Saturday, November 30, 2013


Some reflections on time and love from Laura Pausini, who celebrates 20 years in show business this year:

Laura Pausini - Se non te

Friday, November 29, 2013


Looking across the Strait of Messina

Here, at last, is some news to cheer Sicilians up and boost tourism on the island: The messinese actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta, along with Massimiliano Cavaleri, president of the cultural association Prima Stella, has come up with the idea of creating a "Walk of Stars", inspired by the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along the shores of the Messina Strait.

The idea is to put Messina back on the film map of the world and celebrate its cinematic heyday in the fifties and sixties. At that time, film stars from Italy and beyond would come to the Rassegna Cinematografica Internazionale di Messina and let themselves be seen there as they do now in Hollywood, Cannes and Taormina, where the Festival was relocated in the 1970s. The project, which looks to the future, too, has won support from all quarters of the Messina Council and Port Authority and architects have already been appointed.

It is envisaged that there would be a permanent commission to choose which stars would be honoured and now two star designs are being considered: a traditional star to be inserted into the existing paving or a three-dimensional design with room for some biographical details about the film star it represents.

I have just one tip for you, Messina:  if you don't want a certain politician lobbying for a place on the Walk, keep calling it the "Walk of Stars" and not the "Walk of Fame"!

Thursday, November 28, 2013


There are no prizes for guessing the top story in every Italian newspaper and in other media here today - it is, of course, the final and definitive expulsion of Mr Berlusconi from the Senate. "Didn't that happen at the beginning of October?" you may ask and the answer is that it did, sort of, but that was a vote by a Senate committee. The process required another vote by the full Senate in order to be confirmed. What you have to understand about Italian politics is that nothing is straightforward, no one ever resigns and everything is as complicated as possible and designed to take the maximum amount of time. If you can comprehend these three principles, you are on the way to grasping the essence.

Tonight I am not going to repeat a tale which has been well reported all over the world but I do want to focus on some of the language being used here in reaction to it. Prior to the vote yesterday - for he can have had no doubt as to its outcome - the former Premier declared the day to be one of  "mourning for democracy". Following the decision, some Senators changed into black outfits and many of Mr Berlusconi's supporters donned black armbands.

Then words like "tragedy" were heard and among these voices was that of Miss Francesca Pascale, Mr Berlusconi's 28-year-old fiancée.  So upset is she at the spurning of her partner that she has asked to see Pope Francis in order to explain the "tragedy" to him. [The Pontiff's reaction has not, as yet, been reported.] Now, whilst it is disappointing to lose one's job at any age, no matter whose fault it is, Silvio Berlusconi is hardly your average pensioner trying to make a few extra pence to pay his winter fuel bills. He is one of the world's richest men, is well past the age of retirement and remains leader of his Forza Italia party. Even allowing for Italian exaggeration, what befell him yesterday cannot be described as a tragedy.

Miss Pascale has not, to my knowledge, expressed indignation or sorrow at events such as the 3rd October migration tragedy in the Mediterranean or last week's disaster in Sardinia and one wonders whether these people have lived unusually charmed lives. As for mourning, Silvio, I'll save that for deep personal loss.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Oh, dear - just when it was all going so well for Fontanarossa [Catania] Airport, along comes the EU and cuts off its funding for the next ten years. The airport, the sixth in importance in Italy and among the top ten in the country for traffic, no longer appears in the Core Ten-T and Connecting Europe Facility upper band, having been downgraded because of poor transport links - especially by rail -  with the centre of Catania and the port. It is a ruling which will affect not only Fontanarossa, but the whole Catania area, including the port, the Circumetnea rail service and even the new airport at Comiso [Ragusa]. This means that the area will not feature in the new trans-European network corridors planned by the EU for the future and is a cruel blow for the Sicilian tourist industry.

Governor of Sicily Rosario Crocetta and Mayor of Catania Enzo Bianco have met today to decide upon a strategy and will soon be announcing an initiative, in conjunction with other partners, to support the airport. In some quarters this is being regarded as too little too late and there has been much criticism of local institutions for not putting more pressure on the EU.

The continued development and efficient functioning of Fontanarossa is essential, not only to the economy of this part of Sicily but to the island as a whole. Let us hope.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Friday morning was grey and drab, just like my mood. I was walking along, thinking of Tennyson's line,

"On the bald street breaks the blank day",

when I happened to glance up.  And there, above Modica, was one of the most beautiful rainbows I had ever seen. [The photo does not do it justice.]  It was only there for a moment but it really lifted my spirits and my thoughts turned [not for the first time in Modica] to some lines by Colette, which she attributed to her mother, Sido:

"Regarde la couleur du ciel au couchant, qui annonce grand vent et tempête. Qu'inporte le grand vent de demain pourvu que nous admirions cette fournaise d'aujourd'hui? Regarde la première pousse du haricot, le cotylédon qui lève sur sa tête un petit chapeau de terre sèche..... Regarde, vite, le bouton de l'iris noir est en train de s'épanouir! Si tu ne te dépêches pas, il ira plus vite que toi!"

"Look at the colour of the sky at sunset, warning us of strong winds and a storm. What do the strong winds of tomorrow matter as long as we can admire today's burning fire? Look at the first shoots of the bean, the seed leaf popping up with a little hat of dry earth on its head......  Quick - look! The bud of the black iris is opening.  If you don't hurry it will go faster than you!' " 

Actually, Sido probably didn't say it but what matters is that the words were written.

Afterwards, I suddenly I found myself humming this song:

Annette Hanshaw - If You Want the Rainbow

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Easy to understand why this is top of the Italian charts!

Mika e Chiara - Stardust

Friday, November 22, 2013


The 22nd November 1963 was a normal, grey, drizzly Friday in Bristol, UK.  Aged 13, I went to school as usual, came home just after 4 pm and couldn't get out of my uniform quickly enough. It says something for the significance the day would eventually have that I can remember the clothes I changed into - a burgundy corduroy skirt and pale blue jumper which probably didn't go. After "tea", as we called it then, I settled down to watch my favourite medical soap opera, Emergency - Ward 10, with Desmond Carrington as the handsome young doctor, Chris Anderson.

There had been a lot of talk of war in the preceding months, for the world had held its breath during the Cuban Missile Crisis of only a year before and my parents still talked about World War II. I don't think that people of their generation ever realised how much they scared their children by doing so and maybe it's because of this, and not only the songs of Bob Dylan, that we became the generation of "peace and love". When the programme was interrupted and a picture of President Kennedy was shown on the screen, my immediate thought was that war had been declared and I was terrified. Then came the announcement - the President had been shot in Dallas.

We didn't have live news pictures in Britain at the time and the announcer said that the programme would continue and further news would be brought to us as ITV received it. A few minutes later, the programme was interrupted again and we were told the devastating news that the President had died. Then the announcer said that, in view of the gravity of the news, solemn music would be played for the rest of the evening. There were still no pictures.

We all glanced at each other in shock - my mum, dad, grandpa and me. My great aunt Mabel, who also lived with us, was out at a church meeting and when she came in, my dad gently told her the news. Great aunt Mabel was a widely-read, self-educated woman and I remember she buried her face in her hands, immediately grasping what this meant for the world.

For my generation of Brits President Kennedy represented all that was new and all that we loved about America:  he was handsome, he was a war hero, we could understand his speeches and he was the first young politician we had ever seen. Every girl in my class wanted a "Jackie" fringe and how we loved her pillbox hats and style!  The thought of her screaming, "Oh, no, no!" in the car was too much for us to bear. Of course, none of us knew then that the marriage was far from perfect but I don't think it would have diminished our hero-worship if we had.

Jacqueline Kennedy, much maligned later for the Onassis interlude, was a product of her time and class and admitted as much after Onassis's death:

"I have always lived through men and now I realise that I can't do that any more."

I am glad that she found love, reliability and true companionship in a man towards the end of her life and I am certainly not going to judge a woman who, on that fateful day half a century ago, cradled her murdered husband's head in her arms as their motorcade sped through Dallas to the hospital.

I believe, to this day, that it was hope that was cut down in Dallas on 22nd November 1963 and I don't think it re-emerged until the end of the decade, in the protests and demonstrations that young people held all over the world. Now, 50 years later, in Sicily, Italy, I find myself dealing every day with young people who feel they have no hope and they have no Kennedy figure to inspire it.

It is impossible to know in what ways the history of the world might have been different had President Kennedy survived but I would venture this opinion:  Had he lived, faculties intact, into his nineties, he would have been appalled to see young people in such despair in a crisis brought about largely by people in a position to have known better. He would have known little of the situation in far-away Italy but he would have realised that this was a world-wide failure involving far more than money and he would have spoken out.

Everyone has their favourite Kennedy quote and mine is one of the less famous but I believe it is appropriate for our time and, indeed, for Italy.  It is this:

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy:  Address at The American University, Washington D.C.,  
10th June 1963

Thursday, November 21, 2013


The other evening I decided I just had to have a warm rice salad to go with my butcher's excellent spiedini [kebabs]. The shops being closed, I had to use what was in the store cupboard and [newly working] freezer, so here's what I did:

Cook 500 gr long-grain rice - in Italy we can get special salad rice - in salted water for the time indicated on the pack. If this time is no longer than 10 minutes, chuck 200 gr frozen peas right in there with the rice. If the time indicated is longer - and please note it's the time from when the water comes to the boil - throw the peas in for the last ten mins.

While the rice and peas are cooking, chop a large red onion and a couple of peppers from a jar of grilled peppers in oil. Halve some datterini or cherry tomatoes and tear up a handful of basil leaves.

When the rice and peas are done, strain them and transfer to a serving dish. Mix in the other vegetables and basil and season well. Stir in 1 tablesp olive oil and serve.

Serves 4 generously. 

Buon appetito.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Today some people in Sardinia have been able to return to their devastated homes as the clear-up operation continues. There are conflicting reports about the number of dead - some newspapers say 18, others 16 - and at least one person is still missing.

From the Sant'Antonio district of the badly hit town of Olbia comes a tale of bravery and friendship, among many others which will emerge in the coming days, I am sure: A young German hairdresser called Martina Feick, who has been living in Sardinia for seven years, did not hesitate, when what has been described as "the water bomb" arrived, to swim across her street in order to rescue an elderly lady who lived opposite her with her dog.  Having rescued both the lady and her beloved canine companion, who had been at risk of being drowned in their home, Martina took them into her own house, where the three spent Monday night together.

To the people of Sant'Antonio, Martina is a heroine and I am happy to be able to bring you this story of hands literally reaching out across cultures in a time of great danger.

Update, 22.11.13:  The final death toll is 16 but one person is still missing.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Official flag of Sardinia

This has turned out to be an unkind autumn meterologically in several parts of the world and last night, as many of you will have seen in news reports in your own countries, the island of Sardinia was hit by a major cyclone, Ciclone Cleopatra.

The worst-affected area is the town of Olbia and the whole Gallura region is, according to Corriere della Sera, on its knees. The death toll at the moment is 18, including four children and the latest estimate is that 2,737 people have been made homeless.  

Tragically, a policeman escorting an ambulance was among the victims as the bridge which his vehicle was crossing collapsed in Dorgali [Nuoro]. Three of his colleagues were also injured and there is as yet no word on their condition.

Prime Minister Letta, who is on his way to Sardinia as I write, has declared a state of emergency and referred to the event as a national tragedy. His government has allocated €27 million for emergency relief and the miltary have already been deployed in the rescue and clearing up operation. 

Italy's Environment Minister, Andrea Orlando, has said that 17.3" of rain fell on the island last night - a figure equivalent to half the average rainfall there for a whole year. This has put an unbearable strain on Sardinia's water system. President of the Camera dei deputati Laura Boldrini has said that the tragedy has once again brought environmental issues to the fore and has called for more environmental protection measures.

As always in such circumstances, Italy has rallied to help those in need: Hotels in Olbia are receiving the displaced and a medical emergency room has been set up in a pharmacy as the local hospital is still difficult to reach. Following reports of the disaster late last night, I was impressed by the speed with which social media were being used to inform people about where they could go for help and to offer accommodation to those who have been evacuated.

President Napolitano has expressed his solidarity with and sympathy for the Sardinian people and Pope Francis, on twitter, has asked people to pray for the victims, especially the children.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Here's a nice one to sing along to, especially if you're feeling a bit so-so, like me!

Riccardo Cocciante - Celeste Nostalgia


"O, Machine!" exclaims Vashti in E.M. Forster's short story The Machine Stops and I must admit, that is how I felt when my repaired fridge was delivered back to me the other day. 

I am old enough to remember a time when the domestic fridge was deemed an innovation but I don't really remember how my mother kept food cool before we had our first one. We did have a pantry and that helped and as, until I was nine, we had a sweet shop, my Dad used to plonk scoops of ice cream from the shop freezer into glasses of lemonade in summer - much as Sicilian bar-keepers will offer you a scoop of granita in your cold tea on the hottest days.

As far back as the Greek era, Etna snow was being used to cool wine and that must have been lovely provided you had servants to go and fetch it for you. Rich Victorians had daily deliveries of ice but how did the less fortunate manage? It is important to remember that food shopping for more than one's daily needs is a fairly recent development and there are still countries today where not even staples are stored in the home. Those who dwelled in the countryside often grew vegetables and raised their own livestock but, in places like Sicily, meat was considered a luxury. When it was used, it was often washed in milk and boiled several times.  

The stone houses which many Sicilians lived in were cool and then there were the myriad means of preserving food, above all, in olive oil but also by salting [the technique of salting fish was brought here by the Arabs] spicing and using sugar [also brought by the Arabs] in sweet preserves. Some food was kept in cellars or even nearby caves and there were also ceramic water coolers. Those lucky enough to live near a lake or river sometimes kept food in it in well-sealed containers, too.

All of this sounds quite exhausting so I'm off to coo, "O, Machine!" to my dear old fridge once again before bed.


Thursday, November 14, 2013


Image: WP Clipart

Italians love their cars and Modicans, I would say, more than most: every one of them will tell you, "We have a transport system that doesn't work" but this doesn't seem to matter because, as a student told me some years ago, "Only old people use it." "Thanks very much", said I.

So frustrated am I by the infrequency of Modica's buses that, whenever I go to Catania, I am like a child let loose in some Christmas wonderland at the sight of buses that actually appear to be going somewhere and bus stops placed in locations where people might want to alight.

Using your car for every journey is all very well but, in these days of the crisi - which is showing few signs of abating in Italy - it is, more than ever, costly. Help, however, may be on hand from our neighbours in Sardinia, where on Tuesday entrepreneur Franco Lisci unveiled a plan to use urine as petrol. This is not a new idea but it is new to Italy and Mr Lisci was very happy to demonstrate the use of a filter made of 100% Sardinian wool to isolate impurities. 

By all accounts the plan could work and help not only the Italian environment but the health and purses of the country's citizens as the use of urine as fuel for cars and for the running of domestic appliances would not only be cheaper but would reduce CO2 emissions.

Two questions come to mind:  firstly I would like to know how long it will take the Italian government to think up a way of taxing the stuff - not long, I suspect - and I have visions of everyone walking about with those pretty revenue stamps of which Italian officials are so fond attached to their private parts. Secondly, from whom is the quantity of urine required to be procured? I do have a suggestion:  Get it from the politicians, Italy.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


The stories about migration in the Mediterranean may have dropped out of the international headlines but that does not mean that the boats have stopped setting sail for the European "promised land" and, in particular, the shores of Malta and Sicily.

Following the tragedy of 3rd October, the Letta government launched Operazione Mare Nostrum on 18th October: this is a military humanitarian operation to try to stop similar tragedies occurring and to control the influx of migrants. Not everyone is happy about it, partly because of the costs and partly because of a fear that the availability of more immediate help for boats that get into trouble might actually encourage the people traffickers. [If they are caught at sea and helped to reach Italy, any penalty may be reduced.]

On Sunday, however, Defence Minister Mario Maura congratulated the Italian Navy upon a mission it carried out as part of the operation on Saturday: Having patrolled the Capo Passero area by submarine, naval officers were able to intercept a fishing vessel acting as a migrant  "mother ship" and arrest the 16 people traffickers on board. Of these, three were minors. All have declared themselves to be  Egyptian. The Navy also brought 176 Syrian migrants - 146 men, eleven women, three of whom are pregnant, and 19 children - to safety during the mission. The 13 adult scafisti are now in prison awaiting trial while the three minors are being housed in a migrant reception centre. Mr Mauro said the interception was timely as conditions at sea were rough and the migrant boat, which was already taking in water, would have capsized.

It is estimated that 3,374 migrants have been helped in 16 separate Operazione Mare Nostrum missions carried out between 18th October and yesterday.

Update:  Sicilian online newspapers are reporting tonight that 55 of the 176 rescued migrants have escaped during a transfer and that there are 61 unaccompanied minors among those who remain. Voluntary organisations immediately brought food and clothing for the young migrants and further transfers are now being effected.

Monday, November 11, 2013


When you have forgotten it is your favourite saint's feast day, walk into a bar and are offered a frittella in his honour, you remember why you love living in Sicily.

Frittelle are traditional for San Martino di Tours because in times gone by they could be made by rich and poor alike: They contain few ingredients, can be fried using the new oil of the season and also go very well with the vino novello which is opened on this day! In this post from 2007 I included some photos of frittelle being prepared.

According to legend, in the fourth century San Martino met a starving, freezing beggar at the gates of the city of Amiens. He cut his cloak in two with his sword and gave half to the man. For this reason, San Martino is a saint associated with the poor. It is also said that the sun came out at the very moment he tore his cloak and that is why an Indian summer here is known as an estate di san Martino.

San Martino is the protector of soldiers, innkeepers, hoteliers and beggars. He died in Candes, now Candes-Saint-Martin, in 397.

Saturday, November 09, 2013


The singer on the first Italian record [as we called them then] I ever bought was Emilio Pericoli, who died in April. I listened to Emilio a lot, though not as long ago as the picture on this clip would indicate! Enjoy this relaxed love song:

Emilio Pericoli - With You [Con te]

Thursday, November 07, 2013


I am pleased to be able to tell you that students enrolling on courses at London Town - Centro Linguistico Internazionale, Modica will receive, free of charge, my booklet,
A-Z English Language Tips - come evitare gli errori più comuni nell'uso della lingua inglese.

GRATIS  per chi s'iscrive a un corso di inglese a London Town - Centro Linguistico Internazionale, Modica: il mio libretto,
A-Z English Language Tips - come evitare gli errori più comuni nell'uso della lingua inglese. 

Piace a tutti!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


Today, for Sicilians has been a day of brutto tempo [bad weather], there having been a bit of wind. But just look at the blue sky we had! Now all I need is some blue sky in my personal life - please.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


When I need comfort food, as I often do these days, pasta al forno is high on my list of possibilities. At the weekend, I decided I wanted to create a rather more seasonal pasta al forno, so I added pumpkin and a bit of orange zest. Here's the recipe:

Pasta al forno con zucca

First, discard the peel from about a quarter of a small pumpkin and slice the flesh. You'll need about 300 gr. Cook in salted water till the pieces are tender then drain and set aside.

Heat 4 tablsp olive oil in a large, wide pan and add 75 gr pancetta cubes [cubetti di pancetta dolce if you are in Italy]. Cook until browned, then add 1 chopped red onion and cook till the onion is soft. Add 500 gr mixed minced meat - I used a mixture of minced pork and beef but there is nothing to stop you using all beef if you want to. Cook, stirring, to lightly brown the meat.  Add 300 gr sliced mushrooms, the pumpkin pieces and the grated rind of 1 lovely Sicilian orange.  Add a dollop [or dessertspoon] of 'strattu, 200 gr passata and 200 ml water. Season, stir, turn the heat down and simmer for about 40 mins., coming back to stir from time to time. This is your ragù.

Pre-heat the oven to 160 C.

Meanwhile, cook 400 gr rigatoni or tortiglioni for the time indicated on the pack. Drain the pasta and wait for the ragù.

Oil a large ceramic or Pyrex-style roasting dish and add a layer of pasta, a layer of ragù, a layer of 125 gr crumbled ricotta, another layer of pasta, another 125 gr ricotta and finish with a layer of ragù. Sprinkle a handful of fresh breadcrumbs [pane grattugiato] over the top, along with about 1 tablesp of grated Grana Padano, Parmesan or Ragusano cheese. Cook in the oven for 15 mins.

This turned out to be one of the nicest pasta al forno dishes I have ever made so buon appetito!

It will serve at least 4 people generously.

Monday, November 04, 2013


Without peace, there is no hope 
and no one can live without hope.

Posted as part of blog4peace 2013, with love and thanks to the indefatigable and wonderful Mimi Lennox, whose initiative this is.

Saturday, November 02, 2013


A clever song about how difficult it is to change things - especially ourselves - from Italy's favourite rocker, Vasco Rossi. This song is no. 1 in the Italian charts:

Vasco Rossi - Cambia - Menti

Friday, November 01, 2013


Lines of washing strung high up across ancient, narrow alleyways are one of the sights of Italy that has long delighted tourists. Such a view does not, however, delight the town councillors of Catania, who have just passed a new bylaw banning the hanging out of washing in the old centre - the area surrounding the Parco archeologico greco-romano. 

The aim of the law, say councillors, is to give the area more dignity and to allow everyone to enjoy its true beauty. Under the regulation, air conditioners and tubes that can be seen from the street are also banned from balconies.

Residents of the area, many of whom are elderly, are, unsurprisingly, not happy:  many of them have lived there all their lives and have hung their washing out in the open in the time-honoured way for as long as they can remember. The task is part of their daily interaction with others. And, if they can't hang the washing outside, how, they want to know, are they to dry it? They say their small houses get too humid to dry washing indoors and they also want to know how they are expected to cope with the summer heat if their air conditioners are to be banned.

What do you think? Do you like to see the cheerful lines of washing or are they an eyesore?

The story made me think of this English folk song:


View My Stats