Saturday, June 30, 2007


I arrived at the house of friends Marco and Giovanna this morning to find them making 'strattu [tomato extract] on an almost industrial scale, which is not at all unusual in these parts at this time of year: the tomatoes are first boiled, then passed through the enormous machine Marco and Giovanna have for extracting the pulp and then the skins go back through for a second pressing. This is the stage Giovanna had reached when I arrived. The purée is then salted and I was interested to notice that a little salicylic acid was added as a preservative. [I had not read of this being added before.] Then the 'strattu is spread out on shallow trays to dry in the sun for several days and it has to be stirred often. Only when it is leathery will it be deemed fit to bottle and this lot, made from the contents of about 4 enormous crates of tomatoes such as the ones I photographed on Thursday, will make only about 2 kg of the paste. In the last picture you can see that the liquid content of the pulp has already started to reduce, after a few hours in the sun.

Friday, June 29, 2007


Today is the festa of San Pietro, although most shops and businesses have been open. So, feeling in a festive mood, I finally let Raffaele put in some highlights and lowlights and create a "messy" cut for summer. Now, I wonder if I can get the hairstyle of my avatar in Second Life to look anything like it ready for the Blogpower Awards on Sunday? With my technical skills, I think probably not! Do attend the Awards if you can. You can read all about them at Tom's, James's and Defending the Blog.

If San Giorgio is the glory of Modica Alta, the Duomo di San Pietro is the pride of Modica Bassa and is much loved.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Outside our greengrocer's this morning the tomatoes were arriving more quickly than the men could stack and display them. Lots of messy sauce-making will be taking place in my kitchen over the next few days!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Here, still in its original sleeve, is my 1969 copy of the song on the previous post. Written by Ernesto De Curtis, it was first sung by Gigli and has been revived, in recent years, by The Three Tenors. But for me it will always be the Rossano version that turns me into a romantic nitwit and sends me into sleepwalk mode. Here's a translation:

Tell me your love won't die

It's like the golden sun which will never die again

Tell me you would never betray me

You'll always be my dream of love

Oh, darling, I love you so much

There is no one in the world dearer to me than you

I love you

You're my great love

and the life of my heart

can only be you.

[Spoken words]: A star is shining in the centre of the sky

My star is you

You accompany me on my path

and follow my destiny.

Sadly, Rossano's hanged body was found in an American hotel room in 1976. It was possibly suicide. He was 30.

Rossano - Ti Voglio Tanto Bene

I just had to post this! It was THE Italian sound of the summer of 1969. Never mind the Portuguese translation on-screen or the film scenes. Just have a listen and see if it makes you go all weak and dreamy!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


A banana and peach cooler at the Altro Posto today. The heat has been a little more bearable and we were below 40 C at lunchtime. The temperature of the Mediterranean Sea has been at its highest in 22 years for the past few days.


Cui pecca e poi s'ammenna,
a Diu si raccummanna
= He who sins then makes amends commends himself to God.
- Sicilian proverb.
A nice story [unavailable online] in Il Giornale di Sicilia today: It is now so hot that people are spending their entire Sundays at the sea and are not even attending afternoon Mass. So from next Sunday the Carmine Church in Modica Bassa will stay open after Sunday supper time and there will be a Mass at 22.30. Even God, it seems, must have pazienza in the heat.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Se giugno è caldo la spiga matura
= If June is hot, the corn will grow
- Italian proverb.
- I'm not so sure they meant this hot! Today the whole of the south is still on a severe heat alert and a temperature of 46 C has been registered in Catania. A district of Palermo has had an electricity blackout and crops are dying. Fires are breaking out everywhere in the countryside and there has been a fire at a plastics waste plant in Santa Croce Camarina [Ragusa], resulting in toxic fumes being emitted. Two elderly Sicilian men have died, possibly as a result of the heat. Good advice for coping is being put out by government and local agencies, I am glad to report, and we are hoping for cooler weather tomorrow, though it is more likely to reach us on Wednesday.


An Italian fisherman has been honoured by the UN for his part in saving would-be illegal immigrants who were drowning in the sea off Malta last year. You can read the full story here. Too often , it seems , the crews of fishing boats do not go to the aid of these desperate people for fear of being incriminated themselves or of having their return to sea delayed by Italian bureaucratic procedures so that they lose several precious days' work. Signor Nardulli is obviously a brave and honourable man.

Sadly, on the very day that he was receiving his award, eleven unnamed clandestini who had drowned off Agrigento were buried near there. As the Melting Pot organisation puts it, "Several Sicilian towns are now showing pity towards the bodies of those for whom no one had any pity during their journey towards the Mediterranean or their tragic sea crossing."


If you missed my early post about the day all my worldly goods arrived in Modica from Britain, you may like to read an edited version of it here at James's.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


I'm always looking for new antipasti to serve, so when I saw the idea for these in a supermarket magazine, I knew I wanted to try it so I just did: bases and lids made from a paste of chickpea flour, filled with a mixture of pulp from a roasted aubergine, pinenuts, oregano, basil, lemon juice, a few olives, olive oil and seasoning, all whizzed in the food processor and added to grilled or roasted peeled, chopped peppers. [I cheated with regard to these last and used grilled peppers from a jar.] They'd need to be assembled at the last moment for a party, but everything can be made well in advance. I am rather pleased with them.

Valentina e Alessandra contadine nel ballo del qua qua

Be patient - the music starts after a few seconds of talk!


I always used to end my Italian classes for adults by getting them to join in a song. Italian being a phonetic language, it was possible to do this even with complete beginners and they'd be delighted that they could pronounce the words. [With French, it was harder and you'd have to wait a bit.] Il Ballo del Qua Qua, for sheer speed and sing-alonginess, was always popular. The words are here and the You tube clip will be on the next post. I defy anyone to feel down in the dumps while listening to this!

You can use song in language teaching just for enjoyment [which should, after all, be an aim, though we often lose sight of it in our quest to fulfill targets]. But you can also use it to reinforce grammar skills, by choosing your songs carefully and blanking out, say, all the adjectives or all the verb forms of a certain tense on the word sheets and getting students to fill them in as they listen.

I was inspired to write this post by an email I received today - yes, another voice from the past ! A lady now in her forties who was in my French A level group in the mid-eighties wrote:

"Was thinking of you the other day as I sang along to 'Je ne regrette rien' chosen by Yoko Ono on "Desert Island Discs". I could still visualise the sheets you gave us with the lyrics and it transported me back to those lessons and those wonderful songs. How lucky I was.
I don't think I ever really thanked you enough for your unique style of French teaching.
Merci mille fois!"

On a related matter, here's how I used to teach A level French students to understand the use of different tenses in a narrative: I'd get, say, a well known fairy story in French [something short but with a good variety of tense usage] put it on the overhead projector and read it out. Each group of 2 or more students would have been given whistles, castanets, triangles or toy drums. Then we'd have whistling every time they heard a past historic, castanet clicking when they heard a perfect tense, triangle pinging for an imperfect and drum banging for a pluperfect. It was noisy but it was fun! Then we'd go through the text and seriously discuss the tense usage. Incidentally, this used to go down much better with adults than with teenagers - 17 or 18-year-olds often took themselves far too seriously for it!


I've mentioned previously that rabbit is often eaten here and is a Modican speciality. Last night, however, I decided to try this way of cooking it from the Abruzzo: in lots of olive oil with white wine, a little chilli pepper, abundant garlic and rosemary. I added the olives at the last minute, as suggested, then wondered if it didn't look better before. It tasted good, anyway!

Saturday, June 23, 2007


For a long time I've wanted an Italian recipe book devoted to the preparation of liqueurs and in Modica Bassa on Thursday, I found this one. Umm - I think I'll start by preparing a pineapple ratafia with vanilla and then make an apricot liqueur. And there's an elisir di giovinezza - elisir of youth - which I've just got to try! The ingredients are: a branch of flowering absinth; bitter orange peel; gentian root; pure alcohol; rhubarb; sugar; cascarilla bark. I'll let you know when I get hold of all of these!

Back in Britain, I used to make damson gin during the brief appearance of damsons in September. When my Mum was alive, we used to make it together and our tradition was to open the bottles on New Year's Eve. I've never seen damsons here but am busy creating new traditions for my Sicilian life.

Friday, June 22, 2007


When I was a little girl, I so wanted a charm bracelet! All my "aunties" had them and to me to own one would have been a sign of having grown up. By the time I did grow up, though, they had gone completely out of fashion, for my late teen years coincided with the era of Mary Quant, minimal accessories and certainly nothing fussy.
American readers will be familiar with these Italian charm bracelets, a modern take on traditional ones, for they were all the rage during my only visit to the USA in 2002. I don't know if they still are: they somehow never caught on in Britain. Anyway, that Christmas it was my American friend and her daughter who introduced me to them, starting me off with some links and initial, birthstone, USA symbol and doggie charms. I bought several more there, others during various visits to Italy but most via the internet . Liz will be pleased to know that I achieved a "coup" for Wales during the internet buying period, as the company I bought from most often stocked charms depicting every flag but the Welsh one, so I wrote to them and said , "How about it?" and next time I logged in, there it was! The idea of the bracelets, by the way, is "friendship " for as you take off blank links to add your new charms, you give them to friends so that they can start bracelets too.

I know the photo isn't good and it was terribly difficult to take but I hope you can just about see the charms, left to right, starting with the top bracelet: Eiffel Tower, London Bus, 2 charms forming Big Ben, Union Jack, Will Shakespeare, Welsh flag, a Simi dog, red lips [given to me by my American friend's daughter because I've always got my red lippie on], "Bad Hair Day" , USA symbol, Canadian flag [brought back from Canada by a friend - I like to think I'm wearing it for jmb now] , Czech Republic flag [because I spent a very happy month in Prague in 2003 doing my CELTA - Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults] "Proud Sicilian", bowl of pasta, Ponte Vecchio, Florence Duomo, Vatican City flag. Second bracelet: 1 blank link, little girl [for my American friend's daughter],"Ciao", Italian flag, Colisseum, palm tree [for Sicily],2 charms forming Tower of Pisa, chilli pepper, lemon, cherries, water melon [all symbolising Italian food], French flag, CND symbol, pile of books, doggie, amethyst [birthstone] P [my initial]. All these charms mean something to me and remind me of friends and / or places.
Yesterday I looked for a charm to replace my one blank link but they are not easy to find even here any more. However, a jeweller in Modica Bassa is going to try to get me my second initial. So, if I want to start another bracelet, it is back to the internet!


"What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance."

- Jane Austen: Letters, 18.9.1796.

Over 40 C on the Sacro Cuore thermometer today and it is reported that it has gone up to 44 in places. As you see, the morning sky seemed grey [by Sicilian standards] rather than our customary lovely blue. This makes some folk uneasy as they believe it augurs earthquakes. I am convincing myself it is a good old Italian heat haze. Raffaele the hairdresser was giving out fans. I opened up my shutters at 7.15 pm and it didn't seem much cooler though it is better now [9 pm.]
Today's "lunchtime cooler" was this gelato misto of chocolate chip, orange and amarena [wild cherry] flavours. Well, wouldn't you, in this heat?!

Thursday, June 21, 2007


40 C in Modica Bassa at midday and this morning I awoke to find that the water supply was off in the condominio. We had our last fill-up last Thursday evening and, as no one in this building has a family, I don't see how we could have exhausted the contents of the cistern by 8 am today, even allowing for the extra we all use during a heatwave. I made my usual desperate call to the Water Office at 9am and by the time I came back at 1pm the supply was functioning again. [Newer readers may like to look here for an idea of our summer water sagas.] There's nothing worse than coming home feeling all hot and sticky and not being able to jump into the shower. Now the whole of Sicily is waiting for the electricity supply to fail.

You will note that no one was about in this Modica Bassa street this morning, although I took the photo at a busy time. I thought I'd better post a couple of food photos or my friend Mutley will worry: here is one of the Altro Posto's cooling salads and, as promised, a picture of a refreshing mulberry granita, this time from Bar Ciacera in Modica Bassa.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gino Paoli - Sapore di sale


When it heats up, I just have to listen to Gino Paoli singing Sapore di Sale. For me, it's the quintessential sound of an Italian summer. It's so sing-alongy and easy on the ear and everyone in Italy knows this song! Paoli brings out an updated version every now and then. I have only to listen to the first few bars and I'm back in 1969, on a Riccione beach with a boy called Mario! I'm going to put the You tube clip on the next post [as every time I try to edit and put links in the text I wrote on there, I lose it. Maybe Crushed can tell me why?] Should you get the urge to sing along too, you'll find the words here.


The thermometer outside the chemist's on the via Sacro Cuore registered 37 C at lunchtime and even the Sicilians are sighing about the heat and calling it un caldo africano. The Protezione Civile has put out a warning and issued an emergency helpline number, plus advice on how to cope: very jolly reading on its site as the whole of Italy is on earthquake, forest fire and water supply alert [which reminds me - this condominio is due for a water delivery tomorrow or Friday. I wonder if it will materialise?] In this area we are on the highest heat alert. We are told that this wave is going to last until at least next Tuesday and that the temperature could rise, by then, to 45 C. The electricity system is overloaded as everyone who has an air conditioner has switched it on today. I have just spent an hour changing the remote batteries, fiddling with the timer and generally wondering why mine wouldn't work, before remembering that it hasn't been plugged in for a year. Plugging electrical devices in does so help them to function, don't you find? [Blogpower buddies, you think I'll have problems with the Second Life technology? Who, me?!]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


- The fichi d'India or prickly pear plants, that is. How have I missed this stage in over two years in Sicily?

By the way, I have a guest post up about the fact that I am not exactly one of life's nature lovers over at James's today.


- Or, at least, the veins around them did! I noticed them first in Raffaele the hairdresser's full-length mirror. If I say it myself, I did dress rather elegantly in black and white to go out this morning and at Raff's a woman gave me one of those looks the ladies will know well - the one where you look another woman up and down and are visibly relieved when you find something wrong with her appearance. Her eyes came to rest on my feet. Huh! I thought [for Welshcakes can do bitchy - oh, yes!]: "Right - bellissima mia - it'll happen to you, too, one day. But I've got perceptions and knowledge now that I didn't have when I was your age, honey, and that's why I can still fascinate a man in conversation and make him laugh."

It's no good sitting here waiting for the next wrinkle - you gotta make the most of what you have left!

Monday, June 18, 2007


One of the glories of this part of Sicily is the city of Noto, about a half hour's drive from Modica. "Old" Noto was destroyed in the terrible earthquake of 1693 and the citizens rebuilt their town a few miles away, creating what is probably the most harmoniously Baroque city in all Sicily. Vincent Cronin, in The Golden Honeycomb, writes:

" Noto has remained an eighteenth- century country town of golden stone, standing on the slopes of a hill with a view on all three sides of almond trees, row upon row, their leaves in March the most delicate shade of green, a shade which springs new at every glance."

You just have to behold the delicate colour of that stone. When I first saw it, I immediately understood Tennyson's line:

"The splendour falls on castle walls".

In March 1996 disaster again befell Noto, when the cupola of its magnificent cathedral collapsed due to cracks in it caused by yet another, later earthquake. I took the above picture when I was there not long afterwards. You can see a picture of the Cathedral before the collapse here.

It has taken over a decade, and an expenditure of 25, 000, 000 euros, to restore the building and today Prodi visited the town for the reopening. A message of goodwill was received from the Pope. Let us hope that this threat turns out to be a non-starter.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


The heat has set in and nearly everybody has decamped to their houses in the country or at the sea. [Having a second home out of town is common here; it is not just for the rich.] Most people will return to town in mid- September but some will not come back until November. Today in the country Irma served this cooling rice salad followed by pollo in tegame [chicken cooked in a pan on the hob] with a contorno of green peppers which had been grilled and peeled, then dressed in olive oil. I took along the amarena desserts I made yesterday and they went down very well!
Many Italians include tuna in their rice salads. As I don't eat fish, this is how I make mine: Peel and deseed some cucumber, chop into small pieces and sprinkle with seasalt. Leave a while then rinse and drain well. Peel and deseed some tomatoes and chop finely. Chop some spring onions and celery plus a small amount of red and orange peppers [finely]. Have some sliced black and green olives ready, plus a drained can of sweetcorn. Allowing about 2 oz rice per person, boil it in salted water till al dente. [I put a halved lemon in with it.] Drain and rinse with cold water and put it into a bowl. Add all the vegetables and mix well. Add some basil and parsley and chopped, fresh lavender if you have any. Dress with about 4 tablespoons olive oil [you'll have to just judge this, depending on the quantity of rice], a dessertspoon or so of white wine vinegar and season to taste [bearing in mind, if you wish, that Sicilians would use red, not black, pepper as a seasoning]. Mix well again. Chill until required. You can serve it at room temperature if you prefer, but be careful as rice should not be left out for long.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


It's probably not a good idea to start baking when it's 34 C outside but today I felt inspired to try out this torta all'amarena from Aldo Zilli's Foolproof Italian Cookery. [It's the pastry that can get temperamental in the heat but it just about behaved!] The filling is a mixture of ricotta, whipped cream [it's quite difficult to get Italian cream to "peak", I can tell you!] icing sugar and Amaretto liqueur. Well, Zilli says Amaretto but I didn't have any so used Maraschino. The decoration consists of almonds, Amarena Fabbri and some Amarena syrup from the jar [which has to be drizzled on at the last moment]. I didn't toast the almonds as Zilli does because these are fresh and I don't think their taste or appearance could have been improved.

Amarena Fabbri are wild cherries in syrup and they are available in the UK. They used to be always sold in large porcelain jars such as the one on the left of the second photo. I like these jars because they are pretty and you can use them afterwards; as you see, this one serves as a container for chopsticks and purloined swizzle sticks. But these days Amarena Fabbri are more often sold in disappointing receptacles such as the one on the right - a sign of the times? The lid is wonky because I had to jam it in the door to get it off.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Sitting on the Altro Posto's terrace at lunchtime my attention was drawn, not for the first time, to an elderly gentleman who sits himself down there for half an hour or so to have a rest, a cigarette and a glance at the comings and goings. Then he picks up his walking stick and continues [with surprising speed!] on his way. In winter, he sits inside. He never partakes of anything and nobody ever questions this. And he is not the only elderly or not quite so swift of foot person I have seen do this at various eateries here. I wonder how long you could sit inside or outside a bar or restaurant in the UK before being curtly told that you have to order something?
Now, I'm not quite sure why this is connected, but in my mind, it is: one of the matters Irma and I discussed over lunch the other day was the care of the elderly or terminally ill in Italy. Irma has a 90-year-old aunt who is today being fitted with a pacemaker. Nobody suggests that the lady is "too weak" or that "It might not be worth it", as might happen in the UK. As Irma says, "Whatever else doesn't work well in Italy, a life is a life and is valued." This does lead to tragic cases like that of Piergiorgio Welby, which regular readers will remember, but it also means that this and this could never happen in Italy. And there is certainly no postcode lottery regarding healthcare.
Where do I stand? I think these matters are incredibly difficult and often the circumstances are harder for the patient's family than the patient. I also know that I wouldn't have wanted my mother to suffer or linger longer once her mind had disintegrated to the extent that it did - and she wouldn't have wanted it herself. Yet I am rather glad to be living in a country where, if I make it into old age, I am not going to enter hospital in fear of a "Do not resuscitate" notice being put on my notes even if all my faculties are functioning.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Just a few photos I took during a walk around Modica Alta at siesta time.


That's what these little dry biscuits, which I espied on a bar counter this morning, are called - affogapreti or affucaparrini in Sicilian dialect. Traditionally, they were bigger and made at Easter.


Simi says: "Thank goodness for that! Now that you've all decided who is going to get those Blogpower Bonio biscuits, perhaps a doggie-girl can get some attention round here? What do you think, Harvey?"

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


UPDATE: 14.6.07
Crushed and I are now confirmed equal first in category 10 and I am very happy with that. Congratulations again to him.
Well, it's all over and I am happy and not a little amazed! You can see all the results here. Thank you again to all who participated and all who encouraged and voted for me. Congratulations to all who were placed. Crushed and Sally gave me a close run!

A special thanks to James for his initiative and all his hard work . And I must publicly thank Liz for her generous post yesterday. That's the best part of blogging - you find so much friendship here.
Well, readers - I have to live up to it now!


Irma phoned just before lunch time and suggested we go and try out a new bar, the Caffè Consorzio, which has opened up here in the Sorda district. That sounded like a good idea to me, so I got my glad rags on and off we went. We sat in the shade of their olive tree and, in a very relaxed atmosphere, partook of:
these delightfully presented antipasti
for me, Italian sausage cooked delicately in olive oil and lemon juice, as it should be
for Irma, their lemon chicken
a plate of grilled vegetables each
a macedonia for me
a plate of fresh fruit with lemon ice cream for Irma
The cost? Just 21.50 euros for the two of us, including drinks. Coffee was on the house!
Blogpower Awards: there is still time to vote for me in all three categories if you would like to. Here are the links for voting:
You can vote until 19.00 UK time [20.00 Italian time]. Many thanks. I really appreciate your support.


Voting for the Blogpower Awards continues until 19.00 UK time this evening [20.00 Italian time]. If you would like to vote for me, please follow these links:
Your votes are important to me! Many thanks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I was feeling low for several reasons this morning but as Simi and I were setting out on our first walk of the day, a gentleman who works in an office across the road shouted a greeting and added, "Signora, you're prettier every day". I know it's just banter, of course, but it certainly starts a girl's day well!

Later, when I went to top up my mobile phone in the tobacconist's, the lady owner - one of the few Sicilians outside my immediate circle who has a concept of Wales as a separate nation - asked me, "And how is Sir Tom?", for all the world as if I am personally acquainted with him. I said that, as far as I know, the"boyo" from Pontypridd is all right.

Another pleasure, and not an insignificant one, is simply being known, greeted and generally accepted. This takes time whenever you uproot yourself but longer, I think, when you move abroad and especially to a small, southern town like this. It took one lady who lives in this street a year to stop cutting me dead but now we greet each other like old friends. It is I who am the interloper in her community, after all, so I felt it was up to me to keep nodding and acknowledging her and to summon my pazienza. What a morning it was the first time she smiled broadly and returned my greeting!
Blogpower Awards: If you would like to vote for me, please follow these links:
You can vote in each category today and tomorrow, until 19.00 UK time on Wednesday. [Please note change of time.] I really need and appreciate your votes! Many thanks.

Monday, June 11, 2007


When you live abroad there are times when you feel inordinately proud to be British and thus it has been with me for the past few days, because of this, or, rather, the reaction to it in Britain: Only the British could win the bid to stage the Olympics, underestimate the cost so abysmally, design a website that gives people epileptic seizures, pay £400,000 for the most ghastly logo imaginable and then turn it all into a national joke.
Italians just don't understand how we can laugh at it all. Here people would be shaking their heads in the streets and bars and feeling very much a sense of shame. Of course, no Italian would design such a monstrosity in the first place; those to whom I have shown it just stare in disbelief and there ensues an untypical silence.
Tom Paine has a nice take on the logo here.
Blogpower Awards: If you would like to vote for me please follow these links:
You can vote once a day in each category until 9pm Wednesday, UK time. Many thanks.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Blogpower Award voting continues until Wednesday, 9pm UK time [10 pm Italian time]. I am nominated in the following categories:
3. Best blog / column outside North America and UK [to my amazement] - vote here
10. Best little blogger - vote here
17. Prettiest / tastiest [food/domestic] blog / column - vote here
As I've said before, the category I'd most like to win is 17, but it's an honour just to be nominated.
You can vote for as many blogs as you like in each category but you can only vote in each category once a day.
Good luck to everybody - it's hotting up!

Saturday, June 09, 2007


There are some advantages to hobbling along [though I am hobbling much less than earlier in the week]. When I asked for a dish of fruit at the Altro Posto, they said, "Oh, we must put some ice cream on it for you today!" I gave in gracefully.


This is not a Mafia story but a medical one, I hasten to inform you: Yesterday I had to go for a blood test [just a check-up] and a friend had told me that, if you have this done at the hospital, you need to arrive there at 06.30 to get your numbered disc ready for when they start at 08.30. Even then, you could be waiting for 3 hours! Now, 06.30 is a time Welshcakes doesn't recognise, so when the same friend informed me that there is a place where you can have the test done privately between the more civilised hours of 07.30 - 09.30 I decided to do that. British readers may be interested to know that, although I am covered by the Italian health system now, everyone except those on a very low income has to pay for tests such as these. The price was exactly the same at the private clinic as it would have been at the hospital - 32 euros.

You also have to pay "il ticket" if you are seen at an outpatient clinic, normally about 20 euros. And the government has proposed charging for non-serious casualty [ER] visits, because some folk turn up at the Pronto Soccorso with the slightest injury, rather than going to their doctor. [This is unnecessary as you do not have to wait for days to see your GP here.] However, this measure has been judged unfair and it has now been decided to charge a nominal fee only for those who present with really trivial conditions or injuries. I should emphasise that there is absolutely no question of charging people who are involved in serious accidents or who are subsequently admitted to hospital.

"Swings and roundabouts": in Britain we don't pay for casualty visits, tests or outpatient appointments but prescription charges are much higher than here , though Liz has reminded me , this week, that prescriptions are now free in Wales. Cymru am byth!

Friday, June 08, 2007


I know I showed you pictures of various granite last summer but I have more readers now! Crushed and others have been asking about these water-ices so this morning, in the interest of blogging, I forced myself to have a Sicilian summer breakfast of lemon granita and brioche.


Exciting voting is in progress for the first Blogpower Awards and the category I'd most like to win is "Prettiest and Tastiest" [food] blog. If you would like to vote for me, you can do so here and many thanks. You can vote for as many blogs as you like in each category but you can only vote in each category once a day.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Loredana rang me this morning. Now a teacher herself and a mother, she lives in the north of Italy and we first met when she was a student who participated in an earlier Cardiff - Italy school exchange that I organised. When I brought the Cardiff party over to her little town, she introduced me to her family and we have all kept in touch since 1980. Loredana reads my blog and, as I'd mentioned inspiration yesterday, she had called to remind me that it was I who inspired her to become a teacher. "And you're still speaking to me?!" I exclaimed.
Thinking back to that exchange reminds me of a student called Matthew, who came from what we would now call a dysfunctional family. He and his father were known for fighting with each other in the street and the father was always in school complaining about someone or something. Yet he once told the Head that I was the only member of staff Matthew respected, because he couldn't shock me! Well, Matthew got interested in Italian and the exchange programmes I was trying to set up, so when I decided to have an Italian supper in school to sell the idea to parents, I made Matthew the maître d'hôtel and I certainly didn't regret it: he appeared in a very smart tuxedo, greeted everyone and showed them to their seats, then ensured that no one lacked for anything all evening. I bumped into him in Cardiff many years later: he was with an attractive, dark-haired woman and was followed by a troupe of 4 little boys so like him that they had to be his sons; Matthew was delighted to introduce me to his wife and to tell me he had fallen for an Italian girl. I like to think I had a hand in that, too.


Vegetables and fruit on display in one of the larger supermarkets this morning. Bite into one of our local apricots and you will think you have found the nectar of the gods!

British readers may not be aware that in supermarkets here your fruit and vegetables are weighed and priced for you in that aisle and not at the checkout, which is one reason why, although even an enormous supermarket may have only 2 checkouts, you never have to wait for long.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


A couple of months ago, out of the blue, I received a phone call from an Italian student whom I had taught in Britain over twenty-five years ago. I’d taught him both Italian and French, the latter to A level. “Why did he need to learn Italian?" you may ask and the answer is that, until the advent of television, many Italians spoke only dialect, and, although that was not the case with regard to this student, he needed a qualification in standard Italian to get a job if he returned to Italy. So he needed practice in the written language and, of course, training in exam techniques. Well, all these years later he’d found my blog, recognised me and looked up my phone number here. I was delighted to hear from him and later received a follow-up letter telling me all about his life now. He is a successful businessman in the UK.

Hearing from, or about, former students is nearly always pleasant and, like most teachers, I have some with whom I have always kept in touch. One told me that, a few years ago, she was in the Louvre when she bumped into 2 other students from her school and her year. All 3 agreed, she said, that I had made them want to go there one day. That was one of the best moments I ever had, for your exam “successes” are one thing, but knowing that you have inspired someone is quite another. I like to think there was a little bit of me there in the Louvre with them that day.

You will note that I wrote “nearly” at the beginning of the above paragraph, for there is the odd occasion when you meet a past student and want the ground to swallow you up, as was the case with me one fine day in Cardiff: I was strolling along a fairly busy street, minding my own business, when all of a sudden an enormous, battered American car with music blaring out of all its windows screeched to a halt beside me. A very large young man leapt out at me [for a moment I thought I was going to be mugged] and shouted, “I know you! You used to teach me French!” and then I found myself clasped in a bear hug. “What are you doing these days?” I asked, when I got my breath back. “Oh, I’m gonna be a DJ”, he declared confidently. “Oh, that’s good”, said I. “Where? – Locally?” “Yeh, up London” replied the young man. [I remind you that I was responsible only for his French, not his geography!] Then there was the “tough guy” student whom I gently persuaded that it would not be in his best interest to “duff up” a colleague of mine to whom he had taken a dislike, to put it mildly. Years later, I encountered him working as a security guard in a Cardiff supermarket. Every Saturday morning he would greet me there loudly with a “Hello, Miss. Want anyone done over this week?”

Today here in Sicily I was walking along with Simi when a young woman stopped her car, got out and asked me in Italian if I was “Signora Pat”. It turned out that she had participated in the first Cardiff-Modica school exchange that we did back in 1993. She remembered the experience well and we had a good chat. Now she is studying English part-time at the University for work purposes and may need some help. So not only was I reminded of that first, fateful visit; I think I have got me another student!


- Nursery rhyme

Both white and black mulberry trees grow in Sicily and these gelsi fruit are, I've discovered, delicious with ice cream. Black gelsi make one of the most refreshing granite [fruit syrup served as crushed ice] I have tasted in Sicily and next time I have one, I will post a picture. Right now I am pondering the liqueur making possibilities of gelsi...

Incidentally, I once taught the above nursery rhyme to a group of 20-year-old male engineers from Dubai and to hear them raucously singing it before class "on a cold and frosty morning" was a joy indeed! [Song, especially where repeated actions are featured, is a great language learning tool.]

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


The lateness in posting tonight is explained by the fact that an old foot injury has decided to flare up - probably because of the recent humidity - and I have spent most of the day sitting round with a bag of frozen peas on my elevated foot. Worse - scream! - I can only get one pair of [flatty] shoes on! The indignity of it!!

I did just about manage to hobble over to Raffaele's this morning, as I figure if I'm ill and my hair's a mess I'll feel worse. If I'm going to be laid up, I'll do it in elegance! Having got that far, and the temperature being back at a respectable 25 C, I decided to limp a little further to the Altro Posto where they made me this pretty concoction to cheer me up.

Monday, June 04, 2007


I have never seen a branch of citronella before though I have used candles and other products containing the oil as insect repellents [something which might, according to this article, be illegal in the EU now]. A friend brought this branch around this morning in the hope that it might help Simi and me with a problem we have:

Simi is a wonderful, good dog and she only usually barks when someone rings the doorbell [which she is supposed to] and in excitement when we are ready to go out. However, about 9 weeks ago, some puppies were born in the house opposite. These puppies live in an outdoor run. [A lot of people keep their dogs outside the whole time here and have no concept of a dog as a member of the family in the way that Simi is.] As puppies do, they yap and this sometimes starts at 5 am. Simi gets up and has a little bark at them and I get up with her to try and distract her from barking as I am terrified of disturbing my immediate neighbours. [I am not, as some of you will know, exactly a morning person, so this makes me very grumpy indeed!] She does sort of know that she should not bark at that time of morning and has begun shaking one of her toys in the pups' direction instead but that makes noise, too! [She takes no notice whatsoever when the older dogs bark, or of other outdoor sounds; it is just the high-pitched yapping.] Anyway, I read on the internet that you can get citronella "anti-bark" collars; these apparently emit a harmless spray of the substance when the dog barks and they don't like the smell. But is it, I wonder the "surprise" element of the spray that does it? I have tried spraying perfume around when Simi barks and sometimes that works [though it's a bit of an extravagant use of a bottle of "Paris"!] When I told my friend about this, she offered to bring some citronella from her garden. So you may imagine me at 5 am tomorrow, stress levels high as the sky, reader, waving the branch under Simi's nose in the hope that it will effect a miracle and restore our peace. I wonder what eurodog thinks?


This is the coldest summer day I have ever known in Sicily. It is raining and the temperature is about 15 C. Usually it is sweltering by June and we have to keep the shutters closed all day. What is going on? Could it be that we have global cooling down here? I've just looked at the forecast and tomorrow, it seems, will be about the same, with afternoon temperatures rising to a more normal 25C by Wednesday.

If you are new to this blog, you may be surprised to learn that it is illegal, in Italy, to have the central heating on after certain dates set by each comune, in our case, 31st March for this year.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Blogpower, the brainchild of James, is a group which enables bloggers of widely differing political views and interests to visit, support and encourage each other. Now, for the first time, there are to be Blogpower Awards and this is not only for members: anyone can nominate anyone they choose for an award. Nominations are open NOW until Tuesday 5th June at 21.00 London time and from Wednesday, we'll be able to vote. Read all about it here and join in!


That's the name my friend Lee gave to yesterday, the second anniversary of my arrival, with dog Simi, in Sicily. I've written at length about that day here but when I think of it now two memories are uppermost in my mind: stepping off the plane and the heat hittting me and being reunited with precious Simi when they wheeled her out of the Scalo Merci in her little pet carrier. And I smile when I think back to the enormous supply of food my Sicilian friends ensured I had for my stay in the "little house".

Simi and I spent yesterday very quietly and actually I got all pensive and melancholy for at times one is bound to remember what was left behind, too. But I cheered up in the evening after I decided to cook myself these "citrus chicken wings", a recipe from a Prue Leith leaflet I picked up long ago. It's a dish I have cooked several times for friends here and it goes down well with them. The wings are marinated in wine, honey, citrus peel and juice, cinnamon, ginger and seasonings. I add some garam masala. I like to serve it with tabbouleh [for which I have to use couscous, no bulghar wheat being available here].


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