Saturday, November 29, 2014


Welcome back to the music scene, Carmen Consoli.  The singer, who comes from Catania, has released this single ahead of her album of the same title due in 2015.  

Carmen Consoli - L'abitudine di tornare

Friday, November 28, 2014


Jill with our mother
Me with my mother
If anyone had told me a year ago that tonight I would be looking through an album of photos of my birth mother, given to me by a sister who had found me after 64 years, I would not have believed them. Jill brought the album when she visited me in October and there are photos of her, of my lovely new brother-in-law and of their children, too. On the front of the album the words, "To Pat from your family" are inscribed in gold and that means so much to me.

Every night I gaze at my birth mother's face, the first face I ever saw, and I find myself stroking her hair in the photos and saying,

"It's all right. I understand."

Then I pick up a picture of my other mum, the one who brought me up, and, running my fingers over the image of the face I knew so well, I tell her,

"It's all right. You're still my mum."

In the four months between our first contact and our meeting, Jill and I had exchanged many messages and letters and we were at ease with each other. The opportunity to learn more about my birth family was a gift that I had never thought I would have but of course there was sadness too: with one letter Jill enclosed a document showing that my birth mum had tried to find me in 1986 and I was so sorry that we had missed each other.

As I understand it, the adoption law in Britain was changed in 1975, making it possible for birth mothers and adoptees to have contact provided both wanted it and that the adoptee had gone through a period of counselling. For this to be possible, both parties had to register their interest with the General Register Office.  The document I received from Jill is a brief, cold, to-the-point letter to my birth mum, telling her that her interest had been "noted" and that, should I apply to the same office for access to my birth records, the counsellor dealing with me would be informed. Nothing else, no promises and not even a sentence at the end offering to help with any other queries regarding the process. The letter contains hand-written alterations and additions - I'm sure we had correction fluid by 1986! - and is dismissive in tone. Or is it just the heartlessness of officialdom?

In 1986 I was 36 years old, was being a career woman and generally battling with life. I had had an accident the year before which had led me to have three operations and I wasn't particularly well. This makes me wonder if my birth mum sensed it in some way; I believe it is possible. I have explained my reasons for not trying to find her here but I had no need to apply to the General Register Office for my birth records as I knew the story and I had the adoption documents. As I have said previously, we all do what we think is best at a given time.

Some years later Jill rang the General Register Office number that is on the letter and found it to be obsolete. Not even knowing my surname, what could she do? But she didn't give up and her friends knew of her quest. One day, a friend of hers heard that there was a conference in London for people trying to find adopted relatives and he attended on her behalf. That is where he was given the contact details for the lady from the Norfolk County Council Adoption Department and these he passed on to Jill. This was the lady who found me that day in May. I cannot thank Jill's friend and the Norfolk lady enough.

November 1950, the month in which I was adopted, was exceptionally rainy even for the UK and all these years later, at the end of an unusually dry November in my part of Sicily, here I am with photos of my birth mum to cherish and a new family to love. Christmas is approaching and believe me, I know the extent to which the festive season can make you feel like an outcast if you are on your own. So I would like to tell you this: two years ago, in November, an incredibly difficult period began for me and I reached a very low point. If you ever feel as bad as that, please hold on: yes, life can fall apart but it can also become wonderful again just when you don't expect it. Please, please, hold on.....

To be continued.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I'd never made pumpkin pie before and had expected it to be a nerve-wracking task. However, I was determined to have a go this year as I wanted to make tartlet versions for London Town Modica, Centro Linguistico Internazionale.

We can't get canned pumpkin here and sometimes pumpkin takes ages to soften, but this time all went well. Although I'd consulted lots of recipes, in the end I guessed the cooking time for my mini pies and I was really pleased with the way they turned out!



Monday, November 24, 2014


I started making chicken with cotognata [quince paste] some years ago and this autumn, I decided the dish needed an update.  After some thought, I came up with the idea of adding chocolate but not any old chocolate, you understand, for if there is one thing I have learnt since being in Modica it is that if you are going to add chocolate to a savoury dish it will only work if you use chocolate made to the Aztec method [no dairy fats] - Modican chocolate! You can either use pure chocolate or, for the kick I wanted, chilli-pepper-flavoured Modican chocolate.  Here's what I did:

Chicken with cotognata and Modican chocolate

To serve four people generously, you need one skinned and boned chicken breast if you are in Italy, where the two halves of the breast are sold as one or two breasts if you are in the UK, where each half is sold as one breast. Ask the butcher to cut the breast [s] into 8 pieces. You could add a couple of drumsticks, skin off, too, if you like. 

Marinate the chicken in 0.25 litre of white wine, adding some seasoning and a few fresh sage leaves, for about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, chop one square from a bar of chilli-flavoured Modican chocolate as finely as you can and cut one "cake" of quince paste - about 100 gr - into small cubes. [When I was in the UK, you used to be able to buy Spanish quince paste from delicatessens. This is not as thick as cotognata but would do, as it has to melt anyway.] 

When you are ready to cook the chicken, drain it, pat dry with kitchen paper and discard the marinade but keep a few of the sage leaves.  Slice a large white onion and soften this in 4 tablsp olive oil in a large, wide pan but do not brown it. When the onion is soft, add the chicken pieces with any sage leaves still clinging to them and brown them all over.  

Peel, core and slice 3 quinces or 4 pears and when the chicken is brown on all sides, add the fruit slices to the pan with the cotognata and chocolate.  Add 600 ml water, some more seasoning and a sprinkling of ground cloves.

Cover and cook over a low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

You won't be able to taste the chocolate, which is as it should be, but the chilli will give this sweet and sour dish a kick! Serve with garlic-roasted potatoes with rosemary or with some lovely mashed potato to soak up the juices.

Buon appetito!

Saturday, November 22, 2014


This single has been released ahead of Gianna Nannini's new album, Hitalia, which comes out on 1st December. The video was shot in Agrigento, where the beauty of the scenery lends poignancy to the lyrics:

Gianna Nannini - Lontano dagli occhi

Friday, November 21, 2014


"Come round here", said Ignaziella the newsagent's wife when I went into her shop to pick up a magazine this morning.  "I've got something to show you."

Smiling mysteriously she led me to the back of the shop, deftly and with a magician's flourish removed a large piece of padded material which was covering something large and revealed the cribs that she has been making.  Aren't they pretty?

She's making smaller ones like these, too.

And she's also made this friendly note-book holder:

Almost every home in Italy displays a crib at Christmas and this year I'll be displaying one of Ignaziella's!

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Oriana. Una donnaOriana. Una donna by Cristina de Stefano
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"I had seen them arrive: orderly, disciplined, regimented, a real flock that goes where those who command want it to go, those who promise, who frighten, it proceeds with closed eyes since there's no need to see the road, the road is a solid stream of fleece that will arrive at the square chosen by the power in charge..... long live whoever comes along, long live whoever is at the top of the mountain, never long live the poor bastards that die so that the sheep may become men and women."

I have never forgotten that passage from Oriana Fallaci's Un Uomo [A Man], a fictionalised biography of her lover the Greek freedom fighter Alexandros Panagulis, which I read in 1980.

As an Italian graduate, I had long admired Oriana Fallaci's work and was fascinated by this seemingly fearless woman who had made it as an investigative journalist at a time when it was very difficult for a woman to do so.

Fallaci was once called "la giornalista più turbolento dell'Italia" ["Italy's most aggressive journalist"] by a colleague and Ayatollah Khomeini and Henry Kissinger were two Fallaci interviewees who probably agreed with this view of her. In 1979, she famously took her chador off in Khomeini's presence and, interviewing Henry Kissinger in 1972, she asked him why he was so popular. Kissinger at first denied that he was, then said he put his popularity down to the fact that he had always acted alone, like a cowboy riding out ahead of the wagon train. When the interview was published all over the world, it caused a scandal, as Americans were not very happy about the cowboy comparison. Years later, Kissinger said that agreeing to be interviewed by Fallaci was one of the most unfortunate decisions of his life.

From this excellent biography by Cristina de Stefano I learned a lot about Oriana that I hadn't realised before: that she had been a WW2 partisan, for instance and about her courage as a correspondent during the Vietnam war. I was astonished to learn that in love, the great Oriana Fallaci could be as foolish as the rest of us and the account of her affair with Alfredo Pieroni makes sad reading.

The love of her life, though, was the married French journalist François Pelou, who was her intellectual equal and who, according to de Stefano, taught her to see power through different eyes. Their love affair was all the more intense because it was conducted in the midst of war.

Oriana Fallaci had a love-hate relationship with America and once remarked that she was going to win. She lived happily in New York for many years and it was there that she meticulously researched her own family's history and wrote the first volume of it, Un cappello pieno di ciliege [A Hat Full of Cherries] which I am currently reading. [The book, though very long, was not completed and was published posthumously.] The rather charming title refers to the hat that Fallaci's mother was wearing when she met her father. If you read Italian and are also eagle-eyed, you may notice that "ciliege" in the title is spelled without the final -i. Fallaci had insisted on this because it was both the Tuscan way and the way that her mother had pronounced the word.

When 9/11 came, Fallaci was quick to defend her adopted country and later wrote a much-criticised book, La Rabbia e L'Orgoglio [The Rage and the Pride], about what she perceived as the Islamist threat.

Knowing that she had an incurable tumour, Oriana Fallaci faced death as courageously as she had faced life and planned for it in detail. At the end, she asked to be flown back to her beloved Tuscany, where she died on the night of 14th - 15th September 2006.

This biography has greatly added to my knowledge of Oriana Fallaci and has led me to read more of her books.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Italy's Operazione Mare Nostrum may have been wound up and replaced by the Frontex [European External Borders Agency] operation Triton, but the incidence of boats carrying migrants on perilous journeys from Africa towards Europe shows no signs of abating. Calm seas recently have favoured departures and a new route taking some of the migrants to Puglia seems to be in use.

On Sunday an Italian naval ship brought 864 migrants to safety in Pozzallo in the second largest landing of migrants in a Ragusan port this year. Most were Syrian or Palestinian and there were 69 accompanied and seven unaccompanied minors among them. Of the 104 who were women, two were pregnant and had to be taken to hospital in Modica. The migrants told Italian officials a familiar story of a dangerous crossing in overcrowded and inadequate boats and all had been rescued by various Italian naval vessels.

Half have now been transferred to Palermo, another 150 to Florence and arrangements are being made for the transfer of most of the rest to other reception centres in Italy as the Pozzallo centre is now overcrowded.

The past week has seen ugly scenes in Rome, where residents of the Tor Sapienza suburb protested angrily and, in some cases, violently, about one of the migrant reception centres there, blaming migrants for the area's misfortunes. Tor Sapienza is a poor district where many people are unemployed and tensions came to a head at the weekend, when children in the centre concerned had to be evacuated from it.  Pope Francis has asked all interested institutions to deal with the situation as a "social emergency" and has also called for dialogue between the local community and immigrants.  

I am not in Tor Sapienza so cannot comment further on the area's troubles but I do know that an identifiable immigrant community anywhere is likely to become a scapegoat in times of economic hardship. Anti-immigration feeling, it seems to me, is being whipped up all over Europe as I write. Willing or unwilling host countries could do worse than heed Pope Francis's call for dialogue.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Tonight I'm dedicating this version of Il nostro concerto, sung by two of my favourite Italian singers, to both my mums.

Ovunque sei, ovunque adesso sei
Dove sarai, mi troverai vicino a te.

Wherever you are, wherever you are now,
Wherever you are in the future, you'll find me near you.

Orietta Berti e Claudio Baglioni - Il nostro concerto

Friday, November 14, 2014


"All I can say is that she was beautiful."

Jill with our mother
Me with my mother
I cried for a long time after reading those words that my birth mother had written about me in her last letter to my sister, Jill. Then I looked through the photos again and, although in some of them there were unmistakeable signs of sadness in my birth mother's face, there were also photos of her with Jill in which she looked radiant. After the unimaginable pain of the sacrifice she had made for me, and later for our brother, I was so glad that she had known the joy not only of a lovely daughter in Jill, but of grandchildren.

This knowledge made me feel calmer and now I needed to gather my thoughts and reply to the kind letter I had received from Jill.  As I began to do so, I suddenly realised that there was a problem and it was a linguistic one: what should I call my birth mum when writing to Jill? It seemed disloyal to call her "my mum", though she undoubtedly was, because the mother who had brought me up was undoubtedly "my mum" too. I couldn't betray her now with a possessive adjective. I decided that I had to be honest with Jill and said, in that first reply, that I hoped she would understand if I referred to my adoptive mum as "my mum" and my birth mum as "our mother". I needn't have worried; Jill immediately understood and I already loved her.

As I started to tell friends, both here and back in Britain, what had happened, all were pleased for me, particularly here. I was aware, however, that there were some who were judging my birth mother, though only one said anything to my face. To that person and others like her I can only quote the Bible:

"Judge not and ye shall not be judged."

My birth mother had had three children out of wedlock with three different fathers but she had loved us all and had done what she thought was best for each of us.  I would also say that, if you have the comfort and security of a life partner, you have no business judging those of us who do not. I was, and am, glad that my birth mum found happiness, however fleeting, in the arms of three men for whom she obviously cared very much, for I know what it is like to be without such solace. Secondly, we should remember that we are talking about a very different era, a cold and still censorious culture, men who were away from home and a woman who had survived wartime Britain.

When a second letter from Jill came, I learned that my birth mum had played her part in that war, for she had been in the ATS. I felt so proud of her! Then, as the letters began to flow between us, I found out more about my birth mum and was delighted to learn that she had been a great reader and that, like me, she was fond of all kinds of music.

There were things that Jill and I had in common, too, although we had had very different lives:  we both knew what it was like to live "behind the shop", for instance, as my parents had run a newsagent's in Bristol for the first nine years of my life and Jill and her husband had run three newagent's shops. We seemed to share the same kind of humour, too, had been rebellious at school and we both write easily.

But the most important thing that we have in common is that we had loving childhoods and, although I haven't found the kind of love that we all seek, I have been very lucky, for I was deeply loved by my parents, not once, but twice and now I have the love of a sister.

To be continued.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Mr Fabio Capello [the football manager who in 2007 promised to learn English in a month] has not been paid his salary in Russia since June.  He might, you would imagine, be considering his options by now but earlier this month he is reported to have said that he was only "getting near" the limits of his patience.

Pazienza, you see, is one commodity which is in plentiful supply in Mr Capello's home country of Italy [except on its roads] and it is Sicilians' favourite word. As Mr Capello is unlikely to be struggling to pay the rent, he is probably not as peturbed as you or I would be in the event of non-payment of salary but another reason might be that Italians regard such a situation as perfectly normal: every week here people from all walks of life go on strike, not for better pay, as in other countries, but because they have not received any pay at all, for months on end. Some even resort to hunger strikes.

All I can say, Fabio, is let me know when your pazienza finally reaches that limit; if you're at a loose end, I'll still be willing to be your English tutor - provided you pay me, of course. It could be a whole new ball game for both of us!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


On a cold day [by Sicilian standards] who could resist these warm crispelle, made with rice, honey and citrus zest? Not me!

Saturday, November 08, 2014


No 2 in the Italian charts, this song, with its interesting video, really brings back the pain of lost love:

Valerio Scanu - Parole di cristallo

Friday, November 07, 2014


I had learned, for sure, that my birth mother had loved me and now I had to wait for a letter from my half-sister, Jill, who had been looking for me for 15 years. It wasn't going to be an easy letter for Jill to write, so I understood that it might take some time. It came surprisingly quickly, during another Sicilian siesta hour, with a covering email from the lady in the Norfolk Adoption Department.

"Are you ready for this?" she  wrote. "It's very emotional."

I was as ready as I would ever be. I had an afternoon appointment within minutes, but I had to look. First, I opened Jill's letter, in which she told me about her search for me, her family and our half-brother in America. It was so kind and affectionate in tone that I felt close to Jill immediately, as I had known I would. There was a photo of her as well and I liked the pretty, gentle-looking woman I saw. Jill had enclosed my birth mother's last letter and several photos labelled "photos of birth mother, etc." I  was  already crying, so I realised I would have to leave the letter till I got back, but I couldn't resist opening the photos.

Suddenly, before me, was a woman whose features I recognised because - and this dawned slowly - they were also mine and she was smiling out at me. This was the first time I had seen a photo of any birth relative and I cannot describe what it was like. The overwhelming feeling was one of, "So there you are, with me at last" and I kept wanting to reach out and touch her. I think I did. 

Of  the second photo, Jill had written, 

"This is a photo of mum with an American soldier called *****, in London in 1949. Could this be your natural father, Pat?"

My birth mum and natural father,
London, 1949

I knew that he was, from the name  [which I won't give here] on the adoption documents, so after 64 years, I was sitting in Sicily looking at a picture of my natural father, too!  I certainly hadn't expected that....

Still feeling I was dreaming, I walked to my appointment, but my mind, as you can imagine, wasn't in Modica at all. I was thinking of a young couple in London in 1949 - it was even possible that my birth mum was pregnant with me when the picture was taken - and of another couple who were happy in London at around the same time:

My adoptive parents,
London, 1940s

Later that day, I came home and opened my birth mum's letter. I caught my breath as I saw her handwriting with the same upward slope as mine had when I was younger. After explaining that my natural father had died in America and that she had been under a lot of pressure to have me adopted, my birth mum writes, of me,

"I can't go into it all now and all I can say is that she was beautiful."

Then I put my head down on the desk and wept.

To be continued.

Post scriptum:
I can now tell you that when I posted this sabato musicale at the end of May, it was for my birth mum.

Thursday, November 06, 2014


In 2003 I lived, for one month, in Prague. I loved the tiny apartment I rented there and I bought a Czech cookbook and cooked my way through it. One of the techniques I learned there was to thicken casseroles with bread and every now and then, I still do this. 

At Halloween, having found, for the first time, a butternut squash here, I decided to add it to a Prague-style casserole. The Sicilian ingredients are 'strattu [tomato paste], pomegranate seeds, the orange peel and Mediterranean cardoncello [king trumpet] mushrooms:

First of all, cut a long strip of peel from an orange and put it on a plate in the microwave for about 1 minute on medium. Put aside till needed.

Heat 6 tablesp olive oil in a large, wide pan and in it brown 1 kg cubed beef for casseroles or spezzatino. Add 1 chopped white onion and a chopped clove of garlic and swirl these around with the beef until they are browned too. Then add the peeled and chopped squash and brown this. 

Now add 1 tablesp 'strattu, seasalt to taste and a few grindings of mixed peppercorns plus 170 gr roughly sliced mushrooms, a handful of chopped parsley and some sprigs of fresh thyme. Add the strip of orange peel and 568 ml water [1 UK pint]. Bring the mixture to simmer, cover and leave for 1 hour, stirring once or twice.

Add 4 slices of bread, crusts removed and cut into squares. [This can be brown or white - it doesn't matter] and stir till dissolved.

Finally add the seeds of 1 pomegranate, discard the orange peel [if you can find it] and serve.

This is serious comfort food and will serve 4 - 6. 

Buon appetito!  Dobrou chuť!

Me in Halloween mood

Monday, November 03, 2014


For years, Italy has been asking for EU help in the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean and now it has come - or has it?

As of 1st November, Triton, an operation financed by the EU and coordinated by Frontex [the European External Borders Agency] has replaced the Italian Operazione Mare Nostrum. [There is a two-month transition period.] I do not mean to suggest that lives will not be saved but there is a worry that any operation directed by Frontex will have border protection, rather than the humanitarian aspects of the situation, as its priority. Triton will cost €3 million per month as opposed to the €9 million monthly cost of Mare Nostrum, so there are obvious limits on its remit, one of which is that it will stop patrols outside a 30-mile limit from the Italian coast, whereas Mare Nostrum operatives patrolled much closer to Libya. Critics also say that Triton is not equipped to deal with the sheer numbers of people fleeing countries such as Syria. Amnesty International, migrant support agencies and human rights groups have expressed their concern.

According to figures tweeted two weeks ago by the Italian Navy, 150,810 people have been saved by Mare Nostrum operatives in the Mediterranean in the past year. Whatever operation is in force, frightened and desperate people continue to embark upon the perilous journey that they hope will enable them to reach the shores of Europe: on 30th October the Italian Coast Guard saved 276 migrants at sea and among these were 89 young Africans who say that 20 of their fellow-passengers were drowned off Libya. These survivors were brought to Pozzallo on Friday, as were other migrants who had been rescued earlier in the week. Others were taken to safety in Messina.

Meanwhile the British government, of whom I am thoroughly ashamed, has refused to participate in migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean because its members think that such humanitarian actions will encourage more people to attempt the journey. Do they think it's a package holiday that migrants are taking? I very much doubt if there is anyone in Whitehall who has the faintest inkling of what is going on. 

The other day I heard a Sicilian woman say that Italy was "drowning" because of the migrant situation. Whilst it is true that Mare Nostrum has been costly and that migrants in reception centres receive a very meagre allowance from the Italian State, there are many reasons why Italy is floundering economically and the [usually temporary] presence of people whose only "crime" has been to seek a better life is not one of them.  It is the migrants, I fear, who will continue to drown.

Saturday, November 01, 2014


No one sings golden oldies like - well - golden oldies, so let's hear it for these two, who both celebrated their 80th birthday in September:

Gino Paoli e Ornella Vanoni - Senza Fine


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