Monday, January 09, 2023


I write this the day after the eighth anniversary of the death of my beloved dog, Simi, whom some of you may remember from posts of yesteryear. It's never an easy day, as the dog lovers among you will understand, but I am grateful for the time we had and to her for sending me my Bertie.

If ever a dog needed a lot of love, it is Bertie and she came to the right place to receive it! Bertie certainly gives a lot of love in return, and here she is after her Christmas haircut:

Santa Paws came, just as he used to for Simi and then Bertie discovered that life is full of choices:

On festive evenings we snuggled under an old favourite Christmas blanket and we enjoyed it:

"I like it under here, I do!"

Pre-Christmas rather passed me by, I'm afraid and the prohibitive cost and even more hassle of sending cards to the UK these days left me resorting to e-cards en masse. I did, however, manage a day in Catania on the Thursday before Christmas. I had felt in need of the atmosphere of a big city and it looked particularly lovely in the sunshine, with its charming festive mercatini:

I loved the reindeer!

It's difficult to take a selfie when you want to get the famous Catania elephant that is above you in the frame but are afraid to put your bags on the ground because of the possibility of pickpockets (as in any big city). 

Back in Modica, this simple but beautiful shop window cheered me as I passed it every day. A photo does not do it justice:

Then all too soon it was twelfth night and taking the decorations down made me sadder than ever this year. Perhaps it is ageing and the effects of the insecurity about the future that we all probably feel post- pandemic. My Christmas tree ornaments consist mostly of mementoes and my Rome and Norwich robin ones have pride of place. They are in their wrapping now, until next year, God willing. 


Saturday, November 19, 2022


I received this beautiful gift of oranges and mandarins from a friend's garden, presented in a traditional, hand-made Sicilian basket, yesterday.

To quote a certain Mr Sinatra whose father was from Lercara Friddi in Palermo Province, or maybe, as the singer himself once claimed, Catania,


Yes, siree!

Sunday, November 06, 2022



On New Year's Eve 1999 I was having dinner with friends back in Cardiff, Wales. When the clocks struck midnight, we took our glasses of champagne outside, clinked them, watched the spectacular fireworks our hosts had provided, then hugged and kissed and went indoors to drink a toast, proposed by my friend's husband:

"Here's to the new century and we drink this toast in the hope that you young people who are with us tonight will enjoy good things to come, without the kind of horrible events that your grandparents' and, to some extent, your parents' generations had to live through. It seems that you might be lucky."

There is always conflict somewhere and there were conflicts going on even as he spoke, but we all knew that he meant those words sincerely. Then 9/11 happened, less than a year later and the threat of terrorism was everywhere in our daily lives.

As if that were not enough, in 2020, all over the world, we found our peacetime freedoms limited in ways we could never have imagined because of the pandemic and here in Italy we suddenly found ourselves living under a curfew. Every one of us lived in fear of our lives and those of our families and, apart from following the rules, there seemed to be nothing we could do about it. Has this made us better placed to imagine how it feels to have your freedom restricted by war? Perhaps.

On 8th September this year Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II died and on the day of her funeral the world witnessed the passing of an era. As a British person, I watched in sadness but also in awe at the splendour of the uniforms and the precision of my country's military. Yet a part of me was in despair for how, I asked myself, could there ever be a mentality of peace when we carry our revered dead monarchs on gun carriages to the sound of gun salutes and have woven the iconography of war into that of the nation? 

I am very aware that I am writing this one week before Remembrance Sunday in the UK, when the fallen and injured of all wars are commemorated, and I mean no disrespect. My own grandfather was blinded in World War I and I am profoundly grateful to him and to all who have fought for my freedom. I just wish there was another way of obtaining it, as, I am sure, do many soldiers. "No one abhors war more than someone who has been in one", my grandfather used to say. And it was that old warrior Sir Winston Churchill who said,

The one image of the war in Ukraine that I cannot get out of my mind is from the beginning of the conflict, when a young Russian soldier - a child, in fact, for he couldn't have been older than 19 - was captured in a village. The Ukrainian villagers were feeding him and being kind and even helped him to call his mother, at which point he began to cry. Is this what we want? Is this fair, that the old send the young into battle to try and resolve the messes that the former have made? Of course we do not want it and of course it is not fair. Where is the freedom for this young man and others like him to finish his education if he wishes, to have the joy of family, to live? No Freedom, No Peace.  

My thanks, as always, to the indefatigable Mimi Lenox, who inspires us all to blog for peace.

Thursday, September 22, 2022


Like so many all over the world, I devoted Monday to watching, on television, the ritual that accompanied the end of an era in London. I am glad I bought an extra box of tissues! A friend and I lunched, between processions, church services, standing for the national anthem and tears, on Italian stuzzichini (finger food) and a Turkish lahmacun (because it tastes good cold and I had therefore been able to make it the day before, using a pizza base not pitta bread, as it traditional). After that there had to be cake and my local bar made the one you see below for me - a thank you to the late Queen but also looking to the future with King Charles:   

Thus a Welshwoman and a Scottish woman in Sicily bade farewell to this most international of queens and we do not think she would have minded at all. 

Saturday, September 10, 2022


 O, to be in England

Now that April 's there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

wrote Robert Browning in Home Thoughts, from Abroad and went on to list, in the poem, some of the things you might see and hear in the English countryside on an April morning. But you see them distractedly, "unaware" because you take them for granted; you are "there" and able to see them every day.

Many words have been written about the momentous events of this week, so, planning this post, I wondered what I could possibly add to what great and renowned writers have already said. I had written about the Queen on this blog only in June, when we were celebrating her Platinum Jubilee, yet that seems a decade ago now. I pondered, wondered again and considered not writing anything at all but then I thought that perhaps I could write about what it is like to be British and hear such news when you are not "there",  do not wake in England or one of the other nations of the United Kingdom, cannot totally gauge the atmosphere "there" but suddenly, although you hope you have become bicultural, feel more British than you have for years. And you reel from the impact of the news you have just heard.

On the morning of what began as an ordinary day, Thursday, 8th September, I was looking at the British newspapers online and following certain developments on Twitter when suddenly I read that Her Majesty the Queen had been advised to rest as her doctors were "concerned". Alarm bells did not immediately ring in my head as we had seen Her Majesty accepting the resignation of one Prime Minister only on Monday and she had appointed the new one on Tuesday. In the photos, she looked frail but happy. She had rallied before; surely she would rally again? But then serious journalists started tweeting that something strange was going on in Parliament; notes were being passed round and Members of Parliament were looking grim. The Speaker interrupted the session to convey the best wishes of the House to the Queen. It occurred to me that the very fact that the Palace had issued a statement meant that things were very bad and, when we were told that first the (then) Prince of Wales and later the Princess Royal had gone to Balmoral, we knew. As Brits we all knew, wherever we were in the world. In the afternoon the Queen's other children and Prince William arrived at Balmoral and the only further news for hours was that the Queen was "comfortable". Again, as Brits, we knew that this probably meant, "Nothing further can be done" but we perhaps did not expect the  news we dreaded to come so quickly. At home I switched on BBC World News and saw that their main royal news presenter was wearing a black tie. 

At seven o'clock in Italy, which is six o'clock in the UK,  I took my dog out and when I came back, I went into the kitchen for a moment with the television still on in the living room. I heard the words "King" and "Charles" and then I knew for certain. I watched the written announcement that was displayed on the screen and a piece of my heart - the fragment that had woken in England "unaware" and had taken the Queen for granted - dropped out of my body. The National Anthem was played and although I was alone I stood up. I thought, "Oh, goodness, I've got to sing God Save the King" (for the Crown passes immediately to the heir upon the death of the Sovereign).

I thought back to the Coronation, when I was three. I've written before on this blog about how, when it was over, I had asked my great aunt when the next one would be and she had replied, "When the Queen dies." I had cried, because I didn't want this lovely young woman with the dazzling smile to die but I didn't want to wait either. And here I was, seventy years later, and I was standing in a living room in Sicily crying my eyes out just like that little girl so long ago.

When you live in a foreign land, you begin to see your own country with new eyes, especially if you have had to explain its ways and traditions to others, which, as a teacher, I have had to do. I have spent a large part of my life criticising the monarchy but over the years, looking at it not from "there" but from "here", I have come to the conclusion that it has its merits. I think I began to soften towards the Queen in particular when I watched a documentary about her, filmed not long after Prince Philip's retirement from royal duties, in which she walked down what looked like the kitchen stairs of whatever palace she was in one grey, rainy morning, perfectly dressed in coat and matching hat as always, smiling and ready to leave for an engagement. It came into my mind that she must have felt very lonely, despite her entourage. Few would have criticised her if she had handed over to her heir at that time but she was her own woman: when she was twenty-one she had famously made a promise to the people of her nation and the Commonwealth to serve them all her life and she was going to keep it. And who will ever forget the photo that went round the world in 2021, in which she stood alone, because of Covid, on what must have been the worst day of her life - that of her husband's funeral? She may have been a Queen, but how she must have longed for a comforting human touch that day. As someone who spent Italy's first, long, very strict lockdown totally alone apart from my dog, I can tell you that her famous lockdown speech, containing the reference to the song We'll Meet Again which every British person understood, gave a seventy-year-old Welshwoman in Sicily the hope that she desperately needed.

Students often ask me if the royals are "snobs" and I always reply, "Absolutely not." On the contrary, they are trained to put people at ease and are supposed to be polite to everyone. (All right, one was gaffe-prone but we have forgiven him.)  It is often said that the Queen met "everyone" and today a photo of her shaking hands and talking to Kermit the frog of Muppet fame has emerged on social media. She is smiling and she would have been as courteous to Kermit the frog as she was to the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Watching the documentaries shown during the BBC's coverage of the Queen's death, it has become much clearer to me that she did, indeed, meet "everyone" and how hard she worked. I am usually the first to say that it is not "work" as ordinary people know it but I do not think we can imagine what it takes to be constantly travelling (albeit in great comfort), make speeches which you may not agree with at the behest of a government which operates in your name but tells you what to do, to always smile, appear interested and, most skilfully, engage in conversation without really saying anything at all - to be the perfect "soft power" diplomat. It is because of her strictly kept political neutrality that the Queen was, and is, so respected around the world and it is also why the tributes - some of them from unexpected sources -  have poured in.

Of these tributes, two stand out for me, one from a head of state and the other from an elderly Sicilian gentleman whom I do not know but pass the time of day with in the street:

President Macron said,

For you, she was your Queen.
For us, she was The Queen.
She will be with all of us forever.

The Sicilian man said,

I am so sorry about the Queen. I was in love with her. For me it was as if she was Italian.

Her Majesty was, insofar as her job permitted it, her own woman but she was everybody's Queen.

I do not know when I will wake in England or Wales again, Your Majesty, but I do know that I will never wake "unaware" that you have gone.

For those of you who speak Italian, here is a link to a video in which I show and explain the Coronation Crown coin which I have kept for seventy years. (I'm about one second from the end of the clip and you will need some Sicilian pazienza to skip the ads!)

Wednesday, August 24, 2022


 You are lucky to be able to capture a twilight image in Italy, as it does not fall slowly, as in Britain. Here, one moment it is there but go and get your phone or camera and it is gone. Our Modican Nobel poet Salvatore Quasimodo's words Ed è subito sera - And suddenly it's evening are true - metaphorically too, of course, as anyone who is ageing (like me) will tell you. 

On Monday evening, however, I managed to reach for my phone in time and here is a view from my bedroom window but this time with the Ferragosto bunnies out of focus!


Thinking of this view, and its fast transition into darkness, I was reminded of some words from Colette:

Regarde! Regarde la couleur du ciel au couchant, qui annonce grand vent et tempête. Qu’importe le grand vent de demain, pourvu que nous admirions cette fournaise d’aujourd’hui ? Regarde, vite, le bouton de l’iris noir est en train de s’épanouir ! Si tu ne te dépêches pas, il ira plus vite que toi

- Colette, Journal à rebours,"Sido et moi".

Look! Look at the colour of the sky at sunset, predicting strong wind and storms. What does tomorrow's strong wind matter, provided we can admire this furnace that we have today? Look, quickly, the bud of the black iris is blossoming! If you don't hurry, it will go faster than you...

Wherever you are, enjoy this lovely time of evening!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022


I'm not a "Rise and shine, sing in the morning" type of person. I'm more, "Light, go away!" first thing. Nor do I normally gaze out at the view from my bedroom window at that time of day, as it's all I can do to open the shutters and stumble to the bathroom. But yesterday, perhaps because it was the Ferragosto holday, I did and - still being a bit dopey, you will understand - I thought there were some whacking great bunnies coming to greet me! It was only the shape of the fichi d'India (prickly pear) bush in the field out there, but it cheered me up:

Ferragosto, or the Feast of the Assumption, is when Italy virtually closes down and everybody except grumpy old me heads to the sea. For the past two years, during which we have been in and out of various lockdowns, my local bar closed only for the 15th, not for a week, as before, presumably to try and recuperate some of the takings lost during the Covid emergency but this time they have closed for the full week again. There is a quiet in the streets reminiscent of the lockdowns but happily that backdrop of fear in the air is absent and today I had an aperitivo and a plate of stuzzichini in another local bar with a friend, which helped dispel the memory of those grim times.

In the absence of a celebratory breakfast out yesterday morning, I made myself a granita all'anguria (watermelon granita) and very refreshing it was, too. I had bought a traditional Sicilian brioche for the occasion and Bertie the dog enjoyed a doggie gelato.

I hope you all had a good Ferragosto and look after those August bunnies if they come to visit!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022


It is mid-August and once again it is the Feast of St Lawrence, followed by la notte di San Lorenzo, the night on which young Italians often stay on the beach, looking for shooting stars or le lacrime di San Lorenzo (St Lawrence's tears). If you see some, they are said to bring you good fortune. As I wrote last year, the only notte di San Lorenzo on which I've managed to spot some was in 2019 and whether they brought me good luck depends on how I interpret 2020! I suppose they did, in that I have been lucky enough to survive the pandemic so far and in 2020 I managed to complete my memoir.

This year. I think I will be disappointed again, though, as it seems that the Perseids will mostly be active on the 13th, but may be obscured by a very bright full moon. Never mind, I love the Sicilian moon! 

Whether or not you see the stars, here is a lovely song for you to enjoy tonight:

Monday, August 01, 2022


This is the hottest summer I can remember in Sicily and it seems to be wearing us all down because the extreme heat started early, in May, and I believe it has only rained for about ten minutes since. There are, of course, compensations, such as granita, anguria (watermelon) and myriad ice cream flavours and I certainly perked up when a friend brought me this traditional Sicilian basket of goodies from his garden on Friday. 

There are aubergines, datterini (tiny, date-shaped tomatoes), salad tomatoes, tomatoes for sauce and occhi di bue (bull's-eye) tomatoes, long peppers and a kind of pepper that I had never seen before.These are called friggitelli (from friggere - to fry) and, although they are related to chilli peppers, they are not hot. (I understand they are known in the US.) My friend told me to fry them in olive oil and garlic until browned and to add coarse salt only at the end of cooking. That is exactly what I did and wow, they were good!

Monday, June 13, 2022


 Just a few photos of where I live, in Modica, a Unesco World Heritage Site, from its highest point, the Pizzo.

And what Saturday night is complete without a pizza?  This delicious Ortolana pizza was consumed with pleasure at the smart new Pizzeria S. Antonio , Modica Alta.

Sunday, June 05, 2022


On the occasion of Her Majesty The Queen's Platinum Jubilee, I'm going to begin with another extract from my memoir, A Place Called Siracusa:

I think we must have got the TV for the Coronation and we had red, white and blue flags all over the house in the run-up to it. I dressed up as the Queen and paraded around pretending to be her for what seemed like months and when it was all over I kept asking when the next Coronation would be.

Not until the Queen dies”,

said Auntie Mabel, disappointing me abjectly.

I did not want Her Majesty to die but I couldn't believe I'd have to wait till I was as old as Mum and Dad, or even Auntie Mabel and Grandpa! But meanwhile we had a new, young Queen with a dazzling smile and a year or two later my class at school was taken to watch her drive through Bristol. All we really saw was a flash of the strawberry-coloured suit she was wearing as she passed but we waved our little flags like mad, and afterwards drew excruciating pictures of the occasion for posterity. The Queen was soon to disappoint me again, however and the reason for this was our new, red sofa. I was so happy because it was red, my favourite colour at the time but Dad quickly decided it needed to be covered and covered it was, in heavy, drab material. I cried buckets and asked Grandpa when the covers would come off.

When the Queen comes”, he replied.

I spent months with my nose pressed against my bedroom window, waiting for the Queen to come, but she never did. I've been disillusioned with the monarchy ever since.

Sixty-nine years on and I still don't want the Queen to die. I'm not even a monarchist but I can't imagine the world without her. In a very strange way, which is hard to explain to non-Brits, the Queen has been a part of our lives, though most of us have never met her, many have never seen her at a live event and a large percentage are indifferent to the monarchy, if not against it. I can only explain this sentiment by saying that she perhaps represents the collective memory of the nation. On this particular Jubilee, I am watching the coverage and celebrating in my little way because I believe it is possible to have doubts about the relevance of the monarchy as an institution, whilst maintaining respect for a woman who has always done what she regards as her duty. I also rejoice because, wherever we are, we have had very little to celebrate together for a very long time. I must say that yesterday (2nd June), as I watched the crowd in London walking peacefully to Buckingham Palace, as the people of Britain have, on important national occasions of both joy and sorrow, for generations, I was able to think, “Yes, that is the Britain I remember and the Britain I continue to love.”

In this spirit, then, I wish Her Majesty and the country that made me a very happy Platinum Jubilee. This little rhyme came into my head the other day:

So here's my Coronation Crown

and I paraded up and down,

a “pretend queen”, when I was three,

yet all things pass – and I, and she. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022


 It was a great pleasure, on Saturday, to be able to visit the Infiorata di Noto (carpet of flowers) again in person, as it has not been held as a "live" event for the past two years because of the pandemic. This year's theme was the Val di Noto Baroque cities, marking the twentieth anniversary of these eight towns becoming, collectively and deservedly, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

For the first time, the Infiorata has been held for five days instead of three, from last Friday until today, allowing many more people to enjoy it. Also for the first time, it has been necessary to buy a ticket - not to enter the city but to walk along via Nicolaci where the carpet has been displayed - at the very reasonable price of €2,50 per person. These could be purchased on site or online, though I have to say that the latter system took some time!

Because you are walking on one side or the other of the display you are contending with some strange angles for photos and also with sun and shadow and having to crop out faces, so I did the best I could:

As always, no visit to Noto is complete without a visit to the Caffè Sicilia, where you can partake of delicious and unique ice creams such as this one. Finally, here is your faithful blogger enjoying the Noto sunshine.

Well done, Noto and thank you for a great day!

Monday, April 18, 2022


This Easter traditional processions are back and Modicans, yesterday, were able to enjoy their beloved Madonna Vasa Vasa, the Easter Sunday procession in which statues of Mary and of the Risen Christ are carried around the town until, eventually, they meet. Other towns have also been able to celebrate in their traditional ways, although there was much polemic about this at first. In the end, I think, it was conceded that people cannot live under Covid restrictions forever and at some point they have to be trusted to be as careful as they can while attending such events. Let us hope that all will be well.

I did not attend, preferring to spend the day here with my dog and perhaps have a day of reflection but I certainly did not lack for food! A kind friend brought me lamb impanate (pies) and cassate (also known as cassatelle or cassateddi) di Pasqua. These last are very different from the iced cassate beloved of tourist magazines and are pastries filled with ricotta and honey. They are a particular speciality of south-eastern Sicily. I made for myself my spezzatino di Pasqua of lamb, onions, artichoke hearts, yellow pepper and potatoes spiced with sumac and flavoured with rosemary and sage. (Lamb cuts are smaller in Italy than in the UK, hence the seemingly vast quantity. I will freeze some.)  The last photo shows two slices of a superb colomba (dove-shaped cake) which was also a gift and it is flavoured with Modican chocolate and amarena (black cherry) icing. Can I make colomba?  I have never tried because there are professional bakers who do it far better than I ever could and have space and equipment for the long, natural rising required, as with panettone.

Happy Easter Monday, everyone!

Wednesday, April 06, 2022


A lovely day on Sunday with friends who are both book lovers and dog lovers and what could be better after a long and delicious lunch than an evening stroll by the sea in Sampieri?

Blogger in balmy breeze

And the memory of a beautiful sunset
to take home.


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