Friday, September 30, 2011


Painting by Gino

A thief in Palermo added a new dimension  to the concept of Sicilian pazienza on Wednesday night when, in order to steal a bicycle that was chained to a four-metre plane tree, he patiently sawed the tree down.  This happened in a busy street in the centre of the city and, although the task must have taken some time, no one noticed a thing. 

Only on Thursday morning did the bicycle's unfortunate owner discover the theft as, descending from his apartment to the street, he found the tree lying on the pavement.  Luckily it had fallen without damaging any parked cars or other property.

Vittorio De Sica - Ladri di biciclette

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Who remembers "wafers", then?  This is what the British called ice cream sandwiches until the end of the 1960s and I did read that they were making a comeback.  Whether that is true or not, I can tell you that "wafers" are alive and well in Sicily and, the sunshine having returned to us, Mr Fargione was busy making these for the hordes of children he was expecting to stop by his bar when school finished at 1pm today:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


During August I received two rather confusing communications from the local refuse collection office:  the first was a letter [addressed to me personally at my home] informing me that they did not have my address to send me any bills [although these have been arriving regularly ever since I have been here] and the second, which appeared the very next day, contained the latest bill.

myspace comments

"Curiouser and curiouser", thought I, especially when I read the first letter more carefully:  it required me to fill in an enclosed form which asked for all kinds of complicated information about which I have no idea such as the distance, in square metres, from my apartment to the nearest communal rubbish containers.  Now, I was never a dab hand with a ruler at school so the thought of using some kind of surveyor's contraption outside with any success defeated me totally and I knew that I would not be able to present this information in person, as requested.

Nevertheless, the deadline for the return of the letter having already expired, I decided this morning that the only thing I could do was to throw myself upon the mercy of the good folk at the office, which is situated in the town hall in Modica Bassa.  I was rather hoping it would turn out to be one of the small offices at street level outside the main building but, having been told that the person I needed to speak to could be found in the second office in the row and then the fifth, I soon resigned myself to climbing the steep, marble staircase in the imposing edifice itself.

Inside, you are usually greeted by a friendly pensioner who directs you to the office you want - or somewhere within a few hundred metres of it - and as you walk down corridor after corridor, you encounter a rabbit warren of cupboard-like apertures in which legions of clerks are busily ensuring that Italy's bureaucracy will survive for at least another millenium.

Finally, I was directed up a further flight of ancient stone steps to a row of offices so small that I was convinced only miniature rabbits could inhabit them and, when I knocked, found not one but four people typing away inside.

"Ah", said the clerk when I explained the reason for my errand, "we must have sent the letter asking for information after we sent the bill."

"So I can tear it up, then?" I asked hopefully.

"Oh, no, signora, we have to give you a receipt to prove that you have come here and then you must keep the papers together.  But you will have to wait a few minutes, signora, as we have to find the computer programme that will produce the receipt."

Not for nothing have I spent six years coming to terms with the workings of the Sicilian post office, so at that point I settled myself in a corner with the book I had brought along for just such an eventuality.  After half an hour, I resisted the temptation to utter,

"Oh, my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!"

I must admit to becoming a little peturbed when the gentleman dealing with my query had to unplug his printer, connect it to a colleague's computer and then start the programme all over again because his own printer was "not compatible" but  I assure you, reader, that I did not bat an impatient eyelid.

At last, the document was printed and I was ready to leave, but not before it had been literally rubber-stamped with much noise and embellished with both my own signature and that of the clerk.

"It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place", I remembered as I left.

myspace layouts

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "Privacy".

In Italy the British are famous for their supposed love of privacy and Italians even use the English term for the concept. Thus it is that I often find myself explaining that my compatriots' perceived "coldness" or lack of curiosity is really just British reserve or the Anglo-Saxon virtue of leaving the other chap alone unless he asks you to become involved in his troubles.

myspace comments

We are, I tell my Italian friends and students, just as interested as they are in the lives of others and I ask them if they have ever, whilst on holiday in Britain,  seen a net curtain twitch.  The British, after all, have some of the most intrusive media in the world and there is no tolerance for those who fall foul of it or, like the late Diana, Princess of Wales, fail to understand it.

Just a few miles away but across a significant stretch of water, things are very different, however:  When it was publically revealed that President Mitterand of France had a second, "secret" family, his countrymen deemed the matter to be largely his own business.  In Britain he would have been hounded and, of course, political scandals such as those being revealed almost daily in Italy would not be tolerated.  In fact, whenever I hear a British Prime Minister announcing his "support" for some hapless colleague whose lustful instincts have ruled his or her head, I know that that politician will resign very shortly indeed.

Italy's privacy laws* do set out to protect the ordinary citizen, though, and a blogger in this country would have to be very reckless to publish a non-public-domain photo of someone without his or her permission.   A few months ago I wrote that I had managed, using a photo editing programme, to restore a faded photo of my first Italian boyfriend to its former glory after 40 years and several commenters asked me why I hadn't published it.  The answer is that I daren't.  

But nowhere were my own concepts of privacy more challenged than in a Sicilian hospital, where I had to spend some time three years ago:  I want to say at the outset that the medical care I received was excellent and I will always be grateful for that.  However, being examined in full view of the other patients in the ward - there were no partitions or curtains that could be drawn around the beds - was somewhat disconcerting, as was having your case discussed within their hearing.  Once I was in the loo when a group of doctors on the ward ruminated upon the best course of action for me and I learnt about my future medication not from them, but from the solicitous patient in the bed opposite.  This lady also appointed herself as my dietician and my advice to anyone having to undergo a similar hospital stay is to surrender your privacy gracefully, for the rewards of doing so are great.

The trouble with privacy, it seems to me, is that we all have a different concept of what it entails and this can happen across or within cultures:  I once had a foreign colleague who kept turning up at my home without warning at inconvenient times and I couldn't work out why he wanted to spend so much time with me, for there was no romantic interest.  I was flabbergasted when he told me that he had never, until he came to Britain at the age of 31, spent as long as one minute of his life alone.  I was almost as surprised when a young Sicilian friend told me that when she gets married she will move into a house situated between that of her mother and that of her mother-in-law but, as she says, what she loses in privacy she will gain in helping hands and she will certainly not lack willing babysitters when the time comes!  

myspace glitters

Another friend here, who has had six children in as many years, does not seem to need personal space at all and perhaps that is just as well! Yet, paradoxically, this friend is more capable than most of understanding that a single life with all the privacy you want - and some that you don't - is not always a joyride.

So there we have it: some have their privacy thrust upon them whilst others give it up for security, family, fame or, unintentionally, to satisfy other desires.  In a world in which we are all increasingly observed, what would you give up yours for?

* Italian privacy laws are under review as I write and there is concern that they may be used to silence some bloggers.  This is a political matter which I do not want to expand upon here but you can read more about it in this post at Alex's.

Below is a full list of blogs participating in this theme:

Monday, September 26, 2011


A particularly sinful combination for the end of the season.

Answers in the comments tomorrow.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Yesterday I was invited to morning coffee, Sicilian style, with friends and Pasqualina

who loves sunshine,


and bags:

There were Sicilian biscuits,

English "Digestives"

and a banana cake for which the recipe had travelled to Sicily from New Zealand via London:

And if the sun got too hot you could always.....

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I am dedicating this week's sabato musicale to the women who have travelled to Rome by train today from Bologna and Palermo in order to demonstrate in defence of the Italian Constitution.

The founder of the movement, Sicilian architect Nella Toscano, points out that the country's recent troubles have hit women, who comprise 51% of the population, particularly hard and feels that it is time for Italy's women to join together to defend the Constitution, in particular Article 1, which states that "Italy is a democratic republic,  founded on work", Article 11, which repudiates war and Article 41, which states that public and private economic activity should be coordinated to social objectives.

The two trains converging upon Rome from the North and South of the country also symbolise the unity of Italy.

Sergio Endrigo - Il treno che viene dal sud

Friday, September 23, 2011


The commonly held belief that it is cheaper to live in the South of Italy than in the North may be a myth, according to a survey published this week by the consumers' association Altroconsumo:

A nationwide inquiry into prices at 949 stores in 91 cities has revealed Siracusa in Sicily to be the most expensive city in Italy in which to do a weekly family shop with Catania, Palermo and Messina being the fourth, eighth and ninth most expensive cities respectively.  Sassari in Sardinia was second in the list and Aosta third. 

Pietro Agen, the president of Confcommercio Sicilia, has commented that prices are, in general, lower in the South but that there are fewer chain stores and, where these exist, transport costs may be pushing up the prices of their products.

My personal observation would be that the survey does not take into account the low prices in some popular local markets in the South.

And the cheapest city in which to fill that family shopping basket, according to the survey? Verona.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


As I've mentioned before, it is not always possible to find lamb cuts here and even rarer to find any that resemble a British lamb chop.  However, the costate available in the supermarket last weekend were pretty near so I decided to buy some to try out a recipe idea I had:

Long ago, when, back in Britain, I cooked my way through Valentina Harris's Southern Italian Cooking, I learnt that lamb and olives are a good combination and for a while now, I've been wondering if I could use black olive pâté, which we can buy cheaply in tubes here, in a lamb dish.  This is what I did:

Heat 3 tablesp olive oil in a fairly deep pan and cook the lamb chops on all sides.  [I used 6 for 2 people as there tends to be less meat on the cuts available here.]  When the lamb is brown, add a roughly chopped red onion with 2 chopped red peppers and continue cooking until these soften.  Then add 1 tablesp black olive pâté plus 1 tablesp 'strattu [tomato paste, not purée] and stir everything around until both are dissolved.  Now add 5 ml white wine, two or three large, unpeeled potatoes, cut into cubes, and season to taste.  For me any dish containing lamb and potatoes also has to contain rosemary so I added a few sprigs and some fresh thyme while I was at it.  Put the lid on the pan and simmer for 1 hour, stirring now and then and adding a little water if necessary.

Serve with a green salad to which you have added fresh mint.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Today is Peace Day and World Alzheimer's Awareness Day and I've been wondering how I could connect the two.  One way is obvious and I'll repeat what I have said in some of my Breast Cancer Awareness posts - that if governments spent on life one iota of what they spend on killing people, cures for so many diseases could be found.

But there is another way in which the two causes are connected and I think this is especially relevant now, as we lose the generation that lived through the Second World War and as those of us who remember the shocking images of the Vietnam War age and, children of "peace and love" as we were, perhaps become disillusioned.  The recollections of those who have seen war in their time are important resources for all of us;  without them we may dismiss the horror of war and we must never forget or let go of our ideals of peace.

At Christmas 1914 the guns fell silent all along the Western Front as men on both sides of a terrible conflict remembered they were human, in some cases just for one day.  But if we can remember our humanity for a day, we can do so for two days, three, 365 or more.  That is why I am supporting Peace One Day and the Global Truce planned for one year from now.

Let's face it:  governments everywhere have botched peace and they have betrayed the elderly and vulnerable. Peace begins where individuals reach out to one another and we can make a start by treasuring those around us.  Each memory is a precious drop of rain which we must collect in our thirst for peace.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Don't put your daughter - or anyone else, for that matter - on the stage in Tràpani:  this seems to be the moral of what happened in the city's main square on Friday when, during a concert to celebrate this year's "Extreme Sailing" event, Lello Anafino, lead singer of the Sicilian group Tinturia, jumped a little on stage and fell into an enormous hole. Lello Anafino was not violently breaking guitars on stage, nor is he particularly heavy and the stage was not overcrowded so no one is sure exactly why it crumbled beneath his feet.  However, I can tell you that whoever constructed the stage is not popular with Lello's fans!

Lello says he still has neck pain and has to lie flat but he hopes to be back among his fans soon and in better shape than ever - stages permitting.

Tinturia - Lello's Fall

Richard Conrad - Mrs Worthington


The summer weather broke yesterday and when it rains in Sicily, it doesn't usually do so by halves.  

As a Brit, it's been hard to get used to the fact that it can rain while the sky remains clear and bright - I expect much more gloom - and I literally have to force myself to go out, on such days, with an umbrella but no raincoat, like everybody else.  But yesterday I did just that and, the drainage not being good here, got drenched several times by cars as I trudged home.  I was just about to yell something very impolite in both languages at the last one when I realised it was my neighbour, who gave me a lift.

Afterwards I commented on facebook that it had been nice to have a bit of rain, to which a friend here responded that the hour-long thunderstorm had brought more than a "bit" of the stuff.  "Ah, but it's a bit to me", I replied.  "Real rain lasts all day."

Monday, September 19, 2011


Things have been rather sombre on Sicily Scene recently so in an attempt to cheer you all up, I am posting my entry for the wonderful Stan Carey's limerick competition.  Stan is an editor, linguist and writer so, not surprisingly, the poem has to be about language.  Misuse of the apostrophe in general, but particularly in "its" irritates me no end but my Italian students, at least, have some excuse for their errors.  They don't believe me when I tell them that many British people also make mistakes when writing "its" and that mostly they add the apostrophe where it is not needed rather than omitting it:

Oh, what a problem is “it’s”
It’s driving me out of my wits
When “its” means “belong”
the apostrophe’s wrong
but students think “its” is the pits!

I wish that my name were Lynne Truss
who, spotting this error in us,
put it all in a book -
you should have a look,
She made a few million thus.

Lynne Truss is the author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

If you would like to join in the limerick fun, pop over to Stan's blog - you have until 23rd September - and you will learn a lot about language while you're there.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I am not, as many of you know, a religious person so you may think it hypocritical of me to pray when I need help.  But I'm sure we all pray, in our way, to something or someone and, as I have some troubles at the moment, I have found myself calling out to God, infinity or whatever it is that is greater than all of us.

Then it occurred to me that maybe I should change my prayer, so, in between bouts of tears, I have been asking, not for help with my problem but for the strength to be able to deal with it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


The perfect song for the end of summer:

Stadio - Fine di un'estate

Friday, September 16, 2011


Eleven months ago, like people all over the world, I sat in front of my television and held my breath as the Chilean miners were rescued.  Today I held my breath again as events unfolded in a mining community in my own country but sadly the outcome was not the one we all hoped for and four Welsh miners died at the Gleision Mine in the Swansea Valley.  You can read the background to the story on my friend Jan's blog.

When you are an emigrant and tragedy strikes in your homeland, it affects you in a very deep way which I cannot quite explain:  perhaps it is because part of you is, and always will be, still there and also because you are so familiar with the place and its people that you instinctively know how they will react. 

Then there are the memories:  Wales, of course, is no stranger to mining disasters and I had a grandfather who had been a miner and told me many stories of these.  The Aberfan disaster of 1966 - caused by deposits of mining debris and doubly cruel because most of the victims were children - changed my life and caused me to question the existence of a loving God at a time when doubts had already surfaced in my mind because of my reading of the French existentialists.

Whether the loss of life be large or small, a tragedy is still a tragedy for those involved and tonight my heart goes out to the families and friends of those who have died.

I do not think it is a coincidence that I have come to live in another land of tight-knit communities where there is a history of mining, in this case, for sulphur.  Many children were forced to work in appalling conditions in  Sicily's sulphur mines in the nineteenth century and the word caruso, a dialect term for "boy",  came to signify a male under fifteen years of age who did this kind of work.

Memories are long in Sicily and the people of South Wales may be sure that the thoughts of Sicilians, like the thoughts of this "Welsh-Sicilian", are with them tonight.

Ar Hyd y Nos - All Through the Night [Welsh folk song]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Image: Wikipedia Italia
Daniela Zuccoli, the widow of Italian TV presenter Mike Bongiorno [26.5.1924 - 8.9.2009], is to appear on the television programme Chi l'ha visto?  ["Who Has Seen Him / Her?"] this evening in an attempt to find her husband's body, which was stolen from the Dagnente Cemetery in Arona [Piedmont] on 25th January this year.

Signora Zuccoli will be appearing on the programme on the advice of the police in the hope that someone, somewhere, will give the programme's presenters information which they do not feel able to communicate to the police.  Since Mike Bongiorno's coffin and body disappeared his family have received ransom demands and there have been some arrests but that vital clue that might lead the police to find the body has not been forthcoming.

Mike Bongiorno was born to Italian-American parents in New York City but emigrated to Italy as a young man.  He fought with the Italian partisans during World War 11 and later became Italy's most popular TV presenter ever.  His ancestors were Sicilian and the smalls towns of Campofelice di Fitalia and Mezzojuso in Palermo Province both claimed to be their birthplace.  In 2007, when Bongiorno stated on TV that his ancestors were definitely from Mezzojuso, the inhabitants of Campofelice di Fitalia took offence and declared him persona non grata. [However, it turns out that both towns have a legitimate claim as Campofelice di Fitalia was, when Bongiorno's paternal grandfather emigrated to the USA, a district of Mezzojuso.]

Federica Sciarelli, the presenter of Chi l'ha visto? has not always behaved impeccably but I hope that the programme can help signora Zuccoli to locate her husband's body and obtain closure.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "Thumbtacks".

The subject this week is thumbtacks
which rather stopped me in my tracks
for, being a Brit,
I have to admit
this word my vocabulary lacks.

So to my computer I turned
and soon I surprisingly learned
that over the pond
and even beyond
a drawing pin this name has earned.

Are drawing pins, then, still in use?
[I hope I do not sound obtuse.]
I've some on this board
and have quite a hoard
for Christmas, along with my spruce.

But are they used round and about?
I decided I had to find out.
And down in the squares
whilst selling their wares
the traders could not do without!

To be serious for a moment, it is important to let you know that, for every participating post, Let's Blog Off will make a donation to Jane Devin's kickstarter campaign for her book Elephant Girl: A Human Story.

Below is the full list of participating blogs in this Blog Off:

Monday, September 12, 2011


For those of you who are in Italy, the inspiration for this recipe came from some potato cakes featured in the September edition of Alice Cucina.  However,  I did my own thing with it, as follows:

Boil 500 gr  peeled,  sliced potatoes in salted water until soft enough to mash.  Meanwhile, slice an aubergine as thinly as you can and cut the slices into strips.  Cook these in olive oil until soft and drain the slices on kitchen paper. Chop half a red pepper and slice 150 gr provolone cheese thinly.  Drain the potatoes and mash with as much butter as it takes to get a dreamily soft mash. [After many fights with a potato ricer, I now use my hand mixer for this.]  Add 150 gr grated ragusano, parmesan or grana cheese to the mash and mix well.  Now oil a not too shallow flan dish or ovenproof mould - I must say I have become a fan of the bendy silicone ones - and sprinkle pangrattato or breadcrumbs over the base. Spread about half the mash over, then arrange the aubergine slices on top and season them.  Now add the cheese slices and sprinkle the chopped pepper on top of these.  Cut up a couple of slices of cooked ham and add these, together with a few torn basil leaves and then spread the rest of the potato mixture over.  Level it with a palette knife.  Pour 2 tablesp olive oil over the top and cook at 180 C for about 45 mins.  Remove from the oven and leave for about half an hour, then unmould the cake:  the only way is to take a deep breath, quickly dump it top-down onto a plate and then put another plate on the base, pray and flip it back over.  It may not come out perfectly but you can shove any runny bits from the side back in with a fish slice.

Serve with salad and enjoy.  [It's good cold, too.]

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Church in Virginia City, Nevada

What happened on that day was, in the words of Tony Blair at the time, "an attack on people of all faiths and of none" and "an attack not just on the United States but all countries and people who treasured freedom, democracy and our shared way of life."

Today, however, is not about the perpetrators and their hatred, nor is about the rights and wrongs of western foreign policy since.  Today is about the victims, those close to them and a nation that responded with something far greater and more enduring than hate - love.

In the midst of tragedy, those about to die remembered love and these Congressmen and Congresswomen spontaneously sang of love and beauty, two concepts that can change the world:

9/11 - Congress sings God Bless America on steps of the Capitol

"There is no fear in love."

The Colosseum in Rome will be illuminated this evening in memory of the victims of 9/11 and to honour "the courage and determination of the American people to begin again, as symbolised in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center."

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Don McLean - Vincent  [Starry Starry Night]

Please ask someone how they are today and listen to the answer.

The theme of World Suicide Prevention Day this year is "Preventing Suicide in Multicultural Societies" so this would be a good day on which to reach out to someone from another culture.  Sometimes a friendly greeting is all it takes to stop someone from sinking into despair.

You may like to join us in lighting a candle near a window at eight o'clock this evening in memory of all who have been touched by suicide.

You can find out more about the International Association for Suicide Prevention here.

Friday, September 09, 2011


Field Marshal Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel
Image:  Wikimedia Commons

The Mayor of Villabate, a town of 20,450 inhabitants situated eight kilometres southeast of Palermo, has caused something of a "desert storm" by publishing a proposal to name a street in the town after "Desert Fox" Field Marshal Rommel.  The Mayor, Gaetano Di Chiara, says that Rommel deserves to be remembered not as a Nazi but because of his probable involvement in the plot against Hitler and subsequent suicide.

This idea, as you may imagine, has made nationwide headlines but the Mayor has caused a further shock by suggesting that another street in the town be named after Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron"of World War 1.  Mr Di Chiara believes that von Richthofen should be thus honoured because of his daring aviation exploits.

One of the Mayor's opponents is Councillor Antonio Retaggio who has been trying for some time to have a street in Villabate named after anti-Mafia campaigner Giuseppe [Peppino] Impastato who came from neighbouring Cinisi and was killed in 1978.  Mr Retaggio also believes that the town should honour its soldier-hero Giovanni Militello who was captured on the Russian Front and sent to Altengrabow prison camp during World War 11.

Do you think that these streets should be named after Rommel and von Richthofen?

Thursday, September 08, 2011


Mr T's at Christmas

I went into Mr T's this morning and, although I got the products I wanted, I came out feeling nostalgic rather than elated as I used to:  Mr T's shop was the salumeria and delicatessen near my home and it was generally deemed to have been one of the best in Modica.  

It was Mr T who introduced me to peppered pecorino and from him I learned that the constitution of Parma ham changes as the product travels, so the Parma ham we get in Sicily tastes different to that available on the spot in Parma and by the time it gets to the UK the taste is very different indeed. And I'll never forget the delight with which he introduced me to rosemary-flavoured lard d'Arnad - "Che bel profumo, signora!

Mr T was also one of the first people to chat to me when I arrived here and, no matter how tired he was by eight o'clock in the evening, he always had a smile for everybody.  He would make you a perfect sandwich  for lunch or to take on a journey, too and I can picture him now, sprinkling the oil and oregano on the filling before topping his handiwork with freshly-baked, crusty bread.

Just before the August 15th holiday, Mr T told me that he was retiring and that, in a sad but inevitable sign of the times, his son has found work in the North so does not want to take over the business.

Now the shop has been converted into a salumeria and butcher's and I dare say I will get used to it, as we could do with a butcher's shop at this end of our long street.  Eager young ladies in smart uniforms stand ready to serve prospective customers and, though some of the cheeses and varieties of salumi have gone to make way for butchery products, there is still a good selection to choose from.  But it is just not the same without Mr T darting about in his apron, sharing his enthusiasm for good food and the odd soupçon of local gossip as he worked. 

Happy retirement, Mr T - I miss you!


View My Stats