Saturday, July 29, 2006


Today I met a Sicilian who knows something about Wales! [Other than those in my immediate circle, most know only that rugby is played there and, worse, think we are part of England.] I was buying stamps for Britain from the pleasant tobacconist lady nearby when she asked me where in Britain I am from. When I said, "Del Galles" her face broke into a broad grin and she exclaimed, "Come Tom Jones! Che uomo! Che cantante!" ["Like Tom Jones! What a man! What a singer!"]

So there you are, then, boyo; even in this little corner of the world, there are women in raptures over you!


Yet another boatload of clandestini - all in a pitiful state - was intercepted off Lampedusa last night. 27 people had set out from Libya 20 days ago: during the nightmare journey 13 died and their bodies had to be thrown into the sea by the survivors, who were all found to be suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. 2 are in a coma in a Palermo hospital whilst 7 others are in a very serious condition. What, one wonders,can be done to stem the flow? Are these poor people really apprised of the dangers before they take such a risk? One cannot imagine the despair that would lead them to do so if they are. Only an end to poverty in Africa can solve the problem, it seems to me, and that looks increasingly unlikely with the attention of those with the power to do something engaged elsewhere.

Reuters is reporting the story but I can't find it on the BBC or Sky sites.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Two more news items:

The tide of human misery continues to surge towards Sicily: in the past fortnight, it is reported, more than 2,000 clandestini [illegal would-be immigrants] have arrived by boat and are at the reception centre on Lampedusa. Obviously, such a small island cannot cope and the German government has offered to help police the situation. What terrible desperation these people must feel. In the international media, I read and see quite a lot of articles about how the boatloads of arrivals are affecting Spain [the Canaries] and Malta [which also feels itself to be overwhelmed and has asked for help from the rest of the EU], but little about how Sicily is affected.
Most pharmacies are on strike again today and in some towns there is chaos at the one or two emergency ones which are open. Yesterday there was a long queue at the nearest one in this area and the pharmacist said he was concerned about public opinion turning against them. As I said on Wednesday, the strikes are in protest at a proposal to allow medication to be sold in supermarkets. The government says taking this step will bring prices down; yet a survey shows that prices in Italian pharmacies are already among the lowest in Europe. [My monthly asthma prescription costs 4 euros, for instance, as compared to £6.50 in Britain. I know this charge has changed in Wales since I left. I find most non-prescription medicines cheaper, too.]

What I would like to be able to purchase in supermarkets are natural health remedies and supplements. I cannot understand why a bottle of vitamin B pills - which are supposed to keep the zanzare [ mosquitoes] off you - can cost as much as 19 euros as compared to about £1.99 in a UK supermarket!

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I bumped into Irma's husband, Cesare, in the greengrocer's the other day and the first thing we discussed was the heat. If you thought it was only the British who go on about the weather all the time, think again! In my experience, the Sicilians comment on it almost as much, particularly at this time of year. "Che caldo!" ["It's so hot!"] is the constant lament, changing to "Che freddo!" ["It's so cold!] in winter, often on days which seem to me extremely mild. Cesare says that having to cope with the heavy, humid heat of July and August is the prezzo [price] you pay for living in Sicily and it's a price I'm prepared to pay!

He also says that the trick is to keep drinking, in the heat, even when you are not thirsty. A tip from another friend for those moments when the heat just overwhelms you - which can happen quite unexpectedly, several times a day - is to just sit and do absolutely nothing until the moment passes, which it will. A coping stragey I've evolved myself is to always have a packet of crisps in the house so that if I get dehydrated, I can replace salt levels quickly. It works for me! And I rub dog Simi down with ice cubes after we have been for a walk at around 5pm [which she insists on doing although I find this the hottest time of the day].

Incidentally, Sicilians who have not visited Britain are fascinated to hear that, during a normal British summer, you can feel quite comfortable most of the time, even in the city!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


From mini-peaches [see July 14th] to giant ones. As a Brit, it is still a miracle to me to be able to buy fruit with the leaves on!


Here is the good, hard bread of Modica [I've already mentioned that the bread is different in each town] and ragusano cheese [made in Modica] along with some Pecorino cheese with red pepper.


Yesterday and today the pharmacies have been on strike. This is in protest against the government's proposal to allow medicines to be sold in supermarkets. I'm all for the right to protest but the middle of the tourist season, when a lot of visitors will be in need of pills for upset stomachs or help regarding heat exhaustion, seems a funny time to do it, as such medication cannot be purchased elsewhere here. [There are emergency pharmacies open in each town, but they're hard to find if you do not know your way around.]

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


1] "What's this blowy thing, then?"
2] "I guess it's OK as my Mum seems relaxed."
3] "Oh, well, I might as well enjoy it, too!"

We had it put in last week and, in a temperature of 44 C I'm jolly glad we did! Now we can enjoy our afternoons in the lounge . Air conditioning in your house is a real luxury in the UK as, indeed, it used to be here, but now more and more people have it in Sicily as the climate changes and the summers become even hotter for even longer. It's yet another appliance to worry about in one way, as I have to remember that I can't have it switched on at the same time as the washing machine or oven [and when the oven is on is, conceivably, when I might really need the air conditioning!] However, pazienza; I am learning that you can't have everything... [See post entitled "An Electric Shock" dated July 5th.]

I was, again, impressed by the efficiency of the Sicilian workmen who installed it: they toiled for three hours in the late afternoon heat without pausing for a sip of water. [I don't know how they manage it!]

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Some news items:

Today has been the hottest day of this summer all over Italy, with a temperature of 38 C being reported in Florence. Here the weather forecasters say it is 32 C but I'm pretty sure it is hotter than that! A national heat helpline has been set up during the past 24 hours.
At this time of year, you see notices around begging people not to abandon their pets when they go on holiday. Only a very small percentage of the Italian pet-owning public does this but it is shocking that it happens at all. ENPA [the equivalent of the RSPCA] is listing pet-friendly hotels on its site.
"We'll build the bridge at all costs", says the Regional President [referring to the Messina project thrown out by the Prodi government]. The unions here are talking of staging a massive demonstration in Rome.

Friday, July 21, 2006


I have only just had these pictures of the interior of the casetta [the little house where Simi and I spent our first five weeks here] developed as they were taken with a conventional camera last year. They show:

1] The traditional Sicilian way of locking a door. You can imagine that I felt very safe there.
2] Me in the casetta on the night I left it last July.
3] The kitchen corner, leading to the tiny bathroom.

Giovanna and Marco had managed to equip the house with mod cons, yet preserved its uniquely Sicilian character.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Dashing Away with a Smoothing Iron... As a child, I liked the song. As a woman, I loathe the activity with a vengeance. I despise ironing above all domestic chores and so I really resent the 40 minutes or so it has just taken me to press a couple of sheets.

Here’s a confession: I had never ironed a sheet in my life before coming to live here! When I was a child, I suppose my mother did it; when I went to university, the hall of residence laundry did it; when I moved out into digs, I paid the launderette to do it; and by the time I graduated, we were all into duvets with their non-iron covers and undersheets! But here, in the summer, you just have to sleep in cotton, iron-demanding sheets. [Even now, I refuse to iron an undersheet, though – well, I might for a visitor – as they stretch out perfectly passably once fitted onto the bed. Sorry, Siciliane!]

Sicilian women, of course, iron beautifully and the ironing standards of their British sisters is one thing that exchange students from here have been known to criticise. I have, in the past, been flabbergasted in Sicily when I have observed women ironing everything from underwear to tea towels and I nearly fell on the floor when a friend here – a busy, professional woman - told me she spends half a day each week ironing her husband’s shirts! I think the attitude of most British working women to this would these days be similar to that of a Cardiff friend of mine: “ I buy non-iron clothes for myself and if my husband wants to buy clothes that need pressing, he can do it himself.” Archers fans among my compatriots may remember the fictional contretemps between Hayley [Roy’s wife] and Betty [his mother] when the latter started ironing her son’s shirts again: “He’s perfectly capable of doing it himself!” wailed Hayley [the only time I have ever liked the character].

The dry cleaner’s down the road – there are as many dry-cleaning establishments as there are banks, all coexisting virtually side by side -will wash and iron a single bedlinen set for c. 10 euros but I don’t always feel like lugging the stuff down there or that I can afford it. [I could buy a paperback or several g and ts for that!]

Anyway, dear readers, “dashing away with a smoothing iron” is not something I will be doing very often, despite my change of culture!


Here's another thing you won't believe if you're British - the fuss and kerfuffle of getting into a bank! [British banks are so, well, open...] First you have to leave all bags, even your handbag, in a locker outside, taking with you only any money, cards or papers that you need. Then you have to ring a buzzer and go through the first security door, where you are presumably scanned; finally the second door will open and you can enter. It is just as bad getting out!
However, the service inside is now usually quite fast: I can remember a time when, whatever you wanted to do, you had to wait in at least two different queues, one to process your request and then one for the cassa or cash-desk. [And I use the word "queue" loosely here, as there were always people better at elbowing their way to the counter than me.] Now at least everything is done by one clerk and there is even a privacy line [drawn nearer to the counter than it would be in Britain. I have already commented that the concept of personal space is different.] There are also so many different banks here these days that there are hardly any queues.
All the same, because of the security systems, allow plenty of time for going to the bank, though not as much time as you need for the dreaded post office!


Last night, on the fourteenth anniversary of the murder of Judge Paolo Borsellino, Sky showed two back-to-back documentaries on the Mafia, despite the Regional President's having called them defamatory. [He has also, according to Corriere della Sera, called for the withdrawal of the DVD of these programmes.] It is interesting that Sky went ahead.
There have been commemorations of Borsellino in Palermo and the President of the Republic has sent the Judge's widow a message.


A beautiful turquoise - the exact colour of the gemstone - is everywhere. Last year I noticed this colour a lot in linen. Now it appears in floaty fabrics. It looks so lovely in the Mediterranean light.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


- Well, nearly: a storm in the Siracusa area put the lights out over much of the island on Monday night. Simi and I were just coming up in the lift after our evening walk when the thing seemed to groan and I thought, "Oh, no, power cut and we're in the bloody lift!" Luckily the machine croaked onwards and upwards and we got out just as the power went - only momentarily in Modica. Many people were trapped in lifts elsewhere for up to a couple of hours, though. [Short power cuts being common here, I always make sure I've got my phone and a bottle of water when I use the lift but I'm still terrified of being trapped in it.]

The irony is that Sicily is a producer of electrical energy and so the regional papers are asking why a storm which was by no means the most violent we have had should have put the power out for so long over such a wide area.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


An unexpected invitation to join Marco, Giovanna and family at their seaside house today. As soon as I arrived in their driveway I could smell grilled red peppers. This is how Giovanna prepares them as a contorno [vegetable accompaniment]:

Grill 6 long, red peppers [not bell peppers] until the skins are blackened [or get them black in the oven]. Cool and pull off the skins. [Don't bother removing the seeds.] Cut the peppers into strips, put them in a bowl and slice 1 or 2 cloves of garlic onto them. Sprinkle with salt and add a good dollop of olive oil.

Friday, July 14, 2006


A Palermo fashion chain has been selling T-shirts imprinted with the words, "MAFIA - MADE IN ITALY". It seems that some misguided tourists, among others, have been buying them. Prodi's party has called for the withdrawal of the T-shirts from sale.

It doesn't say much for Sicily's self-esteem, does it? There are so many beautiful and wonderful images and evocative words that could be put on T-shirts from this island [as the antimafia Prosecutor says in the newspaper article*]. How about Isola della Frutta, Limoncello, Cioccolato, Pasta alla Norma, Isola Bella, Isola dei Dolci, Isola dei Bei Mari, Spiagge Pulite, Isola della Bellezza? - And those are just off the top of my head for a start!
* The story appears in both La Repubblica and La Sicilia online editions today but I can't get the links to work.


Today I discovered these pesche tabacchiere from the Etna area. They owe their name to their small, squashed shape which resembles that of a snuffbox. They have an intense, peachy fragrance whilst the skin is very velvety. They are much sweeter than you would imagine and are often used in the preparation of ice cream.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


So now we all know, more or less, what Materazzi said to Zidane. I understand some sections of the German press are suggesting that Italy be stripped of the title. Can you imagine the uproar there would be here if that happened?!


I've always said that someone, somewhere, would publish them one day: this week the Italian magazine Chi has published one of the paparazzi photos of the dying Diana, taken just after the crash. [I see that "The Sun" has this story online now.]

This is hardly a "scoop" to be proud of, Italy; I'm not sure it's even journalism, nine years after the Princess' death. But the book from which it is taken, along with some other shots and gruesome details from the post-mortem report, is shortly to be published in France and then all over the world, and I suppose it will be yet another sensation though it seems that it will tell us very little that is new.
If the photo can upset me - as it would anyone with an ounce of human feeling - what will it do to the Princess' family? I'm sure the Princes will be protected, as they must have been before when there have been rumours of copies of these photographs circulating, but it must affect them nevertheless .

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


At the end of this week we shall be entering what I have come to call the “Sicilian silly season”. I don’t mean a journalistic silly season as in Britain, where all sorts of daft news is reported in the absence of parliamentary debate and where there seems to be nothing on TV but repeats, but a “silly season” of truly baffling opening – or, more to the point, closing – hours of shops and enterprises.

From next Monday till September many shops will not bother to reopen in the afternoon and others will change and shorten their hours. During the two weeks around the 15th August holiday, many will close altogether. I find this so frustrating!

It is true, of course, that many Modicans are now escaping to their countryside or seaside homes; Raffaele’s [the hairdresser’s] is already quieter and I can quite see that business owners may consider it not worth their while to stick to normal hours. Working less is also a sensible way of coping with the extreme heat of July and August and I appreciate that, but it is interpreted by visitors as a form of laziness. I remember chatting to an interpreter who lived here on my first ever flight to Sicily and her judgement was, “They just deserve the lack of tourism because they don’t make enough effort.”

Indeed, it does seems to have escaped the attention of many business people that this is precisely the period when many tourists would like or are able to come. The island already has opening hours which confuse and confound non-Italians, especially the British, and in high summer the verdict of any tourists will be, “But there was nothing open!” My beloved Sicily, again, if you want tourists you have to compromise a bit and maybe relinquish a little of your summer comfort!

Monday, July 10, 2006


Two British news channels have, to my knowledge, reported today that Italians would have woken with “sore heads” following last night’s festivities. This is a culturally loaded assumption:

Italians certainly know how to celebrate but they don’t need to get drunk in order to do so. In fact, they don’t understand the binge-drinking British. As I mentioned, car horns sounded and there were cheers for a while after the match ended, but neither last night nor this morning did I witness any signs of a drunken celebration or its aftermath.

Sadly, some road accidents during the night have been reported, mostly involving young people driving at high speed following the victory. But there has been no indication that alcohol was a factor.

Contrary to popular belief, Italians drink moderately: one or two glasses of wine to accompany the long lunch and possibly the same again at the late dinner is the norm. Only on special occasions do the liqueurs and Limoncello come out to round off the meal. [In fact, Italian restraint at apéritif time drives a g and t woman like me round the bend!] And having to survive in the heat as they do, what the Italians are very good at is the manufacture of soft drinks – all types of fruit juices and flavoured fizzy beverages plus Chinotto, which is a bit like Coke, among others. In Modica there is an excellent local mineral water, Santa Maria, too, and, to get back to the football, I note that it was mineral water bottles that were thrown in the air in Rome when that last penalty went in!

There is to be quite a party in Rome tonight, fêting the returning team, but I’m willing to bet that it will be Mercury, in his sporting capacity, rather than Bacchus who will be worshipped there.


Italian proverb = "You play to win".

Well, the klaxons are still klaxonning as I write and good for their owners!

I am rubbing my hands with glee at the thought of all those Italian managers and heads of companies who are now going to have to fork out for those World Cup freebies they so rashly offered! [See post entitled "Sales Pitch" dated June 10th.]

Of course, it's all down to Simi and me, you know, for flying our Tricolore when others had so little faith!

Saturday, July 08, 2006


As it's over a week since I posted any photos, here are three of my favourite views of Modica just to cheer you - and myself - up: two were taken from the steps approaching San Giorgio and the third is another view of San Giorgio itself.


So much has been said and so many words written about this day last year that mine seem superfluous and I have wondered whether to write about it at all. Talking about how it affected “me, me, me” when I was not directly involved seems selfish; yet remaining silent for the day would also be making a statement. So here goes:

When something like that happens in your country, even when you have permanently left it, it does still affect you and you can feel isolated. However much coverage there is in the media of other countries, it is not the analytical coverage which we take for granted in Britain and, however informed the foreign correspondent writing or broadcasting, he or she is not approaching the subject from the same cultural standpoint.

I didn’t even know about the bombs until the evening: I was still living in the chaos of the first week of the move into the flat and didn’t yet have a TV or net access in it. I’d had no time, that day, to go across to the computer shop and catch up with the British news online, either. So it wasn’t until I saw Marco in the evening that I heard about it and I was, of course, shocked and astounded. Later I was at another friend’s house and we did see some of the Italian news coverage but her children wanted to watch other things and I found that quite frustrating. You can get British newspapers, a day late, down in Modica Bassa, [though without the supplements or review sections, in other circumstances often the most interesting parts] so I had to wait till the Saturday to be able to pick up the Times of 8th July and so begin to understand the horrific extent and impact of what had happened.

My first thought was, of course, for the victims and their families and friends. My second was for the many lovely Muslim ladies I’d taught, who I knew would be feeling scared to venture outside, even as I read. Then you think about the arbitrary nature of it all, how easily you could have been there and so on… Like many British people, I have friends who were not far away when it happened and who could, but for chance, have been involved, or whose sons and daughters use the tube every day. I felt guilty at not being there to support them at that time.

In the ensuing weeks, as further information came to light and the sheer evil and sick nature of what was planned became clear, the Italian press of course covered it thoroughly, asking the same questions regarding the nature of British society as British people were asking themselves. Then Rome was threatened and the mood here became even more sombre, as you would expect. So there was a sense of solidarity.

I have previously said that going through culture shock helps you to realise what you value in your own culture. And one of the things that I value about Britain is that those Muslim lady students of mine had no reason to be afraid, as has been made clear in articles I have read in the British press in the run-up to this sad anniversary.

And now I think the most appropriate thing I can do is to spend a few minutes in the Sacro Cuore Church.

Friday, July 07, 2006


He must have cometh'd [or whatever the past definite of that is] at around midnight, whilst I was giving vent to my spleen here. [So glad I read Baudelaire when young!] I heard him not. Anyway, I am calm again as we have water.

Am in a much more sombre mood today, as you will see from the next post.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I am absolutely fuming tonight as we have had no running water in the apartment block since about midday. It's the capo-condominio's [ tenant in charge of administration] job to call the Comune about it and, if she is not here as I suspect [like many Modicans, she is probably away in her sea or country retreat by now] then it falls to another lady in the block. You interfere with this hierarchy at your peril and the requisite phone number has deliberately been made difficult to find in any case.
Earlier I spent a good few minutes assuring the new young gentleman tenant above that it would be all right, that the lorry could even appear as late as 10pm - I'm assuring him and I'm not even Italian??! - and now it's 11.45pm Italian time and where is it? Nowhere to be seen!
This is the one thing that makes me want to go home: yes, I know people in other parts of the world have difficulty accessing clean water but I'll be honest and say that that knowledge does not help me. You can only compare with what you know. [I have never been healthy or brave enough to do VSO or some other service that would have made me count my blessings. Sorry.]
All I can think is, again, that we are in western Europe and this can happen! This is an island, for god's sake! How can they be short of water?! [Surely the sea water could be used to alleviate the problem? I understand they use it for flushing the loos in Hong Kong!]
Well, Sicily, if you want tourists or financially independent EU settlers, you are going to have to sort this! It is bloody stupid!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


I have already mentioned that, in all regions of Italy, there are regulations regarding when you can have the heating on and to what temperature. If you haven't lived here, you may be surprised to learn that there are also limitations as to how much electricity you can use:

The standard allowance per dwelling is 3 kilowatts of electricity, a figure which in itself means nothing to me; but in practical terms, it means that there is a limit to how many electrical appliances you can have switched on at any one time. When you buy an appliance, you are supposed to look underneath to see how much electricity it uses when in operation. It's OK once you get used to the idea and I did know about this before I came; it was just strange having to think about it when you've not been used to it [part of the initial culture shock].

I now know that the kettle and the iron consume a lot and that it would be pushing it to use either of these when the washing machine is on and that I can't have the washing machine and the electric oven on at the same time. I had always previously had an electric hob as well, but here you can't, because of the amount of electricity it would use, so I've had to get used to cooking with gas [metano or town gas, I am glad to say, not those bombola things of gas which many people do still use and which terrify me. I gave up trying to use the one down in the little house last year. Yet you see lorry-loads of the canisters every day, and I do not read of any accidents involving them.] Incidentally, if you come here and you use British appliances on continental adaptors, that will apparently use more electricity, too, so I had nearly all my plugs changed on small appliances when I arrived. [And it's surprising how many of these you may turn out to have!]

You can, of course, pay to have more kilowatts of electricity supplied to your dwelling, but I was advised by friends not to do so, as you are then automatically charged a higher tariff.

According to the Italian government the laudable reason for imposing these limitations is to conserve energy. Only on very grumpy days do I decide that they are in place just to make life more awkward and some days they give me a great excuse not to iron!


I write about fifteen minutes after the end of the match. In the end, I watched it all [and, I must admit, thought it would never finish and that I couldn't bear it!]

I don't know about "football being less loved" any more as the shouts I heard from outside during the whole, agonising partita were very passionate! And Simi and I have just been out to enjoy the atmosphere; loud car horns, mostly, with vehicles speeding by sporting two or three Italian flags. [Where have they hidden them all till now?!]

"L'ho fatto io!" [= "It's down to me!" ], I shouted across at the neighbour on his balcony the moment the match ended, pointing to my Tricolore at the same time. [I'm the only one in the street to have flown one today, though they have been in evidence in other streets and outside bars, etc.] He has got his flag out now - a little late in the day, if you ask me. Could it be that the Italians are basically a less optimistic people than we are, after all?

Oh, yeh, I'm still the one who hates sport, has no team spirit, etc...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Yes, folks, even though I have no interest in sport and have absolutely no team spirit, I am proudly flying the Italian flag from my clothesline today!

Last week Raffaele asked me what I'd do if Italy had to face England in the World Cup final. I said I'd support Italy, England not being Wales [ a concept, by the way, that is not understood by many Italians].

I cannot, dear readers, explain to you the ins and outs of the football scandal that the Italian press has dubbed Calciopoli [the - poli suffix being a reference to the Tangentopoli financial scandal of some years ago] as I cannot read sports news, even when it touches on the political, for more than five minutes without falling asleep. But I can tell you that Raffaele, for one, is of the opinion that, because of several scandals of this type, football is not as universally loved in Italy as it used to be.

Well, tonight I might - just might - watch some of the match. The Italian team does have good-looking players, after all!

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Among the main tourist attractions of Palermo are the grisly Catacombe dei Cappuccini and the most popular feast day here is “I Morti” on 2nd November. Therefore it should be no surprise that Sicily has numerous death and mourning traditions and rituals and these, like the bread, vary from town to town and even village to village. I can only tell you of those I have read about and seen.

It seems to be the tradition to have the body brought back to the house if the person did not die at home and there it remains, usually in an open coffin, for family and friends to pay their respects prior to the funeral [which takes place fairly quickly after the death. In Britain we have to queue for a slot in the crematorium chapel’s schedule, usually, just as we have queued for everything all our lives; the final indignity!] Family members hold a vigil during this time.

Louise Hamilton Caico, writing in 1910, tells us of the women of the house making great outward shows of grief – wailing and screaming which could be heard through the entire village and tearing at their hair - and even, in remote areas, of families paying women to come and cry loudly!

Now when a death occurs the notices giving details are put up on a special board [ they have recently been removed from opposite the café here] and there is often a notice outside the house or workplace of the deceased. The front door or main door of a block of flats is left open day and night for people to come and sit with the bereaved family and, if you do not know them well, you just go in and offer your condolences, sit with them until the next person or group arrives, and then you can take your leave. The purpose of this, of course, is that the family are not left alone. Here you can talk about death, grieving and the deceased person. [In Britain it is not uncommon for an acquaintance to cross the street rather than have to speak to you if you have had a bereavement; people just do not know what to say.] No one, by the way, takes advantage of the open door to commit a crime; Sicilians have much too much respect for death. Some families leave all the windows open, too, so that the soul can depart easily. I rather like that.

Sometimes the death notice, informing you where you can view the body, will tell you that there is no need to take il conzu. This fascinates me: the conzu are offerings of prepared meals as it used to be considered disrespectful for the family to light the stove or cook during this time. [Caico mentions it.] It still seems to me a sensible custom: disrespect apart, a family may be just too distressed to feed themselves properly during this initial period of shock, disbelief and sorrow.

People do still wear black for up to a year after the death of a close relative. I know Queen Victoria overdid it and that’s probably why we Brits are reluctant to openly show our emotions following a death [Princess Diana apart but there was more to that, psychologically]. On the whole, I’m with the Sicilians: it seems to me entirely appropriate to wear, for a while, some outward symbol that says, “I am grieving”. I think it’s much healthier to acknowledge the terrible thing that has happened to you and your distress- and to make as much noise about it as you need to. Following the death of my mother in 1993 I received more understanding here than I did at home from people who had known me for years.

One last, strange detail: during a visit to the Museo Etnografico here in 1993, I heard a child from an Italian school group mention that the people in the pictures on the wall of a replica of a peasant house must be dead. On asking Marco how the child had come to make that assumption, I learned that it was because the pictures were placed flush against the wall: if the people had been alive, the tops of the frames would have projected out from the wall.


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