Wednesday, August 04, 2021

ARTFUL ARANCINI


In Italy domiciliari, or house arrest, is often used for minor crimes and sometimes for prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentences or are too ill to remain in a correctional facility. This punishment is very strict and over the years on this blog, I have sometimes written about the comical occasions when offenders undergoing it have run away because they can no longer stand being shut up with their family, or have even gone to the police station begging for rearrest. One wonders how they fared in lockdown.

However, the offender who takes the biscuit - or rather, the riceball - is the young man from Catania who this week evaded house arrest to buy a tray of arancini. I must admit, the arancini of Catania are very good, and anyone who has ever experienced the aroma of freshly made Sicilian arancini wafting towards them from a nearby rosticceria will feel some empathy towards this man. Apparently an offender under house arrest can obtain permission to attend an urgent medical or dental appointment and this is what the young man had done. However, it was not the first time he had told police he was going to the dentist and they had become suspicious. After checking with his dental surgery and finding that he had never been there during his house arrest, the police waited outside his home, and soon along he came, already eating one of the steaming arancini from the trayful he had just purchased.

Whether the carabinieri confiscated the whole trayful is not known.

  

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

ADVENTURES WITH ANGURIA

 ‘That time of year thou mayst in me behold’wrote Shakespeare but he wasn't referring to summer and Sonnet 73 is not one of his cheeriest. But I think of the line in summer and, ever since that first visit of mine to Italy in 1969, I think of summer as anguria or watermelon time. Here is another extract from my book, A Place Called Siracusa and it tells of my first encounter with a watermelon:

It was, in fact, Dott Bianchi who announced one evening that we were going out to eat anguria. I had no idea what it was and he grinned and said I would see. And so I did. At his friends’ house, people were sitting round a kitchen dining table with packs of cards ready to be dealt and an enormous green-striped object in the centre. I saw at once that it was culinary but what was it? A vegetable? A type of marrow, perhaps? Something sweet? Then the man of the house began cutting it and I saw that the inside consisted of dripping, bright red flesh with what appeared to be enormous black seeds. He served me a slice and I had never tasted anything so deliciously cooling! Anguria was watermelon and I had never seen one. I devoured slice after slice that night and after that, as I walked hand in hand with Luca, I recognised it on the stands in the street, where people were buying it by the slice along with coconut.

When it was time to leave, I told Luca I’d like to take an anguria home if I could get a small one.

‘A small one?! What do you think they’re like? What a silly English girl you are!’

That time I got in a huff and reminded him I was Welsh.

Now you can get mini angurie, but then they were all enormous.  

....

One misty morning Lucia and Luca accompanied me to the airport (leaving the house an hour after the time written on my ticket for the closure of the check-in desk).

‘Plenty of time’, they both assured me and sure enough, when we arrived at the terminal, the Alitalia check-in desk hadn’t even opened. You certainly couldn’t do that today!

And so I left the country I had come to love and three hours later I walked up the stairs at Gatwick to see Dad and Grandpa standing there. They seemed pale to me – everybody did. I was glad to be home but I was profoundly changed. I had no doubt in my mind that one day I would go back to Italy and I would stay there. For me it had become what Browning described as the ‘land of lands.’ It still is.

I hadn’t been able to get an anguria into my suitcase but I did manage to pack a bottle of grappa for Grandpa. Mum only ever touched a sherry at Christmas, Dad wasn’t interested in alcoholic drinks and grappa was too strong for me. Grandpa, however, declared it the best thing since sliced bread so that solved my Christmas present problem for him for years to come. No more shaving soap for Grandpa! When we got to Pinner, I told Dad and Grandpa about anguria and that afternoon Dad scoured North London for one. Eventually he found one in an Italian grocer’s but it didn’t taste the same. I never told him.

Now, of course, watermelons are well known in Britain but I am still convinced that nothing tastes as good as a fresh, superbly juicy Italian one on a hot summer day. Friends in Sicily are surprised when I tell them that I serve watermelon  with cucumber as an antipasto but they are not exclusively served at the end of a meal here and are always a welcome sight on my plate of stuzzichini (appetisers) in the bar:



My ultimate homage to watermelon is to have my nails painted to represent them and last week I decided it was definitely that time of year!


Let's hear it for watermelon, everyone!

Monday, August 02, 2021

WELL DONE, LE MAMME!

 

Foto: "La coperta della mamme di Modica"
Facebook page.

In 2019 Arianna Salemi came up with the idea of "clothing" the steps of the San Giovanni Evangelista Church in Modica Alta with knitted or crocheted 20 cm x 20 cm "tiles", worked by the mamme di Modica, to create a beautiful sight and then to give the "tiles" to those who will be in need of them in the cold weather to come. And the mamme did it! The "tiles" were on view on from midnight Saturday - Sunday to midnight Sunday - Monday and people were invited to go and look, and bring along a book to read on the steps if they wanted to. How I wish I could have gone!

I was also delighted to read that Liliana Segre, the 90-year-old Life Senator, writer and Auschwitz survivor, had not only sent some wool to the mamme when she heard of the project, but sent them a beautiful message yesterday:

"L’eguaglianza è un sentimento che fa rima con tolleranza ed accoglienza. Ecco il punto. Quando ci si apre a l’altro, ci si prende cura , si arricchisce il proprio patrimonio sentimentale, sociale, culturale e si diventa biodiversi dunque più umani. Le vostre mattonelle sono un patchwork di tolleranza, pietre d’inciampo dell’accoglienza, fili intrecciati come i destini che si incrociano nel mare nostrum. Grazie infinite care donne di Modica, siete preziose.

"Equality is a sentiment that rhymes* with tolerance and welcome. The point is this: when we are open to the other, we take care of ourselves, we enrich our own emotional, social and cultural heritage and we become multicultural and therefore more human. Your tiles are a patchwork of tolerance, Stolpersteine** of  welcome, intertwining threads like the destinies which cross each other in the Mediterranean. Thank you, dearest women of Modica - you are treasures."

*in Italian, obviously

** Stolpersteine are memorials to Holocaust victims and I think it is to these that Liliana Segre is referring.


Liliana Segre is a heroine of mine and I recently read her book Ho scelto la vita.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

LOOKING AT THE MOON

The anniversary of the 1969 moon landing always makes me think of my first visit to Italy, which took place in that year and I have written about it before on this blog. However, I could hardly believe that it was 52 years ago yesterday at 10.17 pm Italian time, if you focus on the moment Apollo 11 landed, or 52 years ago today, at 4.56 am if you  focus on the moment Armstrong set foot on the moon.

Here is another extract from my book, A Place Called Siracusa, in which I remember the night of 20th - 21st July 1969. I had been living with the Bianchi family in Bergamo and everything, including Italian food, was new to me. The wife had done a bit of matchmaking on my behalf and I had acquired an Italian boyfriend called Luca:

 It wasn’t only my tastebuds that were singing, though. It was as if all my senses had been awakened:  there were the sounds and the silences – the mad boys as their vespas roared by, the cacophony of sounds in the street, the silence of the convent opposite the apartment, punctuated only by bells. There was the smell of the food being prepared - often the aroma of ragù being prepared for lunch would drift up from another apartment from as early as 8 am. Then there was the delicate scent of vanilla that wafted through the air every time you passed a pasticceria and always there was the aroma of freshly-picked lemons.Touch - there was the tactility of Italy, certainly, but also the joy of touching Martina’s freshly ironed. crisp linen sheets, the velvet skin of peaches and apricots, the coolness of marble when you entered apartment buildings. And what a feast for the eyes this country was! In addition to all that, I had met with kindness everywhere.

When Dott. Bianchi took me to the Duomo (cathedral) in Bergamo I was rendered speechless by its beauty and when I first saw Milan Cathedral it was both its grandeur and its loveliness that stopped me in my tracks. When we went to Riccione and Rimini for a few weeks it was the blue of the sea; and it was the sheer majesty of the Alps when we went to spend a week at the Bianchi house there, in Foppolo.

Luca had followed us to both Riccione and to Foppolo, and it was in Foppolo that I found myself on the night of the moon landing, 20 July 1969.  Italian TV was playing songs about the moon late into the night and when they played "Guarda che luna" we all went out onto the balcony to do just that – look at the moon. We couldn’t believe there were men up there!  I only have to listen to the first bar of that song and I am nineteen again, standing back on that balcony in Foppolo, with the Alpine breeze cooling the night air and Luca's arm around me.





So here's to looking at the moon!

The book will be more widely available soon - watch this space!


Saturday, July 03, 2021

ONE SAD SICILIAN

You didn't have to be watching the match between Italy and Belgium in the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship (confusingly taking place in 2021 because of the pandemic) last night to know that Italy won! I happened to be reading, so just followed the cheers from the bar opposite and the surrounding houses and believe me, it is nice to hear happy sounds outside again.

One Sicilian, however, will have been not exactly sad, but perhaps not quite as exultant as the patrons of my local bar, and that person is the Italo-Belgian singer, Salvatore Adamo. Born in Comiso, about 20 miles from where I am writing now and still in the Province of Ragusa, Salvatore Adamo emigrated to Belgium with his parents at the age of three. He now has dual nationality but this did not become possible until 2010. Now 77, Salvatore Adamo of course became famous as just Adamo all over the world, singing mainly in French but also in Italian and other languages. In 2018 he was awarded the Premio Tenco for helping to make Italian music and culture known in other countries.

Speaking about the Euros earlier this week, Adamo said that, like other Italo-Belgians, he would be supporting Belgium as a thank you to the country he has lived in most of his life, although they all keep Italy in their hearts. He said he was sure Italians would understand and I think he is right.

I followed Adamo's music in my youth as a French and Italian student so it is always nice to hear from him. Here is my all-time favourite Adamo song:

 


Friday, July 02, 2021

ARANDORA STAR 81

Today is the 81st anniversary of the Arandora Star tragedy and I again post part of an article I wrote about it in 2009. I do this in memory of the victims and in solidarity with their families but also because, sadly, the story is a much-needed reminder of what can happen when we designate immigrant communities as "the others". 

At the outbreak of World War 11 "enemy aliens" living in Britain were divided into three categories: those in class A were deemed to represent a high security risk and were interned; those in class B were "doubtful" and were subject to some restrictions; and those in class C were thought to pose no security risk at all. However, following the Fall of France in 1940 Churchill decided, in his own words, to "collar the lot" and the majority of class B aliens were interned. When Italy declared war on Britain and France on June 10th the internment of Italian males was ordered. Many of the Germans interned had opposed the Nazis or were German Jewish refugees. Most of the Italians interned had lived in Britain virtually all their lives and many had sons who were serving in the British military. Others were in Britain because they had opposed Mussolini and later fled their country in fear of their lives. The majority of the men were detained in internment camps on the Isle of Man or Orkney, where they were treated inhumanely.
A policy of deporting internees was in place and on 1st July 1940 the SS Arandora Star, a converted cruise liner, sailed from Liverpool for Canada with 1,864 people on board. Of these 734 were Italian internees, 479 were German internees, 89 were German prisoners of war and the rest were guards and crew, 80% of the crew having been newly signed on that morning. The internees were forced to sail in appalling conditions, packed onto a ship built to carry only 250 passengers and extended, in wartime, to carry 200 more.
The ship was painted battleship grey, making her look like a troop carrier, and displayed no Red Cross flag, which would have distinguished her as a vessel carrying civilians. On her second day out from Liverpool the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine off the west coast of Ireland. There had been no lifeboat drills, the rafts were immovably strapped to the sides of the ship anyway, and few lifejackets had been issued. In addition, the decks and the lifeboats were separated by walls of barbed wire - a measure which the Captain had protested about before sailing. Most of the Italians did not stand a chance , as they had come from mountainous areas of Italy and had never learnt to swim. Those few who did survive the freezing sea were again harshly treated after being rescued and some were then deported to Australia.
When the British media reported the tragedy, the public were told that Nazis on board had dashed for the lifeboats knocking everyone else out of the way. No mention was made of the fact that respectable people who had made positive contributions to British society had been on board, along with refugees who had risked their lives, in their own countries, for the very freedoms the British now claimed to be fighting for.

No apology has ever been made by a British government.

Monday, June 21, 2021

SO I WENT AND WROTE A BOOK

 Yes, I finally did it! I'd like to say that I became disciplined and organised and wrote my book during the first, seemingly endless, lockdown but I didn't, because I spent most of the time just feeling scared. I did, however, plan my book and this time last year, when both restrictions and fear had been lifted a little, I had a long talk with myself and I managed to do it.

It was certainly a learning process and the great plan of course got altered many times. At first I thought I would discipline myself to write a certain number of words a day but as time went on, I stopped worrying about the word count and concentrated on completing chapters, which was much more satisfying. Linking one chapter to another was something I spent a lot of time on and eventually I reached the stage of choosing photos and that was both emotional and difficult; many of them, of necessity, show me on my own, not because of vanity but because it would have been impossible to contact and get permission from other people who feature in some of the ones I discarded. I learnt that, under British law, if the photo is old and there was "no expectation of privacy " - for instance it was a large group photo - then there is probably not a problem but I agonised over this type of photo nonetheless. Then I found out that you have to scan the photos you do decide to include at the maximum size and this entailed much running back and forth to a print shop. I had no idea what "crop marks" were, or that you do not use the double inverted commas on your keyboard for speech but use a code for single quote marks ( a kind friend who is a book editor dispensed a few tips like this) and I certainly did not know that a slight difference in the weight of Italian paper can make two or more millimetres difference to the page size!  It was all a fascinating journey.

I mentioned emotion. As the book is an autobiography which will, I hope, shed some light on what the times I have lived through were like for ordinary people, I had to recall some harrowing moments. I spent some days in floods of tears but at the end of the process I felt that a weight had been lifted. I also had to admit to the many stupid things I've done and I'm not proud of them!

But what was my reason for putting myself through all this? To leave a testimony, yes, but mainly I wrote it for my birth family, with whom, as some of you will know, I was reunited in 2014. (If you do not know this story, there is a page with links to my adoption posts at the top of this blog and it is retold in the book.) I would like them to know a little more about what happened to me and why I made some of the decisions I did, among them choosing to move to Italy at the age of fifty-five. Perhaps I can best explain my reasons for writing, along with my choice of title, with this extract from the preface:

It is August 1993 and my mother is delirious in a ward at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff. She repeats to me,

‘I'm going, I'm going.’

‘Where are you going, mum?’

‘I'm going to a place called Siracusa.’

And now, in 2020, I live one hour from Siracusa. But why was my mother, who had never been there, talking about this place as she drifted in and out of consciousness and how did I come to live so near it?

This is the story of my journey and I am writing it primarily for my birth family so that when, in the future, its younger members say, at Christmas gatherings,

‘Remember that strange auntie who used to come at Christmas and wasn't very good at board games?’ they will have something to refer to.

I hope, too, that I have included a little social history here, for the world they will know as adults is one I cannot imagine. Maybe there will be no books at all, but I am convinced that people will continue to read in some form. And if they chose to ignore the book or throw it away, that is their decision, not mine, just as it will be their world, not mine and they will have the right to make their own choices.

It seems such a long time ago now, that I wrote that, yet it has only been a year. Perhaps it is because so much has happened on the world stage since then. All I can do is hope that the little ones do not have their education interrupted again, that they will have no cause to live in fear as they grow up and that they, my birth family, my friends and all who read my blog and / or my book are blesssed with health.

I finished the book and managed to get copies printed for my birth family as a Christmas surprise and  some copies are available in the Mondadori bookshop in Modica. I hope to have copies available online in the next few weeks. I will keep you posted, dear readers.





Sunday, June 20, 2021

TWO FLAGS

Two lovely flags flew from my balcony today, for the occasion of the Italy - Wales match in the Euros 2021 in Rome.  

I love both countries but should confess that I don't love or understand football. However, sometimes you need to go with the flow and even I could see it was a good match. 

For me the anthems were the best bit and I must say the Italian commentator made a valiant attempt at pronouncing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

Well done, Italy and onward, Wales!




Wednesday, June 02, 2021

WE WERE HERE!

Buona Festa della Repubblica, Italy!



June 2nd is also important for me because it marks the anniversary of my arrival, with my dog Simone, in Italy to live - sixteen years ago today.

They have not been sixteen years without trouble, darkness and even despair and of course the Covid situation has brought sadness and despair to us all, wherever we are. Those of us who have our hearts in two countries also worry twice, despair twice and grieve twice, just as we rejoice with both our countries when things go well. So please do not think that, because I have left the UK, I do not care about it, because I very much do.

This day brings many memories back to me and it is perhaps particularly poignant this year, as it was in 2020. I imagined many scenarios, both good and bad, that could happen when I settled here, but never did I imagine a tragedy like Covid - how could I, when the best scientists and virologists in the world did not? Nor can I inagine what the situation would have been like for me if I had lived through it in my country of birth; I can only try to deal with the situation here and now, and be happy that this is one bank holiday - only the second since the pandemic began, I think - which we in Italy are not spending in lockdown. 

And of course, today I think a lot of my little Simi, who "went on", as my mother used to say, six years ago now, though I believe she is still with me. Sometimes when I am out with my precious Bertie I see her there, beside us, and I say, "Walk with us part of the way, sweetheart", and I believe she does. Then she is gone again.

So on this day of many memories, I offer you an extract, recalling June 2nd 2005, from my book. (Yes, I have written a book! )

Three days later, I boarded the bus from Cardiff Bus Station to Gatwick Airport. I would stay three nights in a hotel there, walk around London and bid it farewell – for I didn't know if or when I would be in the UK again - and then, on the morning of 2 June 2005, Simi and I would board our flight to Italy. And that is what I did. I didn't go out to Pinner - Mum and Dad were in my heart, wherever I was or would be. Instead, I lit two candles for them in Westminster Abbey. Then I walked slowly around Poet's Corner to thank all those who are commemorated there, lingering the longest for Tennyson, Browning and his Elizabeth, Shakespeare and of course, Dylan Thomas.

I had, of course, kept in touch with the pet transporter company and they had reassured me that Simi was fine. At the airport, she had to undergo a final health check at which I could not be present. When I arrived there, I asked about her at check-in and was told I should ask at the departure gate. I knew she had been sent there but nothing more. The gate staff told me to sit near them and they would make enquiries. I had to wait until all the other passengers had been checked in and then a kindly ground crew officer approached me and said he had just seen Simi and had given her water. He took me to the window so that I could see her little crate being loaded. (She wasn't allowed to be in the cabin with me and I knew this. I also knew that pets are flown in a special area in the hold. I had been worried but my Cardiff vet had told me it is actually better for them because it's cool and dark and they usually sleep.) Oh, my little baby! As I was watching, the co-pilot came along and said that he, too, had just seen her and that she was a little anxious but otherwise fine. A nice Scottish lady also came over to tell me she had overheard our conversation and knew how I felt as she had previously flown her Westie dog from Scotland to London. Not so far, but it was empathy and I appreciated it. Once I boarded, I spoke to the captain too and he told me Simi was just underneath the spot where we were standing. I felt better then, knowing exactly where she was. By the time I sat down, I was so tired that I slept most of the way.

As we came into Catania, I did not see Etna this time, but felt the familiar surge of emotion as we touched down on the soil of this most beloved of lands that I had decided to make my home.

We were here!


I loved you then, Italy and I love you now.



I will tell the kind readers of this blog more about the book next time!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

NON SE NE PUÒ PIÙ

 "It's been too long", wrote a kind reader of this blog in a message to me last month and it's true - it has been over a year since I last posted here. The reason? The pandemic, mostly. I did not bake bread every day, though I continued to cook, I did not follow an exciting exercise régime online and, though I kept in touch with friends, I did not spend hours on Zoom or Skype. I spent most of my time scrolling through the news, hoping, day after day, to see a hopeful headline and, as you will all know, it was months before one appeared. Yes, last summer in Italy we felt that we could breathe and life returned, for a while, to something resembling normality but the respite was short-lived.  

Then came the autumn and we found ourselves in lockdown after lockdown, all over again. None of these was as strict, or felt as oppressive, as that first long lockdown that began in March 2020, but the restrictions and the uncertainty from week to week and even from day to day began to get everybody down. Italy was again divided into zones, with red zones having the most restrictions, orange ones some and yellow zones fewer, with the white zone, the one we all long for, seeming impossibly far away. 

Non se ne può più - "We can't stand it any more" was the sentence I heard everywhere from Easter onwards and indeed I do not think we could have. Sicily at last became a yellow zone last week, which means that bars and restaurants can open in their outside space and the hated curfew has been moved to 11pm. It had been so sad, in recent months, to pass my local bar and see no one sitting on its terrace and to witness the accompanying silence of what is, in normal times, a joyful and welcoming place. That is why it has been such a pleasure, this week, to be able to enjoy a gelato and an aperitivo there again.




I don't think it is understood by government that small local bars can be much more than places of refreshment: For many people who live alone, they are a point of social contact and I know that if I did not appear at mine for a coffee in the morning, they would worry about me and there would be a good chance of someone quickly coming to find me if I fell, or worse, at home. It makes me feel generally safer.




My dog, who has kept me going and provided the affection and cuddles I have so missed over the past fifteen months, is happy to be patted and spoken to on our walks again and she, like me, senses that the heaviness in the atmosphere has lifted. 


"I'm under here, mummy!"


And yes, I have, I am pleased and grateful to be able to say, received my first vaccine. I know that this alone will not guarantee my safety but compared to how I felt a year ago, it has made a tremendous difference. You will all know the story of how, at the beginning of this year, Italy seemed to be doing very well and was even ahead of some other countries in its vaccination plan. Then it all fell apart when the promised quantities of doses from more than one company did not arrive in the EU as expected, for reasons that are not yet clear. I think many of us became very frightened again then and it was a bleak time. But the country has made great progress following this setback, not without difficulty, frustration and tears, and it seems to me that most of us feel very cautiously optimistic.

Anything that disrupts our routines, the things we take for granted, is hugely stressful and it is usually not  until it happens that we realise this. But it is not only routine that punctuates our lives -  collective celebrations or, sadly, mourning, festivals, public anniversaries and other events also play their part and of course they are missed. Almost every year since I have lived in Sicily (sixteen years on June 2nd, Republic Day) I have attended the lovely Infiorata in Noto to see the "carpet of flowers" which is always on show during the third weekend of May. As I've written here before, such events take place in several parts of Italy and in other Catholic countries and the most likely reason for their origin is simply a desire to create something beautiful for God. And I'm sure that God, like the rest of us, could do with gazing upon some beauty in this situation. Last year the carpet was created but only shown online and this solution had to be repeated this year. Its theme in 2021 was a homage to Dante and the famous words,

e quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle - and thus we came out to see the stars again

were spelled out in flowers.

Non se ne può più has never seemed more true and the words of the father of the Italian language have expressed the hope of everyone, all over the world.


Image from Quotidiano di Ragusa

I'll try not to leave it so long between posts from now on!


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