Monday, October 31, 2011


I was delighted to be invited to a pizza party in celebration of my dear friend Linda's birthday last night and this is what the jolly company ate:

There was tomato pizza

and then there was more

and even more!

I'm particularly fond of Linda and Chiara's rosemary pizza:

But what are these?

They were chocolate "pebbles" from the Chocobarocco Festival [which is in full swing as I write and about which I'll tell you more tomorrow].

Gino had made traditional carob puddings

and, of course, you can't have a birthday party without a cake!  This apple cake was delicious.

Thanks for a lovely evening, amici!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I was minding my own business, walking my dog this morning when I realised that an elderly lady was walking a few paces behind me.  I say "elderly" but she probably wasn't much older than me!  She was dressed totally in black and was heavily wrapped up against the temperature, which has had the audacity to fall below 23 C.  

Simi the dog was doing nothing except sniffing at doggie smells along the way but the elderly lady seemed reluctant to pass us.  At one point she just stopped walking and, as she looked a little afraid - I am at a loss to understand how anyone could be afraid of Simi - I told her that the dog was quite safe.  To this she replied with the question,

"You two are walking, right?"

"Yes", said I.

"Well, you're walking in front and I'm walking behind."

I couldn't argue with that, so I just shrugged a shoulder, raised one hand, palm upward, and uttered , "Eh".  And the signora just shrugged a shoulder,  raised one hand, palm upward, and uttered "Eh"  back.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


I am dedicating this week's song to the people of lovely Liguria, in particular the Cinque Terre, where floods and mudslides which hit on Tuesday have caused scenes of terrible devastation.  Vernazza and Monterosso were particularly badly affected, to the extent that the Mayor of Monterosso said that the town had been virtually swept away.  Estimates carried out today put the cost of damage there at €30 million. 

A non-stop search for missing people is in progress as I write and the body of a woman has been found in Borghetto di Vara this afternoon, bringing the total of dead to eight.  Five people are still missing.  

Vernazza is at the moment reachable only by sea and train whilst several other townships in the Val di Vara are still isolated.   Gas, water, electricity and telephone services over the entire region have been affected.

Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman  - Canto della Terra

Friday, October 28, 2011


We are coming up to the Tutti i Santi holiday and, on 2nd November, I Morti, when people remember the dead and that means the pastry shops are full of frutti di Martorana like these, which children receive as gifts from relatives who are no longer with them but continue to watch over them:

I like the legend of the origin of frutta di Martorana, so I will tell it again here:

The exquisite "fruits" are made from pasta reale [almond paste] but “marzipan” is a very inadequate translation which does not do justice to the work involved in its making. Legend has it that the first ever batch of Martorana fruit was made on the orders of a certain mother superior, who wanted to impress her Bishop during his visit. So the nuns prepared the “fruit” and hung it from the cloister trees; so “real” did it look that the Bishop declared that a miracle had happened, as all the fruits had appeared in the same season!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


MasterChef Italia logo - Wikipedia
I have always preferred radio to television but one TV programme I used to enjoy in the UK was MasterChef - until, that is, it went the way of all flesh and got "dumbed down".  But for the past month I've been enjoying the first MasterChef Italia series immensely and thought I would try to give you a flavour of it tonight.

The programme goes out on Wednesday evenings at 21.00 and finishes at approximately 23.00.  Like most Italian TV series, its episodes are long and rarely finish on schedule, partly because the commercial breaks  are also longer than they would be in the UK.  

As you would expect, the Italians have brought their own unique touches to the show, making it a cookery programme with a touch of the human weakness that is often present in series like Big Brother [still going strong in Italy] or The Weakest Link.   Contestants are encouraged to talk about each other throughout the show and, although they are usually mutually supportive, cracks in their relationships become evident as the cookery challenges get harder and "elimination time" draws nearer, for two contestants are eliminated each week.

Let me talk you through the show's stages:  all the hopeful cooks begin the programme in one enormous kitchen, where their first challenge is to produce a dish from up to ten ingredients in identical "mistery boxes". [That is not a typo.]  At the end of the allotted time, they submit their dishes to the harsh judgement of chefs Bruno Barbiere and Carlo Cracco who are joined by restaurateur Joe Bastianich.  [If you read Italian, you can find out more about the judges here.]

The person who, in the judges' opinion, has produced the best "mistery box" dish is allowed to choose the type of ingredients to be used for the next task, the "invention test":  in tonight's programme, for example, the contestants had to produce, in one hour and using a selection of mountain herbs and root vegetables plus a limited number of ingredients of their choice, a dish that would evoke the flavours of the Italian mountains.

Image:  Wikipedia

And then things get tense:  at the end of this hour, the cooks again submit their dishes for judgement and the chefs choose not only the best, but the three worst dishes prepared.  They do not mince their words, either and among tonight's comments were, "Not even the dog would eat that" and, "This dish is a disaster".  The three cooks destined to be shamed stand at the front of the kitchen, shed tears and sweat blood until finally judge Carlo Cracco reveals the name of the cook who is eliminated.  That contestant then has to take off his or her MasterChef apron and leave the kitchen.   At this point there are hugs and commiserations, grown men cry openly in each others' arms and there are a few recriminations via interview.

For the next, and most interesting, stage of the programme, the remaining contestants board a coach and head for an unknown destination where they will, in two teams, cook for an important "real" occasion and the diners will decide on the winning team.  In tonight's programme the contestants had to cook a gala dinner at the Australian Embassy in Rome using Australian ingredients and recipes - all in only four hours.  The cooking of a perfect Pavlova was the undoing of both teams but the other dishes were mostly successful and the diners had a difficult job in choosing the winners.  The Ambassador's wife, I thought, was splendid and proved herself a better diplomat than her husband in her comments on the dishes.  [Will someone send that woman to sort out the Middle East, please?]

Finally, the losing team has to take a "pressure test" and, on the result of this, one more person will be eliminated.  Last week they had to cook perfect mashed potato - which, as every cook knows, should be simple but can be temperamental - and I watched with great empathy as one poor woman resorted to mashing the stubborn vegetables with her hands. [Presumably the judges would curl up and die if the contestants did as I do and used a hand mixer.]  Tonight only two team members had to take the test and there was much bad feeling and bleeped-out swearing as their "captain" chose the unlucky pair.  The challenge was to cook fillet steak in three ways - rare, medium and well done ["well done" not meaning to an Italian what it would to a Brit or an American] and at the end there was a graceful exit as another pinny was dropped onto the counter.

All in all, it is a thoroughly absorbing programme but I have one suggestion, judges:  don't you think it's a bit mean to take the pinny back?

MasterChef Italia Series 1, Episode 4 - 12.10.11

Tuesday, October 25, 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 "What is Home?"

On 27th May, 2005 I sat on the bare floor of my house in Cardiff, Wales, UK and I cried.  My possessions were on their way to Sicily, my precious dog was in boarding kennels at Gatwick Airport, London and I was remembering the last time I had seen the house empty, 21 years before.  

I had not always been happy in that house - indeed, it held as many sad memories as pleasant ones for me - but it had been my refuge from the world for a long time and now, with only the echo of my own footsteps and sobs where once there had been friends' laughter, the sound of dogs barking and my mother's beloved voice, I felt as if my heart would break. 

Yet it had been my choice to go and I was about to do something I had been dreaming of for 36 years, for I was moving to Italy.  So what was it that made that little house so hard to leave for the last time?  What was it that had made me call it "home"?

What I realised with a shock on that day was that, for a while, I would no longer have a home and that revelation made me feel strangely lost in the world.  Home, then, was not just the place I came back to at the end of the day or the trip, but it somehow fixed me somewhere on this vast earth.  I opened and locked my own doors, I received utility bills, I "belonged" to a street, a community, a town.  Now, by a stroke of a pen, all that was gone and I had no "space" of my own.

In Watching the English the anthroplogist Kate Fox writes that the British "sport" of hating estate agents [realtors] stems from our obsession with the carefully demarcated little spaces in which we live:  to sell our home is to invite an intrusion into that space - in other words, an invasion of our haven, the place where we can look and do as we like - and to agree to have judgement passed upon it.  And I had hated the estate agents' visits, the uncaring marches of others across my "little plot of land" so much that I had nearly given up the whole project.  So we  can be fiercely protective of our "home", even when preparing to leave it.

My garden in Cardiff had long become too much for me and even before I reached that point, I liked to look at it but had never wanted to do the work involved in keeping it even marginally tidy!  But I had shed tears for my garden ornaments, too.  They had been part of my life and I had "talked" to my stone animals and people every day.  Some of them were given to good, new "homes" but others have made a happy transition to my balcony in Sicily and I greeted them again as I unpacked them here:

When Simi the dog and I first arrived in Sicily we lived, for a while, in a tiny, traditional house belonging to a kind friend. It was comfortable and cool for us during the first months of that summer of 2005 and, with its magnificent Sicilian locks, we felt safe there:

But it wasn't "home".  No mail came addressed to me there and, although my neighbours were pleasant enough, they knew that we weren't going to stay so we did not become part of their community.   The house didn't contain our things but, more importantly, it didn't contain our memories.  We lived there but we didn't "live our lives" there, as we did in Cardiff and as we do now in our flat.   Home is a place for making memories. 

Simi and me at home in Sicily

Here is a list of other blogs which are participating in this week's "Blog Off" theme:

Monday, October 24, 2011


The death in Rome of the 85-year-old  teacher, researcher and archaeologist Antonio Di Vita was announced yesterday. Born in Chiaramonte Gulfi [Ragusa] Prof. Di Vita taught at the Universities of Palermo, Perugia and Macerata [Marche], where he was first Director of the Faculty of Arts and later Rector.  From 1977 - 2000 he was Director of the Italian School of Archaeology in Athens.

Antonio Di Vita was largely responsible for twentieth century excavations at Kamarina, which he began in 1958, thus following in the steps of the famous archaeologist Paolo Orsi, who worked on the site until 1911.

Speaking yesterday, Giovanni Di Stefano, Director of the Kamarina Archaeological Park, said that Prof. Di Vita had been "one of the fathers of Italian archaeology and a great Sicilian."

Ancient tombs at Kamarina

Sunday, October 23, 2011


What a lovely surprise I had this morning when my doorbell rang and a friend appeared with these olives, fresh from her tree.

I haven't done any "olive bashing" for a few years but I will start processing these tomorrow, according to my friend Linda's instructions [which I first posted in 2006]:

Olive schiacciate - Bashed olives

Bash the olives [not too enthusiastically] with a stone, rolling pin or whatever you have to hand. Don't do this near a clean wall or with your best clothes on as they squirt everywhere. [I have found this out to my cost.] Put them in a plastic container, cover with water and add a handful of coarse seasalt. You should change the salt and water solution twice a day for 10 days. Then put them in vinegar and water [about a quarter vinegar to water] for 24 hours. After that, rinse them. They can be frozen in bags at this stage if you have a lot of them. When you are ready, put the olives in jars and add the flavourings of your choice - people here like to use chopped carrots, red pepper and garlic - then cover with olive oil.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Asked about last Saturday's violence in Rome on the Rai Uno programme I Migliori Anni last night, the great poet, singer and composer Roberto Vecchioni said,

"Un pensiero è sempre più grande di qualsiasi violenza" - "A thought is always greater than any act of violence".

Therefore I am unapolgetically re-posting his song of hope and love which was the winner of this year's Sanremo Music Festival:

Roberto Vecchioni - Chiamami ancora amore

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Image: Wikimedia Commons

On Monday it was the turn of Italy's police unions to demonstrate, which they did peacefully in many towns including Rome, where they held a sit-in outside Parliament. They were protesting against government cuts which, police say, make it impossible to guarantee public safety as they do not even have sufficient funds to purchase the petrol they need for their vehicles.

Unions involved say that their members also lack office supplies, computer upgrades and maintenance, uniforms and the funds to pay for maintenance work on the buildings where they work.   For the first time, the police unions asked for donations from the public so that they can buy petrol.

Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza police did not demonstrate as they are military and therefore banned by statute from doing so.  Representatives of Italy's non-military police forces, Fire Service and Forestry Commission are planning further demonstrations in the near future.

As Rome burned on Saturday, a very different kind of demonstration which did not make the headlines was taking place along the route to Catania's Fontanarossa Airport:  after ten hours of torrential rain, residents found their homes flooded for the umpteenth time, despite recent maintenance work which had been carried out in the area.   Some of the residents took to their rooftops to protest against the authorities' lack of action, whilst others blocked access roads to the airport.  

Several flights were delayed as their crews could not reach the airport and a crew-carrying bus which tried to force its way through the barricade had a window broken whilst a stewardess travelling in it was slightly injured.  Passengers travelling to the airport by bus had to alight on the approach roads and wade to the departures terminal with their luggage.

The residents' action seems to have worked as the Mayor of Catania went to meet them on the same day and he later called an emergency meeting of municipal engineers and maintenance staff with a view to satisfying their demands. 

I sympathise with the residents but I am glad I was not airport-bound that day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Three very different types of demonstrations have taken place in Italy over the past few days and the pictures from one of these, of course, went round the world.

What did not go round the world - at least, not at first - was the information that those who caused Saturday's unprecedented violence in Rome were not marching in the main body of the demonstration, which consisted of peaceful protestors [gli indignati] who wished, along with demonstrators of the "Occupy" movement in other countries, to make their feelings about bankers and inept governments known. The demonstration was ruined by a highly organised group of masked and hooded individuals who have become known in Italy as the black bloc.  Estimates of the numbers involved vary but it is probable that around 3,000 black bloc individuals sabotaged the protest of up to 200,000 citizens who wanted only to assert their right to a future.

The BBC initially reported the violence without making any distinction between the two groups of demonstators but it is important that the distinction be made, for demonstrators in the main body not only applauded the police but handed them their photos and videos of the violent group.  As Italy recovers from the shock of what happened and counts the cost - an estimated €1.5 million worth of damage done to public property alone and 135 injured, 105 of whom were police or other public order officials - it emerges that the black bloc had organised their activities with military precision and that we are looking at a very sinister phenomenon indeed.

"How", asked a panel member on a political talk show on Monday night, "can such a relatively small group wreak such havoc during a demonstration that was intended to be peaceful?"  This is the question that most Italians have been asking themselves and the answer, when it came from a fellow panel member, was clear:  "In a democracy, easily."

And this is now precisely Italy's dilemma:  How, in a democracy, do you control demonstrations?  Not everyone, it must be said, is praising the police, who have been criticised from some quarters for not guaranteeing citizens' right to demonstrate peacefully.  But if they are to do this, reason politicians from all sides, their powers must be increased. Therefore among new measures being proposed as I write are:  the possible arrest of people who attend demonstrations in suspicious clothing or disguise, police powers to arrest in flagranza differita [on photographic or video evidence up to 48 hours after the fact] and, most controversially, a proposal to charge the organisers of demonstrations a deposit in case of damage to public property.  The Mayor of Rome has already banned demonstrations in the city centre for one month and this ban may be extended.

Now, clearly, you are in trouble, in a democracy, when you start telling people what they can wear, as countries who have tried to ban, or have banned, the veil have found out and, whilst we may all agree that attending a demonstration in an almost military disguise is extreme, who is going to judge what is acceptable and unacceptable?  In Britain, would going to a demonstration in a David Cameron mask be outlawed under a similar measure?  As for the proposed deposit, who is going to decide how much should be paid, what would be the criteria and to whom would the payment be made?  If no damage is done, I would not like to bet on the ease of reclaim of such a deposit given Italy's bureaucratic procedures, not to mention the fact that Italy would be the only country in the world to charge participants prior to a demonstration.

Two weeks ago, as reported on this blog, the online community fought a battle - not over yet but seemingly successful - to save the independence and neutrality of Wikipedia Italia.  This campaign was conducted purely online, first by the users of Wikipedia Italia themselves and then by their supporters.  So the question, it seems to me, is whether there is a new way of demonstrating.  No one in the West can now say that they do not have ways in which to make their voice heard via technological media.  And if there are enough voices, they quickly reach the mainstream media:  Three weeks ago, it was hard to find any mainstream media coverage of the "Occupy" movement at all and some of us wondered whether there had been a planned media blackout.  Now, thanks to blogs, twitter and other information and social networks, the movement is making headlines everywhere.

The right to go in piazza, as the Italians say, to demonstrate peacefully should be safeguarded everywhere but I think it now goes hand in hand with a new, online way of demonstrating which can involve everyone.  In these ways  we can change the world.

Tomorrow I will write about two other demonstrations which have taken place in Italy over the past week.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I was delighted when my twitter friend Hedvika told me that her husband, Tony Guastella, would be in Modica today and that he would find time to have a coffee and chat with me.  Hedvika and Tony run the My Destination Sicily  online travel guide where you can not only find out all kinds of information about Sicily but also book hotels, search for flights and get help with all your travel needs for a visit to the island.  Hedvika and Tony can show you how to get the most out of your stay, too.

Sicily is literally in Tony's blood as his father is from Torretta in Palermo Province and the couple's enthusiasm for this lovely destination shines through on their site just like the Sicilian sun.  They also have some beautiful photos of Sicily on display so do take a look.

It was great to meet you, Tony and next time you come to Modica I hope you'll bring Hedvika.

Tony and me this morning

Monday, October 17, 2011


I've often wondered just what it is that keeps elderly Sicilians so sprightly: the combination of sun and sea, lifestyle and the famous Mediterranean diet are all factors and now it seems that the Sicilian prickly pear or fico d'India may contain the very elixir of life.

A recent study found that the process of ageing was significantly delayed in people who ate eight prickly pears a day and scientists say that they may soon produce a health supplement containing the fruit.

I'm not waiting for the supplement - I'm off to buy a crate of the fruit right now!

Sunday, October 16, 2011


myspace layouts

This is not a Sicilian tale but I'll recount it here because I've always been interested in the way in which love, when it ends, leaves so much bitterness.  Perhaps it is because we knew, or thought we knew, the other person so well  and we cannot bear the thought of charms we once adored being used on someone else.

Sometimes bitterness turns to vengeance and that is what happened in the case of a couple from Piacenza [Emilia-Romagna] who had been separated for two years.  The husband, in an attempt to hurt and humiliate his wife, obtained a blank car number plate, forged the numbers of his wife's car and stuck them onto it.  Then he borrowed a similar car to the one owned by his wife and went driving at very high speeds in it, several times, on roads where he knew there were speed cameras.

Needless to say, his wife was not pleased when she received, through the post, ten fines amounting to €1,500 and a letter telling her that her driving licence had been revoked.  Police in Fiorenzuolo d'Arda, examining photos of both cars, were finally able to confirm that the car that had been driven at dangerous speeds did not belong to her .

L'amuri è comu 'n çiuovu, si 'u scippi ci rresta 'u pirtusu.
Love is like a nail - when you take it out, you're left with the hole.
- Sicilian proverb

Real love, of course, does not die - I remain convinced of it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


The two other countries that I love battled it out this morning in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup.  One of these countries formed me, while the language and literature of the other trained my mind so here is an autumn tribute to both of them:

Françoise Hardy - Rendez-vous d'automne

And here's the boy from Pontypridd in gentle mood:

Tom Jones - Autumn Leaves

Never mind, Wales.  The daffodils will bloom again.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I have just completed the 34-page, 2011 Italian Census online and it wasn't an onerous task.  However, much has been made of the fact that this is the first "digital census" for the country and many people were angry and frustrated on census day [last Sunday] when the site became overloaded and they could not access it.  Even some of those who did had difficulty in sending their completed form online and resorted to pen and paper in the end.  

All seems to be functioning splendidly now, I must say, although residents who do not read Italian are not able to find the promised help in some of their own languages online.  As I was pressing the button to generate a receipt for my form, I did notice that this, at least, seems to be available in German and Slovenian so perhaps the foreign language guidelines will appear in a few days.

The only slight difficulty I found was that academic qualifications cannot be matched exactly between one country and another but I have been luckier than the Bishop of Piazza Armerina who, being unable to find his type of work listed, called Istat [the Italian Statistics Office] for help and was told to just pick the job description which most nearly corresponded to his own from the list.  The good Bishop finally chose to describe himself as "involved in activities such as hairdressing or launderette services".

I am at a loss to understand why the census compilers need to know how many loos, baths and showers I have but I answered dutifully and refrained from writing, "I've got a bidet, too but I don't use it because I'm British".

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 13, 2011


It's always nice to be taken out to lunch and this is what you get when you order a small steak with potato croquettes at Modica's Vecchio Caffè - delicious and just what I needed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


This notice in a shop window is telling me that, if I buy a certain type of bra, I will not need to resort to plastic surgery to make my bust look a size bigger, the bust being the only part of a woman's body where she is allowed or encouraged to gain weight. Feminism, come back - we need you!

Tuesday, October 11, 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 "What is a Blog Off?" or, more specifically, the good folk who run this event would like to know why we all feel inspired to participate and what kind of topics we prefer.

St Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of Writers
Image: Wikimedia Commons

This is only my fourth Blog Off post and I began participating because I was invited to.  Sure, there are other "blogging events" that I could join, but "alphabetical blogging" is not for me, a weekly event might become onerous and I do believe that if you are running a blogging event, the least you can do is participate properly yourself and make sure that you visit as many of the participants' blogs as you can.  This the Blog Off people do and, when I took a look at previous topics they had set, they seemed interesting and open to wide interpretation so I thought I would give it a go.

myspace comments

The other reason for participating in a blogging event is, of course, that you are likely to "meet" new people and - let's be honest - maybe increase traffic to your own blog.  Most of the readers of this blog are not, as you might imagine, from the UK, but from across the pond  so, quite apart from the fact that I like encountering people from all cultures, I welcome the opportunity to be able to communicate with more Americans.

My next biggest block of readers is from Italy and sometimes people suggest that I put a translation facility on this blog.  NO!  Although I am an Italian graduate who has worked as a translator and interpreter and am therefore  perfectly capable of translating the content myself,  professional translators only translate into, and not from, their mother tongue.  This is because however fluent and proficient you are, there are nuances and turns of phrase that only a native speaker can render successfully.  Here is an example of an idiotic internet translation:  In this post, I wrote about the death of the British jazz musician and comedy show presenter Humphrey Lyttleton.  The title is "Oh, Humph" which, as any mother tongue English speaker would realise, is meant as an expression of regret at his passing, using the diminutive of his name.  I once saw this post as it appeared on the computer of a friend who had used an internet translator and the title read "O, Bah" which is roughly the equivalent of "Bah, humbug".  Internet translators are rubbish, I refuse to look at the work of students who use them and I will never allow a translation button on this blog!

There, isn't Blog Off a wonderful idea?  Its flexibility has just allowed me to sound off on one of my favourite themes!

Topics?  Bring them on! I like the challenge of unusual or esoteric themes but I find it stimulating to work out how I can relate any topic set to life here in Sicily.  Sometimes that might prove impossible but it has not happened yet.

To blog is to interact and to interact is to learn.

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

Monday, October 10, 2011


Image: Wikimedia Commons

I had not intended to post on the Amanda Knox appeal verdict, partly because any mention of what has happened excites such strong feelings on both sides of the Atlantic and the case and partly because so many millions of words have been written about it that I did not think that mine could add anything useful.

However, I did follow the whole case closely and wrote several factual articles about it for Italy Magazine, including this interview with Steve Moore, the former FBI agent who was convinced that Miss Knox was innocent.  

Since last Monday's verdict, several readers of this blog have asked me what I think and on Thursday James asked me to contribute to an article he was planning on the decision.   The fact that I agreed to do so does not mean that his views are mine and this is what I told him:

As I live in Italy and have been following the Knox case closely, James has asked me to comment here.  I do not wish to give an opinion on the appeal verdict but I will address James's question about whether the case is being discussed in Italy.  The answer is "Yes" but not heatedly, at least not here in Sicily.  Most people I have spoken to about it have expressed surprise at the verdict but accept the appeal court decision. 

Things were very different outside the court in Perugia, of course, and the shouts of "Vergogna!" ["Shame!"] reflected suspicions that the verdict returned had been politically manipulated:  Mr Berlusconi has made no secret of his contempt for the judiciary and it would suit him if the judges at the first trial could be made to look incompetent, runs this reasoning.  Personally I do not believe this as the judiciary is the one body that has not been afraid to stand up to him.  It should also be remembered that Perugia is a city whose economy depends largely on its ability to attract foreign students.

If anyone has been made to look stupid in this sad case, it is the Italian police and certainly the fact that they appear to have been careless with some of the items used in evidence weakened the Prosecution's claims.  Nevertheless, the appeal court judge said unequivocally that Knox and Sollecito were absolved of the crime not because of contaminated evidence but because they simply did not do it.  I do not think there has been enough emphasis on this in the foreign press.  [It is true that the judge has since said they may have been guilty but in the trial he had to find on the facts as presented to him.]

Whether Italians fall into the "innocent" or "guilty" camp, there is one thing that they are all agreed upon and that is their sympathy for the family of Meredith Kercher.  And, like everyone else, they want to know who was really responsible for this horrific deed.

However, at the end of the week in which Amanda Knox went home, few people here are still discussing the case:  Italy is a country whose citizens have many other issues on their minds.

Sunday, October 09, 2011


Yes, another lamb dish for you tonight.  This is because I had frozen some of the chop-like lamb pieces I found in the supermarket the other week and, as the weather is getting colder, I cooked them last night.  I was in need of comfort and that means potatoes!   One of my favourite ways of cooking potatoes is in the oven with lots of garlic and rosemary but last night, being out of pazienza,  I decided to see if I could get a similar effect by adding the potatoes to the dish on the hob.  The answer turned out to be "Yes" but obviously they were softer.  I got the idea of adding sundried tomatoes from a recipe in the October edition of Alice Cucina but otherwise, the recipe is my own:

Heat 4 tablsp olive oil in a fairly deep pan and add 8 unpeeled garlic cloves or, if the cloves are small as mine were, 12. When they are golden add about 1 kilo of large lamb pieces and cook until browned all over.  Then add 3 - 4 unpeeled potatoes, cut into chunks.  Stir everything, then add c. 200 gr sundried tomatoes which have been preserved in oil, drained. [Sundried tomatoes are cheap in markets here and I put them in oil myself, with some basil leaves.]  Season with coarse seasalt and black pepper and add some sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme.  Add 300 ml red wine, stir everything again, put the lid on the pan and simmer for 1 hour.  Serve the dish with a green salad.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


Here's a melancholy but lovely song about autumn, sung by the incomparable Mina:

Mina - Ballata d'autunno

Friday, October 07, 2011


News of the Wikipedia Italia  blackout of October 4th, 5th and 6th travelled around the world - slowly, at first, but then it gathered speed and thousands joined the protests.

Italy's politicians, for once, were quick to react, realising, perhaps, that they risked becoming an international laughing stock and that this time it would not be only their Prime Minister who would be the target of the world's satirists.

For those of you who are not familiar with the background to the story, I'll explain as briefly and clearly as I can:  The Intercettazioni  or "Wiretapping Bill", popularly known as the Bavaglio or "Gagging Bill" that is currently being proposed in Italy would make it more difficult for the investigators of criminal cases to tap phones and use the recordings as evidence. "But that seems a good thing", I hear you say, "as it may protect privacy".  Ah, but this is Italy and among the investigations that could turn on such evidence are some that may involve a certain high-profile politician.  Are you with me?

The proposed legislation would also introduce much stricter rules regarding when and how journalists could report such evidence and this week a government amendment, under which journalists who report "irrelevant" tapped conversations could be jailed for up to three years, caused the resignation of Giulia Bongiorno, the lawyer who was overseeing the Bill's passage through Parliament.    If you are wondering where you have heard this lawyer's name before, it is because she is also famous as the appeal hearing lawyer of Raffaele Sollecito.

As if this were not enough, the Bill also contained a section, referred to as comma 29, under which anyone writing on the web in Italy would have to retract and "correct" any statement they had made which offended anyone at all or face a hefty fine and the closure of their site.  Therefore the clause was given the nickname ammazza blog ["the kill-blog"].  The neutrality and independence of websites such as Wikipedia Italia would also be threatened by the clause and for this reason the site's users staged the blackout protest.

We had to wait until late last night for an amendment to be proposed but when it came all who love knowledge and freedom of speech in Italy breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Under this amendment the "retraction and correction" requirement would not apply to sites such as Wikipedia or to ordinary blogs.  However, it would still apply to registered newspapers and periodicals online so press freedom is far from guaranteed.

The amendment has to be debated in Parliament from next Wednesday so, although Wikipedia Italia has been back up from today, the following statement appears at the top of its pages:

"Sono stati proposti degli emendamenti, ma le modifiche al disegno di legge non sono ancora state approvate in via definitiva. Non sappiamo, quindi, se sia ormai scongiurata l'approvazione della norma nella sua formulazione originaria, approvazione che vanificherebbe gran parte del lavoro fatto su Wikipedia".

"Amendments have been proposed but the changes to the Bill have not yet been definitively approved.  Therefore we do not yet know if approval of the law in its original form has been avoided.   If it has not, such approval would nullify much of the work done on Wikipedia."
[My translation.]

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia said, in this interview for the International Festival of Journalism,

"The Italian community has stood up for the fundamental human right of free expression. This affects everyone. All governments are on notice: we’re here, the citizens of the world, and you can’t silence us any more."

As a blogger and a lover of freedom I would like to take this opportunity to thank Wikipedia for its wonderful work and the users of Wikipedia Italia for bringing the world's attention to what has been going on here.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Painting:  Gino

A chance encounter with some Canadian tourists this morning reminded me how far I've come, in all sorts of ways.

Spotting the group as I was out with Simi, I would have guessed that they were not what the British still call "continentals" even if they had not been carrying cameras, speaking English and had not been paler than most of the folk we encounter on our daily walks.  They were not carrying umbrellas or plastic macs so that ruled out British origin but they were dressed in shorts, sandals and sleeveless tops and that, at this time of year, betrayed them.

Nineteen years ago when I first came to Modica I, too, wore summer clothing in October, dressing, as I did then, for the weather rather than the season.  Now, however, I do the opposite, as Italian women do, so today I was in autumn garb despite the fact that it is still hotter here than it would be on many a summer day in Britain.

I've come a long way, baby!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


"Today would be a good day to go to the post office", I told myself as I waded past that building in torrential rain on Monday [drainage in Modica not being particularly good].  In heavy rain, you see, the Modicani stay at home if they possibly can and one of the few advantages of this type of weather is, therefore, that you stand a chance of being attended to in bureaucratic public offices within a shorter time than usual - not quickly, you understand, just less slowly.

But if I thought my own pazienza had been tried over the past six years, my ordeal has been as nothing when compared to that of the pensioners of the town of Orta di Atella in Caserta Province [Campania].  The town has seen a population explosion in recent years and its one post office is now insufficient for the needs of the 25,000 inhabitants, reports Corriere della Sera. So fed up are some of the town's pensioners with the chaos when the building  opens in the morning - the rush to get a numbered ticket, the pushing and shoving and then the interminable wait to be served - that they have begun queuing outside from 6 pm on the evening before their pension is due to be paid.  And there they wait, all night, seated on the cold stone steps, smoking, chatting and attempting to keep each other's spirits up - hardly a pleasant way to pass the night for anybody and certainly not for the elderly, with the town's disabled pensioners suffering from the situation even more.

Let us hope that articles in the media will draw the attention of both regional and central government to the pensioners' plight.

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Now to romance:  I was immensely cheered to read of the marriage in Modica yesterday of an 82-year-old woman to a 79-year-old man.  The two met through a lonely hearts column and, after getting to know each other well, moved in together.  Only after 16 years did they decide to tie the knot and one of the nicest elements of this story is that they chose, as a witness, a homeless man who is a well-known and kindly local character.

May they live happily ever after and I raise my glass to them tonight.

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Pazienza - if I just wait another 21 years.....

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Tutti hanno diritto di manifestare liberamente il proprio pensiero con la parola, lo scritto e ogni altro mezzo di diffusione.
- Costituzione della Repubblica Italiana, Articolo 21

Anyone has the right to freely express their thoughts in speech, writing, or any other form of communication.
- Constitution of the Italian Republic, Article 21

This blog often links or refers to Wikipedia entries in both Italian and English and this openly editable, free, online encyclopedia is usually my first source for research.  I was, therefore, horrified to learn, today, that Wikipedia Italia may be under threat from the provisions of a new law which is being proposed in Italy:

Under the Intercettazioni, or "Wiretapping Act", any website which offends someone in Italy, intentionally or unintentionally, will be forced to retract and "correct" the offending words within 48 hours of receipt of a complaint.  No independent evaluation of any complaint will be necessary.

The users of Wikipedia Italia feel, rightly, that the proposed Act is a threat to the independence and neutrality of their project and I urge you to read their full statement here.  If the law is passed unamended, many blogs may be silenced as well.

Come on, Italy! I love you dearly but censorship is the weapon of those who are afraid.

UPDATE: 6.10.11 at 01.20:  There has now been an amendment [subject to a vote] to the proposed Bill and the retraction and correction provisions will not now apply to ordinary blogs.  However, at the time of writing it seems that they will still apply to registered newspapers and periodicals online and certain other professional sites.  The other provisions of the Act stand.

Monday, October 03, 2011


What better way to welcome autumn than by preparing this dish of pumpkin roasted with pancetta and rosemary?  The recipe is in the October edition of La Cucina magazine [Corriere della Sera].  I added a sprinkling of grated ragusano cheese when I took the dish out of the oven.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


Regular readers may remember that, following the Messina mudslides of the night of 1st - 2nd October 2009, I posted this tribute to Pasquale Simone Neri, the 29-year-old naval officer who saved eight people, then lost his own life as he returned to the main disaster area to try to save a child.

Two years on, the people of Giampilieri have been commemorating the disaster and 37 trees have been planted by the town's Mayor and the relatives of the 37 victims. The school that served as both a temporary morgue and an information centre on that dreadful night has been renamed in honour of Pasquale Simone Neri and Marco Dentici's film, Caldo Grigio, Caldo Nero, which was screened at this year's Venice Film Festival,  was shown in the town on Saturday evening.

The Mayor of Giampilieri says that most of those who lost their homes in the tragedy have now been rehoused and that those still waiting will be rehoused soon.  However, residents are angry because there has still been no public enquiry and most of the funding for reconstruction and new safety measures has come from the Sicilian Regional Government, whilst that promised by central government has not been forthcoming.  The town's inhabitants say they feel abandoned by central government which, they feel, regards them as second class citizens.

Although Sicilian Governor Raffaele Lombardo attended the commemoration event, no central government representative was present.

Marco Dentici - Caldo grigio, caldo nero

Saturday, October 01, 2011


I hope you enjoy this self-deprecating little song as much as I do:

Fabrizio Moro - Ottobre


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