Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The fruit seller who usually calls me bambina called me mamma this morning.  It comes to us all, I suppose....

My grandmother, Mary.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Regular readers of this blog will know that I follow the Arandora Star Campaign with interest, not least because 53 of those who perished in the 1940 tragedy were Welsh Italians and I was pleased to be able to report that a memorial to these men had been unveiled in Wales in July this year.

Now a play has been written about the disaster and here is the article I wrote about this for Italy Magazine last week:

New Play About Arandora Star Tragedy

Italy Magazine followed the lead-up, this year, to the seventieth anniversary of the Arandora Star tragedy, in which 486 British Italian internees were drowned. Rounded up by the British government without consideration for their families, these respectable men who had made their lives in Britain were regarded as a security threat and were treated cruelly by their guards.

On July 1st 1940, 734 of them were put aboard the Arandora Star, which left Liverpool with 1,864 passengers and crew, bound for Canada. On July 2nd she was torpedoed.

Now the tragedy has been turned into a play by Alfo Bernebei, an Italian who has been living in Britain for 40 years, reports the Telegraph. “The Tailor at the Bottom of the Sea” tells the story of a real-life character, anti-fascist campaigner Decio Anzani, and a fictional British camp commander. Mr Anzani died in the tragedy.

The play will open in Jesi [Marche] on 4th December and later Mr Bernebei hopes that it will be performed in Britain.

The Arandora Star tragedy remains one of the most ignominious episodes in British war history and the campaign for a government apology continues.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


For those of you in Italy, this recipe is from the Conad Supermarket Chain's November edition of their free magazine, Bene Insieme.  I've altered the recipe slightly so will give my version here: 

First of all, oil the base of a deep, oval roasting dish well.  Cut 3 large potatoes into rounds - as you all know, I refuse to peel them - and arrange them in the dish. Then cut 3 medium onions into rounds - the recipe says white ones but I used a mixture of white and red - and add to the dish.  Cut 2 lemons into rounds and squeeze another while you're at it.  Of course, I am convinced that this works so well because of the flavour of Sicilian lemons but if you are in the UK, try to get unwaxed ones.  Now put 2 fresh bay leaves into the cavity of your chicken and add a bunch of fresh herbs such as rosemary,sage, thyme, basil, mint and oregano.  Don't bother chopping the herbs - that's for wimps!  Now stuff in as many of the lemon slices as you can, too.  Pour a little olive oil into the cavity, then sit the chicken on top of the vegetables in the dish.  Pour the lemon juice over the chicken and put any remaining lemon slices around and on top of it.  In fact, I cut up another lemon to do this.  I put some more sprigs of rosemary around the chicken, too, just because I like it that way.  Season to taste and cook the chicken at 200 C for 50 minutes, basting now and then. 

Breathe in  the aroma and then serve four lucky people.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


A golden oldie for you all today:

Mina e A Lupo - Parole, Parole

Friday, November 26, 2010


Here is my pick of last week's Italy Magazine articles.

Everyone is talking about the rubbish crisis in Naples but, in the run-up to Christmas, let us not forget a more positive claim to fame that the city has.  Everyone also continues to talk about Mr Berlusconi and you really would think that the Prime Minister's manhood had caused enough trouble;  then this story broke.  If, on the other hand, you are fed up with stories of the airheads who surround him, here is the perfect antidote.

Immigrant workers in Brescia found a unique way of drawing attention to their plight but the day after this story appeared torrential rain forced them down from their crane.  

Tired of politics and protests?  Here you can learn why it will shortly be time for tea in Rome 

With an early genereal election in Italy looking increasingly likely, I wrote about my personal experience of participating in Italian elections for my Patti Chiari column.

Happy reading.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


The fruit seller who calls me "bambina" called from his lorry that he was "giving away" oranges this morning.  By that he meant, of course, that they were especially cheap but I was determined to resist - until, that is, I saw one word on the crates:  "vaniglia".  Sicilian vanilla oranges really do taste of vanilla and everyone should try one before they die.

Later slabs of Valgrana cheese from Piemonte were on offer in the supermarket and what better to go with one than cotognata [quince paste]?  A marriage made in heaven.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It is several months since I received an email entitled, "Avid blog reader wants to meet you in Modica" and made the online acquaintance of Bill, the writer of the mail and his partner Eric.  Through further emails, I also got to know Toby, Bill and Eric's cute Yorkshire terrier and of course, they all got to know Simi.  From Bill I also learnt about the autumn beauty of his home state of Vermont and more about Bill the man by reading the poetry on his blog

Bill and Eric invited me to lunch in Modica and today I met them for real at the Osteria dei Sapori Perduti.  We had a long, leisurely meal and discussed a wide range of topics including, of course, Sicilian food!  Without further ado I'll get on with showing you some of that:

You absolutely cannot visit the Sapori Perduti without partaking of their magnificent antipasti, so we happily tucked into these dishes:

Then Eric ordered two primi, cavatieddi with aubergine sauce and pasta with maccu, a kind of broad bean paste

while Bill had fastola, a bean soup

and I had my favourite sweet ravioli with a pork sauce:

While Eric finished his primi, Bill had coniglio stemperato [the traditional Modican dish of rabbit cooked in wine vinegar] while I had grilled veal:

Finally Bill had gel alla mandorla [almond gel] while Eric and I had gel al limone:

And here we all are:

Afterwards, Bill and Eric came home with me to meet Simi, as Toby, I'm told, is expecting a full report:

It was great to meet you, Bill and Eric.  Enjoy the rest of your Sicilian trip!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


A superb example of Modican pazienza as I arrived at the bus stop for Modica Bassa this morning: When I asked an elderly gentleman if the bus was due, he made the hands in the air gesture and replied,

"Se viene, arriva"  -"If it's coming, it will arrive".

Monday, November 22, 2010


The city of Gela found itself in the news again at the weekend following the crumbling on Friday night of part of a fifteenth century portal leading to the Santuario Maria SS d'Alemanna.  At one time the portal was the entrance to the Sanctuary but the area around it, already deemed dangerous two years ago, had been sealed off.

The Salesian brothers who care for the Sanctuary, which is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, are brushing aside comparisons with Pompeii, saying that only a few stones and pieces of plaster fell from a disused structure.

You can judge for yourselves from the pictures in this video:

This incident comes at a time when Italy's Culture Minister is facing a vote of no confidence over the crumbling of the House of Gladiators at Pompeii and amid concerns about the stability of the Greek and Roman amphitheatres at Siracusa, among other ancient monuments in Italy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


The best kind of planning meeting takes place over afternoon tea, when everybody brings some cakes or biscuits they have made, as the ladies - and one or two gentlemen - of Modica's "foreign legion" did on Friday.  We were planning our annual multilingual carol service and we got that part of the meeting concluded in no time!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Catania's own Carmen Consoli has a new album, Per niente stanca, out this week, so that gives me an excuse to post this.  Enjoy:

Carmen Consoli - Questa notte

Friday, November 19, 2010


Here is my pick of last week's Italy Magazine articles:

In the run-up to next year's celebrations of 150 years of Italian Unity the Italian flag is being honoured in an exhibition in Rome . Twenty-four  of the country's top designers have been asked to contribute their interpretation of the tricolore and their creations form the highlight of the show.  Elsewhere the Unity celebrations have caused a row as the organisers of next February's Sanremo Song Festival argue over which songs to include on a night dedicated to the anniversary. 

Never mind:  Italian researchers have proved that a healthy sex life is good for us and  in more good news Italian footballing hero Roberto Baggio received a well-deserved award.

For my Patti Chiari column I wrote about Vincenzo Bellini and his relationship with the city of Catania and the pasta dish named for his most famous heroine.  The recipe is here, too.

Happy reading.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Here is a video to make us all glad to be alive and below it is my article about it for yesterday's edition of Italy Magazine.

Agira - Fashion Capital of Italy?

A one-minute YouTube video about the village of Agira in Enna Province, Sicily has received over 48,000 views in just one week. The video features some very special sights in Agira – its inhabitants, “the coolest people ever seen”, who certainly know how to dress with style.

In the video you can see, among others, Antonio, whose style is “experimental Scottish elegance”, Giuseppa, “the Oriental fashion dream”, Nino, who sports the “Dolcevita total look” and Vincenzo and Carmela going for a stroll as the “eternal love défilé”.

So is Agira really the hidden fashion capital of Italy? The video is the idea of a group of creative young people at the online communications company Mosaicoon and a company spokesperson says they were one of the first companies in Italy to understand the potential of viral video for their clients. The video is part of an advertising campaign to promote the first fashion village in Sicily, Sicilia Fashion Village, near Enna.

Whether you are interested in the promotion or not, we think you will enjoy the video.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Image:  Wikimedia Commons

Imagine the reaction of police in Gela yesterday when a farm worker entered their station and announced,

"I've found a bomb and it's in the boot of my car."

The man, who has been dubbed "Mr Bean" by the Sicilian press, had found the World War 11 "pineapple" hand grenade on a beach, picked it up, put it in his car and had then driven to the police station in a highly populated, busy part of the city.  The car was immediately cordoned off by police and several nearby businesses and a post office had to be evacuated.

At last the grenade was safely exploded by bomb disposal police from Palermo and life has returned to normal in Gela.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010


Karima Keyek, better known in Italy as "Ruby Rubacuori" ["Ruby, stealer of hearts"] and famous as the girl who sparked the latest Berlusconi scandal,  has expressed a wish to return to her native Sicily.  Although she is being driven around Milan in a red Ferrari and is wearing Saint Laurent, our Ruby hankers for the simple life of Catania where, she says, a girl can enjoy herself dining on a slice of pizza and a beer.

Ruby, it seems, has been offered a job as a belly dancing instructor in a Catania gym and she is not letting the fact that she has never attended a belly dancing class in her life put her off, for she believes that the ability to perform Arabic dance is something that she has inherited from her Moroccan mother.

The Saint Laurent dress is a present from friends, by the way and those friends do not include Mr Berlusconi, insists Ruby petulantly.  We look forward to seeing you enjoying the simple life in it, Ruby.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I liked this way of cooking pork chops coated with Dijon mustard and breadcrumbs with sage leaves.  The recipe is in the November edition of La Cucina from Corriere della Sera.  What better accompaniment, I thought, than a salad of Sicilian oranges?

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was freed "unconditionally" today. I do not wish to mar the celebrations of this day but I cannot help fearing that she will be rearrested in a replay of  the "90 days" series of arrests that we saw in apartheid South Africa.  No one is more aware of this danger than Aung San Suu Kyi herself.  Let us hope, however, that "unconditionally" means exactly that and that this brave lady is allowed to speak freely from now on.  

Of the Burmese tradition of releasing a caged bird on New Year's Day, Aung San Suu Kyi has written:

"I could not help wondering how much value there could be to a gesture of liberation that does not truly guarantee freedom."
- Letters from Burma, 1995.


This track from 2006 is of the saddest songs ever recorded by Eros Ramazzotti.  It is about a twenty-year-old girl who committed suicide by throwing herself under a train.  In the song, Eros wonders if he could have helped her but, sadly, she dreamed of a world very different from this one.   In an interview about the song, Eros said that our difficulties should make us stronger but only those who have been in that dark, hopeless place know how hard this is:

Eros Ramazzotti - Sta passando novembre

Friday, November 12, 2010


Salvatore Giuliano

Here is my pick of last week's Italy Magazine articles:

First of all, there are 41 days till Christmas so here are some places you could visit to get in the mood.

It was, of course, another terrible week for Mr Berlusconi and you can read all about his latest misfortunes here.   The people of Northern and Central Italy had a bad week too as torrential rain claimed at least three lives and the fact that the government is preoccupied with the Premier's not so private life did not escape commentators here. 

As Amanda Knox prepares for her appeal hearing in December, one man, at least, is convinced of her innocence:  I interviewed former FBI agent Steve Moore.  Meanwhile the town of Perugia remembers the victim in this sad case and has inaugurated a scholarship in Meredith Kercher's name.

I cannot quite believe that one of the iconic sights of Italy may soon disappear but I'm prepared to believe in any affordable anti-ageing treatment!

Finally, imagine the scene in a cemetery in Montelepre one late October day this year as the remains in the grave marked Salvatore Giuliano were exhumed:  soon we will know for sure if the "Sicilian Robin Hood" was really shot dead at Castelvetrano in 1950 or if he is an 88-year-old living comfortably in the United States.  Do read my Patti Chiari column and let me know what you think.

Happy reading.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


For the Colonel's lady an' Judy O'Grady
are sisters under their skins!
- Rudyard Kipling,  The Ladies

I will not judge in this strange case in the Messinese for we do not know what kind of life the young woman had had or why she felt she had so little choice.  As far as I can ascertain, she is not an immigrant who was forced into prostitution but who knows what hardships or deprivations she had endured?  This is my report for Italy Magazine today:  

A 23-year-old woman has been saved from a life of sexual slavery in Messina [Sicily] because she managed to raise the alarm on the social networking site Facebook. The details, as reported by the online Messina newspaper Tempo Stretto, are as follows:

When she was 20, the woman met a 55-year-old man known as T.O. This man threatened her and forced her into prostitution, taking €30 - 50 from her after each sexual encounter she had with clients. After a while the young woman met a 41-year-old man, known as S.A, who reportedly fell in love with her but was married with three children. When he discovered that she was working as a prostitute, he began mistreating her and took the remaining €20 that she kept after each sexual encounter. The young woman also endured violence at the hands of her clients.

When her landlord threw her out of the house where she was living, S.A introduced her to another man, a 58-year-old known as I.D.  This man offered her a room in his house and this time, the young woman thought she had met someone who would help her. However, she soon found herself a prisoner in the house. While her captor was out she managed to create a profile on Facebook and told a female Facebook contact about her situation. The contact, in turn, alerted a Facebook friend of her own, a policeman from Palermo who alerted colleagues in Messina.

The three men have been arrested.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Ever since the Gladiators' House at Pompeii crumbled into dust on Saturday morning, mayors all over Italy have been making enquiries as to the safety of monuments in their own towns and today Mayor Roberto Visentin of Siracusa announced that the Greek Theatre there is also at risk.   He has called for an urgent conference on what can be done to ensure its survival.

The Mayor's task has not made any easier by the visitors who left the remains of their chewing gum - over 5,000 revolting blobs of the stuff - on the stone seats like calling cards this summer and I am wondering if anyone can shed light on the mentality of someone who would do this. 

People have been attending performances of Greek tragedies in this amazing and humbling setting for nearly 3,000 years.  Let us hope that they will be able to continue to do so for generations to come.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


This is another dish that I make when, as now, I am in much need of comfort.  The recipe is in Nigella's Feast book.  I find it works best, here, if I use dried sausage from the butcher's and I am convinced that it is the Sicilian lemon that makes it special.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Vincenzo Bellini
Image:  Wikimedia Commons

The city of Catania is having difficulty in raising sufficient funds to stage its second Bellini Festival, due to begin on 29th November.   I'm sad about this as the city is justly proud of its most famous son, whose birthplace is one of the nicest museums of its kind anywhere.  And you just have to like a composer who inadvertently graced a pasta dish with the name of his best known heroine.

The Catanesi are hoping that the Regional Government will come up with the funds but just in case it doesn't, let's have a mini Bellini festa on Sicily Scene tonight.   

Clara Polito e l'Orchestra del Teatro Massimo Bellini di Catania - Casta Diva [Norma]

Cincin, Vincenzo!

Sunday, November 07, 2010


This is a belated post [sorry, Mimi] for the 2010 Blog Blast for Peace but it is none the less heartfelt for that.

If there is to be peace, it has to begin somewhere and, if we cannot reach out to each other as individuals, what hope is there of reconciliation between nations?  As it is so near the festive season, I am posting this wonderful song, normally associated with Christmas:

Gladys Knight in Washington - Let There Be Peace on Earth


Saturday, November 06, 2010


Instead of posting a sabato musicale tonight, I would like to remember Jill Clayburgh, whose death was announced earlier today.   

Here she is in one of  Bernardo Bertolucci's most controversial films, La Luna:

And here she is in a happier film:

We will miss you, Jill.

Friday, November 05, 2010


Here is my pick of last week's Italy Magazine articles:

It was the week in which we discovered that the Milanese have the most extramarital affairs in Italy and Mr Berlusconi's love life came under the media spotlight once again as the term bunga bunga entered the Italian language.  The passing of Paul the psychic octopus - who was, of course, Italian and really called Paolo - was mourned and if the CEO of Fiat gets his way Italians will soon also be mourning a national icon.  It wasn't all gloom, however, with Christina Hendricks telling us that living in Italy made her both curvier and sexier whilst a young man from Cervia [Emilia-Romagna] was declared the world's best sommelier

Here is a Venetian festival that I would love to attend this month.  How about you?

For my Patti Chiari column, I had the pleasure of inteviewing my friend Giusy Asta, a Modican wedding planner with a difference.  Giusy's shop in Modica Bassa is one of my favourite places here.  Take a look at the article to understand why.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


In a week when Italy's Premier has made what is being seen as yet another outrageous gaffe and is generally being depicted abroad as a buffoon, I think it is time for me to add my two-centesimi worth to the debate.  For anyone who has not read of the latest scandal, the background is here but to cut a long story short, the Prime Minister of Italy is being accused of inappropriately helping a minor to evade police charges of theft and illegal entry into Italy. Erotic parties are said to have regularly  taken place at Mr Berlusconi's Milan residence and the girl, who denies having had sex with the Premier, says that he gave her money and gifts.  Yesterday Mr Berlusconi shocked progressive Italians and caused indignation around the world when he said that it is better to like beautiful women than to be gay.

The remark, in my opinion, was not a gaffe but a carefully orchestrated appeal to the Berlusconi heartland of sexually conventional Italy.  Everywhere an Italian looks, it seems, there are sex scandals but at least the Prime Minister is attracted to the right gender, goes the logic.   So when smiling Silvio shrugs his shoulders and conveys the message, "Look at me - I'm a regular guy", he reassures middle Italy whilst also appealing to a very Italian instinct - the instinct for joy.  After all, the reasoning continues, even the Premier's detractors would have to admit that the man has worked hard so doesn't he deserve a little fun?  And hey, is there any man out there who wouldn't like to party with pretty girls?

This is not to say that everyone is defending the Premier - far from it, for many Italians are expressing shame at the way in which their country may be perceived abroad.  Many women in Italy, feeling that the Premier's behaviour is degrading to their sex, have been expressing their shame for some time and Mr Berlusconi's estranged wife, Veronica Lario, is a heroine to some.  Personally I am not sure about her status as a heroine, for independent women do not expect men to provide for them nor do they hark back to a career they abandoned upon marriage as a justification for that provision, for who knows how that career would have fared?  If I were to name a heroine of the Berlusconi era, it would be Rosy Bindi, President of the Democratic Party and long the target of some of the Premier's cruellest remarks, which she deals with extremely well and with remarkable restraint.

But if Italians are ashamed of  Mr Berlusconi and are losing faith in  the governing Coalition, whom, then, do they trust?  Not the Opposition, generally seen as weak and not, en masse, the federalist Lega Nord [Northern League, currently part of the Coalition];  possibly Gianfranco Fini, President of the Chamber of Deputies and founder of the parliamentary group Futuro e Libertà per l'Italia.  Mr Fini is perceived as strong and able to stand up to both the Lega Nord and the Premier.

There are brave journalists, too, who defy government attempts to gag the press and, although Mr Berlusconi's media holdings are vast, most Italian newspapers, contrary to popular belief in other countries,  do question the Premier's behaviour.

As an outsider who cares very much about Italy, I would stand with another heroine of mine, Rita Levi-Montalcini and put my faith in the country's young people:  time and time again, and with astonishing equanamity, young Italians put themselves through impossible procedures to obtain jobs that do not, in reality, exist for them; they are politically active and aware in ways that a country like Britain should envy; and they are ready to do their utmost to achieve the peaceful change that is needed.

Italy, despite or perhaps because of everything, is still a proud democracy.  What it is not, however, is a meritocracy and this is the factor that is holding it back.   Only Italians can decide whether this situation can change under this Premier.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


An enterprising young farmer in Caltanissetta is producing sausages made from goats' meat for communities which do not eat pork.  Luca Cammarata, of Azienda Cammarata   won the Oscar green prize in the Farm Style and Culture category in a competition for young farmers organised by the Italian Farmers' Union Coldiretti back in July.   He also produces goat cheeses, milk and yoghurt.

Luca has raised a herd of Maltese goats, helping to protect the species from extinction and invites parents to bring their children to his farm so that they can learn something about traditional country ways before it is too late.

Let's hear it for Sicilian enterprise!

Monday, November 01, 2010


When houses are silent and all are fast asleep tonight, so Italian children believe, the cari defunti or beloved departed of their families will once again become their mortal selves and will come into the bedrooms of their loved ones, kiss them and see that they are tucked in cosily.  Then they will hide some gifts for the children to find tomorrow morning.  In Sicily, frutta di Martorana or mazipan fruit will be among the gifts.

Later tomorrow families will visit their local cemeteries to give thanks for the generosity of their departed relatives and there they will light red votive candles and even sit down for a picnic among the tombs, for this festival, particularly dear to Sicilians, has two purposes:  to remember the dead and to teach children that death is part of life.


View My Stats