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.


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