Tuesday, December 29, 2015


My birth mother, Violet
My adoptive mother, Violet,
on her wartime wedding day
"Once again it's Christmas time", as the song says, and, at the end of another year, I am thinking about the incredible events which led to my happy reunion with my birth sister, Jill and the rest of my birth family. If you missed them, there are links to all my adoption posts here.

Candles for two Violets

To start with, I would like to take you back to 9th October 2014, a beautiful, sunny day in Modica, Sicily. I am walking along a familiar street, greeting people and looking at what is on the fruit lorries, as I do every day, but my thoughts are a world away, in another era, for today is different:  I am on my way to meet my birth sister, after 64 years. Can you imagine how that felt? All I can tell you is that I was happy, experienced no anxiety and felt as if I was truly going home, a sensation which intensified the moment we fell into each other's arms and sobbed the years away.

Chiesa di San Giacomo Apostolo,
Ragusa Ibla
I had trusted Jill from the first communication we had had just a few months before and I knew I would like her. But as I spent time with her that week, I began to realise how very much I loved her. Yes, she was the person with whom, had the world been a little less cruel in 1950, I might have grown up and we might have shared so much but it was no use going there now, for we cannot know what might have happened. All we could, and can, do is to enjoy what we have and nurture it as if it were a little garden of sisters.

And when we visited another garden one evening that week, the beautiful Giardino Ibleo in Ragusa Ibla, I found, to my surprise, that the charming church of San Giacomo Apostolo was open and there I lit a candle for each of my two mums, who were both called Violet [though my birth mum didn't like the name]. I'm sure they were with us.

A graveside in Norwich

This year it was a great pleasure to be able to spend some time in Norwich, UK with Jill and her husband and to meet the rest of my wonderful birth family, all of whom I would like to thank here for their warmth, kindness, acceptance and love.

When Jill and I visited our mother's grave, I had thought I was prepared but nothing could have readied me for the tide of emotion that would engulf me. In Romina Power's book Ti prendo per mano, a novel based on the time she spent nursing her own mother through terminal illness, there is a poem entitled Il Profumo della vita [The Scent of Life] which expresses all that I wanted to say so I read it out in Italian and in English, thus bringing a little of Italy to my first Violet. Then I fell into my sister's arms again and cried till no more tears would come: all those years of wondering about my birth mother - whether she was still alive [I always hoped], what she was like [spirited, intelligent, kind and brave, I now know], whether she looked like me [the answer is very much so], whether she thought of me sometimes [of course she did, every day] and a thousand other questions. And it all ended here, at this graveside in Norwich - except that it hadn't, because love does not die. In this season of love, I am holding on to that.

I never thought I would receive Xmas cards like this.....

....... or be wearing items that belonged to my birth mum.

Romina Power reads Il Profumo della vita

Saturday, December 26, 2015


And a lady from the homeland to do the honours today. Take it away, Dame Shirley!

Dame Shirley Bassey and Blake - The Christmas Song

Friday, December 25, 2015


I'm going to let my idol Charles Aznavour, whom I was lucky enough to see live in London in November, do the honours this year:

Charles Aznavour - Noël d'autrefois
Buon Natale
Joyeux Noël
Merry Xmas
Feliz Navidad
Nadolig Llawen

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Another centenary this week and it is that of the birth of Édith Piaf, whose music has always meant a lot to me. As it's Christmas, let us hear this song in which she remembers, as always, the "have-nots" of this world:

Édith Piaf - Le Noël de la Rue

Friday, December 18, 2015


I always think that Christmas has been well and truly declared when we have our multilingual carol service in Modica and this year has been no exception.

We again opened with Venite Fedeli, included the famous Italian carol Tu scendi dalle stelle and closed with  verses of Silent Night sung in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Other carols were sung in all these languages and there were readings in other languages including Malagasy:

I read from Mary Jones and her Bible - not particularly Christmassy but a nice story. I'd been thinking about Mary Jones a lot this year because Mary Jones World was opened in Bala, North Wales at the end of 2014. [One day I'll get there!]

As my contribution to the feast, I made my "Christmas chews" again, as I did last year.  As always, there was delicious food from every country represented:

It wouldn't have been a proper British contribution if someone hadn't made yummy mince pies and Christmas cake......

.... and it wouldn't have been quite Modican without several kinds of focaccia!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Some of you may remember that last year, my friend Ignaziella started making her own Christmas cribs.  I am pleased to be able to report that this year she is continuing to create these beautiful objects and here are some of them:

And here is the fabric tree she has made to decorate her shop window:

Saturday, December 12, 2015


On the 100th anniversary of the birth of one Francis Albert Sinatra [and he was half-Sicilian, after all] what else could I post?

Frank Sinatra - Torna a Surriento 

Friday, December 11, 2015


Modica's annual chocolate festival, ChocoModica, is what I think of as a "nice little festival."  It sort of evolved from the larger Eurochocolate festivals that used to be held in the town and I think this is one case where smaller is better:  the festival as it is these days is not too crowded, the atmosphere is friendly, you do not feel overwhelmed by stall after stall of the same thing and it is ours.

I am still at a loss to explain why a town which can organise this event so well - it's the only occasion in the year when there are reliable buses - cannot get its act together regarding so many other matters but it's Christmas so let us not be Scrooge.  Instead, won't you join me on a walk around the festival?

Last year we had angels; this year we have lanterns  It's always nice to see Modica lit up:

 There were, of course chocolate stalls and plenty of music:

You could watch chocolate being made and taste it. I liked the chocolate Santa in the middle picture here:

But what I liked best were the chocolate sculptures and it was at this exhibition that I spent most of my time:

Well done, Modica - when you decide to do something well, you're fabulous!

Thursday, December 10, 2015


From a singer who caused all of Italy to fall in love with her to one who has caused considerable outrage and quite a few divisions: The artist in question is Roberto Vecchioni, the singer-songwriter who won the 2011 Sanremo Festival with Chiamami ancora amore, a song he composed with a view to giving hope, particularly to young people, at the height of the global financial crisis. So what, I ask myself, has got into him? The Palermo traffic seems to be part of the answer.

Speaking at the Engineering Faculty of Palermo University last week, Roberto Vecchioni expressed his exasperation with Sicily, even going so far as to call it a "shit island". Coming in from the airport, he said, he had seen 400 out of 200 [yes, you read that right] motorcyclists riding without the obligatory helmets and there were three lines of traffic in the middle of every road, making it impossible to get through. This, he continued, shows that Sicilians have not yet understood how to live side by side. He believes that the island is ruining its own culture and cannot keep citing the fact that it has wonderful beaches as an excuse for everything. In short, Sicily is letting itself down.

As you may imagine, this caused strong reactions both inside and outside the conference hall, which many people left early. However, support for Mr Vecchioni's views has come from an unlikely source, namely Leoluca Orlando, Mayor of Palermo, who said that Roberto Vecchioni had proved himself to be a friend of Sicily in the past.  He also said that Sicily deserves much more than it has today and that Sicilians must choose the right path for the future.

Here is Roberto Vecchioni in more mellow mood:

Roberto Vecchioni - Chiamami ancora amore

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


It is safe to say that, following Sunday's edition of the popular talk show Che tempo che fa, Adele is Italy's Christmas sweetheart.

Introducing her second song, genial host Fabio Fazio said he had not felt so emotional about a singer since having Luciano Pavarotti on the show, a remark which provoked twitter comments ranging from "He's right" to the Italian equivalent of "What a dick", with the majority in the former camp.

Already enamoured of the singer's voice, Italy fell in love all over again with her looks, her personality and, above all, her laugh.  Her anecdote about her grandmother stealing the Queen's loo paper at Adele's MBE ceremony brought the house down and when this clip, in which she said "Italia" instead of "Italy", was shown, Fabio was near to tears of joy. I swear I could hear all of Italy cheering! Italy being Italy, the topic of eating had to be mentioned and when Adele said she liked good food Fabio assured her she had come to the right place.

Comic and actress Luciana Littizzetto had the unenviable task of following Adele and her jokes about the shape of Fabio's backside were a bit of a bummer. Never mind, Luciana - I'm sure we'll be laughing again with you next week.

You can see the whole programme here.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Friday, December 04, 2015


Etna is tonight still at it and the current eruption has now been officially declared  the most energetic of the last 20 years by Italy's National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology. 

This morning Fontanarossa [Catania] airport closed for an hour because the runway was covered in ash and closed again this evening. It will remain closed until at least 6 am tomorrow, when a crisis meeting on the situation will be held. Today some flights due to land at Catania were diverted to Comiso and Palermo. 

It is reported that this morning the column of magma, ash and gas erupting from the central crater at one point reached a height of seven kilometres. The small towns around Etna are also said to be covered in ash.

Now Catania waits - pazienza.

Etna in quieter times

Thursday, December 03, 2015


And for once, it wasn't me! No, it was Lady Etna literally letting off steam last night, in one of the most spectacular eruptions of the past 20 years.  One "fountain of lava" from the Voragine or Central crater reached a height of over one kilometre.  Residents of Catania, Messina and even Calabria woke up to find cars, balconies and other surfaces covered in ash and Reggio Calabria airport was closed for several hours.

This comes courtesy of Corriere della Sera's Catania edition:


Long ago, I used to make the great Madhur Jaffrey's "A Kind of Shepherd's Pie" from her 1994 Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook - Food for Family and Friends. However, due to the difficulty of obtaining minced lamb here and despite having tried the recipe a couple of times with minced beef, in the end I stopped making it. 

But in colder weather comfort food calls so a few weeks ago I decided to revive the recipe using the ingredients I can easily get here, so it's become a bit British, a bit Sicilian and a bit Indian.  I've kept Madhur's idea of a grilled aubergine base and I think this makes it quite Sicilian too. You can use frozen grilled aubergines, reconstituted as directed on the pack, or just slice an aubergine lengthwise and cook the slices on a tray lined with baking parchment in the oven for 10 minutes. The latter is a tip I picked up from Antonella Clerici and I find that the cooked slices freeze well. The other Sicilian touches are the use of sweet Sicilian carrots, green [French] beans and passata. The Indian part is, of course, the use of spices, though there's another nod to Sicily with the use of cinnamon.

Here's the recipe:

Brit-Sicilian-Indian Shepherd's Pie

1 aubergine, sliced and cooked as above [or use frozen grilled aubergine slices]
100 gr green beans, cooked in boiling water until tender, then drained and cut into small pieces
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
300 gr mushrooms, sliced
1 white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
500 gr mixed minced meat [a mixture of beef and pork if you are in Italy but you can use all beef or lamb]
2 goodly-sized knobs ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 kg potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
c. 125 gr butter, softened plus a little extra
200 gr passata, made up to 300 gr with water
4 tablesp olive oil
1 tablesp flour
Handful fresh sage leaves, chopped

Arrange the aubergine slices in a large, fairly deep Pyrex or ceramic roasting dish.
Cook the onion and garlic in the oil until softened, then add the carrot slices and soften these too. Add the meat and cook, stirring, until browned.
Add the beans, mushrooms, half the ginger, a little cinnamon and most of the chopped sage and stir for a couple of minutes.
Add the passata mixture and flour, season and stir well.
Turn the heat down and let the mixture simmer for 20 mins.
Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling water till soft but not disintegrating.
Mix the butter with the rest of the sage leaves, a little more cinnamon and the rest of the ginger. Use this to mash the potatoes.
Now pour the mixture in the pan on top of the aubergines and spoon the mash over. Smooth the top with a palette knife. Add a few small knobs of butter and a final sprinkling of cinnamon.
Cook in the oven at 180° C for 15 mins.
Garnish with some whole sage leaves if you wish.

Buon appetito.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Let's listen to a beautiful song from Tiziano Ferro, who appears tonight and tomorrow in Acireale:

Tiziano Ferro - Il regalo più grande


Lucky lady and queen of pop Madonna received a distinctive, seasonal gift following her three tour appearances in Turin last weekend, namely a Sicilian panettone specially made and personalised for her by young pastry chef Mario Fiasconaro. 

Traditionally made Fiasconaro panettoni contain only the finest Sicilian ingredients, such as citrus honey, Avola almonds and Bronte pistacchi and Madonna's cake was "carved" to reveal a sugar sculpture of the singer on stage during her tour.

Madonna's personal chef Travis Dorsey visited the festival Una Mole di Panettoni, also in Turinto receive the gift on his employer's behalf and is said to have been very impressed, particularly by the beautiful aroma of the cake.  He promised to take it to Madonna's hotel suite so that she could enjoy some "sweet" post-performance time.

Let's hope the lady's health and beauty régime allows her to partake of this Sicilian delight!

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Plaque on Salvatore Quasimodo's birthplace in Modica

A little piece of Sicily is to go on sale next week in the form of the Nobel Prize medal awarded to one of Modica's most famous sons, the poet Salvatore Quasimodo, in 1959.  This will be the first sale of a Nobel medal in Italy.

The lot, to be auctioned by Bolaffi of Turin, consists of the medal, the diploma, the original photos of the ceremony and a DVD of it [although the latter is available online anyway].  The starting price is €50,000 but it is estimated that the collection will sell for €100,000 - €150,000.

Bolaffi have decided to set aside €20,000 of their commission to create a scholarship which will enable a student from the Istituto A.M. Jaci, the Messina high school which Quasimodo attended, to study in Milan, the city where the poet lived from 1934 and in which he is buried.

It remains to be seen whether a Sicilian cultural association or other entity will bid for the lot but the Bolaffi decision does mean that Sicily will derive some benefit from the sale. Who knows where the lucky student's Milan experience will lead him or her and what ideas he or she might bring back to Sicily?


There are, in my opinion, two ways of seeting yourself up for the day: one is a full British breakfast [without egg, for me] and the other is a freshly squeezed Sicilian orange juice.  On the right you see the first of the season:

As I've mentioned before, no self-respecting Sicilian barman will squeeze a non-Sicilian, out-of-season orange and, even though the orange season started a month ago, our local bar did not deem the fruit good enough for juice until this week. And long may things continue thus!

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Number three in the Italian charts is this song of loss from Marco Mengoni:

Marco Mengoni - Ti ho voluto bene veramente

Friday, November 20, 2015


So after visiting the UK for the first time in eight years, what changes did I note? I tend to notice weird, often insignificant things, so here are my weird observations, in no particular order:

  • Handbags are still on the small side.
  • Eateries are noisier than Italian ones but at least they are free of the ubiquitous televisions you find in the latter.
  • Why did I get a separate "glass of ice" every time I asked for ice in my mineral water?
  • There is a craze for sweet potato chips.
  • Halloween has become a more pleasant festival than I remembered.
  • When did people start saying "See you later" to mean "soon/sometime/never"?
  • I was interested to see what kind of shops have survived the recession and was surprised to find several novelty shops in the centre of Cardiff still there.
  • I was negatively flabbergasted at the cost of public transport and positively so at its efficiency [after 10 years in Modica].
  • I was relieved that most people I talked to were more sympathetic to refugees than when I left and than the media would lead one to believe now. I was also relieved that most people I met did not think the UK will leave the EU.

Et plus ça ne change pas.....

As a post scriptum on my trip home, here is a note to Comiso Airport, a clean and efficient facility that we are justly proud of in these parts:  I know Sicilians don't like to be comfortable, but the rest of the world does, so please can we have some seating outside the airport? Weary travellers waiting to be picked up after you close need somewhere to sit!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Just in case you were wondering, Bertie-Pierrine was very well looked after while I was away. She was full of wags to have me back, though, and I was so relieved to see her! She also thoroughly approves of my new, British duvet cover - Italian single beds are slightly smaller than British ones so the covers don't always fit my faithful old duvet.  Somehow I don't think this cover is going to last long!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


However much we love our new country, sooner or later most expats feel like this:

But that wasn't the only reason I took a quick trip back to the UK a couple of weeks ago, as you will see.

Firstly, it was an opportunity to spend some time with my new-found sister and meet the rest of my birth family and their friends.

"We're having a little party for you tomorrow", announced my sister Jill upon my arrival. I was astonished and delighted to find that she had invited what seemed like the whole of Norwich and I must say, she was rather Italian about food, as it kept coming!  Don't you just love brother-in-law's specially made shirt?  

The "sisters" poster was made from a photo taken when Jill and her husband were here in Sicily last year and yes, there were fireworks too!

As I said, the delicious food just kept on coming.....

I very much enjoyed walking around Norwich with my sister and it made me feel closer to my birth mother to walk through the market there, as I had learnt it was something she often did.

Then there was a visit to the Norfolk Broads:

Here I am the next day, hair done and ready to go and meet my blogging friend Ellee Seymour for the first time!  We were off to London for a very special occasion indeed and Oxford Street looked beautiful from the bus:

The occasion was the Charles Aznavour concert at the Royal Albert Hall and all I can say is that both Monsieur Aznavour and the venue were merveilleux.  And thank you, Ellee, for the dedicated copy of your very interesting book, The Shop Girls. I loved it!

Wednesday morning and I was off again, to WALES at last!  I'd had the hiraeth for a long time, you see and I also needed to reconnect with the mum and dad who had brought me up.  Of course, I cried as the coach came into dear old Cardiff but was "the 'Diff" going to be ready for my Catania hat?

It turned out that it was and one of the first things I did was to have a walk in the park in the rain. I met up with lots of friends, gazed open-mouthed at the sheer number of new shops in my hometown and spent several hours just trying to orientate myself! I was very relieved to find that the universal greeting there is still, "Hiya, love".  

Later I visited the Senedd or Welsh Government building - it hadn't been built when I was last in Cardiff - and was impressed, especially when I was told that it is probably the first Assembly in the world to have achieved gender equality in its membership.

These lovely gentlemen deserve a BIG photo all of their own for they are none other than the members of the fabulous Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir and they kindly allowed me to attend their rehearsal. There's nothing like the sound of a Welsh male voice choir and a more rousing version of the Welsh national anthem I have never heard in my life!

There was another concert, this time at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and performed by the students of the Brass and Percussion Ensembles. I'm sure some of these young people are going to be stars.
I had to have a "full Welsh" breakfast before leaving and the dear friend I stayed with lovingly prepared this excellent Jamaican Pepperpot Stew.  Then it was time to go and, as I passed the entrance to the Castle grounds at twilight, I couldn't help shedding some tears for the little dog I walked there so long ago.  "Ta'ra, love", I said to the 'Diff.  "I'll try and come back soon!"

Not that Cardiff is full of "tumble- down old shack streets" and not that my friends there are "corny country cousins" but this is for my hometown and for them:

Saturday, November 14, 2015


During a quick trip home to the UK last week, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir rehearsal. Oh, how I've missed sounds like this!

Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir - Bread of Heaven

Earlier, on November 3rd, I achieved my ambition of seeing the great Charles Aznavour live in concert. This little man embodies the spirit of France, of which we are all thinking tonight:

Charles Aznavour, Royal Albert Hall 2015 - Les Deux Guitares

Friday, November 13, 2015


My post was going to be quite different but then the shocking news from that lovely city that we all associate with freedom came in. I can only say that, like millions all around the world, my heart is in Paris tonight.

 Henry Mancini - The Last Time I Saw Paris


Two developments this week would seem to indicate that the wider world is at last beginnng to recognise the humanitarian work that Italy has been doing for so long with regard to migration:

On Monday we learnt that IFRC [International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies] is to award its biennial Henry Davison prize to the Sicilian Red Cross for its humanitarian work on behalf of refugees. This award is given to individuals or societies who have significantly improved the lives of vulnerable people.

The President of the Sicilian Red Cross, Rosario Valastro, will receive the award in Geneva on 6th December.  Mr Valastro has written to all Sicilian Red Cross volunteers to thank them and has said, 

"I only want to think of everything that you have seen with your own eyes, the real-life stories that you have heard, the hands of men, women and children that you have touched: men, women and children, not numbers, nor just migrants, but people to help without asking questions."

Yesterday the UN announced the appointment of Italian Filippo Grandi, formerly of UNWRA, as the new High Commissioner for Refugees. This is being seen in Italy as a positive development and Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has said that it shows recognition of Italy’s efforts and commitment over the years on behalf of refugees. Outgoing High Commissioner Antonio Gutteres said,

“Filippo Grandi has huge experience in the field: his capacity and deep knowledge of forced migrations will be of great help for the agency and for its mandate to protect and assist millions of people.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Just back [details coming later in the week] and I find that Sicily can still surprise me, for I had never seen these on sale before:

Come to think of it, I had never seen them anywhere and I wasn't the only one, as even elderly Sicilians were asking the greengrocer what they were. Sorbe is the answer and I gather they are related to rowans and are the fruit of this tree. They seem to be a largely forgotten fruit and these come from the Etna area.  The greengrocer said they can be eaten when they turn brown and I can tell you that they have a pleasant, peary taste.

Più si vive, più s'impara - you live and learn.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


At the end of the week when the water was switched back on in the Trevi Fountain, to the applause of tourists, what other song could I play?  The official reopening is on November 3rd.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


In the past week I have seen much coverage of interrupted Eurotunnel services as desperate people who only want a decent life again surge towards the trains, coverage of politicians threatening to close borders and many reports of Sunday's European Leaders' Summit on the Western Balkans Refugee Route. The press release for the latter is here and it does not make very jolly reading. The states represented, we learn, will "refrain from taking unilateral decisions whose effects are inevitably borne by others", a reference, presumably, to the practice of closing your border and bussing those refugees who had previously got through along to someone else's.  The only solution, we are told, is to "stop the flow" but, apart from sharing information more efficiently, we are not told how the EU proposes to do this.There is no mention of saving human life in the whole release.

Well, Italy [not represented at this summit] does not have the luxury of being able to close its Mediterranean entry points and, although the world has forgotten the Libya-Italy route, thousands of people continue to use it and tragic results continue to ensue: on 19th October Italian naval personnel found seven women and one man dead on an overcrowded migrant dinghy off Libya. The causes of death are thought to have been asphyxia and exhaustion. The other 113 passengers were saved by the naval ship  The previous weekend 1,300 people were saved by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard in the Mediterranean.

As I've mentioned before, Italy has a good record in bringing people traffickers to justice but receives little international credit for it, although politicians from other countries huff and puff about stopping this despicable trade. Surely it would make sense for these leaders to cooperate more closely with the front-line nation which is already expert in this area?

According to figures released by the Italian Red Cross today, 130,000 migrants have been helped by their staff and volunteers in Italian ports since January.  The Port of Augusta has seen the most arrivals and Sicily, with a total of 85,000 arrivals, is the Italian region which has been the most active in providing a response to the situation [in terms of reception and help].

Fears are now being expressed that migrants will begin using the Albania - Italy route if more European states close their borders. This is not a new route but it has largely fallen into disuse. When will the world understand that people fleeing for their lives will do so in any way they can or - as we have so often seen while "caring" countries stand by - die in the attempt?

The autumn tides of 2015 are expected to bring with them many more refugees, as people rush to try to reach Europe before atrocious weather sets in.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


Here's an oldie which is enjoying 21st century success because of a new film of the same name [released in Italy this week]. I must say Luciana Littizzetto does some excellent crying in this trailer!

Alessandro Amoroso - Io che amo solo te [trailer]


Chocolate to taste and buy at Bonajuto, Modica
Congratulations to my adopted city and its chocolate, which, it has been announced, has outsold chocolate from its two other great Italian homes - Perugia and Turin - at Expo 2015 [closing at the end of this month].

At the Cocoa and Chocolate Cluster, the 22 exhibitors from Modica sold chocolate products worth €217,546,  amounting to 46% of chocolate sales there.  Chocolate from Perugia accounted for 29.10% of sales and chocolate from Turin 24.64%. 
Chocolate being made by the traditional method at Bonajuto, Modica

Mayor of Modica Ignazio Abbate said that these figures prove that the human and financial resources the city has put into Expo were a good investment for both its image and its most famous product. The city's own chocolate festival, ChocoModica 2015 [5th - 8th December 2015] will, he said, benefit from the success of Modican chocolate at Expo.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Friday, October 16, 2015


Real, but not what they seem:

They are, as regular readers will know, frutti di Martorana.  They are made from pasta reale [almond paste]  Legend has it that the first ever batch of Martorana fruit was made on the orders of the mother superior of the Martorana Convent in Palermo. She had wanted to impress her bishop during his visit so the nuns obediently prepared the “fruit” and hung it from the cloister trees; so “real” did it look that the bishop declared that a miracle had happened, as all the fruits had appeared in the same season!  

On 2nd November, I Morti [the Day of the Dead] children receive Martorana fruit as presents from deceased relatives who still wish to watch over them. Some think that this tradition is morbid but it seems to help children to accept the transitory nature of this life.

Sadly, the Martorana Convent has long gone but the Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio, of which it was a part, still stands and is often called the Martorana. It is part of this.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


The other day I was with a student when I happened to look up and saw not one, but six worried faces peering in at my window.  Both student and I hurried outside to see what was the matter, by whIch time at least four other people had joined the impromptu party. 

But what was happening on the steps behind them? To my astonishment, I could see a tall, perplexed-looking gentleman in shorts who was obviously, given his blond hair and pallor - which admittedly might have turned an even “whiter shade of pale” after he had  been propelled up the steps by another posse of six – not Sicilian.  The posse stopped when they saw me and  gave the poor gentleman a little push towards me. 

“He’s English and he’s lost”, they explained to me in Italian.  I asked my compatriot how I could help him and he explained that he had just been standing in the street trying to get his bearings when the group of eager-to-help Sicilians had come up to him and gestured to him to follow them. He was then swept along amid much enthusiastic noise.  He said all he really wanted was a map and I conveyed this information to the “helpers.”  That did it!

“A map?” “Yes, a map!” chorused the ever-growing crowd.  Well, reader, why on earth would you want a map when there were all these locals ready to direct you [though not, of course, to anywhere you actually wanted to go]? 

“Yes”, I confirmed. “He wants to go sightseeing and he needs a map.”

There followed an extremely loud and excited confabulation about where our Anglo-Saxon wanderer should get his map and suggestions included the idea that he should go to Modica Alta [high above most of the tourist sights and difficult to navigate if you don’t know it, facts which, in the opinion of Modicans, make it much more interesting] because “my wife’s third cousin runs a newsagent’s there”. 

While all this was going on I, being a spoilsport, gave the stranger directions to Modica Old Town and also to the nearest bar, where I knew they had maps.  I must say he looked very relieved. No doubt I will meet him again one day, still dazed and hopelessly lost in Modica.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Number 3 in the Italian singles charts and must say, love the outfit too!

Laura Pausini - Lato destro del cuore

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


View My Stats