Thursday, August 15, 2019


Clockwise, left to right:
Bertie-Pierrine enjoying some special doggy gelato; interior of Duomo di San Pietro, Modica; appetisers in local bar; Sicilian puppets depicted in flowers at the Infiorata in Noto, 2019.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


"When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation", said Borges and it is true that we still have the works to console us. However, when a writer as great and as dear to the people of his birthplace as Andrea Camilleri dies, the feeling that something irretrievable is lost prevails and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Sicily is in mourning.

I didn't know until this morning that Andrea Camilleri had named his most famous character, il commissario Montalbano or Inspector Montalbano in English, after the Spanish writer Manuel Varques Montalbán, which I think is a nice touch. I also learned this morning - and I mention it because it makes Andrea Camilleri seem more like someone I'd have enjoyed having a coffee with - that, like me, he had been unable to get through any book by Dan Brown.

Most of us, of course, were introduced to Camilleri through the Montalbano books and TV series and I remember being in Sicily (eleven years before I settled here) when the first book featuring the gastronome detective came out. "This is by a new author", said a friend. "You might find the dialect parts difficult but try it." Now, I am not a fan of detective fiction but I think we can all admit that Montalbano is different and when the series was first shown I have to say it helped that he was played by Luca Zingaretti! 

The stories have certainly played their part in putting Sicily on the tourist map and nearly every town in this area offers versions of "Gli arancini di Montalbano" or "Montalbano's rice balls". Distrustful of food not prepared by a home cook or at least by the  restaurant owner Calogero - who shares the author's second name - Montalbano is witty and also knowledgeable about food, as are most Sicilians I know.

"Mangiarono parlando di mangiare, come sempre accade" - "They ate while talking of eating, as often happens", wrote Camilleri in La forma dell'acqua and in Sicily indeed it does.

Camilleri's sense of humour was sometimes dark, always down to earth and often ironic and, along with his defence of migrants and fearless criticisms of certain politicians, sometimes it made him enemies as well as friends, a fact that sadly became apparent when he was hospitalised in June and again today. Let us use British understatement for a moment to say that there was no love lost between Matteo Salvini and Camilleri but Salvini did have the decency to tweet a brief tribute this morning. Some of the latter's fans, unfortunately, demonstrated little of that virtue. But, as the author said,

"Un autentico cretino è difficile a trovarsi in questi tempi in cui i cretini si camuffano da intelligenti" - "A real idiot is hard to find in these times in which idiots disguise themselves as intellectuals."

The Montalbano books, set in imaginary Vigàta and filmed mostly in and around Ragusa, Punta Secca, Scicli and Modica, combine tales of the commissario's investigations with asides on Sicilian food and life, feature current events and have a cast of characters that all those who read them feel they know personally. 

I would like to add to the tributes by thanking Andrea Camilleri for bringing the place I came to love so much that I have made it my home to world attention in a positive way.

In 2017 Camilleri said of the blindness that had afflicted him in old age,

"Sono cieco, ma perdendo la vista tutti gli altri sensi si riacutizzano, vanno in soccorso. La memoria è diventata più forte, ricordo più cose di prima con molta lucidità e scrivo sempre."
"I am blind, but losing my sight made all my other senses more acute. They have come to the rescue. My memory has improved, I remember more things than before with great lucidity, and I still write."

When asked what he missed, he said,
"Mi manca la bellezza delle donne" - "I miss seeing the beauty of women."

The last Montalbano book awaits publication in a safe, where Camilleri had intended having it kept until the time was right, a decision which is now presumably in the hands of his publishers.

Camilleri recently said that he felt something approaching but didn't know what it was, adding that he liked to call it Eternity. Sì, maestro, let's call it that.

Andrea Camilleri:  6.9.1925, Porto Empedocle, Sicily - 17.7.2019, Rome

Actors' caravans for filming of Montalbano in Modica,
May 2019. The caravans are for Mimi Augello and Fazio.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


It is supposed to have been a Sicilian who said,

"Al mattino le arance sono d'oro, a pranzo d'argento e alla sera di piombo."  ("Oranges are gold in the morning, silver at lunchtime and lead in the evening.")

Whilst there seems to be some evidence that they can slow down the digestion the later in the day they are eaten, I have to admit that for me, they are always "gold"! In particular, my spremuta of fresh Sicilian orange juice in the morning, from November to February when the oranges are at their best, sets me up for the day. No self-respecting Sicilian bar owner would allow less than the finest spremuta to be served in his establishment, so  I bid a fond farewell to the juice at the end of February or, at the latest, mid-March. (This is why, when you visit Sicilian tourist sites in summer and see stalls offering spremuta, you won't see any Sicilian drinking it, because he or she will know that the oranges have either been imported or frozen.)

Imagine my surprise then, when this morning the local bar owner greeted me with,"This morning we have spremuta! They brought me oranges from Noto and they're good, so we are serving spremuta this week! But of course, when they offer me oranges from Spain, I don't take them."  There we have it: Oranges from Noto are OK but if they come with more food miles than that, they are rejected. And that is why this morning's spremuta tasted so good!

Whilst on the subject of fruit juice, if any of you have been to Sicily recently you may have noticed pomegranate juice on sale at tourist sites. The properties of the pomegranate have been rediscovered recently and there are companies producing excellent organic juice. But the fruit is out of season in summer so the juice, despite a few pomegrantes being on display, is unlikely to be freshly squeezed on the premises. Think about it - how much juice do you get out of a pomegranate if you try to squeeze one at home? There is nothing wrong with the commercial versions and they are very refreshing. They also make a passable, though non-traditional, granita.

But I'll stick to my "morning gold" while it lasts, thanks!

Sunday, May 19, 2019


It's always nice to visit the Infiorata in Noto and this year's theme was Sicilians in North America.  First, it was interesting to see how it's done:

Then on to via Nicolaci and we're off!

 This tragic girl was Gaetana Midolo from Noto who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911.   She was 16. Your city remembers you, Gaetana:

"A new life in a new land":

Hanna Barbera Cartoons:

Joe Di Maggio:

Johnny Dundee (Giuseppe Corrara):

I thought Lady Gaga looked in fine form, myself!

The Charging Bull of Wall Street:

Hello, Liza with a zee! The lady of course has Sicilian ancestry:

The next two are a homage to the designer Anna Maria La Bianca:

Frank Zappa also had Sicilian ancestry:

A tribute to Operation Husky:

The opera singer Santa Biondo:

And the one and only!

The last image - "Exiles":

Later, despite strangely inclement weather, there was a fine parade of nobles:

Lastly, of the many crafts and Sicilian food specialities on display, my favourite was this loaf of bread:

Thank you for a lovely day, Noto and, as always, well done!  I think I should finish with....

Monday, April 22, 2019


Happy Easter Monday from Sicily Scene, everyone!  Below is my version of Mary Berry's Chocolate CappuccinoTart, which I made to take along to a friend's house today:

I was a bit nervous, as I hadn't made this before and hadn't had time to do a trial run but then I thought, "Of course it will work - it's Mary Berry!" I used mascarpone instead of crème fraiche and panna da montare instead of double cream. For the decorations, apart from the sugar rose, which I bought, I used nocciolini di Chivasso - tiny hazelnut meringues - which a former student now working in Turin had brought me when she last came home. I must say it went down very well and I needn't have worried!

Thursday, January 03, 2019


The Wedding Party Girl

A story for New Year

I would see her four or five times a year, usually in summer, as I sat writing in the bar on the corner of my street in Centochiese. Once, I saw her in the hairdresser's, on a Saturday like all the other times, and once in the run-up to Christmas – always with the same group of friends and even in winter, when it gets cold and windy in Sicily, seated outside the bar where those who wished to could smoke. She had the kind of easy elegance that every woman secretly covets and I noticed her first not for the beauty she undoubtedly had, but for this. When she moved she glided, her long dark hair seemed effortlessly in place and her clothes, simpler in style than those of her friends, seemed smarter because of the way she wore them; few, but perfect, accessories, make-up applied by a painstaking beautician to look as if it wasn't there and, most importantly, she wore them with confidence.

Beauticians do rather well in Centochiese – there are six within a five-minute walk from my house – and they do especially well on summer Saturdays, for when there is a wedding, not only the bride, but every female guest will have what we would call in English “the works” and will be made up as if for a television appearance. An Italian beautician can make anyone look stunning, including, on occasion, I like to think, me. 

So it was that I knew they were a wedding party from their attire – the women in evening dress or at least what used to be called “cocktail dresses” in the early afternoon, and the men in their expensive suits teamed with trainers – yes, trainers – that had probably cost as much as the rest of the outfit. It made a stylish combination. The other clues were the group's general celebratory mood and the time of day: I would see them at around 2pm or between 6pm and 8. You see, in Sicily, people don't just have their wedding photos taken in and outside the church or at the reception, but the bride and groom leave their guests, sometimes for several hours, to go off to a specially chosen location – often the beach - with the photographer. What do the guests do in the meantime? Well, those who live near enough sometimes go home whilst others, such as this group, repair to a favourite bar to smoke, gossip, have an aperitvo and share a plate of struzzichini while they wait for the real celebration to begin, at perhaps 8.30 or 9.30 pm. This will go on until the early hours, comprise many courses, the viewing of the wedding video or perhaps a clip or montage of the couple's story, dancing and high jinks and possibly – something which frightens me to death – the lighting of paper lanterns which fly dangerously low over the guests' heads. Yes, these friends would have a good time later.

The wedding party girl, as I called her in my mind, never seemed to be with any of the young men in particular, though some of the others were obvious couples. She seemed of them, yet a little aloof, never smoking, never talking or laughing loudly but smiling, graceful and usually acknowledging me with a little nod. “Signora”, she'd say quietly if I passed her.

Several summers went by like this and after the first one, I'd notice a couple missing from the group so I'd guess it was their wedding day. Then the next summer they'd be back, the young woman perhaps with a definite bump, and another two of the group would be missing. Yet it never seemed to be the wedding party girl's turn to absent herself from the group.

Then one summer I didn't see her at all. On the first Saturday I thought that she might have been the (non-blushing) bride but when she didn't appear for the second or third time the group were there, I wondered if she had moved away, as so many young Sicilians do, for university or for work. I didn't know the group well enough to ask and if I had, my British reserve would have got the better of me. I didn't see her the summer after that either, and then I suppose I stopped thinking about it as after all, what business was it of mine?

That New Year's Eve, for the first time in eight or so years, it snowed in Centochiese, an event which was greeted with joy rather than dismay, for there were children who had never seen such a thing. And I had to admit it was pretty, although I shivered indoors more than I ever had in England, where houses are built to shelter you from the cold rather than the summer heat. On New Year's Day I awoke to that silence that seems to fall everywhere along with snow when it first comes. “The silence of a convent”, I thought as I ventured out, as apartment-dwelling dog owners must, that morning.

Picture by kind permission of  Oreb - Libri & Sacro, Modica

We walked slowly, my dog and I – she because, like the children, she had never seen snow before and I for fear of falling. Thus it was that when we came to the Catholic book store, we paused for a moment to look at its beautifully decorated window, which won prizes every year in the Centochiese Christmas Window competition. Suddenly I became aware of a woman treading lightly in the snow towards me, dressed in an ankle-length grey skirt of thick material, a mid-length, heavy raincoat that could have been British and what in my far-away country we would call “sensible shoes” - probably much more suitable for the snow than mine - and yes, a wisp of wavy black hair escaping from under her wimple. I don't know why she was outside or why her hands were bare on this freezing day but they were, and as she stopped to admire the crib in the window she gave me a fleeting smile and that familiar nod. “Sorella”, said I, nodding back. There was just a hint of a wave as she left, enough for me to register the glint of her nun's ring in the Sicilian sun which was beginning to peep through the unusual grey of the sky. Then she melted away as the snow soon would and to this day, I have not seen her again. The wedding party girl had had her wedding day.

Cross-posted at Tales from Centochiese


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