Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Salvatore Giuliano

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote this article about the Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano - known to  friends, family and in legend as Turiddu - for Italy Magazine.  At that time, the body in the tomb bearing Giuliano's name in the Montelepre cemetry [Palermo] had just been exhumed in the hope of proving or disproving claims that the body was that of a look-alike and that the real Turiddu, far from being shot dead by a Carabiniere captain or killed by a cousin in 1950, had escaped to the USA.

La Sicilia reports that DNA tests on a femur and tibia were inconclusive, as were comparisons of these findings with Giuliano's genetic profile  [obtained by examining some of his clothing and other belongings].  Two years on, scientists can only tell us that it is probable - even 90% likely - that the remains in the grave are Giuliano's but they cannot give a definite answer.

The Palermo Proscutor's Office has to decide whether to archive the findings or order new investigations so it's still "Turi who?" for now. 

Monday, October 29, 2012


I had fun making these white chocolate ghosts for the school.  The idea and instructions are in the October edition of UK Good Housekeeping [only whoever made theirs managed to "sculpt" better tails than I did].

Mr Twain came to have a look at these two

and Messrs Joyce and Poe liked this one:

I hope you're all suitably scared!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


On the sixtieth birthday of the stupendous Roberto Benigni, it has to be this:

La Vita è Bella - Main theme by Nicola Piovani

Divini auguri, Roberto!

Friday, October 26, 2012


This has been quite a week for surprising court judgements in Italy but in the wake of a 5.0 earthquake which struck the Massiccio del Pollino [Calabria and Basilicata] at 1.05 this morning - there are no fatalities reported as a direct result of the quake* - I'm going to leave aside this afternoon's announcement regarding Mr Berlusconi and talk about Monday's "earthquake trial" verdict. 

News of the six-year prison sentence passed on six scientists and the former deputy director of Italy's Civil Protection organisation, all of whom were members of the country's Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Serious Risks, travelled around the world and met, mostly, with disbelief.  Scientific opinion was divided but the majority of experts concurred that it is impossible to predict earthquakes and Italy found herself once again the object of ridicule. Meanwhile, many Italian parliamentarians condemned the sentence and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Gianfranco Fini said he trusted that the verdict would be overturned at the first appeal.  Yesterday Italy's Environment Minister said the only precedent for such a judgement was the case of Galileo and today a Cabinet meeting refused to accept the en masse resignations, offered in protest at the verdict, of other members of the Risks Commission. 

There seems to be broad agreement, then, that the scientists, however learned, should not be punished for their failure to predict an unpredictable event - nor will they be, for this was not the charge.  The men were tried, not for failure to predict a major quake but for being too reassuring towards the citizens of  L'Aquila in the six months prior to the terrible earthquake of 6th April 2009.  In the words of the judge, at a meeting one week before the quake, they gave "inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory information on the danger of tremors in the six months prior to 6th April 2009."  It has been implied that, because of the scientists' reassuring statements, some people stayed in their houses and died on the night of the quake, whereas if they had gone out into the street they might have lived.

So are we talking about professional error or poor communication? Very possibly both and surely anyone who has been in any position of responsibility will sympathise with seismologist Enzo Boschi, who, in obvious distress after the judgement, said, "I still don't understand what I've been convicted of."  

Given that errors of judgement do happen at work, are the errors of some professionals more serious than those of others?  I guess most of us would agree that they can be if the professionals in question are teachers on a school trip, doctors or perhaps seismologists.  But all these people are human too and where there are humans there will always be human error.

My opinion? I am not qualified to give one in this sad case so I merely state the facts for your perusal and ask the questions that come to mind.

  *Pollino:  an 84-year-old man is reported to have died of a heart attack, probably caused by fear, in Scalea.  Tonight many people in the area are frightened and are sleeping out in the open.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Far be it from me to defend a Tory but if British Chancellor of the Exchequer [Finance Minister] George Osborne is feeling put upon, he could do worse than spend a few days in Italy, where he might find himself rather popular or, at the very least, a phenomenon.

For those of you who don't know the story, Mr Osborne found himself at the centre of a media storm last week when he got on a British train and sat in a first class compartment whilst in possession of only a standard class ticket.  What actually happened after that is a little hazy as according to some reports he or an aide immediately offered to pay the difference whilst others claim that they only did so when challenged by a railway company employee.  What caused media glee was the fact that the Chancellor's aide reportedly said that he "couldn't possibly" travel in standard class.  Whether she actually said this, or said it in the superior way reported, is still in doubt but either way the twitter feeds went wild and an army of reporters greeted the hapless Mr Osborne at his London destination.

I thought the incident might lead to an interesting discussion with some advanced students and I guessed at what their reaction would be but not at the strength of it:  in Italy politicians take the concept of parliamentary privilege to what would be unimagined levels in Britain and deputati enjoy the highest salaries in Europe as well as ridiculously cheap lunches, subsidised haircuts and free rail and domestic air travel.  My students were open-mouthed at the idea that a member of parliament, particularly a minister, would pay for any part of a rail journey and declared that we are "lucky" to be governed by such self-effacing folk in Britain.

Come and see the students, George because they don't believe you're real. Don't let them down, now - make sure you pay for your own first-class flight to Rome....

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


When I arrived in Sicily for the first time - exactly twenty years ago today, as it happens - one of the dishes my good friend Giovanna made to welcome me was peperonata with potatoes.  This is my version:

3 tablesp olive oil
1 large red onion
5 peppers - I happened to have red and green but use yellow and orange, too, if you can
500 gr potatoes [a bit more if you like]
6 vine or other flavoursome tomatoes, halved
1 400 gr can cherry tomatoes with their juice or a box of passata
chilli pepper flakes if liked
fresh basil

Chop the onion finely and soften in the oil in a wide pan or wok. Deseed the peppers, cut into fairly large  pieces and add to the pan. A Sicilian would peel the potatoes but I only ever do that to mash them so I don't. Cut the potatoes into chunks and add them too, stirring everything well. When the peppers have softened, after about 15 minutes, add the fresh tomatoes [peeled and desseded if you have time or prefer] the contents of the can of cherry tomatoes or passata and stir.  Sprinkle over some chilli pepper flakes if you like them.  Add seasalt to taste, then stir the mixture well, put the lid on the pan and leave to simmer for about 35 mins.  Strew some torn fresh basil leaves over and serve.

Buon appetito.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Yesterday I wrote that autumn was setting in by Sicilian standards.  Today, however, several acquaintances declared it to be winter: after all, there was an afternoon storm and the temperature had the temerity to "plunge" to a mere 16 C.  

Poor drainage makes even a shower look like a flood and anyone with the misfortune or lack of foresight to be a pedestrian during a downpour will quickly become drenched, not necessarily from above. Passing cars have no respect for such foolhardy creatures.  As you see, pedestrians during a rainstorm are not exactly numerous on the via Sacro Cuore so umbrella collisions are unlikely.  

Monday, October 22, 2012


Some bars have stopped making their own ice cream now that autumn is setting in - setting in by Sicilian standards, that is.  Mr Fargione, however, continues to make his and today I found him happily putting together these pretty gelato vol-au-vents.  Yes, they taste as good as they look!

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I hope you like this song about love and the colours it evokes in the mind as much as I do. Let's hear it for the person who created the pretty video, too!

Modà - Come un pittore

Friday, October 19, 2012


The full name of the "Prickly Pear Festival" at Militello in Val di Catania is the Sagra della Mostarda e del Fico d'India and before arriving there on Sunday I wondered what type of mostarda would be celebrated. I've written before on this blog about the confusion surrounding the term and I repeat the  information here:

To most Sicilians, the term "mostarda" means a solid preserve made from grape must and wood ashes. Yes, ashes! [Don’t worry - they are filtered out.]  Other ingredients such as almonds may be added. I find the texture too leathery but there is also a lighter, fresh version which is rarely made now. A friend's mother-in-law does make it and I have tasted it at her home. 

The reason that the solid preserve shares the name "mostarda" with the mustard-based fruit relishes of northern Italy is that the Romans used to mix mustard seeds with verjuice instead of vinegar and in the Middle Ages, for a time, the vinegar was replaced by must, so some etymological confusion arose. 

At Militello on Sunday the solid, black preserve was much in evidence but I did find one street vendor who had made a fresh mostarda similar to the kind made by my friend's relative.  The main ingredient? Prickly pears! 

The taste?  Err..... interesting.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo's Sicilian tour has set me thinking about roles for, if he has a problem here other than convincing Sicilians to abandon the status quo, it is a particularly Italian view of people and their roles.  It works like this:

If you are a lawyer you will be expected to behave like a lawyer at all times and it will occur to no one that you might ever need to relax, so you will have to dispense legal advice wherever you are - on the beach, at a café table or from your car window as you speed past another driver that you know.  In exchange, you will be addressed as avvocato by everyone for the rest of your life, even in the unlikely event that you give up the law to become a shoeshine boy. And talking of shoes, if you happen to sell them, it would be regarded as eccentric, if not mad, to sell clothes as well.  Thus small towns like Modica have no department stores and no one [except me] misses them. This conformity, then, goes for places too, so the pharmacy doesn't sell perfumes, the supermarkets don't have pharmacies [though some deregulation has been mooted, to widespread protest] and when the underwear store started selling jumpers a few years ago it was regarded as a revolution.

A revolution, of course, is exactly what Italy needs, preferably with a 21st century economic miracle thrown in.  If we think back to another economic miracle, that of Japan in the post-war years, we may remember that one of the ways in which it was achieved was to put everybody, from managing director to apprentice, in company uniform and, when necessary but also in order to boost morale, chief executives worked on the shop floor.

Could such a thing ever happen in Italy?  In a country where, even during their busiest periods, bank and post office managers would not dream of taking their turn at the counters to reduce queues, it would require a sea change in attitudes. Managers are supposed to manage and to do that it is assumed that they must wear a suit and walk around looking important. Only in extreme circumstances would they suggest to their employees that they should try to complete transactions more quickly and I have seen this happen only once in my seven years of interminable waiting in such institutions.

In An Italian in Britain the Corriere della Sera journalist Beppe Severgnini observes, with some surprise, that in Britain,

"On weekends you can dress as you please.  A politician will let himself be interviewed walking his dog in the countryside wearing an ancient jumper and everyone seems to find this perfectly normal."

So there you have it, Mr Grillo:  a politician is not to be photographed doing mundane tasks like walking the dog, he wears a suit all the time and he probably shouldn't be a comedian too -  well, not intentionally, anyway.   However, it is just possible that the sea change began when you swam the Strait of Messina last week . For all our sakes, I hope so.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


The Ottobrata festival at Zafferana Etnea takes place on every Sunday during October and is a showcase for food products from the Etna area, local crafts, art and street performers. My friend Carol King and I set out for Zafferana last Sunday and I'm jolly glad we did!

The town perches below smoky old Etna

and we were just in time to see a rainbow in the fountain [well-spotted by Carol]:

There is a model of the crater in the square:

There were stalls as far as the eye could see

 but you still got an idea of what a peaceful place this must be for most of the year:

OK, so Carol [seated left, in headscarf] and I played at being tourists for this shot.  I think I should wear a hat like this every day!

There were tastes of everything on offer and there were so many varieties of honey that I couldn't decide where to begin:

There was no shortage of cheese either!

Then it was on to one of my favourite towns, Militello in Val di Catania, where the Festa della Mostarda e del Fico d'India [prickly pear]  was in full swing.  Luck was with us again as the parade of traditional Sicilian carts began a few minutes after we arrived:

The horses looked so proud of their finery and happy, like us, to be out in the sunshine:

I wonder if I could get some plumes like this to add to my flat cap?

Now I'll let you enjoy more of the colourful parade: 

I was too tired to cook when I got home but some of this "black" bread from Castelvetrano [Trapani] tasted delicious spread with some olive and aubergine pâté that I'd bought. The bread is made with timilia or tumminia wheat, which is becoming rarer.

And this balsamic honey - yes, I did finally choose one - made an interesting salad dressing:

Congratulations to the good folk of Zafferana Etnea and Militello in Val di Catania on their fine festivals.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


These little green apples from the upper slopes of the Etna area are delicious and much smaller than they look in the photo.  I bought them in Zafferana Etnea on Sunday and I'll tell you more about the trip tomorrow!

And now I just have to post this song, which has been going round in my head since Sunday night. As we are mixing cultures in this post, we might as well have a Welshman singing it and here's the sexiest Welshman of them all:

Tom Jones - Little Green Apples

Monday, October 15, 2012


It just wouldn't be right to attend the Sagra del Fico d'India [Prickly Pear Festival] in Militello in Val di Catania and not have prickly pear ice cream, would it?  There's pistacchio in this one, too:

Saturday, October 13, 2012


We have rain, hail, thunder, lightning and just about everything else in Sicily this afternoon, so here is the ever-energetic Jovanotti with a suitable song:

Jovanotti - Piove

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


A quick update on yesterday's post:  at 12.10pm Beppe Grillo completed his swim across the Strait of Messina and as I write this, he is still on his feet and surrounded, as you might expect, by the microphones of journalists.  Whatever one may think of his politics, it should be admitted that the 3.2 km swim was quite an  achievement for a man of 64. Go, Beppe! 

A video of Mr Grillo's departure from Cannitello [Calabria] has been posted on his blog and I'm sure that other clips of the crossing will be posted there during the day.

"E che l'Italia ha bisogno della Sicilia, e non che la Sicilia ha bisogno dell'Italia" - "The point is that Italy needs Sicily, not that Sicily needs Italy", said Mr Grillo before leaving Calabria. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo - not, it must be said, universally popular in Sicily - is due on the island tomorrow to launch his M5S party's regional electoral campaign here.  The inimitable Mr Grillo has announced that he will not only travel by sea but will swim across the Strait of Messina, an undertaking that, as I write, is causing much jubilation on twitter, where, among other jokes, it is being suggested that this event may at last convince Sicilians of the need for the Messina Bridge.

Mr Grillo will leave Cannitello on the Calabrian coast at 10 am and hopes to arrive at Capo Peloro in Messina Province by 11.30, though Corriere della Sera, to name but one publication, does not believe that he will swim the whole way, given the fact that he is 64 and "is hardly an Olympic athlete".  The determined comedian is rumoured to have spent his summer holiday in Sardinia dieting and training for the purpose, though, so personally I wouldn't be surprised if he were to prove the pundits wrong .

Once safely on Sicily and, presumably, having taken a rest, Mr Grillo will undertake a complete tour of the island and is due in Ragusa on the evening of 14th October.  On the 15th he is coming to Modica for lunch and will do a walkabout in the evening.

I do hope he stocks up on Modican chocolate while he is here as he will need it for energy should he decide to swim back!

Saturday, October 06, 2012


I like this - hope you do, too:

Noemi - Se non è amore


Italy's colourful and interesting Carabinieri calendars are becoming collector's items and the 2013 edition will be the 85th.  

I became interested in them when I wrote an article about Italian calendars for Italy Magazine in 2009 and the following year, a Carabiniere student of mine gave me one.  A couple of weeks ago we found a forgotten 2004 edition in the new school building and a few days later, while I was waiting for a friend in the bank, I happened to remark to the manager that I liked the two he had on display in the foyer.  Imagine my surprise when he took them down and presented them to me with a flourish!  The only "gift" I had ever previously received from a bank manager having been a stroppy letter, I doubly appreciated the gesture.

The Carabineri corps will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2014 and because of this the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 calendars each document and illustrate 50 years of its history.

Thursday, October 04, 2012


This is a variation on the "Finger-Burner" Lamb Chops recipe in the lovely Tuscan Sun Cookbook by Frances and Edward Mayes:

I used Frances and Edward's idea for the marinade, namely a mixture of a little olive oil, red wine, fresh thyme and seasoning, then added some dried oregano as well. I used 1 kg of chops but bear in mind that the lamb chops available down here are very small and have little meat on them.  If you can get meatier, or what I call "normal" lamb chops, you may just want to use, say, two per person.  Anyway, having left the chops in their marinade in the fridge overnight, I didn't grill or pan-roast them but put them in a foil-lined roasting dish with some slices of lemon - we are in the green lemon season here - and a few sliced vine tomatoes.  [You can seed the tomatoes if you want but I didn't.] I sprinkled just a dash more oil and coarse seasalt over the tomatoes and cooked the dish in the oven at 180 C for 50 minutes.

The result, I thought, was excellent and I'll definitely be making this again.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


When I am strolling back home with my dog in the evening, I don't expect to return with anything other than our "poo bag" in one hand and the lead, firmly attached to my dog, in the other, so imagine my surprise on Sunday when a neighbour, whom I do not know well but who has always been kind, called to me and asked if she could give me a zucchina from her garden in the country.  Then another zucchina appeared from the boot of her car, followed by an armful of the freshest peppers, all for me! 

Such thoughtfulness makes sunny Sicily even sunnier.....


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