Tuesday, July 31, 2007


You may have noticed the above button sneaking into the sidebar yesterday: Schmooze is a word I first saw on jmb's blog, and I admit I initially misread it, thinking, "Snooze? This blog sends no one to sleep and if it did, why would the blogger draw attention to the fact?" Then I looked again and of course the excellent jmb tells us the etymology [orig. Yiddish - to chat informally or in a friendly way]. Then I saw the icon over at Crushed's and now it has come my way via Lord-Straf-whoever-James-is-at-the-moment and thank you very much! So now I have to nominate 5 bloggers for this "spirit of blogging" award too. [Only 5? That's difficult. ] Well:

1. Lady Macleod is a "must" read for me: she brings her exotic life in Morocco to you in a very conversational style so that you feel you are there. She has many commenters, some of whom are Moroccan and shed further light on the issues she raises and she always replies to them.

2. Lee of Kitchen Connection always tells you exactly how she feels and I think it is partly her honesty that attracts so many comments. She replies diligently to them all and visits many other blogs. While you're there, take a look at her art work and food photos!

3. M of Laughter, Loving and Living writes straight from her young heart and always asks her readers what they think. She has a lively, honest conversation with them and is a loyal commenter on other blogs.

4. Liz from Swansea is, understandably, not feeling very bright at the moment, I know, but she has a lovely, conversational style whether she is discussing day to day life or religion, news and occasionally politics. She gets around to others, too, and her comments often give a new "take" on a subject. I often read them and wonder, "Why couldn't I think of that?"

5. Chris of Where Does the Time Go? is a new read of mine. Again, I love her easy, friendly style and feel as if I am chatting to her over a cup of tea. Take a look at her clever quotes above each post, too.

So now you new "schmoozers" need to choose 5 bloggers each to pass the award on to!

It's only just occurred to me that my choices are all women - well, various people have written in the past week that the blogosphere is dominated by men, so maybe that's not a bad thing!


I just have to show you the clear, blue sky that has blessed us today. It's just a "cleaner" blue, somehow, signifying that the oppressive humidity has gone, for the day at least. Everyone is saying that they feel better and seems more relaxed. The temperature was 31 C at lunchtime - bearable!

Monday, July 30, 2007


I felt good this morning, having had a much-needed facial and pedicure at a new salon which I think I will frequent. These should, after all, be relaxing experiences and you should not be allowed to feel too hot or too cold whilst you are being "peeled", "steamed" and massaged. Here the young ladies knew how to make one comfortable, put on relaxing music - "Sara Breetman, lady" and we had a jolly chat afterwards, too.

On my way back, the aroma as I started to walk past the Salumeria / Panificio Di Caccamo was just too much for me so, in the event, I didn't walk past. Above you see some of their stunning array of lunchtime prepared foods. Most food is still prepared at home here but Sicilians have no objection to buying part of the meal ready-prepared, especially if they judge that an outlet such as this can produce a superior product. The shop is also used by a lot of business people who work too far away from home to go back for lunch. There is always a long queue in there but I don't mind it as the service is efficient and there are so many delectable foods to look at while you wait: every now and then a hatch opens and out comes a tray of beautiful, freshly baked bread. So I bought some arancine [rice balls, or pear shapes, in this case] filled with cheese and ragù [I know I've mentioned them before but newer readers might not have seen them] and this pasticcio filled with sausage, onion and spinach. I also found these mini-cheeses, which will look pretty served with my mini-fruits; this cheese is provola ragusana, which is a pasta filata type - one in which the curds are stretched or pulled by hand during the making. It has a very smooth texture and its taste is milder than that of Cheddar.


That time of year thou mayst in me behold
- Sonnet LXX111

.. when I have to make a decision again. Not a life-changing one or an important one about which political blogs to nominate to Iain Dale, which has much exercised James today, but a totally trivial one about how to use the 3000 supermarket points I have accumulated since January. [Regular readers may remember that I acquired a smart set of saucepans then.] This time the four items that have caught my eye in the catalogue are:

1. A foot spa. Nice to have but how often would I use it? It is also rather large and would have to be stored somewhere.

2. A tower fan. I have air conditioning only in the living room so this would be handy for the bedroom. It would save carting a table top fan from room to room at night and this one has a timer on it. [Last night I fell asleep and had the small fan going all night.] But here we are at the end of July. The fan would probably take 4 weeks to arrive and by then the worst of the heat will be over.

3. A microwave. I've managed without one for two years, though. The one in the catalogue is a good make but again, it is large and I would have to buy, or have made, a surface to put it on.

4. An MP3 player. Hmmm.....

What would you do?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Laura Pausini - Medley (Live in Paris)

There must be something in the air as several of us have posted on love lately. So no apologies for a Laura Pausini clip again - with a plea for world peace at the end.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


This is my latest liqueur project, ratafià di ananas [pineapple], in case Crushed, among others, was getting worried. This one has a shorter gestation period. The fruit pulp has to sit in the alcohol and some of the sugar, as it is doing now, for 10 days. Then I have to make the syrup from water and the rest of the sugar, add it and leave another 10 days. After that, the mixture can be strained and bottled but the recipe does recommend waiting a few weeks before drinking. The quantity of pure alcohol has been left out of the recipe so I have guessed it. Therefore it will either be all right or everyone will be flat on their backs. Vediamo.


It was hot again at lunch time today so I asked the waiter at the Altro Posto if I could just have a plate of prosciutto, melon and tomatoes. This is their idea of a small portion! It was so refreshing and just what I needed.


I love the mini-fruit which is available here now and today I have purchased mini pears, plums and pesche tabacchiere [snuffbox-shaped] peaches. I have mentioned the latter before and make no apology for doing so again for they taste just divine, with just a hint of jasmine in there somewhere.


This is a recipe which shouldn't work but does and I found it in Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun [ a much better book than the film that was made of it]. All you do is mix lemon juice, basil leaves, chopped shallots or spring onions and seasoning together and rub the mixture into chicken pieces which you then roast, having sprinkled some olive oil over. I used skinless chicken thighs here but have also used them with the skin on. So simple!

Friday, July 27, 2007


Irma called at 08.30 yesterday morning. "Open the shutters!" she commanded. "What? In the daytime?" I asked, having become quite Sicilian in this matter. "Yes, the afa [extreme heat] is over and the air has changed" she replied. I did as I was bidden and in wafted a delicious, cooling, refreshing breeze such as I was beginning to think I would never feel again. Simi and I went straight out and, as she sniffed the air, I could see precious Simi's energy returning - a fact which she immediately proved by barking at passing motorbikes. It's still hot but for the past two days, we have been able to breathe properly and find relief in the evenings. It's only when this sort of heat lifts that you realise how oppressive it has been: I had started to believe it was "normal" to be permanently befuddled, unable to sit comfortably anywhere and to generally not know what to do with myself.

The second reason for Irma's early call was to invite me, along with other friends, to celebrate her husband Cesare's 55th birthday at the excellent Bar Consorzio last night. So they picked me up at 9 pm and we sat outside in the fresh breeze, further protected by the shade of an olive tree and a tall prickly pear plant. Note the garlic strung around the tree: this is not merely decorative but also keeps mosquitoes away.
Now to the food: it was a set menu but Irma had warned the bar that I cannot eat fish so you will see that I had alternatives: To start with there was a cold soup, rather like a gazpacho: mine was decorated with ice cubes and basil whilst the others had mussels with theirs. Little savoury pastries were served with this. Next came a fish antipasto for the others, whilst I was offered this beautifully presented bresaola with salad, more pastries and arancini [rice balls]. Then I had pasta with grilled vegetables whilst my friends had pasta with fish. The main course for my companions was this dish of prawns. Mine was a delicately cooked fillet of beef, very prettily served as you see. The contorno for us all consisted of barely cooked green beans and carrots with tomatoes.
Then you see some humans! First Cesare [seated] with his daughter, "Gilda" and the chef / owner of the bar, another Simone, a friend of the family. "Gilda" was such a little girl when I first came to Sicily in 1992. Now she has blossomed into this lovely young woman who, we have reason to believe, is well on her way to becoming an opera star. In the next photo you can see me [though I hesitate to post a photo of myself after the post-I-haven't-read at James's!], Irma and Cesare. Finally, a very happy Cesare opens the champers.
There was one sombre note, however: among our company was a young man who has cancer. Because of the drugs he has been prescribed, he has had a very bad reaction to the heat this time and his mouth is a mass of blisters. He could only nibble at a slice of bread and eat an ice cream. I so wanted to wrap this young man in my arms and tell him everything would be all right but of course I couldn't do so because I don't know that. And I was grumbling about my reaction to the heat?!
I don't know how this post will look as I am having trouble with the spacing, presumably because of the number of photos. Pazienza!

Thursday, July 26, 2007


On Sunday James began a discussion about ideal rooms, asking us to post a picture of what, to us, is a liveable room and then send him the link. I've thought a lot about this and have decided that any room I spend any time in has to have books and has to have clutter. By clutter I mean objects that mean something to me and rather a lot of them. No minimalist, me! In fact, when I was selling my house in Britain and an estate agent suggested I "declutter a bit" I cursed, stamped and screamed for days and refused to do it, for I do not understand why people want to go and see a virtually empty house. Can't they imagine their own things in a house as it is? Or is it that they don't collect or keep things? Anyway, my mother, who, along with Dad, abhorred clutter [I suppose they were rebelling against an earlier age] used to say I'd have made a "good Victorian". And, indeed, I love Victorian rooms and could quite happily have lived in the Dickens House in London, for instance, assuming I had been a rich Victorian! [I cannot find pictures of the interior.]

My heroine Simone de Beauvoir used to keep all her books on a shelf at picture rail level which went right round her tiny, neat Paris apartment. I have pictures in a book of the house of Marguerite Duras [again, I cannot find these pictures online]; it is not modern, but has cool, clean lines and white decor, and, as uncluttered living spaces go, I think I could cope with it, for there are books. In the same volume there are pictures of Marguerite Yourcenar's sitting room, which is booklined, has personal objects everywhere and has homely shawls gently draped over the armchairs. That would definitely be more "me."

Then I think of the writers' and artists' houses I have visited, particularly in Italy, among them the Bellini house in Catania, the house of Carducci [ a poet who caused me much misery at university] in Bologna, the poet Quasimodo's house right here in Modica, Pirandello's birthplace near Agrigento, the Leonardo Museum and nearby birthplace at Vinci, the Verdi birthplace at Roncole and his Villa Sant'Agata. All are fascinating and I could linger for days happily in any one of them. And I could certainly live in the rooms of the Castello Nelson near Bronte, about which I posted in January. But for one room my choice has to be D'Annunzio's magnificently cluttered study at the Vittoriale on Lake Garda. Imagine working and writing in this room! I'd be in heaven. Just one thing, though... Where on earth would I put the computer?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Afa = hot, suffocating air. It's also just the sound you want to make in this heat!
The extreme heat continues, though I think we were about a degree cooler today. Yesterday the military base at Sigonella [Catania] recorded a temperature of 45.4 C, the highest in 50 years. In Monreale [Palermo] there has been a tragedy: a 33-year-old woman who suffered from MS died whilst sitting on her balcony. It seems probable that she fell asleep and the heat led to breathing difficulties which provoked a cardiac arrest. In Ragusa a 77-year-old woman died, again from cardiac arrest, probably also brought on by the heat. Bush and forest fires continue to rage. In fact there are fires not only in Sicily but all over Italy, particularly the south, the worst having been in Peschici [Puglia] yesterday.
There is a little relief here tonight and at least the cicadas are singing. [They were completely silent last night, as if even they had given up the ghost.] We are promised a Maestrale [Mistral]wind tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Fimmina ca si 'mpupa e fa toletta

o è innamorata o fannullona netta

- A woman who adorns herself and does her make-up

is either in love or a complete lazybones.

- Sicilian proverb.

As I am not in love, it follows that I am a lazybones, then. I bought these trinkets at Raffaele's this morning and he gave me a good discount on them. Jmb, I thought of you and your love of red when I saw the bracelet and earrings. I decided the red would go well with the white dress I purchased a few weeks ago and I couldn't resist the white earrings with little black spots on the bow. I've always believed in buying pretty accessories when you see them , if you can, and later you will find an outfit to go with them [not the other way round, usually, for me]. Now, if I can find some shoes with a dash of red in and a pair with a black-spotted white bow....


I am late getting to my blog tonight on account of the return of the extreme heat, which we are told will last until Thursday. Unusually, there is not even much relief in the evening air at the moment. Many forest fires have broken out all over Sicily and I was amazed to read today that some of these are started deliberately, not only by "regular" arsonists but by part-time workers who want to be taken on by the forestry agency to put these same fires out! We do get some beautiful moons to gaze at from the balcony during this season, though, and here is my best attempt at a moon photo.


I have just seen an extraordinary thing: a policeman was standing at the roadside, waving the red "lollipop stick" at motorcycle riders without crash helmets. All of a sudden a young, helmetless lad on a motorbike travelling at speed saw the policeman from about 100 yards away, reared up on the bike, did a u-turn in the middle of the main road at the busiest time of the evening and hurtled off in the opposite direction. The policeman half-heartedly stepped into the road and waved the lollipop in a perfunctory manner, then shrugged his shoulders, lifted his hands in the pazienza gesture and resumed his conversation with a friend. He made no attempt to give chase [although he had his police car at the ready] radio someone else to do so or to take the number of the motorbike. Perhaps he knew the boy and will catch him next time; perhaps he just couldn't be bothered; or perhaps he felt there were more important fish to fry. I don't drive but I am pretty sure the young man would have been pursued in Britain.


... parts of which are in a bit of trouble.

These are the landscapes of my childhood and I remember them thus.

- Just another reminder of how something can suddenly hit you for six, emotionally, when you live abroad.

Anti-monarchist that I am, though, I would like to know what our beloved heir to the throne, who has a mansion not a million miles from these scenes, is doing to help? [Other than being towed along in a dinghy to survey the scene, that is.] OK, I know he can't exactly throw Highgrove open to the public, for security and other reasons, but surely the man could do something?

Monday, July 23, 2007


Last night I had some peppers and [yes, more!] tomatoes to use up so I made one of my favourite concoctions: a dish of sausages, peppers, tomatoes, sage, oregano and a fair splash of red wine. Traditional Italian sausages are too strong for this, as you need the flavour of the peppers to come through. I have found it works well with the chicken sausages available here. Summer comfort food!


I have many bras of differing colours and designed for differing purposes [other than the purpose they all have of making part of my anatomy defy gravity, that is]: T-shirt bras, strapless bras, make-the-most-of-'em bras, play-'em-down bras, lacy bras, smooth bras... And now at last this article explains why they are all in different sizes! Yes, I have bras ranging from a UK 34F / EU 75G /Ital 2G to a UK 40E /EU 90 / Ital 6 . [Most Italian manufacturers now use the same cup sizes as in the UK, I am glad to say.]

According to the article, if the depth/width sizing method is adopted [why didn't they ask women years ago? Any of us could have told them this was what was needed!] there could be 8 - 16 new size combinations. I am sitting here grinning at the thought of all those Italian lingerie shop owners who won't put their merchandise on display for you to examine it at your leisure but who pride themselves on guessing your exact size the moment you walk through the door having to learn an entire new system. They'll end up - err - in their cups!

Ok, Mutley, what do you make of it?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

immigration in lampedusa

Please also see the post below.


Two boats carrying clandestini [illegal would-be immigrants] were wrecked off Lampedusa on Thursday. The Italian Coastguard mounted a rescue operation, as it always does, and there are 36 survivors from the two boats. 5 bodies were found, including that of a child and 11 people are unaccounted for. Meanwhile a boatload of 259 clandestini made it to Lampedusa. Of these 16 were women, one of whom was heavily pregnant. On Wednesday a Tunisian fishing vessel offered to rescue some clandestini from a dinghy and there are conflicting reports about what happened: according to this, there were no threats but this report suggests the clandestini may have armed themselves with knives, so fearful were they of being taken back to their point of departure.

On Thursday there were 690 people in the "welcome" centre on Lampedusa, a structure built to accommodate 190. Many have since been airlifted out [presumably to similar centres elsewhere] but according to La Sicilia 390 clandestini were still there yesterday.

The video clip I'm going to post next [sorry, James!] shows how desperate the situation is and also, I think, the sharp contrast between the "Lampedusa of the tourists" and that which the clandestini encounter. The difficult and distressing situation which the authorities, and sometimes passing fishermen, find themselves in is also highlighted.

My own opinion? I've posted it many times. We in the West cannot imagine the misery and poverty which these people are trying to escape. I have taught some of them in Britain and know something of the tragedies they have endured. But with the best will in the world, no country can take them all in. So our only hope, it seems to me, is to act on world poverty before it is too late and by too late I mean a world in which poverty has led to many more embracing extremist causes than those doing so even now. [And no, I am not naive, nor am I trying to excuse the crimes perpetrated in the name of poverty or even freedom.: "Ô liberté", said Mme Roland on the guillotine, "que de crimes on commet en ton nom!" I think we might now substitute , for "liberté", "pauvreté" or even "Dieu" - but the latter has been the case throughout the centuries.]

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Laura Pausini - Io canto (video clip)

Let's celebrate life.


I've been rather serious here for the past couple of days. Time for a little girlish frivolity: all the shoe shops have sales, for they are desperately trying to get rid of their summer stock before everyone leaves for the sea in two or three weeks' time. When most of their customers return at the end of August [some do not do so until November] although it will still be hot, their fashion thinking will turn to winter. I found these all-leather pretties going at half-price this morning.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Yesterday the fifteenth anniversary of the murder of the antimafia Prosecutor Paolo Borsellino was marked in Palermo. Borsellino, along with five members of his security escort, was blown to pieces by a car bomb as he rang the bell at the gate of his mother's apartment. Il Giornale di Sicilia comments that though the ceremony was attended by dignitaries, tourists, boy scouts and people from all over Italy, there were few Palermitani in attendance. This is partly explained by the fact that the working life of the city had to continue but there is also a suggestion that people want action, not symbols. Borsellino was a brave and honourable man who knew what his fate would be. The obvious grief of his widow at yesterday's ceremony was heartbreaking but I also feel for the families of the security guards [four men and one woman] who were just doing their job and presumably had no choice. You can see some photos of the ceremony here. The fourth photo shows Borsellino's sister, now a politician, with the only member of the security escort to survive.

Now the Mayor of Corleone wants to open a Borsellino Museum. Where? In the confiscated house of the captured Mafia boss Provenzano. There is something nicely Sicilian about that.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Just so that you know that life isn’t all outdoor feasts and happy tomato squashing here, I thought I’d write about the downside today. Now of course you could say, as I might be tempted to say to those who settle in and then grumble about my own country, “If you don’t like it, go home” but I am not trying to change the democratic ethos of the Italian State or the general culture of a country I have loved all my adult life. It is possible to settle in, love and feel very protective about a place yet still find irritations, just as you do in your country of origin. And it is important to point out that , with the exception of the eternal bureaucracy, there are compensations for every one of the following annoyances:

1. Top of the irritations list has to be bureaucracy and I’ve written about it before. Sometimes you can feel as if the government exists simply to make life harder by thinking up new procedures which hinder your day to day business. An example? Back in January we all received, from the utility companies, new forms to fill in giving our dati catastali [land registry details] so that, under Art 1, comma 333 of Law no 311 of 30/12/04 the companies know whom they are supplying. OK, it wasn’t particularly burdensome to fill in the form and fax it back, but you might have thought they already had this information when they agreed to supply you in the first place. Nearly all small stationers and tobacconists offer photocopying and fax services because this sort of requirement rains down upon citizens from on high nearly every day. There is one piece of bureaucracy that I have changed my mind about, however, and that is the fact that you receive a visit from the police in your proposed dwelling before you can be deemed resident in a town: at least, in this way, the Italians have some hope of knowing just who is in their country.

2. Closely linked to no. 1 is my pet hate , the Post Office. Rather than droning on about it again , I refer new readers to this post. You may also like to look at this.

3. I have received an enormous energy bill for the winter months. Admittedly, I have Raynaud’s disease, feel the cold and do not have the Italian and particularly Sicilian attitude of “Wear an extra jumper and put up with it”. But even so I don’t see how my bill can be twice what it was for the same period last year – unless there is a punishment for high consumption that has not been made public? This has really got me down over the past week.

4. This time of the year is the most difficult for me and I have come to call it the “silly season”: shops often do not re-open in the afternoon during July and August and many close completely for at least a couple of weeks, as do bars and restaurants. There is a notice in the chemist’s around the corner stating that they will be closed from 6th – 30th August. How can you have a business and abandon your clinetèle for the best part of a month? It wouldn’t be so bad if pharmacy products were sold in supermarkets as in Britain and “Roll on, liberalizzazione” [the freeing up of the market so that they will be] I say. The small traders deserve to lose some of their customers. They would claim, of course, that it is their clientèle who abandon them during July and August, leaving for their houses in the countryside or at the sea; and I say, “Yes, and the tourists come and what do they find? A closed down city.” Many blog readers have commented that it must be a joy to still have these small shops and in many ways it is; you are known, greeted, exchange pleasantries, receive advice and generally feel that your custom is valued. But there is also an inconvenience factor which it is hard for British people, and I guess Americans, to remember; we’ve been able to find everything at the supermarket for so long!

5. While I am having a moan about shops, I still sometimes want to be left alone to browse in one rather than having the assistant on my heels. The assistants would be horrified if they thought their behaviour was off-putting as they think they are providing good service. But particularly if I am looking for clothes or underwear I want to be free to look first. The same goes for CDs, actually – I’ve yet to find a browsable CD store in Modica. A friend who came to stay with me a while back picked a handbag up from a display in one of the stores on Sacro Cuore - as you would in Britain – and was shouted at by the assistant. I pointed out that my friend was British and asked how she was supposed to know that this is not done in Italian stores, at which the assistant calmed down. This illustrates a cultural difference but the fact that the girl reacted thus also points to poor staff training.

6. There are no heel bars and no nail bars! And Modica needs a good department store – please!

7. There is still a lack of foreign ingredients in supermarkets. This area does not have anything like the immigration that Britain has but there is a Chinese and a small Muslim population. You can now find some Chinese and North African ingredients but they are very few. I don’t think it is totally to do with not catering for the immigrant population; it is also to do with Italians not being very adventurous about food. As Victoria Granof points out in Sweet Sicily, “Something to bear in mind is that unlike Americans, who are always trying new recipes, Sicilian cooks may make a handful of recipes in their lifetime – over and over and over.” This does mean, of course, that they keep their culinary traditons and this is one of the things that is so attractive about the island. But it still seems strange to a British person not to be able to find spices that we now take for granted. Even herbs [apart from the ubiquitous oregano] are, surprisingly, more difficult to obtain here, especially basil in winter. No just throwing several pots of supermarket “growing herbs” into my trolley each week, all year round, as I did in Britain! [Yes, I do grow them on the balcony but the trouble is I use them!] Sicilians would counter that, with their own food being so fresh and so good, why should they want to try anyone else’s? And I have to admit I find that one hard to argue with.

Right: that’s another few matters off my chest. I think it’s time to stroll down the road for a freshly made evening granita and to buy, on the way back, some nectarines whose heavenly scent pervaded the street when they were freshly delivered at the greengrocer's this morning. Then I’ll come back, throw my shutters open and enjoy the “song of the south “ – the cicadas’ mating calls. [Gosh, they are at it a lot today and good luck to them!]

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


With regard to my tomato squashing machine, I am in danger of emulating the woman who falls in love with and sings to her electric floor polisher in the Jean Renoir film, La Cireuse Électrique. This afternoon I turned 4 trayfuls of tomatoes like the one above into sauce and I am getting more adept and quicker with the gadget. This time I added some chopped chilli pepper to the soffrito.

I'll let you know when I start singing to the machine!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


A few weeks ago, in the silent, sleepy siesta-time streets of Modica Alta, I was introduced to a poet. This kindly man, whom I immediately perceived as suffering from agoraphobia [he had had to be persuaded to come out of the house for a moment by my friend] has published several books of beautiful verse. I cannnot identify him here as he is so fragile that to do so would be to destroy him. And I pondered, not for the first time, upon how many good, lonely people there are in the world and how talented many of them are: this is not surprising, as great art of all genres is often born out of solitude and great suffering. But what exactly is loneliness? It is not, to me, being alone - I am rather good at that – but instead I would define it as having no choice in the matter.

Some years ago, in Britain, I became involved with someone who turned out to be a conman. I was very vulnerable at the time and, because I had not had for a long period that which most people take for granted - someone who is there, who will ask you how your day was, who always calls to say goodnight – I let him wheedle his way into my life with little resistance. Afterwards, when I had come to my senses and it was over, a book that helped me recover was Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Falling and in it I could see myself, ignoring the warning signals – and there always are warning signals – because, like many lovers before me, I had wanted to believe.

Ruthie and M are two bloggers who have written extensively about their own feelings of loneliness and I think they would agree with me that it’s not about not having friends or even family. It's about not being first with someone. Yet I have married friends whom I have envied, only later to have found out that things are not as they seem in their [to me] secure situations and I have concluded that I would rather be alone [not lonely] than so dependent on another that I cannot face the world when he has gone [though of course loss is the ultimate price of love]. Then there is my blogging friend Lee, who, like me, is rather content on her own most of the time and who, like me, can become quite put out by the unexpected visitor. I suspect that this , in myself at any rate, is because I plan my evenings to keep out the cold of loneliness so that sudden ring of the doorbell can be disturbing and even alarming.

And I think of Sara Teasdale’s lines:
I should be glad of loneliness,
And hours that go on broken wings,
A thirsty body, a tired heart,
And the unchanging ache of things,
If I could make a single song
As lovely and full of light,
As hushed and brief as a falling star,
On a winter night.

And now as I sit typing along comes precious Simi and licks my bad foot and I reflect that I have all the love in the world, right here, right now, in a little study in Sicily.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Sicilian Opera dei Pupi or puppet theatre has its origins in the Norman conquest of Sicily and the concept of honour. The tales are based on La Chanson de Roland, the later Reali di Francia and the later still Orlando Furioso. They mainly deal with the battles between Christians and Saracens though stories of saints, bandits and even versions of Shakespearian drama were all enacted in bygone days. Most sources date the tradition back to the 15th century though one or two suggest that it is older, possibly beginning in the 12th century. The main characters recognisable today are Ruggiero [King Roger of Sicily], Carlo Magno [Charlemagne], Orlando [Roland], Tancredi, the lovely Angelica and of course the stereotypical Saracen.

If you attend a performance it is often quite hard to work out what is going on as, although the tales are old, the puppet masters are quite free to interpret them as they wish, and there is a lot of puppet-blood-letting and shouting in dialect. However, you will know when to cheer as everyone can tell a “goodie” from a “baddie” and it is all great fun. As Vincent Cronin points out in The Golden Honeycomb, there was a time when every member of the audience would have been familiar with all the tales [Sicilians still are] and he rightly draws a parallel here with Greek epic and drama.

The puppets used in the Palermo tradition are quite different from those of Catania: Palermo puppets are 80 cm tall and their knees bend, the puppets being manipulated from the wings of the small “stage”. Catania puppets are 120 cm tall and their knees are rigid, so they are manipulated from above the stage. [Naples has its own tradition, too.]

The puppet theatres enjoyed their heyday in the 19th century but with the advent of literacy, cinema and, of course, television their popularity diminished. There are still families who make the puppets, though they are most often sold as souvenirs these days, and there are puppet theatres in various locations in Sicily, notably Siracusa. The International Marionette Museum in Palermo is well worth a visit.

I began this post by stating that “honour” is depicted as the most important virtue in the puppet plays: was it a short step, then, to the honour codes of the Mafia?

In the photo are my own three puppets that I bought on early visits here. [My Saracen unfortunately lost a foot, not in battle, but during the move.] “Welcome home” I said to them as I unpacked them two years ago.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Gino the artist has built a mini golf course in a shaded area of his garden and today I was invited, along with about a dozen other friends, to its "opening". The idea was that we would all, before lunch, play a little to inaugurate the course, but in the event the "refreshments" glade was so - well, refreshing - that we all just sat around enjoying the shade, the company and our aperitivi! After an antipasto of Caesar salad, lunch consisted of cannelloni, roast chicken with an apricot stuffing and rice-filled roasted peppers. Everyone had brought a dessert so lunch lasted till six o'clock!


This was my contribution to a lunch party given by friends this afternoon: I must admit that, as I wasn't well yesterday I cheated rather a lot and bought the base of sponge layers as well as the crema pasticcera for the top . I "improved" the sponge layers slightly by pouring some Maraschino liqueur over and letting them steep for an hour or so before spreading the crema pasticcera [confectioner's custard] over the top, arranging both fresh and some canned fruit on this and glazing it all. Here you can buy a glaze called tortagel, which you just add sugar to and boil so there's no need to muck around with arrowroot or to heat and sieve apricot jam. As you see, the cream I piped around the edges kept falling off in the heat so in the end I took some whipped cream with me and squirted it on just before serving. That nearly fell off too but nobody seemed to mind!

Saturday, July 14, 2007


At this time of year some of the countryside looks dried out, as in the first photograph, though it can take on that lovely golden colour that you see in some shots of the film version of Il Gattopardo. But if you look up. as I chanced to do this morning, strolling back from a different supermarket to my usual one, there is still a riot of colour to behold.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Bummer of a day. Not well. Then James reminded me it's Friday 13th so maybe that explains some of it. Don't know what to post about, so below is another oldie for you, from a time when I was "Patti dagli occhi blu"[though my eyes are green] to a certain young man from Bergamo. In Italy the number 17 is thought to be unlucky. Is Friday 13th deemed an unlucky day where you are? Do you believe it is personally? If so, do you hide on this day or carry on as normal?

Mario Tessuto

See why in the next post.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


It's not often that I read a news item from Britain that actually cheers me up these days but today's story of the Queen, who may or may not have stormed out of a photo shoot after being asked to remove her tiara, is being reported here with amusement and some puzzlement. The BBC, of course, looks stupid, first saying that HM "stormed in" not out, and then having to apologise for showing the footage at all in a trailer for a documentary.

Now, I'm not normally one to defend the Windsors and have often thought that HM would do well to follow Coco Chanel's fashion advice to "look in the mirror and take one thing off" , in particular with regard to accessories. But hey, so the lady had a clothes tantrum! What woman doesn't and who among us does not know the feeling? You spend hours trying to look just right [admittedly with a lot of professional help in the case of Elisabetta ] decide, finally, that you will pass muster and then, when you do make an entrance, you don't need someone putting you down - particularly another woman! So welcome to the girls' club, Lizzie Windsor!
The Italian expression perdere le staffe for losing one's temper, literally "to lose one's stirrups" is rather appropriately used in this case, don't you think?!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sanremo 1967: Io tu e le rose - Orietta Berti - Live 1989

For no other reason than that I like it.


I surprised the nice lady at Bar Ciacera in Modica Bassa this morning by choosing an ice cream that did not contain my favourite amarena [bitter cherry] flavour. So here is melone e torroncino [honey nougat] ice cream, which I partook of purely in the interest of blogging, you know!


I just made this recipe up: I had some quail so seasoned them and wrapped them in pancetta into which I tucked a few fresh sage leaves. I drizzled over some olive oil, chucked in some white wine and roasted them. I roasted the tomatoes separately, having topped them with herbs and balsamic vinegar. If I'd had some grapes, I'd have tossed them through the warm oil from the quail at the last minute and served them as a garnish, with pinenuts. I'll remember to get some next time!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Fifteen schoolchildren from a group of thirty-eight were refused free admission [normally accorded to EU citizens under eighteen or over sixty-five] to the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento on Thursday. The fifteen were all children of non-EU immigrants but were Italian citizens. The clerk at the entrance seems to have been over-zealous in applying the regional rule that those wishing to have free admission should be in possession of proof of nationality. The Minister of Social Solidarity has condemned the decision outright as an act of racism. The administrators of the Valle are obviously very embarrassed and have offered to pay for another trip for the children but the hurt has been caused and the damage done, as became clear when one of the children was interviewed on TV at lunchtime. How would these children set out again with anything like the excitement and anticipation they must have felt on Thursday? Would you blame the incident on Italy's bureaucratic procedures or do you agree with the Minister?

Monday, July 09, 2007


This is how we buy dried oregano here. [I think I am right in saying that it is the only herb which has more flavour when dried than when fresh.] So you crumble it into a jar yourself or, of course, directly onto food .


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