Saturday, February 28, 2015


Tomorrow is St David's Day and I am posting my Dad's favourite Welsh song.  This year, as I listen to it, I am also, of course, thinking of my little Simi. This does not detract at all from my love for Bertie-Pierrine and I know I am very lucky to be spending St David's Day with her. 


Bryn Terfel - Ar Hyd y Nos

Friday, February 27, 2015


Sunday is St David's Day and we're ready early at London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale:

Thanks to Delizie d'Autore for the spectacular dragon cake. I made the Welshcakes and, as usual, their aroma this morning was, for me, the scent of home.

Late addition

Got my daffy!


In Italy, and in Sicily in particular, food is taken very seriously, as we saw in the "stock cube in the caponata" affair.  It is not, however, taken so seriously that we cannot laugh about it and today I was looking at the facebook page on which people continue to voice their horror at the idea of putting a stock cube in this classic Sicilian dish, ironically post photos of dishes they've made "without a cube" or just joke about it. I particularly like the photo of cannoli "without a cube" and the one in which a woman making cassata siciliana says she will put a stock cube wherever the f*** she likes.  Then there is the je suis caponata image and you do wonder how poor old caponata feels about being catapulted into the headlines just when it least expected it. You wonder, too, whether it is appropriate to adapt a hashtag that had its origin in such tragic circumstances, but I'm sure the Charlie Hebdo catoonists would be among the first to say that it is. As dado also means "dice", I take my hat off to the person who posted a photo of caponata with a dice in it! If you'd like a look, the page is here.

Italians share with the British an ability to laugh at themselves and this was evident earlier this week on twitter, when a certain extremist group or their sympathisers threatened to invade Rome. Italians reacted with "travel tips", among which I liked, "Don't come today - there's another transport strike" and "Don't use the ringroad - there are traffic jams".  "Is it to update your wardrobe?" was a bit cattier but my favourite was, "Is it because you've run out of Nutella?"

The British might have promised to "fight them on the beaches" but Italians responded with humour, which may turn out to be an effective weapon.

"Gli avari e coloro che non hanno niente da offrire, infatti, non ridono. - The miserly and those who have nothing to offer do not laugh."
- Roberto Benigni 

Monday, February 23, 2015


I thought you'd all like to know how little Bertie-Pierrine is doing so here she is:

She is a joy and here's a song for her:

Elvis Presley - The Wonder of You

Saturday, February 21, 2015


No surprises this week! Here are Il Volo with their worthy Sanremo winning song, Grande Amore:

Il Volo - Grande Amore

We're all especially proud down here because Piero Barone is from Agrigento!

Friday, February 20, 2015


La mia LondraLa mia Londra by Simonetta Agnello Hornby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Simonetta Agnello Hornby's work since The Almond Picker brought her international fame but "La Mia Londra" is the first of her non-fiction works that I have read.

Simonetta Agnello Hornby is Sicilian by birth but is now a naturalised British citizen and she has lived, with her family, in London since 1970. There she practises as a lawyer too and hers was the first legal firm in England to set up a department dealing exclusively with domestic violence. She also works with the Muslim community and for underprivileged children.

An early career influence on Simonetta Agnello Hornby was Lord Denning, at that time Master of the Rolls. She never met him but heard him speak at the Law Society, where he said that a good solicitor must observe people and read, especially novels. She writes that if she became a good lawyer she owes it to the lawyer William Middleton and to Lord Denning but that it is to Lord Denning that she owes her success as a novelist.

"La mia Londra" is the story of how Simonetta Agnello Hornby came to love her adopted city. Her guide, and ours, for much of the book is Dr Johnson, whom she admires. We accompany her on her walks through all parts of the city, and she takes us to several small museums that I, for one, never knew of.

Unlike many Sicilians, Simonetta Agnello Hornby is adventurous with food and actually likes British cuisine. I was fascinated by her theory about our use of table mats rather than tablecloths, a habit she puts down to the Protestant religion and a need to demarcate one's space.

In 2000 Simonetta Agnello Hornby found herself living in a very smart area of London indeed and there she was forbidden to hang out her washing. The strategies she used to get around this prohibition are hilarious and from now on I will always visualise her clandestinely putting her washing out in the middle of the night and draping her underwear over the plant pots.

Simonetta Agnello Hornby sees the spirituality of Londoners in the city's parks, thinks of the Thames as a river that, like the English, "seems calm but is not" and is always impressed by the openness of the British towards foreigners; it was partly this, she tells us, which influenced her decision to take British citizenship. Britain, I must say, should be proud to have her.

From this book I learnt a lot about London, Dr Johnson and about one of my favorite Sicilian authors. It is not often that I can say that a book has "charmed" me but this one has. I do not think there is an English edition yet but I am sure one will come. Meanwhile, if you read Italian and love London, do read this book.

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This review has also been published on Goodreads.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Believe it or not, there are times, in Sicily, when you wonder if it will ever stop raining and thus it has been for the past three days. Bad drainage in the streets, the cold of houses built for summer and drivers who soak pedestrians from head to toe add to the misery. In these circumstances, a reminder of summer is welcome so I was pleased to receive these pretty ice cream cups as a "gift" with my Bottega Verde points; doubly pleased, in fact, as the mean old Conad supermarket chain has forsaken "gifts" for discount vouchers which are such a fuss and bother to apply for that I have given up. [Yes, I am aware that I am not really being "given" anything but it is nice sometimes to receive a loyalty award that you would not buy.]

Roll on, the ice cream season, so that I can use these!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Italian naval, Coast Guard, Guardia di Finanza and merchant vessels succeeded in rescuing over 2,100 migrants in the Mediterranean on Sunday night and in the early hours of Monday. The migrants were rescued from 13 dinghies that had sailed from Libya and the news that Italian coast guards were threatened by gunmen during the operation has made world headlines:  it seems that four armed men on a speedboat threatened the coast guards, who go out to rescue operations unarmed, and ordered them to leave the migrant boat they were dealing with alone once it had been emptied of its human cargo. In the interest of saving human life, the coast guards did so.

The rescued migrants have been taken to safety on Lampedusa and in Pozzallo, where one of them, a young man with gunshot wounds, said that people traffickers had caused his injuries whilst forcing him onto a departing boat.  

There have been many calls since Monday for migrant departures from Libya to be stopped but no one knows how this could be done. One suggestion is that blocking the departures would be a by-product of any Italian military action in Libya but Prime Minister Renzi has firmly said that such an intervention would be a matter for the UN.  I must say that I perceive a lack of logic in the West's attitude to the crisis: if we are all agreed upon the horror and barbarity of certain régimes and organisations, then how can we blame people for trying to escape them?

Fear is also raising its head here as rumours of  missiles in Libya being pointed at Sicily spread and I was glad to read some sense in an interview in today's Giornale di Sicilia with Andrea Margelletti, president of the Centro Studi Internazionali-Ce.S.I. and a former adviser at the Ministry of Defence, who says that these missiles do not exist. I would add that everyone seems to have forgotten that Sicily has Sigonella!

Another worry that is receiving a lot of press coverage is that there might be extremists among the migrants attempting the dangerous crossing. It would be naive to think that this is impossible but the British experience shows that extremism is more likely to flourish amongst those who find no hope in the West, whether they were born here or have immigrated. The table in this article would appear to show that Italy has a good record in looking after migrant arrivals, but the figures are misleading and probably reflect the fact that few migrants wish to stay in Southern Europe. I will end by quoting Andrea Margelletti again:

"They [the migrants] come ashore in their underwear. What harm can they do?"

Saturday, February 14, 2015


I think the whole of Modica must have erupted in cheers last night as our very own Giovanni Caccamo won, not only the Sanremo Newcomers' Section, but the Mia Martini Critics' Prize and the Festival's TV and Press Room Prize as well.  This was the lovely song, written by Giovanni himself, that did it:

Giovanni Caccamo - Ritornerò da te

Friday, February 13, 2015


A happy photo to end the week:

Bertie-Pierrine and I are enjoying life together and right now we are cuddled up on the settee watching Sanremo 2015. I'll be voting for the songs she prefers!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


It is with great sorrow that I write today of further losses in the Mediterranean, making Monday's migration tragedy one of the worst the Sicilian Channel has ever seen.  The story is being reported around the world now, but some reports are giving the impression - unsurprisingly, as the information is being constantly updated - that this is a new tragedy. I am not a journalist but I'll try to clarify and give you more details from Italy:

According to statements given by nine survivors who have been brought to Lampedusa, on Saturday not three, but four dinghies set sail for Europe from Libya.  The survivors are giving the number of those who embarked as about 420.  On one dinghy there were the 29 poor souls who died of hypothermia after being rescued on Monday and 76 survivors. On two other dinghies, which were found empty, there were 210 people and the fourth, which has not yet been found, was carrying over 100 migrants.  The survivors say that there were several children in the boats but as far as we know at the time of writing, only three have been saved. All the boats were overcome by the elements on Monday afternoon and the nine survivors managed to cling to wreckage until help arrived. They apparently saw one dinghy sink and say that all aboard were lost, including three children.

A worrying detail is that two survivors have said that traffickers had told them that the sea conditions were good on Saturday.  Although the migrants knew that this was not true, they were not able to refuse to board as they were threatened with guns. 

Corriere della Sera is reporting that the death toll could reach 330.  There has been much criticism of the Triton operation, drawing  unfavourable comparisons with Mare Nostrum* and Matthew Price of the BBC has a fair analysis here. [You will need to scroll down for it.]

The Pope has called for more solidarity with migrants so that none of them will lack the help that they need and UNHCR regional director Vincent Cocherel has called this "a tragedy on an enormous scale."  Nils Muiznieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has said that Europe needs an efficient search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, Italian Premier Renzi has said he will be asking for European action on the matter and former Premier Enrico Letta has called, in strong terms, for Mare Nostrum to be reinstated.

Let us spare a moment, on this tragic day, to think of all those who risk their lives to help migrants, of those who must impartially take statements and hear stories of unimaginable hardship and of the people of Lampedusa who do all they can for the living and the dead who are being brought to their port.

*Mare Nostrum was a rescue mission coordinated by the Italian Navy. It was wound up last October and replaced by Triton, a rescue misssion coordinated by Frontex, the European External Borders Agency.

Monday, February 09, 2015


It has been cold in Sicily today. Very cold. This morning it even snowed for a few minutes and tonight, although I have the heating on, I am finding it difficult to keep warm in a dwelling with tiled floors and single glazing.

Therefore I cannot imagine what it must be like trying to keep warm in atrocious conditions at sea in a flimsy, inadequate dinghy. Three such vessels had set out from Libya on Sunday, heading in a force 7 sea for the shores of Europe with their cargoes of desperate migrants. The dinghies soon ran into trouble and, once they were spotted, Italian Coast Guard vessels set out to rescue them.

And there, on board the small Italian boats heading for Lampedusa, at least 29 of the migrants died of hypothermia, it is reported tonight. Lampedusa officials say that there are many young people among the dead and it is feared that the death toll will rise, possibly to 200 according to La Stampa.

The Mayor of Lampedusa, Giusy Nicolini, has no doubt where the blame lies and has said,

"The 366 Lampedusa dead lost their lives for nothing;  the Pope's words were for nothing;  we're back where we were before Mare Nostrum*."

She believes that, had Mare Nostrum still been in operation, the migrants would have been transferred to large, naval ships within an hour and these ships would have been better able to protect them from the elements during the journey to Lampedusa.

Tonight we can only hope that the death toll is not higher.

*Mare Nostrum was a rescue mission coordinated by the Italian Navy. It was wound up last October and replaced by Triton, a rescue misssion coordinated by Frontex, the European External Borders Agency.

Sunday, February 08, 2015


Rather a big "Oops" as Bertie-Pierre is a girl! I didn't look too closely - well, down there - when she came but I did start thinking, "Just a minute...." after a little while! Must get my cataracts seen to! Anyway, she is still gorgeous and is now BERTIE-PIERRINE. We are completely besotted with each other.

My friend from the kennel sent me this photo of her in the car, on the way down from Bagheria [Palermo Province]. I'm sure she was wondering where on earth she was going:

And here we are at our first meeting, in a Modica car park. It was love at first sight - il colpo di fulmine!

Now here she is with her new toys:

She's a very cultured dog and this morning she had something to tell me:

That's a lot of love and it is totally reciprocated!

Saturday, February 07, 2015


This song from Tiziano Ferro is number 20 in the Italian charts and I like it:

Tiziano Ferro - Incanto

Friday, February 06, 2015


It is no secret that the last four weeks have been among the worst in my life but yesterday evening along came a rescue dog called Bertie-Pierre and it is no exaggeration to say that he is rescuing me. Here he is!

It didn't take him long to discover the joys of the sofa

and now he has his first toy:

This morning we made a start on his wardrobe:

I have named him Bertie-Pierre after Bertie in the Alexander McCall Smith 44 Scotland Street novels. It is the name Bertie's French friends give him when he runs away to France.

My little Simi will always be in my heart and I am sure it is with her blessing that Bertie-Pierre has come to me.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015


The undoubted star of this morning's ceremonial proceedings for the new President was Briciola the dog, the mascot of the mounted Carabinieri.  Any president who smiles at a dog on the day of his swearing-in has won me over!

Thank you, Corriere della Sera:

You can see more pictures of Briciola here.

Monday, February 02, 2015


Standard of the President of Italy

If you were watching the same UK news channels as I did over the weekend, you could be forgiven for believing that nothing newsworthy had happened in Italy. In case you missed it, then, I bring you the news that the country's Parliament did, in fact, elect a new President on Saturday. It has been hard to find any coverage of the event in online editions of the UK press, too, and I am wondering if this is a reflection on how the world now regards Italy - I hope not - bafflement with its political system or whether other news was simply deemed more important.

The new President, Sergio Mattarella, is a 73-year-old widower and it is thought that his daughter Laura will carry out the duties of "First Lady".  Born in Palermo, Sergio Mattarella is the first Sicilian to hold the office. As you may imagine, there has been much discussion about him here and most people I have spoken to believe him to be a decent and honourable man. His brother Piersanti Mattarella was killed by the Mafia in 1980 whilst serving as President of Sicily. Therefore people here think he is likely to understand some of the problems they face.

President Mattarella is a Constitutional Court judge who has also served as Minister of Education and Minister of Defence. In the latter role, he was instrumental in ending conscription in Italy. In 1990 he resigned his position over the liberalisation of the media in Italy, a relaxation of the rules which led to the rise of the Berlusconi television empire.

Later Sergio Mattarella became one of the founders of the current Democratic Party [PD] in Italy.

Upon his election on Saturday President Mattarella said,

"Il mio pensiero va soprattutto e anzitutto alle difficoltà e alle speranze dei nostri concittadini - My thoughts are first and foremost with the difficulties and hopes of our citizens."

He will be sworn in as President tomorrow. The Italian President has largely ceremonial duties but is regarded as a guarantee of the democratic process in the country.  His role can be crucial at times of political stalemate or instability [as President Napolitano's was].

It seems to me that few people, in any country, go into politics for purely altruistic reasons, but it has to be said that those in democracies other than Italy make a better pretence at doing so. My hope for President Mattarella is that he will encounter more honourable politicians than perhaps he expects to during his term or terms of office. 

Incidentally, I was immensely cheered up to read on twitter that, on the day of President Mattarella's election, arancini were being served in the canteen of the US Congess - whether by accident or design I know not!


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