Thursday, August 31, 2006


Thirteen years ago tonight, at 7.36 UK time, my mother died in my arms, at last finding peace following a very distressing illness. Wherever I am, I mark the anniversary by having a minute's silence for her at that time and then I drink to her. After that, I get on with my life as she would want me to do.

Tonight I drank two toasts on a Sicilian balcony: one to Mum and the other to the Sicilian friends who, with their kindness, helped me through the dark days of the autumn and winter of 1993.

Then, just as I thought there was no visible moon over Sicily tonight [for it has been a rainy afternoon and evening] it appeared, right in front of a cloud. As I write, even the cloud has disappeared. Now that has got to be symbolic!


- Apricot, strawberry and vanilla which I partook of at the Caffè del Portico in Modica Bassa, for old times' sake.


These pictures go with the previous post. Enjoy!


Enter the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto - the "oldest chocolate factory in Sicily", as the sign above the door proudly proclaims - and if you are a chocolate lover, you will truly think you have found paradise. You are amazed, comforted and bewitched all at the same time by scents of cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, candied citrus peel, sugar and just a hint of chilli pepper, all mingling with the aroma of fresh baking wafting from the workroom, which you can view, behind the shop. Chunks of different kinds of chocolate are laid out in little bowls for you to taste and around the walls are display cupboards showing the implements used during chocolate making's long history. Real, dark Modican chocolate is still made by the Aztec method, which the Modicani learnt from the Spaniards who lived here during the sixteenth century.

At Bonajuto you really can try everything before you buy, so you will be very content with your purchases, if you can ever tear yourself away from there.

In the pictures on the next post you can see their tiny, marzipan cakes covered with coloured chocolate - what a feast for the eyes as well as your taste buds! - and a tray of their chocolates with chilli pepper: when you first try one of these, initially you get just the very strong taste of pure, unadulterated chocolate [which takes some getting used to for British and American visitors] and then, oh, then, the after-taste of the chilli pepper kicks in and it lasts; what a satisfying sensation that is!

If I haven't convinced you to come to Modica now, I never will!


There are variant spellings - 'mpanatigghie, impanatiglie - of the dialect word [ a corruption of Spanish empanadilla, meaning a filling enclosed in pastry] for these pastries. They have minced [ground] beef as one of their ingredients, but you would never guess it from the taste! Those in the photo are from the Pasticceria Cappello but here is a recipe for them that Linda sent me years ago. I know it works because I have successfully made them in Britain:
800 gr plain flour
250 gr sugar
200 gr lard
12 egg yolks [!]
a glass of water if needed
350 gr finely chopped almonds
250 gr lean minced [ground] beef
400 gr sugar
90 gr bitter chocolate, grated
25 gr cinnamon
a few drops of vanilla essence
1 dessertspoon cocoa powder
grated rind of 1 lemon
4 egg whites
To make the pastry, rub the lard into the flour and sugar. Add yolks and a little water if necessary to make a dough. [It will be very sticky at first, but it gets better!]
Cook the minced meat in a little water and grind down in a processor. Add to the other filling ingredients in a bowl and mix all well together.
Roll out the dough and cut into circles using a coffee saucer. Put some filling on each round, then fold over to a half-moon shape. Stick the edges together and make lines with the prongs of a fork. Cut a slit in the top of each one.
Put the pastries on a lightly greased tin and bake at 150 C - 175 C for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them. Serve cold, dusted with icing sugar.


Carob and borlotti beans [which I have never seen fresh in Britain] on sale in Modica Bassa this morning.


This gentleman and his companion are often seen on the steps of San Pietro, making baskets in the time-honoured way. Such workmanship is appreciated here and the baskets are still used in the home and by businesses. I have some and they are virtually indestructible. Sometimes you see the men crafting traditional shepherds' whistles like the one in the second photo, too.


If the Mafia send you a jasmine flower, you are next on their list! Jasmine grows beautifully in Sicily and a fine jasmine cologne is made here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Sicilian proverb:
Donna uziusa mai sarà virtuusa
= "A lazy woman will never be virtuous".
Today the lady opposite has returned from holiday and she has spent hours scrubbing and hosing her balconies, windows and shutters. Watching her has quite worn me out! I should do likewise but no way am I standing on a ladder on a second floor balcony. So there is nothing for it but to get the place clean enough to employ a cleaning lady!


I am not very technical and have only just started adding links to the right-hand column, with advice from my online friend theinjuredcyclist on how to do it and a little help from the folk over the road at Iblea Informatica. You will see that I read many sorts of blogs and that I am quite a political animal who likes to take in many different viewpoints. More coming soon!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


It seems only fair to list these as well:

1. Poor service in hotels, bars and restaurants.
2. Horrible, long, tasteless cups of coffee.
3. Being served tap water instead of mineral water.
4. Net curtains.
5. Icy pavements.
6. The sheer stress of work in Britain, with targets, appraisals and number-crunching all the time.
7. Having to make appointments for everything.
8. Hospital waiting lists.
9. Feeling threatened when a group of youngsters strides towards you, even in broad daylight.
10. Fast food.
11. "Doctored" fruit.
12. Being unable to use my languages [except at work] because nobody expects you to know any, other than English!
13. The fact that the poor eat entirely different food from the rich.
14. Grey mornings, grey afternoons and darkness at 3pm in winter.
15. Seaside resorts with cafés that are as dismal as the grey sea.
16. "Match days" in Cardiff, when the whole city has to be inconvenienced for the sake of a couple of hours' footie or rugby. [Sports fan I ain't!]
17. Screaming tabloids.
18. Litter everywhere.
19. Four by four [SUV] owners with a "Get off the road - I'm on it" attitude.
20. Hourly expecting to be blown up.

Hey, that's more things I don't miss than I do! This has got to be good!


- With acknowledgements to Robert Browning.

Yesterday afternoon I cried myself silly, watching 84 Charing Cross Road on Sky. That film always has this effect on me, so I should have known better. But I love it because it is a tale of a book-loving woman and now it has taken on a new dimension for me, in its portrayal of Britain. Of course that Britain has long gone, but I am just old enough to remember it and some of the scenes of churches, churchyards and little houses [which do still exist] made me homesick for an hour or two. So here are the things I miss about Britain, the thoughts that come to you during a wave of nostalgia being strange and eclectic: [I've mentioned some of them before, so apologies if you have been following the blog from the beginning.]
1. Cooked breakfasts.
2. The freshness of a British morning.
3. Now that we are nearing it, autumn or "fall". I think the American term is so evocative. Here there is no real change of colour or falling of leaves.
4. Browsy bookshops, department stores and being able to buy underwear without discussing it.
5. Musical doorbells. [Mine played the Marseillaise.]
6. Events that start on time!
7. Efficient post offices.
8. An efficient local bus service on which I can travel with my dog.
9. Heel bars: there are so few shoe repairers here that I am starting to wonder whether Italians just throw their shoes out as soon as they show signs of wear and tear or begin to look a little "last year-ish". Of course, their shoes don't have to withstand the weather abuse that British ones do.
10. Seeing people from many lands and cultures, hearing their languages and buying their food.
11. British sarcasm, satire and humour in general.
12. Being able to hail a cab when I need one.
13. The air of Wales and the accents of Wales.
14. Shopping in the afternoon.
15. Women friends who will come out to lunch.
Then I read about absurdities such as the fact that spy devices are being fitted to wheelie-bins in Britain - the country is on high terror alert and these things are being used on wheelie-bins?!! - and I am glad to have found my little Sicilian corner of the world.
Browning, by the way, is not, I have found, beloved of Italians, whereas Elizabeth Barrett Browning is. [To a non -native English speaker, she is by far the easier poet of the two and she espoused the Italian cause of independence from Austria.] Once, in Florence, I was searching for the Brownings' house and all my enquiries for "la casa di Browning" drew a blank. But when I changed tack and asked for "la casa della signora Browning" about twenty people immediately surrounded me, all exclaiming, "Ah, Elisabetta! " and vying to give directions.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


I seem to have become known as quella col cane = "the one with the dog". When I'm out alone, a lot of folk I don't know now ask me where Simi or la piccolina = "little one" is, something they didn't do a year ago; they are more reticent, surprisingly, than British people would be about talking to a dog-owner. Then when I phoned the water office on Thursday [yes, if you've been following the water saga, we ran out again!] as soon as I said my [real] surname, the pronunciation of which is beyond most Italians [and even a few British people!] the clerk exclaimed, "Ah, lei è quella col cane!" = "Ah, you're the one with the dog".

Here is a photo of quella col cane taken last autumn. Not many little doggie-girls from Cardiff, Wales can say they have walked along the shores of the Med!


An enjoyable outing last night to a concert in the charming Teatro Garibaldi in Modica Bassa. The programme was an ambitious one of Mozart, Rossini and Verdi in the first half and jazz and swing in the second. The artistes were young people from all over Italy who had been on a week's course here in Modica. The first half items were interspersed with readings from Mozart's letters, which were interesting and shed new light on some of the works.

There is no bar in the theatre [this is normal in Italy] so there was a stampede to the one next door during the interval.

Everything was performed with brio, I must say, and on the door was an attentive barista from one of the cafés I frequent, so I got my hand kissed con molto brio as well!


You must think that I am absolutely obsessed with food! It's just that it's still too hot to go out of Modica and take photos of other places. So here is what they serve with an aperitivo at the Capriccio [ if you go there on a good day!]


From mini peaches and pears to these tiny, white nectarines from the Agrigento area.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


- Well, not really. This morning it rained hard for about five minutes and there was loud thunder without lightning, which always frightens me to death. [I wondered if, this time, it was old Pluto having a noisy sulk. Perhaps he is going to abduct Persephone again in revenge for losing his status?] If you are out and get caught in a summer storm like that, it is much too hot and sticky to put on one of those raincoats-in-a-bag beloved of the British, and everyone stares at you if you do, as it is evidence of the kind of forward planning that Italians don't go in for. Besides, where's your pazienza? - Just wait a minute and the rain will stop, as suddenly as it came.

Friday, August 25, 2006


According to an article in La Sicilia today, twenty-five llegal immigrants per hour are arriving on Lampedusa, usually after their inadequate boats have been spotted and their lives saved by the Italian authorities. Nine boats were spotted last night and at least two babies died during the journey, their parents having thrown the bodies into the sea.

Yesterday I read that the regional government is suggesting that, to solve the problem, similar techniques to those used in the antimafia fight are needed, finding ways of encouraging the clandestini to testify against the people traffickers being paramount.

What a paradox it is that at a time when so many want to destroy the freedoms of the West, so many others will risk everything, even the lives of their children, to come here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


This morning in the post office there were two bancoposta counters open and I managed to pay a bill in under ten minutes! Blimey!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


The first sign of autumn [not that you'd know it from the weather] has to be these fichi d'India or prickly pears in the shops. [You sometimes find them in supermarkets in Britain but they are expensive and not succulent as they are here.] They grow everywhere in Sicily and were the first truly Sicilian fruit I was introduced to back in 1992. I didn't know, at first, that the thorns could get embedded in your hands and that you should eat the fruit with a knife and fork. If you buy them from a supermarket the thorns are cut back but your hands can still get tingly after touching the skin. I love the taste; it is like nothing else I have ever tried.


3.30 pm and I have just been to the big Di Meglio supermarket. It proved a great time to shop as there was hardly anyone there. None of the checkouts were staffed at this quiet hour but the girl at the Customer Services desk said, "Prego" and indicated a checkout. "Questo?" ["this one?"] I asked, before beginning to unload my trolley and she nodded, then changed her mind and asked me to go to a different one. I nearly had another "British moment" and a strop but decided against it. Staff would not do that to you in a British supermarket without helping you move your purchases [unless you were in regimented old Marks & Spencer, where it might happen] and they could also do with some packers in supermarkets here. So I would say that they still have a lot to learn regarding customer services. Perhaps a trip to a UK Tesco is in order for the staff? [To economise, they could travel with the post office employees, who need to visit a UK branch!]


Sicilian proverb:
Fimmina vana,
non va cincu grana
= " A vain woman isn't worth five grains"

As today I finally managed to get a hairdo for the first time in nearly a fortnight, I thought I'd show you before the heat and humidity flatten it. Raffaele had been closed from the 13th until yesterday morning, when the salon was full of all the female participants in a wedding. He reckoned the waiting time would be two hours, which I don't usually mind, but it was so hot! I offered to reappear at 2pm, [it being one of the days when they work through the siesta hours] but no, he had to go off and do something else to do with the wedding then. [At least that way I could have stayed in the same street, had lunch and gone back, instead of walking home and back in the heat.] He did offer to do it at 4pm but it is even hotter then and I couldn't face it. At first I thought I'd just open my book and wait but then I had what I have come to call a "British moment", in which I lost my pazienza and left. It was such a relief to be, as he calls it, servita [done] today!


This cheery chappie appeared on the complimentary plate of snacks I got with my aperitivo today [at the Altro Posto again].


According to an article I read yesterday [and cannot now refind] on msn Italia ice cream, especially when fruit-flavoured, is good for you, not least because of the type of sugar it contains and the fact that it makes you feel better anyway. I'm happy to go along with that! This one is pistacchio and coffee, which I'm sure is good for you, too, as coffee helps your memory, I read today.


You Are Strawberry Ice Cream

A bit shy and sensitive, you are sweet to the core.
You often find yourself on the outside looking in.
Insightful and pensive, you really understand how the world works.

You are most compatible with chocolate chip ice cream.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


These are cavatieddi in a sauce of tomato and aubergine. The container from which the pasta is being ladled would have been used for the flour during the making of it. If you buy this pasta dried, the label on the packet will tell you it comes from Sardinia but here it is often made at home. Linda has a special machine, which I have yet to see, for making cavatieddi shapes out of the dough.


Back to the meadow [see 9th August] to watch an interpretation of the myth of Persephone / Proserpina [for it is from Sicily that she is believed to have been abducted by Hades / Pluto, her mother Demeter / Ceres having had her shrine at Enna].

I could hardly believe I was in the same place as two weeks ago: this time we were welcomed with refreshments, the performance started on time, the lighting and acoustics were good and even the weather was clement. It was, in fact, quite magical and hearing Persephone's tale in such a setting cast a spell; I had, again, one of those moments when I know exactly why I'm here.

After the recital, the excellent fare served was simple, traditional and local and there was no pushing and shoving to get at it. There were pizze, scacce [focacce], Modican bread and cheese, corncobs, wine if you wanted it and cool water in abundance. Later a delicious smell pervaded the terrace where we were sitting and along came bowls of cavatieddi [a pasta - see next post] followed by grilled sausages.

Everyone went away replete and contented, which shows what a little good organisation can do.

Monday, August 21, 2006


An editorial in today's Corriere della Sera [article not available online] suggests that the one and only test for those requesting citizenship should be to ascertain whether they feel love for their adopted country, in the sense of appreciating its basic ideals and values. Now, I'm not one who believes in "my country, right or wrong"- far from it - but I do think that the ideas in the article are broadly right. It points out that many of those who emigrated to the United States at the beginning of the last century had an imperfect command of English and kept their own religions and customs, but they did accept and embrace the democratic principles on which that country was founded and they did wish to uphold them. I think this is crucial and I feel I want to warn my dearest Italy not to repeat some of the mistakes which have sadly been made in the UK regarding the multi-ethnic society [which, I am the first to admit, has brought us many benefits. This becomes immediately apparent when you go to live somewhere that is largely monocultural].
Recently I've been thinking of Rupert Brooke a lot:
" A dust whom England* bore, shaped, made aware"
My gut reactions, cynicism and humour will always, I am realising, be British and of course I still have a love for grey old Britain that formed me and always will have. But here in Browning's "land of lands", despite all its foibles, inefficiencies, exasperating ways and even despite the water shortage [I just know I'm going to regret including that last one!] , I am nearer to being fulfilled than I have ever been and I love this country with all my heart.
*Substitute "Wales" here, only it doesn't scan!


There are a lot of sequined bandanas about, worn pushed back on the head and matching beachwear in colour. They look very pretty atop long hair.


My beloved Altro Posto has reopened, so I just had to go over there at lunchtime to celebrate, didn't I?! In the photos, you can see how they serve a chicken thigh and this time, their hazelnut, lemon and chocolate ice cream.

In case you're wondering what I did with last night's cooked dish, of course I didn't eat all that! Made it, ate some, refrigerated some and froze some. Out tonight - another event in the meadow! - so, as it will finish very late, I will only be eating what bits, if any, I can manage to retrieve from the buffet there. [That's my excuse for lunch out, at any rate.]


For those of you not familiar with Italy, this is how real Italian sausage is sold, in thick lengths as pictured. Some types are very spicy. You can get narrower ones than this, but they still don't resemble a British sausage.

In the second photo you can see how they look cooked, with marinated chicken. You could chuck them in, cut up, with virtually any marinated chicken recipe you have: they will need to be cooked in an oven pre-heated to 200 C for at least an hour. [Italians would probably cook them for longer or grill them.]


Tonight I have felt like Phoebe from "Friends" in "the one where" she is left on hold on the phone, believing that her call is the next to be answered, for something like 48 hours! I am just like Phoebe - I won't give up.

If you thought that British phone queues were irritating, they are nothing as compared to the ways Telecom Italia has dreamt up to give you a heart attack! Unable to get an internet connection for several hours tonight, I eventually called their "free 24/7 number" and first of all you get a message informing you that you can go to their website to get help with all your problems; fine, if your problem is not that you can't get onto the internet because of them in the first place. Then you press 2 to indicate that you have a technical problem, then 2 again to indicate it's to do with the internet and you key in your number. [During all this time the music played is very fast and snazzy; I guess that's done to con you into thinking you will get help soon.] After all this, you get, "Sorry, no one available, please try later". So I try later [later to me being about 50 seconds after this message and am I beginning to sound like Tony Soprano, writing in the present tense?] and this time, after going through the above preamble, I think I am striking lucky, as after I key in my number, I get Frank Sinatra singing "The Way You Look Tonight" and I almost cheer up, especially as the message now says, "Please hold and the first operator available will answer your call". "Phoebe", I think, "there is hope!" They keep me on hold, intermittently receiving this reassurance, for 15 minutes. [I timed it.] Then I get, "Sorry, no one available, please try later" again. Liars! I try this for an hour and a half, then give up and go and cook Italian sausages with marinated chicken [see next post], and just the physical act of doing this makes me feel better.

As you see, I am back on now. I guess the problem has been the rientro - all of Italy arriving home from holiday and checking into their email!

Saturday, August 19, 2006


An overloaded boat carrying clandestini [illegal would-be immigrants] capsized in the Sicilian Channel in the early hours of this morning. Ten are dead, forty are missing and there are seventy survivors. [The number of missing is an estimate.] - Dreadful, of course, for the poor souls involved and terribly distresssing, as well, for the coastguard, police, doctors and others who have to deal with the tragedy. Five scafisti [the men who transport these desperate people and for whom I cannot think of a sufficiently pejorative epithet] have been arrested.


Sicilian proverb:
Cu cammina licca,
Cu sedi sicca
= "He who walks earns something; he who sits wastes away ".
In the film version of Eric Newby's Love and War in the Appenines, Eric, an escaped prisoner of war, is told that he will have to learn to walk like an Italian if he is to avoid capture and walking like an Italian meant slowly. In big cities in Italy, you see the businessmen and women dashing about making hurried calls on their mobiles just as you do anywhere else. But here in Sicily I love to watch the elderly gentlemen out for their morning or evening strolls: they amble along, hands behind their backs Prince Philip style, and have no compunction in stopping, staring at and discussing any event or altercation that interests them. They do this quite openly, which we don't in Britain. We are famously known to peek from behind our net curtains if something unusual happens in the street where we live, but outside the home we don't "stand and stare" much [unless it is at something ghoulish, a national trait which I'm not proud of]. In Britain people wouldn't come out on their balconies [if we had any] to watch something like Monday's water delivery saga, even though we'd be dying to know what was happening!
It is also acceptable, here, for women friends to link arms while walking together, which we don't do in Britain usually. [We might do it out on a hen night or if one of the pair needed help walking; otherwise, it would be making a statement.]
I've mentioned the passeggiata: at a certain point in the evening, particularly a Saturday evening, you bedeck yourself in your finery and walk up and down; you are not actually going anywhere, the point being to meet friends by chance and to be seen. In Modica Bassa the young people use one side of the Corso [main street] and older people the other. There is no reason for this - the shops and bars on either side are not of a type to attract one group rather than the other - it seems to have just happened that way, though the "young side" does have a large square where its walkers can gather. And after the passeggiata? Well, that's it! Very late, they all just go home!


The temperature is expected to reach 45 C [113 F] today, as it did yesterday: there have been fires in the woodlands of Etna and in lovely Erice, in north-west Sicily, some villas and a hotel have had to be evacuated. Here in Modica grass and plants in public areas are rigorously and regularly cut down in summer; you can just be thinking how beautiful a plant is when - zoom! - along come the comune's cutters and it is gone - a necessary sacrifice to keep us safe.
This is definitely an afternoon for keeping the shutters closed and moving as little as possible!
The fruit juices available here are cooling, especially mirtillo [blueberry]; the owner of the nearby shop where I buy it says it is the quality of the sugar in the mirtillo berry which makes the drink so refreshing.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Readers seem to like my food photos, so here's what I had for breakfast this morning: a strawberry granita and a brioche at Bar Fargione, the only one open at this end of the Via Sacro Cuore.

Only three more days to go of this crazy closing of everything. How can you have a business and abandon your entire clientèle for a fortnight? "Because 99% of the clientèle are away in this period", the shop and business owners would no doubt reply. It drives me barmy and it occurs to me that maybe it hits a single person harder, as the place where you have your hair done or the bar where you sometimes have lunch can also be your only points of human contact in a day. I should point out that the supermarkets and several of the smaller food stores only close on the 15th, and some of the shoe shops on Sacro Cuore are open again today, already discounting their summer sandals. But right at the moment I need a hairdo, a computer expert to visit and some make-up replenishments!

A lot of people had come up to town from the sea this morning, many of them obviously tourists. But I did not hear any language other than Italian. Certainly the British and the Americans won't be attracted to the place at this period; we do so expect shops and tourist attractions to be open!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Just as, in Britain, Christmas Day is the quietest day of the year outdoors, in Italy Ferragosto [the 15th August holiday] is the quietest day, at least in cities. I don't think it is very quiet down by the sea, though!

Today I was lucky enough to be invited to a leisurely lunch with friends under the shade of a magnificent mulbrry tree. Here is the menu:

pasta with sea-food

oven-baked onion
dressed, grilled red peppers
cold, pressed meats with carrots and dressed rucola [rocket]
new potatoes with olive oil and parsley
salad of lettuce, apples and Trapani melon

various fruit, including figs from one of the friend's garden
apple parfait with Calvados [made by your culinary blogger!]

Allow me a little sentimentality in writing this post: back in 1984, during a very difficult period of my life in which I had no money to go on holiday or anything, I had taken to entering consumer competitions in a big way. [All you had to do was write a catchy slogan!] I won several and the best was one with a prize of a fortnight's holiday for two on the Ligurian coast of Italy, with spending money. "Who are you taking with you?" asked my Mum. "You, of course", I replied. My Mum belonged to that [probably last] generation of Brits who had never been abroad. But she saw in Italy what I did during those two weeks and, twenty-two years ago tonight, we watched the fireworks of Ferragosto in Alassio. Right up to a few weeks before her death - from a horrible illness resembling cruel, heartless Alzheimer's, Mum remembered that holiday in Italy and watching, with me, the fireworks lit from the boats in the Bay of Alassio.

So buon Ferragosto, tutti! [Happy 15th August, everybody!]
And buon Ferragosto, mamma, ovunque sei. [And happy 15th August, Mum, wherever you are.]


- Figs from a friend's garden.


"Acqua lontana non spegne il fuoco"
[Italian proverb = "Far-away water won't put out the fire".]

This proverb has a figurative meaning but I am taking it literally and personally at the moment!

The water saga continues and yesterday I had a veritable army of men here trying to sort out the situation!

I heard the plumber hammering away in the cistern area early yesterday morning but he left after an hour and I didn't get a chance to speak to him. So I didn't know if he had gone off to get something, was coming back or had given up till after today's bank holiday. No one else was in for me to ask.

In desperation, facing a sixth day without running water, I reluctantly called the owner of this flat, then, there being no reply, her husband, who happens to be a plumber. ["Why didn't you call him in the first place?", I hear you ask. - Because there is a hierarchy regarding who makes these calls here, because I didn't want to disturb the family at holiday time and because the man upstairs had already called in a plumber.] Eventually, through a friend, I tracked down Luigi the husband at the sea and he very kindly said he would come at 3pm., which he did. Luckily, just as he arrived, the man on the first floor and the one on the fourth floor came back, so they were able to explain to Luigi the technical stuff about what the other plumber had, and had not, been able to do.

Luigi then explained to me that he could probably get the system working again, but not before yet another water lorry arrived [as the supply had already leaked out]. I knew that one of the neighbours had requested another tank from the Comune, but, it being nearly 4pm by then, Luigi said that he "knew a man who knew a man" who could get a private water carrier to come straightaway, probably. The first floor man and I agreed that this would be best [the other tenant having had to rush back to work] so Luigi phoned "the man who knew.." and, sure enough, within ten minutes we heard a chug-chug-chug up the street and the private water carrier appeared, followed by Luigi and the "man who knew a man". The lorry driver put loads of water into the cistern, shook hands with us all and wished us all a buon Ferragosto [Happy 15th August holiday] and, no sooner had he reversed out and chug-chug-chugged down the road, than we heard the chug-chug-chug up the road of the Comune lorry! Well, we weren't going to refuse another fill-up, given the circumstances, and, although the Comune lorry-man did not seem happy at first, having seen the other lorry go, when we explained everything to him he fairly happily siphoned another tankful in. By this time, of course, we were providing great entertainment to all the people hereabouts who had not gone away for the season; they were all out on their balconies watching, wondering, no doubt, why we were receiving our fifth lorry-load of water in six days, and making the pazienza gesture [throwing your hands up in the air] whenever any of us looked up.

Simi dog and I were worn out by the end of it as the water did not come back on immediately after the fill-ups, oh, no! Something was still wrong down there and we had to go up and down god knows how many times and shout, "C'è acqua!" ["There's water!"] or "Non c'è acqua!" ["There's no water!"] from the balconies as the men tested the thingamajigs in the cistern cupboard.

Eventually, there was water and I'd never realised before what a lovely sound water gushing from a tap can be! Do you think my problems were over at that moment, though? - Not on your nonna's nelly again! At this stage, we learned that someone had left a tap on in the block! [I can quite understand how, as you reach the point, when you are always testing to see if water comes out, where you can't remember whether the tap is on or off.] So the man downstairs said he'd have to turn the water off again to avoid a flood if the other tenant didn't come back soon. Then Linda and her family whisked me off to their house for supper, as they had surmised, correctly, that I needed to get away from the situation. I was so relieved, on returning, to see all the tenants' cars in the parking space and to find the water still on when I came upstairs!

Tomorrow the first plumber is coming again - I think to replace the original pump that broke - and soon we are to have a meeting regarding exactly who will do what when "non c' è acqua"!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


"I didn't get much sleep last night
thinking about underwear"

wrote Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Actually, I was thinking about water, but underwear is something else I can go on about, so I will.

Apart from the fuss and palaver it is here to buy some, I'm always amazed at the amount of the stuff some Italian women wear. It is, for instance, virtually impossible to buy a waist slip [petticoat] here, as they are all full-length. And when I watch films set in nineteenth century Italy, such as Il Gattopardo [one of my favourites, especially in its restored version] I wonder how on earth the women managed with all those layers of clothes in the Sicilian heat, even allowing for the fact that the characters depicted had servants to do most tasks for them and to fan them. Were the servants permanently umcomfortable?

Then there is the perennial strap syndrome, a problem not confined to Italy; sundresses and tops with bra straps showing everywhere. In Britain, this has only been deemed OK in the past two or three years. I can remember a time when sleeveless dresses came with litttle tie-backs inside for your straps and these were a nuisance as they used to poke out, too. And when I first came to Italy, women wouldn't go into a city wearing anything resembling a sundress. I am fairly well endowed in the décolleté area, so if I can find strapless bras I'm sure the lovelies approaching size zero can! Since coming here, though I still do my best, I am inclined to think that no one else worries about the protrusion of a strap or two, so why should I?

I've already mentioned that Sicilians don't seem to mind the cold indoors in winter, or at least not as much as Brits and Americans do. Part of the reason for this is that many wear what seem to me to be rather peculiar vests underneath their woolly jumpers: these garments come in fleshy tones of orange and pink and some have polo [turtle] necks. I wonder if I'll ever bring myself to wear one? Watch this space!

Sunday, August 13, 2006


[With apologies to The Romaunt of the Rose for the title.]

I didn't want to tempt fate, yesterday afternoon, by telling you that the water was back on. However, fate needed no tempting from me!

In the morning, the male neighbours - as fed-up with the situation as I am - noticed that the cistern appeared to be leaking. They couldn't get right in as - you won't believe this - the capo-condominio [tenant in charge of administration] has gone off nobody-knows-where on holiday and taken the key with her! - Incredible, but this is Italy! By the afternoon, the man upstairs had had enough and when the comune lorry arrived with a third tank of water and we all went down, he appeared carrying a drill and some evil-looking pliers. How he got in I don't know and I didn't ask but he did and reported that one of the pumps was broken. He then called a plumber who, to my amazement, came immediately and took away the damaged pump to repair it ready for Monday. [If he needed a part for it, he'd have been unable to get it yesterday, with the shops not reopening in the afternoon during this maddening period.] He seemed to think the system would function on the one pump and the men assured me it would be OK to use the washing machine and so on.

Back up I came, had a bath and managed to cook a meal last night [I eat late, like the Sicilians, at 10 or 10.30 pm] before - you guessed it - KAPUT once again. One of my commenters said that if you have your health a thing like this isn't a disaster and that is true. But the trouble is I'm quite arthritic and really stiffen up if I can't have a hot bath or shower. Besides, the temperature here is creeping up again and it gets uncomfortable.

So what now? I can feel rising hysteria in myself but there's nothing for it but the old Sicilian pazienza which I don't have much of. Shops other than food stores close on Monday mornings all year round , then there are the siesta hours, so nothing is going to be sorted until late tomorrow afternoon, at least.

My practical friend, Linda, has been marvellous, I must say: she came and ran me round to do my errands yesterday morning so that I'd be back before the lorry arrived or if anything happened. I'd had to go to the pet shop for Simone's treats [this couldn't wait, with the Monday morning and afternoon closure and Tuesday being a holiday], to a supermarket for several packs of mineral water [having to use it for cooking had depleted my supply quickly] and, I have to confess, I needed to buy some new underwear! I'm ashamed to admit that every undergarment I owned and didn't have on was in the washing machine that hadn't finished its cycle! Oh, how I longed for a department store where you can browse the garments on display, rather than being shown them one by one! Still, at least I didn't have to state my size; the assistant guessed it. [It didn't occur to me till Linda suggested it to drain the washing machine and get the stuff out to dry: washing machines to me are things that you switch on and leave and I don't expect to have to do anything other than unload them!]

Linda had also brought me 2 10-litre bidoni [containers] filled with water. Mine were empty except for a half- full 27-litre one, which is no good as I can't shift the thing, even sufficiently to decant some of its contents into smaller receptacles.

I'm feeling panicky, as I said: in a week when Raffaele's is closed, how am I supposed to wash my hair? How am I going to do the myriad other beauty routine things a girl has to do, especially in summer? [I may be 56 but I haven't stopped trying!] I'm already visualising the repaired pump not working or only working for a short while, then the owner of the condominio will have to be contacted regarding a new one and he will be unavailable because of the holidays and the thing will drag on forever! My fellow-tenants are upset, too, but they do seem to be more accepting of the wait than I am. [In Britain it may cost you the earth, but you could get a plumber, who would be able to buy a part, on a Sunday.] Linda has just phoned to ask if I need more bidoni; she pointed out that, as well as the pazienza, I should acquire a bit of the Sicilian rassegnazione!

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Here are more rice balls: the round one on the left is stuffed with ham and cheese and the one next to it with an aubergine and herb mixture. The others are filled with ragù, as before.


On a cheerier note, as the Altro Posto is closed for 2 weeks, I repaired to the Capriccio along the road here at lunchtime today. Here is their jolly-looking melon and strawberry ice cream.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Just so that you all know it's not all joy and gelati here in Sicily, I have had, and am still having, the bummer of a week: first there was the getting cold at the concert; then the post office fiasco which always puts me in a bad mood; and to cap it all the water going off on Wednesday .

I spoke too soon when I said the water was back on yesterday, for, although the lorry came at around 3 pm, the supply went off again after about 2 hours. Now how can 3 tenants, only one of whom has a family [the others being on holiday] have used the entire cisternful in a couple of hours, even allowing for the fact that as soon as the supply is functioning everyone refills their bidoni [large containers] against the next time? The answer is, of course, that we can't have, so the cistern wasn't properly filled. This situation panics me totally as I have never, before coming here, been without running water and last night I was ready to leave everything, just take Simone and get back to a country where you turn the tap on and know that water will come out. [A great time to fly I'd have picked; and I have nothing to go back to anyway.] I still find it incredible that there is no piped water in this area, for although Sicily is regarded as "Africa" by many mainland Italians, it is not!

I spoke to Irma who persuaded me to go and see the nice man downstairs - I have a British sense of privacy and hate disturbing people - and he said he didn't think enough water had been put in because there was no pressure. He then went off to talk to the other tenant about ordering water from a private company. I haven't heard anything since then and am reluctant to knock on the door again. So this morning I thought, "Coraggio" and went over to the Water Office. It was 15 minutes before anybody answered the bell but I wasn't in the mood to be put off. They didn't seem surprised at what had happened and promised to send another lorryload. We wait and I haven't got the pazienza at all!

Later I was in the Sacro Cuore supermarket and they have a notice up saying that they are closing from 21st August. There is no more information other than that they will open again soon, which can mean years in Sicily. However much I've grumbled about the place, it is , at least, conveniently located and its closure will make shopping more difficult for me. [I do hope that the reason for their closing is a badly needed refurbishment.] Then there is the general closure of nearly everything for these 2 silly weeks to contend with.

In addition, this has been a week in which knobs have fallen off cupboard doors, a light switch broke and the iron [yes, I do use it occasionally!] has been playing up - none of which amounts to much if you are the least bit practical but it all spells disaster to me! The computer is having its awkward moments, too; it would do, when the shop where you can get help is closed, wouldn't it?!

And, of course, the news from the UK is enough to make anyone gloomy. If the current restrictions remain in place - and I'm willing to bet that these events have changed the way we fly forever - the economic implications are mind-boggling. Firstly, who is going to fly unnecessarily? It goes without saying that airlines and travel operators will be badly hit. Secondly, I've been thinking about how many things which people like to take back from here come in bottles: wines; Limoncello, Mandarinetto and other local liqueurs; various sauces and preserves; the colognes and perfumes. You can bubble-wrap at least some of them and put them in the hold but it's a risk and there are other souvenirs that it is impractical to carry in a suitcase. So what are the consequences for the companies who produce these items? [Sicily has only recently cottoned on to the fact that it has a potential goldmine if it presents these products well and, to be fair, it is trying.] And are the airlines going to increase the weight allowance for hold luggage? "What can I take back?" is a paltry concern as compared to your safety, of course, but it's all going to have a knock-on effect.

UPDATE: A private water carrier half-filled the cistern while I was writing this post. I broke off to have a quick shower and put some things in the washing machine. And now guess what? The water supply is completely kaput again!! SCREAM!!

Thursday, August 10, 2006


- That's what I've been in today. First of all the water supply dried up again late last night after being on only intermittently during yesterday - it is back on now - then the post office surpassed itself this morning as I waited one hour and ten minutes just to pay a bill. [See post entitled "Post Office Traumatic Stress Disorder" dated May 3rd. ] Really, it is ridiculous. The queue was four abreast and snaked out of the door; it was hot and the place isn't air-conditioned; what's more, there are only six chairs. [People accept it if you say to the person behind you that you have to sit down and you can rejoin the queue later. However, all the chairs were taken this morning.] There was only one window open for bill-paying, with the "business" counter lady occasionally rather brusquely dealing with customers from our queue. There are plenty of other clerks in there sitting at computers; what are they doing?
Still, that's nothing compared to the poor people waiting in airports today. I've only just been reading about the foiled plot in Britain. Italian airports have announced that only documents and medicines can be taken on board flights for Britain, the USA and Israel. Apparently some women in British airports are claiming that make-up is an essential item; I don't want to be facetious but it is!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


This goes with the previous post. [It's the only way I can get the photo on again today.] People are walking around or huddling together because of the cold.


Last night, in the middle of August in sunny Sicily, I sat in a field and froze! I had gone, with Linda and her family, to an open-air Mozart concert at an agritourism farm on the Ispica road. It's in quite a high-up, windy location, so Linda had warned me to take a cardigan and also to wear flat shoes for the walking. Now the only flat shoes I have that are elegant enough to wear out at night are sandals and this choice of footwear did not do me a lot of good!

Of course, Linda and I fall for it every time: if a concert is billed to start at 9pm, as this one was, we arrive punctually at 8.45 and fully expect it to start on time. [We should have "This is Sicily" tattooed onto our British foreheads.] The fact that we arrived at the same time as the grand piano was not a hopeful sign. Nevertheless, we found ourselves boulders to sit on [Linda having brought cushions] and confidently awaited the appearance of the musicians. By 9.20 there was no sign of anything happening and people were still strolling in. A friend found out that the Rotarians, who had organised the event, had not yet arrived and that was the reason for the delay. Why couldn't they come on time? It wasn't as if the roads were busy. By this time the wind had really become chilly and we were getting worried. Then we were told that, in view of the weather, the Mayor had just suggested moving the whole caboodle to the Palazzo della Cultura in town. We had to wait while this proposal was discussed and eventually it was agreed that the idea was impractical at that stage. We were by then miserably cold and I couldn't feel my feet!

To our relief, the concert began at 9.45 but the microphones were poor so instead of being transported, so to speak, by the music, all we could think about was how cold we were. People were obviously uncomfortable and started milling around trying to get warm, which must have made things even more difficult for the performers who were already battling with the Scirocco.

At 11 pm Linda and I, who had retreated to the relative shelter of a high wall, glanced at the programme. "Only 3 to go", declared Linda. "Plus encores and someone's bound to make a speech", said I pessimistically. Then it was announced that, because of the wind, they were going to cut a couple of items. The planned encore was sung and, just as everyone stood up to leave, the conductor began his speech - a short one, mercifully.

I've never seen an auditorium empty so quickly in my life, as everyone raced towards the buffet tables on a warmer terrace and here I witnessed the usual pushing and shoving and deemed it best not to participate. But when I saw several of the most ladylike women I know emerging from the throng with plates laden with focacce, sandwiches, pastries and fruit salads I decided, against my better judgement, to join the fray. So Linda held my handbag as, elbows out, your intrepid blogger plunged into the crowd. After 15 minutes of elbowing and being elbowed, this is what I managed to get onto my plate:
1 napkin
1 fork
2 pieces of ham rolled around something and speared with cocktail sticks
1 cherry tomato
1 olive which had fallen off something else
Oh! I got a glass of pineapple juice, too.

It occurred to me that the person they need to employ at these buffets is the former receptionist at my Cardiff doctor's surgery: this lady used to have everybody sitting in the order of their appointments on a neat row of precisely placed chairs and you didn't dare get up, even to go to the loo if you knew you were in for a long wait. Then she'd make you move up a seat when the person before you went into the doctor's room, even if you were the very last patient. Yes, she'd have sorted out last night's mélange!

At last we decided we could decently leave. [We'd have left earlier if a friend's daughter had not been one of the performers.] We took a back route out to avoid long goodbyes in the cold and to top it all, the organisers had put all the lights out along the rough track to the exit area! [But the ever-practical Linda had brought a torch, fortunately.]

So what should have been a pleasant event - for the musicians were good and deserved better - was ruined by a lack of forethought and organisational skills. I could hardly proudly take a visitor from the UK to such a shambles, could I? Once again, wake up, Sicily!


These are the photos for the previous post.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I am having to put the photos to go with this post on the next one, as for some reason Blogger's technology won't let me upload them onto this one. Please bear with me!
Well, focaccia breads, or scacce as they are known here, are fast if you buy them as food-to-go from the bars and panifici rather than making them! They are always freshly baked and smell delicious. The ones in the photo, from the salumeria-rosticceria-panificio Di Caccamo, are filled with tomato and cheese but there are all sorts of other fillings, broccoli being traditional at Christmas. They are often made in the home.

The second and third photos show arancine or rice balls, which people do usually buy. Ok, I know these particular ones are not ball-shaped but the name comes from arancia [orange] because of the original shape they were made in. I don't know why they are often made in this pear shape; I did read that the different shapes denoted different fillings but I don't think that's true any more. The ones in the photo are filled with a ragù and pea mixture. You sometimes get tiny, round arancine on your complimentary plate of snacks with your aperitivo in a bar.
By the way, your Sicilian fast food will be expertly wrapped, so it will still be hot when you get it home or wherever you are going!

A small dish of olives, another of dressed, semi-dried cherry tomatoes and what more could you want? - Just a gin and tonic if you're me!
Here is a recipe for focaccia which I sort of evolved over the years, in Britain. It won't give you what I call the "perfect fold" of the bought ones here but it works with British flour and all my Cardiffian friends found it moreish!

Tomato and Onion Focaccia
8oz strong white flour [you can use plain flour but the texture will be crispier]
1 sachet easy-blend yeast
pinch sugar
warm water [start with c. 5 fl. oz but you may have to add more]
1 egg yolk
5 tablesp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
handful fresh basil leaves, torn
rosemary sprigs
coarse seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the flour, yeast, egg yolk, sugar, 2 tablesp of the oil and as much warm water as you need to get a dough into a food processor bowl and process till the dough comes together. Oil the bottom of a glass or plastic bowl and put the ball of dough in, covering the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour. Meanwhile, fry the onion in another 2 tablesp of the oil until it is transparent but not brown. Let it cool. When the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 180 C / gas 4 and oil a baking tray. Roll out the dough fairly thinly; you want it about the width and length of the tray. Lift it onto the tray - the only way to do this is quickly! - in such a way that half of it is on the tray and half is protruding onto your work surface. Spread the onion onto the dough on the tray, then spread the tomatoes on top. Season. Scatter the basil leaves over. Fold the rest of the dough over the filling. Dampen the edges and press to seal well. Brush the top with the last tablesp of oil and prick all over with a fork. Sprinkle with coarse seasalt and rosemary sprigs. Bake for c. 35 minutes. Cut into squares and serve hot or cold. [It is best made not too far in advance.]
Buon appetito!

Sunday, August 06, 2006


The government wants to allow immigrants who can prove that they are integrated and competent in the language to take Italian citizenship after 5 years' legal residency here, rather than 10 as is the current regulation. Their children, if born here, will automatically become Italian citizens under the proposal and the immigrants will be able to vote and stand in local elections. "Give the vote to bingo-bongos?!" screeches the Lega [the Northern League which advocates separation from the South and an independent state in the North]. The remark would land them in court under the Race Relations Act in Britain, so I was gobsmacked as well as disgusted when I read the headline [in all newspapers here yesterday].
On another matter entirely, my hometown of Cardiff has made the headlines here! The story of the girl fired from her job there by text message is being widely reported.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Granite are flavoured sugar syrups which have been frozen. The ice is then broken up or crushed to serve them. They are very popular here in the summer and are often served with, or in, a brioche. It's great fun comparing the different textures - ranging from grainy to extremely melty - in the various bars [which I do only in the interest of blog research, of course!]
A lot of the bars make their own ice cream and offer mouth-watering combinations.
The photos show:
1] Granita al limone from Bar Fargione in the Via Sacro Cuore.
2] Granita alla pesca [peach] from Bar Eiffel [the one where, at other times of the year, the men gather].
3] Black cherry and lemon ice cream from Bar Ciacera in Modica Bassa.
4] Melon and pistacchio ice cream from my favourite L'Altro Posto.
5] The Altro Posto's black cherry and fruits of the forest ice cream.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


There was such a beautiful moon over Sicily last night; viewed through the open shutters, it quite distracted me from watching repeats of "The West Wing" on Fox, old romantic that I am. I'm not an accomplished enough photorapher to have been able to take a good picture of it. It reminded me of the night of the moon landing in 1969: I was in the village of Foppolo in the Italian Alps with Mario, my boyfriend of the time and other friends, and I remember we all went out on the balcony to gaze at the moon after the announcement, with the above song playing on the TV in the background. I suppose Italian TV must have reported the technology and Armstrong's words, like the rest of the world, but all I can remember are the songs about the moon being sung! But then, I was nineteen, I was in Italy and I was in love!

On a more sombre note, the well-lit sky brought two new boatloads of clandestini to Lampedusa. EU commissioners have now arrived to monitor the situation.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


On Saturday I wondered, on this blog, whether illegal would-be immigrants really understand the risks before they undertake the perilous journey to Sicily or Spain by sea. I have found the answer, which is in the affirmative, in an article entitled "Sound of the Angry Sea" in yesterday's Guardian. I cannot make the link to the story work but if you go to the website of the Senagalese song mentioned in the article you will find some very distressing and powerful images. I do not think it is possible to look at them and remain unmoved.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


More on shoes: very high espadrilles are being worn, tied with criss-cross ribbons a few inches above the ankle. There are also elegant, kitten-heeled sandals decorated with dangly jewels.

I don't feel stupid carrying a large handbag here; I did, in Britain, where before I left the things had become so minuscule that you might as well not have bothered. What does it say, carrying a tiny handbag or none at all? "I'm so beautiful I don't need any make-up" or ,"I've got a man to pay for everything for me" or even, "I'm so powerful I've got minions to carry stuff for me". Anyway, here you can carry any size of handbag you want, as long as it's stylish!

And that goes for the men as well. They sensibly carry smart, leather bags slung over one shoulder to the waist, cartridge-belt style, and no one goes around shouting the equivalent of "poofter" at them. I remember that the male handbag enjoyed a brief heyday in the early seventies and a Belgian teaching colleague was ridiculed for using one in school. But that's Britain for you!


It didn't occur to me before I came: Italian houses have no airing cupboards - they are unnecessary - and I soon found I needed more storage space. So I bought this cheerful, green chest of drawers and, once that was in place, I just had to have the bedside cabinet to match!

"I put away childish things": as you see, I never got around to that!


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