Wednesday, March 30, 2016


More countryside-oriented folk may celebrate almond blossom and birdsong but the sign of spring sure to put - well, a spring in my step - is when the bar owners of the Sorda district here in Modica start making their own ice cream again.

Goodbye, diet - see you around October!

Saturday, March 26, 2016


At the end of this sad week, here is one of my favourite songs by a Belgian artist:

Jacques Brel - Marieke

I wish you all a peaceful Easter, wherever you are.

Friday, March 25, 2016


It's the time of year when Sicilians go in for lamb so here's a hot and spicy spezzatino I've invented, mainly becaiuse I wanted to use the tiny, round chilli peppers I found in the greengrocer's the other day:

In a wok or other deep, wide pan with a lid, heat 5 tablesp olive oil.  Add 1 kg lamb pieces [for spezzatino in Italy, otherwise a bit bigger than the usual cubes sold for casseroles in Britain, preferably bone-in]. When the pieces are browned on all sides, add 1 sliced white onion and a chopped garlic clove.  Continue cooking, stirring, until the onion is soft. Then add a small, sliced aubergine and the contents of 2 tins [400 gr each] of pomodorini [cherry tomatoes in their juice.].  You can use tins of chopped tomatoes if you can't get these, Add some chopped sage and sprigs of rosemary, seasalt, black pepper, 6 - 8 tiny chilli peppers or some chilli pepper flakes, 2 teasp of my favourite spice sumac and 200 ml water.  Add 2 - 3 large potatoes, sliced but not peeled, some cinnamon ground from a  cinnamon mill and just a few cumin seeds.  Put the lid on and simmer for 1 hour.

If you were able to get the tiny chillis, use a few more to garnish.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Now it's official: every palermitano who drives - and that's most adults - spent 147 hours stuck in traffic during 2015. Thus the city earns the dubious honour of being the worst in Italy for traffic congestion, according to the TomTom Traffic Index. Rome comes second, Messina third, Naples fourth, Milan fifth and Catania sixth.

In the table for Europe, Palermo is fourth, after Łódź, Moscow and Bucharest and Rome is in ninth position.  

Mexico City "wins" first place for congestion in the world table and is followed by Bangkok, Łódź, Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro.  Rome is 15th, London 16th, Manchester 25th and Athens 29th.  

Dear old Cardiff, for those of you who are interested, has no world ranking - presumably because of its size - but was 121st in the "all cities" congestion index.

I'm sure you're wondering, as I am, what the palermitani do with all this time that they spend in traffic jams: Do they read their smartphones or newspapers?  Do they occasionally dart out of their stationary vehicles to consume a quick espresso? I rather think they watch each other and the world around them and indulge in the occasional good-natured shouting match. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016



This was one of my most popular posts back in 2010 and, indeed, ever.  I am reposting it this Palm Sunday. I hope longstanding readers won't mind seeing it again.

She has been there all week, the palm lady, sitting at the side of the road, deftly weaving fronds into objects of beauty.  She sets up her stall long before the morning rush hour begins, and she is still there as everyone hurries home for lunch.  She carries on braiding and plaiting, adorning her finished palms with ribbons of all colours, through the silent siesta hours and as the shop shutters go up again for the evening reopening.  As darkness defeats her, she stops, but she is there again the following morning, bright and early.  On Sunday she continues her dexterous craft and only when the bells for the last Mass of this Palm Sunday morning have sounded does she pack up her wares for another year.  I hope she is having a rest.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016


With borders closing, an EU deal on migrants which means that, from Sunday, anyone arriving in Greece  from Turkey illegally will be sent back - much to the concern of refugee aid agencies and UNHCR - attitudes everywhere are hardening. Conditions for migrants in Idomeni have been described by the Greek Interior Minister today as "being like a Nazi concentration camp" and the news reports I have been watching tonight indicate that migrants on the Greek-Macedonian border just do not believe that they will not be allowed to go further north within the EU.  Amid all this comes a gesture of solidarity from Italy:

On Wednesday the Italian Senate approved a measure, already passed by the Camera dei Deputati in 2015, to make 3rd October each year a National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Immigration. The date is the anniversary of the migrant tragedy in Sicilian waters of 3rd October 2013, in which 366 people lost their lives.  The President of the Senate, Pietro Grasso, posted the following to facebook on Wednesday [my translation]:

"The Republic recognises 3rd October as a National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Immigration. It is designated a 'National Day' with the aim of preserving and reaffirming our remembrance of all who have lost their lives trying to reach our country whilst fleeing war, persecution and poverty.  This is now law.

It was on 3rd October 2013 that a boat sank near Lampedusa; on that day alone 366 people died. Since the beginning of 2015 there have been 4,200 victims in the Mediterranean.  Let us stop for a second and try to think of this enormous number as individuals and attribute to each of them a name, a face, wishes, dreams, fears and weaknesses: in this way we can understand the scale of the tragedy which is happening day after day off our coasts. The boats also sink under the burden of the stories of people escaping terrible tragedies, war and abject poverty. They are men and women like us, but now they have nothing and desperately seek a future. Europe must put away selfishness and divisions; we must do our part, remember the victims and above all, act to prevent thousands more people dying in our seas."

During this week the Italian Coast Guard and Navy saved 2,500 people in the Mediterranean over two days. On Wedsnesday, with the help of a Norwegian ship, they rescued 1,467 people trying to cross the Sicilian Channel in 12 rubber dinghies.  Three bodies were also found.

Because of the situation in Greece and Turkey, it is thought that migrants will try to reach Italy by crossing the Strait of Otranto from Albania and the region of Puglia is making preparations to deal with the situation, should it happen, by providing the checks and aid required and with humanity.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Illness at the weekend prevented me from posting, so here's a song for Wednesday instead of Saturday - one to cheer us all up from Cordasicula , with some nice shots of Modica, too:

Cordasicula - Stidda Lucenti

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Have you ever dreamed of a holiday in a Sicilian paradise, near both a world-renowned centre of culture and beautiful beaches, with the opportunity to gather, if you wish, your own organically grown fruit and vegetables? 

Well, now you need look no further than Casa Natia on the Marina di Modica, run by my good friends Giorgio and Giovanna!

Situated only 6 km from both the sea and the centre of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Baroque Modica, at Casa Natia you can gaze towards the Sicilian Channel from the windows.

Surrounded by 15 hectares of grounds [150,000 sq. metres] on which Giorgio and Giovanna produce organic meat, vegetables, pulses and fruit [grown by rotation - no chemicals are ever used], both for their family and for sale, at Casa Natia you can pick, completely free of charge, all the tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, onions, zucchini, cabbages, celery and parsley you can eat. In addition, you can put out bottles for fresh milk from the property in the mornings or you can even milk the cows yourself! Fresh eggs are also available. Should you feel inspired to bake your own bread whilst at Casa Natia, you will be given flour from Giorgio and Giovanna's granary. Believe me, you will never have tasted bread like this before! Imagine lying on a sunlounger on the ample terrace with the aroma of freshly baked, genuinely Sicilian bread drifting towards you.....  If you like the olive oil produced in the grounds, you can order some to take home.

Upon arrival you will find a welcome basket full of traditional, local products, including focacce and arancini made by Giovanna and a welcome brochure to read at your leisure. In addition, and at an extra charge, Giovanna is available to give lessons in Sicilian and Italian cookery. If you would like to have a family dining experience whilst in Sicily, you can arrange, at a very reasonable extra charge of €20,00 per head [including wine], to spend an evening with Giorgio, Giovanna and family. I can personally guarantee that Giovanna's cooking has no paragon.

As mentioned above, the sea and the centre of Modica are within easy reach of Casa Natia and Giorgio and Giovanna will always be on hand to help you arrange excursions: An accompanied sea excursion is available at an extra charge, with optional packed lunch. [Giorgio's boat has room for seven passengers.] Other paid excursions by minibus to Noto, Marzamemi, Capo Passero, Etna, Taormina, Agrigento and into the Sicilian countryside can be arranged, as can an excursion to Malta by katamaran from the Port of Pozzallo [ten minutes away by car and two hours to Malta].

Casa Natia was built by Giorgio's ancestors in 1866 and was renovated this winter. It has five bedrooms [four double and one single] and room for nine people to stay at one time. One en suite bedroom is downstairs. There are three bathrooms, a well-equipped kitchen [supplied with basic foodstuffs, machines to make whatever kind of coffee you prefer and a juice squeezer for the basket of citrus fruit you will receive each week], a large lounge, a barbecue with ready-cut wood, a swimming pool with its own shower surrounded by carob and olive trees, air conditioning, a fireplace for use in winter, satellite TV and Wi-Fi. Interpreting services are available upon request. There is safe, covered and uncovered parking and if you want to have a party, there is no one around to disturb so feel free to enjoy yourself and play loud music to your heart's content! You can even bring your pets [subject to airline and local regulations].

Casa Natia is open all year round - it is an ideal place for a winter holiday too -  and is 40 minutes by car from Comiso Airport and one hour from Catania Airport [Fontanarossa]. Further details and prices can be found here, as can details of a smaller property owned by Giorgio and Giovanna, Villetta Nausicaa [150 metres from the sea at the Marina di Modica].

Whichever you choose, you'll be happy to arrive, delighted with your stay and sad to leave!

Tuesday, March 08, 2016


"To be a woman is really fascinating.  
It is an adventure which requires so much courage,
 a challenge of which one never tires."

- Oriana Fallaci, 1929 - 2006

The symbol of International Women's Day in Italy is mimosa blossom and you can read how this came about here.  It was nice to find mimosa blossom decorating my espresso saucer in the bar this morning!

Saturday, March 05, 2016


This song came 7th overall at Sanremo and this week is at no. 17 in the Italian charts:

Clementino - Quando sono lontano

Friday, March 04, 2016


Flower petal carpet, Noto, 2015

At the end of the week which included St David's Day, you could say that petals, particularly those of daffodils, have been much on my mind.  But that's not the only reason for, like everyone in Italy, I have been enchanted this week by the story of an eight-year-old boy from Copparo [ Ferrara Province] who has coined the word petaloso.

It all started when Matteo's teacher gave a lesson on adjectives and Matteo wrote about a flower which was petaloso. The teacher, Margherita Aurora, liked the word [which did not previously exist in Italian] so much that she suggested sending it to the Academia della Crusca, the National Institute for the Protection and Study of the Italian Language, for evaluation. On February 23rd she received a very pleasant reply, saying that the word was well-formed, beautiful and clear but that, to be inserted into the Italian dictionary, it would have to be understood and used by lots of people.  Following a facebook post by Margherita, thousands of people began using the word on all social media, with Prime Minister Renzi congratulating Matteo on twitter.

Matteo's father even tried to get the word registered as a trademark, only to find that three other "inventors" had requested patents in this name three days before, it has emerged today. It has not been revealed exactly what kind of brands these are.

Meanwhile, though, let us add our congratulations to the flood of those reaching Matteo and his teacher and let's enjoy rolling the lovely word petaloso around on our tongues!

Thursday, March 03, 2016


As I hoped when I posted my sabato musicale at the weekend, 87-year-old Italian composer Ennio Morricone at last won an Oscar for a film score on Sunday night. The maestro had been awarded an honorary Oscar for his career in 2007 but, despite being nominated five times over the years, had not won an Academy Award for Best Score.

All that has now been put to rights with the award for the score of Tarantino's The Hateful Eight and the director, like the whole of Italy, is delighted. How could Italy and the world not love a man who, in his acceptance speech, dedicated both the score and the award to his wife?

Here is an excerpt from another of my favourite Morricone scores:

Tuesday, March 01, 2016


It's St. David's Day again and who better than "our Kath" to sing the Welsh national anthem?

Over at London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale, we've been making some really scary dragons and of course we've got daffs and Welshcakes!



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