Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I've often said that gel al limone must be among the most refreshing desserts in the world and this is one of the most elegant presentations I've seen of this dish:

Monday, June 29, 2015


It's always nice to be appreciated so I was really touched to receive these lovely gifts from students last week:

And look what my ten-year-olds can manage in English, all by themselves!

Grazie, carissimi studenti.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Here's a pretty song which was a hit for Ron in 1992. I didn't know it but liked it when I heard it on the radio this week.

Ron - Non abbiam bisogno di parole

Friday, June 26, 2015

SUMMER TIDES, 2015 - 2

First France closed its border with Italy at Ventimiglia, an act which led to migrants protesting - and living - on the rocks there and to Italian police forcibly removing some of them.  Then Hungary closed its border with Serbia and announced its intention to suspend the so-called "Dublin rules", under which migrants arriving in the EU have to be processed and apply for asylum in their first country of arrival. Meanwhile you will all have seen the shocking pictures from Calais of hundreds of migrants trying to board UK-bound lorries in any way they can. Not a good week in which to be a migrant, then - or a lorry driver. Whilst I accept that it must be very frightening indeed to be driving towards the Port of Calais in any kind of vehicle at the moment, it remains true that desperate people will resort to desperate measures and people who have been treated brutally will themselves become brutal.

The world's media focus may have temporarily shifted from the sea to the land drama but migrants continue to die in the Mediterranean: On Thursday the Port of Pozzallo again saw the sad sight of a body being carried ashore, this time from a Panamanian ship which had rescued 292 migrants. The dead man is reported to have been from Gambia and it has now been confirmed that he died from gunshot wounds.  A man who had travelled with him and who was injured told Italian police that the shots had been fired by Libyan militia who had boarded the migrant boat. This has not yet been confirmed.

Yesterday morning a Swedish patrol boat brought 497 migrants who had been rescued in three operations to the Port of Catania. The patrol boat was also carrying the body of a woman and one of her fellow-passengers had been injured.

My own country, of which I am ashamed in this matter, has not only refused to take a migrant quota but has made it known that HMS Enterprise, the replacement ship for HMS Bulwark in the Mediterranean, will concentrate on intercepting people traffickers rather than search and rescue missions. I do not mean to imply that it would not participate in rescue missions if necessary but surely saving lives should be the priority?  And does the Royal Navy really think it can do what the Italians, who have a good record in bringing people traffickers to justice, cannot? That is, at the very least, arrogant.

At Thursday night's Council of Europe dinner Premier Renzi has, rightly in my opinion, lambasted EU countries which have refused to take a migrant quota [a share of 40,000 migrants who have arrived in Greece and Italy] and has said,

"If you cannot reach agreement on 40,000 migrants you are not worthy of calling yourselves European. If this is your idea of Europe you can keep it.  Either show some solidarity or stop wasting our time."


Update: 26.6.15 at 13.23:
It seems that, after a long night, agreement has been reached on migrant quotas. Mr Renzi has called the agreement "modest" and the UK has, shamefully, opted out.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015


And now here is the real Renzo Arbore:

Renzo Arbore e l'Orchestra Italiana - Ma la notte no

Friday, June 19, 2015


Se sei a Modica e vuoi imparare l'inglese quest'estate, chiama London Town - Centro Linguistico Internazionale ora!

English speakers in Modica for the summer may be interested to know that London Town - Centro Linguistico Internazionale offers Italian courses too. Please call for details:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


On Sunday evening a friend invited me to enjoy the festa del Sacro Cuore - the parish festival organised by the little church on the corner, which I hold in great affection - from her nearby balcony and I was delighted to accept.

The festa consists of special prayers and religious services and then, in the evening, the statue of Christ is carried around the district to joyous music and with a crowd following it.  On the route, people put up charming little altars where the procession and passers-by can stop for a moment to pray or think. An hour or two later the statue is brought back to the church, to the accompaniment of even louder music but the celebrations are not finished yet!  Christ is taken for three speedy turns around the square before he can rest!  Then the fireworks begin and I must say, what Modica lacks in population it makes up for in producing noise on these occasions.  

Luna Rossa, a Renzo Arbore cover band, played in the church courtyard throughout the proceedings and were still going strong when I left, just before midnight.

My friend, her family and I also enjoyed these magnificent pizze, from left to right, a wild boar sausage and rocket one [which I hadn't tried before and which was delicious] a Margherita and a capricciosa:

A cynical stranger might say,

"Is that it? A few stalls, a band and a statue being carried around?"

This, however, would be to miss the point, which, apart from the religious aspects of the event, is to be together.

Luna Rossa, Renzo Arbore Cover Band - Luna Rossa

Saturday, June 13, 2015


This week I've been reading the autobiography of the soprano Katia Ricciarelli, so let us hear from this interesting lady in Sicily's favourite opera:

Katia Ricciarelli - Casta Diva [Norma di Vincenzo Bellini]

Friday, June 12, 2015


"Una busta, cinque euro; un assaggio, non si paga! - Five euros a bag and you don't have to pay for a taste!" calls the fruit seller from a lorry teeming with melons on a hot morning.

Then he carves off an enormous, juicy slice for me to try and even offers to carry a bag of six melons home for me if I buy them.  I was convinced at the first refreshing bite and, as he is carrying, I buy a bag of his potatoes as well.

I see that he is sold out by 10 am and the next day he is there again, with piles of large, shiny black cherries. ..... 

Thursday, June 11, 2015


When I was young and even more foolish than I am now, one of my Italian lecturers at university suggested that, as an occasional change from Dante and co., we read the weekly Topolino [Mickey Mouse] comics that are so popular in Italy. They were, and are, enormous fun and I've always thought one of the best parts is the retention of onomatopoeic words such as "bang, crash, thud, gulp" in English.  The comics are still selling like hot cakes here and long may they continue to do so.

Every now and then there is an edition based on a parody and this week sees the arrival of Topalbano, a parody, of course, of Andrea Camilleri's famous Sicilian detective, Inspector Montalbano, in a deluxe edition. [Topo = mouse.] Unlike most parodied characters, Salvo Montalbano is not drawn as Topolino, but has his own mouse likeness, because the editors wanted to keep the well-known identities of both characters in the two stories in the edition.

What does Andrea Camilleri think? He is delighted and said that seeing a preview of the comic in Catania was "better than getting the Nobel Prize" [for which he has been nominated].

Copies don't seem to have reached newsstands in Modica yet but you can see a picture here.

This is the cover of one of the first Topolino comics I read, dated 17th August 1969.  [Yes, I still have them all!]

Tuesday, June 09, 2015


On summer days when those of us lucky enough to have settled lives or the means to take a holiday in the sunshine are likely to head for a sea which we regard as friendly, thousands of people are heading for the Libyan coast for quite different reasons and will attempt to make an extremely dangerous journey across the same sea in the hope of reaching Europe.  In the nine years that I have been writing about migration in the Mediterranean, these attempts have always increased in summer, but this year there will be more than ever, as people who feel they have no choice flee not only poverty, hunger and hopelessness, but violence, abduction, persecution and war.

Between May 29th and June 2nd 5,000 such people were saved in the Mediterranean and sadly,  the Italian Coast Guard found 17 dead bodies on three separate migrant boats that weekend. There is as yet no information on how these migrants might have died. Another 5,851 people were saved last weekend, 2,000 of these in the Sicilian Channel on June 6th alone. Irish, Italian and German naval ships participated in the rescues, as did Mr and Mrs Christopher Catrambone, the American couple who are on a humanitarian mission in their own boat in the Mediterranean.

Another 15 ships, including the British naval vessel HMS Bulwark, rescued around 3,000 more people. The Bulwark at one point had the British Defence Minister Michael Fallon aboard and he was clearly shocked by what he saw.  Mr Fallon called upon the navies of more countries to join in the search and rescue missions and also said that the migration problem should be tackled "at its roots". He did not say what he perceived those "roots" to be or suggest how this could be done and I found this statement from a representative of the government of my own country, which has refused to take a migrant quota, quite staggering in its hypocrisy.

Today 1,400 of the migrants rescued at the weekend were brought to Sicily and UNHCR estimates that 46,000 have arrived in Italy in 2015. Therefore it is no surprise that Italians are unimpressed by the attitudes of Britain and of France and Germany, who are also objecting to migrant quotas. Meanwhile, in Northern Italy the Governors of Lombardy, Liguria and the Veneto are refusing to take more migrants - many are transferred to other regions after being processed in Sicily - and the Lega Nord is saying that it will have its representaives physically stop any buses bringing more migrants to the Emilia-Romagna if the government does not stop sending them. In view of the intransigence of some other European states with regard to migrant quotas, one can perhaps understand, though not condone, this stance.

Europe may be cooperating on search and rescue but it has a long way to go on helping the migrants once they are here. Such a perilous journey and what a cold welcome at the end of it!

Saturday, June 06, 2015


I enjoyed last week's live TV screening of the Al Bano and Romina Power reunion concert at the Arena di Verona, even if it was eccentric in parts. I particularly liked their gentle Italian version of Somethin' Stupid:

Al Bano e Romina Power - Qualche stupido [ti amo]

Thursday, June 04, 2015


The little Sacro Cuore Church and the whole community of Modica was very happy to welcome the relics of St Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes on Saturday:

Body of St Bernadette Soubirous, which lies in a crystal coffin. Her hands and face have a light wax covering.
Image:  Parrocchia Sacro Cuore Modica on facebook
St Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes

The relics in the Sacro Cuore Church
Image:  Parrocchia Sacro Cuore Modica on facebook

The Parish had produced an informative booklet about the life and visions of St Bernadette. The relics remained with us until Sunday evening, when they were taken on the next stage of their journey to visit other churches in the diocese.

Besides being the protectress of Lourdes, St Bernadette is a protectress of the sick, shepherds and shepherdesses, poor people and those who are ridiculed for their faith.

I have the following cards of Lourdes in my collection of old postcards and thought you would like to see them. Every time I come across the card showing the two ladies, I wonder who they were - mother and daughter, mistress and maid, friends?  If one or both of them were ill, I hope Bernadette helped them.

Birthplace of Bernadette Soubirous

Anne Murray - Song of Bernadette

Chanson de Bernadette - Canzone di Bernadette
[from TV mini-series Lourdes, dir. Lodovico Gasparini, 2000]

Tuesday, June 02, 2015


Today is the festa della Repubblica in Italy and the tenth anniversary of my arrival here to settle so I am re-posting the account of that day that I published on this blog in 2006. I have added some reflections at the end:

Friday, June 02, 2006


Diary extract from 3.6.05
Modica, Sicily, Italy - at last!

Events of Thursday, 2.6.05:
Couldn’t bring myself to have a last ( for some time) cooked breakfast as I was feeling all churned up. Stuck with the fruit and toast (outrageously priced, by the way).

Got the 10 am courtesy bus as planned, and Martha [my friend and neighbour, who had surprised me a few days before by announcing she was coming to Gatwick to see me off, making her own way there] was waiting for me just inside the terminal.

I had posted a few things – non-urgent documents plus the books and little things I’d bought in London – to myself c/o Linda, so I did manage to get most things in the case and therefore didn’t have to check in my in-flight bag. They marked the case “heavy” but I didn’t have to pay any excess as the flight was not full. I asked about Simi at check-in and they said I should enquire at the gate. I had phoned Airpets earlier and she had been sent to the airport and was OK according to them. [Incidentally I think it’s terrible that you can’t have your pet with you in-flight, even in the carrier ; I wouldn't mind paying for two seats! After all, no one puts babies in the cargo area! But vets would say that it is less stressful for the animal to be in that darkened section of the plane; just more stressful for the owner!]
Then Martha and I went off and had (very early!) gin and tonic and crisps in the pub there. It was so good of her to come. The flight was boarding at 12.35 so I went through at 12. Martha told me not to look back so I didn’t.

Got a bottle of water for Simi as I thought I mightn’t be able to leave the taxi driver to get one at Catania and, anyway, might have to go upstairs for it which would have taken ages.

The gate number came up a bit late and when I got there I immediately asked about Simi. The gate staff told me to sit near them and they would check. But I had to wait till all the other passengers had checked in at the gate! The gate staff can’t see that you are anxious about your pet! Eventually a ground crew man came along and I asked him if he could help me. He knew all about Simi and said he had just given her water. He took me to the window to see her crate being loaded. Oh, my darling! Such a little crate it looked from up there, carrying all that I hold dear in it! I nearly cried. Simi’s mummy was still not satisfied, however, so I sat back by the gate ladies and asked them to double-check that she had been loaded safely. Then the co-pilot came along and he said she was a bit nervous – my poor love! – but had water and would be fine. A kind Scottish woman was waiting to board and she said she empathised as she had once flown a Westie from Scotland to London; not so far, but she knew how I felt!

Once on the plane, I spoke to the captain, who was standing at the front talking to the co-pilot and another male crew member. They were very kind and said Simi would be just under where we were standing. I felt better, knowing exactly where she was. (If you are reading this and are not a “pet person” – or maybe you have never lived alone with an animal – you probably think I am mad; but to me Simi is like my child, you see.) But every time there was turbulence, I thought, “Oh! My sweetie!” and tried to tell her telepathically that her mummy was near.

After a passable meal for an airline – a bit of pork escalope, I think it was – I was so tired that I slept most of the rest of the way. As we came into Catania, I did not see Etna this time, but felt the familiar surge of emotion as we touched down on the soil of this most beloved land.

I spoke to the captain again as I got off and he assured me that Simi was being unloaded. (Another of my fears was that they would forget and take her on to Malta!) I bet they were glad to see the back of this anxious woman who only cared about her dog!

For once the luggage came out quite quickly and also, for once, mine was not the last case to appear!

Then the taxi man was there with a card with my name on it; he looked relieved that I spoke Italian and he knew about the dog. He said he would take me to the Scalo Merci [where I had been told to collect Simi] in the car as it was a fair way from the terminal – and thank goodness he did as it would have been at least a 30-minute walk – and there a woman took my details and subsequently took ages to enter everything into a computer. I was getting worried and started to pray silently; the driver sensed it and asked if there was a problem. “Oh, no”, said the woman, “it’s just that I have to calculate the charge.” (I had been told that there would probably be a local charge.) I explained to her that this dog really was my family and she smiled and speeded up a little. I was thinking, “This is going to cost hundreds” – and I wouldn’t have cared if it had – when suddenly she finished and announced, “Two euros twenty”!! So that was the local tax to bring my precious Simi into Sicily!

Finally they brought Simi out, in her crate on the back of a truck, and she looked so worried! Her fur always turns just the slightest shade darker when she is unwell or stressed – probably only I would notice it. But as soon as she saw me and smelt my finger through the cage she wagged her tail and was normal. I asked the driver if I could have her in my arms in the back and he said that was fine; then I had the cage open, Simi was in my arms and I was kissing her and telling her, “Sono la mamma, Simi. Siamo in Italia. Siamo in Sicilia.” The driver laughed and asked if she spoke Italian so I said of course! Then I put her on the lead and she was raring to go again! I had the water for her but she didn’t want it. She just sat in my arms, occasionally sleeping and occasionally looking out of the window. Cara Simi!

The taxi man was so nice and kind and we chatted. He was from Siracusa and had visited London several times. He offered to stop for Simi but she was OK and we pressed on. I spoke to Linda on the mobile and she said she would come and meet us once we were over the second bridge. (There are two bridges to lead you into Modica, one of which is among the highest in Europe.) So I called her again then and we stopped outside Bar Fuscia to wait for her. I got out with Simi to let her stretch her legs and much interest she caused among the local dogs! Then Linda and Franco arrived and we followed their car in the taxi.

At Linda's I gave the driver a good tip and she gave him a drink. Then he was on his way, happy with his evening’s work and his tip. Franco took a delighted Simi for a run round the garden on her lead. We all sat outside for a g and t and Linda presented me with a lovely basket full of food, coffee, tea, mineral water – and a bottle of gin and one of tonic! There was also a home-made photo collage of Modica with benvenuta written on it - I am going to frame it – and a bunch of beautiful roses from their garden. After about 30 minutes, Marco, Giovanna and children arrived and we all travelled in procession to the casetta.

Marco and Giovanna had also brought food so I am well supplied. I have:

Linda's Modican pizza
Sun-dried tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes
Fruit from the various gardens
Oil, vinegar, salt
Coffee and tea
Mineral water
Tomato sauce
Franco's home-dried figs
Almond milk

So much kindness!

Simi was a bit nervous when we got here; I think she thought I was going to hand her over to these [to her] strangers! But once they had gone and we were together she relaxed.

The casetta is of stone and is in the old town. It’s a bit cave-like downstairs. It has a shower downstairs, a rather rickety but functioning fridge, a sink in the kitchen area and one in the tiny bathroom, a table and two benches, an old easy chair and a very small unit with a marble top. Upstairs is lighter with the bed and a wardrobe, plus a shelf that I am using now for the laptop and some others that I am using for cosmetics. The stone, twisty stairs are banister-less and so a bit treacherous but Simi soon got used to them! And the house is blessedly cool. Oh! I forgot to say that there’s a gas burner powered by a bombola of gas: I am afraid of it but Linda says it’s a rite of passage, for everyone starts off with one of these here! I’ll have a go at cooking on it tomorrow.

After everyone had gone, Simi and I went to bed and slept well, despite the noise of the mad motorini till at least midnight!

Simi and I spent five weeks together in the casetta [little house, which belonged to my friends Marco and Giovanna] in the old town and she was my stability then as she was in the ensuing years. I never did get to grips with the gas bombola [cylinder] and was so scared of it that I gave up after about a week and ate out or existed on cold food, which is no hardship in Italy. Then we moved to the apartment where I still live.
About three months after our arrival, I received in the post a receipt for the €2,20 tax I had had to pay at the airport to bring Simi into Sicily. On it she is described as "goods":

Reflections in 2015
In ten years in Sicily, I have known much joy, great kindness, some cruelty, serious illness and several crushing blows, the hardest of which was the loss of Simi on January 8th this year. On the morning of her death, I found it very difficult to be driven to Linda's house again, clutching her little body. This was because Linda and Franco wanted to join us for the burial. I kept remembering arriving there that evening, ready for adventure, when Simi was still a young dog and I was a much younger and more naive woman.
The Italy I live in now is not the Italy I fell in love with as a student back in 1969, nor is the Sicily of today the Sicily that so enchanted me on my first visit in 1992. The economic crisis has taken its toll, here as elsewhere, leaving a trail of heartbreak and turning reasonable people into unreasonable beings. I would say that, for an expat woman of a certain age who is unprotected by family, money or perhaps by working for an international company, it can be a harsh environment - and I write this as an Italian graduate and as someone who has studied and loved Italian culture all her life. But would I go back? If Italy is not the Italy I once knew, Britain is not the country I left. There is still much to enjoy about living in Italy and I have a feeling that long after me, the crisis and the EU, when Italy's remaining ancient buildings have all but crumbled around the populace - but they won't, you know, for they will save them just in time - Italians will still be showing the rest of the world how to eat, how to create beauty and how to live.

Simi's pet passport photo - my favourite picture of her.


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