Sunday, August 31, 2008


This is for my Mum, who died fifteen years ago today. She always said that the song gave her peace. The Welsh, of course, deem it to be the most beautiful love song in the world but let us be diplomatic here and say that it is certainly among the most beautiful. I do not post this in sadness - only with love. Pace, mamma.
I have been talking to some of my Siclian students about the music of Wales this week and explaining how there is nothing to compare with the swell of sound of a Welsh male voice choir at its most robust or the way in which, in gentle mood, it can fill your heart with the hiraeth [longing].

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Was Frank Sinatra Sicilian or Ligurian? Both, according to this report in La Sicilia today. The singer's father was from Lercara Friddi in Palermo province [though Frank once claimed that his father was from Catania], whilst his mother, from whom he inherited those stunning blue eyes, was from Lumarzo in Liguria. When Frank's father was one year old, the family emigrated to the USA.

Well, the two Italian towns have decided to share Francis Albert and a festival in his honour has already been held in Palermo. The Ligurian location will honour Ole Blue Eyes during the week beginning 6th September and a delegation of politicians from Lercara Friddi will attend, on their own initiative and at their own expense.

How nice to see cooperation here and not a "war", as in this case , which I wrote about some time ago. [You will need to scroll down to the last paragraph of the post.]

Three Coins in the Fountain

Friday, August 29, 2008


A literary quiz tonight. Look away from the photo now if you don't want help!
Q - - - - - - - -, Modica's own Nobel Laureate .

U Barry - - - - - - - - , author of The Ruby in her Navel, novel set in Norman Sicily.

A The - - - - - - Picker, novel set in Sicily by Simonetta Agnello Hornby.

S Dacia Maraini's novel about the lives of the 18th century Sicilian aristocracy, La lunga vita di Marianna Ucrìa, was published in English as The - - - - - - Duchess.

I- Fu Mattia Pascal, novel by the Sicilian playwright Luigi Pirandello.

M - - - - - - - - - , fictional detective created by Andrea Camilleri.

O - - - - - di Capra, collection of Sicilian proverbs collated by Leonardo Sciascia. Clue: Eye!

D - - - - - Dolci, author who became known as "The Gandhi of Sicily".

O Complete the following line of poetry from Quasimodo:
- - - - - - sta solo sul cuor della terra
Highlight below for answers:
Quasimodo; Unsworth; Almond; Silent; Il; Montalbano; Occhio; Danilo; Ognuno.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Thus has the Mediterranean been named by an Italian UN spokesperson, the reason being that the tragic, often pathetically unseaworthy, boatloads of sorrow keep arriving: 356 clandestini [would-be illegal immigrants] reached Lampedusa in the early hours of Monday and the "Welcome" centre there is again at crisis point: 2000 poor souls were reported to be there on Sunday night, although the place only really has room for 750.

"Enough!" cries the Mayor, who, understandably, believes that the island cannot go on hosting all who are rescued at sea. A volunteer force consisting of residents and tourists is now patrolling the perimeters of the centre, as the army cannot manage the whole area.

As soon as some clandestini are removed from Lampedusa to other such centres in Italy, more arrive to take their place, it seems.

No one, particularly in Catholic Italy, is arguing that the saving of human life is not a duty; just that, this done, the aftercare should be shared.

It is a very difficult issue that tears this blogger, for one, apart. Meanwhile, 71 people, among them 8 women, 4 of whom were pregnant, are reported missing after a boat got into trouble off Malta this evening.

God help them and may all of us who sleep in our beds be grateful for that tonight.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Forgive me if I begin this post on what seems a negative note: after a difficult few days during which I have “bewept my outcast state” [for troubles, as many of you will know, do not often come singly], I really am leading up to something positive!

About a year ago, I wrote of a young man who joined some friends and me for a celebration , although he was very ill at the time and could swallow nothing but ice cream. The young man died last weekend and of course I have not stopped thinking of him. Nor have I forgotten the New Year’s Eve festa of 2005, where he was also present. At the stroke of midnight, just as the bells were ringing for a new year which he had not expected to see, the young man burst into tears in the arms of the relative who had been taking care of him. It was a poignant moment and one which I have never forgotten.

So today, when I was invited to an impromptu lunch by a dear friend, I thought about how lucky I am, to be here, to have been able to accept the invitation and to enjoy the wondrous fare: cold beef, well-matured Parma ham, grana cheese, lettuce and tomatoes from my friend’s garden, her own sun-dried tomatoes, fresh figs and the good bread of Sicily. Later there were grapes from a 200-year-old vine and what more could one require on what is perhaps the last day of the extreme heat? [For there are signs that the weather is about to break.]

Later still, my lovely hairdresser massaged my shoulders because he can read my mood and my tensions, before, as always, sorting out my head and that which covers it!

And I have received, from my friend, Nigel Slater’s Eating for England to read.

A day full of the gifts of life indeed, and there is no virtue more godly, if I may use such a word, than kindness. We must treasure the everyday kindnesses of each moment, for if we do not, it seems to this unreligious soul who is writing here, we are truly lost.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Bistecca alla pizzaiola: a classic of Neapolitan cuisine, yet these days it is hard to find a recipe for it, among all the rubbish featuring complicated dishes that gets published under the clasification, "Italian cookery". What so many of these authors and their publishers forget is that the primary characteristic of most Italian cookery is that it is simple.

The doyenne of cookery writers, Elizabeth David, of course gives us a pizzaiola recipe, in Italian Food, the volume that, famously, woke the British up to the fact that good food still existed in the postwar era. Valentina Harris [a cook whose earlier books I prefer to her later tomes] also has one, in Italian Regional Cookery. I have mixed the two recipes and added some "Welshcakes" touches!

Here we can buy a pizzaiola cut of beef steak, but if you can't, you need to ask for the widest, thinnest cut possible. Yesterday I was lucky enough to get 4 enormous pieces [which would probably serve 6] for 5.68 euros and they really were so big that I had to cut them in half again!

When I make a pizzaiola, I like to deal with the sauce first: if you want to be a purist, you may use skinned and deseeded tomatoes or your own passata, but for this I find a couple of cans of cherry tomatoes, with their juice, much less trouble and perfectly adequate. Chuck these in a saucepan along with about a tablespoon of olive oil, 2 cloves sliced garlic, some seasalt and ground black pepper and a good handful each of not too finely chopped basil and parsley. You can add some dried oregano too, if you like [and I do!] plus some olives [my touch]. Swirl all this around while it cooks for a few minutes, then take it off the heat.

Now season the meat and cook it in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a wide pan or griddle. [I like to griddle mine.] Whatever you do, do not overcook it. I throw the pieces into the sauce as they are done but authentic recipes will tell you to serve up the meat, then add the sauce. Most Italian cooks would probably let it all cool a little at this point but I serve the dish immediately.
Buon appetito!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


My Italo-Australian boss, Cathy, returned from holiday today and came round bearing this liquore liquirizia and coffee from Calabria. Her thoughtfulness cheered me up no end.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to show you three other pleasant surprises I’ve received in recent weeks: a CD of the Vancouver Welsh Male Voice Choir from jmb, a Portuguese tile fridge magnet from my commenter Sally and the pretty souvenir of St Petersburg from James.

So you may picture me tonight, reader, sitting in my Sicilian apartment sipping Calabrian liqueur, listening to a Welsh choir from Canada and thinking of a lady over there whom I have never met but whom I regard as a good friend, another whom I don’t know personally but who has always encouraged me in my writing and of a certain English teacher who flew in from Russia and who tonight finds himself back on UK soil for the first time in many years. And of the blogging miracle that has made all these connections possible.



I enjoyed the colours as much as the flavours of this ice cream at the Altro Posto today: melon, pineapple [a new flavour] and forest fruits. The "Ciao" biscuits always make me smile.

Friday, August 22, 2008


A foodie one for you tonight, readers:

S - - - - - - , thick tomato paste.

T Anna - - - - - Lanza, authority on Sicilian cuisine and owner of a famous cookery school.

R - - - - - - , a pizza from Trapani flavoured with oregano.

A - - - , dialect word for a type of chard. Help is here.

T - - - , dialect word for vermicelli, deriving from Arabic itriya.

T - - - - - - di gola, or "Triumph of Gluttony", decadent Sicilian convent cake made for the nobility in the 16th and 17th centuries.

U - - - . Can't make an omelette or frittata without breaking these! [The Italian word has no plural.]

Please highlight below for answers:

'strattu; Tasca; rianata; aita; tria; trionfo; uova.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I think this may be rather difficult, but every time I imagine that, someone gets it immediately! So what is this and how would you use it?

Clue: Not a perfumery product.
Answer tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Never mind your bankbook; it's your bank look you have to worry about here, ladies. Let me explain:
Today I had to visit the bank and my outfit was determined by this fact. No, not dressing up smartly for the manager to get a business loan or anything like that. I was, on the contrary, just tying to carry out a normal transaction that could not be dealt with via the ATM.
All banks in Italy have lockers in the foyer [or what passes for a foyer] in which you are supposed to leave everything except the essential documents that you will require inside, including your handbag. You then ring a bell and pass through a glass door, which immediately closes behind you. Provided you are deemed to be OK, another door then opens automatically and lets you in - though not in my bank, where the clerk [there is only ever one clerk on duty] leaves his client to take a peek at you while you are sandwiched between the two doors, then presses a button to let you in if he knows you or likes the look of you.
In my particular branch, also, most of the lockers are really tiny and I have ruined many a handbag trying to squash it into one. [I am not a fan of small handbags at the best of times.] There are two slightly larger lockers and two briefcase-sized ones, but these last never have a key in them. This cannot be because of the number of customers as there is normally just the person already at the counter and then me waiting. [The wait, though it can be long, is never as frustrating as that at the Post Office as the place is spacious and airy, and when you do get served you exchange some pleasant banter.]
Anyway, to return to the point, dear reader, what I wear to go to the bank takes much planning, as first I have to decide on a small handbag, then which shoes will go with that and finally which outfit will look all right with both. Get it, chaps?!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Give me a plate of olives and I am as satisfied as I would be with a three-course meal. So, when my beloved Altro Posto reopened at lunchtime today, I was more than happy with this complimentary dish of antipasti; grissini [breadsticks] wrapped in Parma ham and cheese, a chunk of freshly-baked bread filled with tomatoes and a little mozzarella, all drizzled with olive oil, plus plenty of lovely, salty olives.

In addition, I have been to Raffaele the hairdresser's and feel human for the first time in 10 days, not only because I now feel I can face the world, but because at Raff's I can pour my heart out to the best psychoanalyst in town!

Monday, August 18, 2008


Piove sempre sul bagnato = "It always rains on wet ground"
- Italian proverb.
This is a follow-up to my previous post about the dire water supply situation in that loveliest of cities, Agrigento:

Soldiers and night-watchmen have so far failed to solve the problem of "theft" of water coming from the pipeline at Gela, so now the police have been brought in. It is estimated that 80 litres of water "disappear" per second and often ingenious methods and equipment are being used to siphon it off. One arrest has been made today. As I mentioned before, it is often local farmers, desperate to save their crops, who are reported to be involved. The pipeline is made of fibreglass and is said to be easy to tamper with.

The poor citizens of the town have to make do with "refills" for their dwellings every 10 days and it seems that they have had to put up with this for 20 years or so, in summer. Here the longest I've been without water is 6 days, 2 summers ago, and that drove me crazy, so I cannot imagine ever having the pazienza of the folk of Agrigento!

Sunday, August 17, 2008


These are not large limes, as you may imagine at first glance [you rarely find limes on sale in Sicily and when you do they are imported] but green lemons and they are sold all year round. In fact, there was no other kind to be found anywhere yesterday. And yes, they are already ripe!

The skin is a little thicker than that of their yellow relatives and you may get less juice from them, but their flavour is divine for culinary purposes, especially, I feel, in savoury dishes.

Now, how about Green Lemon Land as a book title? What do you think? [A girl can dream!]

Saturday, August 16, 2008


I am posting this on behalf of the English International School, Modica.

The English International School [established 2003 ] in Modica, Sicily urgently requires an enthusiastic teacher of ESL.

We can offer you interesting and varied work in a lively, happy atmosphere, in one of the most fascinating and exotic locations in the world.

Our students come from all walks of life, all age ranges and are preparing for the following examinations: Trinity Speaking levels 1 – 12, Cambridge PET, FCE and CAE. TOEFL courses are offered on request and we also train business students.

If you are interested in joining our team, please email your details to Catherine Ciancio at:

Friday, August 15, 2008


It's the ferragosto holiday today and and most people are in the country or at the sea. The two-week closure of nearly everything drives me mad, as ever, but you can't begrudge the Italians, who work so hard all year, their break in cooler air. Next week we begin to get back to normal and guess who'll be the first customer at Raffaele the hairdresser's when he reopens? I need him not only to "magic" my hair into behaving, but to sort my mind out!

Here is Gino Paoli with a 2006 version of the greatest Italian summer song of them all. It's a song that has meant a lot to me over the years and I dedicate it to all Italians today.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Long ago, when I was young and even more foolish than I am now, a man left me feeling very sad: I cried, I grieved, I lost 3 stone in 6 weeks and thought of nothing but my own misfortune. Then, one day, a friend literally dragged me along to her house and fed me honey sandwiches. Ever since, I have regarded honey as a primary comfort food.

The honeys of Sicily are many and varied and a delight for the taste buds they all are. But I think my favourite has to be this pale one made from the sulla plant [a kind of red-flowered honeysuckle] which was known to the ancients. It smells heavenly and very good on a fetta biscottata at teatime it is.

Monday, August 11, 2008


"Cerca lu beni e aspetta lu mali"
= "Look for the best but expect the worst"
- Sicilian proverb.
Our water problems here in Modica seem as nothing compared with what the poor folk of Agrigento are going through, according to this report: The water supply there is compared to a "colander" and water is being delivered to each district only every 10 days. Now, every 10 days is about the norm for here, but the report does not state how much water is being delivered at a time over in Agrigento. Here at least when the lorry does appear, we get our 10 cubic metres, enough to keep us going till the next time [barring leaks in the tank and other disasters which I have written about before].
The citizens of Agrigento were promised an extra supply from the desalinator at Gela, but farmers along the route have apparently damaged the conduit by breaking into it in order to water their crops. And who can blame them, in a way?
The Mayor has asked for help from the Army in patrolling the conduit and states that the citizens cannot even be guaranteed a wash every day. How my heart goes out to them as I remember the problems we have had with water in this building during the summer period in past years.
Last week, the kindly water lorry driver rang my bell to say that our cistern was full [at least it was on Friday] but that, if I would sign the receipt there and then, he himself would keep an eye on the supply and fill us up when necessary. [I don't suppose he wants to come out on the bank holiday, the 15th, if he can help it!] So I trust him but if we run out on the 15th I shall be writing a grumbly post!
Meanwhile, back in beleaguered Agrigento [and such a beautiful city it is] the seawater has been polluted by sewage let loose by the breaks in the conduit - right in the middle of the tourist season!

Saturday, August 09, 2008


It's been at least 43 C here again today, but about half an hour ago, I looked out and saw some sweet, wonderful rain! It was hardly enough to wet the rooftops but it has cleared the air for now and I couldn't resist dancing a little "rain jig" on the balcony!

In such weather, I am always on the lookout for new salad ideas and yesterday this chicken and courgette inspiration came to me: it is really an adapation of the chicken and artichoke salad recipe I posted here, but I think it works just as well, if not better:

Use 1 chicken escalope per person and marinate these for at least 2 hours in some balsamic vinegar. Griddle the escalopes. Let these cool, season them with black pepper and sprinkle some lemon juice over. Meanwhile make a dressing from about 4 tablesp olive oil, 1 tablesp balsamic vinegar, 1 tablesp flavoured honey, some dried oregano and the juice of half a lemon. Chill this. Now, here we can get jars of grilled courgettes which have been preserved in olive oil and wine vinegar. Hopefully you can obtain this ingredient, too, and if so, drain the courgettes and sprinkle lemon juice over these, as well. After a couple of hours, cut the chicken into pieces, place in a serving bowl, add the courgettes and dressing and mix well. This tastes good immediately and even better after 24 hours in the fridge!

Friday, August 08, 2008


Last night's photo, as clever nunyaa guessed, is of a tradtional water-cooler.

Phew! It's hard thinking up a quiz in 43 C and answers beginning with the letter "I" are the most difficult!

Nevertheless, without further ado, I present tonight's quiz:

C - - - - - - - - - , a type of pasta deriving its name from the indentations made in the dough. Help is here.

A Modica - - - - , the oldest part of the town. Clue: High!

L - - - - - , the largest of the Isole Eolie [Aeolian Islands].

T - - - da Morire, satirical film about the Mafia.

A - - - Finocchiaro, opposition senator born in Modica.

N - - - - , the first Greek colony in Sicily.

I Mare - - - - - , one of Sicily's seas and one of the most seismic areas in the world.

S - - Giorgio, famous Baroque cathedral in Modica.

S - - - - - - - - , city of Greek temples and celery!!

E - - - - , where Aphrodite had her temple. Clue: "of the heather".

T - - - - - - , type of nougat eaten at Christmas.

T - - - - - - - , town where the author of A House in Sicily made her home.

A - - - - , town near Noto which was also destroyed in the 1693 earthquake. It was rebuilt on a new site.

Highlight below for answers:
cavatieddi; Alta; Lipari: Tano; Anna; Naxos; Ionio; San; Selinunte [Italian derives the word "sedano" and we derive the word "celery" from this]; Erice; torrone; Taormina; Avola.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


I bought this in Erice some years ago [much to the amusement of my Sicilian friends, who roared with laughter at my efforts to get it into my suitcase!] Since then, it's been to the UK and back again. I use it as a vase but what was its original purpose?

Answer tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


James moved on ths afternoon so it’s been a bit of strange day, with both of us trying to maintain the old British, stiff upper lip at lunchtime. Of course, we failed miserably and he looked such a brave, travelling man when he left at 5 pm! I’m sure you all wish him well, as I do.

Now, I’m not a TV person, except for news and analyses in both languages and I rarely have a good word to say for BBC Prime [ a sort of UK Gold channel for ex-pats] as it usually repeats the same age-old programmes ad nauseam, even “stacking” them at weekends, so that up to 6 episodes of a series you used to like can be shown conscecutively on the same evening. Nobody seems to check the running order, either, so you can become rather confused as to what happened when. By the end of it, you hate the thing!

Despite all this, tonight I got really excited because the channel finally decided to continue Holby City [a hospital drama full of stuff designed to put you off your food but also centred on the goings-on between the staff – I wish someone would tell me how they find the time or maybe I am getting old?] Well, UK readers may be surprised to learn that I’ve waited over a year to find out who gave certain patients unnecessary insulin, thus bumping them off a bit too soon, and after tonight I still don’t know! Did that cocky new staff nurse do it? Does caring but foolish Dr Rick solve his gambling problem? Does Mr Campbell-Gore, the consultant with a dark past, last seen walking onto a US-bound flight with his lady-love the psychiatrist, come back? Does ward sister Chrissie go back to hubby Owen [for whom I have a soft spot as he looks like a Welsh rugby player, though does not talk like one]? Don’t you dare tell me, now! Anyway, tonight’s episode was a tear-jerker quite apart from these issues.

The next programme was Born and Bred, a series which I loved in the UK as I’m so sentimental about the 1950s, but I didn’t realise they’d killed off handsome Dr Gilder! So still sobbing over that one!

Oh, dear! I don’t think I’d better watch any more TV tonight!

Monday, August 04, 2008


The temperature is again nearing 40 C and we are into cold food. I have talked about my rice salad before but didn't show you a picture at the time and it changes slightly each time I make it! Here's what I did last night:

Cook c. 1 lb long-grain rice according to the instructions on the pack or for 15 minutes or so, adding half a lemon and some seasalt to the water. Drain well and immediately run cold water over it whilst still in the sieve. Set aside but not for long, as rice deteriorates fast in the heat.

Peel and deseed half a cucumber, chop, salt and leave for about 10 minutes. Rinse, drain well and dry the pieces on kitchen paper. Chop some black olives. Chop the following ingredients finely together: 1 or 2 red peppers [I find the elongated sort better than bell peppers for this recipe], a couple of shallots or very small onions, some celery and lots of flat-leaved parsley and basil. [I chuck the lot in a processor.]

Now put the rice in a serving dish, dress it with about 6 tablesp olive oil, 1 tablesp white wine vinegar, some freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg. Toss well. Add all the vegetables, herbs and the contents of a can of sweetcorn. Mix everything well together once more and chill.

I got this idea for preparing the cucumbers and the whole idea in principle from the excellent and much-missed Jennifer Paterson, in her book Feast Days [published before her Two Fat Ladies incarnation]. She would not approve of the peppers or sweetcorn but I hope she would forgive me.
And yes, here is another salad for you and the not-wife, Jams!

Sunday, August 03, 2008


With the temperature nearing 40 C, we were once again glad to sit in the shade of our favourite olive tree at the Caffè Consorzio yesterday lunchtime:

The plate of complimentary antipasti was again stunning to behold, consisting of panelle [chickpea fritters], slices of fritatta [a firm kind of omelette, much beloved of the Sicilians and probably introduced to them by the Spaniards], various breads and, of course, marinated olives. This time, James had the pork medallions [which I am showing you again because the presentation is different to that in a previous photo] accompanied by his favourite fagiolini [green beans - this man would run a marathon in the heat for green beans!] whilst I partook of this wonderful chicken salad. And the way the mango slices were wrapped around the ice cream to create a flower effect just made my day!

Saturday, August 02, 2008


A lovely, relaxing supper last night in the garden of friends Linda, Gino and Chiara. The gin and tonic was ready to be mixed on its own little table and then we were served: San Daniele ham with the first figs of the season; homemade pizza and scacce [focaccia bread]; cheese and onion bread; omelette filled with chicken and spinach; fruit including my favourite anguria [watermelon]; and take a close look at the last photo, for these are not little cakes but little ice creams, from a bar in Modica Alta which James and I are determined to find!

Friday, August 01, 2008


Last night's photo was of a bust of the archaeologist Sir William Hardcastle, in the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento.

Here's this week's quiz:

S - - - - - - - - , volcanic island of the Aeolian group [Isole Eolie].

T Mare - - - - - - - , sea which can be exited through the Strait of Messina.

R- - - - - - 11 , King of Sicily.

O- - - - - - - di Dionisio [the Ear of Dionysus], ancient cave in Siracusa.

M- - - - - , film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and set in World War 11 Sicily.

B- - - - - - - , the 18th and 19th century retreat of the palermitano Sicilian nobility.

O- - - dei Morti ["Bones of the dead" ], biscuits prepared for All Souls' Day.

L- - - - - - , town near Catania which was the second oldest Greek colony in Sicily [after Naxos].

I Fico D'- - - - - , the prickly pear.

Highlight below for answers:

Stromboli; Tirreno; Ruggero; Orecchio; Malèna; Bagheria; ossa; Lentini; India.


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