Thursday, July 31, 2014


Another week brings another tragedy, this time involving a migrant boat off Al Khums [Homs], about 100 miles east of Tripoli. The Libyan Navy managed to save 22 people who were clinging to the remains of the wreckage but it is estimated that 100 are missing. So far 20 bodies have been recovered.

The boat, which was, as usual, inadequate, was carrying around 155 passengers and was heading for Italy. It is not yet known what caused it to capsize but it is thought that the passengers might have suddenly all moved to one side or that the condition of the boat led to the tragedy. Survivors say it was very old.

Over 800 African migrants arrived in Italy on Tuesday alone and of these 192, including three pregnant women, were rescued by the Italian Navy north of Libya. A petrol tanker sailing under a Bahamas flag saved 114 Somali migrants and Mare Nostrum operatives saved a further 404, including a pregnant woman and four newborn babies.  All have been taken to Puglia.

Today 95 male migrants, including 40 minors, have been saved south of Lampedusa in another Mare Nostrum operation. These migrants have been taken to Palermo and will be transferred to other centres in Italy after 48 hours [the time needed for initial identification and assessment, including medical checks].

Also today Ragusa police have arrested three men on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration - that is, of being people traffickers.

But let us end on a heartwarming note with a tale that renews one's faith in Italy: a few days ago a young woman named Naima, who had arrived in Italy on a migrant boat with her parents and husband in September 2013, went into labour at the Cara di Mineo Centre for Asylum Seekers [Catania]. She was first taken to hospital in Caltagirone, where doctors discovered that the baby was suffering from a rare and serious intestinal malformation. Naima would need surgery and time was of the essence. She was immediately transferred by helicopter to the Policlinico di Palermo and there an interdisciplinary team were able to save the baby, who is now well and basking in their attention and affection. The lead surgeon says the baby boy will not need to be in hospital for long. Naima and her husband want to stay in Italy and are waiting for documents that will allow them to do so. Meanwhile, welcome to the world, little one and well done, Caltagirone and Palermo!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


It's getting on for five years since Italy banned the distribution of plastic carrier bags in shops but I'm still the only person in Modica who carries a shopping bag. I'm also the only person who walks everywhere. People do now produce fabric shopping bags from their car boots or the depths of their handbags to use at the checkout but they wouldn't be seen dead carrying them any further than the distance from the supermarket doors to their cars unless they were by Prada! Therefore I shouldn't really have been surprised when, walking into the hairdresser's this afternoon carrying a rather inelegant shopper, I was greeted with a firm, "Questa borsa non va" ["That bag won't do"] and was then presented with this prettier [and seasonal] substitute:

Two of my students have just come back from London and have seen to it that I do not lack one British essential:

And I have finally imbibed enough cups of coffee in the bar opposite to be rewarded with this rather snazzy cup and saucer:

A very pleasant day!

Monday, July 28, 2014


Congratulations to the prisoners, officers and officials of the Casa Circondariale [district prison] Luigi Bodenza in Enna for agreeing to participate in this video. As the opening sequence tells us, the aim was to show that, even amidst so much suffering, it is possible to experience moments of happiness, so there is a deliberate play on words in the title - a lesson for us all. Thanks, also, to director Paolo Andolina.

Happy dentro - Happy inside

Saturday, July 26, 2014


I loved the scenography for this performance by Fiorella Mannoia at Una notte per Caruso on TV last week. Fiorella Mannoia is the winner of this year's Premio Caruso.

Fiorella Mannoia - Pescatore

Friday, July 25, 2014


It is good to be able to end the week on a positive note and to be able to say , "Well done, Italy."

I'm sure that many of you, like me, were in tears when you saw the arrival of Meriam Ibrahim and her family in Rome yesterday. What a moment that must have been for Meriam, after having been imprisoned, forced to give birth in chains and threatened not once, but twice with execution.

Of course there has been an international campaign to free her and many countries have played their part but Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli was instrumental in securing permission for Meriam to leave Sudan this time. He accompanied the family on their flight to Rome on an Italian government plane and it gladdened the heart to see him carrying 18-month-old Martin down the steps as Meriam carried baby Maya. Prime Minister Renzi made time to be there, as did his wife and Italy's Foreign Minister, Federica Mogherini. An airport policeman gave Meriam's husband a reassuring pat on the shoulder and other officials played with Martin. Then, as the world has seen, the family were taken to meet Pope Francis.

This is the Italy we all love - not the Italy that talks about harsher and harsher immigration laws, that taxes the entrepreneurs it so desperately needs out of existence or the Italy of the 7,850 amendments. Yesterday we saw the kind, compassionate, humane country that can move mountains when it wants to.

To Italy I would like to suggest that we see more of the same and to Meriam and her family I wish a safe onward journey to the United States and a happy life, free of chains at last.

Corriere della Sera - l'arrivo di Meriam a Roma

Thursday, July 24, 2014


I'm always on the lookout for new antipasto recipes so I was pleased when I found one for aubergine polpette in a local newspaper, especially as they are cooked in the oven rather than fried. They also contain garlic, Parmesan, pinenuts, pangrattato [ready-prepared breadcrumbs] and rosemary. They should contain parsley as well but, as I didn't have any, I used mint, which is traditionally used in many aubergine recipes here. I made a roasted tomato sauce to go with them as per the recipe, but next time, if I'm serving the polpette as finger food, I think I'll leave the sauce out. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


In Britain, as I write, a very famous baby is celebrating his first birthday; in Messina, as I write, arrangements are being made for the burial of a migrant baby of the same age who was found dead on arrival in the port.

Having been advised of a migrant boat in difficulty by a satellite phone SOS call at 4 am on Saturday, the Rome Coast Guard alerted a Danish tanker bound for Tunisia and the Coast Guard in Lampedusa. The tanker was first to arrive on the scene, between Libya and Malta, and immediately set about rescuing the passengers from the inadequate fishing boat. Some, however, drowned during the transfer.

But worse was to be discovered: 29 poor souls are known to have been asphyxiated by fumes in the hold, which they were prevented from leaving by the people traffickers and the 581 survivors who arrived at Messina on Sunday are saying that more than 60 people were killed at random by the traffickers; they were allegedly kicked, stabbed and their bodies thrown into the sea. It is estimated that the boat could have been carrying up to 800 people and that there are 180 dead but neither figure can be confirmed.

It has also been revealed that the people traffickers were operating a two-tier fare system, with migrants of Arab origin paying  $1,000 - $2,000 each for the journey and those of African origin paying $250 - $500.

Five men have now been arrested by Sicilian police on suspicion of mass murder.

The world watches Gaza, the world watches Ukraine and the world watches the little prince but no one outside Italy, it seems, is watching the Mediterranean.

UPDATE, 23.7.14

It now appears that the men who randomly killed some of the passengers were not the people traffickers, but passengers themselves. Presumably they thought that the boat was going to capsize and wanted to lessen its weight. The people traffickers, according to survivors, did nothing to stop the killing. Four men have now been arrested for people trafficking. This is in addition to the five arrests for mass murder.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Leafing through some British magazines yesterday, I realised it had been years since I'd made a summer pudding, so I decided to put that to rights and give the dessert a Sicilian touch by using mirtilli [whortleberries] and adding the rind and juice of an orange.  

My trusty pudding basin is bigger than the one needed for this recipe so I was expecting a right mess as I turned the pudding out but it was OK!

As the recipe is quite simple and people who like cooking can often follow instructions in the language they are learning, I've just put it on my blog for English students and you can see it here.

If you try it, I hope you enjoy this slightly Sicilian version of summer pudding!

Saturday, July 19, 2014


When Aida, directed by Enrico Castiglione, opened at the Greek Theatre in Siracusa last Saturday, the production received a ten-minute standing ovation. There is also a performance tonight and next Saturday, so let's take a peek:

Teatro greco, Siracusa, luglio 2014
Aida - Marcia trionfale  


"Non importa dove si nasce se si combatte per le stesse idee e si crede nelle stesse cose."
"It doesn't matter where we come from if we fight for the same ideas and believe in the same things."
- Judge Paolo Borsellino

Twenty-two years ago today the antimafia Judge Paolo Borsellino was killed, along with five members of his escort, by a bomb as he rang the doorbell of his mother's apartment in Palermo. Sicily does not forget.

Strage di via D'Amelio, 19.7 92

Judge Paolo Borsellino
Agostino Catalano
Walter Eddie Cosina
Vincenzo Li Muli
Emanuela Loi
Claudio Traina

Friday, July 18, 2014


Every Italian man's favourite diva, Sophia Loren, will be 80 on 20th September and she has decided to celebrate early!

Tomorrow, as part of the Napa Valley Festival del Sole, Michael Chiarello and Modican chef Piero Selvaggio, owner of the Valentino restaurant in Santa Monica, will cook for Sophia and 400 guests at the Far Niente vineyard. Robert Redford will be Master of Ceremonies. Sophia's son Carlo Ponti Jr. will conduct the LA Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra in their debut concert and they will play the themes from some of Sophia's films.

The tomatoes, olives and capers used in the dishes will be from Sicily and the olive oil from Ragusa. Modica plays its part too, for there will be a croccantino of Bonajuto chocolate for dessert.

Congratulations, Sophia and, as you've always said you owe everything to spaghetti and we know, thank goodness, that you are not one of those skinny stars who are afraid to enjoy their food, buon appetito!

Sophia Loren receiving an honorary Oscar in 1991

Thursday, July 17, 2014


As soon as I saw dried goji berries in the supermarket here, I knew I wanted to use them with chicken and this is what I came up with:

12 chicken escalopes, pounded very thinly. [In Italy just tell the butcher you want breast slices for involtini.]
12 thin slices pancetta
400 gr risotto rice
juice and rind of 1 lemon
0.25 litre white wine
1 white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
50 gr dried goji berries
100 gr pinenuts
basil leaves
cinnamon, preferably freshly ground from a cinnamon mill
seasalt and black pepper

First, make the risotto: Heat 3 tablesp olive oil in a wide pan, add the onion and garlic and cook, strirring, over a low flame until soft but not brown. Pour the white wine and lemon juice into a measuring jug and make up to 1 litre with water. Add about 100 gr of the rice to the pan and stir around, then add the rest of the rice and about a quarter of the liquid, stirring. When the rice has absorbed it, add another quarter and repeat the process, until you have all the liquid in the pan. Add the berries, pinenuts, 3 - 4 twists of cinnamon from a mill or 1 teasp powdered cinnamon, the lemon rind, seasoning and a few torn basil leaves.  Turn the heat down and let the risotto cook for about 15 mins., stiriring occasionally. When it tastes right, take it off the heat and let it cool for up to 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 180 C.

Lay the pancetta slices on a chopping board or a couple of large plates and put a chicken slice on top of each one. Spread some of the risotto - about a dessertspoon for each one -  along the slices, then roll them up in the pancetta.  You won't need to secure them with anything - they will hold. Lightly oil a large, Pyrex-style roasting dish and place the involtini in it. Cook in the oven for 30 mins.

I served these with roasted datterini tomatoes which I had sprinkled with herbs, seasoning, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

You can freeze any leftover risotto mixture for the next time!

Serves 6.

Buon appetito.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Hi, folks.

It's Simi here!

I've just had my summer haircut and I'm driving the Italian dogs wild - especially that ole black poodle!

But I couldn't spend all day parading up and down for them. I had serious things to do!

My mummy has gone all curly-wurly. What do you think?

I think she looks almost as cool as me!

Well, see you soon, fans.  Be good and have a waggie summer!


Simi xx woof!

Monday, July 14, 2014


As many of you know, the language, culture and literature of France have also played a big part in my life so I always commemorate Bastille Day on this blog.  And who better to sing today than the great Monsieur Aznavour and one of my favourite Italian singers, Laura Pausini? After all, it's nearly August!

Charles Aznavour et Laura Pausini - Paris au mois d'août

Also, because I'm a sentimental old fool and it's a long time since I saw Paris, here's Dino

Dean Martin - The Last Time I Saw Paris

Bonne fête de la Bastille à tout le monde!

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Let's hear from the palermitano baritone Nicola Alaimo, who tonight sings Raimbaud in Le Comte Ory at La Scala:

Nicola Alaimo - Di Provenza, il mare, il suol [La Traviata]: Muti

Friday, July 11, 2014


Two claps of thunder, five minutes of rain, a pause for brilliant sunshine then another clap of thunder and three more minutes of rain - that was enough to cause chaos in Modica Bassa yesterday morning.  The "storm" sent everybody scurrying back into town from the sea for the duration and, being modicani, those who usually travel on their motorbikes abandoned them for their cars. No one, naturally, considered catching a bus.

This would have caused a traffic jam in the old town anyway, but with the closure for maintenance work of the Ponte Guerrieri, one of the main arteries into the city and the highest road bridge in Europe until the French spoilt it by building a higher one a few years ago, it was a disaster.

Now the Mayor has promised that the bridge will reopen in September, which is rather strange as the maintenance contract runs until the end of December, so no one's betting on it.

Meanwhile, how about bus lanes and an efficient bus service with a revolutionary commitment to taking people where they actually want to go?

Ponte Guerrieri, Modica

Thursday, July 10, 2014


There is, as Tim Parks writes in Italian Ways, an Italian fantasy about English usage and the proof is in the execrable attempts at translation which can be seen on notices and in advertisements everywhere in this lovely land. The modicani, however, have taken this art to new heights and I have finally identified the habit as a disease called Modican Englishitis.  

Modican Englishitis first manifests itself in a stubborn refusal to imitate correct pronunciation, so that if an English teacher corrects a student who prononces guitar as gweetar, with the stress on the first syllable, the student will listen politely, nod, say, "Ah, gweetar" and happily continue with the erroneous pronunciation.

As the disease progresses, sufferers will insist on pronouncing all past simple tense - ed endings as a separate syllable [finish-èd] and are particularly resistant to the final -s on any English word. I used to think that this refusal to pronounce the final -s came about because foreign nouns which are used in Italian don't have plural forms but now I've come to the conclusion that it is just bloody-mindedness. Patients are perfectly capable of pronouncing the final - s, for where there is not one you can be sure they will add it!  

In Modica you will be invited to use "slots" [but not slot] machines, eat your dinner in the chicken rather than the kitchen and visit the say-ah [sea] to "have a bath". This last is presumably because you don't have a bathroom in the "eighth century" house you have purchased [a mistranslation of ottocento - the nineteenth century]. 

You may not understand a word of the English used in Modica, but never let it be said that life is dool hair [dull here]!

Saying "goodbye" if you have Modican Englishitis

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


The saddest news I have to report tonight is that, when the migrant boat involved in last week's tragedy was finally brought to Pozzallo, 45, not 27 or 30, bodies were found, jammed into the hold.  Four men have beern arrested by Sicilian police on suspicion of people trafficking.  Last Wednesday the front page of La Sicilia carried the headline "Mare Mortum".

On Sunday night around 100 migrants, including women and children, arrived on Ispica beach. It was the usual story: an inadequate boat carrying them had managed to elude patrols, brought them within sight of the beach, forced them into the water and then made a fast getaway.  Let us hope that no one drowned.

It is estimated that 2,600 migrants were saved by the Italian Navy and other Mare Nostrum operatives over the weekend. Premier Renzi has again said that the operation must continue but with EU support:

"It is not possible, in 2014, to let a ship full of children sink because we don't know whose jurisdiction it is in.  We save them."

The week has seen several protests in Sicily by both residents and migrants: The inhabitants of Siculiana [Agrigento] protested against the sheer numbers of migrants arriving in their small town but things seem to have calmed down for the moment now that the Mayor has had a meeting with Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who listened to her concerns. Mr Alfano promised that the number of arrivals in the town would be carefully regulated and gave assurances regarding public health. He also said that the EU at last appears to be realising that Italy, and especially Sicily, cannot take sole responsibility for the migrants after they have been rescued.

Yesterday in Caltagirone, where 110 unaccompanied migrant minors have been living in overcrowded and quite insanitary conditions, the situation exploded. The young migrants destroyed furniture and broke glass in their centre, then set up street blocks nearby. Who can blame them? They say they cannot maintain personal hygiene in these conditions, that they do not have enough drinking water [temperatures in Sicily are reaching 40 C now ] and that their meals are served cold. They also say they do not have enough clothing and are not given any spending money - to which, as asylum seekers, they are entitled - or phone cards. They only want to be listened to but at the moment have no access to anyone who might understand their problems.

As I write, Sicily waits: a Libyan politician said last week that at least 3 million migrants are preparing to leave Libya in an attempt to reach Italian shores during the summer.

Saturday, July 05, 2014


At no. 12 in the Italian singles chart this week is this pleasant song from Francesco Renga:

Francesco Renga - Il mio giorno più bello del mondo

Friday, July 04, 2014


I am re-posting this because there is still time to sign up for these courses!

At London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale we are very happy to be able to announce that, in partnership with Vacanze Craunari, we are offering Italian courses this summer:

Italian for English Speakers
€450,00 per person

Course dates:
31 August - 7 September
7 September - 14 September

Price includes:
7 nights in a shared apartment
12-hour Italian course
7 breakfasts

Services available upon payment of a supplement [must be pre-booked]:
Airport or port transfers

If you are already in Modica or have planned your trip and would like to learn Italian, London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale also has the following summer offers:


Summer offers – courses from €160!

8-hour and 12-hour courses
July, August or September, 2 or 3 hours per week
Tailored to your needs
Minimum:  group of 2

36-hour course
July, August and September
Tailored to your needs
Pay for 2 months and get one month FREE!!
Minimum:  group of 2

Individual courses can also be arranged.

Call Pat at the Centre now!
[0039] 0932 905642  /  +39 366 119 6467



Wednesday, July 02, 2014


It had been a long time since the postwoman brought me something pleasant so imagine my delight today when a completely unexpected package arrived from Britain. It contained goodies from my friend Carol King, who last week visited Wales for the first time:

The coloured card shows three very woolly sheep and says, "Rush hour in Abergavenny".  Below it are three fridge magnets - Cardiff Castle, the cutest dragon and a "Patricia" magnet with a picture of a daffodil.  The other cards have the text of the Lord's Prayer in Welsh and in Italian. Perhaps now my students will believe me when I tell them that the Welsh language is completely different from English! The slate beermat says, "Happiness is having Welsh friends."  Happiness is also having friends like Carol!

I loved the television series Call the Midwife so I was very happy to receive this book as well. I can't wait to read it!

Thank you, Carol.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014


Elvis Presley has had, since his death, a habit of turning up in the most unlikely places and I was always disappointed not to find him packing my supermarket bags in Britain. But now here he is in Taormina and it's just possible that the town will be "all shook up"!

From now until 21st September visitors to Taormina will be able to see, at the Palacongressi in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, a travelling exhibition, approved by the Presley family, of objects from Graceland. Taormina is the only European venue for the exhibition this summer.

Among the items on display are:  some of Elvis's guitars, stage and personal clothing, letters, gold discs and other awards, autographs and - the star of the show - his last Fleetwood Brougham Cadillac with its 1 - Elvis numberplate. A special Elvis a Taormina postmark has been created for the occasion and on 16th August and 20th September there will be concerts by the Elvis impersonator Joe Bavota.

I cannot possibly close this post without a song from the "king". As far as I know, apart from Santa Lucia, Elvis did not record any songs in Italian but we do have this, which was and is successful precisely because it is not an attempt at a direct translation

Elvis Presley - Now or Never

In case you missed it, I wrote some years ago about what Elvis meant to me in my youth.


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