Friday, December 03, 2021


 It's been a while since I mentioned my book, A Place Called Siracusa, and I have just realised that we are approaching the end of the year, so I thought I would tell you about a mention of it in the daily newspaper La Sicilia back in May. For those of you who read Italian, here is the link to the story online.

I am still working on the file to put the book on Amazon (I'm sorry it is taking longer than I anticipated) and I hope I'll be able to do this by the end of the year. I will keep you posted.

This week I received another media mention, this time about this blog and it appears in issue 92 of the British magazine for women who write, Mslexia. I always look forward to reading Mslexia, as it encourages me to keep going and it was in fact this magazine which inspired me to begin blogging, back in 2006. Therefore it is a great pleasure to see my blog featured in it. 

I'm going to get back to that file now!

Tuesday, November 16, 2021


What a lovely surprise today when a friend brought me these fruits from the Etna area, where she had been over the weekend.

I knew that the small Etna apples are special, as there is something in the soil that makes them very sweet, and the clementines are delightful too. But the chestnuts - ah, the chestnuts, for therein lies a tale:

My friend told me that on the eastern slope of Mount Etna, a very special chestnut tree can be found. It is called the Castagno dei Cento Cavalli  - "The Hundred Horse Chestnut Tree" and it derives its name from the legend that a certain queen, travelling with her ladies and one hundred knights, took shelter from a storm under the tree's ample branches. (Oh, dear - I hope it wasn't a thunderstorm!) The tree must have provided excellent camouflage, for it is said that the storm lasted all night and the queen was able to lie with several of her lovers among the knights. Who was this queen? For a long time it was thought that she was Giovanna I of Anjou, Queen of Naples, but history proved a bad sport and revealed that she had never visited Sicily. Never mind, then - perhaps it was another queen conveniently named Giovanna, Giovanna of Aragon, also Queen of Naples. But others say it was Isabella of England, third wife of King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Well, it was a medieval queen, anyhow.

Apart from (possibly) sheltering amorous queens, the tree, first documented in the 16th century, is the oldest in Europe. It has multiple trunks, which is perhaps why there is some dispute over its age, but it seems it is at least 2,500 years old. Both its circumference and height are 22 metres and its crown spreads for over 100 metres, making it also the largest chestnut tree in the world.

The tree is protected as an Italian Heritage Green Site and is in the Etna Regional Park, parts of which, along with Mount Etna itself, enjoy various levels of protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The tree is, of necessity, surrounded by a fence which you cannot go beyond, but my friend assures me the chestnuts come from nearby and have a very distinctive taste.

Late note: Tonight I learned that the Castagno dei Cento Cavalli has won Italy's "Tree of the Year" competition and will be representing Italy in the European competition in February. Well deserved.

Friday, November 12, 2021


As I mentioned in my hurricane pasta post last week, Sicily has suffered some very bad weather lately. Just one week after the almost total devasation of Catania, floods hit the province again last night, affecting Agrigento and Siracusa provinces as well. Even Ragusa did not escape this time. So there was no "St Martin's summer" ("Indian summer") for us this year.

I have written about this favourite saint of mine before and long-term readers may remember that I explained that the term "St Martin's summer" is used for good weather which lasts into November because of the legend of St Martin's cloak:  In the fourth century, Martin met a beggar at the gates of Amiens on a very cold day and cut his cloak in two with his sword to give half to the poor man. It is said that the sun came out and began to shine brilliantly at that very moment, hence the term estate di San Martino, a phenomenon which I have enjoyed many times in Sicily.

The Feast of St Martin is celebrated on 11th November, the anniversary of his funeral in 397 ( he had died on 8th November) and, because this is also Remembrance or Armistice Day in Britain and my mind yesterday was on my paternal grandfather who was blinded in action in 1918, I'm afraid I had forgotten about St Martin until I was offered fritelle in his honour in my local bar. Fritelle are often served on feast days but are particularly appropriate for St Martin's Day because they can be fried  using the season's new olive oil and go beautifully with the vino novello which is opened on this day. Fritelle are akin to doughnuts but are much smaller and lighter and can be sweet or savoury. They can contain ricotta, walnuts, sultanas and / or fennel seeds, among other ingredients and I must say they are just what you need on a blustery, rainy day like yesterday.


I think St Martin is a very accessible saint for several reasons: we know quite a lot about him and he is a multicultural saint, having been born in what is now Hungary, brought up in Pavia, joined the Roman army and been posted to the Amiens area. He eventually became Bishop of Tours and founded the monastery of Ligugé, the first monastic community in Gaul. As Bishop of Tours he kissed a leper and cured him ( hundreds of years before St Francis did so) and he is credited with encouraging wine-making in the Tours area and introducing the Chenin blanc grape there. I discovered by accident yesterday that the Capetian dynasty of French kings probably owe this name to St Martin because the early kings were lay abbots of the Basilica of St Martin of Tours where part of the cappa (cloak) was kept and it is likely that the name Capet comes from this.

Going back to the weather, I like the the line in Carducci's poem about St Martin's Day in which he describes a miserable, cold day on which the aroma of wine  - presumably the vino novello - manages to "touch the soul with glee." This is what the story of this very human, accessible saint always does for me. I hope it warms your hearts too.

Thursday, November 04, 2021






 At the end of last week, we were all very worried and frightened in Sicily because a Medicane (a blend of the English words "Mediterranean" and "hurricane") was coming in. In Modica it just passed us by and we were fortunate but the effects were devastating in Catania and the Province of Siracusa, as many of you will have seen in the news. We were told to stay at home on Thursday evening and all day on Friday, if possible and the silence in the streets brought back uneasy memories of lockdown for many of us. The early hours of Thursday were particularly scary.

I did venture to my local greengrocer's late on Thursday afternoon, thinking I might be at home until Sunday, and on Friday evening it was my intention to make an amatriciana, one of my favourite pasta dishes. Then I discovered I had forgotten to buy tomatoes and I didn't have a tin of them to improvise with. I did, however, have pancetta, if not the guanciale (pork cheek) you should really use with an amatriciana. (I remember a Masterchef Italia judge groaning because a contestant was using pancetta cubes, but they weren't in an imminent hurricane situation!) I also had passata and - a favourite store cupboard ingredient of mine - a tin of grilled peppers. Therefore it was with these that I created a comforting pasta dish and I named it "Hurricane pasta":

Hurricane pasta

These quantities will serve two people very generously:

200 gr spaghetti or spaghettoni (which are a bit thicker)

2 tablesp olive oil

100 gr smoked pancetta cubes

1 white onion, chopped

200 gr small mushrooms, sliced

330 ml bottle passata

380 gr tin or jar grilled peppers in oil, drained 

seasalt and freshly ground black pepper

chilli flakes to taste

fresh basil leaves if liked

First, get the pasta water on with a little coarse salt in it and, while it is coming to the boil, heat the oil in a wide pan.

Add the pancetta and, as soon as the fat begins to release, add the onion and cook, stirring until softened but not browned.

Add the mushrooms and stir.

Add the passata and stir, lowering the heat.

Add the drained peppers, having cut any very large pieces in half.

By this time, the pasta water should be boiling, so add the pasta to it and cook for the time stated on the pack (probably 10 - 12 mins.)

Add the seasoning and chilli flakes to the pepper mixture and, at this stage, if liked, you can add a few torn fresh basil leaves.

Drain the pasta once it is al dente and add it to the pan containing the sauce. Stir on low heat for just a few minutes.

Serve and enjoy your "hurricane pasta", hopefully in better weather than we had in Sicily last week!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021


 I interviewed young Modican watchmaker Gabriele Aprile for this blog in April 2019 and I thought we should visit him again to see how his EKWATCH project is going and find out what has happened since the pandemic began:

Hi, Gabriele. The world has changed since April 2019 so can you tell us what has changed for you?

Despite the pandemic, I've been happy with the small steps I have been able to take since 2019: I began with five models for my EKWATCH and now there are seventeen. There are new straps and I have also launched a women's line, featuring smaller models.

Has it been difficult to keep your business going during the pandemic?

Lockdown actually allowed me to take a break from the frantic rhythm of the traditional working day and think about new models and ideas for the EKWATCH. I improved the look of the product and increased my presence on social media with regard to the watch. I also got organised and, as soon as it became possible, I participated in trade fairs, where I made new contacts. This, in turn, helped me to sell my products in other sales points.

Is your inspiration still an eclipse?

Yes, from the Greek EK = “eclipse / to eclipse”; the brand will continue to be inspired by this natural phenomenon which has, through the ages, given rise to scientific research, as did the 1919 eclipse which supported Einstein's Theory of Relativity. This was the greatest scientific discovery of the last century and my first model was called EK – 1919 as a tribute to it. I was able to do this thanks to Eddington's eclipse photos, which proved the validity of Einstein's theory and inspired the many studies of it during the twentieth century.

EKWATCH came into being because of a wish to rediscover the innovative and scientific spirit that has characterised eclipses since ancient times. Although the 1919 eclipse is among the most famous ones, eclipses have always been admired as sensational events. They have provided research opportunities for scientific, philosophical and religious studies in every culture and every century.

Coming back to the present day, can you tell us more about your new models?

Certainly: I have restyled the original 39 mm. EK – 1919 model, reducing the crown thickness to make it much more comfortable on the wrist. I have also changed the shiny finish on the hands to opaque, added BGW9 SUPERLUMINOVA luminescence to improve night-time visibility and designed a leather strap for the model. In response to the many requests I have received, I have produced a petite version with a 33 mm. case for smaller wrists. This has a new stylistic configuration and minimalist design details such as the crown becoming hidden inside the case and the logo appearing on the dial.

Last time we met I asked you how you saw your future and I'd like to ask you the same question again today.

I'm hoping to increase shop sales in different outlets in addition to the three we already have, beginning with Southern Italy. With the right models, I'd like to get people talking about EKWATCH in other places.The news for 2022 is that I would like to organise a new crowdfunding campign on Kickstarter for a new model with an automatic mechanism, in order to improve the quality and prestige of the brand.

Are you able to sell abroad?

Yes, indeed. Thanks to my new website I am able to offer a 10% discount to first-time purchasers of the product with free shipping all over the world. In fact in the next few days, and with great pleasure, I'll be sending one of my EK-LADY models to the USA.

What do you think the impact of the pandemic has been on watch retail in general?

It has been difficult for the entire watch trade because when people have to concentrate on their health they don't think of watches as necessary items. People couldn't even leave their houses and all celebrations were prohibited so it hasn't been easy to cope with these circumstances during my first year of marketing my EKWATCH.

Do you think people will go back to, and continue, buying luxury goods?

Yes, as an investment and as a safeguard, even when they feel exasperated, because sometimes people don't buy an item of jewellery to wear it, but in the hope that its value will increase. They don't enjoy the item in the same way, though. I've seen from my family's jewellery business that many people still wish to own a precious jewel for its intrinsic value or buy it as a gift for a special occasion so that it becomes a reminder of that event for their whole lives.

What do people mainly look for in a watch?

I think the design is what first attracts them but they also look for original features. They don't just want an ugly copy of a high-end item.They want a watch that speaks for itself and tells its own story, a watch that makes you feel emotional whenever you check the time.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

My passion for watch-making spurs me to participate in all its processes, from repairing watches in my workshop to the creation of my own micro-brand. Every second of my day, I feel inspired to think about what I can do tomorrow which will be better than what I did today. I believe in my project more than I can say here and I believe that tomorrow can offer a new emotional experience to those who choose to wear my timepiece.

Thank you, Gabriele and good luck with all your future projects.

Thank you.

If you find yourself in Modica, Gabriele will be very happy to welcome you to his shop at

Via Resistenza Partigiana 42,  97015, Modica (RG)

Tel:  +39 328 7109 579

Friday, October 08, 2021


Oh dear, oh dear! Yes, I just checked and he really did say it: Chef Gordon Ramsay, during episode 1 of his roadtrip cookery programme Gordon, Gino and Fred Go Greek, first commented that Greek cooks are as good as their French and Italian counterparts and then said that actually, Greek cooking is better than Italian. This, as you can imagine, has not gone down exactly well in Italy and it stupefied Ramsay's travel companion Gino D'Acampo too, whilst French maître d'hôtel Fred Siriex appeared to agree with Ramsay, citing the longevity of the Greeks. (Has he ever been to Ispica, I wonder?)

There are plenty of amusing comments in the outraged newspaper articles this event has inspired and some of the comments on social media make good reading too, referring to Ramsay's rather unconventional -  and therefore scandalous to Italians - interpretations of traditional Italian dishes.

Me? I love both Greek and Italian cuisine but I have never been lucky enough to eat Greek food in Greece. Therefore I would say I have a slight bias towards the country I live in but other than that I'm keeping out of it!

It was the Greeks who brought grapes, figs, olive trees and pomegranates to Sicily, among other culinary plants and of course they planted vineyards. Some say that even pasta may have originated in Greece but nobody knows for sure.

I did think of adding a poll to this post but then remembered that such ventures sometimes end in the resignation of Prime Ministers and the withdrawal of a country from a trading bloc so perhaps it is best to leave well alone. I would love to read your preferences in the comments, though.

Meanwhile it doesn't seem as if Gordon is going to eat humble pie so he might just have cooked his goose in Italy.

Monday, September 27, 2021


Italy, as you may have noticed, is having a very good year for championships but you may not have heard about one that has nothing to do with sport, namely the World Pastrycook Championship - La Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie, which the country won, for the third time, in Lyon on Saturday.

Chefs Massimo Pica, a chocolate specialist, Lorenzo Puca, who specialises in sugarwork and Andrea Restuccia, a gelato specialist, were given ten hours to produce a chocolate dessert for sharing, an ice cream cake and a restaurant dessert plus a chocolate sculpture and a sugar sculpture, both 165 cm high. The team executed all these tasks impeccably and I am delighted to say that the chocolate sharing dessert contained the Sicilian ingredient of Tarocco oranges. 

"Nothing to do with sport", I said - except that I imagine the training and preparation must have been just as rigorous for, as a cook, I am exhausted just thinking about having to produce all that in the time allotted! Anyone who watches Bakeoff programmes will have some idea of how difficut it is. Many congratulations, then, to the Italian team and also to their trainer Alessandro Dalmasso. 

The runners-up were Japan, France was placed third and the UK a respectable fourth.

I cannot reproduce the pictures but you can view some here.

Monday, August 23, 2021


The European Green Pass, available to EU citizens or legal residents who have completed their Covid vaccination cycle, tested negative to a molecular or antigen test or been cured of Covid, seems to me an excellent idea and I am very grateful to have mine. It can be carried in a paper version or simply downloaded to our phones, with a QR code which has to be scanned for entry into bars and restaurants (except for having a quick coffee at the bar counter) and public venues such as museums and theatres.

However, like all good ideas, it is only good insofar as it works and many bar owners and restaurateurs have been pointing out possible problems, the first being, who is going to do the scanning? Some small bars or restaurants might have to employ an extra person to do it. Secondly, it was initially thought that the person scanning the code would also have to ask the client for proof of identity, which the  restaurateurs objected to vehemently because, they understandably claimed, they are not police. The government quickly clarified that this measure would not be necessary but would remain an option.

However, now another problem has emerged, for the green pass is required only to eat or drink inside the bar or restaurant, not outside, but where, in the height of summer, do most clients, especially tourists wishing to experience the Italian lifestyle, wish to eat? Exactly - outside. Fearing that all the outside tables at their establishments would quickly be taken, thus driving away business from clients not wishing to eat inside, some proprietors are asking clients who have the green pass to eat inside, whether this is their wish or not. I can understand the restaurateurs' position, because their sector has been very heavily hit since March 2020, but the green pass holders are saying, with some justification, that they are now being penalised for being vaccinated.

A few weeks ago, before the advent of the green pass and when Sicily was in a yellow zone with light Covid restrictions, all clients wishing to sit down had to do so outside. Now this is a problem for me because I am asthmatic and cannot tolerate smoking, so I feared that, after so long, I would not be able to visit my local bar. However, they have a veranda ( which we would call a conservatory) area, which is classed as outside but smoking is not allowed, so that solved the problem for me and I still sit there now that we are in a white zone (very few restrictions). 

Cases, however, are increasing, which was probably inevitable with tourism, general opening up and a reluctance among elderly people to have the vaccine, but nobody wants to cancel the white zone in the tourist season. Instead, a system has been created whereby not only the number of cases and the number of intensive care beds occupied in a given location are looked at weekly by both regional and national government, but also the number of people vaccinated in that location. Modica has thereby escaped further restrictions this week, but 55 Sicilian comuni have been placed under these, many in nearby Siracusa Province and five here in Ragusa Province. We are already holding our breath for next week. Meanwhile, there are a lot of very frustrated bar and restaurant clients and proprietors of those establishments who are at their wits' end. They are only, after all, trying to save their businesses, even if upsetting vaccinated clients may not be the wisest way of doing so!

Typical Sicilian summer bar breakfast
of granita and brioche

Monday, August 16, 2021


As most of the world watches, seemingly helplessly, events in Afghanistan today, Italy mourns the loss of a very rare man, someone who, seeing suffering and seeing need, was determined and able to do something about it - the humanitarian and surgeon Gino Strada, who died on 13th August at the age of 73.

After becoming a heart-lung transplant surgeon, Gino Strada worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross before founding, with his wife and colleagues, the medical humanitarian organisation Emergency in 1994. He wanted to help not only direct victims of war, but also those who, because of war, had no access to healthcare and therefore became medically vulnerable. He saw access to free healthcare as a human right. His first project with Emergency was in Rwanda during the genocide and he spent seven years in Afghanistan, opening a much-needed maternity centre there which was recognised by the Afghan Ministry of Health. He also opened a cardiac surgery centre in Khartoum (Sudan) and worked on many other projects in numerous countries. 

Gino Strada continued to speak out and demonstrate against fascism even in his last years and the people of Afghanistan were in his thoughts until the end. Of war he said,

In his book Pappagalli Verdi, Gino Strada wrote,

Quel che facciamo per loro, noi e altri, quel che possiamo fare con le nostre forze, è forse meno di una gocciolina nell’oceano. Ma resto dell’idea che è meglio che ci sia, quella gocciolina, perché se non ci fosse sarebbe peggio per tutti.

What we, and others, do for them, what we can do with the strength that we have, is perhaps less than a small drop in the ocean. But I still believe that it is better that this small drop is there, because if it wasn't the situation would probably be worse for everyone.

- A very large drop, in my opinion, Doctor Strada.

Gino Strada

21 April 1948 - 13 August 2021

Tuesday, August 10, 2021


Today is A level results day in Britain and seeing the reports of joy and disappointment always reminds me of the day I got mine. (A levels are the exams students take in order to get into university.) Here is another extract from my book:

Besides, it was not all doom and gloom at those Friday night meetings* and after them we would all go to a nearby café where we drank coffee, ate cake, laughed and joked and talked about other things. I was there the night before my A level results came out and I suddenly started crying because I couldn't control my anxiety about them any longer.

* The meetings were Gamblers Anonymous for Dad and the Gam-Anon group, for family members affected by a compulsive gambler, for Mum and me (once I turned eighteen).


When I heard the postman the next morning, I put my head under the eiderdown and refused to open the envelope which Mum had brought into my room.

It's all right, Pat. You know we're still proud of you, whatever it says.’

But I carried on hiding and eventually she took it in to Dad, who was still in bed.

Well, if you won't open it, I'll have to!’

And a few moments later,

My darling, you've got a place in university!’

I had done it! Despite all that had happened, I had got even better grades than my first choice university, Cardiff (then The University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, to give it its full title) had required. I couldn't believe it because I really thought I had failed everything but then, I always convinced my parents that I would fail every exam I ever took. I had chosen Cardiff not only because the city was known to me through holidays and weekend trips, but because you could study Italian there and they had not required an O level in maths, which I hadn't passed. I wanted to study Italian, along with French, as a change from Spanish. I think ‘La Vida de Lazarillo De Tormes’, which every Spanish student had to study, had finished me off for that subject and now I wanted to learn the language not only of opera, but of some romantic Italian records I had bought. At Cardiff, if you already had an A level language pass, you could do a crash course in Italian which would take you to A level standard and beyond in a term, so that is what I decided to do. I was so happy and even Miss Williams told me I had ‘done very well, considering all that.’

We celebrated and told everyone we knew and soon a reading list as long as your arm arrived so Dad and I were in our element, buying books in Foyles in Charing Cross Road. Our motto was always, ‘Why borrow a book when you can buy one and have it on your shelf?’ Dad's cousin John, Auntie Ethel's son, sent the two enormous volumes of the Harraps French-English and English-French dictionary, considered the best there was and I was delighted to own them instead of having to go to the library to consult them. John, now a university professor in Australia, had visited us often in Bristol when he was at Clifton College and had always encouraged me academically. I also had to have an undergraduate academic gown and, the Hall of Residence list said, ‘a biscuit tin, a mug, instant coffee and a tin of dried milk powder.’ In that first year the friends I made in Aberdare Hall and I drank myriad mugs of coffee laced with the dried milk, which would often turn lumpy, and I have to say it was one of the most revolting beverages that has ever passed my lips.

So, dear students in Britain, I do know how you feel today and if you are disappointed, it is very unlikely to be as bad as you think so explore every avenue because there is always a way - I know this as a teacher.

Exam results at that level of course impact on our dreams and our dreams are often inspired by the stars. Today is also the feast of San Lorenzo and in Italy on the notte di San Lorenzo and on the nights surrounding it we all look for falling stars, which are said to bring luck. Having said that, on the notte di San Lorenzo in 2019 I saw, for the first time, several shooting stars in succession and look how 2020 turned out! However, when I mentioned this to a kind friend earlier today, she said,

"Hey! You wrote the book, you got through a pandemic and you and Bertie (my dog) are well. Maybe those stars worked!"

So there you are - things are rarely as bad as they may seem.

L'âme est pleine des étoiles tombantes - The soul is full of falling stars.

- Victor Hugo

Le stelle cadono senza far rumore per non svegliarci - Stars fall noiselessly in order not to wake us.

- Roberto Gervaso


Wednesday, August 04, 2021


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


 ‘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



Foto: "La coperta delle 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


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


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


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


 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 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


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


 "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!"

I am pleased and grateful to be able to say that I have 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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