Saturday, February 27, 2016


Congratulations to Ennio Morricone, who was awarded his well-deserved star on the Hollywoood Walk of Fame yesterday. Speaking at the ceremony, the composer said,

"I always try to create a soundtrack which pleases both the director and the public, but it must also please me."

This may explain the constant integrity of his music.

Here's an old  Morricone favourite of mine, which became well known in Britain as the soundtrack to a 1981 TV series about David Lloyd George:

Ennio Morricone - Chi mai

The 87-year-old maestro is hotly tipped for an Oscar for The Hateful Eight, so let us wish him luck.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


The quayside at Lampedusa has featured many times on this blog, often as journey's end for migrants who have survived the dangerous Mediterranean crossing but also sometimes as a scene of tragedy as the bodies of others are brought ashore.  I have also often written about the incredible forbearance and kindess of the islanders towards the strangers they have found in their midst.

Today, however, the island's airport saw an arrival of a different kind - that of a little golden bear being clutched by a familiar figure to inhabitants, namely Dr Pietro Bartolo from their own ER department.  

"Questa è la sua terra - This is his land", said Dr Bartolo, laying the little bear on the ground. This was the Golden Bear awarded to Gianfranco Rosi [Sacro GRA] at the Berlin International Film Festival for his documentary Fuocoammare which he filmed over eighteen months whilst living  on Lampedusa.  The film shows a migrant boat trying to reach Lampedusa and also focuses on the daily life of the islanders.  Dr Bartolo, caring for both the influx of migrants and the island's inhabitants, is a key figure in the film.

Meryl Streep, who chaired the Film Festival jury, said of the film,

"In a year of thrillingly diverse films, the jury was swept  away by the compassionate outrage of one in particular. It’s a daring hybrid of captured footage and deliberate  storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do. It demands its place in front of our eyes, compels our engagement and action. It is urgent, imaginative  and necessary filmmaking.”

Dr. Bartolo said that he hoped the film would cause people all over the world to think about the suffering of migrants and that those in a position to help but who have been pretending not to hear of their plight would also stop and reflect. 

Gianfranco Rosi has dedicated the award to "the wonderful and generous people of Lampedusa."

The first video is via La Repubblica:

Saturday, February 20, 2016


To come third at Sanremo is no mean feat so congratulations to Giovanni Caccamo from Modica and Deborah Iurato from Ragusa.  Here is their song:


This week I have been watching events in my own country, and in Brussels as I was writing this last night, closely.  As a former state sector teacher, I can empathise with frustrated junior doctors in Britain as I know how hard it is when your profession becomes a political pawn. What I cannot imagine, however, is what it is like to become a political pawn simply because of your provenance or geographical situation and, as if that were not hard enough, to be unable to defend yourself because you do not have that right. I am thinking, of course, of migrants, whose position within the EU has become part of the British "in or out" [of the EU] debate.

Despite plenty pf posturing post- Brussels meeting, I have not heard one politician refer to the fact, tweeted by UNHCR yesterday, that on average two children a day have died crossing the Mediterranean since 15th September. In 2015 12,272 unaccompanied minors reached Italy - a country the world has once again forgotten in this crisis - on migrant boats.

Every time I see that look of anguish on the face of a migrant child being carried ashore by kind helpers, I wonder where I have seen it before and then I remember a boy I called "Winter" long ago. This is an edited version of a post I wrote about him in 2007 and I hope you will bear with me as I tell his story again: 


It is usually winter when I think of “Winter”. I don’t know why; I was too young for the time of year to have really registered in my mind; but I think it must have been winter when I knew him, as I remember him in long, woolly socks, short, dark trousers and a grey, rough-textured coat that would scratch my face as he hugged me in the playground.

Everyone wore drab clothes then, mostly grey or a very dull green. Some women used to try to brighten things up by wearing red lipstick and dead foxes round their necks [which used to terrify me] but mostly the dreariness was unrelieved. People of my parents’ generation were still in shock from the Second World War and certain items remained on ration. Interiors were dark, too [though people were shortly to rebel against this], there were still bombsites in Bristol and the streets seemed grey and cold. There was a lot of poverty and it was so normal for children to wear threadbare old clothes to school that no one remarked upon it.

I could only have been about five and school was St Gabriel’s Cof E, at the top of Twinnel Road in Bristol. [It was one of the roads leading off Stapleton Road, where our shop was.] I can’t remember a sunny day in that playground, though there must have been some! I can only visualise it as dark and dismal.

"Winter's" name was actually Gunther, but there was no way I could pronounce it. He used to spend ages trying to get me to say it properly, but his tuition was of no avail to the future linguist! I can hear him now: “My name is Gunther, not ‘Winter’. Say it: G-U-N-T-H-E-R”. “Winter”, I would diligently reply. [I honestly could not understand why he would laugh and I used to get quite upset about it!] Then he would kiss me and tell me that he loved me and I would feel a warm glow for the rest of the day. It was a lovely, all-enveloping feeling of knowing that you are loved and I’m not sure if I have ever recaptured it.

I don’t know what his nationality was or what tragedy his family had escaped; he always talked about his mother, never his father. There were so many families from Central and Eastern Europe pouring into the country then and there were a lot of Poles in Bristol; but obviously his name was not Polish.

“Winter” had ash-blond hair, worn with a long fringe flopping over his forehead, large, smiling blue eyes which I can picture even now and I don’t think I ever saw him without that overcoat on.

He must, I think, have been bullied because I can remember one day telling a teacher, “Winter’s crying”. Then I was pushed aside while Miss Adams [whom I hated with a vengeance from that moment] dealt with whatever it was that had upset him. [It was my job to comfort Winter, not hers!]

Breaks were the highlight of my little life, because I knew Winter would come and find me and we’d stand in a corner of the playground cuddling and exchanging chaste kisses while he told me that we were going to get married when we grew up. Winter had it all planned; he was going to buy the shop from Dad! I didn’t see him at lunchtimes; most women didn’t work then , so the majority of children went home for lunch. In fact the “dinner children” were regarded as something of an oddity. I couldn’t wait to get back to school in those days!

One day he just wasn’t there. “Gunther’s gone”, said Miss Adams when I enquired and that was that. Winter certainly hadn’t known about any move or he would have told me and I’m sure he would have cried! I suppose the family were suddenly rehoused in the efficient, unfeeling manner of the time; or perhaps he was taken out of school because of the bullying; or maybe his father reappeared; I just don’t know. The sense of loss was overwhelming and suddenly the world grew even colder.

We all need fantasies to keep us alive and one of mine is that one of these days I’ll be strolling along a street in Modica, Catania or Palermo, I’ll suddenly stop and there he’ll be – Winter!

"Winter" and his family did not endure the hardships that today's migrants do to reach what they hope will be safety but I have no idea what had had happened to them in their own country prior to their journey. What I do know is that every time my TV screen shows a frightened child looking, from the arms of a stranger, for the people who had always defended him and realising that they are not there, I see the face of Winter  - in a playground in  Bristol, UK, in 1955.

Monday, February 15, 2016


As some of you will know, I hit the ripe old age of 66 yesterday. I am no wiser than I was at 16 but one thing experience has taught me:  At this juncture, I can either sit around and wait for the wretched stroke, or I can have pink highlights in my hair. I opted for the pink highlights, courtesy of Giorgio at Saloni di Successo, Modica:

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Sanremo voting is in process as I write and my support this year goes to Irene Fornaciari for this song about migrants travelling by sea. It is fair to say that opinion in Italy is very divided about the song, which was previously at risk of elimination from the competition.

Irene Fornaciari - Blu

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


I cannot let the Carnevale season pass without posting a photo of yummy chiacchiere biscuits! Chiacchierare is the verb "to gossip" and the biscuits are so named either because their shape resembles that of old women's tongues [say some, unkindly] or, more likely, because of the "psst" sound they make when the pastry is dropped into the hot oil.

Meanwhile the earth of Sicily has been unable to let the season go without - well, shaking us all up a bit. There were two earthquake tremors near here in the early hours of Sunday and a further two on Monday morning [none of which I felt but friends say they did]. However, I certainly did feel a tremor at 16.35 yesterday and this one, originally reported to have been a 4.6 tremor but later reclassified as 4.2, was scary.  The depth of this tremor was reported as 4 km and it was felt in many places in the Province of Ragusa but also in Siracusa and Catania. The epicentre [originally thought to have been in Siracusa] is now said to have been the hamlet of San Giacomo Bellocozzo in Ragusa Province.  No injuries were reported but some plaster has fallen off the Cathedral of San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla. A further, smaller tremor was reported just after 18.00.

Schools in Modica and Giarratana will be closed tomorrow but there is some confusion as to whether this is because of the tremors. If it is, it seems a sensible precaution to check the buildings but most schools in Modica were going to be closed anyway as part of the Carnevale holiday.

Sicilians have expressed their hurt and frustration at the lack of coverage of the tremors by the main news networks,who preferred to concentrate on the Sanremo Festival which began tonight. This part of Sicily is rooting for Giovanni Caccamo from Modica and Deborah Iurato from Ragusa, who are performing a duet called Via da qui. Their success would certanly cheer us up!

Monday, February 08, 2016


The last time I saw this still young man, a former A level French student of mine, it was 1989 and he was about to go off to university. It was great to meet up with him and his lovely family as they passed through Modica today. Come again soon!

U chiù granni maistru è u tempu 
Time is the best teacher

- Sicilian proverb

Saturday, February 06, 2016


I like the way the city has become a character in this song, which is about everyone who finds themselves there.  [No. 15 in the Italian charts this week.]

Luca Carboni - Bologna è una regola

Friday, February 05, 2016


I can't believe it's a year since my lovely Bertie-Pierrine came to me and we saved each other! We don't know her exact date of birth but decided to celebrate it on this day each year.

"I got a nice woolly neck-warmer for my birthday. Look - it's reversible!"

"What's this, then? Oh, it's my card!"

Happy birthday, little Bertie!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


Exactly nine years ago, I wrote about this sad incident.  It is a story that has stayed with me, partly because it was an avoidable tragedy and also because I will never forget the television pictures of Inspector Raciti's then nine-year-old son in police uniform at his father's funeral.

Much has since been said and written about the events in Catania of 2nd February 2007 and Inspector Raciti's colleagues have continued to honour him. Yesterday's commemoration in Catania - which took place as the rest of the city was preparing to celebrate its patron, Sant'Agata - was a little different, however, for during the ceremony the Inspector's jacket and helmet [which he had been wearing on that terrible night] were at last returned to his widow.

Dignitaries and police officers from the State Police Mobile Units of Catania, Reggio Calabria and Palermo, representing police from all over Italy, attended the ceremony and remembered other colleagues who had been killed in the line of duty.

Let us hope that the return of the above effects to the family brings them the comfort they seek.


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