Friday, December 15, 2006


This is the last of my reminiscences of Modican Christmases past.
Christmas 1995 and I am back in my beloved Modica. This time I am staying with my journalist friend, Irma, her husband, Cesare and daughter Maria, who has graciously given up her bed for me.
I open my diary of that Christmas and see that inside the cover I have pasted one of those delicate little cards with a Florentine design on the front. On it Irma has written, "Per ricordarti un vecchio fatto" [= "to remind you of an old truth"]. This was the card she gave me with her Christmas present that year - a beautiful pen. She has been encouraging me to write a book since I first met her in 1992: "È come avere un bambino" [= "It's like having a child"]. Well, I am using the pen now, Irma!
Having been unable to get a flight to Catania, I had flown into Palermo and got a bus down to Modica the next day, Christmas Eve; this is a five-hour journey almost diagonally across the island and my co-travellers were in good spirits; most of them were, after all, going home to Mamma for the festivities. As always, I felt my own spirits lift as we neared Ragusa and then Modica in the winter sunlight. And there was dear Cesare waiting for me. I remember we did a detour for him to commit un furto [= a theft], in the form of "liberating" some rosemary from someone's garden, for we were to dine on lamb brought from Calabria by Irma's brother the next day, then we sped on to a wonderful welcome at the apartment.
In the evening we are invited to the house of Cesare's sister, Lucia. We arrive there after doing a tour of the homes of all Cesare's other relatives [which took a good hour or two] where we dropped his gifts off. Everyone receives a Christmas plate and I am presented with one, too. We greet so many happy people and I drink so much comforting, fresh coffee [in the tiny cups so that you can go on drinking it].

At Lucia's there is a 90-year-old nonna, whom I have met once before at Christmas 1993. Then, she sang the famous Italian carol, "Tu Scendi dalle Stelle" with the young Maria, who has a beautiful voice. Something about the combination of the old and young voices caught at my throat and I missed Mum so much at that moment. And that old lady sensed something, for she came over and hugged me. [This is a tactile nation and it's OK to grieve; it's also the most natural thing in the world to give comfort by holding someone.] Tonight la nonna remembers me and, to my delight, I discover she's a real "leftie"! I christen her "La passiflora di Modica" in my mind.

Lucia's Menu, 24.12.95
meats in aspic
militti pasta
focacce [of course!]
carciofi arrosti [roast artichokes, cooked in a wood-burning oven]
dolci [little pastries]

The roast artichokes are heavenly: you just suck the sap - very messy to eat but unforgettable.

A passable version can be made in a conventional oven, I have found. Just cut the stalks off the artichokes and carefully pull the leaves outwards a little. Sprinkle some coarse seasalt over them and brush the inside and outside of the leaves with olive oil. Place on a foil-covered roasting pan or tray and roast at 200 C till the leaves seem tender and are beginning to blacken at the tips [an hour or more - you may need to turn the heat down during this time]. Put out plenty of paper serviettes, make a mess and enjoy!
2006 update: I have recently learned that it is now fashionable to eat these right at the end of a meal, after the fruit and dessert. I've not tried them served at that juncture, but I suppose it is no different from the British eating their cheese, grapes and celery at the meal's very end. [The Italians, like the French, eat the cheese course, when there is one, before the fruit and dessert, whilst bread is still on the table.]


Anonymous said...

It sounds wonderful, no wonder you don't return to England for the festivities where we worry about offending ethnic minorities. Still, the true spirit lingers on too. I hope you have another treat to look forward to this Christmas.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Ellee. No one here worries about offending ethnic minorities - yet. That's one thing to be said for the strong Catholic culture. Yes, I have a few treats to look forward to this Xmas and I'll be telling you about them!

Ballpoint Wren said...

That is such a sweet scene you described. La nonna sounds like a most emphathetic soul.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Ciao, Bonnie. Yes, she was lovely.


View My Stats