Tuesday, March 31, 2009


It’s a while since I had a real grump about the post office but I think yesterday’s antics there merit at least a mini-rant. For newer readers, I should explain that, on entering the esteemed edifice, you are supposed to take a numbered ticket for the service you want – postal service, bill payment, the business counter or benefit payment. In addition, the “élite” who have a post office account get their own counter to queue / be served faster at, depending on the clerk or the day.

In my still somewhat somnabulant state at 11 am yesterday, my arm almost automatically stretched itself leftwards to the ticket machine as I walked in, my eyes only popping open as I realised I was not touching metal, but flesh – the flesh of a little elderly man who had taken his flat cap off to scratch his head, to be exact. Crowded around both him and the machine were six other disgruntled customers, all with resigned expressions and all muttering “Pazienza”. I asked what was the matter, to which I got the response, “Ma non fanno niente” [“But they aren’t doing anything”]. “They”, in post office conversations, always refers to the staff. By now I had worked out that what “they” were doing nothing about was the fact that the machine was not working. “Ma lo sanno?” ["Do they know?"], I asked [having caught the Sicilian habit of beginning every question with “ma” = “but” .] “Sì, ma non fanno niente.” My British instinct would be to insist on speaking to the manager but that is a little too straightforward for here and, even if anyone was thinking of doing just that, they would not dream of approaching the gentleman before they had had several rounds of “pazienza”-uttering, rolling their eyes towards heaven and discussing the situation with everybody else. [I’m feeling charitable tonight so I’ve decided it’s a way of being sociable.]

During this time, four other customers entered, each of whom attempted and failed to use the machine. One of them, a tall, rather imposing fellow, pressed all its buttons twice, first starting at the top and then at the bottom, before assuming the resigned expression and beginning the eye-rolling. As with the other new arrivals, then and only then did the original eight customers, including, I’m ashamed to say, myself, cry in unison, “Non funziona!” [“It’s not working”], a conclusion which he had had ample time to reach unaided. “Why”, you may reasonably enquire, “did you all wait till they had tried to get a ticket?” Ah, dear reader, this is Sicily, so the answer is, “To have the pleasure of giving information, of course!”

Finally, without any of us saying a word about it, it was mutually agreed that there had been enough eye-rolling so a member of our group approached a clerk to inform him of the situation, though the latter could hardly have been unaware of it as he had been watching the pantomime all along. “The numbers are still coming up on the screen so it must be working” he announced. “The screen’s working because there are still people waiting who came in before us”, explained our spokeswoman con pazienza but the clerk just shrugged his shoulders. And then – disaster! The beautiful, gleaming, silver screen, that miracle of modern technology, suddenly darkened and … stopped! There was a deathly silence as the numbers ceased to ping. Customers who had arrived prior to the machine drama gaped at each other in shock. Clerks dropped their pencils . Birds stopped singing outside. Verily, I say unto you, it was the end of the world ... and then, behold! A manager cometh among us and he unblocketh the machine. [Sorry, I got a bit carried away there.]

“Who was first?” asked the manager, now physically blocking the machine. “Io!" shouted a young woman, triumphantly seizing the ticket that the manager proudly held aloft for all to see. One by one, we were allowed to approach the apparatus but I’m always a little slow off the mark on these occasions as somewhere inside me there’s still a Brit who deems queueing a daily duty. So I’m afraid I didn’t use my elbows to push the others out of the way and it was the tall, imposing fellow who got his ticket next. However, I must be getting better at looking as if I might assert myself, for, although I wasn’t the first to get a ticket, I certainly wasn’t the last!

After all that, you’ll be delighted to learn, reader, it took a mere hour to pay my bill, so now I can’t remember why I decided to have a rant in the first place!

Monday, March 30, 2009


It's poetry time again and this evening I am delighted to introduce one of my favourite poems by Professore Antonio Lonardo, Ricerca. It appears here with his kind permission as always, along with my translation:


Alla ricerca
di una goccia:
del tuo viso,
della tua anima,
della tua vita,
sulla spiaggia
delle conchiglie.

Alla pesca
di una stella:
del tuo futuro,
del tuo cielo,
della tua curiosità,
nel mare
dei tuoi sogni.

Alla scoperta
di una grotta:
di un passato,
delle maree,
delle avventure,
nelle rocce

Alla visione
di una barca:
nelle onde,
dai venti,
nel sole,
per l'abbraccio


for a drop:
a tear
from your face,
a mirror
of your soul,
a pearl
of your life,
on the beach
of shells.

for a star:
a needle
of your future,
a reflection
of your sky,
the joy
of your curiosity,
in the sea
of your dreams.

a cave:
a memory
of a past,
the intensity
of the tides,
a bed
of adventure,
on the rocks
of the horizon.

a boat:
on the waves,
by the winds,
for the sun,
and the embrace
of eternity.

- From Desiderio di Luce [Modica,2005].

Sunday, March 29, 2009


I came across this in Matthew Fort's Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons . The Sicilian friends I asked about it had not heard of it so I looked it up and, as I suspected, it is described as a basic kind of caponata, though this version contains no sugar or vinegar - or capers, for that matter.

Naturally, I adapted Fort's recipe a little: Firstly, instead of using aubergines I used the bases of biete da taglio but only because I had them in the fridge. You clean them as you would a leek [well, that's what I did] and cut them into bite-sized pieces. When cooked they have the texture of softened celery and a mild, pleasant taste which balances well with the zingy flavour of the peppers. A Sicilian would be horrified as I will not peel potatoes, as most of you know. The one British food maxim that I have stubbornly imported is, "most of the goodness is in their skins". I'll confess that I didn't bother peeling and seeding the tomato either, but I would have had there been company! Fort tells you to use 200 ml olive oil but I find ml measurements a nuisance where oil is concerned. I say, bung in 3 tblesp of the stuff and hope for the best! And I would suggest using half the amount of vegetable stock given in his recipe. Anyway, it is a triumph! Like caponata, this can be eaten at room temperature or cold.

All you do is chop a large, white onion and soften it in the oil, then add 2 aubergines or 2 biete da taglio bases, cut into chunks, and stir it all around a bit. Then add 1 or 2 sliced tomatoes, 3 - 4 large potatoes, cut into chunks, and 2 sliced peppers of whatever colour you like. Stir it all around for a few minutes, then chuck in a glass [when I say "a glass", I always mean a large one!] of white wine and let it bubble up for a minute or 2. Add about 200 ml vegetable stock [yes, a cube is fine] season with coarse seasalt [please!] and freshly ground black pepper, throw in some torn leaves of basil, plonk the lid on and cook for 25 mins over a low flame. Add some more basil to serve.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009


This week I found this truffle cheese from Urbino. It has quite a delicate taste.

It is time, I think, for a food post which includes a recipe, so here it is - sort of:

I adapted this from April's Good Housekeeping [UK edition, to which I have a subscription] to ingredients available here - not that I would have followed the recipe to the letter anyway. For pork steaks, I asked the butcher to cut 6 slices of lonza [loin] more thickly than usual. I couldn't get any red onions, so browned a nice, large white one, chopped, in 2 tablesp.olive oil. [When it comes to olive oil, I simply cannot be fooling around with dinky little measures such as 1 teasp.] Then I added the pork and , turning the slices several times, cooked them until they had taken on a fair bit of colour. Then I chucked in some chunks of potato [which, regular readers will know, I refuse to peel]. Next the recipe calls for redcurrant jelly, which we can't find here, but I did have some mulberry jelly, so added a goodly dollop of that. I do have my own chicken stock in the freezer but I dislike using it in non-chicken dishes, so I just added 250 ml water and then 150 ml or a dash more of red wine. Seasoned it, let it bubble up, plonked the lid on and cooked on a low flame for 45 minutes.


If I show you the other side of the object, I'm sure you will guess that it's a very secure Sicilian money box. The only way you could get the money out would be to smash it to smithereens - exactly the sort of money box I should have!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This was the lovely meal I partook of on Sunday, when I received an impromptu invitation from friends Giovanna and Marco. [I always marvel at the calm way in which Giovanna prepares all this food for her husband, herself, four strapping lads, their two grannies plus guests - I'd be tearing my hair out!]

First, cavatelli al forno con salsiccia,

then farsumagru [ rolled, stuffed roast of veal, a typical Sicilian dish] with potatoes

and finally a mousse of forest fruits, for which Giovanna had used a German recipe.


Found these canestrelli [little baskets] of minced pork, mozzarella, grana cheese, spinach and olives, all wrapped in bacon, in the butcher's today.

Monday, March 23, 2009


This would have been an appropriate poem to have posted yesterday, but I hadn't finished tweaking the translation by then. Professore Antonio Lonardo dedicated this poem to his mother and I publish it here with his kind permission, along with my translation. The poem very much expresses how I feel about my own mother now and, again with Professore Lonardo's permission, I have added a photo of her as a newly married young woman, "in love with life".


Anche quando le antinomie
sono apparse marcate,
le distanze si sono annullate
tra noi, mater dulcissima.

Le acque, del mio esistenziale fiume,
sgorgate dal tuo materno seno,
hanno mantenuto la cristallina purezza,
nonostante i ricchi affluenti del tempo.

Ancora oggi, nella piena maturità,
addormentarmi vorrei
sulle tue morbide ginocchia
e sognare l'amore del sangue,

che va perdendosi in mille rivoli,
dispersi nell'ignoto spazio
con enigmatici dubbi
di intersecate strade sassose.

Ancora oggi, avanti negli anni,
passeggiare vorrei
in tua dolcissima compagnia
e raccontarti le mie gioie,

nate dal tuo nutriente latte
di incessanti preghiere
rivolte all'Eterno,
sin dai miei primi vagiti.

Ancora oggi, sui meridiani del tempo,
smorzare, vorrei, la nostalgia
di vederti giovane entusiasta,
innamorata della vita,

e godere, nell'illuminata coda del vento,
del cibo delle culturali radici
di frondosi alberi, tuttora
ricchi di saporosi frutti.


Even when the antimonies
appeared well- marked,
the distances between us
were as nought, mater dulcissima.

The waters, of my existential river,
gushing from your maternal breast,
maintained their crystalline purity,
despite the strong streams of time.

Even today, in full maturity,
I would like to sleep
on your soft knees
and dream of the ties of blood,

flowing, then lost in a thousand rivulets,
dispersing in unknown space
with the enigmatic doubts
of intersecting stony streets.

Even today, advanced in years,
I would like to walk
in your sweet company
and tell you of my joys,

born of your nourishing milk
of incessant prayers
to our Eternal Father,
from my very first whimpers.

Even today, on the meridians of time,
I would like to muffle my longing
to see you, young and ardent,
still in love with life,

and enjoy, in the lit tail of the wind,
the food of my cultural roots
of verdant trees, still
rich in delicious fruit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


It is Gino the artist's birthday today so yesterday wife Linda organised yet another tea party. This time, she and Chiara had made teacakes, which I hadn't tasted for years:

And here is Gino very seriously cutting his cake:

I was surprised to find me staring at myself from the mantelpiece!

My present to Gino was this little booklet I had made of photos of some of his paintings and my thoughts about them:

Simi is the author of the last page and is sure you all want to see what she wrote:

“Hello, art fans! I’m Simi, the art-savviest dog in Sicily! I was really pleased when my Uncle Gino decided to paint me from this photo which appears in my EU doggy-passport because my mummy says it’s the best picture she ever took of me. She’s always telling me I have a lovely, smooth snout and that Uncle Gino has captured this. Well, I think so, too, and he got my pose and my expression just right. I don’t know why he doesn’t send this picture to the Royal Academy but I suppose it’s because all the other artist humans would just give up if they saw it.

I like Uncle Gino because he speaks to me in Italian [in which, of course, I can bark fluently] tickles my ear and makes my mummy laugh.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Gino and I hope you get lots of Bonio biscuits to eat today!

With love from

Simi la waggissima xx


At the risk of being taken for Dame Edna, here is another gladioli post; following yesterday's picture of one wild gladiolus, a friend here sent me this lovely picture of her springtime garden, which is full of them:

Grazie, Roberta.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


These two songs just about express how I feel at the moment. So, altogether now - aaahhhh!

Patrizio Buanne - Maledetta Primavera [Damn Spring]

Ron Raines - Spring is Here


The wild gladioli that grow in Sicily.
Gladioli dei campi.
Gladiolus italicus Miller.

I had never seen one before today.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Now I am going to write about something so horrific and upsetting that I have been avoiding posting on it all week. Nevertheless, I really think I should, as [a] sadly, this has happened very near where I live [b] as far as I can tell, there has been little international coverage although the BBC has this report and [c] the event and reactions following it are indicators of attitudes here and how they are changing.

Here goes: Last Sunday, at the small beach town of Sampieri, a 10-year-old boy from Modica was pulled off his bicycle and killed by a pack of up to 50 wandering dogs. The whole community was plunged into shock and grief and one can only imagine what the boys' parents are going through. 7,000 people attended the funeral on Wednesday afternoon and shops in Modica closed for its duration.

On Tuesday a German woman tourist walking along the same beach was surrounded by the pack, mauled and horrifically injured, despite the brave intervention of passers-by and police. She still lies in a critical condition in a Catania hospital. Poor woman: if you are on holiday and have not read that day's local newspaper or you do not have the language or opportunity to talk to local people, how vulnerable you can be.

The authorities are of course doing everything they can to catch the pack and 30 of the dogs have been rounded up. However, it cannot be denied that stray dogs are a problem in southern Italy as local councils lack the funds needed for proper dog wardens and pounds. The Mayor of Modica ordered the shooting of stray dogs whilst animal protection groups have insisted the dogs be captured and treated humanely. The latter were backed up by the Prefetto of Ragusa who intervened in the situation. Tomorrow in Catania there is to be a demonstration against the killing of strays and this does mark a change in attitudes as more people seem to be aware of animals' rights here than, say, 15 - 20 years ago. At the boy's funeral, though, the priest suggested that humans are turning animals into icons.

As a dog-lover, I am angry, above all with the dogs' "custodian" who is now under arrest. Rumour has it that he took money to "look after" them, starved them and then abandoned them. If I were related to the boy or the woman tourist I might be out looking for the pack with my gun right now. However, I hope that I would be able to channel my anger in the direction where it belongs - towards the human being who allegedly ill-treated the dogs and thereby allowed these two tragedies to occur. I am also worried: if there is general bad feeling towards dogs, I worry for my Simi who has never hurt anyone. And I think of how many times I have walked along that beach with her and of how easily we could have been the victims.

A friend of mine posted this video on facebook earlier this week, in an attempt to remind everyone that few dogs are aggressive. The majority of dogs are cared for and caring, give far more than they receive and can even provide a lonely owner with a reason to go on living. In return they ask only to be loved.


Thursday, March 19, 2009


A Sicilian pasticceria which I immediately make for when I visit this city. Any idea where it is?

Answer in the comments tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I am currently reading and enjoying Matthew Fort's Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons. It is the story of the author's journey around Sicily on a Vespa and the recipes he collected on the way.

As soon as I saw the recipe for this strawberry tiramisù I knew I had to try it and what better occasion than Gina's birthday today? I can't give you the copyright recipe here but can tell you that it works, is quick and easy and was a big hit with Gina [who is quite a cook, as some of you will remember]. My only adaptation was to slosh in a drop or several of Mandarinetto liqueur, as is my wont.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


OK, I admit it: I have a pasta machine but - vergogna - most of the time it sits in a cupboard while I use dried pasta. This morning, however, Rosa and I decided to give it an outing as we wanted to make fresh cannelloni:

Rosa is happy:

Why do I always get flour all over me, despite the pinny?

The sheets are nearly ready. [No I don't have one of those things that looks like a large mug tree to dry them on so a clean teatowel or tablecloth has to do]:

Ready to roll!

Rosa's daughter is let out of school early, so she drops in at 12 - just in time to be roped in to the rolling! [She is putting some of the cannelloni into a plastic container to carry home.]

Ready for the oven - that is, they will be, once I've chucked a little passata over them.


A tavola. And they wouldn't be "proper" cannelloni if a bit of the filling didn't ooze out. That's my excuse, anyway. What did you expect - perfection?!

And they tasted so good that I ate some for lunch and supper.

Any Italian cookbook worth its salt will give you the proportions and method for making fresh pasta but I should say that I don't - sacrilege! - work the flour and eggs together on a board like a dutiful Italian housewife. I whizz the dough in the processor and then bash it out by hand. I adapted today's filling from a magazine recipe and we made enough for 6 - Rosa, her family and me:

While the pasta is drying, mince 2 skinless chicken breast fillets and fry them with a large, chopped onion in about 2 tablesp. olive oil. Add about 150 gr chopped ham and mix well. Chuck in about 70 ml white wine and keep stirring for a minute or two. Add the finely chopped leaves of 2 biete da taglio. [This vegetable is not available in the UK but you could substitute spinach. How much? I don't know - enough to make the mixture look quite pretty. ] Season the mixture, stir in an egg, take it off the heat and add 250 gr ricotta and 100 gr freshly grated parmesan with about half a bottle of passata or homemade tomato sauce. Add a little nutmeg. Fill and roll the cannelloni, put them in a lightly oiled baking dish, throw over the rest of the bottle of passata and sprinkle over a little more parmesan. Cook at 200 C for 20 minutes.

Buon appetito.

Monday, March 16, 2009


It's poetry on Monday this week and here, with Professore Antonio Lonardo's kind permission, is Giochi di Specchi, along with my translation:


Più in là,
lontano nel tempo,
c'è la guerra
con le orribili immagini
dentro gli specchi:
un bimbo, solitario, piange,
senza coscienza.

Più in là,
lontano nello spazio,
la terra brucia
illuminando il cielo,
con riflessi nell'acqua:
un ragazzo, impaurito, corre,
seguito dalla sua ombra.

Più in là,
lontano nella memoria,
c'è il ricordo
di eventi nascosti
da vuota insensibilità:
una mamma, smarrita, prega
sulla tomba del figlio soldato.

Più in là,
lontano dai media,
c'è la fame
di gente che nasce
senza la storia di un futuro:
la società, turbata, è inerte,
senza soluzione vitale.

Più in là,
lontano nella fantasia,
c'è la speranza
di una vita migliore
sugli specchi dell'eternità:
una folla, vincente, canta
la metamorfosi compiuta.


far-off in time,
there is war
with its horrible images
inside mirrors:
a baby, alone, cries,

far-off in space,
the earth burns
lighting up the sky,
with reflections in water:
a boy, terrified, runs,
pursued by his shadow.

far-off in memory,
there is the recollection
of hidden events
of senseless insensitivity:
a mother, lost, prays
at the grave of her soldier son.

far-off from the media,
there is hunger
among people born
without hope of a future:
society, disturbed, does nothing,
not having the vital solution.

far-off in the imagination,
there is hope
for a better life
in the mirrors of eternity:
a crowd, triumphant, celebrates
the metamorphosis come true.

From Le stagioni del Cuore [Modica, 2008].

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I wrote this for the What I See Out My Window feature at StumbleUpon, forgot about it and today saw that it was published on February 22nd . I thought I'd share it here as well this evening:

What I See Out My Window - Modica, Sicily

From my sitting room window, I can see the house opposite, the street, the Post Office with people hurrying to it and the same people hurrying even more when they come out at least an hour later, for that is a place which you enter and abandon all hope. Unfortunately, neither the house nor the street are very interesting and I cannot take a photo of people's expressions from my second-floor balcony.

Therefore I have decided to share with you the view from my bedroom window. This is completely different and I think you will agree that it doesn't seem like town at all. Only the modern apartment buildings and the cranes in the distance hint at an urban setting.

The fields belong to neighbours and are divided by typically Sicilian drystone walls. These are everywhere in Sicily and there are various theories as to their original purpose: part of an irrigation system, an attempt to lessen the effect of landslides or simply to fence land off. Who knows? To me they have a beauty all of their own. You never see anyone working on them, yet they are nearly all well maintained. This is one of the joys of living in Sicily: traditions are respected and valued whilst we are very much a part of modern Italy.

To the left, you can just see a clump of what look like cacti: these are the fichi d'India or prickly pear plants, as much a feature of the Sicilian landscape as the drystone walls. The leaves grow into enormous plants from wherever the wind drops them and in October they produce their wonderful fruit. It is sold by the crate and can be eaten raw, used to make ice cream or in liqueurs. You have to be careful not to let your hands have any contact with the thorns and it is best to get a Sicilian to give you a lesson in how to prepare them for eating. I love them!

The sky is not always blue like this: in fact it is dull and raining as I write but only very rarely does it become dark in the daytime. It is never grey as in Britain, even when we have a thunderstorm. So on most days, I can look out of my bedroom window and see exactly what you are seeing now. It is a view which brings me peace.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I like this... "Whether the whisky or the coffee is to blame, I don't think of you any more", begins the song - only it turns out not to be true. Enjoy.

Vasco Rossi - Colpa del Whisky


That's what my hair is after today's visit to Orazio, who insisted on taking the back view too! What do you think?

Friday, March 13, 2009


This week I've got puntarelle from Lazio. You should plunge the leaves into iced water [which apparently helps them curl] before using them as salad greens. Many recipes suggest the addition of chopped anchovies to the dressing, but as I can't stand them, I won't be doing that. I understand that this plant is cichorium intybus. In Dear Francesca, Mary Contini describes it as "an ancient type of chicory particular to Rome". She also says that there is a special machine for curling the leaves [probably only available in Rome].

On the right I have bietina or biete da taglio. You use the leaves of this as part of a pasta filling [well, that's what I'm going to do] and the base can be fried or grilled and used like an aubergine in a parmigiana.

Buon weekend!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


An interesting Demopolis poll regarding the eating habits of Sicilian students aged 13-19 was published in La Sicilia today:
Most main meals consumed by this age group are eaten at home but 25% of those interviewed admitted to skipping breakfast. 69% of those who do eat breakfast said that they take less than 5 minutes over it [which to me is unsurprising as the meal only consists of a biscuit or croissant with a coffee here for adults, whilst children might need only a minute longer to smear the biscuit or a piece of bread with the ubiquitous Nutella].
Bread, pasta and meat are the most regularly consumed foods, but younger children dislike vegetables [what's new there?] and, worryingly and surprisingly in this region of abundant fruit, 32% of the interviewees confessed that they hardly ever eat any.
Given a choice, most of the students would like to eat more pizza and sweet food [in the form of cakes and biscuits] and, when it comes to snacks between meals, they are more likely to choose sweet food over savoury sandwiches or crisps.
46% of the students are unhappy with their weight and the figure rises to 53% if we take the girls alone. 41% of the interviewees have dieted without seeking medical advice. Here we go again - I think it is such a pity that, in so many countries, the lives of even people as young as this are blighted by the body images pushed at them in the media. [I see very few obese youngsters here as compared with a town of similar size in the UK but still children worry unnecessarily about their weight.]
An encouraging 80% thought that healthy foods and local produce were best for them, but when asked the majority could not name many Sicilian food products. However, 50% did say that they wanted to learn more about food traditions and 72% wanted to know more about Sicilian agricultural produce.
So there you have it. How do these attitudes and eating habits compare with where you are?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


This is my adaptation of an Elizabeth Luard Spanish recipe. [There are some cooks you can just trust and for me, she is one of them.] I have changed the method slightly for I am partial to a bit of "throwing" and "chucking" when it comes to cookery, as many of you know and my additional ingredients are red and green peppers, as I had some to use up. At first I didn't think their flavour would blend well with that of honey and oranges but then I remembered Moroccan cookery and decided to be fearless. From now on I will always use them in this dish.

Duck is not readily available here but I've had a jointed one in the freezer since Christmas and that needed using, too!

Roll the duck joints in seasoned flour. Heat 4 tablesp. olive oil in a large pan or wok and chuck them in. Let them brown, turning over often. Throw in a some ground cinnamon, ground cloves and ground ginger [Luard gives measurements but that's no fun and I haven't the pazienza] then add a bit of chopped garlic, a sliced green and a sliced red pepper and some stoneless olives. Add a glass of white wine and let it all bubble up. Grate the zest of 2 oranges and add with the juice of another and a tablespoon of honey. Segment the 2 oranges and add to the mixture. Turn the heat down, put the lid on and let it all cook for 1 hour, stirring often. Serve with a green salad.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


On this perfect Sicilian spring day, I was invited to lunch, along with friends, at the home of Professore Lonardo and his wife. I'll get straight to the food!

First, these prettily arranged antipasti [that's marinated artichoke at the back]. So simple, yet so appetising:

Then fusilli al forno. [I love crunchy pasta!]

And how about this for a beautifully presented main course?

For dessert there were exotically perfumed March mandarins, Linda and Chiara had made a spongecake filled with Sicilian orange marmalade and I had made a lemon semifreddo [a standby of mine which everyone seems to like].

The Lonardo apartment has a stunning view of our Ponte Guerrieri so of course, I had to go out on the balcony to take these pictures to share with you:

Then I got in on the act!

From another balcony, you can see the station and above it [in the centre] the Cappuccini Monastery. This building brings back memories of my first Christmas Eve in Modica, in 1993, for I attended Midnight Mass there and was amused when the monks made us rehearse all the carols before they would start the service! [I couldn't crop out the crane in this picture without losing a lot of today's beautiful sky, so I left it alone.]

And I want a balcony plant like this one! Does anyone know what it is called? [The leaves are velvety.]

Finally, I thought you would like to see a photo of "our" poet and his wife:

Yes, this is the man who brings us poems like the one below and beside him sits his inspiration for so many of them.


a nascondiglio con la luna
tra nuvole ed alberi;
i primi raggi di sole
nell'ebbrezza del mattino;
i frutti della natura
tra le primizie di stagione;
l'erba della terra
con lacrime e sudore;
gli occhi di una donna
nella suggestione della vita.


at hiding with the moon
between clouds and trees;
the first rays of sunlight
in the exaltation of morning;
the fruits of Nature
among her first gifts of the season;
the grass of the earth
with tears and with sweat;
the eyes of a woman
in the enchantment of life.

- From Le Stagioni del Cuore by Antonio Lonardo [Modica, 2008].
[My translation.]

Monday, March 09, 2009


Not an antique object for you this time, but some very modern objects displayed in a shop window. What are they?

Answer in the comments tomorrow.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


For the evening of this International Women’s Day, I thought I would write a few words about an issue that bothers nearly all women, in the west – WEIGHT. Most of you know that I spent the last three months of 2008 being ill and consequently shed quite a lot of the stuff. I am now down to the 52.5 kilos , or 8. 27 stone, that I was in my twenties and early thirties. Well, I am 52.5 kilos in the morning but 53 – 54 kilos at night and the fact that I’m weighing twice a day shows I’m already unhealthily obsessed with the issue, does it not?

I did not react to this weight loss in the way lamented by Kim Chernin in Womansize - The Tyranny of Slenderness:
“When she was discharged from the hospital, with the condition undiagnosed but possibly abdominal cancer, my friend came home. There, the first thing she did was to rush into the bathroom and go over to the scale.
‘I’d like to tell you, ‘ she said to me, ‘that I’d willingly gain back the five pounds rather than go through that horrible pain again. But I honestly don’t know whether that’s true.’ ”
Nevertheless, I was happy to be slender again and I’ve lost a stone more since coming home, without dieting.

In case any of you out there are thinking it’s all right for me to preach at 52.5 kilos, let me remind you that I have been there and here I am with lovely, slim Liz in 2007:

But I don’t think I looked too bad most of the time. [On my birthday in 2007]:

I would also point out that, quite apart from the inconvenience and expense incurred in having to throw out or give away most of your wardrobe, being very slim at 59 is very different from being that way at 29. For weight, dammit, does not always come off where you want it to. I’ve been lucky enough to have retained something resembling a bosom, but this time my arms look awful and my face is gaunt. “You look better facially when you are chubbier”, said a “friend”. [Did she have to use that word? What’s wrong with “plumper” , “rounder” or just “a bit bigger”?] Getting attention from men is not hard in Italy if you are any shade of blonde, whatever your age, and sometimes I think I got more of it when I was “rounder”. “Most men like something to get hold of”, my father used to say. That’s probably true, but try telling that to a woman about to subject herself to the torture of a beach! I cannot find the exact quote by Oprah, but she did once say something like,
“There’s only so far your personality will take you – on a beach.”
I sympathise with that view, but we are not talking here about the desire to lose a few pounds in order to look better in a bikini. Thinness has become almost a religion to some and we solemnise the cult by according it religious language, talking of certain foods as “sins” for instance.

As a child, I was very small but what Raquel Welch once termed “the equipment” was well installed by the time I was 13 and I soon discovered that when it comes to our bodies, women can’t win. We are supposed to have breasts, right? If we are not voluptuous in that region, we risk elective surgery. Yet when we are, we go through hell: the British Home Secretary shows a little cleavage and there is public uproar. If Ms Smith were 20 years or so younger and uneducated, presumably it would all be all right as then she might make page 3 of some of our national newspapers one summer day together with the caption, “Cor, what a scorcher”. My own hell in this regard was the Woolworth’s store in Kingswood, Bristol, where my friends and I would go to buy Miner’s makeup and trinkets on a Saturday. A boy from the year above ours at school was nearly always there and he would usually make some remark about my breasts in order to ensure that my weekend was a tearful one. On one occasion he excelled himself: “There’s something on your shoe. Oh, I forgot. You can’t see past your tits, can you?” That was the day I started hiding my breasts and the barb hurts as I recall it even today.

There I am above at 14. [Sorry about the length of the photo and I cropped out the guy who was with me.]

Now, take the same girl a few years later when Twiggy’s was the body shape we all wished to emulate and you have a ready anorexic. With my curves and thighs that refused to reduce whatever the rest of me did, the Carnaby Street look didn’t suit me and I didn’t wear a pair of denim jeans till I was 28 and 7 stone!

Yet all this is a twentieth century phenomenon . It began when most people in the west finally had enough to eat. It went on to make the lives of millions of women miserable and to make millions of dollars for the diet industry. “Take this powder to replace one meal a day.” “Try these Slimmer’s chocolate biscuits” [which are nothing more than ordinary chocolate biscuits]. “Take these appetite suppressants during the day”. The small print on all of these reads, “Only works as part of a calorie-controlled diet”. So are women too stupid to read the small print, then? Of course we’re not! We’ll just clutch at any straw that might help us to look like a size 0 model – which we never will, as most of us are [a] not hooked on drugs which will make us look ill and therefore skinny and [b] unable to afford the gym fees, personal trainers and lifestyles of these women.

In a little-noticed section of the book that accompanies Jane Fonda’s original “Workout” tape, [oh, yes, I “went for the burn” in those days, in an effort to stay 7 stone!] the actress-activist admits to episodes of bulimia. I could hardly believe this when I first read it. Jane Fonda?! An intelligent political and feminist activist? And she’d done this before the ideal body shape changed from Marilynesque to that of a female who “makes clothes look as if they’re still on the hanger”, as one designer put it. If Jane Fonda could fall for this “thin” nonsense, I realised, then any of us could – and did!

So I have one question, readers: WHY? Why do we allow ourselves to be bullied in this way? It is surely the last tyranny exerted over western women. Why don’t we just PUT A STOP TO IT?

Do you want to look like a dress on a hanger? I don’t! I’ll do my best to stay slim but I’m not going to take laxatives, get obsessed any more or deny myself the odd chocolate. When I showed my very heterosexual Sicilian hairdresser a picture of Nigella he did not exclaim, “Gawd, she’s fat” or “Worra pair of knockers” . He smiled and said, “È una bella donna - She’s a beautiful woman.” And this wise lady still has much to teach us.

I’m not claiming that being clinically obese is good for you or suggesting that we all go out and eat chocolate covered in lard. However, I am saying that the amount of suffering caused by the few extra pounds that most women carry is totally disproportionate to the importance of that weight. As this International Women’s Day draws to a close, couldn’t we give ourselves a gift? We are constantly being told to celebrate diversity. Let us celebrate it in OURSELVES.


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