Friday, April 28, 2006


Tuesday was the "Liberation Day" holiday here and dog Simi and I were invited to friends Gina and Carlo's house in the country. [Nearly everyone here has 2 or 3 houses to live in - often one in town, one in the country and one at the sea; this would be considered the height of luxury in the UK and I try not to be envious!] It was kind of them to invite Simi too, as she is not the sort of dog who can be left outside [as a lot of dogs are in Italy] or, indeed, left out of any activity! So she was allowed in the house and behaved very well.

We had a fine time in the open air when we were not eating and I think Simi had about 12 walks along the nearby lane!

Gina and Carlo's daughters, one of whom is studying at Catania University whilst the other is completing high school - imagine, they were such little girls when I first met them in 1992! - along with Carlo's elderly parents and some other friends were there, too. Carlo's mother energetically swept the house out and did a lot of the cooking, putting me to shame!

For lunch we had:
pasta with tomato sauce
salad and skinned, roasted and dressed green peppers
roasted veal and pancetta
barbecued artichokes and sausage

I love the way the Sicilians prepare artichokes: I am a reasonably good cook but I am hopeless with carciofi: I end up with nothing when I try to prepare them! [But at least here you can buy the hearts frozen, if all else fails, which you can't in Britain.] On Tuesday I watched as Gina's friend prepared them: they were washed and the bottoms cut off, then they were halved and cooked very well indeed on the stone barbecue outside. Then they were sprinkled with olive oil, seasalt and parsley. You just tear off the leaves and suck the juices, discarding the leaves afterwards. [I have also eaten them here in this way when they have been left whole and cooked in a wood-burning oven.] The taste is wonderful and the cooked vegetables look divine.

The lunch was completed with an out-of-this-world strawberry cake that Gina had made, a torta al miele [honey cake] that I had made, "dolci", lovely little cakes from Cappello, a superb pasticceria in Modica and rounded off with Limoncello [of course], Asti [the cork hit me, which according to Gina's friend, means that I will get married soon!!] and a chocolate and chilli pepper liqueur from Cappello. I hadn't tried the latter before, though I did know that the "marriage"of chocolate and chilli works and is very fashionable. Served cold, the liqueur was very good. [Modica is famous for the production of chocolate and you can get all sorts of unusual flavours here, though the chocolate is strong for British tastes. Recently the town has hosted the prestigious "Eurochocolate Festival", which I hope will help to make Modican chocolate better known elsewhere in the world, as it deserves to be.]

- A glorious meal, a relaxing day and a good time was had by all - and it seems there is hope for my ailing love-life!

Thursday, April 27, 2006


So Cherie Blair spent nearly £8000 [or the Labour Party did] on getting her hair done for the last election campaign. Now, I am no fan of the Blairs - not any more! - but on this one I'm with you, Cherie!

I discussed it with my good friend Irma here on Saturday and, like most women, we agree that if your hair isn't right, it doesn't matter how expensive your clothes, make-up or jewellery are; you just don't feel confident.

Good hairdressers are also good listeners and, in my opinion, should be paid at least as much as good psychologists!

This all brings me, somewhat circuitously, to be able to tell you about my lovely Sicilian hairdresser, Raffaele. He has been cheering me up and making the best of a bad job re. my appearance for well over 10 years now, as I think I first went to him on a visit here in 1995. He looks like the young Gene Kelly and, in fact, one Xmas when I was here, even had a grand piano and pianist playing Xmas tunes in the salon! So no one could say that he does not do things with panache.

His salon is on my favourite shopping street, the Via Sacro Cuore [where my favourite bar is too - more on that another time] and, by British standards, it is quite a luxurious and spacious place.

You don't make appointments, not even at busy times like Xmas; you just go in there and you wait. [I take a book along these days!] Well, you can make an appointment, but I have found that it doesn't make any difference! - You could still be in for a 2-hour wait on a Saturday, for instance. "Pazienza", as they say here.

You also do not, as in the UK, ask for a certain stylist: the only stylist is the man himself! His assistants will wash you, colour you, even start the blow-dry; but cut they will not and you always have to wait for Raffaele to "finish" you, at which point he will give you his charming smile and declare you to be "servita".

He has his off-days, of course: one day in February I wanted red lowlights and came out with pink ones, but he did correct them later and in the meantime I told everyone it was for my birthday - until I felt so bloody stupid that I could stand it no longer! And I have a suspicion that, like many Mediterrranean men, he really likes women to have their hair coloured a deeper, brownish shade. [There are, surprisingly, quite a few Italian hairdressers in my hometown of Cardiff and I have noticed that they tend to go for this kind of colour, too.]

It is when I am at Raffaele's that I am often aware of another element of the old culture shock, this time regarding "personal space": if I am in my hairdresser's in the UK, I would never dream of going up to talk to Peter while he is with another client, but here everyone just barges in and walks straight up to Raffaele, whatever he is doing. And I find that quite an invasion of my "space" and of my moments with my hairdresser -who is also my psychologist, remember! [Yet lately I have caught myself doing it, too!] And, of course, it is well known that continental Europeans and Americans stand closer to each other than Brits do, so maybe that is part of it, too.

The other thing I have to tell you about Raffaele and his staff is that they are all so very kind: in the summer, when I was still in temporary accommodation down in Modica Bassa, Raffaele several times made me wait until a member of staff was free to drive me back there, as he was worried about my hanging around for buses in the heat. That was such a thoughtful act at such a difficult time for me and I will never forget it. Then, later, when I moved into the flat and was "ripped off " by a certain tradesman, they all said to me, "Please, if you are in need of help, tell us; we know people and they will not cheat you". It made up for the other incident! - and I will tell you about that another time, too. And then Raff has let a member of staff off at slack times to come over here and do "odd jobs" for me, too - for which I have, of course, happily paid him - but the point is that he allowed the young man to come and help and he was someone I knew I could trust; that is so important when you move to a new country and know few people.

I discussed the Blair woman with Raffaele yesterday, by the way - he had read all about it - and we were sure in agreement on it!

And then, as I came out of the salon, I got "caught" by one of those local TV crews that goes round thrusting a microphone at you and telling you you have "35 seconds to say whatever you want": so I found myself saying how wonderful Modica is, how the sun shines in Sicily, how beautiful are the fruit and vegetables and how wonderful life can be here - even though I had woken up feeling quite depressed! Well, that's hairdressers for you!

Monday, April 24, 2006


Well, I think I am a bit late, actually. But the Vespa, that emblem of Italian life, is 60 this month so I have bought myself an ornament in its honour.

Simi the dog hates the things, by the way; life for her is a game of "spot the motorini" on our walks and she barks at most of those she sees. I have tried explaining to her that she will get a very sore doggie throat indeed if she keeps barking at motorbikes in Italy, but she won't give up! She does occasionally demur now, though, supposedly considering some models unworthy of her attention, so she is not lunging at every one of the things as she did when we first arrived!

Sunday, April 23, 2006


The patron saint of Modica is the very same as St George of England and the Duomo di San Giorgio in Modica Alta lifts my heart every time I go up there.

Next week they are bringing the statue of San Giorgio from the Duomo up here to the "Sorda" district.

Friday, April 21, 2006


I'm not even a royalist so I am surprised to find myself in the least affected by the Queen's birthday.

But one of the elements of culture shock, about which I have done a lot of research, is that an event in your country of origin which wouldn't even interest you, were you there, can suddenly take on importance for you as an ex-pat. As an Italian linguist and someone who knows and loves the culture of my adopted country, I didn't expect to suffer from this condition: but, as my research bears out, the more you do know and love the adopted country, paradoxically, the more you are likely to suffer to some degree; it's as if, at times, your very perceptiveness works against you.

So today I, the Republican par excellence, found myself feeling strange because it's Lizzie Windsor's birthday and very few people here know about it or give a damn! - and, indeed, why should they?

This morning I talked to the nice old gentleman who always greets dog Simone and me on our walks and for some reason I found myself telling him that the Queen - I did add "of England" as he looked a bit puzzled - is 80 today - and, whilst he didn't exactly shrug his shoulders, I could see that he was wondering why it should matter.

And why, indeed, should it matter to me, of all people? It was one of those times when you can feel a bit isolated, that's all, because if I had been in the UK on this day I would have been arguing about the occasion with everybody on the bus and being my iconoclastic self.

It's a very British thing, this "collective memory" that the Queen represents: it's hard to explain to others. It's just that, whether you are a monarchist or not, you do remember her being "there", at every important national event.

And for me, the monarch's ageing is a reminder of my own: I was 3 when she was crowned and I thought it was like the Presidency of the USA - I thought anybody could get to be the Queen [or the "Preen", as I called her, as I couldn't pronounce "Queen"] . Then my Dad explained that I would have to marry Charlie to be Queen, and that certainly didn't appeal! Then, as I grew up, the whole absurdity of the monarchy as an institution struck me.

Nowadays, whilst I am quite happy to wish Her Majesty a happy birthday, I cannot understand these "fans" of her gracious self who send / give her cards and flowers! [And I couldn't understand those who did the same for her mother, either.] Why don't they go to their nearest care-home and do something [ in Her Majesty's name, if they must!] for those who are really in need?!

Incidentally, every Italian I have spoken to today thinks that "gli inglesi" are a little mad. [Being Welsh, I can happily dissociate myself from this, of course!]

Not a word about any of it in "Corriere della Sera" today - at least, not in the edition I read at lunchtime for, hypocrite that I am, I strolled along to my favourite bar to read the paper and drink to HM!

Incidentally, she is referred to as "Queen Elizabeth", not "the Queen" on BBC World and "la regina Elisabetta" in the Italian press. I note that the event is covered in "Corriere" online today [22nd April].


When I was a little girl, in Bristol, England, in the 1950s, you could only get tangerines at Christmas. They were about the most exotic food you could buy and we didn't differentiate between tangerines, mandarins, satsumas or clementines. Any round, orange, citrus fruit that was too small to be an orange was a tangerine!

I can still see my father's delighted face as he came home on winter nights and produced a tangerine from each of the pockets of his long, dark blue overcoat. I thought the smell of the tangerine was heavenly and even now, it signifies Christmas for me. I didn't know where the fruit came from but I knew I wanted to go there!

Coincidentally I am writing this almost 33 years to the day since my father's death. How happy he would be to know that I have come to live in the land of the tangerine!


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