Wednesday, May 31, 2006


- that's Phil as in Queen Elizabeth Windsor's hubby - rarely agree on anything [a fact which I'm sure causes His Royal Highness great concern]. However, I thought, initially, that there was going to be an exception when last week he pronounced Olympic opening ceremonies to be a waste of time.

I hate all sport, so I don't watch it, follow it or heed its ceremonials. Oh, all right, I allowed myself ever such a little "hooray" when Wales won the "Grand Slam" in 2005 and I'd sing along to "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" at the beginning of rugby matches, but that's because I like the song. Then I would switch off the TV.

But for some reason I did happen to watch the opening ceremony of the Turin Winter Olympics this year and astonished myself by cheering the Italian team at the top of my voice when they came out - not because of their sporting prowess, of which I know nothing, but because, in their Moschino shiny coats, they were the best-dressed of the lot!

So sorry, Phil - we continue to differ.


According to an article in the “Independent Online” yesterday, Sicily “has confirmed its dubious reputation” by voting Cuffaro back in as regional President. [Rita Borsellino did manage to reduce his majority, though.]

Personally, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. From what I observe [ and I appreciate that I’m a very new observer] it seems more a case of Sicily’s demonstrating its innate conservatism.

The Prodi government has scotched the project to build a bridge across the Strait of Messina which would have linked Sicily directly with the mainland. Sicily really needs the development to go ahead as the port traffic is in chaos. According to an article [not available online] in La Sicilia today, Sicilians feel abandoned by the centre-left and therefore it is no surprise that they vote for the right.

Messina, by the way, is one of the loveliest places I have ever visited, in any country: if you are fortunate enough to go there one day, do take a bus ride to the furthest point of the Strait. I wrote in my diary of a few years ago that “the water was all hues of blue and purple, with glints of silver every now and then. As we neared the Torre Faro, I found myself crying at the sight of such beauty – and at the romance, the sense of myth and the fact that time outwits us all”. I decided then that I wouldn’t mind one of the villas along that road, in the unlikely event that I one day make my fortune! I also remember sitting in the hotel restaurant, which had a fine view of the lighthouse , the Strait and the Calabrian coast on the other side, thinking of all those who had, during the early part of the last century, left Sicily by that route in search of a better life in other lands. And I thought about the tragedy of forced emigration.

Now, of course, Sicily itself is the recipient of would-be immigrants as mainly Moroccans but other Africans, too, board illegal boats in their hundreds to try to get into Europe via Sicily. Most of them are taken to the detention centre on Lampedusa and the police are overwhelmed by their sheer numbers. Last year, there was a tragedy at the beach of Sampieri near here, when several clandestini were drowned during a night of rough seas. Some were never identified. How awful for their families, never to know… Sicilians, of all peoples, have reason to be sympathetic to the plight of such desperate souls, and from what I have seen and heard, most are.

As for Sicily’s “dubious reputation”, one of my reasons for writing this blog is to demonstrate that it not an island wholly populated by racketeers – though of course that side exists – but that people do live normal lives here, that it is one of the most stunningly beautiful places on earth and that the hospitality, friendship and kindness it is possible to find here are unrivalled in the world.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Fast forward to the present time now, dear reader[s]. These images remind me why I came and I offer them to cheer you [and myself] up. All are in Modica Bassa:
1] Balconies in the Portico area: when I arrived, last June, I used to sit outside the Caffè Macchiato or the Caffè del Portico and look up at the people on these balconies looking down! I used to imagine their lives...
2] The Portico area
3] More balconies in the Portico area.

Monday, May 29, 2006


Second extract from diary of 27.5.05
Cardiff, UK

As I said, Anita arrived with screwdrivers, which I’d asked her to bring, and cleaning materials, which I had not. Dear, kind woman, she really set to work. However, it soon transpired that my vacuum cleaner wasn’t good enough – “You should have got a Dyson” ; my cleaning materials weren’t strong enough – “You should have gone to a builder’s merchant to get sugar soap”; (I wouldn’t know a builder’s merchant’s if I fell into one and I’ve never even heard of sugar soap!) And my cleaning skills were definitely not up to scratch! None of this was said unkindly – quite the contrary – but I was emotional and panicky, waiting for the call, so it didn’t take much to upset me. And the way Anita was getting stuck in, I thought I was never going to get out of there! “I was only going to vacuum it”, I said pathetically.

Jane arrived in the middle of all this and agreed with me that we should just leave it. I eventually burst into tears and howled in Jane's arms that I wasn’t a practical person, that I wanted everything to be “normal” again, that I wanted my nose stuck in a book or a newspaper and that I wanted my dog!

Anita started with the screwdrivers, getting picture hooks down, which I must say I was more concerned about than winning the “Housewife of the Year” award.

Then Jane called the phone company for me – an hour-long performance to get through to them and eventually they agreed to cut off the phone at midday but they kept saying that I hadn’t given them a month’s notice so I would have to pay for calls till July. So there was me howling, Anita unscrewing hooks and Jane trying to get sense out of the phone company – the only utility co. that I have had any trouble with, by the way. (The phone was still on when I left the house; I’ll deal with that by cancelling the direct debit and by letter from Italy.)

After Jane had gone, I needed a scissors for something and of course, they had all been packed. So I went across the road to borrow one from Sylvia who was sympathetic and so I burst into tears all over again. She made me a cup of tea and was very nice.

When I got back to the house I announced to Anita that I was going at 2pm, phone call or not and clean or not. Then I wrenched the bloody vacuum cleaner from her hand, at which point she did stop! I paid for a taxi for her – the least I could do, bless her. It’s terribly difficult when someone is trying to help you but only succeeding in winding you up further!

One more check around the house, one more cry and I left it forever at 2.30 pm. Of course, ‘er-next-door made sure she was outside, so I just shouted, “Sorry, – not stopping or I’ll get upset” and I fair ran down the road, thinking, “I am doing this for the last time”. Just as I was reaching the bus stop, the solicitor’s call came and everything was through.

True to form, the no 8 bus did not come so, as time was going on, I hailed a taxi to the apartment. G&T and I was (almost) as right as rain. Thought, “Right, I’ve now got an hour to buy an outfit for tonight” – a meal had been arranged in the Bay with the college lot plus other friends . Dashed to “Elvi” and splashed out on a summery number in turquoise, dashed back to flat, bathed, changed and redid make-up; then a taxi to Gavin Alexander’s in the Bay for a hairdo. They have a bar on the premises now and it has a very relaxing atmosphere with a lovely view of the Bay. I got into conversation with a 50-ish man and, if he hadn’t been married - I know he was married as 50-ish men with some degree of intellect and good looks always are, in Britain! - I might have made a hit! Amazing what an expensive outfit and a hairdo will do for you! It’s because they give you confidence and confidence attracts.

So in the space of an hour and a half the wimpering, tired, dowdy woman had disappeared and in her place was a giggly female in turquoise who could still get chatted up!

Then met the friends at De Miro’s and it was quite a night! Everyone was lovely and when they put on Dino singing “That’s Amore” I was completely gone!


Diary extract from 27.5.05
Cardiff, UK

9.30 am and I am here in the empty, silent house, waiting for the solicitor’s call.

I have just taken a photo of Giley’s rose and hopefully that will help me leave it.

As my friend Jane says, it is all about “letting go”. My mother was very good at this; I am not. Yet we all have to “let go” in the end, don’t we?

I was thinking the other day that what I am doing is letting go not only of the house, but of Cardiff. The city drives me mad at times, but, wherever you live permanently, you know how it works. Now I am letting go of my parameters of safety and familiarity. However well you know a place from numerous visits, it is not the same as living there and so, even with the friends and support I know I will have there, this is partially a leap into the unknown and unfamiliar. I am sure that the familiarity and security will come, but it will take time.

Partly I am writing this now because if I stop writing and sit here thinking I will cry again! I am perfectly all right in the apartment, because it is a stage on my way to a new life and there I am looking to the future. But here I am, inevitably, looking back. In this house I have loved, lost love, pined, laughed, been afraid and grieved. I have hidden from creditors in it and I have also sorted myself out – emotionally and financially – in it. And in this house I took the momentous decision that I cannot hang on to it any more and that, at 55, I shall follow my “sogno d’Italia”.

Yesterday, after the study had been emptied, I sat in its hollowness and remembered when it was 2 small rooms rather than 1 large one, and the larger of these was Mum’s room. I again cried my eyes out. I looked out at my ash tree, the leaves of which seemed to salute me for the last time and I thought, “How strange not to see this view again”. It was such a pretty little house when I moved in so long ago. I didn’t think I’d be able to hold on to it for a year, let alone 21 years! All gone now….

Friends will not “let go”. I think some of them are worse at it than even I am! It is as if everyone wants to hold on now that I am leaving. Yet many people don’t bother the rest of the time. Of course, my good friends always help if asked – but it is hard to ask when you are on your own – and they don’t say routinely, “How about a change of scene tonight?” or “Come and have a cup of tea”. This is partly to do with busy lives again, but it is also to do with the fact that there are very few people who have lived on their own for any decent amount of time – or who even spend 24 hours completely on their own.

How many times have I looked out at that ash tree and felt aching loneliness? I am good at being on my own and happy in my own company with a book but what people don't understand is that it would be nice to have a choice in the matter!

Come on, solicitor! I want to get out of here. It is not good for me to be hanging around in this shell. For the house is only a shell, just as our bodies are. “Moving is grieving”. I have concluded it is more like a kind of death.

On Wednesday night, Sue and Liz came to view my “exec-pad” and then we had a meal in “La Tasca” (below the apartment). Nice to have the company. They said I was being brave and that they are impressed at the way I’ve organised the whole thing! (I must admit, I’m quite impressed by me myself!) It felt very odd not to be going back to Grangetown with them afterwards.

12.45 Have to break off as Anita has arrived with an armful of cleaning materials and screwdrivers!


Diary extract from 25.5.05
Cardiff, UK

Gosh! Over a week since I last had time to write. The time is going so fast now! I’ll try to remember last week but it’s as if all the days have blurred into one.

On Tuesday I went to see the bank. Now, when I enquired before, I was told there would be no problem with keeping a British bank account. But on Tuesday I was told it would not be possible unless I kept a British address. This is ridiculous as there is now supposed to be freedom of movement within the EU and I felt quite flumoxed. But eventually they said it would be OK as long as I give a friend’s British address – and a couple of friends have since offered. But it’s so stupid : that account has to function for at least a couple of months [as there will still be direct debits, etc and cheque payments coming out / going in] and surely one ought to be able to be independent of family and friends, especially in this age of internet banking? Surely that’s the point of it? – that you can do it anywhere in the world! Barclays and the other big banks have ex-pat schemes on their websites but I don’t have time to sort that out now. [Because I am scared of money – even when I’ve got some! – I leave everything to do with it till the last possible minute or even the minute after that!]

When I got home neighbour Joanie knocked on the door offering help, so yanked her inside and we got a lot done up here in the study. Then she found my vinyl collection and was so fascinated and excited by it that little more got done - we ended up singing Elvis and Cliff tunes instead! But she kindly took some things to the charity shop for me later and we had had a good time! How sad that we’ve been neighbours for years and didn’t know we shared an interest. This is because of our busy and stressful lives.

I’d come across a life-size photo of Dad’s dad; not only was it life-sized; it was also tatty. “Sorry, Richard E,”, said I, “you’ll have to go”. But I also had here Richard E’s Certificate of Honourable Discharge from the Navy, signed by George V and dated 1916. [RE was blinded at the Battle of Jutland.] Again, it’s quite a big, unwieldy thing, and for years I have wondered what to do with it. I even thought of giving it to the Maritime Museum at one point, but somehow couldn’t make myself do it. [I suppose it must have been mounted and framed at one time and I don’t know how it had come to be unmounted and unframed – I only came across it after Mum’s death.] So I called the frame shop in Grangetown and, because I have had things done there before and put other business their way, they said they would mount and frame it for me in double-quick time. Picked it up on Friday and very smart it looks, appropriately mounted on navy and gold with a brown wooden frame. When I got home, I said, “Well, Richard E, I hope that makes up for your photo.” It will have pride of place in my Sicilian home. So Chief Petty Officer Richard E takes to the seas again!

By Wednesday I was feeling quite ill with exhaustion: it’s been the sheer physical graft and the fact that I am just not used to having people around me all the time. – I do not say this ungratefully as I could not manage without the kind friends who are helping. But I did get some time to myself to sort papers up here: I had to make a decision about Mum’s post-mortem papers and decided, really, that there is no point in keeping them; they only make me sad. So I shredded them.

On Thursday Simi and I went to the vet to get her smart pet’s passport [her papers are much more organised than mine!] and then home – how strange that I won’t be able to call it that after tomorrow – where I did more sorting and shredding.

I decided I look terrible as well as feeling terrible. But I’m not going to Sicily looking like this – no, siree! – so have booked a facial and a hair colour for Sat am. A gal has to try!

Thursday evening went next door and had a lovely, relaxing meal and a long chat with neighbours Sue and Liz. It was good to unwind.

Friday: At 08.10 the rubbish clearance man came, as he had promised. He took away all the bags [better to pay him to do it than make myself ill with the carrying yet again] and the conservatory furniture; I went all trembly when I saw that go as the conservatory – which I had had built in 1994 – was a haven of peace and normality at a very difficult time of my life. Had to sit down for a bit after it went. Yet “They’re only things”, my mother would have said.

Then went to Tesco’s with a much shorter shopping list than usual! “Goodbye” says the sign as you leave. “Goodbye indeed”, I thought. Felt very low so purchased an Italian CD – Patrizio Buanne singing all the old songs – and thought, “Why am I buying an Ital CD when I am going there permanently in less than a fortnight?” But I knew perfectly well why, of course – because Italian music would cheer me up!

Then back to the shredding and sorting and yet another decision: you are supposed to keep tax papers for, I think, 3 years so I still have some that I should keep. But I decided “Sod it – I’d have to take another suitcase full of documents if I did that” so out they went. Then I found the death certificates again – Dad’s, Mum’s, Grandpa’s and Auntie’s – and that’s when I finally cracked; I sat downstairs and sobbed my heart out. I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later. “I’m sorry”, I said to them all: Sorry for what? For having to throw some of their things out? [They wouldn’t have minded at all – they’d have wondered why I hadn’t done it before!] For not appreciating them when they were here? Yes, but everyone who grieves feels that; No, most of all I am sorry for not cherishing them enough while they were here; love them I always did.

When I stopped crying – which I had to, for Simi’s sake – on went the Ital CD and in not time at all I was dancing around! As I mentioned, it’s such a helter-skelter of emotions, and all in the same day.

Stayed up till 2 am Fri night / Sat morning filling in the Marine Insurance Proposal: you have to itemise virtually everything and work out its replacement value yourself – a nightmare! [Only received it Wednesday.] I don’t know how many bloody jumpers I’ve got in my under-bed storage bags, for instance, nor did I have time to get them out and count them. So took a guess at items like that. Anyway, I finally arrived at a figure to insure my possessions and most of it was to insure my books!

Saturday had my hair done and a last-but-one breakfast at Cibo. Then avoided the stupid cup final – matches at the Millennium Stadium and the bus disruption they cause always put me in the foulest of moods - came home and tried to have a “normal” evening for Simi’s sake.

Sunday got up at 7am and didn’t stop sorting and cleaning all day; felt my physical energy had returned somewhat, but by the end of the day was utterly pissed off with seeing something else to sort/clean/throw out every time I looked around. By this time the shredder had temporarily rebelled and I decided some papers would have to go in with the general rubbish; so I defrosted chicken stock ice cubes which I won’t have time to use all over them, thus making them nice and messy and illegible; what a good use for stock ice cubes! - Wish I’d thought of it before! By Sunday night I felt I was as ready as I was ever going to be for the removal men. Tried to have another “normal” night with Simi but couldn’t concentrate on the newspapers or anything. Just sat there cuddling Simi and telling her how much I love her whilst trying not to let her get my tension vibes! Slept, as always, with her little form moulded into mine and tried not to think about Monday morning.

Monday 23.5.05 took Simi for our last walk together in Grangetown; it seemed very strange as we know our route so well! Then just sat with her watching for the “Airpets” van and cuddling her. They came at lunchtime, as they had said they would and the driver was a nice girl who made a fuss of Simi. The latter, I have to say, was raring to go and did not even look back at her mummy!

Joanie was passing with her dog, Benji, just as Simi was going and she gave me a hug. I appreciated the empathy.

Spoke to Airpets yesterday and they say Simi is fine. Will ring them every other day.

Then got on with a last bit of sorting and packed my case and in-flight bag for the apartment. Martha [my friend and neighbour for all of these 21 years] ran me down there at 4 as there was yet another nuisance match in town and the traffic was being stopped at 6. [Otherwise, could have done with more time.] Had a bit of trouble finding the concierge in the chaos in The Hayes and Martha broke all the parking rules but eventually I did find him and now I am installed in a big, minimalist [!] apartment for the evenings until Monday. Everything is there: it’s airy and open-plan, with a big kitchen area with a load of up-to-the-minute appliances which I can’t work out how to use! I’ve never used a dishwaher in my life, for a start, and the washer-drier doesn’t have any washing symbols I can recognise on it! But found the instructions for the cooker so that is OK. The concierge laughed at me as I had a bag full of more or less all the remaining food contents of my kitchen – plus gin and Cointreau and ice cubes! Once I’d had a relaxing bath I realised it was a good idea to rent it as, quite apart from the comfort, it will help me make the break. Slept very well in the luxury of the double bed!

Tues 24.5.05 Up at 7 to come down here for the removal men’s arrival. They were supposed to come at 9 but by 10.30 there was no sign. Had to phone several times and the final time pointed out that I was paying c. £8000 for their services so I didn’t think I should have to be chasing them! Was then assured by Andrew R that they would be here and that the job would be done. My stress levels went sky high! By then Anita [ a friend who has been tidying the garden] was here which was just as well as I don’t think I could have coped on my own. Anyway, they did arrive – at 11.45! – but they are nice men and they are really getting on with it. They are downstairs as I write now [Wed 25.5.05]. Once they had started, I felt OK; it was sitting around looking at all my stuff still in place that wasn’t. In fact, it proved to be an easier day then any I had last week and I was even able to get up here and make the necessary remaining phone calls to utilities companies! [More of the hated financial admin.] - Proud of myself for doing it, daft though that will seem to anyone with a normal financial head.

Out of the blue yesterday, a former colleague rang and arranged for us to go out for dinner last night. We went to the Bosphorus in Cardiff Bay and the meal was excellent. Back at the apartment, flopped into a bath then bed.

Today – 25.5.05: Jane came this morning and not only provided much needed moral support, but did some paper-shredding for me. The men came early and got on with things and said they didn’t mind if I went out. So Martha took me to the solicitor [to arrange for the financial draft for the removal co on Fri], then the estate agent [to take in a set of keys], then the Tax Office [to deliver the P85 “emigrating” form] and finally Macarthur-Glenn to get [a] a wok [can’t get them in Italy!] – and [b] some new jeans and shirts as I am filthy! Then back here – I must stop calling it “home” – and I’ve more or less been on the computer ever since. Don’t know when I’ll get on again as it will have to be packed tomorrow. Will keep a hand-written diary!

There is one thing that makes me sad that I don’t think I have yet written about, and that is “Giley’s rose”. Giley’s rose is a yellow one in my garden that Sue next door gave me when Giley [Gil Blas], the last dog, died. The rose is called “Good Boy” and since Anita cut down the garden last week, it has been flowering beautifully, because it has more light; it is as if it, too, is saying “goodbye”. But Giley is in my heart, just like my Sandy-dog and Mum, Dad, Grandpa and Auntie [my great-aunt, who lived with us]. They are not in this shell of a house, or its garden, are they?

Oh! One last thing to be proud of: yesterday I tipped a few trinkets from the last man into the charity shop bin. Felt quite liberated afterwards.

Must stop now; starting to cry again; not over that bastard but over my poor Giley. But, as Jane says so wisely, it would be awful to have no regrets at leaving, wouldn’t it?

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Cardiff, UK
I can’t believe I am doing all these things: I couldn’t have done any of them without a remortgage and release of some of the equity on the house, I hasten to add. After much humming, ha-ing and further research, today I made yet another decision – me, the great procrastinator! I decided that, although kind friends and neighbours have offered to put me up during removal-packing-days and for the weekend after – and I am very grateful for their thoughtfulness - I will need to be somewhere by myself. – I guess I am so used to being by myself that it should not surprise even me! What I think is this: I don’t want to hang around the house once Simi is picked up [23/5]; the house without her means nothing to me. And then the removal men will be in the next 3 days; I don’t want to hang about here with the house totally empty, emotionally and sensuously – as it will be, without Simi – and also materially, as it will begin to be, once the stuff begins to be packed. And ‘er-next-door would be sure to say, “Oh, I bet you miss your dog”! or “Oh, I bet you miss your mum”! [which I could not cope with in the circumstances]. So – and I am quite chuffed with myself for having done this – I have found an exec-let apartment that I can rent, in town, from 23/5 evening till 10.00 am on 30/5 [the day I go to London on the 11.35 am coach]. So took it. It’s extravagant but the only time in my life I’ll do anything like this. I’ll be able to wash away the cares and dust of the days somewhere new and different and I can go to bed at 6pm if I need to! It’s cheaper than an hotel, I’ll be able to cook meals there and I can even watch satellite TV in the nude in the unlikely event that such a fancy should take me! The only extra expense would be the phone but I’ll use my mobile. I suppose I just don’t want to relinquish my independence at that stage of the move – I shall be dependent on friends the other end for quite some time, in various ways. Anyway, it would be kind of neat to end the [adult] Cardiffian phase of my life close to where I began it – downtown!

Today I did my shopping and thought, again, how strange it is to be riding on a bus through this city and thinking, “I might never come back”. It even occurrred to me that this leave-taking is a bit like dying. It is so odd to do the daily routine against the background of this life-changing step that I'm about to take!

My Mum always said, “Moving is like grieving”. Did she get that from somewhere or did Dad and I make her so insecure that that is how she felt? I think she had a basic truth there! Yet how can I compare it to the plight of some ladies I have taught, who have had no time to “grieve” for the familiar and have had to leave husbands and even children behind in their war-torn countries? How paltry my problems seem in comparison; yet few of us, I feel, are able to think so altruistically for long. Our own concerns and expectations will out.

Back to the practical: tonight I am celebrating because I have finally managed to co-ordinate the final part of our [ie Simone’s and mine] journey: It has taken a week of searching the internet and asking Ital friends if they know anyone who would drive us from Fontanarossa airport to Modica [on a public holiday] and I sent off and phoned enquiries but no one got back to me. Then, just as I was about to despair, at 5pm last evening, the phone went and it was “Holiday” and they will do it for £110! Said “yes” to the quote there and then and, as I don’t know the address of the “casetta” [“little house”] I gave Linda Churchill’s address again – then phoned her quickly! Again, bless her, she said it is fine. So the taxi can go there first and someone will take us to the casetta. I sat here with a G & T and told Simi all about it. “Simone Welshcakes Limoncello de Beauvoir”, said I, “your mummy is a clever girl”. “Welshcakes Limoncello”, said I, “you are a clever girl and I drink to me.” Though I say it myself, it is no small feat to have arranged a private, chauffered car from Catania airport in Sicily, Italy to transport a mad British woman and her dog all the way down to Modica at 5pm on a public holiday! Some of my friends here have been saying, “But surely there are mini-cabs” or “Every airport has long-distance chauffered cars”. They have clearly never landed in Italy on a bank holiday, much less at Fontanarossa, Catania! It is actually a much nicer airport these days than when I first used to go there: I can remember once waiting at a departure gate for over 2 hours in the heat and there weren’t even any seats, let alone access to refreshments. It was very crowded and we were packed into the gate area like sardines. Then the American woman next to me sighed, “Man, this is some airport” and I thought, “I’ll go along with that!” As I say, the place has improved but it is not LHR or LGW!

A few days later, my dear Sicilian friend Gina phoned, to say that she and her husband would pick up Simi and me from Catania. I thanked her but told her I thought it best to leave the arrangements as they were at this stage. It was incredibly kind of them as it would have been a long round trip for them both. It was another example of the warmth and kindness of all my Sicilian friends.


2.5.05 – continued:

With regard to my belongings, sometimes I wish I was more like my mother, who was not so attached to material objects as I am. Poor woman – having to follow my father and then me around on our various moves [all propelled by financial necessity] she was probably afraid to be. But we are what we are and I can’t change that trait in myself now. And, as one Sicilian friend says, it has to be a “home from home”. My things will be a talking point, especially my books, once they arrive, hopefully a month or so after dog and me.

The past 2 weeks have been a real helter-skelter: the buyer had offered on my house at the end of Feb and I have had weeks of stupid questions from his solicitors about the configuration of my drains and other matters of which I know nothing. I was beginning to despair when all of a sudden the contract was signed! I asked for a month’s grace between that and completion and was granted it, as it is such a big move for me to co-ordinate. I gave my notice in the very next day [only a week being required as I teach on an hourly rate these days], got the international removal manager down from Swansea that very evening to do the paperwork on that contract, and blimey! – the dream began to look like a reality!

At this point, I thought I might have to go out to Sicily before completion to find a place to rent . Now, a Sicilian friend, Giovanna, [wife of the adventurous Marco] has had a tiny house left to her. She showed me this house when I was last there in Feb 2004 and said, if I did move to Sicily, that Simone [dog] and I could have it – provided she hadn’t sold it in the meantime - until we found somewhere to live permanently. The house is in Modica Bassa [“low” Modica, the old centre] and has a room with chairs, a table, a fridge, gas rings to cook on, an enclosed shower and a bedroom upstairs. It would be fine until our stuff arrived! But you may have gathered by now that I’m an awful coward and I have to get my courage up to ask people for help. [This comes of living alone as well as being shy, I think.] So it took me a week after the contract-signing to gear myself up for rejection and call Giovanna but when I did she was fantastic: Of course you can have the casetta; just let us know when you’re coming; non c’è problema, Pat.”

I celebrated with a few gins that night, I can tell you! [a] It would give me more time to sort things here [b] it would give me more time with my precious Simone before flying and [c] it would save money on an extra trip out.

The next task was to book Simone’s flight, which I did the next day. Again, I had researched this and there are several companies that fly animals. [It is not a problem on an internal flight within a country but otherwise it is not an easy thing, even within the EU and with no quarantine!] The removal co had recommended “Airpets”: although I had researched other companies, the removal manager – Andrew R, for future reference – said he had 4 dogs of his own and if it was him, he’d use “Airpets”. – Whether he was getting commission or not, that was good enough for me! Well, a first call to “Airpets” produced the answer that “No one flies animals into Sicily”. Help ! Panic! Fear! I wish I’d thought to say, “But I know it’s possible as I’ve seen dogs and cats come into Catania and Palermo with my own eyes”! A second call produces the response that it can be done – on Air Malta – and they will send me their quote. The quote arrives 2 days later – only it is for flying Simi into bloody Sardinia! Aaaarg!! More fear and panic and I am thinking, “If that is the nearest they can get her, how will we ever get off Sardinia?” But when I finally get through to them again – I had been warned that they are very good but difficult to get hold of – it is all a mistake and the quote was meant to be for Catania! OK – I ask them to go ahead. They can book Simi’s flight but not mine on the same plane. So I ask them to let me know as soon as Simi’s flight is booked. I do not have an address yet in Sicily and I tell them this. They must have one so there is a slight delay while I call Linda Churchill and ask if we can give hers; yes, that is fine. So the next day I get an e-mail from Airpets saying that Simi’s flight has been booked on Air Malta for 2.6 – the first they can get her on – and then I hurriedly call the airline and book myself on it. Then I receive no e-mail confirmation, so call again the next day, only to find Air Malta have booked me all the way to flaming Malta via Catania! “No, no!” I say; “My dog and I are going to live near Catania!” and eventually it is sorted. Thank god I got off my indolent butt and checked with them! Simone will be picked up from here by Airpets on 23.5; then they will kennel her in London until we fly! That is going to be horrible but it is less stress for her – I decided after much deliberation – to be kenneled in one place prior to the flight. So everyone who knows me, get the tissue box ready for me on 23.5!

So far, so good. Then on Saturday I looked at Gatwick hotel availability on the internet and realised I’d have to get off my butt again if I wanted to book one. So I had a debate with myself and decided that, as I’ll be homeless [!] by the next bank holiday, I might as well spend that one on the coach to Gatwick. So booked the hotel for the 3 nights from 30.5 – 1.6 and then booked a one-way fare from Cardiff to LGW. And that’s when it hit: on that morning, I shall get a taxi across Cardiff – my city of childhood holidays from Bristol, my university city and my professional city since 1974 – for the last time [or for a very long period, at least]. And then for the first time in the whole process, I really did sit here and think, “Oh, my god; what have I done?” For there is no turning back; I’ve already burnt my bridges.

Later I phoned a friend who lives near Bologna, just to keep her up to date, and I must say I found her reaction unnerving! It was something like: “I never thought you’d actually do it; I never thought you meant it. You’ll find it difficult to find somewhere with a dog”, etc., etc.. She was not unkind, by any means, but god, she frightened me! What was the use of telling me that at this stage, for Christ’s sake?! But then I realised that it is probably [hopefully!] just a different attitude to animals - she has an enormous dog guarding her country house and it functions purely as a guard dog; and, because I have been procrastinating for so long, she probably did think it would never happen!

My friend Jane is very wise on this: she says I am in a heightened state of awareness and it is not going to take much to throw me and she is right!

On the journey front, the next thing to do is work out getting from Catania down to Modica with Simone. [2.6 is a public holiday in Italy, which will make it more difficult.]

I must also contact Sicily estate agents [2 of whom I made contact with last year, when I was trying to price the whole enterprise]. And I must send a card to my Italian hairdresser Raffaele. [My friends laugh at me, as I am usually off the bus to Modica and straight into Raffaele’s!]

So how do I feel tonight? Scared! Elated! Worried whenever the phone goes, in case it is Giovanna to say she has suddenly sold the casetta. And sometimes I look around my little house here and wonder if I will come back to haunt it.. It seems so many years since I stood at the back bedroom window with Mum, not quite knowing what I had got myself into. And I don’t know what I have got myself into again, 21 years later.

Yet if I have any real doubt about the whole adventure, I have only to look again at Browning’s words.


On June 2nd, Simone the dog and I will have been in Sicily a whole, incredible year. Therefore it is natural, at this time, that I am in a reflective mood and am thinking back to all that happened and how I was feeling a year ago. I did say that I would tell you how I got here, so now seems an appropriate time to post a few of my diary entries from May and June 2005. Hopefully they will be of interest to anyone who is also thinking of "upping sticks":

I have loved Italy since I was 19 years old, and Sicily, in particular, for the past 13 years. The culture, the people, the food of this fascinating, beautiful island have just struck a chord with me and, despite its dark side, I know I am at home. Anywhere in Italy does it for me: I cry when I land, I cry when I leave and when I am at home in Wales I cannot even watch a TV programme about Italy without crying because I am not there. It is, in Browning’s words, “the land of lands”. I am crying as I write this, remembering so many times getting off the plane and thinking, “It'll be OK now. I’m on Italian soil.” Browning says it all:

Open my heart and you will see
Graved inside of it, “Italy.”
Such lovers old are I and she;
So it always was, so shall ever be.

“Such lovers old”, indeed. And Sicily? Well, Sicily surprised me in love. For a long time, I thought it would be Florence that would draw me back, again and again. But no, the old, stone towns of Sicily have finally beguiled me. And it is the people of Sicily who have shown me the greatest love.

I am not your run of the mill language teacher: a single woman, I have not been able to have the extended campsite or camper-van continental holidays so beloved of former colleagues. No, I have always had to struggle to get back to what Browning called, “Italy, my Italy”. And now that I have decided to take the gamble of my life and make “Persephone’s island” [thank you, Mary Taylor Simeti] my home, it will not be with the security of being able to buy a property outright – or even at all – and I shall not be growing a vineyard or making olive oil!

So how do I feel on the eve of it all?

I must admit that I veer between absolute elation and the most dire fear! The fear has not driven a hole into the pit of my stomach yet – it is not yet physical – but I’m sure that will come! For it will be a terrible wrench, leaving my little house of the past 21 years, where I have lived with my mother, sporadically, and with 3 dogs to date – the present one flying with me.

But at 55, it’s now or never; I won’t have the guts or the energy to do this if I postpone it another year. Indeed, I’m not sure about the energy bit now! Today, for instance, is the Bank Holiday, my last in my little house. So I decided not to spoil it by sorting things out. And what have I done with this day? – I have sat here admiring my copious collection of books! I tell myself it has been a last chance to gaze at the collection before they are packed up by the removal men, in a few weeks’ time.

For the removal men will be packing: I could not do it, emotionally or physically, myself. They are coming in on 24.5, for 3 days, and they have been told categorically that the books [all 4000 + of them], go on first! Then the ornamants – the personal things that a single woman with no family surrounds herself with to affirm her place in the world: “I may not have had a family, but I went there and here is the ornamant and – not the T-shirt – but a well-thumbed book from that place”.

I have done 4 years’ research on this venture: I nearly upped and went in 2000 but was not quite ready. Well-meaning friends try to find cheaper ways for me to do it: “Send some stuff by sea yourself”, says one. “Sell your furniture and buy new”, counsels another. It is kindly meant but they do not realise that [a] they are couples and so have not only help but each other’s encouragement [b] that I like my wonky Victorian dining table and other furnishings and [c] that once I had arranged my own insurance, very little would have been saved, anyway. And I have read horror stories of people who have tried to “DIY” it having their goods turned back at the border because some piece of documentation has not been sufficient – and Italy is a very bureaucratic country! So I will do it properly and the way it’s going there will be very little money left at the end of it all! So what? I have a teacher’s pension, I speak the language and I’ll survive!


Bag-shopping, yesterday; a cheerful summer style from Carpisa.

Friday, May 26, 2006


... says Linda C., meaning that the Sicilians have an even more "relaxed" attitude to time than Italians in general. She had to remind me of that many times last year, when I was waiting for various contracts to be signed, etc.

Back in the 1990s, when we brought two lots of school exchange students over, my colleague from the economics department, becoming more exasperated by the minute, enquired, "British time or Italian time?" every time we made an arrangement with someone.

If you agree to meet someone socially here at, say, 9.30 am., you have to bear in mind that that is probably the time they will leave their home, not the time they will actually turn up. Indeed, I remember all those years ago, in Northern Italy, panicking because my Italian boyfriend, who was driving me to the airport [a 2-hour journey] for my flight home, left the house at the time I was supposed to check in! Of course when we got to Milan no member of staff was yet at the check-in desk for my flight! "Te l'ho detto" - "I told you so", sighed Mario.

If a concert or lecture is billed to start at, say, 8pm., you can bet that nothing will happen till at least 8.45. There is endless standing around to be endured in these cases. Of course, some outdoor events in the summer have to start late because of the heat and I have no problem with that, except why can't they say it will start at 10 pm if they know that that is what will happen?!

Often if you have a group restaurant booking the same is true and the staff don't, as in the UK, make everyone comfortable with a drink while they are waiting. No one but me seems to mind the aimless hanging around.
The converse is the case with regard to Sicilian workmen and delivery staff, however, or so I have found: workmen will continue through the siesta hours and toil late into the evening until the job is done. [I suspect this is because Italians still take pride in manual work.] When I had to have a new kitchen installed in the apartment [when people move house here they rip out their kitchen and even the light fittings, which is illegal in Britain] I ordered it on a Monday and it was in and functioning by the end of Wednesday of the same week! Delivery men will give you an approximate time and then ring you when they are on the way - a refreshing change from the UK where, if you're lucky, you will be grudgingly told whether they intend to materialise in the morning or afternoon; then you wait all day and no one appears or has the courtesy to call you to explain the delay.
So "Time stops at Messina" but it doesn't always do so in Modica!

Thursday, May 25, 2006


There are regional elections in Sicily this weekend and great fun is being had by all sides in the matter of billsticking. On the corner here one party sticks up half a dozen or so of its posters, the next day the Comune's billposter comes along and covers them up with austere notices stating that the election notices have been placed there in contravention of Law 212 of 04-04-1956, then the day after that another party pastes its posters over these and so it goes on. It keeps someone in a job! I haven't taken a photo as there is probably a law against taking photos of notices referring to Law 212 of 04-04-1956 [which states, by the way, that election posters can only be displayed on special hoardings].

Actually it could be an interesting election as Rita Borsellino, the sister of the murdered judge, is standing for the regional Presidency. If she wins, she will be the first woman to hold the office here. She is certainly a brave woman.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


This simply cooked chicken breast is one of my favourite meals at L'Altro Posto. Here you do not get charged for the bread, as is the appalling practice in Britain [and even then, you usually get one measly roll]. I like the way, in most bars and restaurants here, the cutlery is sealed in a sort of envelope, so you know it's absolutely clean. Yes, that is a mineral water, not a g and t, that you see lurking there. [Oh, OK, then - I hid the g and t for the photo!]

Today it is sweltering and I was the only idiot sitting outside rather than in the air-conditioned interior. I've been here long enough now to know that that was a bit daft, but "Mad Dogs and Englishwomen...." I should also get it into my head, as dear old George Mikes said, that "Sunshine is not a miracle in Italy".

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


If there's one thing I have always hated, it's a heavy, British Sunday lunch. Sorry, compatriots! And yes, I do know that this meal is less heavy these days.

But back in the days when the only way we Brits cooked vegetables was to drown and overboil them, my Dad used to yell at me to eat them all up and I just couldn't. And Mum would look so weary, after spending the whole morning in the steamy kitchen and straining to ensure that everything was ready at exactly the same moment. [This has always seemed to me a more complicated process than producing a ten-course banquet.]

So, when I first came to Italy, there were two revelations: the first was that you could eat perfectly well on a Sunday [or any other day] without putting yourself through this performance; the second was that you could just have fruit for dessert and that it was more satisfying than the most elaborate sweet concoction.

Above is a plate of nespole.

Monday, May 22, 2006


"We're going to eat anguria", announced Lucia, the Italian woman I stayed with in 1969. I didn't even know what that was and had she said, in English, "watermelon", I'd have been none the wiser, for I had never seen one.

An hour or so later, after much convivial deseeding of the enormous slices of fruit, I tasted it - and thought I had truly found the food of the gods. It was so refreshing and energising and the soft flesh just slid down my throat [and the juice down my chin!]

On mainland Italy, particularly at tourist sites, they sell the slices, along with coconut slices drenched in water, from stalls, but I have not seen them sold like that here.

When it was time to go back to Britain, I told my Italian boyfriend that I would like to take an anguria home if I could find a smallish one. "What do you think they're like? - tennis balls?!" he exclaimed and went off shaking his head at the stupidity of this 19-year-old British girl who didn't know that there is no such thing as a small anguria.

Back in London exotic fruit was just beginning to appear in supermarkets and foreign grocery stores so Dad and I scoured North London till we found a watermelon. But the flesh wasn't the vivid pink colour I had seen in Italy and it didn't taste the same - and they still don't, in Britain.

I read that they are now trying to produce an entirely seedless variety [and may have done so, for all I know]. Now where's the fun in that?!

Here peaches, nectarines, cherries and nespole [medlars], which I have never seen in Britain, are all reappearing. I spotted the first anguria lorry last week and was immediately transported back to that first Italian summer of mine in 1969.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Twelve euros today for an ice cream and two gin and tonics at the Caffè del Portico in Modica Bassa. That’s up two euros from when I used to sit there last year! Their ice creams are good and come with little coloured wafers in the shape of hats and they mix a good g and t, but I could get a meal for that price up here in the Sorda district. Come to think of it, I could get the same combination further down at Bar Ciacera for about five euros. Mind you, I don’t know what they do to the g and t in there – it just doesn’t taste right – maybe they put the ice in after the tonic. I suppose the Portico can charge a higher price because it is likely to get the passing trade of the tourists as they make their way along to Santa Maria [a lovely church where there is a famous terracotta crib].

Round the corner here there is a trattoria, called, quite simply, Trattoria, where you can eat well for ten or twelve euros. [A trattoria will have a limited, local menu and / or a set menu. The dishes will usually be beautifully cooked.] On a Sunday, they serve rabbit cooked with olives, a typical local dish, and very good it is, too. I know at least one person who comes from Ragusa every Sunday just for this. However, I am not a wine drinker and they don’t keep gin and tonic there, so I don’t go as often as I used to. I do like to relax with my aperitivo, as you will have gathered.

Bar Metro, opposite the Post Office, is a pleasant place to recuperate over a lemon tea [yes, I do actually drink tea as well!] after a long encounter with Poste Italiane. They serve a nice, complimentary, little plate of cakes or biscuits with the tea and it quite revives me. If I go there at aperitivo time, their g and t is fine.

Bar Follie, right at the far end of the Via Sacro Cuore, is also very relaxing. It has a quiet, enclosed garden area and they produce good, fresh, simple salads and make a sublime risotto.

Then there is Rosy Bar, around the corner in Via Risorgimento. It is large and airy and a good place for a tea. I often meet friends there.

But my favourite bar/eatery of all has got to be LAltro Posto, half-way along the Via Sacro Cuore. It is very popular and it is pleasant to sit inside or out. Most importantly for me, they now know me and have my g and t ready before I sit down! The food is always freshly and superbly cooked [and you know they are using fresh ingredients as you often see the staff out buying them in the mornings] and they produce glorious combinations of ice cream. The staff are friendly and the service is good. [They will not forget about you when it is busy, as the staff in many British establishments are wont to do.]

If you are not used to Italy, you may wonder at the lack of public conveniences or “rest rooms”, especially if you are from Britain, where they are everywhere. Well, here you can use the facility in any bar or restaurant - you don’t have to buy anything - but I’m afraid there aren’t many that you would want to rest in! I am old enough to remember when public toilets in France were all unisex and little more than a hole in the ground, and when I first visited here in 1992, they certainly weren’t as bad as that, but they were pretty grotty, with the bagno in the Caffè dell’Arte in Modica Bassa being the only one down there where you could relieve yourself in any degree of comfort. Now they are all much better, clean and equipped for your needs, but very few of them have a seat on the toilet! I kid you not. [Even the loo at Raffaele’s lacks a seat. Yep, pavements and toilet seats are not beloved of Modicans!] I don’t know why this is. Perhaps the average Italian male is just too busy to lift one up? – No, that can’t be right, as not all the facilities are unisex. I must ask Raffaele about the mystery one day. Anyway, you have been warned!

The photos show a complimentary plate of nibbles at L’Altro Posto, me at L’Altro Posto in the autumn and a view of Modican balconies that I enjoy gazing at from Bar Ciacera.


Sicilian proverb:
Carni fa carni, pani fa panza, vinu fa danza = "Meat makes flesh, bread makes a stomach and wine makes you dance."

According to an article [not available online] in La Sicilia today, Sicilians are getting fatter and I, siciliana d'adozione as Irma calls me, am no exception: I've certainly put on weight since I've been here and this is mostly caused by eating at lunchtime, which I rarely did in the UK. Colette wrote that gluttony is one of the few pleasures left to the ageing woman, so I may or may not do something about it!

I do miss "ladies who lunch" - female friends who will come out to lunch with you [hubby, if not at work, can fend for himself] for girl-talk or, in professional circles, networking. There was an article a while back in one of the newspapers here lamenting the fact that Italian women just don't do this.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


I've been shoe-shopping. Backless styles, as in the second picture, are very much in vogue.

There is lots of sparkle everywhere - on shoes, bags and in T-shirt detail.

And the Italian women have declared tights-off and sleeveless top time!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I've always known that, once I had one of these on my kitchen balcony, I'd feel truly Italian. [I haven't treated you to the edifying sight of my "smalls" drying upon it.] Larger items are, of course, placed on the strong clothes line hanging over the balcony. Ever since the balcony drain incident I've been wary of hanging hand-washed, still dripping washing from it, though other women don't seem to worry and you can get your hair a very thorough wash as you walk down the street under their balconies.

Thinking about gaffes I have made since coming here, it occurred to me that a gaffe an Italian might make in Britain would be to hang washing on or from a balcony, for in Britain this is just not done. For those of you who are not British, this is not, as you might imagine, because of the inclement weather, but because it is deemed to spoil the look of a place. There are even neighbourhoods where you are not supposed to hang washing outside at all. How crazy is that?!

Here, on a hot day like today, I do enjoy having my washing dry within the hour.

If you are indoors you have only to look across at other balconies to know that the Scirocco is blowing or imminent, as that's the only time when nobody hangs any washing out.

At one time, in Sicily, it was considered incorrect to hang out women's underwear where it could be seen - and probably still is, in some parts.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Lunch at the Cava with friends today - a "lemon fest" of pasta with lemon, scaloppine sprinkled with lemon juice and gel al limone for dessert.

La Cava d'Ispica is an area of great natural beauty. It is a sort of gorge and there is evidence that it has been inhabited since ancient times. All sorts of herbs grow there.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


A cavagna is a container that was used, in the past, for ricotta cheese, so that the mice couldn't get at it, I was once told. It is also the name of the agriturismo restaurant in Ragusa where I was invited last night:

The party was given by Roberto and Roberta, friends of Linda's, and was for Roberta's English aunt and cousin who are visiting. We had:

antipasti of bruschette, grilled aubergines and courgettes plus olives
focacce with three different fillings
three types of pasta
bowls of ceci [chickpeas] cooked in broth
cotolette of pork [these are thin - what we would call escalopes]
green salad
cannoli and other pastries

- and a bottle of Mandarinetto liqueur was passed around at the end.

This is a typical set menu for an establishment such as this and it was all beautifully prepared and presented. We were a jolly crowd, too, and I sure had a good night's sleep after all that!


I can't predict what Italian drivers are about to do. Of course, I am hampered by the fact that, as in about two-thirds of the world's countries, they insist on driving on the "wrong" side of the road! And it probably doesn't help that I don't drive myself.

I have just read that it is more difficult to be a pedestrian than a driver when you "change sides", so to speak, and I think this is true.

So, when the Sicilians are reversing in or out of seemingly impossible spaces in the little square near the flat, I can't work out what their next move will be. In Britain, especially if you are walking a dog, a driver will usually wave you on or at least give you some indication of his / her intentions, but that doesn't happen here.

They park right across pedestrian crossings, too, and you have to be careful when using these as the sun fades them and drivers aren't always aware of their existence; and even when they are, they don't necessarily stop for you!

I've got braver about crossing the road than when I first arrived, having realised that you have got to take your life in your hands and step onto the crossing: no one will stop for you if you wait on the pavement, as they will in Britain. But here they only look as if they are going to mow you down - they won't actually do it!

There are no traffic lights in the whole of Modica! At one time there was one set right at the far end of the Via Sacro Cuore and I remember Irma, in particular, regarding this as a terrible imposition. There are, however, plenty of eagle-eyed traffic wardens and their shrill whistles can be heard punctuating the roaring of the motorini, the beeping of car horns and the whole chaotic cacophony of the rush hour.


Siclian proverb:
Cui si marita, pinía 'n giuvintù, cui nun si marita, pinía 'n vicchiaia = "If you get married, you suffer in youth; if you don't get married, you suffer in old age."

The pleasant young woman who lived on the fourth floor has moved out. I have only ever spoken to her twice but she bade me an emotional arrivederci. She said she was fed-up with struggling to pay the rent and that she was lonely in the evenings: "You close the door when you come in and there is nobody there", she said. She is going back to live with her father in another town. So even in this close, family-orientated society, an attractive young woman can feel isolated.

One Saturday afternoon I mentioned to Gina and Irma that I was going home for my "weekend treat" - watching the "Doctors" omnibus programme on Sky - and they both glanced at me enviously. To them, having two hours alone to do what you like seems desirable; to me, having someone around to talk to about mundane matters would be a luxury.

An acquaintance here was recently telling me how she couldn't manage without her car, as she has to visit her elderly mother and other relatives. "Of course, you don't need one", she said, "as you've chosen your state and you don't have these responsibilities". It wasn't said unkindly and she certainly didn't mean to hurt, but it was a careless remark. Doesn't she think I would rather have my parents alive and the responsibilities that go with that?

A big difference here and all over Italy is that many unmarried sons and daughters live with their parents for much longer than we do in the UK, right into their thirties and beyond. Many of them go to nearby universities, too, and come home every weekend, such is the allure of Mamma's cooking! Again, maybe they've got family life right.

Sicilians go in for long engagements, too - ten years is not unusual!

It is often said to and of me, here and among friends in Britain [in fact someone said it here only yesterday] that this move has been facilitated for me by the fact that I have no family ties. That may make it easier to leave but it does not make the whole adventure easier because there is no one to share the ups and downs and there is no bolt hole or "safety net" back in Britain. Scary stuff!

Thursday, May 11, 2006


My own "piega di signora" has been ruined. This is because I got caught in a storm in Modica Bassa this morning.

Culture shock: One of the cultural "props" that you may lose when you move to a new country is your "inner barometer" or ability to predict the weather. This morning the sun was shining and I'm ashamed, as a British woman, to say I went out without an umbrella! I'd got over-confident, weather-wise! Suddenly it just thundered and poured and hailed - and how come the Italians were all prepared with umbrellas?!

Sometimes it gets very overcast here and you think it's definitely going to rain but it just doesn't. Another time the rain will come out of nowhere. The drainage isn't good so in a bad storm some roads get flooded quickly. I, of course, put my hood up and march intrepidly on, whereas the Italians usually shelter in a shop doorway - because they know it will stop soon - whilst I expect it to last all day!

Mind you, we did have a storm that lasted for three days, with no let-up at all, back in the autumn. Even the weather does things by extremes in Sicily!

In the summer, the temperature reaches over 40 C and it is so hot that you can feel your shoes melting beneath you. That's when I understood why a lot of women do their shopping very early, before the heat really kicks in.

When I first came to Italy, as a student in 1969, my first impression of an Italian house was how dark it was inside. This was because the shutters were down and here, in high summer, you have to shut your glass doors and the shutters outside them from 9 am to around 7 pm, to keep the hot air out. At 7, you can almost hear the collective sigh of relief as everyone opens up to enjoy the cooler evening air. Last summer I had no TV or internet connection so I just sat here with the shutters open, listening to the music of the cigales in the evenings.

Italian houses are built for the heat whilst British ones are built to withstand the cold. On a dull or rainy day, the houses and apartment blocks here look to me rather sad, as if they aren't used to it and don't know how to react.

But the one thing we don't do in Britain is to allow ourselves to feel cold inside the home. Here, in autumn and winter, people seem, to me, to allow themselves to freeze indoors! Partly this is because there are laws about how long, when and to what temperature you can heat your house: in Modica this winter it was for 10 hours per day [then it went down to 9 because of the Russian gas supply crisis], from mid-November to mid-March, to 20 C [then lowered to 19]. Being British, I thought you really had to obey these rules, until it was explained to me that "Questa è la faccia" ["this is the face"] - then the hand was flipped over - "e questa è la realtà, signora" ["this is the reality"]. In some apartment blocks the heating is centrally controlled whilst in others, such as this one, I am glad to say, you can control it yourself. But it does seem that most Italians stick to the rules and I don't know how they can stand being so cold at home. I can only imagine that they absorb enough vitamin D [or whichever one it is] during the hot summers to keep them going through the winters!

I think that George Mikes was right when he wrote that Italy has "lovely weather but a rotten climate"!


Simone has had her second Italian haircut.


It is well known that Italian cities have some of the most stylish shops in the world and Modica is no exception. The shoe shops are fantastic and I can think of five on the Via Sacro Cuore alone. Beautiful bags can be bought in these and there is also Carpisa for cheaper, more fun styles.
Then there is Giorgio for fine china and upmarket household items; he keeps a stock of up-market luggage and bags, too.

Perfumeries abound; there are two nearby on Sacro Cuore, some cheaper ones along this street, others in the various shopping complexes and several in Modica Bassa. [You don't think I'd go to a town where I couldn't get my make-up, do you?!] I miss walk-in nail bars, though.

For clothes there are expensive and exclusive stores as well as more down-to-earth ones. But like most British people, I miss an M&S with the goods clearly displayed and where I can buy a basic item of clothing quickly.

There are several small draper's shops - which scare me to death as if I want to buy a pair of knickers I am used to browsing those on display, not having them shown to me one by one and having to utter my size when there are men in the shop! - and tiny sartorie where you can get alterations and repairs done quickly and cheaply. [I like to imagine them sewing and chattering away like the mice in "The Tailor of Gloucester" as I pass.]

Most importantly for me, there are good bookshops, such as the Libreria Mondadori in Modica Bassa where you can browse and they will order books for you. They also keep a reasonable stock of books in English. The other librerie in Modica Bassa are not "browseable" shops. Then there is Equilibri in this street - how dangerous for me to live so near a bookshop!

But I do miss a good department store! It is odd that in Modica, where new stores are opening every day, there seems to be no demand for one.
There is a Rinascente department store in Catania [about two hours away] and, though it is not a patch on the one in Milan, you can spend a pleasant few hours there. It has a welcoming bar, too - at least, I thought it was welcoming on my visits here and it became part of my dream as I imagined my life here; I would have the occasional shopping trip to Catania and have a bite to eat in the Rinascente café. However, the last time I was there, in September, it was very crowded and I found the staff off-hand. I had two gin and tonics and a bite to eat and then, as I was meeting a friend coming into the airport and wasn't sure where the stop was for the airport bus, I thought I'd better find out where the nearest taxi rank was, just in case I couldn't find it. So I enquired at the cash desk as I was paying the bill and they directed me politely enough. Then, as I was walking towards the ladies' [which could do with proper attention, by the way] I heard them laughing and saying, "She's had two gin and tonics and now she needs a taxi"! I was devastated by that and I don't know why I didn't go and tell them what I thought of them - but I didn't. Anyway, the careless-talking fools have ensured that I eat elsewhere on future visits to Catania! I haven't felt the need to go there since, though, as I haven't found it necessary to shop outside Modica. Now that's quite a compliment to the place from a capital-city-gal like me!

I've always found it strange, in France and Italy, not to have change put in my hand in shops; instead, it is slammed on the counter. But I am finally getting used to it and it no longer irritates.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


A nice article in Corriere della Sera today, regarding RFID [Radio Frequency Identification] tags on airport luggage: Apparently these are currently being tried out at London Heathrow and will be tested at Milano Malpensa within the year.

What amused me is the advice of no less a personage then the Director of Italy's Channel 5 News: "Say a prayer to Sant'Agata while you are waiting to retrieve your luggage."

So who needs RFID when we've got Sant'Agata?


I have been to Raffaele [the hairdresser] and I have had the above, which I can only translate as a "special blow-dry". Raffaele is very pleased with himself and it got me a compliment from the bar staff when I went to lunch at the Altro Posto. I thought to myself, "There is nowhere on earth I would rather be and nothing I would rather be doing than sitting on the terrace of a nice bar in the Via Sacro Cuore in Modica, Sicily, in the sun, watching Italy drive by - with my hair done." I think they should scatter my ashes outside the Altro Posto and pour a gin and tonic over them! [Would the Catholic Church and the comune allow this, I wonder?!]

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


There are many more supermarkets in Modica than when I first visited in 1992. There is the Conad chain, with a supermarket in the Via Sacro Cuore and two bigger outlets, one easily accessible by bus, the other less so. The larger ones are fine, as are the other “chain” supermarkets, Sidis and Di Meglio; their displays of fruit and vegetables are mouthwatering and the staff are eager to help you.

But something is badly amiss at the Sacro Cuore store: there is nothing wrong with its produce and its butcher is friendly and efficient. But in other respects it is like a scruffy UK supermarket back in the seventies. They don’t renew their stock quickly, they don’t do their “facings” [I know that’s what they’re called from a Joanna Trollope novel!] they don’t check sell-by dates regularly enough and the floor tiles are precariously held togther with tape all over the place. Worse than all of that, though, is that if you need help – say, to find or reach something – they can be casual to the point of rudeness. I have twice nearly lost my temper in there because of this. All it needs is a little staff training!

It pains me to write about service in Italy in this way, as the country is renowned for good, professional service and courtesy in shops and restaurants; and, indeed, this is what you will get in most shops, big or small, where they are as polite and attentive if you spend three euros as if you spend three hundred.

All the supermarkets – yes, even the Sacro Cuore one! – will gift-wrap for you at Christmas, as will most other shops, all year round, for no charge. This is usually done prettily and with fine Italian attention to detail, too.

I have mentioned access: no bus stops at the Sidis although there are lots of other stores in the complex and the buses pass it. It is not that far to walk to it from the bus stop back along the road, but the problem is that for a good part of the way there is no pavment. [Indeed, you could be forgiven for wondering what they have against pavements in parts of Modica!] This is just bad planning; another matter for my epistle to the Mayor?!

Health-store items such as vitamins cost a lot more here and I suspect that this is because they are not stocked by the supermarkets. There is currently a debate in Italy about whether to allow pharmacies to open in supermarkets; there is some fear that, if this happened, some of the small, conveniently located pharmacies might go out of business. [And there are plenty, I have to say, always clearly signposted and they all give friendly and good advice.]

You also can’t buy newspapers and magazines in the supermarkets here [which I find strange] though this is not the case in the north of Italy.

I have trouble buying carrots, potatoes and celery because they are sold in much larger amounts than I need and there are no small packs of prepared celery hearts [or at least, I haven’t seen them]. There just aren't the number of single-person households here that there are in the UK.

As for spices, I have sent to Britain for the more unusual Indian ones, as, apart from cinnamon, juniper and mustard seeds, they are hard to find here. [“Why move to Italy if you want Indian spices?” you may say. It is just that I miss preparing certain exotic recipes now and then.] However, recently a friend told me about a shop in nearby Ragusa called “Global Foods” and I went and cleared them out of their supply of tamarind, fresh coriander and – would you believe? – baked beans! [Well, like Everest, they were “there”, you see!]

There are many independent butchers and all their shops are air-conditioned, orderly and spotlessly clean. Luckily I have the best one in town right opposite the flat! They all stock certain prepared food such as dishes of chicken wings with olives and herbs, spiedini [kebabs] and you can get veal and chicken cutlets already breaded.

For cold meats you go to the salumeria if you don’t want to go to the supermarket. Just along the road is the “Sfiziosa”, again, one of the best – and most expensive – in town but it is worth it. In my opinion they stock the best crudo [Parma or San Daniele ham] in the area; they have a stunning array of cheeses, too, but I am convinced that the best Pecorino cheese in Modica is to be found in Mr Cannata’s salumeria in Modica Bassa.

In general, food is cheaper here than in the UK, fruit and vegetables noticeably so, especially if you buy from the various lorries that you see around or from a market; but then you have to buy enormous quantities – such as a crate of peaches or 10 kilos of potatoes – which I can neither carry nor get through quickly enough.

Beef costs about the same as in the UK; chicken a little more; pork less. Lamb is quite difficult to find, except at Easter, and it is very young and therefore boney: the first time I bought some cubed lamb I tried to get the bone off and ended up with very little meat! [I now know that Italians cook it bone-in, for the flavour.] I haven’t yet seen any minced lamb and the only way to get decent-sized lamb chops is to visit the nice folk at Iblea Frigo [ a frozen food centre] where they will cut up a whole shoulder into chops for you.

I have been doing Italian cooking all my adult life, yet now I realise that in the UK, this was an approximation, because the cuts of meat are so different. I have adjusted some of my recipes accordingly and am getting used to it, though.

Now I am going to say something iconoclastic! It is all very well for professional chefs and for foodies like me to bang on about the desirability of seasonal food. But the fact is that when you have lived in Britain, where these days you can get almost any food, from any country, at any time of year, despite yourself you do come to expect it. So, sorry, dear cookery writers, but my answer to the question, “Do you really want strawberries in December?” just might, sometimes, be “Yes!” It is quite strange, when poring over recipe books, to have to stop and ask myself, “Now can I get this or that ingredient here at this time of year?” And yet the fact that seasonal and celebratory food is prepared here – and prepared in the home – remains one of the reasons why I came.

Oh dear! A lot of the above seems rather grumpy! I didn’t mean it to, as much of the time I am absolutely delighted with my shopping. The photo was taken the first time I bought citrus fruit with the leaves attached. This may not seem much if you have always lived around the Med or in California or somewhere, but I assure you that for a Brit it is truly miraculous!

Monday, May 08, 2006


I should know by now: never go anywhere in Sicily without a book! [That could really apply to me anywhere in the world as I have a deep-seated fear of being marooned somewhere without reading matter.]

The siesta here lasts longer than in the north of Italy [although some supermarkets and department stores in large towns stay open all day] with the town coming back to life and shops reopening at around 5pm.

If you are invited to someone's house for lunch here, with perhaps a suggestion that you will go out together later, I would advise you to take a book - just in case your hosts leave you to your own devices after lunch and go to bed for the afternoon!

Although I find that strange behaviour, I have always thought that the Italians have the "rhythm of life" right: a father is able to go home for the long lunchtime and gets to see his young children while they are awake, not ready for bed, as in the UK. Maybe that's partly why Italians, in general, have successful family lives whilst we, in general, do not.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


I cannot begin to tell you about the trouble we have with water here; well, I will begin, but I'm not sure you'll believe me! Yes, we are in the twenty-first century, in a modern city in a technologically brilliant country in western Europe; but the water, in some areas, is still not supplied via the pipes! [Friends say this is because of the enormous amount of development that has taken place in this district in recent years.] It seems you either have a well, a tank on the roof or are dependent on the comune's water lorries!

The large cistern below this condominio is filled up by the water-lorry-man about every two weeks, but the supply sometimes runs out after nine or ten days - and I can guarantee it will dry up if I am entertaining! When this happens the capo-condominio - the tenant who deals with such administrative matters - has to call the comune to request a refill.

To be fair, they usually come quite quickly, even sometimes arriving as late as ten o'clock at night. You can hear the heavy lorry reversing up the road and Simi barks and gets really excited as she knows we will go outside! - I am usually the only one in when the lorry comes and she insists on accompanying me when I go down to open the barrier across the condominio parking space and sign for the water.

The only time we were without water for more than a day was during the summer, around the Ferragosto holiday [15th August] and I really was getting desperate then! Although I had a couple of bidoni [large containers which you fill with water for such emergencies] they soon ran out and I was ready to go back to the UK! The capo- condominio wasn't here but the rest of us tenants agreed to call a private water supplier and share the cost [ which would have worked out at about 5 euros each] when, at last, the welcome "bleeps" of the "camion" reversing were heard...

It takes about fifteen minutes for the cistern to fill and Simi hates the last five or so when the tank on the lorry is automatically raised to allow the last few drops to trickle in; I'm sure the noise reminds her of when she was hoisted onto the plane in her special little pet carrier!

One of the water-lorry-men has a "Diana" fixation, by the way: when I told him I was from Wales, he grinned and said slowly, "Dee-ann-a", whilst making that repeated, upward, circular movement with his hand - a bit like the Queen waving - that Italians seem to make when they are interested in something. It would have been useless to tell him that the late Princess had very little to do with Wales, as he is convinced that she was from there, that her death was a complotto [conspiracy] and that we all still hate Camilla.

Water also caused me another problem back in March: there had been a storm, and, coming back at about two in the afternoon, I noticed that my kitchen balcony was flooded and that the balcony drain was blocked. Now, I am not very practical, so I did not think where the water would end up once it was released: I just unblocked the drain with a skewer [pretty good for me!] and down it went - then there was a shout! I looked over the balcony but could not see anyone so shrugged my shoulders in a rather Italian way. However, later, a handwritten notice appeared on the main door of the condominio, saying please [I'm not sure if there was a "please", now I come to think of it] would people clean their balconies at other times [fair enough, as it had been siesta time; only I had not been cleaning the balcony and indeed, if I had not seen other women doing so, it would never have occurred to me that you had to!] and would we remember that it wasn't a porcile [pigsty]! Now that got to me: all right, I should have unblocked the drain later and I should have checked to see if there was anyone below, but the implication that I was treating the place like a porcile really shook me! I also felt very embarrassed as of course everyone would have known that the notice was directed at me. [Culture shock: these things upset you more when you are not in your own country, where you know exactly what to do about them.]

Anyway, I knew it was the woman on the ground floor who had written the hasty notice and I decided that such matters are best tackled immediately. So I knocked on their door, apologised and explained why it had happened and all was fine; but it took all the courage I had to ring that doorbell! It was only later when I phoned Linda and her husband Franco that I was persuaded to stop worrying about the incident - again, because it becomes magnified in your mind when you are "a fish out of [your own] water"!

Friday, May 05, 2006


Surprisingly, I am doing more, culturally, than I used to in the UK: this is probably because I was always at work when there were book signings and the like, and in the evenings I was too tired to go out again to concerts or the theatre. Here, there does seem to be more on at times when I can actually go and concerts or the theatre are not expensive as they are in Britain.

In the winter there are concerts down in Modica Bassa and there are now events at the Teatro Garibaldi all year round. This charming little theatre has recently been restored [well, it was restored before but the roof fell in!] and I had never been inside until I came to live here last year; it was in a sorry state during all my previous visits to Modica. Now its façade sparkles on the Corso and inside it is very comfortable, pleasant and welcoming.

Since settling here, I have attended two presentations of new books, one a volume of poetry by Antonio Lonardo, a teacher I have met at the Archimede School, and the other a novel about Olympe de Gouges by Maria Rosa Cutrufelli, a writer from Messina. I love Prof. Lonardo's poetry, and read one of his poems every day. The Cutrufelli presentation was interesting and was well attended; the Mayor spoke and the media were well represented. The author spoke well about many issues.

In the summer there are concerts in the stunning old villas in and around Modica. Classical music, jazz and many genres are included in the summer programme. These concerts are elegant affairs, in particular the first one of the season, with what seems like everyone in Modica turned out in their finery.

What is not elegant, however, is the scramble for food afterwards! Mouthwatering morsels are laid out on long trestle tables in the magical villa gardens: uniformed stewards stand by; fountains play and the scene is lit by moonlight [for the concerts begin and end very late]. And then what happens? Do the stewards serve the food? They do not. Instead, at a signal which is both invisible and inaudible to me but is obviously clear to everybody else, everyone pushes, shoves and elbows their way to the tables, grabbing as much as they can of this so delicately presented fare while the stewards just stand there. So in the country which has, arguably, the best home cooking in the world, people fight over these offerings as if they had never seen food before!

I might give these occasions a miss this year; the urge to yell at everyone to form a very British queue is too strong in me!

Not long after my arrival last summer, I was lucky enough to attend, with Irma, a performance of "Antigone" in the Greek Amphitheatre in Siracusa [Syracuse]. That is something I had always wanted to do as, although I had been to the Amphitheatre many times, I had never managed to be in Sicily during the performance season. That night, I was mesmerised! The costumes were all black and white, there were imposing white statues of the Greek gods in the background, and just the thought that you were sitting where the Greeks had sat, listening to the words they had listened to - albeit in a different language - was such a deeply spiritual experience for me. And then, just as the very last words about not tempting the gods were uttered, a storm broke. "Perfetto", said Irma; "Perfetto", said I.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


This is what I am noticing on the fashion scene: trainers or semi-trainers with lots of gold and / or silver detail; bags and shoes in that brown "world map" pattern - this is everywhere, on lampshades and desk accessories, too - and culottes everywhere, worn with very high, thin heels.

I am keeping my eyes peeled for the moment when the Italian women do the cambio di stagione and change into their summer garb, for, although the temperature was 30 C in Modica Bassa today [and that's hot for a Brit!] the moment, it seems, is not yet, as it can still get cold in the evenings. They will know the moment.

But the elegant Eleanora, who always dresses a little ahead of the season, has already changed; she even has her tights off! Eleanora is one of the "sights" of Modica Bassa. [Linda's husband thinks she is about 80; I would judge her to be around 70; no one really seems to know.] She has rather alarming, dark red hair, swept up into a perfect coif, is tall and slim and I have never seen her in the same outfit twice. When I was in the little house in Modica Bassa, it was one of the things that kept me going: "What is Eleanora wearing today?" For she is always dressed in up-to-the minute fashionable clothes, usually with very high heels and beautifully accessorised bags. She is immaculately made-up, too. She makes her stately progress along the Corso between 12 and 1 pm every day. Today she was wearing a blue and white linen suit, skirt split to the knee, with silver sandals which had 6-inch heels no wider than a swizzle stick.

What a graceful and pleasant way she has found to grow old!


The worst thing about Modica has got to be the Post Office. Just the thought of the place raises my blood pressure and it takes me a long time to calm down after a visit. Many writers on Italy mention the slowness of Italian post offices in general and travellers constantly complain. But even they have never experienced the Post Office here!

I am now thinking of the Post Office in the "Sorda" district; the other one, in Modica Bassa, is, in my experience, worse. I swear they have deliberately slowed down the computer system in there! When I was in the temporary accommodation down there I began to understand why people start queueing outside before 8 am and use their elbows to push their way in once it opens.

Here in the "Sorda" the average queueing time to do something simple like post a letter to the UK is 40 minutes, I have found. [And the Post Office is one of the few places where Italians do queue, by the way.]

When I first moved into the flat I had a batch of change of address cards to send to Britain, all of which I had addressed properly, remembering to put my own address on the back, and had attached pretty animal stickers to the envelopes. I was told, after an endless wait in the heat, that I couldn't post them because the envelopes were the wrong size! [They were about a millimetre bigger than the template the clerk had to measure them by.] I said, "But can't I just pay more and post them anyway?" "Impossible", was the reply. So I had to bring them back, discard the envelopes and distinctive stickers and re-address them all in "standard" -sized envelopes. This is ridiculous! We are talking about posting cards within the EU!!

If you are there to pay a bill it is usually just as bad. People just fling their hands in the air and utter, "Pazienza" to each other.

One of the things that slows the system down is that people queue-jump to ask for a form or information - while the clerk is attending to someone else! It amazes me that they stop what they are doing to deal with the query and if they do it many times a day, which they do, then how many minutes do they lose when they could be getting the queue down by helping the customers who have been waiting? And why can't the forms be freely on display, organised and labelled?

There are seven counters: three "prodotti postali" [for posting letters and parcels], two "prodotti banco posta" [for bill-paying, etc.], one for "business" [for which you have to have a card] and one for clients who have a Post Office account. The trouble is, only one of the "prodotti postali" and one of the "prodotti banco posta" counters are staffed at a time. Sometimes, if business is slack at the "business" counter, the lady there will yell "Prego!" and take some customers from the "banco posta" queue - usually the nimblest ones who can get over, under, or around the barrier quickest!

Once, I thought there was going to be a full-scale riot: there was a queue stretching beyond the door for the "banco posta" and a young couple wanted to open a Post Office account. So what did the clerk do? - He left his counter to deal with them in another area - which took ages - and nobody came to replace him! People then started going to "Mrs Prego's" counter and all was well until a group of business clients came in and claimed, fairly, that they had priority for the use of that counter! Shouting and arguing began in earnest; I was just thinking "Great - they deserve this", as I'd have enjoyed a good riot and have often thought of starting one myself there when, finally, another clerk did appear; so everyone just fell back into line and started saying "Pazienza" again.

I will say that once you do actually get served the clerks are helpful [apart from that one time with the cards] but please, Mr-Mayor-of-Modica [to whom I vow daily to write], can't you arrange a training trip to a UK main post office for the beleaguered staff in there?

Postal deliveries, at least in my street, are a different matter altogether, you'll be glad to know! We have got the Michela Schumaker of Poste Italiane as a postwoman and why Ferrari have not signed her up I do not know: she spurns the motorbikes that the other postini use and comes in her car, zooming up the street every morning, literally running from block to block with her deliveries and then she reverses down the road at breakneck speed. How she remembers who lives where is a mystery to me, as there are several houses and apartment blocks, all with the same number, but she does! She is also nice and kind and was very concerned to explain to me exactly where I had to go to pick up a parcel when I first arrived - not the above-mentioned dreaded branch of the Post Office!


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