Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cristo si è fermato a Eboli

Carlo Levi's book of the same name will be familiar to anyone who did an Italian degree during the same era as me! Having opposed fascism, painter, doctor and writer Levi was "exiled" from his native Turin in 1935 and placed under house arrest in a village in what is now the Basilicata region. Life is so harsh there that the peasants believe that Christianity got no further south than the town of Eboli [Campania]. In a world defined by deprivation, superstition and petty jealousies, Levi also finds kindness, for the peasants share what little they have with him. Gian Maria Volontè gives a wonderfully sensitive performance as Levi in this film.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


It is still a pleasure to be able to order fresh fruit in the simplest bar and have it served prettily. The trouble taken over the presentation of this dish of the freshest strawberries, bananas and a little strawberry ice cream at the Altro Posto at lunchtime made my day and reminded me of all the glorious gelati to come in a couple of months' time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Everyone knows that the Mediterranean diet, and the Italian variey of this in particular, are among the most healthy in the world. Why, then, in the country which loves dough-based products more than any other, are there so many cases of gluten allergy? It is estimated that one Italian in every 150 suffers from coeliac disease and some are not even aware of the cause of their discomfort.

It is worth remembering here that pasta means only "paste" or "dough" and, according to John Dickie in Delizia [which is fast becoming my favourite volume on the history of Italian food] it is true that Muslims brought pasta to Sicily and thence to Italy, but these were Muslims from the Maghreb [indicating that pasta was not invented by the Arab peoples]. It seems that something like "dough cooked in liquid" was known to the Greeks before them. At some time during the Middle Ages, largely because of poverty, pasta became the staple food of Italy. Add to this the fact that the poor depended upon it until quite recent times, along with bread and a version of pizza, and you begin to wonder about the possibilies of inherited food intolerance and of becoming intolerant to something which you eat every day. [I'm no scientist but I believe the latter theory can explain certain addictions.]

I am sometimes astonished by the number of digestive ailments suffered by people in my small circle of friends here and ask myself [again with little scientific evidence] whether this could be partially due - however good the Sicilian Mediterranean diet - to a strange aversion to using spices [other than cinnamon, saffron and ground chilli pepper] in the non-Muslim Mediterranean countries.


By far the most interesting item displayed in my printers' trays, for Italian and British friends alike, though, is the Jeu des 7 Familles, also given to me when I was about 5 and from which I have selected a few of the less offensive images above, though they are so stereotyped and grotesque that I hesitate to show even these. Such an item would never be sold in a western European country today.

Now, I scoff as angrily as the next blogger over the madder excesses of political correctness and an example of this is here. [Thanks, James.] But I also believe that we should be reasonably careful of our terminology and if altering it slightly can spare others pain, then why not do so? For instance, a directive was issued in some British secondary schools a few years ago stating that we should no longer play that old standby, hangman, as it could bring back terrible memories to pupils who had recently arrived from countries in which there was no respect for life. It is easy enough to draw a "stop" sign on the board instead, so why not comply, if you can save a child's tears for one day? So I keep my politically incorrect jeu as a reminder of why political correctness was necessary in the first place, reader.

Beaman wrote yesterday about Holocaust Memorial Day [which is observed and respected all over Italy] and I cannot help but wonder how many lives might have been saved if more people everywhere had spoken out against the grotesque images that were used as propoganda at the beginning of that terrible era. My wish for the world in this, as in every other year, is that we do not make the same mistake again.

Monday, January 28, 2008


.. and can teach us a lot, too. Bear with me, for I am going to have to do this post in two parts.

When Sicilians visit my apartment, once they have come to terms with Simi sitting on their heads and the fact that there are books everywhere, two of the items which fascinate them are my printers' trays, filled with nick-nacks, on the wall. Some of you will know that I am a lover of ornaments and little things, and I have possessions displayed in these trays that I have had since I was five years old, including the "hatbox" ornaments I used to save my pocket money up for, buying them in a dark little shop in Stapleton Road, Bristol. Then there is my "Coronation crown" which, like all good children , I treasured [till I found out that you could only become Queen if you married Charlie - how I cried at that thought!] and a child's dictionary given to me before I could even read. I love my mini-tea-chests and later I saved my political campaign badges. [There is a "Free Nelson Mandela" one which I can't take even a passable photo of because the background is white, a Greenham Common one and a "Don't Attack Iraq" badge - much good that did!] There have to be Sicilian carts, of course and I bought the silver one some years ago in Agrigento [apologies for the photo quality.] There also has to be a depiction of my favourite Dickens character, Mr Micawber [my attitude to money being perilously akin to his, reader] .

In the next post I'll get to the point.


This chicken dish may look rather rustic, but believe me, it is delicious. It is another one from the Cucina del Sole and all you do is cook chicken joints in a little oil with cut-up lemons [including the skin], garlic, rosemary sprigs, bay leaves and seasoning. Half-way through roasting, you add some new potatoes which have been boiled until just tender. [These are hard to obtain here so I just cut up some larger potatoes.] No marinating, no pre-cooking of the chicken - what could be simpler? I've used drumsticks here but you could use a jointed chicken. It's the freshness of the lemons, in my opinion, which makes the dish smell and taste so good. At the end I decided it needed some capers sprinkled over for colour - but I like capers so much that I put them on nearly everything!

Sunday, January 27, 2008


- And sometimes only a plate of pasta will do, though it is never served as a main course in Italy and the sauces are served "drier" than they would be in the UK. Here is a comforting pork ragù recipe which serves 8:

4 tablesp olive oil
1 medium onion, 1 carrot & 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
16 oz minced pork
14 fl oz red wine
1 quantity home-made tomato sauce [ie., c. 1 kg tomatoes have been used in its making]
handful flat-leaved parsley, chopped
seasalt & freshly ground black pepper
1lb penne or rigatoni
grated parmesan or pecorino to serve

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook until just soft. Add the pork. Cook for c. 15 mins., stirring all the time. Add the red wine and seasoning and simmer c. 5 mins. Stir in the tomato sauce [here's where all that frantic activity in the summer pays off!] cover and simmer for c. 1 hour. Stir in the parsley.

Cook the pasta as directed on the pack, drain it, return to the heat and stir in the ragù.

I think pecorino is better than parmesan sprinkled over this.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Sometimes all I want is a salad containing the simplest, freshest ingredients and that is what I asked for at the Altro Posto at lunchtime. Served in a deep bowl, it looked so pretty and the cherry tomatoes were the sweetest I have ever tasted, reader. [Yes, I know the calories were in the accompanying gin & tonic!]

I had forgotten that Carnevale is almost upon us until, shopping in Mr T's deli later, I espied some chiacchiere, or pastry ribbons, the traditonal fried, carnival biscuits. They are amazingly light in texture! "Chiacchiere!" I exclaimed. "Yes, signora", replied Mr T. "And look, this year I have some that have been dipped in chocolate." Well, would you resist?!

Chiacchierare is the verb "to gossip" and the biscuits are so named either because their shape resembles that of old women's tongues [say some, unkindly] or, more likely, because of the "psst" sound they make when the pastry is dropped into the hot oil. I don't know about you, but I have always found men to be at least as gossipy as women!

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I admit that I couldn’t think of anything to post about tonight but my friend the Winchester Whisperer has come to the rescue with this meme asking for "household tips". That’s a laugh for a start as I am the world’s worst housekeeper. I love cooking because it’s creative but I detest cleaning and ironing and resent the time these tasks take. A couple of weeks ago a friend here – a liberated woman with a demanding job – told me she envied my single state because, “There is no one to ruin your clean floor just after you have polished it.” Huh? – Get real!

Here goes:

1. A plastic spray bottle containing a few drops of peppermint oil diluted with plenty of water could be a summer friend. Spray some of the contents liberally around your kitchen once or twice a week and ants and flies will be discouraged from trespassing.
2. [A Sicilian one]: Garlic placed on a windowsill should keep mosquitoes at bay.
3. Don’t waste the dregs of bottles of “flat” tonic water or other fizzy drinks. Chuck them down the loo and they will help to clean it.
4. [From here on I am going to cheat and the tips will be about cookery / entertaining]: You will get more juice from a lemon or an orange if you put it in the microwave for a few seconds before squeezing [only I don’t have a microwave here – boohoo!]
5. [From my Sicilian friend Giovanna and I have been doing this for 16 years, now – apologies if you read it on an early blog post here]: Always add a halved potato to the water when cooking pasta.
6. A curdled sauce can nearly always be rescued by the addition and vigorous mixing in of a couple of ice cubes off the heat.
7. When entertaining, set the table before you do anything else. Then it all looks organised even if you get in a panic. Get your glad rags and make-up on and look glamorous even if some of the cooking has to wait. And if you are entertaining the “housekeeping police” spray polish around and then loads of perfume – or invite nicer people in the first place.

"Err, that's it", as they say. Buon divertimento.
[I don't tag.]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Al Bano e Romina Power

I am a sentimental twit but I just love this clip: the naive scenery, the hair blowing in the wind when the car has not yet moved off and the obvious love of these two [a story that was later to end sadly]. And there is a forgotten line in the song - "Play your music, my guitar, play for those in the world who are never able to sing". I think that's a line that is very much for today's world.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


“Let’s live dangerously”, thought I on my way to work this afternoon, deciding to try to get a small packet to the UK posted within the 20 minutes I was able to devote to the task. Things were looking hopeful: there were only about 4 people waiting in the post office and when I pressed the ticket button on the machine, out popped prodotti postali ticket number 127, whilst the display board indicated that the holder of ticker 125 was already being served. Ever the optimist, I settled down to wait. Ticket holder 125’s business seemed to be taking a very long time, and after a few minutes the holder of ticket 126 lost her pazienza [I am so relieved when Sicilians do this, too!] and marched up to the counter saying that she only had one small envelope to post, had already had it weighed [at a tobacconist’s] and had the right money. To my astonishment, instead of asking her to wait her turn, the clerk interrupted her transaction with 125 to take the envelope and money! [I don’t know why this should astonish me any longer, but it does.] Meanwhile, Mr 125 was taking an inordinate amount of time filling out a form to post a registered parcel – these forms come in triplicate and have smart plastic covers which have to be peeled off by the clerks – and then it was discovered that he had the wrong type of form altogether, for to send it with that one would have cost more [ this having been explained at the top of everyone’s voices for all to hear]. There followed a frantic search for the right form by the clerk and her colleague [who left her utility- bill- paying clients to join it] and this was obviously not going to be concluded quickly either. Finally, the form was found, Mr 125 filled it in [slowly] and the form and copies were proudly stamped with several flourishes. I went straight to the counter but the clerk insisted on pressing the computer button to bring up 126 on the display, even as I explained that the holder had been the woman who had rushed up to the counter a few minutes before. At last 127 came up and, mercifully, I was not asked “Dov’è l'Inghilterra?” or “Dov’è la Gran Bretagna?” [“Where is England / Britain?”] a question which – I jest not – has, to my knowledge, been asked in other branches! So, all in all, not bad this time – 19 minutes!!

Today the town planners have been having fun by changing the location of pedestrian crossings: there used to be a time when no concessions were made to cars in Italy but now, in this area at any rate, it is pedestrians who receive little consideration. Well, the authorities can move the crossings as often as they wish – the locals [ and I confess I now join them in this] continue to cross exactly where they like, holding one hand out in a “stop” gesture as they do so.

If the post office doesn’t get you, reader, migrating markings and the almost total absence of traffic lights surely will!

Monday, January 21, 2008


One of the things I have had to get used to in food shopping is that when I ask for meat for a spezzatino [casserole / stew] it is cut in far bigger pieces than you would expect to buy in Britain. At first I used to ask the butcher to cut it a little smaller , or do so myself at home, but now, unless I am cooking something British or northern European, I go along with it. At an Italian meal, you will have possibly had antipasti, and almost certainly pasta first so it is no surprise that only a little of the main meat dish is initially served, in its sauce.

This stufato di manzo [beef stew] again from the Cucina del Sole book, is first cooked on the hob with flavourings, which include red wine and a spice bag of cinnamon sticks and 10 cloves, and then in the oven for about 4 hours, by the end of which time your living space will smell heavenly! [I have never understood what is wrong with having the aroma of good cooking pervading your home and why some people do everything to try and disguise it!] Last night I found I had committed the ultimate Italian "sin" and run out of pelati [tins of tomatoes] so I just added a couple of dollops of my favourite ingredient instead. The result was still Sicilian comfort food at its best!

Sunday, January 20, 2008


I am absolutely terrified of bombole, or gas cylinders, which are often used in Mediterranean countries to power domestic gas. [I just looked them up, by the way, and was surprised to learn that there is an EU colour coding regulation in place, according to the type of gas contained in them - and here I was thinking the manufacturers were just making them prettier!] They are used in this town and on the outskirts a lot, as many dwellings are not yet able to receive metano, or town gas. When I first arrived and was in the little house in Modica Bassa, I was so frightened of the bombola in it that after a few days I gave up any idea of cooking for myself whilst there. [I had never cooked with gas in any way, shape or form, so imagine my dismay when I moved into the flat and realised that everyone has a gas hob, even if they have an electric oven! This fear goes back to my mother having been a bit absent-minded at times and we had a few gas explosions in our house.]

Well, it seems my apprehension has not been without foundation as on Friday night a bombola powering a space heater exploded in the flat of an elderly couple here in Modica. Only because the husband realised that something was wrong and got the thing out onto the balcony on time were they saved. The explosion caused the balcony railings to collapse and the neighbours thought there had been an earthquake tremor.

People use this kind of space heater in their homes because of the energy restrictions I have written about before. [Central heating, if you have it, can only be switched on for 9 hours a day within certain periods, to 19 C, and each dwelling has only 3 kw of electricity.] I am pleased to be able to tell you that I do not freeze in my new place of work, for the boss and secretary make sure my "office" and classrooms are heated, but when one of these bombola heaters is used, reader, I always ask the [adult] students to turn it off at the end of the session!

Mercifully the elderly couple were uninjured.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Grumpily grappling with the difficulties of small town life this morning, chief among these being poorly -routed public transport, I was uttering some choice expressions under my breath as I trudged back from the supermarket and was beeped at every two minutes: "Where do you bloody well expect me to walk when there's no goddamn pavement?!" I wanted to yell. Then I just gasped in amazement at the sight of this precocious almond blossom. It was almost worth nearly getting run over and being beeped at again as I took the photo!

Friday, January 18, 2008


A delightful lunch at the Altro Posto today, consisting of this new creation of theirs of chicken breast cooked in an orange sauce served with a contorno of lightly cooked baby carrots - just what I needed between classes.

This morning a pair of knickers fell from the balcony [a hazard of Italian life]. They hadn't actually been put on the line as they would have been destined for the outdoor drying rack, only they went and escaped from the fold-up part of a fitted sheet. I saw them land on the ground below and, it being a morning when nobody was about and there was no wind, I decided it would be safe to collect them on my way out later - at which juncture they were nowhere to be seen. Where are they, reader?!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Well, it is new to me, at any rate: a semi-hard cheese flavoured with rocket and red peppers. It doesn't seem to have a name, or if it has, it wasn't written on the label and the supermarket employees don't know it. However, if it is an experiment, it is one that meets with my approval!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Update, 17.1.08: Just saw this in Telegraph online.
Domestic rubbish continues to pile up in Naples, where the landfills are full and promised new incinerators have not been built. The background to this story is here and for the past two weeks things have become nastier and nastier, with effigies of Prodi and the Mayor of Naples having been burnt and left hanging from trees last week. Finally the problem has impacted upon Sicily, where there have been some scuffles between protestors and the authorities as the island has been asked to accept some of the Campania's refuse. With 250 tonnes of the stuff being bound for the Agrigento region last weekend, many Sicilians have declared that they do not see why their beautiful island should become the "wastedump of Italy". On Sardinia the protests have been violent.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


"As a Man Grows Older" is the English title of a novel by Svevo. The Italian title, "Senilità", is crueller and I didn't want to use it as a post title. Now, I know there's no point in waiting around for the next wrinkle to appear and that you just have to get on with however much remains of your life , but the fact is that I think about ageing and its possible effects a lot these days. Funnily enough, there is an excellent article about it all in my February Good Housekeeping, which arrived today. I mind ageing myself - of course I do! - but I really take exception to the process when it involves my dog.

I think that life is unfair to dog-owners; why we cannot be allowed to just live out our allotted span with our faithful canine companions seems a cruel biological trick to me. OK, I'll get to the point: Simi and I went to the vet this morning for her annual check-up and vaccination. He always checks her over well and this time found the beginnings of cataracts in both eyes. My baby!! She has not shown any sign of distress and still behaves, as she always has, like an energetic puppy but this diagnosis is a signal of time passing that I do not want to acknowledge.

"Don't worry", said the vet kindly. "It won't deteriorate quickly". He has prescribed some pills which may help and we have to wait for these to arrive at the chemist's from Catania, then we have to go back for another check in 40 days' time. You may be surprised to learn that doggy medicines are not purchased at the vet's here, as in the UK: just like when you go to the doctor's yourself, you are given a prescription for them and you take this to the pharmacy!

My dear little girlie: she has been so courageous and has been through so much, having, as I so often remind her, "come all the way to the land of the beautiful lampposts on a great big planey with mummy". We will get through this!

Monday, January 14, 2008


I want to know why the water man never cometh at a convenient time: this afternoon I was just taking Simi out before rushing to work when along came the water lorry: "Is it for us?" I asked the driver as he passed [for I had remembered to "order" the condominio's refill on Friday - I'm still not sure how I got into being responsible for this]. "No, it's for the palazzo opposite," he replied, "but yours will be the next load". "I have to go to work, though", I explained [none of the other tenants ever seems to be in and so able to sign for the delivery when it arrives] and he suggested I open the courtyard barrier and "put something round the post" so that he could get the lorry through later. What he meant was that he wanted me to put a scarf or baseball cap [as if I owned such a sporty item!] on the metal post so that the barrier would not close again automatically after a few minutes. Reader, I had only about 10 minutes in which to get across to work, I do not keep old scarves and suchlike, so had nothing to hand that I could have tied to the post and anyway I am so impractical that I couldn't have worked out where the bit on the metal post is that "connects" to the remote control [does that make any sense?] in the time available to me.

Only one thing to do, then, and that was to become the "helpless female" for I have discovered that in Sicily "I'm in a hurry " will get you nowhere for no one is likely to believe you, whereas "I'm clueless and just don't know what to do" will get you everywhere. "Please, signore , if I open the barrier now, is it possible that you, who are prepared for these situations, can tie something across the post?" I pleaded a few moments later and there we were - detto fatto! ["No sooner said than done".] "I'll put the form in your mailbox for you", the kind lorry driver promised, and so he did. I have never worked out why this form, which so urgently requires signing if I am in , or if anybody else is in, for that matter, does not have to be signed if we are all out and the lorry still manages, one way or another, to get through the barrier and fill the cistern. Last time this happened I asked if I needed to sign it and take it to the water office but was told that it wasn't necessary. Like everything else pertaining to the Sicilian water supply, this is likely to remain a mystery to me!

Anyway, we have water as I write so disaster is averted in the condominio for another 10 days or so...

Sunday, January 13, 2008


When I first came to Italy, nearly 40 years ago, the family I lived with would jokingly call me by two nicknames, “Pat” without a vowel at the end being impossible for them to pronounce.

So sometimes I was “la Patti suora” [“Pat the nun”] for, as I was young and blonde and Italian men used to follow me around, the grandfather of the family thought that, for my own safety, I should become resident in the convent opposite the house! But I would pretend to concur, laugh with him and cajole him and by the end of supper every night he would agree: “Va bene, niente suora”. [“OK, not a nun”.] Actually, I used to watch those nuns going to pray in the early hours of the morning, when the whole city was silent, the sun was just coming up and an Italian “heat mist” lay upon the town: the silence was punctuated only by the bells of the convent and I used to imagine the peaceful life the nuns had. However, reader, I lacked the sense of obedience that would have been required and soon I lacked another essential qualification!

The other name that the family bestowed upon me was “la Patti Pravo” because of my name and again, because I was blonde. Now, Patti Pravo, unlike me, had and has quite a deep voice and I’ve always wondered why men, whilst claiming to love femininity, really go for this: consider the women they find sexy – Pravo herself here in Italy, Bacall, even Thatcher [the latter having been professionally trained to lower her voice]. Could it be that what is really attractive in our times is androgyny? Does this not explain why models no longer have curves but have to make clothes look as if they are “on the hanger”? Twiggy, I notice, is these days on the cover of mainstream women’s magazines like “Good Housekeeping” looking feminine and curvy but it was not always so. There was a time when, if you had a few unfashionable curves, you were deemed undesirable. Thus very feminine women lost out, especially if they were cursed, as well, with that old “disadvantage”, a brain.

All this is a preamble to telling you how much I have always liked the song in the second clip below, for here, in a [just] pre-feminist era, we have a feminine woman telling a man, in no uncertain terms, that she will not be treated as a plaything and discarded “among the 10 other dolls who no longer please you.” Sing it again, Patti!

On an evening in Roma

I haven't posted a clip featuring the lovely Patrizio for a while. This reminds me why I love Italians and the lighter side of Italian life....

Patty Pravo - La bambola

Gloria Gaynor, eat your heart out! Sing it, Patti!


The roundup of the best blogpower posts of 2007, ably collated by the indefatigable jmb, is here. Do take a look.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


It is very stormy over Sicily tonight and this kind of weather does not "blow over" quickly, as in the UK: I have known it to continue relentlessly for three whole days and just the volume of the thunderclaps is enough to frighten you to death [or me, at any rate]. Here are Simi's reactions:
1. "A girl can eat her way through this."
2. "This is getting nasty. Better line up my weapons."
3. "Time to shake my toys at this naughty weather!"

I have decided that Simi would make a much better Italian housewife than her Mum as she cannot stand it if any item of furniture, ornament or cushion is out of place. This morning she barked like crazy in the bedroom and what was my "crime"? - I had left a drawer open! By the way, it is no accident that here "Everything all right?" is rendered by, "Tutto a posto?" ["Everything in place?"] If you are not me and are a really tidy person, you might reply, "A postissimo".

Friday, January 11, 2008


A returning private student of mine brought along this lovely candle today - something else to brighten my sitting room now that the Xmas decorations have been put away.

At the salon, Raffaele is delighted with his new mural.

This morning I go to the chemist's and receive wonderful personal service. There are times when I long for a Boot's [large UK chemist chain] especially on a Saturday when all pharmacies except the "duty" one are closed. Yet today they cannot do enough for me and I am pleased.

The broccoli seller along my street has put a CD player on his lorry so now strains of Bocelli greet you as you pass. I really must buy some tomorrow; it is true that I cannot use up three carriers of broccoli very fast [you have to buy the amounts a roadside seller chooses to advertise] but the music entices me and the man deserves my custom!

My "water carrier" - the kind neighbour who always brings me a 6-litre pack of mineral water when he visits the supermarket - greets me effusively this morning, and Simi too. He is a policeman and looks very handsome in his uniform, reader!

It's January 11th and at lunch time it was warm enough to eat outside at the Altro Posto. Nobody mixes a gin and tonic like they can over there!

Oh, yes, I got paid today, too: "So what's remarkable about that?" you may ask. "You do a job and so you would expect to get paid, wouldn't you? " Well, yes and no, for this is Sicily , reader and sometimes people wonder if they will ever be paid for their labours . It is not unusual to have to wait a year for your remuneration! Therefore I am more than a little relieved...

So once again, I add up the bilancia [balance] in my unmathematical head and reflect upon how lucky I am to be here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Tonight I thought I would tell you something about my new job: I would never write about it in such a way that students of mine who might stumble upon the blog could be embarrassed, so there is a lot about my wonderful new students that I would like to tell you but don’t feel able to. But all are charming and chivalrous, we are working hard and laughing a lot and, when I am teaching until 10 pm., which is the case most nights [hence the late posting] they make sure I do not make my way home alone [although I have no worries about walking around on my own at night here]. I feel valued and taken care of!

This is only my fourth week at the school and of course we have had the interruption of the festivities, but at last I have something which looks like a permanent timetable – or as permanent as it will get, given that this is not only Italy but Sicily! For the past two weeks, students have been coming or not coming, changing their hours, insisting on lots of homework but then, having contended for a week with a houseful of bambini and all the relatives, coming back and pleading charmingly, “I couldn’t to study, teacher” . I won’t lose out financially by the postponement of these hours as they have signed up for a certain number of hours and need to complete them; it’s just that you don’t know when they are going to do so! And even now that the festivities are over, some come for a two –hour lesson and have some reason why it should only last for half that time [“It is the birthday of my friend / I go to skiing with my girlfriend” or even “I see this girlfriend yesterday and today I have to see the other girlfriend” – all very Italian priorities which seem fine to me!] I am becoming Sicilian, reader, and they are such lovely people that my pazienza has not yet failed me!

As for their difficulties with English, apart from the usual ones of present continuous versus present simple tense [not so difficult for Italians as for speakers of languages with no continuous tenses], conditionals and articles or their omission, the two problems that everyone has are: pronunciation of –ed in a past participle [nearly always pronounced as a separate syllable here] and the “use” of use, as in : “Italians use to drive on the right.” So you have to explain that in English you can’t use “use” in that sense, ie., for a habit, and that you have to use the present simple, and then you have the nightmare of “used to” [where Italian uses the imperfect tense], “get used to” [where Italian uses a reflexive and “get” complicates everything] and “be used to” [ a bit simpler].

There are methodology difficulties too, as many adult students expect you to follow every activity in their coursebook in precisely the way it is laid out there and they look at you as if you are crazy when you deviate from it. [This reflects the teaching that they have had at school.] Well, for this teacher the coursebook is a guide and I like to liven things up a bit when I can see it is getting boring or the students are sagging. One of my favourite language games is “expanding text” [from a book called “Five Minute Activities” which has saved me many times, especially at that moment towards the end of a long lesson, when you have finished the main activity but there is not enough time to start the next one, or you know it will confuse everybody if you do]: You put a word in the centre of the board such as “go”. Then the students can add up to three words left or right of it, then left or right of the new text and so on, to see how long you can make the text. You alter punctuation as you go, or ask the students to suggest alterations if they are above elementary level; if your students are at a lower level, you can help them by adding “connectors” like “and/because/so” etc. They all seem to like this activity, once they get over the shock of not adhering to the coursebook all the time. Tonight I taught a newly married couple and just stopped myself from saying, “You could try this at home”. I must really be becoming an old crock, reader for I imagine a newly married couple can think of far more interesting games to play with each other than linguistic ones!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


A friend who knows I have got the [seasonal] blues called in today with this lovely bouquet of mimosa blossom and some citrus fruit from her garden. How could I continue to feel low looking at this wonderful display of colour? The scent of the freshly picked citrus fruit reaffirms my belief in miracles. Friendship is also a miracle, is it not, reader? And I so appreciate the friendship I have, across continents, through this blog.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Another happy result from following my new cookbook: veal escalopes rolled around a filling of pancetta, finely chopped garlic, parsley and basil, a few capers and some grated pecorino or similar cheese. These are then cooked in a sauce of a little minced pancetta, chopped onion, garlic, carrot , tomatoes and red wine. Oh, I nearly forgot - a little chilli can be added, either dried or I used my spray chilli seasoning, which I like more and more. Traditionally, the sauce can be used upon a first course of pasta, with only a little being reserved to accompany the bracioline as a main course.

Some time ago my lovely "foodie" commenter Ludlingtonian asked me about the difference between braciole and involtini: I replied that, strictly speaking, braciole can be made from meat with the bone in [which is not the case in this particular recipe] though most cooks I know here use the terms interchangeably. The -ina suffix [singular] on bracioline implies "small", but I don't think anyone worries much about the various terms any more!

Sunday, January 06, 2008


"The ultimate comfort food", says Nigella of mashed potatoes and I couldn't agree more. Most Italian sausages are, however , too strongly flavoured for me [though I am a lover of spiced food]. However, this fennel and red wine type is fine, and last night [in need of comfort] I cooked this simply in the oven, with bay leaves, onion and in more red wine that had been brought to the boil first, as suggested in my new Cucina del Sole cookbook. No, I didn't eat all that lot on my own!

There are few activities more pleasurable to me than cooking my way through a new tome!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, 1964, by Jacques Demy

Feeling very low and melancholy this evening. Some of you will know that there have been some upsetting issues over at "Blogpower" but apart from that my lovely grandad died at this time of year and after tomorrow I'll have to take the Xmas decorations down - a task which, in itself, is enough to plunge me into depression.

Besides, it's been one of those melancholy winter days in Sicily, when you imagine that if the temperature were just a degree or two lower, you would experience again that "chill " in the air which is in the UK right now. - So you see, wherever you are, you still sometimes miss your country!

Anyway, I haven't seen snow for three winters now and so I looked for this to remind myself of it. [Though I want to know why Deneuve doesn't slip in it like I would in stilettoes!] This scene always makes me cry buckets, and, as I am already crying, I decided I might as well make a good job of it! The clip also proves that nothing is ever the end of the world, though it often seems that way. Somehow we get up and get on with our lives.

I just wanted to think about snow tonight.

Friday, January 04, 2008


I had been eyeing the delicate work on this scarf / stole [I'm a very "scarfy" person] for days in one of the perfumery windows. Well, today I went in and asked the price, which was much as I thought it would be but a 12 euro discount because of the time of year and the fact that they know me convinced me it was meant to be mine [I take a lot of convincing, don't I?!] So now all I need is an outfit to go with it....

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Corriere has recently run a poll on the most popular Italian words of 2007. The winner is "La Casta", the title of a book on Italian politicians by two Corriere journalists: the caste [plural] of the title refer to the strongholds of political power throughout Italy and the book reveals that Italian politicians cost more and enjoy more perks than any in Europe: The Presidential HQ costs more to run than Buckingham Palace, the Italian Parliament building is the most expensive to maintain in Europe and, most scandalously, after only 30 months of service, Italian parliamentarians are guaranteed a good pension once they are 60! No wonder Italians are the most disillusioned people in Europe when it comes to those who run their country.
Other words I like which appear in the list are "bamboccioni", a term coined by the economy Minister for the over-30s who will not leave the parental nest [-one is a suffix denoting "big"] and, at number 10, predellino, referring to the car running board from which the irrepressible [you have to hand him that!] Berlusconi announced the setting up of a new party.
Are there any new coinages or "words of the year" where you are?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Sicilian families, it is reported, have the highest level of personal debt in Italy, due to their use of consumer credit and the "cessione del quinto" , a salary-backed loan which is available. Many families, it seems , are on the verge of bankruptcy. Yet you would not believe that this could be true were you to look around at the number of families who own their homes outright and even have second or third ones, and at the large number of stores stocking expensive items such as furniture that will not take credit cards. "Italy is a cash society", writes Tobias Jones and so it would appear - but nothing is ever as it appears in Italy.

Consumer associations are calling for urgent action to bring salaries and pensions in line with those in the other richer countries of the EU for, as I have mentioned before, the price of grain has more than doubled in a year. Perhaps the surest indication that something was wrong in 2007 was the "pasta strike" back in September - things must be serious for an Italian to even think of foregoing his or her daily bowl of the country's favourite food.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


.. of this Xmas season, at any rate: a pleasant lunch with Gina and family. As she asked me only last night, I didn't have the ingredients in to make another cake [about which I was secretly rather relieved] so I just took along a bottle of the ever-welcome Asti. We feasted upon: gnocchi pasta with ragù; veal scaloppine in Gina's sauce [the recipe for which I will persuade her to give me one day]; profiteroles from an excellent pasticceria; and lemon gel made by Gina's mother-in-law.

Gina makes me laugh: she is really quite adventurous and dreams of an extended visit to Australia once her sons are married, she is retired and has "soldi e tempo" [money and time]. The trouble is that her husband Carlo is quite content just where he is, thank you very much and has no intention of accompanying her on this trip: he is one of those Sicilians who sees no reason to go anywhere else [and I must admit I can understand his feelings on that] so today Gina was sounding me out to see if I would go with her. Sorry, Gina but I've had enough adventures of my own for now! Besides, I have no interest in going somewhere where they don't "speak foreign"!


Sicilians, as I've mentioned before, never even come to visit you for five minutes without bringing a gift and it was with great delight that I received, on Sunday, this carob tree from Linda and Gino. It is from the Cava D'Ispica so is very special indeed and, sitting as it now is on my balcony [it looks quite happy there] it is my ray of hope for the New Year. [I have written about carob trees here. ]


As always, celebrations bring with them a toll: last night there was one death and 473 people were injured, mostly by fireworks. The tragic death occurred in the napoletano region, where a 30-year-old man, sitting at his dining table playing cards just before midnight, was hit by a stray bullet from a pistol fired, presumably into the air, in celebration. This is the highest toll since the New Year of 2001, when four people were killed and over 1000 injured.

In an effort to combat drunken driving, Italy has brought in a law forbidding the sale of alcoholic drinks in clubs, bars and restaurants after 2 am. It is an anomaly that street traders can go on selling them as before. Bar and restaurant owners had been begging the government to relax this law at least for New Year's Eve and, according to the TV news, although this did not happen, no checks were carried out last night. - A very Italian compromise for one night in the face of reality or foolhardiness? What do you think?


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