Friday, February 29, 2008


You have probably read this story on your own news networks, but, in case you haven't, I do want to say that, like everyone in Italy, I have been shocked and upset by it this week: The bodies of two brothers who had been missing since June 2006 were found in the disused rainwater cistern of an abandoned building in Gravina [Puglia] on Monday. It was first thought that the boys, aged 13 and 11 , had been thrown into the well, but tonight it is suspected that they may have fallen from the second floor of the building. In either case, they died a horrible death from cold and hunger and one cannot imagine what they went through, or the pain that their mother is enduring now.

Italians, I suspect because of their faith, are deeply saddened though philosophical about such events. I, on the other hand, would wish for someone to explain to me why, if there is a loving god, he allows them to happen. And yes, I am aware that children die terrible deaths all over the world every minute, often due to western policy. But as Camus asked, "Mais qu'est-ce que cent millions de morts?" meaning that the scale becomes so great in war, plague or natural disaster that our minds cease being able to envisage it, whereas the thought of what happened to those two little souls closer to home haunts me hourly.


A delightful plate of grilled vegetables with crudo for lunch at the Altro Posto today.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


1. Found self-raising flour in one of the supermarkets - just in time to make Welshcakes for Saturday! [Of course I would have improvised but it's nice, sometimes, not to have to!]

2. Arrived at Raffaele the hairdresser's just 40 minutes before I was due at work this morning [my fault entirely as I had overslept, but I can't face a class, much less the world in general, without freshly styled hair]: "Can you do it immediately?" I asked, for you don't make appointments here; well, you can, but no one will stick to the time, so you might as well not bother! "Of course", said he and I allowed myself to be led to the basins still feeling somewhat dubious, for "immediately" does not have the same connotation in Italy as in the UK! However, he did start on my hair "immediately"; the only trouble is, he has the same problem as the butcher, namely that he cannot talk without gesticulating, so every time he spoke to me or one of his assistants, both hairdryer and brush were laid aside! I was so wanting to yell, "Stop bloody talking - please!" but refrained. I needn't have worried * for I was servita and out with a good 7 minutes to spare.

3. The daytime temperature has, again, been equivalent to what you would expect on a normal summer's day in Britain, but it plummeted this evening. The gas in the bombola had run out at work, so I was shivering. Then my last student of the day appeared, took one look at me and asked, "Would you like my jacket, teacher?" Reader, I fell in love with Italians all over again!
* FCE students of mine who are reading, please note: "I needn't have worried" = " It was not necessary but I worried". "I didn't need to worry" = "It was not necessary" [and maybe I worried or maybe I did not.]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


1. Simi went wild with joy [because it means she can have a good bark and an extra walk when we go down to sign for the delivery] when we heard the chug-chug-chug of the water lorry in the street at 08.30. "It can't be for us already!" I exclaimed, but - wonders never cease - it was. [I'd remembered to order a tankful for this week on Friday but hadn't been hopeful of an early delivery.]
2. "Mr Orangeblossom", the carpenter, also turned up this morning, to check a measurement. I might even get the work done soon, reader - "soon" in Sicily meaning anything from next week to in three months' time - pazienza.
3. By the time I went to work this afternoon the outdoor temperature was 20 C., but I still feel cold indoors! At work they put the bombola heater on for me, so I was comfortable but my students, most of whom are men [do men really always feel warmer than women?] were wilting! I just can't teach huddled up in a jacket and I can't do anything at all when I am cold!
4. Spring handbags are appearing in the shop windows and there is much shimmery pale pink about along with much yellow.
5. A "Mr Gorgeous, mark 3" has appeared at the Altro Posto, ladies. This one is elegantissimo in the way that only an Italian male can be. I spent the entire lunchtime gazing at the superb quality of his socks!

Monday, February 25, 2008


When I popped over to Britain in October 2006, mainly for the Cheltenham Literature Festival , I attended a talk by Barry Unsworth about his historical novel set in Sicily, The Ruby in her Navel. I was fascinated by what he had to say, as he spoke of a time in twelfth-century Palermo when Christians, Muslims and Jews lived in harmony and appreciated each other’s skills.
Thurstan, a young Norman at the court of King Roger 11, where Muslims are entrusted with very high office, is the main character. He is the Purveyor of Pleasures and Shows but works for the Diwan of Control, or Financial Department. His ambition is to become a knight. In love with his childhood sweetheart, who has reappeared in his life, our would-be knight is also drawn to the exotic dancer, Nesrin, whom he brings to the court along with her troupe.

The vibrant atmosphere of Palermo in this era is well evoked and we are taken on a journey that encompasses not only daily life under the Norman king, but the Royal Chapel during the crafting of its magnificent mosaics, the silk workshop of the tiraz and the sumptuous surroundings and lifestyle of the royal court as they hunt at Favara [Agrigento]. We are also provided with an insight as to the character of Roger himself and one of the best descriptions of how he may have looked that I have ever read.

Yet times were already changing in Palermo and a sort of Christian fundamentalism sets in: thus Thurstan finds himself caught up in an episode of betrayal that leads to tragedy and there is an ingenious plot twist at the end of this tale.

I recommend this book to all who are interested in the history of Sicily for, as Unsworth has said, the story certainly has resonances for our time.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Whilst looking for a present to send to the UK yesterday, I was shown these beautiful pieces of sfilato, Sicilian drawn thread embroidery. I know that the backgrounds they are displayed upon do not do much for them; nevertheless I think the work is beautiful and wanted to show it to you.
Sfilato embroidery has been traditional in Sicily since the end of the fourteenth century and today you can find many examples in Ragusa. The woman who carry out this intricate work are, of course, figurative descendants of the Arab workers of the tiraz [royal workshop] in Palermo.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Muppet Show: I Enjoy Being a Girl

This is for James [youtube won't let me embed it] - because it just MAY be the mystery man's birthday today. It's also for all you other men out there who really love women.
- From a feminine feminist xxxx

Patrizio Buanne - Io Che Non Vivo

It's Patrizio time! Buona domenica a tutti!


During the past week or so I have discovered cavalcatore, a hard, unsalty cheese with a unique flavour somewhere between that of pecorino and that of gran padano. Cavalcatore comes either peppered or not and, being a "spicy" sort of person, I bought the peppered version this morning. It marries well with these incredibly sweet pomodorini datterini, which I just can't stop eating!


There weren't many people in there this morning so, silly me, I thought that as I had 15 minutes or so before meeting someone, I'd be able to get a package posted. 14 minutes later the same person was still being served at the prodotti postali counter so I gave up. When I got back, an hour later, I noted from the display board that only 8 customers had been attended to in the interim, then reflected that actually this was quite quick by Sicilian standards! Whilst I resignedly took another ticket and a seat, Mr-Sparkly-Eyes-clerk along at the post office accounts desk pinged his computer so that number 84 came up on the board. No one having appeared at his counter after about 30 seconds, he pinged again and ticket holder 85 strolled up. All of a sudden there was a great commotion and a shout of "Aspettti!" ["Wait!"] as the holder of ticket 84, an old chap who had dozed off [and who could blame him?] regained consciousness, rushed up to the counter faster than an Olympic athlete and claimed the territory. But instead of just getting on with his business, he then turned round, shook hands with number 85 and proceeded to give him a 10-minute explanation of why he had nearly missed his turn! Mr Sparkly-Eyes looked on in amusement as, indeed, did everybody else.

Just as it was my turn at the prodotti postali, in came one of the form-seeker queue-jumpers who irritate me so much, and as today I had not been quite as sprightly as Mr-ticket-84 who must have been about 90, off went the clerk to obtain the forms for this female. Then blow me down, as soon as I opened my mouth to utter my request, up popped 84 himself at "my" counter, this time telling the clerk he wanted "Solo un'informazione " ["just some information"]. Why on earth couldn't he have asked Mr-Sparkly?! It turned out he needed help filling in some complicated form he had so another 5 minutes passed during which I used all my willpower to resist stamping my feet before the clerk turned back to me.

But I got my parcel posted within 20 minutes, I'd had my morning's entertainment and now I'm telling you about it, so why am I grumbling ?! Pazienza.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I wonder about her today as I do every year on or around my birthday: I am speaking of my biological mother, who made the greatest sacrifice any woman could make. It seems incredible today but she tried to keep me for three months and the parting must have caused her unimaginable pain.

I have the adoption documents in front of me as I write and I quote verbatim from one of them:

1st May 1950
“The mother of this baby wishes for her to be adopted as she cannot afford to keep her. She has one child already, a girl aged 2, and she and this elder child live with her mother, a widow, who does occasional domestic work to support herself.

The father of Patricia is an American [not coloured – mother says he has blond hair]; little is known about him. He is thought to live in Miami, Florida and is a Captain in the Regular American Airforce.

The mother has no brothers or sisters to help in the financial running of the home.”

Underneath this statement someone has typed in capitals, in a different colour: 


What a cruel world! Sociologically, the most interesting thing about these documents is the fact that “fair hair, blue eyes” is repeated throughout them, with reference to the father and to me, for who would give a toss these days?

The documents contain happier sections, one of them being this, from the Church of England Adoption Society on 4th December 1950:

“Dear Mr and Mrs Eggleton,
I was delighted to receive your telephone communication and to know that your meeting with baby Patricia was such a very happy one and that she is now in your care. I am so glad to know that she was so good on the journey home and that she is settling down very contentedly.”

And later:

“I was very pleased indeed to receive your letter and to have such very good news of your baby daughter. I can well imagine how much Patricia must already mean to both you and your wife , and I am more than delighted to know that she makes your happiness complete.”

Even now, that last extract brings tears to my eyes, for it shows how very much my parents [by which I mean the two wonderful people who brought me up] wanted a child. In fact, so impressed was the Adoption Society’s officer by the fact that my father was as keen as my mother to adopt that she actually bumped them up the list and here is the proof:

29th November 1950
“Dear Mr and Mrs Eggleton,
I was very pleased to be able to give you the good news that your application had been approved by the Committee. I was intending to write to you today to let you know that your name had been placed on the waiting list until a suitable child becomes available for adoption, but it occurs to me that you might like to have the opportunity of knowing a baby called Patricia although she is rather a long way from Bristol…….”

It seems to me that a lot of nonsense is talked nowadays about the supposed bond with the “natural” parents, to the extent that I have read suggestions that adopted children should have links with them from early on: I can see this idea bringing nothing but heartbreak and confusion for all involved. The strict regulations of the 1950s stated that the natural mother would never be able to have news of the child again and this was, indeed, harsh, but it is easy to forget that those who made these rulings did so for what they thought was the good of the child. If an adoptee or natural mother wish to trace each other later in life then that is up to them and I can understand the reasons other than emotional ones that might lead them to do so [simple curiosity, needing to know medical history, etc.] But such reunions are not always happy and I do not believe that an adoptee has the “right” to suddenly appear and disrupt a life that has been partially repaired. So no, I have never tried to find her, although my parents would have helped me if I had wanted to. This would have broken their hearts and I just couldn’t do it to them; then later on I decided that such sadness as my natural mother went through in 1950 was best not stirred up again. The fact that I have a half –sister somewhere is something I am curious about but one thing that an adopted child learns early on is that blood is not necessarily thicker than water. We become what we are largely through our environment.

I cannot remember a time when I did not know about the adoption: as a child, it was told to me as a story and I loved it! My “real” parents weren’t mentioned in this tale and I wasn’t bothered about them: I was more interested in the fact that I was “special”, that I had gone beamingly and willingly into my father’s arms that day at the orphanage whilst I summed my mother up a bit before surrendering myself to her, and that I had been a good girl on the drive to Bristol in the snow. And I was so happy, so warm , so loved that I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else anyway. But, being a precocious child and reading everything I could get my hands on, including the women’s magazines from our shop, I soon put two and two together and when I asked about my biological parents I was told the truth. So the documents were available to me from an early age, too.

What, then, do I wonder about on my birthday? How my biological mother feels [she would be 87 if alive ] or felt on that day, of course, whether she loved her airman and whether he had any feeling whatsoever for her. He probably knew nothing about me and she perhaps didn’t feel she could tell him. He was back in the USA by the time I appeared and she had no address for him. And I suppose any woman of my generation would ponder upon what would have happened had she had the option of abortion. Regular readers will know that I am ambivalent on the subject and, as I have never been in the position of having to have one I probably shouldn’t pontificate about it. What I do know is that there have always been abortionists – what else were witches? – and you only have to watch Vera Drake to realise that desperate women will resort to desperate measures. It is a subject much on the agenda in Italy at the moment and no woman, having made such a difficult decision, should have to go through this as well. Would my natural mother have done it? Would she have known more or less pain if she had? That I shall never know. But if I have a hope for her it is that the ensuing seasons of her life were kinder to her than that cold, unforgiving winter of 1950 and if I could say anything to her it would be, “Thank you”.

There I am above with my mum, the one who changed the nappies, bought the first sanitary towels, wrapped me in her arms as I sobbed about boys and later men and endured my taunts [for I was no angel] and moods for 43 years. She is pointing at the camera but I like to think she is pointing at life.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008


... of which I approve: these ricotta-filled sigarette at the Altro Posto today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I have pinched this from Kyles's beautiful blog. [Do go and take a look.] If any of my FCE or CAE students are reading, do try the game for it will help your English while you help people!

Monday, February 18, 2008


Thanks to all who have expressed their concern regarding the situation described in the previous post. The water lorry arrived just as I was leaving for work so Simi had her barking fun, I have had a shower, the heating is functioning and I have calmed down.

Earlier I had called the landlord, who is also a plumber, to ask if the heating wasn't working because of the lack of water. [I'd tried to increase the pressure but the handle thing remained resolutely stuck.] He wasn't sure but said I could check by turning off the boiler and relighting it, a thought which terrified me - this is gas in Sicily we are dealing with, remember! I did the pathetic woman bit again, for I truly was one at that point and, to be fair, he came straight round but couldn't ascertain the cause either. He told me to retry when the water came back on and call him to let him know, even if it was very late. Mercifully, the pressure handle moved upwards this time and the thermostat started working again.

I've never felt so cold in Sicily as I did last night, when the temperature dropped to - 1C, and tonight seems much the same. I know that's not terribly cold by UK standards but it's cold enough in a dwelling with a tiled floor and no heating would have finished me off! The local papers are full of articles about how Sicily is "freezing" but there is absolutely nothing about why the water deliveries were interrupted in the first place - pazienza.
There could be one good outcome following all this hassle, though, as, upon her return from her country house, the lady upstairs kindly dropped off a bidone of water for me and we had a coffee and a good chat. I may have made a friend!


It's touch and go as to whether Simi has her wish fulfilled and gets to bark at the water lorry today: we ran out yesterday afternoon and of course, there was nothing I could do about it then. I had phoned to order a refill on Friday but was told they were fermi [blocked / not able to work] and the employee asked me to call again this morning. I did and this time he said that they could do nothing today but would bring a load "as soon as possible". I dreaded to imagine when that might be so went to see the lady upstairs who has friends in the town hall; she phoned one of these who informed her that the service had been "suspended" but he would do what he could. He didn't sound very hopeful to me. I suggested we order a tankful from a private water carrier [which would only cost us about €5 each] but she seemed reluctant. [She has a house in the country where she can go for a bath / shower but I haven't!!]

After discussing the matter on the phone with a friend I decided to go over to the Water Office: they were almost apologetic as they explained that, although the "service" has been functioning again as of this morning, they have about 100 other deliveries to make before they can get around to ours , which is on their list for Wednesday or Thursday! I don't know what they expect people to do in the meantime. Apparently there are palazzi in this zone which have already been without water for 4 days. All right, everybody has bidoni [large plastic containers ] of water for these emergencies but surely few people have enough to tide them over for that long? [I have already used up mine.] The assumption must surely be that everybody has another house or relatives who can come to the rescue.

Quite apart from hygienic considerations, I am so arthritic that I cannot move until I've had a hot bath or shower so I came back determined to phone a private water carrier without delay, with or without the agreement of the other tenants and even if I had to pay for the whole lot myself. However, the capo condomnio [who should be taking responsibility for the water supply anyway] was, for once, at home by then and she has phoned the water carrier who usually delivers to us [under contract to the comune.] So water is promised for 2.30 pm. [I have to be at work by 3.]

And now the bloody heating won't work!

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Hi, folks! It's Simi here! I bet you thought I'd forgotten all my fans, didn't you?!

Well, some of you may remember that, just like the Queen , I have two birthdays and this is my "official" one, the anniversay of the day I came to live with my mummy! This time she said I could have this fashionable raincoat for the spring, only I don't like putting my back paws through the openings, so she gave up in the end! Still, I think I look molto elegante in it, don't you? [See how my Italian is coming on again!]

Mummy has told me gently about my cataracts and all I can say to that is "phooey" [and "poohey" as well, while we're at it!] I know my mummy will look after me and a little thing like that is not going to stop me enjoying my favourite occupation - barking at the water lorry! [That's when I'm not taking my mummy for a walk, of course.]

I must say I'm a very busy dog these days: I have to look after our housey when she's over at that workie-kennel, then I have to pull her hair, not just sit on it, to make her get up in the mornings and of course there are still the neighbour's dogs to be watched all day! I have a lot of new aunties and uncles to climb on now that we know more people and I have to remember to bark whenever we pass that post office kennel, just to make sure they are aware that they have me to deal with if they upset my mummy!

She has just told me we have run out of tap water again so I have to go to get my "duty sleep", for - oh, joy, oh, rapture - that means the water lorry may come tomorrow and I need to be in fine voice! [I can't think why mummy always seems angry when she tells me about the water supply. Doesn't she like greeting the waterman with me?! Sometimes there's no figuring out these humans!]

Have a good serata, fans!


Simi XXX


I am not a fan of the olive paste that comes in tubes, but the type we can get here in jars, from delis, is sublime and made to traditional methods. So I looked around for a recipe in which I could use up a fair quantity of it, and came across one in an old Good Housekeeping book of mine: it contains chicken joints, the paste, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts [this time bought marinated in a pack though we can also buy frozen ones here] green pepper strips, shallots and I just had to add a dollop of 'strattu [tomato paste]. It turned out much better than I expected!


Another "this and that" post:

I hi-jacked a carpenter yesterday, reader: I have been waiting for this particular carpenter to return to finish off some jobs for two and a half years [I think carpenters and builders must be the same the world over] so when I saw him about to enter the post office yesterday, I quickly positioned myself between him and the door. He quite sweetly agreed to come to the flat and measure up before doing his post office errand, so I am hopeful of having the work finished by the summer ! I have promised myself that I will hold on to my pazienza, for at least when he does turn up he will work well at a non-exorbitant cost. Besides, how could one forego a visit from a carpenter whose name translates as "Mr Orange blossom"?

Yesterday I also discovered that the best time to visit the butchery counter at my nearest supermarket on a Saturday is just before 1pm. Everyone had gone home for the sacred pranzo by this time - everyone, that is, except the butcher's mates, who kept passing to wish him a buona domenica and discuss the state of the world. This would be OK if the butcher could talk without gesticulating, which, of course, he can't, so it is hands off the meat, knives swinging somewhat dangerously in the air and much uttering of "Ma ..." [="but" used as an expression of exasperation when the talk turns political]. I keep my pazienza here , too, because he does have a delightful smile! [If you have ever watched Italians buy their weekend meat, you will know that it is a very long process, for they each buy so many different types, and have to have their favourite type of salsciccia as well, or domenica would not be domenica.]

Talking of food, this week the top models at Milan Fashion Week were being photographed cooking in an effort to combat the growing popularity of anorexia as a lifestyle "choice". I am not sure it is a "choice" given the images projected at young and even older women, for that matter, but at least it was an original idea and an attempt to do something, I thought.

Casablanca, with 12.6% of the votes is winning in the poll for best romantic film that I mentioned last week. My own choice, The Bridges of Madison County, is second with 11.7%. The poll appears to be still open.

The dishy Prince Emanuele Filiberto of Savoia has, I read, apologised for his family's and his own outrageous attempts to win compensation from the Italian government for the exile imposed upon them. Now it seems the Prince is considering entering the political arena. I have two things to say to that: dynasties, in countries which have had the sense to oust them, are not looked upon kindly; and royalty [including the "ex" kind] should stay out of politics!

I will end this post as I began it, on a domestic issue: Sunday night and the bloody water has run out again - aaarrgh!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Man Without Love ~ Patrizio Buanne

It's Saturday evening so take it away, Patrizio! Stunning scenery in this clip and I'll be on the next flight to Roma to share your espresso and comfort you!

Friday, February 15, 2008


Just a few thoughts and observations for you tonight:

I never thought I would say this but I feel some empathy for Fabio Capello, who yesterday took a break in Sicily [Pantelleria] - for one day! It seems he just wanted to stroll along to the bar, read a newspaper there in leisurely, Italian fashion and enjoy some sunshine. [It's a good thing he didn't choose today as it has been rainy and cold!] My friend the Winchester Whisperer reminds us of the possible status of that gentleman's efforts to master the English language.

Talking of bars, you can see all of life if you sit in the Altro Posto for long enough at lunchtime: the "regulars" are nearly always there by 12.45, most of these being business folk who cannot get home for lunch but still want their piatto di pasta. It does amuse me to watch them transfer from their comfortable chairs at their tables to take the parting espresso seated on barstools and I often wonder why; perhaps they are afraid to get too comfortable, in case they won't want to move? Then along comes the old chap who just sits awhile outside, or inside on a day like this. No one moves him along or is unkind to him. Just after 1.30pm the bank managers all arrive. I think you can always pick them out, in any culture! And finally, we witness the entrance of the madonne: beautiful, busy young women whose features you would recognise wherever you come from as these have adorned Italian art down the centuries. I like observing what they are wearing and taking fashion notes. But I haven't seen Mr Gorgeous for ages, ladies!

This week it has been reported that the price of bread and pasta could go up by as much as 12% by December and imports are mostly blamed for this. Imports in general are becoming a worry as, in this wonderful country where every foodstuff anyone could wish for is cultivated or produced, tins of Chinese tomatoes are sometimes found on sale!

Tonight the lights of the Colosseo, Fontana di Trevi and other tourist attractions in Rome were switched off for half an hour to mark the anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol, whilst in Florence tonight all are dining by candlelight [which does not seem a bad idea to me every night of the year!] I gather that the lights of the Tour Eiffel were also switched off for a period. What do you think? - A meaningless gesture but a gesture nonetheless or total nonsense? Was the occasion marked where you are?

Buona notte from Sicily.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


OK, I'll admit it now: today is my birthday! I have been given the evening off by my new boss [I did not request it] who cancelled tonight's class and told me to "Go home and enjoy yourself". On this occasion I am happy to fall in with this Italian sense of priorities!

I was lucky enough to be invited to a celebratory lunch with Linda, Gino, Chiara and some French friends of theirs and here is what was on the menu: antipasti of focacce with aita [chard], olives and marinated cherry tomatoes; Linda's fabulous asparagus risotto; breast of turkey [turkey is popular here all year round but the whole bird is never roasted] stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, celery and chopped capers; cheeses and these beautifully perfumed clementines gathered at the Cava this very morning; a crème caramel made by one of the French ladies and finally we relaxed with a selection of Chiara's liqueurs and coffee.

Don't these flowers from Linda, Gino and Chiara look lovely in my new vase? As I was carrying them up the road one of my male neighbours came across and asked if it was my birthday. "As a matter of fact, it is", I replied and I found myself once again enthusiastically embraced , reader. I do love Italians!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


... that the British are completely mad:

1. Announce that you don’t have a TV in the kitchen.
2. Try explaining “The Archers”! As soon as you mention that it is a radio and not a TV programme your audience will gaze at you with incredulity, for how could anyone follow a radio programme, much less be addicted to it?!
3. Remind them that we drive on the left.
4. Tell them that not all houses have a utility room or two bathrooms in Britain and that the washing machine lives, more often than not, in the kitchen.
5. Admit that you iron as little as possible.
6. Tell them that we finish Xmas lunch long before 5pm!
7. Explain that in Britain, at formal dinner parties, cheese is eaten after dessert. Add that we then have coffee, possibly accompanied by mint chocolates, and they will all run to the loo to retch!
8. Inform a class that the correct response to “How do you do?” is “How do you do?”
9. Suggest that they have a lesson during the long lunch break rather than late in the evening.
10. If you really want them rolling in the aisles, use a text about hobbies in a certain well-known English language exam preparation book: it mentions “train-spotting” as a strange hobby and the thought of people doing this in the midst of a British winter makes my dear students weep with laughter!

Monday, February 11, 2008


Last night I experimented with this Spanish dish of peppers stuffed with minced lamb, rice, garlic, onion and cinnamon. As the recipe is from one of my Italian language cookery books and contains cinnamon as well as pane grattugiato, I think it can qualify as Sicilian, too! I know they don't look perfect but they don't in the picture in the book, either.

I served the peppers with a salad of blood oranges, though I am not very good at cutting the oranges thinly across as the Sicilians do. [Mine tend to segment automatically!] I have often been served orange salad in Sicily, with or without the addition of onions or olives - usually the oranges are simply sprinkled with the best olive oil - and it makes a fine contorno or clears the palate between courses. But in this book it is suggested that the peel can be used as well, infused in water with a few pink peppercorns and chilled, then strained. [I only rememberered to add it, as a garnish, at the last minute!] This idea seems akin to the preserved lemons [of which only the skin is used] so abundantly used in Middle Eastern cookery so I'm wondering if it was the Arabs who brought this idea to Sicily.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Corriere della Sera has a San Valentino poll for the best romantic film. Of those listed, I think I'd go for the Bridges of Madison County as that part where Streep actually has her hand on the car door handle as she fights the temptation to just run into her lover's truck in the rain tears at my heartstrings every time! - Definitely a two-boxes-of-tissues occasion, watching that. Casablanca would be second for me. They truly don't make them like that any more!

I notice that Gone with the Wind is on the list but I have two problems with this still great film: one is the stereotyping of the black characters and the other - and I say this as a woman who has spent a lifetime falling for hopeless men - is that even I cannot understand why Scarlett wastes so much time and emotion on dopey Ashley Wilkes. Who'd want him, anyway? I just can't bear the scenes about Bonnie's death and the episode I like best in both the film and the book is the one in which Scarlett has her mother's velvet curtains made into an outfit when she goes to ask Rhett for money. Many times, if I've been down on my luck and needing to look good for a man [not that I've ever asked one for money, I hasten to add!] I have reminded myself of Scarlett and those curtains: there's always a way!

Two films which I think should be listed are An Affair to Remember and the forgotten Great Man's Lady [that one is a three-boxes job!] I would take off Love Story simply because of that awful line about love meaning "never having to say you're sorry". In my experience, it involves having to say just that most of the time!

What is your favourite romantic film?


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008


After a glorious day of sunshine yesterday - interrupted briefly by an afternoon storm - the temperature "plummeted" to 9C this morning. This is cold for the ever-entertaining Sicilians, who made high drama out of it by walking aound clutching their scarves to their mouths as you would on the most miserable, freezing, foggy morning in Britain. I wouldn't mind betting, though, that 75% of them arrived home and decided not to switch on the heating! It does not even occur to the owners of some bars and restaurants that their customers might welcome some warmth on such a day and that is why I eschew most of these establishments during the winter.

But at my beloved Altro Posto the heating is on and there is cosciotto di pollo arrosto [only it is cooked on the hob rather than roasted] with patate al forno on the menu. For dessert I asked them to concoct something especially pretty as I needed a blog photo and the above is what they came up with. Who could grumble at that?
Some time ago I wrote on this blog that Italians tend to stand much closer to you than British people do but it is a long time since I have even noticed this. However, the other day in the post office a woman stood so near me that had she decided to sit she would have been on my lap and I automatically held my handbag more tightly; she was, of course, just going about her business and was completely unaware of my reaction. And today at the Altro Posto a man stood only about five inches from me to watch the TV, which made me feel uncomfortable. You would think someone would sense the unease in one so physically close and the fact that they do not is what I find strangest of all. Perhaps I am just feeling tetchy because of the cold.
I am pleased to report that I have seen fewer real fur coats this winter.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


It's the middle of the afternoon and I need a gin and tonic for the shock, reader - efficient service in the Post Office! On Monday, I came home to find, in my little letterbox, a card informing me that the postman had been unable to deliver a parcel from the USA. These cards used to state that you had to make your way down to the branch in via San Giuliano - not far away but awkward if you are busy - but this one said that I could ring to inform them whether I wanted to do this, rearrange a delivery time, or, after 3 days, have the parcel brought up to the main Post Office in this street and collect it from there. I phoned yesterday to request the latter option and the lady who answered knew exactly who I was without my tellling her [I don't suppose they get many deliveries from the US!] and assured me that the parcel would be at this post office by 11 am today. Just after 12, I was passing and there didn't seem to be many people waiting so I decided to try my luck: the holder of postal counter ticket 56 was being served and I had number 58. "This is looking too good to be true", thought I. These days I am "pushier" , reader and as soon as I know mine is the next number I rush up to the counter before it shows on the display, in order to get in before one of those queue-jumping seekers of information or forms that drive me barmy and cause me to lose my pazienza. Lo and behold, not only had the parcel been transferred as promised, but the clerk located it immediately and, as I had remembered to take a documento, it was literally rubber- stamped [nothing can be issued anywhere here without noisy rubber-stamping - I think it cheers up the employees' day] and handed over in no time.

And what was in the parcel? This beautiful Fenton vase, a combined Christmas and birthday present from a friend I have made indirectly through this blog. Isn't blogging a wonderful thing?

The other day Crushed was asking how the water supply is during the summer. This should give those of you who have not previously read the whole saga an idea!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Once again, it is the way fresh fruit is presented here that has made my day. I have not seen pineapple cut quite like this anywhere else. [And again, they will do this for you in the simplest bar.]

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Would you like to learn Italian? Do you also dream of holidaying on a beautiful, exotic island? If so, why not take an Italian course in sunny Sicily? The English International School in Modica [established since 2003] can offer you an Italian course tailored to your needs, at a time of year that is convenient for you. The School can also arrange your accommodation and help organise your excursions. The splendid, historic town of Modica is an ideal base from which to visit elegant Scicli, Baroque Ragusa, evocative Noto and ancient Syracuse. The delights of Modican chocolate also await you and the beaches are only a 15-minute drive from the town!

Whether you are a complete beginner, have some knowledge of Italian and would like to improve it or are looking for a business or advanced course, the English International School in Modica can provide the right tuition for you. And, using your Italian in real situations when you meet the helpful and friendly locals, you will soon feel confident!

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The English International School looks forward to welcoming you to Modica.

Monday, February 04, 2008


= "This and that":

1. In order to survive: I paid my annual TV licence fee last week and those of you who have not followed the blog from the beginning may be surprised to learn that the bill is sent out by the Agenzia Entrate [tax office]. In Italy as soon as you have your residenza - permission to reside in a town – it is assumed that you cannot live without a television! [ You can’t get the residenza without the Carta CEE, if you are an EU citizen, ie., permission to remain in the country which you are not supposed to need, or permesso di soggiorno if you are not, and you can’t obtain either of these without your codice fiscale, equivalent to a UK National Insurance number, which is issued by the Agenzia Entrate, who might tell you that they cannot issue it because you don’t yet have the residenza!]

2. Another water saga: The condominio ran out of water yesterday morning. I’d forgotten to order a lorry-load on Thursday so phoned on Friday morning and asked if it would be at all possible to deliver on Saturday. I did not speak to the usual helpful employee and the reply was a stern, “Not before Monday or Tuesday”. But there is a new tenant upstairs and she tells me she has connections with the politici, so I gladly passed on the phone number for water requests to her. About 10 minutes later, just as I was leaving the building to go out for lunch, I heard the welcome sound of the camion trundling up the street. [I'm sure a Sicilian proverb would be appropriate here but I can't think which one it is!]

3. "The working-day world": [I just looked that up, as I’d always thought the quote was “workaday” and had forgotten it is from As You Like It, which you will all know.] Work is tiring but satisfying and my new students are charming. But a timetable?! Forget it, reader, for it changes hourly: some book a 2-hour or 90-minute lesson but then give up after an hour as they are tired; others have priorities such as the latest girlfriend or Carnevale celebrations this week; and then others arrive out of nowhere wanting a one-off lesson because they have an exam or have to give a business presentation in English the next day! It is all unpredictable and interesting and I am beginning to like it that way. By this time of evening , though, I am stanca morta [dead tired] so forgive me if my blog visiting is a little erratic at the moment. [And yes, I do have my new boss’s permission to post on this!]

Sunday, February 03, 2008


An unexpected invitation to a "Carnival" lunch at Chiara's today and these are some of the delights which she served: first of all you can see her mother's freshly made spinach and ricotta ravioli and then Modican "sweet" ravioli [containing ricotta and honey] waiting to be cooked; next the finished versions of both; and a main dish of meltingly tender pork cooked with sausage. For dessert there was fresh fruit and panettone, which made it seem like Christmas all over again!


I've mentioned the term bamboccioni [denoting the young people in Italy who will not leave the parental nest even when they are well into their thirties] before: it is a word that has been much in the news again during the past week, as, according to Isae [ Istituto di Studi e Analisi Economica] 71.9% of Italians aged 20 - 30 continue to live with their parents, the highest figure in Europe. [Spain is next with 71.2 % remaining at home.] Unemployment among this age group is given as the main reason and it was also previously thought that those with a higher level of education were more likely to live at home. However, the UK has the most graduates in this age group [41.3%] and is also the country with the highest number living "independently".

Earlier I came across an article in an Italian magazine suggesting that the "biggest" bamboccione of them all is none other than our own beloved heir to the throne, with his mother still controlling his finances and being able to stick her nose into his marital affairs. - "Only fit to be king of the bamboccioni" sneers the article, which has cheered me up no end.


I thought I'd try a different way of making bracioline [filled meat rolls, in this case, veal] last night and was pleased with the result: the veal scaloppine are lined with prosciutto crudo and filled with orange segments. They are then dipped in a mixture of egg and milk and rolled in pane grattuggiato [very fine, fresh breadcrumbs which we can buy]. They are cooked on the hob and served in a sauce containing onion, white wine, fresh orange juice, grated orange rind and, of course, seasoning. The sauce is thickened with a little cornflour. The blood oranges available at the moment are perfect for this recipe. In Britain I used to find recipes like this, involving dipping and coating, rather messy to prepare but this is not the case here, with the availability of pane grattuggiato. I ran out of oranges with which to garnish the dish, so used clementine and lemon slices.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


I therefore feel immense empathy for these clementines.


State pensions are paid out in Italy, by alphabetical order of surname, during the first few days of each month. So that dreaded building, the Post Office, is even more crowded and chaotic than usual during this period. Thus it was that, returning from our walk yesterday morning, Simi and I encountered a fine Italian commotion in our narrow “post office” street: The traffic jam had been caused by an elderly gentleman who, having dispatched his wife into the post office to do the waiting, saw no reason whatsoever why he should not park across the entrance to the little street. No vehicle could exit or enter the street meanwhile, and the water lorry, trying to turn into it, had blocked the traffic on the main road, so much beeping, gesticulating and shouting was going on. Add to this the usual group of interested bystanders and you probably get the picture, reader. There being no pavement at the entrance to the street, Simi and I could only “stand and stare” but then she decided to take the matter into her own paws and began barking loudly in accompaniment to the “music” of the car horns. Throughout all this activity, our elderly signore sat dreaming in his car, totally oblivious to the madness around him. At last, the lady in the fourth car in the queue waiting to get out onto the main road left her vehicle, tapped on our pensioner’s car window and patiently suggested to him that he should park in a space that had become vacant behind him. Simi was really enjoying herself by then and the [rather impatient, for a Sicilian] young man in the first car actually stopped “mamma-mia-ing” for a moment to laugh with her and ask, “Che c’è?” [= “What’s up?"] “I rather think she’s taking your side”, I replied.

Within another minute all was unblocked, the traffic was moving again and we continued on our way, Simi walking proudly with her head held high, as she was convinced that it was she who had sorted out the Sicilian drivers [and of course she had!]
I noticed yesterday lunchtime that there is a petition going the rounds lamenting the fact that there are so few parking spaces near this particular post office. I have not signed as I just cannot get over the fact that people expect to drive to a central post office in the first place!

Further note on the Post Office: A private student whom I have just taught told me that yesterday she received, by post, her authorisation for the shifts she worked as a pharmacist in the second half of last year. The letter was posted from a town only 10 km away in July. Yet this morning I received 2 letters from the USA which were only posted on Thursday! Snails and swallows….

Friday, February 01, 2008


At the risk of boring you, I have to say that one of the delights of being here is that a dish or concoction you ask for in a bar will never be exactly the same from one day to the next. So when, at the Altro Posto this lunchtime, I requested some fruit and a little ice cream, the barman was able to use his creativity and come up with something completely different, in appearance, from Wednesday's naughty dessert. The staff do not just make up a fresh fruit salad to a formula, as in the UK [when you are able to order fresh fruit at all there].


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