Thursday, June 30, 2011


I am happy for the kind folk who work in my local Conad supermarket that their company is doing so well in the midst of a recession - I really am.   It's just that, with its profits up by 5.1 % at the end of 2010 and its market share at 15.4%, you would think that the chain could afford the delivery cost of a few saucepans.  

The loyalty stamps I collected over the Christmas period entitled me to a saucepan, you see, but by February, when I finally had enough stamps, my local store only had the lids in stock.  The staff dutifully wrote my name down and promised I would eventually get the pan but it's been rather a long time, don't you think?  The lid I have is very smart but it's not much use without the pan! 

Anyway, pazienza:  it gives me an excuse to post this reminder of Wales:

Cerys Matthews - Sospan Fach

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Sicilian involvement in royal weddings continues this Saturday when plants from the island will decorate the streets of Monaco in celebration of the marriage of Prince Albert and Charlene Wittstock.

The plants, from the Faro di Riposto nursery in the Etna area, include several varieties of citrus tree, olive trees, Aleppo pine, camphor laurel and, of course, laurus nobilis [bay].  Four lorries began transporting them to Monaco several days ago and what a treat the people of the Principality have in store!

The Faro di Riposto company supplied  plants for the award-winning Monaco Garden designed by Sarah Eberle for this year's Chelsea Flower Show.  This project was also commissioned by Prince Albert.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


This dish, from the June edition of Vero Cucina, turned out to be delicious: the chicken joints and orange slices are marinated in olive oil, ginger and saffron and then cooked slowly with the zucchini and, later, the olives in a mixture of brodo and honey:

I'm looking forward to making it again during the Sicilian orange season when it will, I am sure, taste even better!

Monday, June 27, 2011


I have another success story for you tonight, this time from the world of fashion.

There can be few more inauspicious beginnings to a life in Europe than arriving illegally on Lampedusa in a migrant boat after a perilous seventeen-hour voyage and then being transferred to a tented camp  - a tendopoli - in Manduria [Puglia] but for one young man, at least, a happy ending may be in sight:

Twenty-year-old Houssem from Tunisia was spotted in Manduria by Salvatore Toma, the owner of the clothing company Havana & Co , based in nearby Sava .   Inspired by the presence of Houssem and other migrants in their area,  Havana & Co created a patchwork jacket - "Social Patchwork" - in a pattern of Islamic and Chinese symbols linked by letters from the Cyrillic alphabet.  Houssem's height and striking features made him the perfect person to model the jacket and that is exactly what he did at this year's Pitti Uomo show in Florence.

Houssem does not want a career in fashion, however:  his ambition is to stay in Italy and work in the catering sector because that is the kind of work he did at home.  He would like to live in a small town, perhaps in Puglia.  His permesso di soggiorno runs out in October but signor Toma says he is going to do everything in his power to ensure that it is renewed.

I am sure that you will join me in celebrating Italian creativity and kindness and in wishing Houssem every success.

Havana & Co at Pitti Uomo

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Some of you may remember that I have been following the progress of talented Modican soprano Adriana Iozzia since she was six years old.  Her mother is my close friend Irma and I am proud to have Adriana as a friend too.

Tonight I am happy to be able to tell you that from 1st - 3rd August Adriana will be singing the role of Pamina in The Magic Flute  in Béziers, France.  The part of Tamino will be sung by the famous Macedonian tenor, Blagoj Nacoski.

This is a wonderful opportunity for Adriana and one for which she has studied and worked hard.  I am sure you will all join me in congratulating her and wishing her well.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Here is easy on the eye Neapolitan singer Alessio with the eternal cry of the male - "Sono un bastardo ma amo te" ["I'm a bastard but I love you"].  How many times have we heard it, ladies?

Alessio - Dimmi che mi ami

Friday, June 24, 2011


Thanks to my friend the Welshie in Italy for giving me the idea for a series of posts in which I'll invite you to guess the ice cream flavours.

In this first one I've got my favourite amarena [black cherry] flavour but what else do you think I've got in there?  I'll put the answer in the comments.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


myspace layouts

Women's clothing has always been at its most restrictive during eras when women's rights have been limited so how ironic it is that today, when in the West, at least, we can boast of our emancipation, fashion is at its cruellest:  our great-grandmothers, it is true, had to wear layer upon layer of clothing whatever the weather but they did not have to bare their legs, arms and even their stomachs and, where fuller garments did not completely disguise fuller figures, they had corsetry to do the rest - a secret which their descendants have discovered rather too late.

But every now and then fashion is kind and I for one am clapping the maxi-dress all the way back to the catwalk. Yes, it has taken a year or two for it to catch on again in Italy but this summer it is here to stay and I am sure I am not the only one for whom this is a relief.  There comes a point in a woman's life, you see, when she just does not want to show her legs and when that sad day dawns she finds few elegant alternatives:  she can accept the fact and go the whole hog like mesdames Merkel and Clinton but neither of these smart ladies has to contend with the Sicilian summer.  One could always go and live in Catellammare di Stabia, I suppose, and one can lessen the horrors of leg-baring slightly by using fake tans but the latter are almost as much trouble as moving house.   

So bentornati ai maxi-vestiti, say I:  I loved you in the 1970s and I adore you, for different reasons, now!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


In yet another homage to Mantova, I enjoyed making this dish of courgette flowers filled with a mixture of ham, grana cheese, parsley, garlic and, surprisingly, mashed potato.  The mixture is flavoured with nutmeg.  I cannot give you the whole, copyright recipe here but I do have one tip for you if you are going to make a similar dish:  make a normal amount of mashed potato and eat the rest as comfort food!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Although Italy has been requesting EU help with regard to the migration situation on Lampedusa since the beginning of this year, it has taken a visit from Angelina Jolie, in her capacity as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, for the BBC to send out a journalist of the calibre of Zeinab Badawi and for the constant migrant arrivals on the island to make international headlines.

Visiting Lampedusa on Monday - World Refugee Day - Miss Jolie, accompanied by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, insisted, upon entering the Identification and Deportation Centre, on having her fingerprints taken, as all migrant arrivals there do.  In a speech she thanked Italy for keeping its borders open and the Lampedusani for their kindness towards the migrants.  Later, speaking to Badawi, Miss Jolie said that diversity, far from being a phenomenon to be feared, is a beautiful thing.

The "boat loads of sorrow", of course, continue to arrive and you may imagine the consternation of the Italian authorities last week when they realised that one of these was carrying a sheep.  At first the boat's passengers told the Italians that they had brought the animal along to assure a supply of milk for the children on board but later it emerged that it could have been made to travel in readiness for a celebratory meal or even as a joke.  Sadly the adventure was no joke for the animal, who was put down because Italian vets said they could not risk an outbreak of foot and mouth disease on the island.  The authorities identified, on the same boat, two Tunisians who had only been deported from Lampedusa the previous week and this reinforced the police officers' conclusion that the sheep had been transported as some sort of prank.   Are these young men foolhardy or daring and brave?  What do you think?

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, speaking at the same time as Angelina Jolie, drew huge applause from the crowd on Lampedusa when he mentioned his own hard line on immigration.  Now the Lampedusani await the promised boost to tourism that Mr Berlusconi has promised them as a result of his purchase of a villa on the island.  The Premier was unable to sign a contract for the purchase of his original choice of island home because the location of the house posed security problems but the Italian media is reporting that the purchase of a different villa will be concluded next week.

Meanwhile defecting Libyan army personnel have declared their intention of sailing for the island.

My own hope is that the Jolie visit to Lampedusa raises awareness and obtains worldwide media coverage for the migration crisis.

Porta d'Europa, Lampedusa

You can see part of Zeinab Badawi's interview with Angelina Jolie here.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Over the past six years, I have got used to going straight up to the counter at the newsagent's rather than waiting to be asked what I need, having my change slammed on to the counter instead of put into my hand and, in larger stores,  being followed around by a shop assistant rather than being left to browse.  I have even acquired some of the patience and not a little of the resignation required to carry out a transaction in that least favourite building of mine, the post office.

But there is one thing I simply cannot do and that is to queue-jump: Thus it was that I received a very strange look from the post office clerk this morning after I had dutifully waited till my ticket number showed on the screen when all I wanted was a form to fill in.  Yes, everybody else makes a beeline for the clerk, with no  consideration for the customer whose transaction is being interrupted or for the many others still patiently waiting.  I have tried to do this, reader, but at the last minute I freeze and find myself rooted to the spot.

The British, as George Mikes observed, queue "for the hell of it" if no other reason can be found and, if this is our national sport, it is also the only one I am ever likely to indulge in, so I cannot give it up now!

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Music is on Sunday rather than Saturday due to the internet having gone down here for most of yesterday.  Never mind: let's all get our glad rags on and dance to this:

Jovanotti - Il più grande spettacolo dopo il big bang

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Regular readers may remember this fellow from last year.  Well, now I think his grandson has taken up residence on the kitchen  balcony:

 I spent most of last evening pleading with him:

"Si, piccolissimo, sei il benvenuto but please don't come inside!"

Yes, I know he'll eat mosquitoes and other unwelcome visitors but the idea of having a gecko drop on my head while I'm asleep is just too much for me! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


A mulberry granita topped with cream for my friend and a chocolate and pistacchio ice cream for me.  We shared the brioche to dip into these naughty treats. 

 The calories, like those in chips, do not count when you are out.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


This is in honour of my visit to Mantova but I admit I've taken some liberties with it:  firstly, you are supposed to make the recipe with rabbit but as I couldn't get any, I used boneless, skinless chicken breast [ask for one if you are in Italy but two if you are in the UK].  Secondly, I used balsamic vinegar although the recipe does not specify this.  I did not, however, halve the amount of garlic cloves - ten - although I was using half the quantity of meat.  You can use less garlic if you want to but I was pleasantly surprised by the subtlety of the flavour.

OK, here we go:  Cut the chicken breasts into fairly large pieces and marinate for about an hour in a wine glass of balsamic vinegar and about a quarter a glass of water.  Meanwhile, pound ten peeled garlic cloves with 2 - 3 sprigs of rosemary in a mortar.  Drain the chicken [no need to be too thorough about it] and put it in a wide, fairly deep pan with 4 tablesp olive oil plus seasalt and black pepper to taste.  Spread the rosemary and garlic mixture over. Cook the chicken on all sides for about 5 minutes, stirring, then turn the heat down, cover the pan and let the chicken cook for about an hour, turning it now and then.  Chuck in a glass of white wine and let it evaporate.

You can serve the dish with "the gold of the north" -  polenta -  to soak up the juices, with rice or just salad.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Hi, folks.  Simi here!

I bet you've all been wondering where I was while my mummy was living it up in Mantova! I was at the doggy-hotel-cum-beauty-parlour, naturally, and this is my summer haircut.  Don't I look pretty?

That ole black poodle down the road is madder than ever for me and the new guy on the block - a Doberman - moans longingly from his balcony every time I pass.  Dream on, boys - la vita è così!

Hmm - time for a nice siesta now.

See you soon, fans.

Love from

Simi xx woof!

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Here's another romantic golden oldie that I've always liked:

Gino Paoli - Prima di vederti

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


.... especially if you are under house arrest in Sicily, seems to be today's message from the town of Agrigento.  There a 42-year-old man who was supposed to have no contact with anyone except his immediate family with whom he lived managed to have a quarrel with his neighbours whilst under house arrest.  The neighbours reported the man to the police, who immediately re-arrested him for attempting to escape.

I wonder if a certain high-profile Frenchman has similar problems with the neighbours?


The time has come to reveal my whereabouts at the end of last week and those of you who guessed Verona were the nearest.  I was, in fact, spending a few days with a friend who lives within the Province of Mantova and about ten minutes from Mantova itself by car.  Verona is also nearby.

I very much enjoyed a drive to see the panorama of Mantova by night and by day, watching people strolling along by the three artificial lakes which surround the city, I was reminded of the tranquillity of Roath Park in Cardiff!  Mantova was named Italy's most liveable city for quality of life by Legambiente in 2005.

My clue about violins and tea on Sunday was a bit of a cheat as Mantova's Palazzo Te has nothing to do with tea but was named for the island, called Teieto in medieval times, on which it was built.  The Palazzo was built as a summer residence for Duke Federico 11 Gonzaga by Giulio Romano between 1525 and 1535.

The original frescoes can still be admired in the Palazzo and it also houses collections of Mesopotamian and Egyptian art as well as mementoes of the Gonzaga family.  Our visit happened to coincide with an exhibition about Maria Callas so we were able to see some of the singer's gowns and jewellery as well as learning more about her life.  We also enjoyed watching the arrival of guests for a 1930s -themed wedding reception which was about to take place in the elegant Palazzo!

No photos can be taken inside the Palazzo Te but here are some views of the exterior:

How cool the Gonzaga must have been in summer!

I was last in Verona some thirty years ago and I just had to go and see that most famous of balconies again:

The city traffic was heavy so I only managed a wave at the Arena but things were calmer down by the river:

These Roman remains were discovered in the city centre in recent years:

I gasped at the beauty of the city from one of its hills:

Tripoli is a hamlet within the Province of Mantova so no, I didn't see any retreating colonels!

Letters to Juliet

Friday, June 03, 2011


Romeo e Giulietta di Zeffirelli - A Time For Us


My location also involves one gentleman and a balcony ......


I'm having a little break and I'm going to post some clues as to my whereabouts over the next four days.  It involves Northern Italy....

Thursday, June 02, 2011


Today is a holiday and the festa della Repubblica in Italy, the anniversary of the 1946 referendum in which the country voted for a Republican form of government.  

It is also the sixth anniversary of the day when Simi the dog and I left a rainy Gatwick Airport to start a new life in Sicily. By way of celebration, I am reposting this slide show of the lovely town where we are lucky enough to live.

Happy anniversary, Italy and happy anniversary to us!


Despite the fact that the Italian government is evacuating migrants from Lampedusa as quickly as it can and deporting many of them, the "boatloads of sorrow" continue to arrive, both there and in other locations along the Sicilian coast.  

On Monday night a suspicious boat was spotted 22 miles off Portopalo di Capo Passero [Siracusa Province] and was boarded by Italian police and Coast Guard after it failed to respond to requests to stop.  On board, police found 932 migrants crowded together, among them 129 women, some of whom were pregnant, and 30 children.  The boat was towed to Pozzallo [Ragusa Province] where, after medical checks, ten of the migrants were hospitalised.  Others were accommodated in the town's Cpa [Identification Centre] but, as there was not enough room, a tendopoli [" tent city"] was constructed to house the rest.  The Mayor of Pozzallo has expressed the hope that Pozzallo will not become a "new Lampedusa" and has asked for help from central government.

The nine people traffickers responsible for the boat have been arrested.  They are of Egyptian, Algerian and Morroccan nationality.

Meanwhile, back on Lampedusa itself, four Tunisians who, along with around 200 others, have been held in the Cpa for several weeks, injured themselves with razors and pieces of glass last night as a protest.  Their medical condition is being monitored.

The Lampedusani, although worried, at this time of year, about their tourist industry, continue to demonstrate their humanitarian instincts and many cried two weeks ago at a funeral service for three North African migrant men who drowned trying to reach their island's shores:  

"These young men did not have a mother to cradle them at the moment of death as Christ did", said the Priest of Lampedusa, don Stefano Nastasi at the service, "and their death is the result of our failure to help them".

On Tuesday British politician Nick Griffin MEP  visited Lampedusa to see the situation there for himself and he met members of the extreme right Forza Nuova party.  Mr Griffin also went to Catania where he joined a demonstration demanding that Italians be considered first when it comes to jobs, housing, state benefits and public services.

In my opinion Mr Griffin's visit was unhelpful and potentially inflammatory.  What Lampedusa needs is help from the EU as a whole.  The likes of Marine Le Pen and Mr Griffin should stay away.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


It became necessary for me to buy a small suitcase and I just  have to show you the wrapping:  a gap for the handle at the top, an opening at the bottom so that you can trundle your purchase home and, once you do get home, you can use the wrapping as a clothes cover!

Italian ingenuity at its best.


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