Wednesday, April 30, 2014


More "boatloads of sorrow" unsurprisingly arrived over the Easter weekend, when at least 2,000 desperate souls were brought to safety as part of Operazione Mare Nostrum, and it is estimated that a similar number arrived last weekend.

Among these were 395 migrants, including 12 newborn babies, who were rescued by the Italian military and Coast Guard and brought to Pozzallo on Friday. The reception centre at Pozzallo is full, despite the fact that transfer flights to other parts of Italy for some of the migrants have been operating. The centre remains full because others just keep coming. The Mayor of Pozzallo has expressed his exasperation at the lack of response from central government and has called upon Premier Renzi to intervene.

Also on Friday, a pregnant woman who was taken from one of the boats to hospital in Siracusa, where she gave birth to a baby girl, found care, kindness and solidarity:  realising that she had no baby clothes or other necessities for her daughter, the staff decided to collect what they could. Another mother on the ward immediately gave the woman the blankets she had brought for her own baby and, inspired by this gesture, all the other mothers gave the little one sheets, clothing, shoes and other items. I am happy to be able to tell you that both mother and baby are now fine and they have been discharged from hospital.

In a statement issued a few minutes ago by the Viminale, the seat of the Italian Interior Ministry, it is estimated that 800,000 migrants are now waiting to sail for Sicily from Libya. One solution that was put forward by concerned agencies on Tuesday was the idea of sending a European task force to Libya, to stop the departures in the first place. I am no politician so I do not know what the chances would be of obtaining agreement for such a project from inside Libya, but I should have thought they were slight. The second problem is one I have mentioned before: people will always attempt to flee hunger, war and persecution and their right to do so is surely enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which talks about its "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family." 

At the moment I am reading Claude Lanzmann's memoir, The Patagonian Hare. His chapters about the Second World War are a timely reminder of the kind of régimes people might be fleeing.

Monday, April 28, 2014


All roads certainly led to Rome on Sunday and, whilst the eyes of the world were upon the rejoicing city, a little town in Sicily was remembering a miracle which happened there and which played a largely unpublicised part in the great events of the day:

In May 1967 Giovanna La Terra Majore was 54 years old and had been bedridden for 23 years in her home town of Chiaramonte Gulfi. A friend who had visited Rome had brought back a picture of Pope John XXIII for Giovanna and advised her to use it to help her pray. Giovanna did so but what she actually prayed for was death, to release her from her pain. On 13th May Giovanna had received the last rites. Suddenly, she felt the bed shake and a kind of pressure on her spine, as though someone was trying to push her up. Then, feeling as if she were being supported by two strong hands, she seemed to be propelled to the middle of the room - and she was standing, watching her own shrivelled feet uncurling. The next day, the "Good Pope" appeared to her in a dream and told her that she could now walk without fear.

Giovanna and her fellow-Chiramontani had no doubt that a miracle had taken place and to whom it should have been attributed. Although the event was considered during Pope John's beatification cause, it was excluded from his canonisation process. However, Suor Caterina Capitani, whose recovery from terminal illness was officially attributed to the intercession of Pope John XXIII, visited Chiaramonte Gulfi several times and met Giovanna. In a nice postscript to the story, the two women later visited Rome together and received Holy Communion from the hands of Pope John Paul II.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Once again this week, the whole of Italy is talking about one performance - yes, it's Suor Cristina from Comiso, singing in the knockout round of The Voice of Italy! I don't think any more needs to be said:

Suor Cristina Scuccia -  Hero

Friday, April 25, 2014


Duomo di San Giorgio, Modica

At the end of March, I wrote that there seemed to be some hope for Modica's prospects as a tourist venue because at last both the Council and local tour operators had realised the importance of keeping tourist sites open at times when people are actually likely to come.

How disappointing, then, to learn that, although at least 40,000 tourists visited the city over Easter, they could not find help or information because the tourist office was closed. Why? Because it is staffed by council employees, who had taken it for granted that they would not have to work on the bank holidays. Most shops in the old town had also closed on Easter Sunday and Monday [Good Friday is not a holiday in Italy] and at the moment, the newly-formed tourism consortium is being blamed for its "lack of planning" in not having foreseen both situations. Strangely, I am not surprised.

Modica's two cathedrals and the Church of Santa Maria di Betlem - the one with the famous crib -  were, however, open and I suppose this fact represents some progress.

There have also been complaints because the promenade at the Marina di Modica had not been cleaned before the holiday but, according to the new director of the Modica retailers' association Ascom, this does not matter because the Marina is only used by locals. Hmm - I wouldn't be so sure of that!

Come on, Modica - wake up!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


The subject of this post is not the second in line to the British throne but a much older Will, the bard of Stratford-upon-Avon, whose 450th birthday - or the generally accepted date of it - is being celebrated today.

Yesterday evening a friend who also comes from Stratford-upon-Avon gave a little party in the poet's honour, and tiramisù alle fragole, made to Matthew Fort's recipe which I've mentioned before, was my attempt at a themed dish:

As I tend to do everything arse-backwards, I'd decided on the quote I wanted to use first, and then tried to think of a dish. The quote, in case you cannot see it clearly, is,

"The strawberry grows underneath the nettle"
- Henry V

The "leaves" at the top were my best effort at making pasta di zucchero nettles and, by the time I came to the second one, I decided to leave out the fancy work on the edges. Most of the strawberries, of course, were underneath the mascarpone!

At the party the place settings were decorated with rosemary "for remembrance":

These were just some of the lovely treats:  Ah, sausage rolls!

 Another friend had brought hot cross buns all the way from the UK!

As you see, there was quite a mix of traditions

and in Sicily, in spring, there had to be ice cream!

My friend also provided what, as a teacher, I would call some "realia":

Then there were some readings from Shakespeare's works. [I read Sonnet XXIX, for  my Dad, who died 41 years ago this Easter.] Three friends made rather fabulous witches, I must say!  Finally, I lowered the tone by reading a little ditty I had composed: 

Will Day

Will Shakespeare, yours was quite a muse
from errors down in Syracuse
to propaganda for Queen Bess –
- your plays were thirty-eight, no less.
Poor Hamlet – what a tortured bloke,
for him existence was no joke.
He could have saved some brouhaha
if he’d just said, “Siamo qua.”
But let us find a cheerful fellow,
Macbeth won’t do, nor will Othello.
Bottom, Touchstone, Mistress Quickly
meddled in the plot quite thickly.
Down the ages comes their laughter,
hope it reaches the hereafter.
If it’s true what some folk say,
you never loved Anne Hathaway,
the sonnet lady was a lad,
we don’t care ‘cos your rhymes weren’t bad.
They claim that Bacon wrote the plays –
- one must admit, he turned a phrase,
but not like you, dear Stratford bard,
held for centuries in regard.
We celebrate your birth this eve
and some among us really believe
that though the thing is still the play,
you were Sicilian, anyway.

© Pat Eggleton, 2014


"Siamo qua" = "We are here" - a common Sicilian saying. It took me some time to realise that it is not an acceptance of physical location, but a reference to the fact that we are still alive and should be grateful!

The idea that Shakespeare was Sicilian is taken quite seriously here and books have been written about it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


It all started when, in response to this post, I was contacted by Maggie Ayre of the BBC. To be honest, at first I thought it was probably someone "having a laugh", as the British say, but I googled Maggie and found that she really was a BBC radio producer! I emailed her as requested, then she called me here and we talked about the Welsh song, Myfanwy.

Maggie explained to me that, in a news programme, people will put up with audio that is not of the highest quality because they understand that it cannot always be delivered, but in a radio feature programme, where there is obviously no visual backup, they will not. Therefore, she asked me if I knew of a studio where the recording of my contribution could be done. I didn't, but a student of mine did, and he kindly took me to a private studio owned by a friend of his in Scicli. No landline was available to us there so our next problem was possible interference on the mobile line but we got over this with the help of my student, who took the phone from my hands and dashed with it to the door before I answered each question. It was a bit of a performance but the studio owner knew what he was doing and was able to send Maggie a perfect audio file.

Now the BBC Radio iplayer link is up on the Soul Music programme website and, if you missed my minute of glory this morning, you will be able to hear it, for a while, by clicking the link. 

I am proud to have been interviewed on the same programme as Welsh singer Cerys Matthews and others to whom the song means so much. I love Cerys's version and here it is in full:

Cerys Matthews - Myfanwy

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014


As a linguist, I'm always emphasising the importance of communicating with the people one is trying to attract to one's business, product or city in their own language and of making an effort to do it properly [which will probably involve employing a qualified, mother-tongue interpreter or translator, not using the awful translator sites]. 

Hats off, then, to Marco Zambuto, Mayor of the lovely city of Agrigento, for this advert in which he says a few words in Chinese himself at the end.  Mr Zambuto has not forgotten to invite the rest of us to "invade" his city as well!

Thanks to Corriere della Sera:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


If you have a few moments around 11.30 am BST or 12.30 Italian time next Tuesday, 22nd April and can tune into BBC Radio 4,  you will learn a lot about a very beautiful Welsh song and a certain "Welsh woman living in Sicily" may say a word or two!  The episode will also become available, for a while, on the Soul Music programme website
BBC Radio 4 [known as the "Home Service" when I was a child] has, for as long as I can remember, formed the background to my life and I missed it desperately when I first came to Sicily, before you could listen live on the internet. I'm excited to feature in a Radio 4 programme, even for a few seconds and I'll tell you more after the broadcast!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


House arrest, in Italy, is not an unusual sentence in cases where the defendant is not deemed dangerous, has health problems or if the person has nearly completed a prison term. Its conditions, contrary to popular belief abroad, are strict, though it is not difficult to imagine that the time would pass more pleasantly if it were "served"  in a luxurious mansion. 

A Milan court  has, since Thursday, been considering whether Silvio Berlusconi should serve the remainder of his sentence in this way or do community service - a far cry, it would seem, from the case of a 54-year-old man from Ragusa who has decided that prison is preferable to eight months at home with his wife. After just 25 days of house arrest, the man has begged police to take him back to prison and "escaped" from home so that they have to do so. 

But we all have our difficulties and house arrest, for Mr Berlusconi, would severely limit his networking possibilities. As it is unlikely that he will be allowed to do community service as patron of an as yet unbuilt centre for the disabled, I understand he would like to help the elderly. Hey, Silvio, that includes me and I could sure do with a little help! 

This bit of nonsense from The Guardian - which I enjoyed immensely -  has made its way into every Italian newspaper I have read, both local and national, and has been reported with amusement here, though also with some bemusement at how the British may spend their time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


This thoughtful love song from Francesco Renga came fourth in the overall Sanremo classification this year:

Francesco Renga - Vivendo adesso

Friday, April 11, 2014


Even as I write, migrant boat after migrant boat is heading for Italy from North Africa and last night the Italian Navy and Guardia di Finanza saved a further 800 migrants travelling on rust buckets and dinghies, this time 70 miles off Lampedusa. This was only one of several rescue operations carried out over the last 24 hours and brings the total number of migrants saved by the Italian Navy, Coast Guard and others involved in Operazione Mare Nostrum to 6,000 since Tuesday and almost 20,000 since October.

In response to criticism of Mare Nostrum - I have personally heard people saying that the operation is encouraging migration because people know they will be saved - the Chief of Staff of the Italian Navy, Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi, has said that the increased numbers are not due to the military operation but to social and political problems in migrants' countries of origin.  He has also said that the rescues are costing Italy €9 million a month and has voiced the opinion that the EU should send funds rather than more ships. 

Melissa Fleming of UNHCR has today called for more help for Italy from its allies. Meanwhile, Sicilian mayors and regional government representatives have requested an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Renzi and relevant ministers and this is expected to happen on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

Several people traffickers, some of whom had tried to hide among their former "passengers", have been arrested by Italian police in the last few days.

Sadly, a 20-year-old man from Mali who was rescued on Thursday night has died in hospital in Ragusa.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Looking at the situation from Italy, it often seems that the rest of the world notices the migration crisis only when there is a tragedy but today the sheer numbers of people who have had to be rescued, mostly in the Sicilian channel, have made international headlines. The figure this afternoon was estimated at 4,000 since Monday and Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has said that 15,000 have been rescued since the beginning of this year.

Over 1,000 of the migrants rescued on Monday have been brought to the Sicilian ports of Augusta and Pozzallo and a naval vessel carrying a further 300 is tonight heading for the Port of Catania. Sadly, this ship is also transporting a dead body found on one of the inadequate boats which got into trouble at sea. 

Mr Alfano has repeated his earlier claim that 300,000 - 600,000 people are currently preparing to risk the voyage from North Africa so no let-up is expected during the summer months. Whether or not this figure is correct, Mr Alfano has, with justification, again lamented the fact that there has been little help from the rest of the EU. 

At the end of March José Angel Oropeza, Director of the International Organisation for Migration's Italy and Malta Coordinating Office, advocated the setting up of "migrant stations" along the routes from Africa so that people can receive assistance and information on how to reach Europe legally. In Italy, it is being said in some quarters that Operazione Mare Nostrum is encouraging people trafficking but how can a humane country which, whatever its problems, is the fourth largest economy in Europe and ninth in the world, leave people to die in its waters?  Dr Christopher Hein of the Italian Council for Refugees says the mission must continue and that legal and safe channels for migration must be opened. 

Meanwhile, with Italy's reception centres bursting at the seams, many of the migrants rescued so far this week are being taken to private accommodation such as hotels. The cost of such measures has already scandalised some Northern League politicians, who recently challenged Prime Minister Renzi and Mr Alfano to put migrants up in their own homes. [I think they should do just that, not only to call their opponents' bluff but also to show humanity.]  Silvia Canciani of Asgi points out that many of the problems which ensue once the migrants are brought to safety in Italy are caused by the country's outdated system for dealing with asylum-seekers.

Update at 12.47 pm., 10.4.14:

A friend told me this morning that she had seen, in Modica, a large group of migrants, some without shoes, who had obviously run away from a reception centre. They were just walking in the middle of the road, presumably with little idea of where they were but trying to continue what they hope will be a journey to Northern Europe.

Interior Minister Alfano has said,

"At the moment Italy is the reception centre of the world. Our ships are going as far as 30 miles off the Libyan coast in order to stop the Mediterranean from becoming a cemetery, to prevent people from dying in their thousands. This is a job we are willing to do, but we ask not to have to do it alone."

Monday, April 07, 2014


Here is a heartwarming tale of honesty:

One day in 1975, a Sicilian man who had moved to Turin to work for Fiat attended a lost property auction at a railway workers' recreational club. As the man was an art lover, his eye was drawn to two particularly attractive paintings, a still life and a portrait of a young woman in a garden. He bought the two paintings for 45,000 Italian lire, worth £19 or $31 in today's values and, until a few weeks ago, both paintings hung in his kitchens, first in Turin and then back in Sicily following his retirement. There, in the heart of the home, he could gaze at them to his own heart's content.

Recently the man's son, an architecture student in Siracusa, happened to be looking through a catalogue of paintings by Gauguin and noticed some similarities with one of the paintings on his father's kitchen wall. After further research by his son, our honest Sicilian pensioner alerted the police and an extraordinary story came to light:

The paintings, now verified as a Gauguin from 1889 and an undated Bonnard, had been stolen from a London collector in 1970 and he, in turn, had bought them at a rather more prestigious auction in 1961. No one knows exactly how they ended up in the lost property office of the Ferrovie dello Stato but it is thought that the thieves were carrying them on the Paris to Turin train when they realised that there was to be a check at the border, so they abandoned them. They are now, obviously, worth a lot more than £19!

Having made enquiries in London, the Italian police have discovered that the art collector was a relative of the Marks and Spencer family and had no direct heirs. At the moment the paintings are still in police custody but, if there are no claims, it is possible that our Sicilian pensioner will be able to continue to enjoy them if he so wishes.

Saturday, April 05, 2014


I like this new song from Italy's favourite rocker, Vasco Rossi . This week the song is no. 2 in the Italian charts.

Vasco Rossi - Dannate Nuvole

Friday, April 04, 2014


A selection of lovely, light cakes flavoured with fresh fruit, pistacchio and chocolate at a small party for a friend who is leaving Sicily last night:

This morning, I happened to walk into my local bar for a coffee at exactly the right moment, for I discovered it was the owner's birthday and he was about to cut this very clever cake and offer a slice to all his lucky customers:

Yes, they all tasted as good as they looked!


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