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

Monday, October 05, 2015


Every now and then, Bertie-Pierrine goes to school and this is what she gets up to there! Many thanks to the wonderful and patient Massimiliano Tela of the Scuola Di Addestramento Cinofilo "Il Giardino Di Italo" .

Saturday, October 03, 2015


Today marks the second anniversary of the migration tragedy off Lampedusa of 3rd October 2013. It was not the first or last migrant tragedy or even the one involving the greatest numbers but it was on that day that the world outside Italy began to take notice.

The anniversary has been marked quietly and with dignity on Lampedusa and a wreath was thrown into the sea at the point where the boat went down.  The best memorial to these poor souls and all those who, sadly, followed them would surely be for all countries to treat migrants with humanity.

Here is Charles Aznavour with a song about the hopes, determination, difficulties and achievements of emigrants:

Charles Aznavour - Les Émigrants


Finding myself with time on my hands in Siracusa a few weeks ago, I naturally entered a bookshop but, unusually, nothing cried "Read me!" that day - until I found, almost hidden behind larger volumes in the cookery section, Giuseppino, a memoir by restaurateur, winemaker and MasterChef judge Joe Bastianich.

To be honest - and sorry, Joe - I thought it would just about do to help me wile away the time until my bus was due to leave. However, it turned out to be one of the most interesting books I have ever read.

Dedicated to Joe's grandmother, the book tells the story of his grandparents and parents in Istria and, from 1958, in the United States, to which they had emigrated [Istria having become part of Yugoslavia after the Second World War].  I found this fascinating as I had first read of Joe's mother, Lidia Bastianich, in Bob Spitz's biography of Julia Child, who thought highly of her. Recognising the surname Bastianich, I had looked her up and discovered that she was indeed Joe's mother and a chef and restaurateur herself. In Joe's book we learn just how hard she worked. Lidia Bastianich is now well known in Italy as a judge on Junior MasterChef Italia.

The book begins with the stunning statement from Joe that he used to hate Italy and you have to read on! Like all children, Joe just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else but the cooking smells in his house were different, as were the contents of his lunchbox, his grandmother leaned out of the window and shouted "Giuseppino!" as she saw him coming home and she didn't shave under her armpits. He always knew how much this well-educated, strong and determined woman loved him, though.

Joe rises to become a successful Wall Street bond trader but realises that he envies the art of the barman in his mother's restaurant and finally decides that it is the world of food and wine that is calling him.  

Travelling to Italy to learn everything he could about wine, he felt he was making his grandparents' and mother's journey in reverse and we follow him as he comes to terms with the country and his place within it. He makes thought-provoking observations on the differences between the restaurant and winemaking businesses in the two countries and his love for Italy is sealed when he opens his beloved Orsone restaurant and vineyard.

Joe Bastianich has the same issues with Italy as most expats do - bureaucracy, the fact that all Italians do the same thing at the same time [with repercussions for business] and breakfast - or the lack of it. Having convinced the staff in several Milanese bars to make him toast in the morning, he says his next ambition is to get them to serve him a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich in New York deli style. Good luck with that, Joe!

The MasterChef story is here too, with some intriguing detail from behind the scenes, so anyone who is a fan of the Italian version will enjoy this book.  And, with refreshing honesty, Joe tells us that he actually likes being famous. 

The book also has some witty drawings and a glossary of Joe-style Italian. It's an interesting and relaxing read and I now can't wait for the next MasterChef Italia series to start.  Keep hurling the bad dishes across the studio, Joe!


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