Friday, January 31, 2014


Cold winds and rough seas have lambasted Sicily for most of the past week but the weather conditions have not discouraged desperate migrants from beginning their perilous journeys towards the island's shores, which they regard as a gateway to a better life in Europe.

On Wednesday night the Italian Navy intercepted a mother ship intending to transfer migrants it was carrying onto a small boat off Siracusa and 15 crew members were arrested on suspicion of being people traffickers. They have today been brought to Catania, where they have been detained.

On the same night, a naval helicopter spotted a fishing boat in trouble off Portopalo di Capo Passero and 175 migrants, including six children, were rescued from it and also taken to Catania. All but one, who is suffering from hypothermia, are reported to be in a satisfactory medical condition. These migrants were from Syria, Egypt and Iraq.

Meanwhile, this weekend sees an unusual gathering at Lampedusa Airport, where representatives from charities, migrants' associations and others who have the welfare of migrants at heart will attempt to draw up a Lampedusa Charter - a charter for migrants' rights and, it is hoped, for the world: an impractical dream or a true vision for the future? What do you think? You can follow the event on the Melting Pot site.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Oh, dear, it's that statue of the Blessed Pope John Paul II again! The memorial, unveiled outside Rome's Termini Station in 2011, has been criticised since that moment, with the face being likened to that of Mussolini and the body to a "bloody big hole".  The open cloak gesture was meant to represent this beloved Pope drawing everyone in and loving them but it just doesn't work. The folk at CNN seem to agree and now the statue features on their list of the world's eleven ugliest monuments - a dubious honour if ever there was one.

Even though the statue has had a makeover and the lines are a little softer, it hardly evokes the idea of welcome and bears little resemblance to the late Pontiff. I still think our Giovanni Paolo statue in Modica is better!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


One of the pleasures of Italian life  is to be able to go into almost any bar an hour or two before it is time for a main meal and ask for a plate of stuzzichini or appetisers. These are really appetisers before your main meal appetisers, I have to remind myself, as everyone around me will partake of a three-course meal later, probably at home.

The stuzzichini in my local bar are particularly good on a Saturday evening and you get a mini dish of pasta and a generous bowl of crisps too!

Monday, January 27, 2014


International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Giorno della Memoria
Journée internationale dédiée à la mémoire des victimes de l’Holocauste
Yom HaShoah

In the run-up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, I have been following, on the Corriere della Sera site, a series of short films about the life of Vera Vigevani Jarach: This remarkable 86-year-old lady left her native Italy for Argentina in 1938 with her family, after the passing of the Italian Racial Laws which discriminated against them as Jews.  Her grandfather stayed behind and died in Auschwitz in 1944. 

In Argentina, Vera married and worked as a journalist but her only daughter, Franca, disappeared in 1976. It was only recently that Vera found out what had happened to her: detained for her militancy, Franca was pushed out of a plane on one of the "death flights" of the period.  Thus Vera has had no graveside at which to mourn either her grandfather or her daughter.

These two stories, in Vera's words, have made her into a militante della memoria. One of the founding madres de Plaza de Mayo, Vera believes that her role now is to bear witness and to do all she can to prevent such events ever happening again.

The two films in the series which struck me the most were the one in which Vera goes to talk to students at the Milan school which she herself, as a child, was banned from attending and the one in which, with an Auschwitz survivor, she visits platform 21 in Milan Central Station, the platform from which the trains bound for Auschwitz left.  [The platform now houses a Holocaust museum.] If you understand Italian, I urge you to watch these films.

Vera's story, "from the Shoah to the Disappeared" as Corriere entitles it, proves the truth of these words from the Stockholm Declaration:

“With humanity still scarred by genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia, the international community shares a solemn responsibility to fight those evils.” 
“Di fronte ad un’umanità ancora segnata dal genocidio, dalla pulizia etnica, dal razzismo, dall’antisemitismo e dalla xenofobia, la comunità internazionale condivide una responsabilità solenne nella lotta contro questi mali.”

- The Stockholm Declaration / La Dichiarazione del Foro Internazionale di Stoccolma sull’Olocausto, 2000.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


Amid more headlines featuring a certain Gallic love rat, it's nice to hear a song about a man who has loved the same woman for many years. Luciano Ligabue dedicated this song to all women, and, in particular, his partner, Barbara and released it on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in November.

Luciano Ligabue - Tu sei lei

Friday, January 24, 2014


It's been a depressing couple of weeks for women d'un certain âge, what with the Gallic love rat story and then having Kate Moss pictures pop up everywhere - enough, if you are not armed with a sizeable current account, to make you want to give up, really. After all, even the irrepressible Silvio is ensconced in a Lake Garda beauty salon as I write and one can't help wondering if he'll emerge looking like Joan Rivers.

We lesser mortals must do what we can and when a girl has to buy a bra she has to buy a bra, so it was onward and upward [hopefully] for me as I headed for the bra sale yesterday. I had regarded this as a chore and certainly did not expect the experience to cheer me up, as in the UK it's only all right to be a C cup or above if you are Nigella. Here, though, it's a different matter and I was quite pleased when the assistant called my bosom abbondante and proceeded to bring me some very pretty specimens.

Abbondante is so much better than "big"!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


The sea at Pozzallo

As individuals Italians, it must be said, are kind to migrants landing on these shores. When those same migrants meet officialdom, however, the story can be rather different and they often find themselves living in desperate conditions with no news of what their fate may be.

Such a situation was what migrants in nearby Pozzallo protested about today and they managed to block traffic along one of the town's beautiful promenades for around an hour at lunchtime, reports the Corriere di Ragusa. They were supported by volunteers from several charitable organisations and committees that are trying to help them.

The migrants, who are being held at the Reception Centre in Pozzallo Port, say that they are sleeping on the floor on old and malodourous mattresses, that there are not enough bathrooms and that they are not living but existing in prison conditions. Worse, some of them have been in the centre for two months and have received no news of what is going to happen to them and no reports of the progress of their applications for documents which would enable them to leave Italy. They say that if they do not receive these documents soon, they will protest again.

Even though 50 migrants have now been transferered from Pozzallo to other centres in Italy, it still leaves the Pozzallo centre, built for 150 people, overcrowded with 270.
Certainly, as I've said many times before, Italy needs help from the EU as a whole but meanwhile human beings whose only "crime" has been to seek a better life need to be treated with humanity.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Reading this article about "buttock-cupping" and other "cures" on the BBC site today made me smile and reminded me that I once saw something similar in Sicily: 

Some years ago a friend's son had a nasty chest cold and my friend got him to bend over and breathe deeply, then placed heated glass cups, open end downwards, all over his back. Next, she massaged his back with warm olive oil. After this, the lad was wrapped up in fleecy pyjamas, a fluffy dressing gown and as many blankets as could be found in the house and was sent to bed with half a dozen hotwater bottles. My friend who, like many Sicilians I know, prides herself on hardly ever switching on her central heating - they prefer to sit around in their own homes in jacket, muffler, cap and gloves in deepest winter - did switch it on that night.

Needless to say, in the morning the young man was fine and I'll never know whether it was some magic property in the heated cups, the olive oil, the deep breathing, the unaccustomed warmth in the house or just sweating the cold out but who am I to question something that works?

Monday, January 20, 2014


Today the world of music mourns the conductor Claudio Abbado, who has died in Bologna at the age of 80. You may like to know that his mother, Maria Carmela Savagnone, a piano teacher and children's writer, was from Palermo and the maestro was very proud of being half Sicilian. He is fondly remembered here for bringing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he was then chief conductor, to Palermo's Teatro Massimo on the occasion of its reopening in 1997, four days before its centenary, after a 23-year closure for renovation work.

Here is Claudio Abbado at the Teatro Massimo in 2002:

G. Verdi - I Vespri Siciliani Overture: Claudio Abbado

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Soon it will be time for this year's Sanremo Festival so here is another great performance from last year's winner, Marco Mengoni, in Taormina:

Marco Mengoni - Non me ne accorgo

Friday, January 17, 2014


MasterChef Italia logo - Wikipedia Italia

Thursday night, as I mentioned at New Year, is teley night in this household and I sit for two hours glued to MasterChef Italia with the programme's twitter hashtag column open on my computer so that I can join in the commenting as it progresses. Sometimes the twitter stream goes so fast that you can't read the comments or even "catch" one to read and I follow the programme's facebook updates at the same time but all in all I thoroughly enjoy the multimedia experience.

I also enjoy, as many of you will remember, the comments of Messrs Joe Bastianich, Bruno Barbieri and Italy's "sexy chef" Carlo Cracco and they have certainly delivered a few surprises during this series! The series has produced some very interesting characters among the contestants, too and the one I like best is a 68-year-old gentleman from Cremona, Alberto. Alberto, it was clear from the first episode, likes the ladies and the ladies, including this one, like him, to the extent that there is quite a battle for his heart taking place on twitter! Another character is a Moroccan lady called Rachida who has not yet managed to get through an episode without crying and who has whole teams of supporters and detractors on social media. I'm not quite sure which camp I belong in yet and change my mind at least twice during each programme but on the whole I think I'm pro-Rachida.

Last night's episode was the best yet, in my opinion and was particularly interesting for me because it again showed how suspicious Italians are of any food that is not their own.  American chef Graham Elliott - whose name was strangely pronounced throughout the programme as "Gram" - showed us the menu he had cooked in his Chicago restaurant for President Obama's birthday in 2010 and then the contestant who had won the previous test had to choose which of these she and her rivals would cook. By this time the twitter stream was full of comments like, "But do they know what they're eating, these Americans?" and when "Gram" showed us his lobster corn dogs, explaining that they're a bit like hot dogs, only fried, it went wild as viewers all over Italy expressed their horror. [Believe me, the discussion was much more animated than on any election night!] I thought the funniest was when someone tweeted a photo of a worried-looking Obama, one hand pressed to his temple, with the comment that the President must have been remembering what he ate at "Gram's" place.  Fortunately, perhaps, the contestants ended up cooking a corn bisque.

Later, the contestants were taken to the Caserma Santa Barbara, home of the Milan Polo Club, for the outdoor, team challenge, in which each team had to cook a set menu for the spectators, who afterwards voted for the better team. Judge Joe Bastianich got the job of interviewing and looking after the spectators and seemed fascinated by the ladies' hats [as well he might have been, for I was fascinated by his!] "Of course, the polo's best at Engadina", one elegant lady told him, provoking a torrent of sarcastic twitter comments. One man, like me, just wanted to know where the hell it was and now a Google search has revealed to me that it's in St Moritz. [A girl needs to know these things.]

Alas, the team led by my beloved Alberto lost this week, so the poor man had to do the "pressure test", which involved cooking a perfect aubergine parmigiana in 15 minutes. When he presented his dish for judgement, he was asked why a man of his age wanted to win MasterChef when he'd already lived his life. Why would he want a life-changing experience now? I don't like the implication, often made in my own country too, that in trying to live life to the full, the old are somehow robbing the young of opportunities, so I was on the edge of my seat as Alberto replied,

"We always have something inside, although we grow old. To continue to express ourselves or to dream. Because dreams are in colour and I want everything to still be in colour, until I die."

Not a dry eye in the house or on the twitter stream and Alberto is through to the next round!

Congratulations, Sky Uno and MasterChef Italia, on a great episode.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


It takes rather a lot to render me speechless, but that's what I am tonight after reading of a gaffe by Italian politician Jole Santelli on a television show today: Miss Santelli, a member of Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party and a former undersecretary at the Ministry of Work and Social Policies, rather undermined her argument that controlling immigration has nothing to do with racism by slipping in the comment that black people are more fortunate than others in Italy because they don't have to wear makeup. The Integration Minister, Cécile Kyenge, who was following the programme via video-link, has not reacted but, as you may imagine, the remark caused quite a twitter storm. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


It's not often that I find fresh lemon grass in Sicily but I did find some last time I was in Catania. In its honour, I invented this recipe:

Spezzatino of pork with lemon grass

A note on the spezzatino cut:  When I first came to Sicily, I found the cubes of meat that butchers would cut for spezzatino too big and I used to get them home and cut them again. Over the years, though, I've got used to the bigger pieces and, if you want to make a pork spezzatino, a good butcher will give you pieces with a fair bit of fat on at one end. They believe that this is good for the flavour and they are right.

In a wide pan, soften 1 sliced white onion in 4 tablesp olive oil, then add 1 kg pork pieces for spezzatino and brown on all sides - about 10 mins.  Add 3 chopped lemon grass bulbs, season the mixture with a few grindings of mixed peppercorns and some coarse seasalt, then add water to just cover the meat. Add 2 dried chilli peppers, 2 teasp dried sage and 2 teasp dried oregano and stir. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, turning the meat now and then.

Fish out the chilli peppers and serve.

Serves 4.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Fouteen-year-old Rachele Amenta, from Vittoria [Ragusa Province] has, I think you will agree, quite a voice. She has become more widely known in Italy after appearing on the talent show for youngsters, Io Canto and yesterday left for her first visit to the USA. Let's wish her luck!

Rachele Amenta - Think

Wednesday, January 08, 2014


Pets here, although loved, are often not regarded as part of the family in the way that British ones are - that is, living indoors, with the freedom to wander, investigate and yes, if they feel like it, destroy at will - and I still have friends who expect me to put Simi on the balcony during their visits. 

"Sorry", I say [although I am not], "she's my baby and  no one puts babies on the balcony." This usually provokes the hands-in-air gesture which means, "Ah, well, she's British - pazienza" and a sigh of surrender. Simi, meanwhile, does not understand why my Sicilian friends object to having her sit on their heads so after they've gone I , in my turn, say "Pazienza" and explain to her that they can't help it - they're Italian.

We were both pleased, therefore, to read today that Aidaa, Italy's Association for the Protection of Animals and the Environment, has suggested that pet-owners bestow their surname upon their four-legged best friends and have it added to their microchips.  The main aim of this measure, says the Association, is to make our pets even more easily identifiable but also to make them officially and legally part of the family.

Simi, who on formal occasions always uses her full name of Simone Eggleton de Beauvoir, has this to say about it:

Tuesday, January 07, 2014


The tree and decorations have been taken down and put away and it's all over for another year, God willing - but it wasn't over for me before two other feste had been crammed into the season!

On Sunday I was invited to Chiara's for lunch again and there we were treated to two kinds of lasagne, this one with aita [chard]....

... and this one which contained meat and tomatoes:

Then there was a spezzatino of pork:

After the fruit, there were dates and homemade torrone,

some of Chiara's Christmas cake and some special, traditional, handmade biscuits:

There was also Chiara's chocolate cake:

Yesterday was the Epifania holiday in Italy and I invited a friend to tea.  I made date and cinnamon cookies [top left]. I'd found the recipe in an Australian magazine and, although they didn't come out scone-like as the recipe suggested, they did resemble the photo in the magazine and tasted good.  To the right of them is a plate of crackers with my [tardily made] cranberry sauce, because you just have to have a taste of cranberry sauce at Christmas. In front of the date cookies is a plate of cheese bites with cotognata [quince paste]. I also cut up the last of my own Christmas cake and made yet another raspberry upside-down cake.

Putting the sugar Santa on the raspberry cake - and I assure you I bought six so did not use the same one each time! - I was reminded that, at Irma's on New Year's Day, a young niece of Irma's decided she didn't want to eat any cake but did want to demolish the sugar Santa.  "He won't come next year if you eat him!" said her mother, at which the little one started to cry.  "No, no, it's all right - he'll come!" we all chorused, until she smiled again and finished him off.  

I also made a semifreddo of candied Sicilian zest - and decorated it with the last Santa!

But never mind - in Italy it is always possible to have your Santa and eat him!

Saturday, January 04, 2014


This week I'm delighted to be able to say "Congratulations" to Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins on being awarded an OBE in the Queen's New Year Honours list. Well done, love!

Katherine Jenkins - 'O Sole Mio

Friday, January 03, 2014


My friend Irma always comes up with original and refined menus for special occasions and presents her dishes very elegantly so I was delighted when she invited me to lunch on New Year's Day.

To begin, there was couscous salad and that is potato that Irma has so cleverly cut into star shapes:

There were also home-cured olives

and these pastries which, sadly, I had to pass on as they contained fish:

There were spiedini, too - and we're still only on the antipasti!

The pasta with ham and mushrooms on a purée of zucchini was a triumph,

as was the main dish of tender pork:

Afterwards there were these little chocolate cakes

and orange peel candied by Irma's sister:

I made the raspberry upside-down cake again and was a little concerned because it sank in the middle a bit this time, but it's amazing what you can do with a few cake decorations!

Then there was a very special panettone

and an equally enormous pandoro:

As you can imagine, we were all very content by mid-afternoon!  Grazie, cara Irma.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


No, it's not another royal baby or even 2014 [which Modica greeted, extremely loudly, last night]. It's these, which arrived via a kind friend in the UK, yesterday:

So, a little late but no less enthusiastically for that, I've been making cranberry sauce on New Year's Day!

Happy New Year again, one and all.


View My Stats