Friday, February 28, 2014


It's St David's Day tomorrow and today I gave up on the kitchen table daffodils, though they did [just] provide me with a buttonhole for school. Out came my trusty plastic daffodil again!

Some of my youngest students enjoyed making their own Welsh lovespoons today:

And you can't have a St David's Eve without Welshcakes!

If that's not flying the flag, Wales, I don't know what is!

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Spring may have come to Sicily but in Modica there is still a distinct shortage of ice cream. I don't mean the mass-produced stuff, which can always be obtained, but traditional gelato made from the freshest ingredients and, usually, on the premises where you eat it.

Most Sicilians can't understand why anyone would want ice cream in February and even if it were 40°C out there it wouldn't make any difference. It's just not time, you see.

In Catania on Saturday, though, a friend and I did partake of these sinful specimens and very glad we were to have found them!

The Rolling Stones - Out of Time

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Italy's new Premier Matteo Renzi is a man who likes to make an impression and he certainly did that in the country's Senate yesterday when, a few minutes into the speech in which he asked for the chamber's confidence, he admitted,

"Non ho l'età" - "I'm not old enough."

You have to be 40 to be elected to the Senate, you see and Mr Renzi is a mere stripling of 39 - old enough, therefore, to lead his country but too young for its upper chamber. Yes, I know this is absurd, but pazienza - we are in Italy! Those of you who are as old as I am may remember that the line is the title of the Italian song which won both Sanremo and the Eurovision Song Contest in 1964, when it was sung by Gigliola Cinquetti.  

The joke, along with the rest of Mr Renzi's speech, went down quite well with young people, although some expressed concern on twitter that he doesn't know any more modern songs. And I take my twitter hat off to the tweeter who first came up with the idea of changing the hashtag #nonholeta to #nonholetta - "I don't have Letta"!

Gigliola Cinquetti, now aged 66, said she was pleased that the song had been quoted and hoped it was an omen for an efficient government.

For me the masterstroke of Mr Renzi's speech was the assertion that he hoped he would be the last Prime Minister who would have to ask the Senate for a vote of confidence - a reference to reforms of the parliamentary system that he wishes to bring in. He also said that education will be a priority. I do not wish to be cynical but where have I heard that before?

Gigliola Cinquetti - Non ho l'età 

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Sanremo 2014 had its high points - among them standing ovations for guest stars Gino Paoli, Claudio Baglioni, Ligabue and Cat Stevens - but I can't say that there was any one song in the competition which made me want to rush to my phone and vote.

This song from Arisa was the winner and it probably was the best of the bunch:

Arisa - Controvento

Friday, February 21, 2014


Trains are generally held to be unreliable in Sicily and sweeping service cuts by Trenitalia since December have not exactly restored confidence. However, the unitiated might have been impressed by the company's announcement that on the Palermo-Messina line, a train would leave Cefalù at 06.56 and arrive in Castelbuono a mere seven minutes later, while a train running in the opposite direction would leave Castelbuono at 06.53 and arrive in Cefalù at 07.00 precisely.  The only detail the planners had overlooked was the fact that this segment of the line is single-track.

Needless to say, commuters in the area are not happy and I can't help wondering what Mr Tim Parks would make of it!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I am hopeless with plants - they see me and die - but, like Welsh folk everywhere, I feel honour-bound to obtain some daffodils for St David's Day [coming up on March 1st.]  The carpet of daffodils that is Wales in the spring is something I really miss.

Daffodils are hard to find here but a couple of weeks ago I found a few bulbs, which I have been nurturing on the kitchen table. I was so pleased to discover that one of the plants had actually flowered yesterday! As you see, I am hardly likely to produce "a host" of them but I'm trying, Wales, really!

Paul Child - My Wales

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I was very pleased and touched when my student Giorgio put this photo on facebook with the caption,

"Un amico mi disse: 'Investi su te stesso, fai un corso di inglese - ti servirà.' Be che dirti avevi veramente ragione. A friend said to me, 'Invest in yourself - do an English course because it will be useful.' I have to say you were right."

For my part, it's always nice to be someone's first English teacher. Thank you, Giorgio!

Monday, February 17, 2014


Here is yet another variation on a whole piece of lonza [pork loin]! This time I had decided I needed to use up the cranberry sauce I'd made just after Christmas, and had the idea of using it with lonza. I knew it needed a kick of something but couldn't think quite what. Then, in the middle of the night, I thought of campari. I didn't have any in the house but the owner of the bar opposite was happy to give me some in an espresso cup! Here's what I did:

Ask your butcher to make a few incisions in a 1.5 kg piece of lonza so that you can insert slices of orange in them. [This time you don't want the lonza in butcher's netting.] When you get the meat home, insert half an orange slice in each incision, along with a leaf of fresh sage and a couple of rosemary needles. Rub over some coarse seasalt [I used pink Himalayan salt] and a couple of grindings of mixed peppercorns and tie the lonza at intervals with kitchen string. Put it in a dish and pour over the juice of an orange and 200 ml white wine. Marinate in the fridge for 2 hours or so, turning once.

When you are ready to cook, turn the lonza back over and place it in a smallish roasting pan lined first with foil and then with baking parchment. Pour the marinade over it and cook for 1 hour at 180 C.  [Italian ovens tend to be fast so I turned mine down to 160 C half way through cooking.]  Baste the lonza after half an hour.

Just before the cooking time is up, mix about 200 gr cranberry sauce with the juice of another orange and half an espresso cup of campari. Place in a shallow pan on the hob and cook, stirring. When the mixture bubbles, turn the heat down and keep stirring for another 2 mins. Pour this over the pork and give it another 5 mins in the oven.

Cut off the string, carve the pork and serve with the sauce.

Serves 6 - buon appetito!

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Sanremo 2014 begins next week and last year's winner, Marco Mengoni, has this week released this lovely Spanish version of the 2013 winning song, L'Essenziale. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do:

Marco Mengoni - Incomparable

Friday, February 14, 2014

"NOW I'M 64"

And the only way to deal with it, I've decided, is to view it as the new 35!

I've had a pleasant day, with lots of lovely greetings from friends.

Simi sneaked out by herself in the week and got me these jimjams:

No birthday in Sicily is complete without some local pastries, including, as it's Carnevale, some chiacchiere:

Naturally, I have had to play me this song all day and inflict it upon others, having waited 47 years in order to do so. Ah, how impossibly old 64 seemed way back then! The "many years from now" have flown by and, although some of them have been hard, including the last one, I've lived long enough to know that we should be grateful for every one of them.  

Here's to you, dear readers.

The Beatles - When I'm 64

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to PalermoItalian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo by Tim Parks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some writers whose style is so pleasant, whose humour is so gentle and to whom you return so often that you feel you know them personally; to sit and spend an hour in the company of one of their books is like chatting to your dearest friend over a cup of tea and they have that rare talent of making you think without distressing you. Among my "comfort writers" I would number Alexander McCall Smith, Maeve Binchy and, when it comes to books about Italy, Tim Parks.

It is difficult to point out the disadvantages of living in an adopted country without causing offence but Tim Parks is one of the writers who has always managed it and he does so again in "Italian Ways". This is not a travel book, though there are elements of travel writing in it, nor is it about life in any one part of Italy: rather, it is about the author's journeys on Italian railways over a period of some thirty years and his encounters with people, conflicting systems and bureaucracy in the process. Through these stories, we also gain a fair knowledge of the history of the Italian railway system and the trains that run on it - a lesson presented in a most entertaining way.

No reader who knows Italy will fail to identify with Parks's dealings with the "pignoli" - whom we would call "Jobsworths" in Britain - of Trenitalia and other operators and I had to smile at his descriptions of southern resignation as he travelled down Italy.

Yes, Mr Parks even made it to Modica by train and, disappointingly, has little to say about the town. True, as he himself has said and as I have said above, this is not a travel book, but I hardly think it is fair that Lecce gets more space than Modica. Of course, I could be biased! Or could it be that Tim Parks, as he travelled deeper and deeper into the South, became more southern himself?

"Don't be concerned that you may have nothing to say about these places. Just be here, on the journey, at every moment of the journey."

- Very southern Italian and not a bad philosophy of life, really!

View all my reviews

This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Red onion soup made with brodo [stock] is an old Italian cure for colds and flu and when I was feeling poorly last week I knew that onion soup was just what I needed. I didn't have any red onions and lacked the energy to go and get some but I did have some white ones. I also wasn't really in a brodo frame of mind, so I decided to concoct my own onion soup using passata. [I like the rustica type that is a bit thicker]. Here's what I did:

For 1 - 2 people thinly slice 6 medium white onions and chop 2 cloves garlic, then soften them very slowly, in a heavy pan, in 55 gr butter and 1 tablesp olive oil.  This will take about 15 mins.

Now, what's this lovely stuff?

It's coarse seasalt flavoured with lemon zest and mint and I found it in Catania at Christmas. I've been dying to use it so in some went!  You can of course just add normal seasalt, some grated lemon zest and chopped herbs of your choice. Add a good grinding of mixed peppercorns, too.

Now add 680 gr passata or homemade tomato sauce. Simmer, stirring, for about 20 mins.

To serve the soup you can put buttered toast in the bottom of the bowl if you like, but I just added some small squares of ordinary bread as it reminds me of the soups I ate as a child. Don't we all need to think of being cossetted when we're unwell?

I felt heaps better the next day. It could have been the medication the doctor gave me but I'm convinced it was the soup!

Saturday, February 08, 2014


I've always enjoyed the piano music of Ludovico Einaudi, so here is some for all of you:

Ludovico Einaudi - Stella del mattino

Friday, February 07, 2014


Having given in to la febbre on Wednesday, on Thursday I reluctantly took myself to the doctor's; "reluctantly" firstly because I'm British and we carry on and secondly because of the inevitable wait that the occasion would involve.

In my doctor's surgery there is a collection of numbered metal discs on a desk by the door and a notice asking patients to take one, but no one does as this would be too much like organisation and would also limit the possibilities of social discourse. Sicilians think it is much more fun, after you have passed the time of day with all your fellow-patients individually, to look around and ask, "Who's the last one?"  L'ultimo having piped up, you know who you have to watch, and watch is what you do, for no magazines are provided and no one takes along anything to read.

If, however, one of the "patients" is wearing a suit, sitting in a self-assured way and has a bulky briefcase at his feet, you know that your wait will be even longer than usual, for this is a pharmaceutical company rep and one of these gentlemen is allowed to go into the consulting room after every two patients.  This system seems most unfair to me when there is a roomful of sick people but "Pazienza - What can we do?"  Yesterday my heart sank when I saw not one, but two self-assured gentlemen with bulky briefcases in the waiting room and summoned my reserves of hard-learned Sicilian resignation.

Just after I had arrived, a couple came in and asked the usual question, "Chi è l'ultimo?" The elderly man next to me was about to say that he was when a woman dashed in and said the honour was hers, explaining that she'd been outside.

"If you're waiting you can't be outside", said the elderly man, continuing, with unarguable logic, "because inside is inside and outside is outside."

At this everybody except me - I still felt too ill - joined in, all at the same time, of course and one patient shouted,

"Anyway, how do we know you were outside?"

That did it!

"Are you doubting my word?" asked the young woman in a horrified tone.

"No", chorused the company, "we're just saying that inside is inside and outside is outside and you should be inside because how do we know you're inside if you're outside?"

By this time the wife who had started the whole thing with her question was on the phone to her daughter, relating the incident in even louder tones than the shouting and everybody else had turned to the person next to them for confirmation that outside was outside, an assurance which was given at full volume in every case. One of the reps had completed his sales spiel to the doctor, too and, when he left the consulting room, silence suddenly fell as we all held our breath for a fight over who would go in next - the elderly man or the inside-outside woman. But Sicilian chivalry won the day:

"Si accomodi, signora " ["After you"], said the elderly man with a dignified nod of his head, looking around as if it was the most obvious course of action in the world and as if he was wondering what we were all gaping at.

Just him and one more rep and I was in, too!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014


I have been fighting a cold for a few days - ever since, on Saturday, we experienced what Sicilians term "a hurricane" but would just be thought of as " a bit of wind and a shower or two" back in Cardiff, UK.  The lack of proper double glazing and the ease with which water seeps through balcony shutters makes for miserable conditions indoors though nothing, of course, like those caused by the floods taking place in some areas of Britain at the moment.

Yesterday my cold developed into what I had to admit is la febbre and, according to Sicilians, this means I should be in bed under a pile of blankets and hotwater bottles. However, I am still British enough to defy them right up to head-spinning point and then even I had to come home, cuddle up with Simi and give in gracefully.

While I was perusing some death proverbs for Monday's post, I came across a few to do with illness that made me smile and here they are:

Cattaru, vinu cu lu carru - For catarrh, you need wine by the cartload.

Marva ti sarva - Mallow will save you [also said about sage in some versions].

Ogghiu di cumuni, sana ogni dolore - Normal olive oil cures everything.

Cu havi a frevi,  macari u meli ci sapi amari - Even honey tastes bitter if you have a fever.

Pri la rifriddatura cci voli nidi di picciuna - To get rid of a cold, you need a pigeon's nest [ie., the warmth of your bed].

And finally, just to cheer myself up as I edge nearer to my three-score and ten:

Quannu lu mali è 'nvicchiutu, mancu Ippocrati cci pò dari aiuti - When the sick person is old, not even Hippocrates can help him.

Monday, February 03, 2014


I've never been to the town of Misterbianco in Catania Province although its name has always fascinated me. Disappointingly, it only means "white monastery" so there is no "Mr White" floating about in those parts. In recent days, however, I have been consoled by the thought that if I don't manage to get there in life, I may well do so afterwards, for the town's cemetery is to become the first in Eastern Sicily to offer cremation facilities. They are not going to stint on it either, with a crematorium in a space of 2,000 sq metres, a green area and a special room for the Committal.  

A couple of years ago, someone professing to be my "friend" told me I should start thinking about my funeral and I must admit, I was somewhat taken aback.  Italians can be disconcertingly direct when it suits them so I asked another Italian friend whether this could be considered a normal thing to say. He assured me that most Italians would not even make such a suggestion to a 95-year-old. 

Funding has already been guaranteed for the Misterbianco project and, from the end of April, the town's council will begin evaluating three bids for the work, which should be completed one year after the decision. Meanwhile another crematorium project is envisaged for the main cemetery in Catania but no funds have yet been guaranteed. As "a year" in Sicily can mean anything from a decade to a century, I think I'd better disappoint my erstwhile friend and attempt to hang on!

Just for fun, here are a few Sicilian proverbs about death that I have found surprisingly comforting:

Ogghi a ttia rumani a mmia, siemu tutti 'n cumpagnia - You today, me tomorrow; we're all in the same boat.

Morti e malasorti dovunque vai sempri ta puorti - Wherever you go you take death and misfortune with you.

'A morti conza ogni cosa - Death fixes everything.

Cu' nasci tunnu nun po' morire quadrato - If you're born round you won't die square [the implication being that if you're born stupid you won't become intelligent].

How cheering!

Saturday, February 01, 2014


A departure from Italian music today as two events this week brought this song to mind: one was Vera's story for Holocaust Remembrance Day and the other was the death of Pete Seeger, which made me think of The Weavers and Ronnie Gilbert's version of the song. It is about Chile but I would like to dedicate it to all the Disappeared, to the displaced and, in particular, to Vera Vigevani Jarach and her daughter Franca:

Ronnie Gilbert and Holly Near - Hay una Mujer Desaparecida


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