard Montinaro's wife [not "widow", she insists]:  As the remains of the bodyguards' car which was blown up 25 years ago were brought, in stages, from Peschiera La Garda in Veneto to Palermo for the anniversary, Tina Montinaro said that she wanted everyone, young and old, to understand that Judge Falcone's escort had been made up of people "with dreams, a life, children and a family". For that is what links the three groups of people: two judges who were also husbands and one a father, excited children who had parents, brothers, sisters and friends, and migrants who had families either back home or with them on that perilous journey - and every single one of them had dreams. We who are left must now dream for them.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

INFIORATA 2017



The third weekend in May is the time to head for that most architecturally homogeneous of the Baroque cities of the Val di Noto, Noto itself. Completely rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1693, its honey-coloured stone buildings are a joy to behold and the town is particularly welcoming on the three days of its Infiorata - carpet of flowers.

Before we go along via Nicolaci to see the flowers, let us first remind ourselves of the beauty of Noto:



The theme of the Infiorata this year has been Sogni e Colori del Principato di Monaco - Dreams and Colours of the Principality of Monaco and celebrates the town's links with the Principality. Prince Albert of Monaco, who has done much to support the Ente Fauna Siciliana and, through this, the nature reserve at Vendicari, was made an honorary citizen of Noto in September.

When you arrive in Noto by bus on an Infiorata day, the first thing you see is a thriving market. for it would not be an Italian festa without one. What always delights me about such markets is the aroma of vanilla coming from all those sweets and biscuits they are selling - I find it very comforting, and I think it must be because it reminds me of the smell of custard cooking for Sunday dessert at home when I was a child.



But now let us make our way along via Nicolaci.  It is difficult to get really good shots because you have to walk, obviously, along the sides of the display and you also have to contend with the sun beating down on one of them! I have done my best:


I was glad that Princess Grace was there:


The card theme running through the display was, I thought, inspired:



About half way up, I ducked into a nice little restaurant for a lunch of bruschette and vegetarian couscous:


Then it was one more nod to Monaco, a look down via Nicolaci and a preview of next year's theme, China:



Well done as always, Noto and special congratulations for reaching out with these international themes.

Prince Albert of Monaco will be visiting Modica in the autumn, when he hopes to explore the story of the branch of his family, the Grimaldi, who settled here.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

MOTHER'S DAY THOUGHTS

Today is Mother's Day in Italy and many other countries, though not the UK, where it was celebrated on 26th March.  For those of us who neither have a mother living nor have become one, it can be a difficult day. For me it is a day on which to avoid social media and here in Italy I steer clear of pasticcerie before lunch, when you see everyone purchasing trays of dolci to take to the family table. It is not that I begrudge people time with their mothers - I am glad for them - but it would be unnatural not to miss mine on such a day.

As many of you know, I had two mothers - the one who bore me and the one who nurtured me -so there are two kinds of "missing" that vie within me on this day. My natural mother has a grave, lovingly tended by the sister with whom I was reunited only recently and my adoptive mother has no memorial except in my heart - because she wanted it that way.  In March my sister lovingly placed daffodils [a symbol of Wales] on our mother's grave on my behalf and I am grateful to her.

When you are no longer a daughter but are not a mother either, you begin to wonder where your place is at the table. I would add that not only does the non-mother not know where to sit, but she doesn't "own" the feast, having no brood to create it for.  She is never the main provider or creator of any feast, though she may be a helper. Many of you might envy this position, but the willing aunt, sister, cousin or friend at the table is not always happy.

If, like me, she is approaching her seventies and has not reproduced, she may look at her body and ask, "What was it all for?" as her body has reminded her what was expected of her every day of her life:  when her feminine attributes literally took shape, she learnt their power and their danger;  as her physical charms faded, she learnt what it was like to become invisible - a state not without its advantages - but did not have the respect due to a mother or grandmother to fill that void.  Women, said de Beauvoir, define themselves in relation to "the oher" and this is sadly still largely the case. The world likes to categorise us in terms of our relationship to others whilst continuing to judge us on our looks

So tied up is our psyche with the idea of motherhood that when my [adoptive] mother first showed symptoms of the dementia-related illness which would be her last, I, a successful career woman at that time, convinced myself that it was all my fault because I hadn't given her the joy of grandchildren. I felt that that had I been able to provide her with this "stimulus", everything would have been all right. I am also certain that there are childless women who abuse their own bodies because they consider them "useless", though I have yet to find any psychological research on this.

Today I want to think of all women who, for one reason or another, would have liked to have had children and did not, for this is a "loss" and rarely seen as such. I want to think of women like my natural mother, pressurised, so long ago,  by a judgemental society into giving up her child, all women who have suffered the loss of a child in any circumstances and, as it is the weekend and more migrant tragedies are probably occurring at sea as I write, of migrant mothers;  those whose children die as they cross the Mediterranean, those who have their children literally torn from them in slave camps in Libya, those who make the dangerous journey alone, in the hope of being able to send for their children later, and those who survive the journey, only to become separated from their children in the chaos. All are mothers, all have a mother's protective instinct and all deserve a place in our hearts this Mother's Day.

If you mised my posts about adoption and my reunion with my sister, you can find them here.  There are links to all my posts about migration in the Mediterranean on this page.

Monday, May 08, 2017

LUNEDÌ MUSICALE

In view of events yesterday in another country close to my heart, I think I should post this. Vive la France!

Charles Aznavour et Zaz - J'aime Paris au mois de mai

Monday, May 01, 2017

MAY DAY AND ST JOSEPH



May Day or the "Workers' Holiday" is being celebrated today in Italy, as elsewhere, but some of you may not know that the day also celebrates Christ's earthly father St Joseph or San Giuseppe for the second time in the year. St Joseph's main feast falls on 19th March but in 1955 Pope Pius XII inserted a feast day in the liturgical calendar to remember "St Joseph the Worker". The day chosen for this was 1st May, precisely to counteract the secular holiday largely associated with socialism and communism. Pope Pius wanted people to remember not only St Joseph, but the dignity of work, which "continues the work of the Creator and enables men to make themselves useful to their brethren".  He also said that people should ask St Joseph to intercede for them in their work.

Besides being the protector of workmen - including, as you might expect, carpenters - St Joseph is said to protect bursars, lawyers and fathers everywhere.  He is also believed to have saved Sicily from famine, hence the tradition of creating altars of bread in his honour for his March feast day.

The above portrait of San Giuseppe is in Modica Bassa but the grille which shelters it from the elements is only ever open for a few days around 19th March. I have always loved it.

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