Saturday, August 30, 2014


Let's hear again from fabulous 60-year-old Fiorella Mannoia, who is currently touring Sicily and appears in Palermo tonight:

Fiorella Mannoia - Caffè nero bollente

Friday, August 29, 2014


On Tuesday I reported that Mare Nostrum operatives had rescued 73 people and recovered 18 bodies from a migrant boat which had got into trouble off Lampedusa on Saturday night. The poor souls who lost their lives were thought to have died from asphyxia but, even more horrifically, it now emerges that some of them had cranial and spinal fractures which would indicate that they had been hit with metal bars and survivors are saying that this happened as they were embarking in Libya. Investigations continue as I write.

There has, however, been one heartening story from Pozzallo where, among 439 migrants arriving on Wednesday, were a young girl and her beautiful, white cat. The two were separated upon landing despite the girl's protests, for the cat had to be taken to a veterinary centre to be medically checked and vaccinated and it has to be said that, following the ordeal of the journey, puss was not happy either. His owner is hoping to get to Germany where she has relatives and everyone is hoping that her feline friend will be able to accompany her. I somehow think that Italian officials will do their best to ensure that this happens.

A total of 800 migrants were brought to Sicilian ports during Wednesday and 546 more were saved by Mare Nostrum operatives in the Sicilian Channel during the night. Seven people traffickers were arrested and helpfully presented evidence against themselves in the form of selfies taken during the journey.  [This is not the first time this has happened.]  Sadly, the 24 bodies recovered from the wreck of a fishing boat south of Lampedusa on Tuesday were brought to the Port of Augusta.  

Wednesday was also the day when Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano met European Home Affairs Commisssioner Cecilia Malmström and it has been agreed that a new Frontex operation will, from November, complement what Italy is doing. Commissioner Malmström's  press release on the meeting can be read here.  As she says, the success of such a joint operation will depend upon the willingness of all member states to contribute and Italy, as the current holder of the EU presidency, is expected to be instrumental in finding funding solutions. Let us hope that this is the help that Italy has been requesting for so long.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Once again it has taken a tragedy for the migrant situation with which Italy is dealing every day to make the international press: on Saturday night the Italian Navy saved 73 people and recovered 18 bodies from a boat which had partially sunk 120 miles south of Lampedusa. The 18 dead were found on the bottom of the boat and they are presumed to have died from dehydration or the inhalation of petrol fumes. Ten migrants who had either fallen or jumped into the sea were saved by inflatable life rafts thrown to them by the crew of the naval ship but it is thought that up to another ten migrants were lost at sea. On Sunday evening the survivors and the bodies were taken to Pozzallo where Mayor Luigi Ammatuna spoke of an unending tragedy, a genocide with consequences that Italy, and Pozzallo in particular, cannot shoulder alone. The bodies have now been transferred to the Protezione Civile morgue in Ragusa while Mayor Ammatuna makes arrangements for their burial in the cemeteries of neighbouring towns. The Mayor has asked both the Prefect of Ragusa and the Italian Interior Ministry for help.

Meanwhile another Italian naval ship has arrived in Reggio Calabria carrying 1,373 migrants who had been saved in recent days. Fifty people aboard had scabies and the ship was also tragically carrying the body of an Eritrean man who had, according to survivors, been hit with a metal bar by a people trafficker as the migrant boat left Libya. 

Yet another overcrowded migrant boat sank half a mile off Libya on Friday night and it is estimated that 250 passengers have died. Bodies were still being washed up onto Libyan beaches today [Tuesday].

Tuesday as a whole has brought no better news, with another fishing boat carrying migrants having capsized south of Lampedusa. The Italian Navy and Coast Guard have rescued 364 people and six bodies were initially recovered, a figure which has now risen to 24.

It is reported that a total of 4,000 migrants were rescued or recovered by Mare Nostrum operatives last weekend alone. Perhaps the Vatican City newpaper L'Osservatore Romano put it best, saying that a "silent war" is taking place in the Mediterranean.

Today representatives from the Italian Interior Ministry, Frontex [the European External Borders Agency] and the European Commission met to discuss the situation and an urgent meeting between Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano and European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has been scheduled for Wednesday. Cecilia Malmström has said that this is to define priorities and decide how Italy and other Mediterranean countries can be helped in this situation. Can we really hope that words will be accompanied by deeds this time?

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Orietta Berti has always been one of my favourite Italian singers and, as I'm feeling sentimental, here she is in 2013 performing  the song that she and Massimo Ranieri sang at Sanremo in 1969, when it was placed tenth.

Orietta Berti - Quando l'amore diventa poesia

Friday, August 22, 2014


A very pleasant lunch with friends at Basilico', in a shady corner of Modica Bassa today, consisted of:

beautifully presented antipasti,

a tagliata steak served with rucola [rocket] and Grana cheese for me,

spatola [scabbardfish] with vegetables for one friend

and linguine with tuna for the other:

There were small, warm bread rolls too, and plenty of them:

For dessert, this chocolate and orange mousse was definitely a winner!

There was service with a smile, shade and relaxing music too - well done, the Basilico'!

Thursday, August 21, 2014


As I've mentioned, it can seem, in Sicily, as if everything has stopped for the Ferragosto holiday and the days around it but there are two things which did not - the incidence of migrant boats foundering in the Mediterranean and the political debate arising from these sad events.

On 14th August 750 migrants who had been rescued in the Sicilian Channel arrived in Brindisi [Puglia] on an Italian naval ship. Among them were 140 children, many of whom were unaccompanied. On 15th August 1004 migrants, most of them from the Middle East and Nigeria, were taken to Naples, where taxi drivers given the job of driving them to hospital or reception centres turned up for work wearing masks. Scabies and illnesses such as gastroenteritis are feared although more serious diseases have been ruled out. A fine "welcome" but an understandable one, perhaps.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said on August 15th [the day of the bank holiday] that Operazione Mare Nostrum, launched on 18th October last year, must be wound up by Italy before its second anniversary and that Frontex [the European External Borders Agency] and the EU must take over. He said that Italy had shown itself to be a world leader in migrant reception and that Italian police had arrested 539 people on suspicion of people trafficking between 1st August 2013 and 31st July this year. The European Commission accorded him a curt response on Tuesday, saying that Frontex does not have the resources to replace Mare Nostrum and that EU member states must each help more. This last is exactly what Italy has been asking for all along, a plea which has fallen largely on deaf ears so I would like to know what guarantee we have that it will happen now.

Bureaucrats may argue, but people will always try to escape from hell and the absence of hope.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014


Last week, our street was closed for three days for lavori stradali [roadworks], much to the chagrin of my neighbours, who drive everywhere. [What anyone who was disabled was supposed to do during this period, I don't know - not go out, I suppose, it being assumed that they would have family to help them.]

The workmen helpfully cleared a pedestrian path around the hole

but the path came to an abrupt end here:

Several of my intrepid neighbours seemed to find clambering over the low wall quite normal

but take a closer look at the slope below it and you'll understand why I didn't take the risk!

However, I did make the acquaintance of several neighbours I hadn't spoken to before because they had never, to my knowledge, actually walked down the street and one day a kind workman carried my shopping right to the door.

Quannu a sorti ti voli aiutari, anfina a casa ti veni a truvari.
When Fate wants to give you a hand, it will come to your house to find you.
- Sicilian proverb

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Last night saw a homecoming for Chiara Civello, the singer born in Rome of Modican parents and called, by Tony Bennett, "the best jazz singer of her generation". I didn't go to Chiara's concert in Modica last night, but I have been lucky enough to see her perform live in the past.

I like this version of the Jimmy Fontana classic Il Mondo, from her new album, Canzoni:

Chiara Civello - Il Mondo 

Thursday, August 14, 2014


If you are a tourist coming to Modica tomorrow for the Ferragosto holiday, you will be able to visit this,

Modica, Duomo di San Pietro


Modica, Duomo di San Giorgio

and this:

Modica, Chiesa di Santa Maria di Betlem

Virtually everything else, I am sorry to tell you, will be closed. This includes museums, the house of Modica's Nobel laureate Salvatore Quasimodo and, in the countryside, the Cava d'Ispica.

Yes, it is true that if we come to another country, we have to do our best to adapt to its rhythms and I have no problem with that. However, dear Comune di Modica, you cannot continue to behave in such a way and, at the same time, blame your woes on the crisi economica and tell us how much you want tourists!

Happy Ferragosto.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Ensign of the Italian Navy

It's always nice when Italy receives praise rather than brickbats and this week Rupert Neudeck, co-founder of the humanitarian association Cap Anamur, has suggested that the Italian Navy be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its humanitarian work in saving 73,000 migrants in the Mediterranean during the Mare Nostrum operation.  Mr Neudeck also said in Hamburg that European policy towards migrants is a disaster and that Northern European countries have a duty to take in more refugees to help countries such as Italy.

Mare Nostrum is a controversial initiative in Italy but no one could deny that the Marina Militare are doing a sterling job. It is estimated that they have saved 1,396 migrants in the last 24 hours alone.

But can a military force be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? What about this? What do you think?

I decided to find out more about Rupert Neudeck and was surprised to learn about this event, which took place a year before I settled in Sicily. It also shows how things have changed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


A former student of mine, a military man, had been asking me to make him "toad in the hole" since it was mentioned in an article we read in class.  I must admit I'd been avoiding it as it's not one of my favourite dishes and I hadn't made it for years but how can you refuse a fighting man? So when he came home to Sicily for a visit last weekend, I relented and made it.

First, though, I served antipasti, including the aubergine polpette I mentioned here [I decided to keep the sauce], Asiago cheese with cherries, olives and datterini tomatoes and salame tartlets, a Jill Dupleix  idea. I'm always afraid of not serving enough, so there had to be a bowl of crisps!

Then the rospo nel buco, using Italian sausages and to which I added some sage and chopped rosemary. I must say, the nerve-wracking thing did puff up nicely:

And finally, as this was, mostly, a British evening, a summer pudding:

You'll be glad to know, and I was very relieved, that it was all a success!

Sunday, August 10, 2014


It's la notte di San Lorenzo again so don't forget to look for shooting stars tonight and make a wish if you see one!   

Here are some "star" songs for you:

I post this one every year but how could I leave it out?

Perry Como - Catch a Falling Star

Love this, too:

Mika e Chiara - Stardust

But there's no beating the original Stardust!

Hoagy Carmichel - Stardust

This was a favourite of my dad's:

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong - Stars Fell on Alabama

Finally, this beautiful song is a "must" for tonight!

Cristino de Andrè - La notte di San Lorenzo

Wherever you are, may you see some shooting stars and may your wishes come true.

Saturday, August 09, 2014


Let's hear from soprano Daniela Schillaci, who is to perform in the wonderful setting of Modica's Villa Anna tomorrow night. Here she is in Norma at the Teatro Antico, Taormina, in 2012:

Daniela Schillaci - Casta Diva [Norma]

Thursday, August 07, 2014


If you are going to commit a crime, I should have thought it was obvious that taking a selfie while you are doing it is unwise, but that is what a man accused of being a people trafficker did at the weekend. He shot a video, now in the hands of the Italian police, of himself and an accomplice piloting a migrant boat and both men have been arrested.

The boat, which had sailed from Libya, was carrying 357 migrants and the engine caught fire during the journey. [The cause is not yet known.] Despite the efforts of some of the migrants to put out the fire, the engine would not restart. The migrants were saved by a ship sailing under a Greek flag after it had been alerted by the Italian Coast Guard. 

On Sunday the passengers were brought to Pozzallo, where some of them told police that they had paid $3,000 each to make the journey with a life jacket. Those who were willing to risk it without a life jacket were charged $90 each.  One migrant said that before leaving the Libyan beach where they had been told to assemble, the passengers were constantly hit and threatened, to make them hurry aboard two dinghies which took them out to the wooden boat that would attempt the crossing. Once aboard the already crowded boat, this man was told to travel in the hold. 

Also at the weekend another migrant boat capsized 50 miles off the Libyan coast and the Italian Navy and other Mare Nostrum operatives saved 268 people. Two bodies were recovered but no one knows exactly how many migrants the boat was carrying.

Over 2,500 migrants were rescued by the Italian Navy in the Mediterranean last weekend.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


The drone video below, of parking on Le Pergole beach in Realmonte [Agrigento]  was first posted by the environmental association Mareamico and at the weekend it went round the world. We probably all had a good laugh: yes, it's Italian anarchy at its most absurd and reinforces the stereotype of the Italian driver, but the disregard for the environment and for other people that it demonstrates is also tragic.

On Monday the police moved in to clear the beach of cars but the Mayor of Realmonte says that he just doesn't have the resources to regularly police both his town and the seven beaches that come under his jurisdiction.

The moral seems to be that in Sicily, what common sense won't do, shame will.

"Cu' nun avi russuri nun senti mancu 'i vastunati - He who does not feel shame [for the bad things he has done] does not feel the strokes of the cane either."
- Sicilian proverb

Tuesday, August 05, 2014


It is no secret to regular readers that my favourite summer fruits are the little pesche tabacchiere or "snuffbox" peaches but today in the supermarket I was surprised to see platerine, or flat mini-nectarines, displayed with them. I've never seen them here before but have now learned that they are actually an older fruit. They're pretty good, too!

Pesche tabacchiere


I was not, however, as surprised as I was when I read the newspaper and discovered that yesterday a man had fired four gunshots at two street fruit vendors in the centre of Paternò.  Fortunately he wasn't a very good shot and no one was injured, though the vendors are understandably suffering from shock. After firing the shots, the man threw a large melon onto the ground before making off in his car. The reason for the attack? He wasn't satisfied with the quality of the melons the vendors had previously sold him. The man has now been arrested.

Melons for sale in Modica

Monday, August 04, 2014


Father and son - Richard and Arthur Eggleton

In one hour from now, the lights will go out all over my own country to commemorate the moment, one hundred years ago, when Britain entered the First World War. The ""Lights Out"  initiative is also intended as a mark of respect for those who were killed or maimed in that terrible conflict. Households are asked to leave just a single candle burning for one hour and that is what I am going to do here in Sicily, although Italy entered the war the following year.

During that hour, like people all over Europe and beyond, I will reflect upon those killing fields, some so near Britain that the guns could be heard there and yet so far away in terms of their unimaginable conditions and brutality. And my mind will also turn to a Welsh naval officer who never saw his son. The officer was blinded in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and his son was my father, born three years later. 

Chief Petty Officer Richard Eggleton could not have known, during the long months of coming to terms with the loss of his sight, that there was still happiness in store for him, but one day, while he was in rehabilitation at St Dunstan's [now Blind Veterans UK ], a friend of his brought another friend along to visit. This was my future grandmother, Mary. Richard and Mary were not young when they married, so when Mary stopped menstruating and began to put on weight, she assumed it was the menopause. When my dad decided to pop into the world one summer afternoon it was a complete surprise to her.

War, as we all know, hurts the innocent and it hurt my dad in indirect ways: Mary had developed a severe hearing impairment and my dad was a bit rebellious so, with his best interests at heart, Mary and Richard sent him to a boarding school which had iron discipline and [unknown to them] a very cruel régime. My dad never forgot it. This may seem nothing if we compare his suffering to that of the frightened children of a faraway war taking place at this very moment, but I can remember my dad shivering every time we passed his former school when I was a little girl.

The starving German children of 1918 grew up to want revenge and got it and I wonder whether those waging war so mercilessly now ever stop to think about what could one day be unleashed upon their children and their children's children.

No one despises war more than someone who has fought in one and Richard Eggleton, while of course respecting the memory of all who had fought with him, wanted his son to grow up in a world at peace. 

As I sit by the light of a single candle in Sicily tonight, I silently thank a grandfather I never knew for choosing to go on living, despite the moments of deepest despair that he must have gone through, and for the little boy who became my dad.

Saturday, August 02, 2014


Let's hear from Adamo [Salvatore Adamo], who tonight stars in the Ragusani nel Mondo festival in Ragusa. Adamo, born in Comiso in 1943, was awarded the prize in 2001.

This has always been my favourite Adamo song:

Adamo - Le ruisseau de mon enfance


Nasser Da Clandestino a CittadinoNasser Da Clandestino a Cittadino by Luciano Zanardini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Recently I'd been thinking about the way in which, since I started to write on my blog about migration in the Mediterranean in 2006, the vocabulary that we use to describe what is happening is changing:  for instance, back then, illegal immigrants were referred to as "clandestini" in Italy and I used the term myself, whereas now the term "migranti" is always used.

Ata Alla Nasser Hamad Aly, who tells his story to Luciano Zanardini and who entered Italy in 1998, refers to himself as a "clandestino". At that time, there were several amnesties for illegal immigrants in the country but unfortunately Nasser, or Mimmo, as he became known to Italians, just missed one of these.

He tells us of his reasons for leaving Egypt and first among these was the impossibility of finding work there, although he had qualifications. He describes Egypt as a society in which nepotism reigns supreme and in which money talks. Anyone who has lived in Italy for any length of time knows that the same may be said of this country, but evidently it works in different ways here. What impresses Nasser about Italy is the respect that people have for work.

Next we learn about Nasser's journey to Italy: his family had, by making many sacrifices, managed to find the not inconsiderable sum he needed in order to pay people traffickers and he reached Italy via Albania, crossing to Italy at night in a dinghy containing 40 people. The boat was spotted by the Italian Coast Guard but those in charge of it knew how to dodge them. As they neared the beach, the people traffickers started hitting the passengers with lengths of wood so that they would jump into the cold, December sea. When they reached the beach, no police were waiting and Nasser assumes they deemed it more important to arrest the people traffickers. I should point out that the Italian police have a good record in arresting people traffickers but these days, because of the much greater number of migrant arrivals, there would be police, other officials and volunteers on hand to process and help the migrants.

That night, Nasser saw a young man who was walking in front of him drop dead from a heart attack, probably caused by the cold and the hardships of the journey. He points out that the Mediterranean, now so linked to death, was and is also a symbol of life as it has always made communication and business possible between people of different cultures.

Having cousins in Brescia, Nasser travelled there and found himself forbidden by his relatives to go out, because of his illegal status. He became more and more frustrated, for how was he to learn the language if he had no contact with anyone? When he did find a job, as a dishwasher in a pizzeria in a nearby town, he was shocked by the way he was treated: the owner's wife and children never so much as acknowledged him and he was allowed to drink only tap water [never bottled water] and to eat one pizza a day - nothing else. He soon became indispensable to the owner, though, and slowly and painfully learnt to make pizza. Finally, much to the owner's chagrin, he left. By this time, he writes,

"I had three extra weapons in my bag; patience, the will to overcome all obstacles and hope."

Nasser started working in another pizzeria, where he got on with the owner well and then his luck changed, for he met an elderly pizza chef called Piero who needed help. Nasser worked in both restaurants and one day Piero suggested they go into partnership. It was difficult for him to find the money but he managed to raise it and he transformed Piero's business, eventually opening a second pizzeria for him. Now Nasser owns three pizzerie and Piero regards him as a son and Nasser's children as his grandchildren. Yes, Nasser found time to get married too and he tells us his love story!

In 2003 Nasser was able to regularise his status in Italy and he firmly believes that integration depends not on how many years an immigrant has been in the host country but on his or her attitude; he also believes that immigrants have a duty to respect the country that has given them a chance. I was surprised to learn that Nasser and his family wish, eventually, to return to Egypt but they have certainly earned the right to do so.

Above all, Nasser believes in God and in hope and says that it is hope that causes so many migrants to sail for Europe:

"If you take hope away from someone he will die but if you leave him with a glimmer of it he will continue to live."

I would not agree with some of Nasser's observations about Italy but I suppose all our perceptions about place depend on where we started out. I found this short book interesting and inspiring and if you read Italian I would recommend it.

This review is also posted on Good Reads.

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