Monday, January 31, 2011


I've been wondering for some time how professional chefs manage to decorate antipasti, for instance, so neatly with balsamic vinegar and it wasn't until I saw this product in the supermarket on Saturday that I realised that most of them use a commercially available balsamic glaze!  What is more, I just read that this product has been around since 2009 so why haven't I seen it before?

Okey-dokey, let's try some on a platter:

 Hmmm.... a bit cack-handed on the mortadella and cheese, perhaps, but not bad for a first go....

Getting better... no, that's not it on the pineapple - I grilled the pieces.

Almost getting good at this now....

I soon realised that you have to serve the food immediately after decorating it with the glaze.

I'll let you know when I can do spirals and figures of eight and stuff!


Sunday, January 30, 2011


The carnival season is upon us and there are chiacchiere biscuits in the pasticcerie to prove it:

These wafer-thin biscuits are fried and derive their name from the verb chiacchierare, to gossip, either because they are said to be shaped like the tongues of old women or because they make a "Psst!" sound when the dough is dropped into the hot oil.

At our local pasticceria, trays of the freshly made biscuits are being brought out from the workroom behind the shop and, before expertly wrapping the small tray I have asked for, the assistant takes them back into the workroom for a final dusting of icing sugar.  Now they are chiacchiere to be proud of!

Saturday, January 29, 2011


For the third week running, it's the three fabulous young men of Il Volo.  Below the video is my translation of the second song, E più ti penso.  It's for all of you and for someone very special in my life. 

Il Volo:  Per te - E più ti penso - Notte stellata


And the more I think of you the more I miss you
I see you with my tired eyes
And in the darkness of night I always think of you
I close my eyes and think of you
Despite everything you’re the most important thing
And you come back into my heart, sweet as you are
I wonder how I would live without you
And answer that if I can’t see you again
I already know what I’d do – I wouldn’t live.

In the darkness of the night you are far away
Without you there’s an emptiness inside me
And perhaps I’ve already lost you
I clasp the pillow now and you are near
And the more I think of you the more I miss you
I’m nothing without you
I feel like a fish
Who has no water to swim in
Breathing without you
Without you
Without you
And if, by chance, I can’t see you again
I already know what I’d do – I wouldn’t live.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Stinco di maiale, or pork shank, is a cut of meat much beloved of Italian housewives.  To be honest, there isn't much meat on it, which is why most people cook several together, but what there is can taste delicious.  There is something very rustic and homely about the aroma of stinco being cooked slowly in the oven and it is on my list of comfort foods.

For those of you who are in Italy, the recipe for this stinco in a chicken, cream, bread and pistacchio crust is in the January edition of Alice Cucina.  The first time I tried it, the crust burnt but the stinco meat still tasted good, so I decided that it was worth persevering. For my second attempt, I wrapped the crusted shank not only in baking paper, as in the recipe, but also in foil and, as you see, this worked!

Thursday, January 27, 2011


"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."

Edmund Burke

"They couldn't fail to notice us, to know where we came from: our striped garb, the scarves hiding our shaven heads, our thinness betrayed our origins.  When they went out walking, they were not forbidden to pass by the camp of Birkenau, whose sinister appearance hardly concealed its function.    Did they think that those five chimneys, with their sickening smoke, were for the central heating?  What exactly was I asking for? That this little town of five or six thousand inhabitants shoulod revolt, that its Germanic population, resettled there since the German victory, should rise up and liberate the camp?  Why should they have felt responsible for us?  A sudden surge of violence sent the blood into my head:  they were all responsible!  All men were.  The indifference of a single one was our death sentence."

- Fania Fénelon, "Playing for Time".

To those misguided people who saw fit to "decorate" walls in Rome and other cities with anti-Semitic graffiti last night, I would like to point out that their actions are one of the reasons why we need Holocaust Memorial Day and to quote the following:

"No one is safe when religious or ethnic prejudice is tolerated, when racism is rife and when decent, well-meaning people keep quiet because it is prudent."

- Rabbi Hugo Gryn, "Chasing Shadows".

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The Italian National Statistics Office, Istat, has published Noi Italia, a collection of one hundred up to date statistics which will help Italians and others to understand the country and I must say, some of these make very interesting reading:

With a population of 60,600,000, Italy saw a fall in both the number of births and deaths on its territory  last year, with the greater decrease being in the number of births, at an average of 1.4 children per woman.  The slight recovery in the birth rate seems to have ended and the number of people over 65 is now equivalent to 20.3% of the population. This year 2.8% of the population are over 85 and the number of centenarians has tripled since 2001, to 16,000.

Life expectancy in Italy is the third highest in Europe, with only Sweden and Spain doing better.  The national average is 79.1 years for men and 84.3 years for women.  There are some interesting regional variations, with men in the Marche living the longest [79.8 years] whilst the most long-lived women are those resident in Trento-Alto Adige [85.3 years].  The lowest life expectancy for both sexes is in the Campania region [77.5 years for men and 82.8 years for women] whilst the gap between male and female life expectancy is narrowest here in Sicily [77.5 years for men and 82.8 years for women]. 

The number of foreigners living in Italy is estimated at 4,563,000, an increase of 328,000 on the January 2009 figure.  Of these, Romanians comprise the largest community of 890,000 with Albanians, numbering 467,000,  comprising the second and the country's 432,000 Moroccans the third.  The Chinese form the largest Asiatic population within Italy  and Ukrainians form the fifth largest community.  Foreigners from other EU countries number 1.2 million. 

The regions of Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Lombardy and Veneto have the highest numbers of foreign residents while the South as a whole has fewer.  Sardinia, where foreigners make up only 2% of the population, has the fewest.  

Shown as a percentage of the population as a whole, the number of foreign residents in Italy, at 6.5%, is strikingly similar to the UK total, at 6.6%.  Does this perhaps tell us something about the desirability of living in both countries?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


"Things are not always what they seem", admonishes this old postcard, which I've had in my collection for as long as I can remember:

And this afternoon that's what I told some of my students, who were surprised when my friend Lucia turned up at the school bearing this bottle as a gift:

The bottle contains something that I appreciate far more than whisky, namely some of Lucia's own olive oil.  It has a lovely, clear colour and tastes delicious.

Grazie, Lucia!

Monday, January 24, 2011


A TV presenter and personality I like very much is Antonella Clerici, as I find her unpretentious, down to earth and close to the Italian people, so I was delighted to receive her cookery book as a Christmas present.

I've tried her involtini di melanzane [which we might loosely translate as "aubergine rolls"] a couple of times now and they are very good.  I must admit that I found the instruction to lay the rolls, of aubergine slices which you first grill and then fill with cooked ham, basil and scamorza cheese, on squashed tinned tomato a strange one, but it works!  I am not a fan of scamorza, so used buffalo mozzarella instead.

My rolls are not perfectly formed and I do wonder whether you would get better shapes if you used the grilled aubergines in oil that you can buy here sometimes, but, in the absence of these, my imperfect shapes will have to do.

Here they are on the tray with the tomatoes 

and, cocktail sticks removed, ready to serve:

Sunday, January 23, 2011


There is no better way to start Saturday or any day than with a glass of freshly squeezed Sicilian blood orange juice

and, it being the weekend, a slice of orange tart:

Meanwhile, down in Modica Bassa, the farmers' market is in full swing

and even the town's buildings seem to be enjoying the sunny morning:

Lunchtime and back at Bar Cicara a friend and I share a plate of antipasti:

And now it's siesta time!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


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Young people have always taken for granted the scientific and technological advances that their parents marvel at and today's teenagers - born, I am certain, with a mobile phone clamped to one ear - cannot remember a time when people did not have portable telephones.

When men landed on the moon in 1969 I, whilst conceding that this was, indeed, a momentous event, did not exclaim, like my parents, great aunt and grandfather, that I had never expected to live to see the day but wondered, with all the coolness of my generation, why no one had walked on the moon before.

I was reminded of all this yesterday whilst helping a class of fouteen-year-olds with our school's January quiz:  in one question, I had referred to the winter of 1205, when the Thames froze over and wine which had turned to ice was sold by weight.  Why, asked one of my charges -a sommelier-to-be, no doubt - hadn't people just kept the wine at the correct temperature in refrigerators?  I replied that this might have been rather difficult in the year 1205.


More from Il Volo Tenorini.  Enjoy:

Il Volo - O Sole Mio

Friday, January 21, 2011


Two large stones precisely placed against a wall on a busy street.  They are never moved.  Can you guess what they are used for?


I can remember a time when travelling via Catania's Fontanarossa Airport was not a pleasant experience:   sparse information was displayed in the terminal, , access to its few shops was awkward, there was nowhere to sit once you had gone through security and passengers were packed into gate areas like sardines.  To be fair, I should add that even in those days you could get a good meal there and I never found the staff unhelpful.  

Over the years things have been improving, culminating in a relocation and full refurbishment in 2007.  Now Fontanarossa can compete with the best and figures released today confirm it as the number one airport in the South of Italy and as the third most important of Italy's regional airports after Venice and Bergamo.

Over six million passengers passed through Fontanarossa last year and most said that they used it four times a year.  Baggage checks at Fontanarossa are quicker than the national average in Italy and just 0.2 luggage items per 1,000 checked in there go missing, as against the national average of 2 per 1,000.

The president of Sac [Società Aeroporto Catania] puts the airport's recent success down to good marketing, restructuring and renovation.  

Now we are all waiting to see how Fontanarossa and the long-awaited rebuilt airport at Comiso [Ragusa] will work together.  I must say that the Modicani are rather less optimistic about Comiso than the Transport Minister, Altero Matteoli, who, visiting the new airport's infrastructure on Monday, promised to return with a bottle of champagne to celebrate the opening before the summer.  The Modicani, when asked about an opening date, just shrug their shoulders and laugh.

But meanwhile, let's hear it for Fontanarossa!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Looking in shop windows at the enormous reductions offered in Modica's post-Christmas sales, it occurred to me that the reason why stores will slash prices to levels that would give UK shopkeepers multiple heart attacks is that Italians, and Sicilians in particular, still think seasonally.  Therefore it is assumed that no one wants to buy winter clothing once Christmas is over and that no one would dream of buying a swimming costume or sundress after about mid-July.  The idea that some customers may be planning to take holidays in different climate zones seems never to have crossed a store manager's mind here and if you were to ask for out of season clothing you would meet with the same pitying look that you would get if you were to express a desire for ice cream in December.

Thus it is that the Marina di Modica, full of happy sunseekers in summer and virtually deserted in winter, finds itself unloved, uncared for and a sorry sight indeed.  Trees that were damaged in last November's storms lie where they fell, the wide boulevard's plants and green spaces are untended and what could be a major winter tourist attraction is not fulfilling its potential.  Why?  Not, I would guess, merely because the comune lacks money but because of a lack of imagination:  What will it take to convince the powers that be here that people from colder countries want to come to Sicily in winter and when they get here, strange though it may seem, they may well want to walk along the beach, just as others come in summer because that is when they are free  and when these intrepid travellers arrive here they expect tourist attractions to be OPEN!

Better tourist news, however, comes this week from Catania, where some enterprising residents of San Berillo, the former red light district, have had an inspiration about how they might turn a negative image of the city into a positive one:  they are thinking of running tours of the area so that visitors can imagine the atmosphere of seedier times  and  see where films such as Il bell'Antonio [1960] , I Vicerè [2007] and the TV miniseries Il capo dei capi [2007] were made.  Well done, the Catanesi and watch out, Amsterdam!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Talking of competitions, as I was in the previous post, my friend jams has a great one going over at The Poor Mouth:  Jams has decided he can't get his head round philosophy and has invited readers to sum up philosophical concepts in [short] verse.  Here is my effort:

As Sartre said it's all absurd,
Why read, of his, a single word?

Sartre image: Wikipedia

Why not pop over to The Poor Mouth and join in the fun?


Some time ago I won a competition on Saretta's blog, Amid the Olive Trees - not, I should add, through skill, but because in the end Saretta decided to have a draw. Anyway, I was delighted to receive, this morning, Apulia - A Film Tourism Guide, by Alessandra Benvenuto et al and translated by Saretta.  Just a glance through the book is sufficient for me to be able to conclude that this is an excellent translation and I look forward to reading it all.

Thank you, Saretta!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

ETNA - 2

Etna dust under our portico today:

It missed my balcony but was visible on a friend's balcony in Modica Bassa yesterday:

This is the first time I've found any Etna dust in Modica in nearly six years!

Saturday, January 15, 2011


This has always been one of my favourite Italian songs and I love this version by the three young tenors who together form Il VoloTenorini.  Enjoy:

Il Volo Tenorini - Il Mondo

Friday, January 14, 2011


Grumpy old Etna has been at it again and I just have to post these spectacular videos of Wednesday night's eruption.  No one was hurt but as a precaution, Catania's Fontanarossa Airport was closed for several hours. Things have now quietened down but volcanologists are watching the situation closely, as always.


I liked the idea of this beef dish a sei profumi [with six flavours] from the Cucchiaio d'Argento.  The beef  or veal is marinated with garlic, basil, parsley, fresh lemon and orange juice plus the grated peel of a lime and some cumin seeds before being cooked.  At the end of cooking, the marinade is poured back over the meat. 

It is not always easy to find limes in Sicily but when I do this is a pleasant way of using them.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


This week's Italian logic prize goes to a six-year-old student of mine who, when learning English numbers up to 29 yesterday, deduced that 21 must be "twenty-teen".  His companion, not to be outdone, decided that 24 is "twenty-floor".

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


A Sicilian Miss Italia:  Francesca Chillemi in 2003.
The fact that this year's Miss Italia contest is going to be open to women who are a size 44 - British size 12 or US size 10 - is being hailed here as a triumph for all women if not exactly a feminist victory.  The newspapers are full of articles extolling the more curvaceous woman and we are being reassured that men prefer us that way. 

Well, I have a few questions:  since when has a size 12 woman been particularly curvaceous and men, why didn't you tell us before -  vociferously?!  Ever since the sixties, women have been trying to look like stick insects but now it's OK to look - I hardly dare utter the word - healthy? Will someone tell the fashion industry - please?

Does this mean that Liz Hurley will have to stop making ridiculous statements like,"I'd kill myself if I was as fat as Marilyn Monroe" and are the organisers of Miss Italia about to confer upon that most glamorous Italian lady of them all, Sophia Loren, the title that should rightly have been hers back in 1950?

The Miss Italia organisers pride themselves on innovation, having waived the requirement for contestants to give their measurements on the entry forms back in 1990, allowing married women and women who were mothers to enter from 1994 and awarding the title to a woman of colour in 1996.  Last year there was the scandal, or non-scandal,  of the transsexual contestant and from this year women under the age of eighteen will not be allowed to enter.

I suppose we must be grateful for small mercies but I for one look forward to a day when women are judged on their achievements and on their inner, rather than ephemeral, beauty.

Sophia Loren shows contestants how to do elegance at the 2010 Miss Italia contest.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


This is the type of plant that even I can cope with:

On sale today from a street vendor, it is the perfect antidote to the post-Christmas blues.  And it gives me an excuse to post one of my favourite Italian golden oldies, sung by one of my favourite Italian artistes:

Massimo Ranieri - Rose rosse

Monday, January 10, 2011


Dementia-related illness is, because of this and subsequent events, a subject close to my heart so it is good to be able to share with you, tonight, a patient's story with a happy ending. What is more, it is a story of which Simi the dog wholeheartedly approves!

When Michele Giannone, an 87-year-old from the nearby town of Scicli, went missing at around midday on Saturday, his two daughters were quick to  raise the alarm as their father sometimes has memory difficulties. Carabinieri and municipal police immediately launched a search and they were joined by 66 men and women from Italy's Civil Protection Service plus one other very important helper - Kyra, a two-year-old labrador.

As soon as Kyra arrived on the scene, she indicated to her owner that the area to search was a path along the Modica-Scicli river and, despite an erroneous report that Mr Giannone's body had been found in the local cemetery, where he often went to visit the graves of his loved ones, officers and volunteers kept searching while Kyra kept excitingly wagging her tail and barking.

Finally, at 3.45 on Sunday afternoon, Mr Giannone was found, lying face-down in the water.  At first his rescuers feared the worst but Mr Giannone was alive, with grazes all over his body and signs of frostbite.  He was rushed to a local hospital and was later transferred to Modica's Ospedale Maggiore.  He would not have survived another night in the cold.

Mr Giannone's rescuers held a celebration and who do you think was the most feted guest?

Update:  Mr Giannone's condition is now said to be critical and my thoughts are with him and his family. Whatever happens, I think the positive side of this story is the fact that literally no stone was left unturned in the search for him and that a whole community showed that it cares about its elderly and most vulnerable citizens.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


When I first moved to Sicily, it was virtually impossible to purchase a simple shopping bag of the kind you can buy in any supermarket or indoor market in the UK.   When I was out I never saw a man or woman carrying  a shopper, unless it was by Gucci.  Indeed, when I ventured out armed with my faithful British shopping bag Rosa, in particular, used to tell me that a woman carrying two bags looked odd. 

Well, all that may be about to change as  Italy introduced a blanket ban on plastic carrier bags in stores from January 1st.  Whilst environmentalists have welcomed the ban, store managers have been predicting chaos and warning that the country's environmental crisis will worsen, as people will no longer be able to recycle store plastic carriers as rubbish bags and will just go out and buy lots of oversized black bags.

Italy is responsible for 25% of the plastic bags used in the EU each year or approximately 300 bags per person annually and, whilst I appreciate that the ban has been introduced partially to avoid scenes like the one below, I personally  regard the ban as a nuisance:  It is not always possible to know how many bags you will need before you shop and paper bags disintegrate in the rain - not a concern for those who shop by car but a problem for the rest of us.

It is true that local councils in Italy have been trying, with little success, to get people to separate their rubbish but it is hard to keep a check on this in a country where most people live in flats and take their rubbish to communal containers.  In my view an education campaign is needed to raise awareness about the consequences of not recycling while Napoli-style bag mountains can best be avoided by paying refuse collectors their salaries on time!

So far I have seen no chaos in my local supermarket and neither have I seen any alternative to  plastic bags but this may be because stores are being allowed to use up their current supply of carriers provided they do not charge for them.

Cloth bags are on sale in some stores but I have not seen any durable, PVC bags of the type you can buy cheaply in Britain.  But then, I have never seen a wipe-clean PVC apron on sale here either and I am sure this is because Italian women prefer aprons that they can iron.  So now I am waiting to see if they will start washing and ironing their cloth bags.  I wouldn't put it past the perfectionist Sicilian housewife!

Saturday, January 08, 2011


A meeting of the "international ladies" - and three gentlemen! - at Linda and Gino's today to celebrate the end of the Christmas season and the New Year.

First of all, I thought you would like to see some crib figurines made by Gino and effectively displayed on a cakestand:

I particularly like the Joseph figure in the baseball cap, don't you?

Everybody took along some goodies [yes, I contributed some of my "Cappuccino cookies"]:

Of course, it wouldn't have been a Sicilian "do" without some delicious pastries from a local pasticceria or a rounding-off-Christmas occasion without some panettone:

At the end there was grapefruit ftrom Gino's garden for everyone to take home:

Grazie, Gino e buon anno a tutti gli amici!

Friday, January 07, 2011


I made these in honour of the Befana yesterday.  For those of you who are in Italy, the recipe is in the January edition of A Tavola.

You are supposed to use white chocolate drops but I used the white chocolate covered coffee beans I got at the Chocobarocco Festival, so I am calling my version "Cappuccino cookies".  They are easy to make - I am a great fan of dough that does not need to be rolled out - crunchy and delicious.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Monday, January 03, 2011


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A man suspected of collecting protection money for the Mafia received a seasonal surprise on Christmas Eve when he was arrested – by Santa Claus.

The man was being watched by an undercover policeman dressed as Santa as he collected the money from a Catania shopkeeper who had been the victim of a Mafia extortion racket for some years.  “Santa” was distributing sweets to children outside the shop but dropped some just before he pounced on the man, who was about to drive off.  Other police officers who had been waiting nearby then arrived on the scene. 

The police had placed hidden cameras both inside and outside the shop.  The shopkeeper, who did not know that his premises were being watched, admitted to having paid protection money for over a decade.

At the time of his arrest, the suspected mafioso was carrying a ceramic dish, 200 euros and a panettone which he had allegedly obtained by extortion from a nearby bar.   I wonder if he enjoyed the panettone in jail?

Sunday, January 02, 2011


It was with sadness that I read, last week, of the death of Isabelle Caro, the French actress and model who had been suffering from anorexia for 15 years.  Caro, who was 28,  actually died on 17th November but her family announced the death on 29th December.

Isabelle Caro's most recent weight was 33 kilograms [5 st 3lbs] for her height of 1.65 metres [5ft 5"] and, during her long battle with anorexia, her weight had, at times, dropped even lower than that.

Here in Italy she was best known for a photograph by Oliviero Toscani in which her bones stick out of her pathetically thin frame.  The photo was intended to spearhead a publicity campaign warning of the dangers of anorexia but the Italian Advertising Authority had it withdrawn because it was so distressing to look at.  The photo was later used by "pro-ana" websites, the sites that promote anorexia as a lifestyle and should, in my opinion, be banned.

Caro clearly had issues with her mother, who, in the model's own words, did not want her to grow, so both were, in their ways, sick women but of course this kind of attitude to women's bodies must, primarily, be blamed on the media and the fashion industry. 

The announcement of Caro's death came on the same day as we learnt of the fashion designer Alberta Ferretti's decision to use "real" women rather than models to show her new collection.  I salute Ferretti but this gesture is not enough.  The media has to stop showing impossibly thin women as role models, designers need to design clothes that look good off the hanger and all of us need to rethink our attitude to weight in everyday life:

As someone who has had to deal with fluctuating weight all my life, I am constantly amazed by the number of people who, although they would never dream of making a remark about any other physical defect, seem to believe that it is OK to say what they like when it comes to weight.  Well, I have news for them:  it isn't and these remarks can ruin someone's day, cause deep hurt and can lead some vulnerable people to take dieting to dangerous extremes.

I can only suppose that people make these cruel remarks because they believe that weight is something that can be controlled but this is not always true:  not everyone has the time or resources to be able to attend a gym, some people cannot, for health reasons, do vigorous exercise and in some cases the body finds its own "comfortable weight".  The last thing that someone who has learnt to accept that they will always carry a few extra kilos needs is a thoughtless remark - which will, I am ashamed to say, nearly always come from a woman - that makes them feel like a sack of potatoes!

So, this year, let's all think before we make that throwaway remark about someone's weight, shall we?

Saturday, January 01, 2011


If you do not eat your lentils on New Year's Eve in Italy, you cannot expect good fortune in the New Year so, having partaken of a wonderful lunch at Irma's yesterday, I was wondering what light dish I could make with lentils.

Then I remembered that in Jennifer Aldridge's Archers Cookbook there is a recipe for a lentil salad which I had made many times in the UK.  Jennifer's recipe uses Puy lentils and adds cumin, cayenne pepper and coriander to the dressing but  I used basil and parsley and gave it a squirt from my chilli  seasoning spray [of which I am much enamoured].  I used cherry tomatoes instead of peeling and chopping large tomatoes.  Here, with a nod to Jennifer, is my Italianised version:

Cook 4 oz red lentils until soft [about 30 mins].  Meanwhile, cook a whole, large aubergine on a foil-lined tray at 200C until the skin is crinkly [takes around the same amount of time]. Drain the lentils and rinse with cold water, then chuck them into a salad bowl.  When the aubergine is cool enough to handle, peel it and chop the flesh.  Add to the bowl.  Now add a chopped onion, 1 or 2 chopped yellow peppers, about 12 halved, cherry tomatoes and a handful of chopped basil and parsley.  Mix everything well.  Make a dressing by mixing 6 tablesp olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste and a little chilli seasoning.  Chill for an hour or two before serving.

"The Archers" is a British radio soap opera and, coincidentally, celebrates its sixtieth anniversary tomorrow, when we are promised an episode that "will shock the nation".  [I listen online.]  Jennifer Aldridge is everyone's favourite smug snob, but you do have to admire a woman who has continued to put up with husband Brian's infidelities, has taken in his love child, spends most of her life pacifying her horrific daughter Kate and has now become related by marriage to inverted snob Susan Carter.  Here's to you, Jennifer!


Jovanotti - Buon anno


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