Saturday, May 28, 2016


Another romantic golden oldie for you this week.

Fausto Leali - Io amo


To end the week on a positive note, I thought I would show you this new baby bomboniera - a traditional gift for family and friends which is sent out with the announcement - which a friend brought me the other day.

I cannot help comparing the birth circumstances of this baby and little Favour but can report that the latter is now being well cared for in Palermo and that the whole of Italy is in love with her after seeing heart-rending pictures of her on television. The kind women of Lampedusa brought her clothes, teddy bears and other gifts before she left the island and I'm sure that she will receive others from all parts of Italy.

Let's hope that all children grow up in a better world.

Friday, May 27, 2016

SUMMER TIDES, 2016 - 3

Almost unbelieveably, tonight I find myself writing about the third migrant boat tragedy to have occurred within three days and I am wondering, not for the first time, how many people have to die in this way before politicians the world over show the shame they ought to be feeling.

Earlier today an Italian naval vessel went to the aid of a migrant  boat which had half sunk 35 miles off the coast of Libya. The Navy and other vessels called in to help managed to save 135 migrants, some of whom were children but ten bodies were found at the bottom of the boat.  Altogether 45 bodies have been recovered so far but dozens more may have drowned.

La Repubblica reports that at least 200 people have died in the three disasters of the last three days and that 15,000 have been saved at sea over the last five days. Of these 2,000 were saved today alone in operations led by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard.

The following is an extract from the G7 Leaders' Declaration of 26th - 27th May:

"The G7 recognizes the ongoing large scale movements of migrants and refugees as a global challenge which requires a global response. We commit to increase global assistance to meet immediate and long-term needs of refugees and other displaced persons as well as their host communities. The G7 encourages international financial institutions and bilateral donors to bolster their financial and technical assistance."

So, Mr President, Mme Chancellor, Messrs Prime Minister, Messrs President of the Council and Commission President: which one of you is going to start?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

SUMMER TIDES, 2016 - 2

I have just commented on twitter that the "migration season" so often referred to by the media has never actually stopped for Italy, but even I did not think that I would be writing about another migration tragedy 24 hours after this one.

Today's sad event happened 35 miles off the Libyan coast when an inadequate fishing boat carrying migrants capsized.  La Repubblica is reporting that 96 have been saved but 20 - 30 could be dead.  A five-year-old boy whose parents died in the tragedy has been airlifted to hospital in Palermo and he is in a poorly condition.

The number of survivors from the migrant boat that capsized yesterday is 562 and these have been brought to Porto Empedocle. Among them are a couple who lost their six-year-old son at sea.

Meanwhile, the nine-month-old girl whose mother died on a migrant boat from which the baby was saved on Tuesday has been taken from Lampedusa to a specialist facility in Agrigento. There, says, Dr Pietro Bartolo, Lampedusa's ER doctor, she will find no lack of potential mothers but, should she need a father, he is ready to adopt her himself.  He and others who have looked after the baby on Lampedusa have given her the name "Favour".

The Italian Coast Guard have coordinated 22 operations in which 4,100 migrants have been saved in the past 24 hours. The Italian Navy, Frontex and Eunavformed vessels, plus tow boats and commercial vessels have also been involved in the rescues.

I am not going to comment further tonight - the figures speak for themselves.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Will there ever again, I wonder, be a good time to be a migrant? Once we [for I regard myself as one, albeit from choice] were needed, wanted and even welcomed, but no more.  These lines come to mind:

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,"

How different from today's world, with police on the Greek - Macedonian border, clearances at Calais and Idomeni and now 80 Austrian police on the Brenner Pass, much to the understandable concern of Italy, which relies on the Brenner to keep its trade moving. Migrants are unlikely to receive any help from the referendum-obsessed UK in the near future, either.  Perhaps the only ray of hope comes from Mrs Merkel, who at least seems to be trying to create a positive environment .

Although a tragedy in the Mediterranean has featured in international headlines today [Wednesday] - Sky News UK are covering the story as I write - I have a feeling that it will soon disappear and few people outside Italy will realise that the Italian Navy and Coast Guard also saved 3,000 people from 23 boats in the Mediterranean yesterday and that this is by no means an unusual occurence.

The pictures of today's migrant tragedy have now gone around the world and we should all bear in mind that it could have been much worse had it not been for the swift action of the Italian Navy:  Two of its ships hurried to the scene 18 miles off the Libyan coast after a satellite SOS had been received and  the boat, carrying an estimated 600 migrants,  capsized as they approached.  This was because of the sheer number of people on board and its resultant instability.  Naval operatives managed to save not only people from the sea and  the deck, but migrants who had been trapped below deck too.  It is estimated that 550 people were rescued and five deaths have been confirmed. The number of fatalities should, however, be treated with caution, as it is impossible to know exactly how many people were on board and the figure may rise.

In another development yesterday a 17-year-old Moroccan who was "captaining" the boat on which 52 people died of asphyxiation on 26th August last year was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment by an Italian court. He was found guilty of aiding illegal immigration and will be tried separately for homicide, as will nine other alleged people traffickers involved in the tragedy.  Italy has a good record of bringing people traffickers to justice, though this is seldom mentioned by the international media.

Headlines, politics, a UK referendum whose result could depend on migrant scare stories, the Italians continuing to save lives and deal with the situation as best they can whilst their European "partners" largely ignore their plight - it is easy to forget the individual, human aspect of what is happening. My thoughts tonight are with all migrants but particularly with a baby girl aged nine months, now being cared for on Lampedusa, who lost her mother on a migrant boat yesterday.

Finally, it is good to know that one politician has not forgotten: President Mattarella will visit Lampedusa on June 3rd for the opening of the Museo di Fiducia e Dialogo which is to be dedicated to migrating peoples. A Caravaggio, on loan from the Uffizi, will be among the exhibits and this is in memory of Aylan.

May those of us who sleep in our own beds give thanks this night, whilst 28 nations, whose history should cause them to know better and whose collective indifference could have unimaginable consequences, fail to cry,

"Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,"


Saturday, May 21, 2016


This is a favourite oldie of mine and it's for everyone who's ever been in love, in Italy, in summer:

Sacha Distel - That Italian Summer

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


As I've mentioned before, no one really knows why, in the 18th century, some Italian towns started celebrating the Festival of Corpus Christi or Corpus Domini by creating "carpets "of flowers but one theory is that people were simply using what they had to make something beautiful for God and what they had was an abundance of flower petals.  The town of Noto's Infiorata tradition started more recently, 37 years ago, and the event is always held over the third weekend of May so I made my way there on Saturday.

The "carpet of flowers" is spread out along the town's via Nicolaci and this year's theme was "The Infiorata Welcomes the World".  I'm sure you will understand that, as you have to walk up one of the sides of the display, it is rather difficult to take well-angled photos, especially in glorious sunshine so that you can't see what you're doing! Nonetheless, I hope the photos I managed to take convey something of the beauty and the atmosphere of the occasion for you.  

I thought the cat was rather magnificent so here he is again:

 As a souvenir, I bought one of these nifty lemon squeezers that collect the juice in the little jug on top of the "tap" thing:

Half way up via Nicolaci, I spotted a great menu on offer at €12,90. As it was 1 pm I entered the establishment and to my surprise, was served one of the best, and most generous, plates of bruschette I ever had and certainly the best chicken and vegetable couscous I've tasted in Sicily!  

What better day out could there be?

You can see panoramic images of the Infiorata here.

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Voting in the Eurovision Song Contest is taking place as I write.  Here is Italy's entry, which I think is rather good and at least it is sung in Italian as well as English.  [I think it's sad that contestants don't sing in their own language any more.] A pretty song:

Francesca Michielin - No Degree of Separation

Thursday, May 12, 2016


If you come to this part of Sicily and want something really special to take home with you, you may like to visit I Monili Aprile in Modica and by the sea in Pozzallo.  Both are run by my friends the Aprile family and elder son Salvatore has recently created the website I Monili Aprile. Today I talked to Salvo about the shops, his life and jewellery in general:

Salvo, when did you decide that you wanted to be a jeweller?

I decided to be a jeweller when my parents and I had the idea of opening a second jewellery shop in a seaside town called Pozzallo but I had always felt like a "little jeweller" because I grew up in my parents' jewellery shop.

The Aprile family:
Salvatore, Gaspare, Concetta and Gabriele

Did you help in the shop as a child?

Sometimes. I was very happy to help and I enjoyed discovering the world of jewellery.

Tell me about your studies.

I remember when I chose to study business at Pisa University and after that at Catania University, it was very important for my family and for me because it enabled me to grow personally and culturally.

When did you graduate?

I graduated in November 2011.

And later you studied gemology?

I studied gemology in November 2015 at the Istituto Gemmologico Italiano [IGI] in Milan because it was time to get to know the world of diamonds and now I'm going to learn about all kinds of gemstones.

What’s your favourite stone?

My favorite stone is the diamond because it has a long history, like the history of the world. The diamond is generally formed inside the earth and its birth dates back to the origin of the earth.

Describe a typical day for a gemology student.
The Modica store

First you meet your lecturers and you can talk about different subjects such as natural science, geophysics and the history of gemstones. It’s very important to study different topics from those that you studied before. You can look at gems with a microscope to identify their types and their properties.

Inside the Pozzallo store

When did your family open the shop in Pozzallo?

My family decided to open the shop in Pozzallo in July 2013 because it is a small, young town and it is a tourist attraction, especially in the summer.

Do you have any help in the Pozzallo shop?

Yes, I have some help in the Pozzallo shop. In our team we are fortunate because my brother Gabriele is a qualified watchmaker. He works in Modica but he likes coming to work in Pozzallo in the summer.

In your shop, can people buy any souvenirs of Sicily?

Yes.  I’ve met a lot of tourists who like ceramic jewellery and Italian jewellery in general.  

One final question, Salvo:  Do you think Britain should give back the Koh-i-Noor Diamond?

Yes, I think you should!

I Monili Aprile:

Via Resistenza Partigiana 25,
Modica [RG]
Tel:  +39 0932 763308 Vittorio Veneto 69,
Pozzallo [RG]
  Tel:  +39 0932 957512

Monday, May 09, 2016


Leafing through an old recipe book the other day, I was reminded of Moroccan preserved lemons. I used to be able to get these in the UK and, indeed, had sometimes made them myself. However, being short of both time and patience, I started to think that, in this land of citrus fruit, there ought to be a quicker way of approaching the taste. Then I started to wonder if I could get anywhere near it if I used cedri [citrons], which Sicilians like to just slice and eat with coarse seasalt. I decided to try and the result was better than I'd expected!  Here's what I did:

Chicken in Prosecco with Grilled Cedro

First, slice one cedro into rounds as you would a lemon. [Sicilian cedri are enormous!]  Halve the slices, put them on a plate and sprinkle with coarse seasalt and about ten grinds of cinnamon from a cinnamon mill.  Leave them for at least an hour, then heat 2 tablesp olive oil on a ridged griddle pan and grill the slices over medium heat for about 1 min. each side.  Stand well back when you put the slices on the griddle and when you turn them.  Put them onto kitchen paper on a plate.

Marinate 6 - 8 chicken drumsticks [skin on ] for about 2 hours in 200 ml Prosecco, 2 tblesp olive oil, 1 tablesp honey, 0.5 tablesp Chinese plum sauce [which I have recently been able to get my hands on again and have missed], about 0.5 tablesp dried herbes de Provence, some sprigs of fresh thyme [lemon thyme if you can get it] and some freshly ground seasalt and black pepper. 

Heat the oven to 180°C.

Lift the chicken out of the marinade with a slotted spoon but keep the marinade. Lay the chicken on a rack in a foil-lined roasting dish and cook for about 45 mins., checking now and then.  When you think it is nearly ready, put the marinade into a pan with the cedro slices and about 20 preserved green olives, drained but still with the accompanying small vegetables that have been used to flavour them. [In Sicily olives are always preserved with slices of sweet Sicilian carrot.]   Heat until the marinade comes to the boil.

Place the chicken on a platter , surround with the cedro slices and olives [removed from the marianade with a slotted spoon] and garnish with some chopped, flat-leaved parsley and some more sprigs of thyme.  Put the marinade in a sauce boat for those who would like some.

Serve with garlic-roasted small potatoes or these from Nigella .

Serves 4.

Buon appetito

Saturday, May 07, 2016


I think the whole of Britain is in love with these two Italians today, so what else could I post?

Andrea Bocelli at Leicester City

Thursday, May 05, 2016


At the beginning of April I wrote that Sambuca di Sicilia in Agrigento Province had, in a TV poll, been named the most beautiful village in Italy, much to the consternation of the inhabitants of Cervo [Liguria], whose beauty I am able to vouch for.

The towers of  San Gimignano

Three weeks after this announcement, however. the Spanish newspaper El País ran its own poll and named San Gimignano in Tuscany as the most beautiful borgo in Italy. I have been to San Gimignano two or three times and it is certainly impressive but I would say it is more majestic than pretty. It also has a torture museum which caused me several sleepless nights after my last visit!

Not having been to Sambuca di Sicilia - a state of affairs I hope to put right in the near future - I couldn't say which of the three villages is the loveliest but the competition, like the Sicilian weather, seems to be hotting up.

Me in San Gimignano in the 1970s - sorry about the fashion!

San Gimignano has been the setting of, or has featured in, several well-known films, notably Tea with Mussolini in 1999:

Tuesday, May 03, 2016


When is an installment not an installment? When Rai [Italy's public service broadcasting company, owned by the Ministry of Economy and Finance] has anything to do with it, that's when!

For some time now, Italy has been trying to solve the problem of TV licence fee evaders, of which there are many.  A couple of years ago, it was decided that, if the fee was added to electricity bills, everyone would have to pay it on time, for everyone has electricity and if you have electricity you are bound to have a TV, right?  Who, after all, could live without one? Well, quite a few people are actually claiming that they can and do.

If you genuinely don't have a TV and therefore wish to be exempted from licence fee payment, you are going to have to prove it, this year and every year, and, quite honestly, I don't fancy your chances. I have a friend here who has never had a TV and who has to date fought a ten-year battle in order to be believed - a fiasco which began long before some bureaucrat came up with the combined licence fee and electricity bill idea.

But let us get to the installments: as a softener, the licence fee has been slightly reduced from €113,50 to €100 per year, to be paid in ten installments.  Parliament finally passed the measure last year after much to-ing amd fro-ing and if you're British, like me, you might have expected to be billed for the first installment with the first electricity bill of 2016. This didn't happen and nobody seemed to know if or when the payments would have to start. Now, however, it has been announced that the first "installment" will be requested with the July electricity bill - only it won't be one installment, but six, as the January - June installments will have to be paid in one go.  To my mind, this renders them non-installments but a down payment, though everybody else just sighs and regards the situation as perfectly normal - which of course, it is in Italy, a country not known for its ability to simplify such matters.

Something tells me there is going to be a fair amount of chaos in July!


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