Saturday, August 29, 2015


With news of further migration tragedies this week, this song has come to mind. I've posted it before with regard to migration but I find this version particularly moving:

Phil Coulter - For Those in Peril on the Sea

Friday, August 28, 2015


At the end of yet another week of migration tragedies, I have to admit that I do not know what to say. I had hoped, you see, that once the desperate situation that I have been writing about for nine years finally came to the world's attention, migrants would be helped and that we would see an end to the perilous journeys they feel compelled to make. I did not anticipate an end to their coming, but an end to deaths on migrant routes. Instead, more and more people are dying and attutudes are hardening in several parts of the world. 

Last weekend Italian and other operatives in the Mediterranean saved 4,700 people and on Wednesday alone, in ten Italian Coast Guard operations, 3,000 people were rescued. However, Wednesday was also the day on which a Swedish ship rescued 439 migrants from an overcrowded boat but found 52 bodies in the hold. The arrival of these bodies in the Port of Palermo late last night was another sad sight of a type that we have, I am afraid, become used to in Sicily. Italian police said tonight that survivors have told them that migrants trying to get out of the hold to access water and air were held back at knifepoint by the people traffickers in charge of the boat. In addition, this afternoon the BBC started to report that hundreds of deaths are feared after two boats capsized off Libya earlier. 

Other reports tonight say that the number of bodies found in a lorry in Austria has risen to 71 and that four of these poor souls were children. It is also being reported that UK police have arrested 27 migrants found on an Italian lorry in the County of Surrey. [The driver was also arrested but later released.] Meanwhile Hungary builds a barbed wire fence and security in Calais is still being increased. Suspected people traffickers continue to be arrested in all the receiving countries but the basic problem, which is that people are literally running for their lives, is not being addressed.

To cries of,  "They only come to Britain for the benefits" I would say that few people would put their lives in such obvious danger for a few hand-outs after a bureaucratic process. Besides, would you rather live in a country that people want to come to or one that people flee?

Mrs Merkel, a lady I have not often praised in these posts, braved booing crowds this week to condemn racism and attacks on asylum seekers and later in the week she and President Hollande called for a faster and more unified EU response to the situation. Could it be that these two leaders have woken up or was the statement prompted by the fact that Germany is taking in more asylum seekers than any other country in the EU? Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni saw the statement as grounds for cautious hope, so perhaps we should, too.

You may have noticed that I have used the word "people" instead of "migrants" several times in this post for, as Al Jazeera English pointed out a few days ago, the term "migrant" is fast becoming pejorative. This set me thinking, for language, of course, matters. When I first started writing about the crossings to Sicily, I used the term that the Italian media used at the time, which was clandestini. Sometimes I used my own unsatisfactory coinage, "would-be illegal immigrants" because they were not illegal immigrants if they were arrested and sent back, as they often were. Over the past few years I have dropped the term clandestini, as has the Italian media, in my case because the term had a negative connotation and because there is nothing "clandestine" about braving the Mediterranean Sea in an inadequate, open boat. I despair when the media talk about the migrant "burden", as Sky News did last night in an otherwise insightful report, as until we start seeing refugees as human beings with the same aspirations as ourselves, there is no hope - for them or for us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I enjoyed being taken out for dinner on Saturday and took advantage of the occasion to go nutty!

For the main course both my friend and I had fillet steak in a pistacchio sauce and there was an interesting contorno to share. Then my friend chose pannacotta with caramel whilst I couldn't resist one of my favourites, parfait alle mandorle [almond parfait] which was.....well, perfect!

Saturday, August 22, 2015


I like this arrangement of the famous Luigi Tenco song.

Bianca Atzei e Alex Britti - Ciao amore, ciao

Friday, August 21, 2015


And now, for old times' sake, let's hear from a much-missed Italian American:

Dean Martin - Sleepy Time Gal

Bertie-Pierrine says she can dance but she's working on the cooking and the sewing!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Remember this advice from Coco Chanel?

"Once you've dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off."

Well, my motto is,

"Look in the mirror and put at least one more thing on!"

Monday, August 17, 2015


I would very much like to be able to tell you, this evening, that the Ferragosto holiday passed peacefully in the Mediterranean but, to no one's surprise, it did not: 

To no one's surprise but to everybody's horror, for the scene that greeted Italian rescuers directed to help the passengers of a 14-metre boat 20 miles off Libya on Saturday was beyond even their imagining.  At first they thought that this was an overcrowded migrant boat like so many others but as they boarded, the stench was horrendous and when they opened the hold they found dozens of bodies, piled one on top of the other. The stench turned out to be that of human excrement and petrol fumes. These poor souls had died of asphyxiation and around them women were crying for their lost loved ones.

As is becoming common in these cases, a sick kind of "class system" had been in operation, with those migrants who had been able to pay more being allowed to travel in the open and some - but few, according to the rescuers - were given life jackets.

Italian rescuers managed to save 413 people from this horrific scene, among them 45 women and three children.  It is thought that their prompt and professional action averted a much bigger disaster. With the help of a German ship, 49 bodies have been recovered.  These, along with the survivors, were brought to Catania today on a Norwegian ship to which they had been transferred.  The pictures of a large, white, refrigerated container with the letters UN painted on the side are indeed a distressing sight, for this contained the bodies.

The Mayor of Catania has declared tomorrow a day of mourning in the city and has said that from now on the migrant crossing from Africa to Italy will be known as "the most deadly route in the world". It is estimated that 2,300 people have died on this route in 2015 alone. Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has said that if the chaotic situation in Libya is not resolved, tragedies like this will continue to happen and he has appealed to the international community.

The migrants know the risks very well so surely anyone who has cause to believe that taking this route is better than remaining where they are deserves international help and support rather than censure? I ask again.  "How many people have to die?"

Update, 18.8.15 at 14.00:

It has now been reported that there were 14 children among the survivors and that some of the men on board may have given up their places in the open to women and children. Eight people from the boat have now been arrested by Catania police on suspicion of people-trafficking.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015


Looking at the TV pictures of migrants sleeping rough in Izmir [Turkey] while they wait to cross to Greece and of others being forced to endure overcrowded and insanitary conditions on Kos, what struck me was the contrast with the natural beauty of their surroundings. Then, when I heard a spokesperson from Kos asking not for funds but for international organisational help with the situation, I understood that request but reflected that it was sad that officials and forces of order seemed to be in need of instruction on how to treat people with simple humanity.

While the international media focus this week has shifted from Calais to Kos, there has been little reporting outside Italy of the latest migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean, in which over 50 people are believed to have died. A migrant dinghy in difficulty was spotted by an Italian naval helicopter 40 miles off Libya on Tuesday afternoon. The helicopter crew dropped life rafts and alerted other ships in the area. The naval vessel Fenice, which already had on board 119 migrants who had been saved earlier, was first on the scene and saved 52 people but the survivors told the crew that many more were missing.

This Ferragosto I'll be thinking of  migrants, their rescuers and all in peril on the sea, of people across the world who cannot enjoy the beauty of where they are because their basic human needs are not being met and of all who hope.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Because I created this recipe a few days before this year's Ferragosto holiday and because it's a bit unusual, I am calling it Ferragosto surprise. And yes, Italian readers, you'd better look away again as it's certainly not traditional and mixes sweet and savoury ingredients [which you say you never do but I know differently!]

Ever since I read that an ice cream maker was using Himalayan pink salt in a creation for last month's ice cream festival in Catania, I've wanted to use it myself in an ice cream or semifreddo. [Himalayan pink salt is very popular here, particularly in restaurants.]  I was wondering what other ingredients I could use in such a recipe  and how I could serve it when I saw these tiny peppers in the supermarket. [If you can't find mini-peppers, you could just cut interesting shapes from a large one and serve the semifreddo on top.]   The gelato became a semifreddo as it is much easier to make. It also behaves better!

This is what I did:

Ferragosto surprise

3 eggs, separated
100 gr sugar
200 ml whipping cream [panna da montare if you are in Italy]
250 gr mascarpone
10 grinds Himalayan pink salt
Half a red pepper, finely chopped
about 12 mini-peppers

Line an ice cream container with clingfilm, leaving an overlap.
Whip the egg yolks with the sugar and set aside.
In another bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks.
In a third bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks.
Combine the three mixtures in the largest bowl, add the mascarpone, chopped pepper and Himalayan salt and mix well with a metal spoon.
Scoop into the lined container, bring the overlap up to cover, put the lid on and freeze overnight.
When you are almost ready to serve, make a cut in the mini-peppers as though to halve them, but don't cut right through. Leave the stems on so that people can use them to pick the peppers up.  Use a teaspoon to fill the peppers with the semifreddo and close them a little,  Once filled, they will "hold" in a container in the fridge for an hour or two.

I nearly decorated with some basil leaves but remembered that Chef Carlo Cracco would say that if an ingredient isn't an integral part of the recipe, you shouldn't use it as a garnish. I think it's good advice.  If I could have got a few whole flakes of the salt out of the grinder to garnish, I would have done so, but it didn't seem worth breaking the grinder to do it. Anyway, decorate as you like!

These quantities will make more than you need for filling the peppers but you can refreeze the rest.

Buon appetito.

Monday, August 10, 2015


It's San Lorenzo night so I hope you're all out spotting shooting stars! And when you see one, may your dearest wish come true.

Andrea Bocelli with David Foster - Bellissime stelle

Saturday, August 08, 2015


Tonight let's listen to a golden oldie from Mr Al Bano Carrisi, who is performing at the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento as I write.

Al Bano - Io di notte

Al Bano has said that his concert will be a homage to all those people who have reached Sicily and who will continue to arrive:

"When I see these people arriving by boat and fleeing poverty, war, hunger and oppression, I think of my friends who left for Northern Italy by train and of my uncles who left for Argentina. Then it was my turn  In 1961 I took the train of hope, looking for a better place, which I found in Milan. So when I see these poor souls fleeing hunger and war I understand them. The countries of the world should unite to find a way to manage the phenomenon, then perhaps the influx would decrease. But I can already see that all this is inevitable."

Note:  The singer is from Puglia, a region where he still has a home and which he continues to love. When he says " a better place", he means somewhere with more opportunities.

Friday, August 07, 2015


The 367 migrants rescued from a boat carrying over 600 on Wednesday have been brought to Palermo along with the 25 bodies so far recovered, three of which are those of children. For the first time, a bunch of white flowers for each of the dead was placed on the quayside as a tribute. 

As the survivors speak to police, horrific and distressing accounts of their treatment are emerging and there is no reason to disbelieve them: One woman has said that the boat was so overcrowded that the migrants were clinging to any firm structure they could get close to on the journey and that throughout their ordeal, there were terrible screams from those who had been forced to travel in the hold.  The latter, it transpires, were mostly Africans because they had paid less for their journey than others and we have also learnt that passengers were ill-treated and even tortured in various ways according to their nationality and, it seems, the amount of money they had paid.  

Other survivors have said that when the boat began to take in water, they were forced to try to empty it out in buckets. When they failed in this impossible task, they tried to get back under cover, out of the burning sun, but were then made to sit on the sealed hatch so that the migrants in the hold could not get out. By the time the migrants on deck saw the rescuers, they were exhausted and thought they were about to die, so is it any wonder they surged towards them?

Many of the survivors have now been sent to centres in other parts of Italy but relatives of the dead have been allowed, upon request, to remain here for the time being.

Five men - the "crew" of the boat - have been arrested on suspicion of people trafficking and charges of homicide have not been ruled out.

There is some resentment here - and it is a viewpoint which I can undesrstand - about the amount of money and resources being poured into the Calais situation, whilst the situation in the Mediterranean is again being largely ignored. From here it appears that two rich EU countries can pool their resources and take action when they want to but are content to let a poorer country shoulder almost all the responsibility for the immense numbers of people trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Leoluca Orlando, the Mayor of Palermo, yesterday repeated his assertion that the EU will one day be found guilty of genocide because of its failure to help migrants in the Mediterranean area and I believe he is right. I also think that, when the whole truth of what these poor souls are fleeing becomes known, it will emerge, as it did with regard to the Holocaust, that there were people in high places who knew but did little or nothing. Will we never learn from history? 

Pope Francis, who does not mince his words, today told the Eucharist Youth Movement that to reject migrants fleeing violence and hunger is "an act of war".  It is also worth remembering that the EU has an obligation, under international law, to treat migrants with dignity.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015


Every time I write a post like this, I hope it will not be necessary again but I know there will be another - and another...  

Most of you will know from the news where you are that there has been another large-scale migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean, as these days such events are being more widely reported, though as I write, Sky News UK  has it in third place in its running order.

There is probably little that I can add to the news that you are seeing or reading but I will tell you what I know, with the caveat that this is an ongoing situation: Late this morning, the Italian Coast Guard in Catania received a satellite call for help for a migrant boat in trouble some 15 miles north of the Libyan coast. They were told that around 600 people were on board but there may have been up to 700.  The Coast Guard immediately directed their own vessels and several other ships to the area, including the Médecins Sans Frontières ship Dignity One and the Irish naval vessel The Niamh

The MSF ship and The Niamh were first on the scene and the Irish ship launched two lifeboats to rescue the migrants. What seems to have happened - and this has happened with tragic consequences before - is that all those migrants who could ran to one side of their boat upon seeing the rescuers approach and this caused the boat to overturn. There was no hope for the poor souls who were crammed into the hold and these may have numbered 100 - 150. A coordinator on board the MSF ship said he witnessed a horrific sight, with migrants clinging to life jackets and pieces of debris in a desperate effort to save themselves as others drowned before his eyes. There was nothing anyone could do. La Repubblica points out that, on all rescue missions, the first message sent to the migrants in need of help tells them to remain seated and to move as little as possible. But how can we, seated in our comfortable homes, imagine what we would do after such an ordeal and in a state of fear, possible dehydration and exhaustion?

The Italian media are reporting that 400 migrants have been saved and 25 bodies have been recovered so far but many more migrants are probably dead.  The survivors and the bodies are tonight being brought to Palermo. The ongoing search operation is still being treated as a rescue mission.

This week we learned that over 2,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2015. Tonight that figure is even higher.

I will close with some words written by Pope Francis in 2014:
"Fleeing from situations of extreme poverty or persecution in the hope of a better future, or simply to save their own lives, millions of persons choose to migrate. Despite their hopes and expectations, they often encounter mistrust, rejection and exclusion, to say nothing of tragedies and disasters which offend their human dignity.
The reality of migration, given its new dimensions in our age of globalization, needs to be approached and managed in a new, equitable and effective manner; more than anything, this calls for international cooperation and a spirit of profound solidarity and compassion."

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


There was lots of sweet inspiration in Siracusa last week, in the shape of a cassatina [little cassata] and the delights on offer in the chiller cabinet at the Pasticceria Leonardi. Later in the week a student brought me some torrone ideal from the Caffé dell'Arte in Modica. Made on the premises, this is lighter than the torrone mostly eaten at Christmas and my student told me that, in times gone by and before refrigeration, people used to make this type of torrone as a summer treat for their children. Thus it also goes by the name of gelato di campagna [countryside ice cream].

Now here's a sweet oldie for you:

Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon - Sweet Inspiration

Saturday, August 01, 2015


All the talk about the moon this week made me remember this Gino Paoli song:

Gino Paoli - Io vivo nella luna


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