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.


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