Monday, June 13, 2022

JUST A FEW PHOTOS...

 Just a few photos of where I live, in Modica, a Unesco World Heritage Site, from its highest point, the Pizzo.

And what Saturday night is complete without a pizza?  This delicious Ortolana pizza was consumed with pleasure at the smart new Pizzeria S. Antonio , Modica Alta.




Sunday, June 05, 2022

MARKING AN ERA

On the occasion of Her Majesty The Queen's Platinum Jubilee, I'm going to begin with another extract from my memoir, A Place Called Siracusa:

I think we must have got the TV for the Coronation and we had red, white and blue flags all over the house in the run-up to it. I dressed up as the Queen and paraded around pretending to be her for what seemed like months and when it was all over I kept asking when the next Coronation would be.

Not until the Queen dies”,

said Auntie Mabel, disappointing me abjectly.

I did not want Her Majesty to die but I couldn't believe I'd have to wait till I was as old as Mum and Dad, or even Auntie Mabel and Grandpa! But meanwhile we had a new, young Queen with a dazzling smile and a year or two later my class at school was taken to watch her drive through Bristol. All we really saw was a flash of the strawberry-coloured suit she was wearing as she passed but we waved our little flags like mad, and afterwards drew excruciating pictures of the occasion for posterity. The Queen was soon to disappoint me again, however and the reason for this was our new, red sofa. I was so happy because it was red, my favourite colour at the time but Dad quickly decided it needed to be covered and covered it was, in heavy, drab material. I cried buckets and asked Grandpa when the covers would come off.

When the Queen comes”, he replied.

I spent months with my nose pressed against my bedroom window, waiting for the Queen to come, but she never did. I've been disillusioned with the monarchy ever since.




Sixty-nine years on and I still don't want the Queen to die. I'm not even a monarchist but I can't imagine the world without her. In a very strange way, which is hard to explain to non-Brits, the Queen has been a part of our lives, though most of us have never met her, many have never seen her at a live event and a large percentage are indifferent to the monarchy, if not against it. I can only explain this sentiment by saying that she perhaps represents the collective memory of the nation. On this particular Jubilee, I am watching the coverage and celebrating in my little way because I believe it is possible to have doubts about the relevance of the monarchy as an institution, whilst maintaining respect for a woman who has always done what she regards as her duty. I also rejoice because, wherever we are, we have had very little to celebrate together for a very long time. I must say that yesterday (2nd June), as I watched the crowd in London walking peacefully to Buckingham Palace, as the people of Britain have, on important national occasions of both joy and sorrow, for generations, I was able to think, “Yes, that is the Britain I remember and the Britain I continue to love.”

In this spirit, then, I wish Her Majesty and the country that made me a very happy Platinum Jubilee. This little rhyme came into my head the other day:


So here's my Coronation Crown

and I paraded up and down,

a “pretend queen”, when I was three,

yet all things pass – and I, and she. 




Tuesday, May 17, 2022

THE RETURN OF A FAVOURITE FESTA

 It was a great pleasure, on Saturday, to be able to visit the Infiorata di Noto (carpet of flowers) again in person, as it has not been held as a "live" event for the past two years because of the pandemic. This year's theme was the Val di Noto Baroque cities, marking the twentieth anniversary of these eight towns becoming, collectively and deservedly, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

For the first time, the Infiorata has been held for five days instead of three, from last Friday until today, allowing many more people to enjoy it. Also for the first time, it has been necessary to buy a ticket - not to enter the city but to walk along via Nicolaci where the carpet has been displayed - at the very reasonable price of €2,50 per person. These could be purchased on site or online, though I have to say that the latter system took some time!

Because you are walking on one side or the other of the display you are contending with some strange angles for photos and also with sun and shadow and having to crop out faces, so I did the best I could:








As always, no visit to Noto is complete without a visit to the Caffè Sicilia, where you can partake of delicious and unique ice creams such as this one. Finally, here is your faithful blogger enjoying the Noto sunshine.



Well done, Noto and thank you for a great day!

Monday, April 18, 2022

BUONA PASQUETTA - HAPPY EASTER MONDAY

This Easter traditional processions are back and Modicans, yesterday, were able to enjoy their beloved Madonna Vasa Vasa, the Easter Sunday procession in which statues of Mary and of the Risen Christ are carried around the town until, eventually, they meet. Other towns have also been able to celebrate in their traditional ways, although there was much polemic about this at first. In the end, I think, it was conceded that people cannot live under Covid restrictions forever and at some point they have to be trusted to be as careful as they can while attending such events. Let us hope that all will be well.

I did not attend, preferring to spend the day here with my dog and perhaps have a day of reflection but I certainly did not lack for food! A kind friend brought me lamb impanate (pies) and cassate (also known as cassatelle or cassateddi) di Pasqua. These last are very different from the iced cassate beloved of tourist magazines and are pastries filled with ricotta and honey. They are a particular speciality of south-eastern Sicily. I made for myself my spezzatino di Pasqua of lamb, onions, artichoke hearts, yellow pepper and potatoes spiced with sumac and flavoured with rosemary and sage. (Lamb cuts are smaller in Italy than in the UK, hence the seemingly vast quantity. I will freeze some.)  The last photo shows two slices of a superb colomba (dove-shaped cake) which was also a gift and it is flavoured with Modican chocolate and amarena (black cherry) icing. Can I make colomba?  I have never tried because there are professional bakers who do it far better than I ever could and have space and equipment for the long, natural rising required, as with panettone.




Happy Easter Monday, everyone!



Wednesday, April 06, 2022

BALMY BREEZES

A lovely day on Sunday with friends who are both book lovers and dog lovers and what could be better after a long and delicious lunch than an evening stroll by the sea in Sampieri?








Blogger in balmy breeze



And the memory of a beautiful sunset
to take home.





Sunday, March 27, 2022

BLOG4PEACE - UKRAINE

 


This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter,

said President Obama following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.

Although the President was referring to a very different situation from the one the world is trying to respond to today, these are words that have stayed with me, for any one of us, through a combination of geographical position and politics, could find ourselves caught up in a war and having to flee. We think it is so far away, and yet it is so near.

Yesterday I read some extracts from the diaries of Ukrainians in Mariupol, and I cannot get out of my mind the distress of a journalist who had finally pushed her beloved dog down the stairs and out of her building, presumably in the hope that the dog would find a way to survive. That could be any dog-owner too, in a sudden change of circumstances.

When Mimi Lenox, the indefatigable founder of Blog4Peace, decided to launch a special Ukraine edition of the project this weekend - we usually do it in November - I, like many bloggers around the world, wondered how I could do it, although I desperately wanted to. How could I put my hands on the keyboard and write about the tragedy in Ukraine when experts on that country and Russia also find their fingers paralysed by horror? But Mimi is right - this is exactly the moment when we must start typing, to show that words matter, that people matter, that peace matters to us all.

My first reaction to the escalating situation a few weeks ago was, "Have we learnt nothing?" but of course it is a myth that we have had continuous peace in Europe since 1945. Man just isn't that wise! And every time, I ask myself, over and over again, "Why?" Every time I see that leaders on both sides of a conflict have at least got themselves round a table, I want to yell, "Keep talking, keep talking! If you can declare a truce for an hour, you can declare a truce for a day, a week, a month, a year or forever. And if you can agree thus far, you can agree to stop it. So stop it!"

I do know it is not as simple as that and I have no idea how you can begin to reason with a tyrant. Yet I imagine that one man does have an idea and that, of course, is President Zelenskyy, for who can fail to admire this brave and inspiring man? Derided at the beginning as "just a comedian", he has defied all the odds. "Just a comedian?" No one is better placed to understand tragedy than someone who has an understanding of comedy, for the two are intrinsically linked. Even in Shakespeare's tragedies, there is often a fool or a clown and much comedy hinges upon a point at which tragedy is (only just) avoided; for example, girl almost marries the wrong man, then something happens that enables her to marry the right one and, to bring Shakespeare into things once more, "All's well that ends well."

Comedians, then, certainly have a role to play, as do the protests of ordinary people and an example of the latter has given me hope today: In the occupied town of Slavutych (Northern Ukraine) citizens continued to protest peacefully as sten grenades and bullets whizzed across the sky above them. They demanded a Russian withdrawal and the release of their imprisoned Mayor. In the end, they got both. Words matter, people matter and peace matters to all of us.

And tonight I will hug my dog a little tighter.








Tuesday, March 08, 2022

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY 2022




March 8th, La festa della donna, is widely celebrated in Italy and you see mimosa blossom everywhere. Here's why it is a symbol of this day. Arrangements such as those in the photo above are sold in supermarkets and in the streets (the one on the left containing artificial mimosa, of course but it's a pretty idea) and I bought the one below this morning:




Also this morning in my favourite bar all breakfasts and coffee consumed by women were paid for by a local business and we were each given little gifts of flowers - something to brighten our day after two years in which we haven't really been able to celebrate this day.




The dark times, as we know, continue and my thoughts today are with all the women who cannot celebrate International Women's Day in their own homes or even in their own country and who, unlike me, have had no choice in the matter. I'm sure you will join me in wishing them peace.

Friday, February 18, 2022

CAKE, GELATO AND SAINTS

My birthday on Monday (St Valentine's Day) prompted a trip to Catania with a friend on Saturday, and also led to much thought, principally about how, with a bit of luck, you feel reasonably strong and energetic for quite a long time in your life and then suddenly you are seventy-two and everything takes much more effort than it used to. You also have to start admitting that there are some things you can't do any more and for me these include standing for long periods, standing on ladders or chairs (balance problems) and chopping an onion as if I was on Masterchef. However, being here is better than the alternative, as they say, and, as we have all led such restricted lives due to Covid over the past two years, I was very happy to go to Catania in December for the first time since my birthday in 2020 and again last Saturday when a friend offered to buy me lunch there. It was a lovely, sunny day, warm enough to eat outside and watch the world go by, and this semifreddo agli agrumi di Sicilia rounded off a delicious meal:


The atmosphere in Catania was happy, for, although the processions which would normally take place for the feast of the city's patron Sant'Agata had again been cancelled due to Covid, masses were taking place for her in the cathedral and everyone seemed to be still feeling festive. Sant'Agata's feast day is 8th February but processions are held on the 12th, the ottavo or eighth day after her feast. This brave lady was jailed for refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods and / or because she refused the advances of the Roman prefect. In prison she underwent several forms of torture, including having her breasts pulled out with pincers and being forced to walk on broken glass and hot coals. Unsurprisingly seriously ill after these ordeals, she is said to have been healed by St Peter, who appeared to her. She was sentenced to be burnt at the stake but an earthquake prevented the sentence from being carried out. Sant'Agata died in prison, probably in AD 251. She is the protector of people suffering from breast cancer, wet nurses, bell-founders and bakers among others and is thought to be able to protect the city from the eruptions of Etna. Therefore, you will understand, she is a most beloved saint.

"Got the fridge magnet"

After lunch and a pleasant stroll along Catania's wide main shopping street, via Etnea, we decided to find the new gelateria opened there by Don Peppinu. This company make the most delicious ice cream and their efficient and cheerful delivery service saved me when the first lockdown continued into April 2020 and I was gasping for gelato. I will be forever grateful to them and, also in lockdown, I ordered one of their cannoli kits to gladden a lonely weekend. The Catania shop is beautiful and Don Peppinu has lots of new and unusual ice cream flavours so, if you're ever in the city, do pay a visit.



On Monday I treated myself to another birthday lunch in my local bar, the Cicara Caffeteria, and when I ordered a slice of their strawberry tart - because you have to have cake on your birthday - it came with a candle, which made me happy.

Then I went home to be with my dog, read and reflect on other birthdays: the seven-shaped cake my dad ordered, obviously, for my seventh, the romantic, padded birthday and Valentine cards I used to receive from my first love back in Bristol, the disappointing birthday when an emotionally unavailable man gave me a gift the day before but didn't want to spend the actual day with me and was totally unaware of how much that hurt, and of how the postman in Cardiff used to think I had many lovers because I always received lots of cards on Valentine's Day. I never disillusioned him. Then of course there were the other milestone birthdays I've celebrated in Modica - my fifty-fifth before I came to live here, my sixtieth when I decorated my house with images and record covers from the 1950s and 60s and my seventieth, also in my local bar, two evenings before the fourteenth and twenty-nine days before the beginning of Italy's first national lockdown. I look at the photos of that night and think, "What if we had known?"

Modica, 1995 - my 55th; Modica, 2020 - cake for my 70th; 
me on my 70th; 2022 - Cicara Bar, Modica


But in the month of love let us end with love: Valentine's Day, of course, is much commercialised but I think the saint - associated with love either because he signed a letter to his jailer's daughter "from your Valentine" or because he secretly married Roman couples who were in love, so that the husband could not be conscripted - has left us something precious if it causes us to remember, and be grateful for, all the love we have in its many forms. I go home, I look at my dog and I realise I have all the love in the world, right here.



Tuesday, February 08, 2022

THE TIME HAS COME...

"The time has come", the blogger said,
to talk of many things,
of popes and queens and festivals
and carnivals and kings."

Let's start with the festival: Sanremo 2022 ended on Saturday, after a great week's entertainment, with an overall win for the duo Mahmood and Blanco and their song Brividi. They will go on to represent Italy with this song at the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin in May so you'll be hearing a lot more of it.


I liked it very much, but I also likes Elisa's song, O forse sei tu, which was beautifully sung and it was nice to see the singer back at the Festival after 20 years. (I've always followed Sanremo, even from Britain.) Elisa came second and also won the the prize for best musical composition. She must have been very pleased as later she skateboarded back to her hotel, still in her beautiful, long, floaty white dress. Brava, Elisa! The Gianni who is so loved in Italy that he is sometimes known as the "Gianni nazionale", the great Gianni Morandi, came third with Apri tutte le porte - Open all the Doors, a song which, with its description of waking up feeling indolent and then being determined to open the doors of life and let the sun in, appealed to everyone's mood. Morandi, with Jovanotti, won the Cover Night (in my opinion always the best night, as I like to wallow in nostalgia) and really the singer has made a fantastic comeback after suffering serious burns to his hands and legs last year in a garden accident. I wish I had his energy!



My favourite song, and therefore the one I voted for, was Irama's Ovunque Sarai  - Wherever You Are and he gave it everything on the final night, saying,
" This evening I'm going to sing to remind all who have lost a loved one that love and beauty always remain in the present."
Irama was placed fourth but I'm sure he will win the Festival one day.


It was also good to see female co-presenters who had been chosen not only for their looks but for what they had to say, which was consistently interesting and I mentioned Lorena Cesarini in my post last Thursday. Had there been an elegance prize, it was generally agreed, it would have gone to to Drusilla Foer, the alter ego of the actor Gianluca Gori. It was the first time Sanremo had been co-presented by a celebrity en travesti and well done to the organisers for moving with the times. Last week, I said that if I make it to the age of 82 I want to be like Iva Zanicchi but after the following exchange on Saturday I've decided I don't:

Iva:  "How tall you are!"
Drusilla: "Taller than you!"
Iva: "You've got other things I don't have!"
Drusilla: "Yes, I'm cultured."

So Drusilla took the repartee prize too and went on to say that she thought we should stop focussing on our diversity and concentrate on our uniqueness. She is strongly tipped to be the main presenter of Sanremo 2023.

From the Festival to another celebration, that of the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen: I'm not entirely a monarchist, as regular readers will know, but I'm not entirely an anti-monarchist either, absurd though the institution can be. Anyway, my friend Carol King and I decided it would have been churlish not to at least drink a toast to her. I think we have all decided to celebrate whatever moments we can in this third year of the pandemic so a "Lizzie lunch" was planned: I prepared some antipasti - my green tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, Asiago cheese with cotognata (quince paste), dried sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and olives. 




We ordered some chicken and chips from a popular rosticceria (as that's a bit British) and a tray of little cakes including these pretty mini-cheesecakes and chocolate cups from my local pasticceria




As it's carnival time (although many carnivals have been postponed to the spring because of the pandemic) I also got in some traditional chiacchiere biscuits. This is the first time I've seen some drizzled with pistacchio cream instead of chocolate and very good they were too.


As I said, it would have been
churlish not to...


People have remarked that the Queen's Accession Day 2022 Message is "perfect pitch" and indeed it hit the right note and concentrated on the positive. Her Majesty had the courage to look to the future and also to grant the wish that she knew would make her son and heir apparent happy - that is, to recognise his wife as future Queen (and not Princess Consort as originally suggested in deference to public opinion almost seventeen years ago). We have all moved on, I think, though many people I have spoken to here are indignant on behalf of the late Diana. My view from abroad is that the British have not forgotten her and even if they had, there are series like The Crown to remind them, but that they have forgiven Charles and come to respect him more. Even future kings can make mistakes in their personal lives and my own view is that he has paid for them.

What, I wonder, would Pope Francis think about that? I don't think he would pass judgement on a non-Catholic marriage but perhaps he would quietly wish Charles, who had great respect for his predecessor-but-one and who postponed his second wedding to attend the latter's funeral, well. It would seem so judging by the humility of this man on Sunday's Che tempo che fa programme. The Pope surprised us all by admitting he had wanted to be a butcher as a child, because, shopping with his mother or grandmother, he had seen that the butcher had a bag into which he put money. Quite a change of vocation! The Pope was most angry about what he described as a crime - the treatment of immigrants - saying that they were being held in what amounted to concentration camps in Libya and he saw war as the cause of most of the world's ills:
"A year without arms and there would be enough food and education for the whole world."

Asked about the suffering of children, Pope Francis said that, despite his faith, he could give no explanation and I admired his honesty.

On a lighter note, he admitted that one of his reasons for not choosing to live in the Papal apartment was that the popes who had lived there before him were saints, while he is not one and he needs people around him, for friendship sustains him. He also said that a sense of humour is like a medicine.

Presenter Fabio Fazio has been criticised today for being a little too humble in this edition of Che tempo che fa but I think he is a great interviewer and he did not avoid difficult questions. And who would not have been overawed when interviewing the Pope?

All these events were pleasant distractions from what is happenng in my own country and I found each of them uplifting. If only I could stop scrolling the news more often! 

 

Thursday, February 03, 2022

SANREMO 2022 - AN ECLECTIC VIEW

How lovely it is to see the Sanremo Festival back this year with a live audience in the Ariston Theatre. This, of course, wasn't possible last year, when everyone did their best but presenters like Amadeus and Fiorello need the interaction which only a live audience can provide for them. More importantly, though, being able to watch the much-loved Festival in its usual format is giving Italians a sense of normality and goodness knows, all our psyches need that. 




So  what were the highlights and controversies of the first two evenings on Tuesday and Wednesday? Well, much will depend on how you view certain matters, for the always original Achille Lauro was the first contestant to get himself into a row and not any old row, but one with the Catholic Church because he appeared, bare-chested, barefoot and tattoed and performed a mock baptism. This led to accusations of blasphemy. The singer defended himself by saying that he had dedicated the performnce to his mother and that mothers give life and therefore renew us every day. Another person to defend him has been Carmelo La Magra, the former priest of Lampedusa, who asked if people only demonstrate their Catholicism when Achille Lauro sings. He also said that the singer is an artist whose job is to deliver messages and advised people to be scandalised about other things and to allow themselves to laugh now and then. Meanwhile the editor of the Vatican City newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, wrote, 

"Sanremo is Sanremo. The Osservatore is the Osservatore...... They don't make sinners like they used to."

I rather think that those should be the last words on the controversy but I leave judgement to those more versed in religion than I am.

Like most of my contemporaries, I love a golden oldie type of song and Massimo Ranieri gave us one in Lettera al di là del Mare. I must admit to being rather cross with Mr Ranieri, though, for in a recent interview the singer, who will be 71 in May, talked about his desire to have a son. 

"Fortunately a man of a certain age can reproduce and I sincerely hope to do so."

He said he thought he would be an ideal dad - he has a daughter but he didn't recognise her until she was 24 - as he has the body clock of an artist and rarely goes to bed before 3 am. Therefore staying up with a crying baby would not bother him. It may be true, as he says, that 70 is not old these days and as I am just over that age too I am happy to believe him. However, I couldn't help thinking that if a woman of that age expressed her desire to become a mother, she would be widely vilified, as indeed many women twenty years younger have been. Anyway, I enjoyed the song, Massimo.

Next up on this blog is 82-year-old Sanremo veteran Iva Zanicchi, who looked fabulous and belted out a song called Voglio amarti. I must admit I didn't take much notice of the lyrics, as I spent her performance time with my nose almost pressed to the screen trying to work out exactly what shades of eyeshadow she was wearing so that I could copy them. When I heard the song again later, I particularly liked the lines,

E se un giorno scoprirò
Nel mio cuore una ruga in più… sarai tu

And if one day I find

Another wrinkle in my heart ... it will be you.

When Iva Zanicchi was placed last in Wednesday night's press and media vote, her reaction was,

"Well, at least they noticed me."

If I make it to 82, I want to be like Iva!

The singer in first place was Elisa, back at Sanremo after twenty years, with O forse sei tu. I, too, thought this was a beautiful song but the public votes which start on Thursday could change everything. 

Perhaps the most touching moment on Wednesday night was when co-presenter and actress Lorena Cesarini spoke about her experience of racism, quoting some of the cruel comments she has received on social media since the announcement that she would be co-presenting on Wednesday:

"After Amadeus's announcement I discover that, at 34, it isn't true that I'm an Italian girl like the the others - I'm black... But I keep asking myself, 'Why? Why are there people who have a problem with the colour of my skin?' "

I don't know, Lorena and I can't imagine how this must feel. I can only tell you to keep on being your brilliant self and to hope that we will emerge from the pandemic having learnt that we are all human and must stand together. 

I am not watching Sanremo tonight (Thursday) because Masterchef Italia requires my attention but I'll be watching tomorrow and on Saturday (the final night) and will probably take part in the public vote.


Thursday, January 27, 2022

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY 2022

 A young person asked me today what I thought about this commemoration. I replied that I thought it was essential, as an event in Italy this week has sadly shown us: On Sunday in Venturina Terme, a hamlet of Campiglia Marittima in the Province of Livorno, Tuscany, a twelve-year-old boy was bullied, called names, kicked and spat upon by two teenage girls simply because he is Jewish. They also, appallingly, told him that he should "die in an oven."  The worst of it, perhaps, is that onlookers did nothing. Nothing. And that, as history, we would have hoped, had taught us, is where it begins - when onlookers do and say nothing.

Long ago, as a French and Italian student, I studied what happens under occupations and totalitarian régimes and what defines "collaboration" in such circumstances. We would all like to think we would have been heroes but the truth is that very few of us would have been. Some citizens "collaborated" to keep their jobs and feed their families but on the everyday level of simply keeping their heads down. Others went further and actively helped the oppressors. By this time, of course, the bullies were the ones in power, but how did they get there? They got there because reasonable people let them, listened to their propaganda and cheered them on, even in the most cultured of countries. They did not notice as their freedoms were eroded little by little. They noticed when it was too late and now the bullies were the ones holding the guns. And they were holding the guns because the small incidents were not called out.

Alberta Ticciati, the Mayor of Campiglia Marittima, though, is calling it out. Shocked when the boy's father reported the incident to her and to the police, she has written on Facebook,

"I am a public administrator but first I am a person, a woman and a mother... I understand how complex and difficult it is to bring up a child and guide them as they grow. But there are no excuses. There can be no justification."

No justification and regretfully no surprise. Liliana Segre, the Italian Holocaust survivor and Life Senator said that this kind of incident does not surprise her as unfortunately she is used to it. 

Tonight a torchlit Memorial Procession is being held in Venturina Terme and among those attending is the Governor of Tuscany. Let us hope that the boy and his family are able to take some comfort from the genuine solidarity being offered here.


Depressingly it has been reported that 2021 saw the highest number of reports of antisemitic incidents worldwide - an average of ten per day - in a decade and shamefully Europe accounts for 50% of these. Many more go uncalled out and unreported.

I told my young friend that there are few Holocaust survivors alive today; Liliana Segre, who has spent her life educating young people about it, no longer feels able, at ninety-one, to travel the country to speak in schools; and my generation, whose parents lived through World War II and who conveyed the horror of the Holocaust to us, will soon be gone too. Now it is up to my eighteen-year-old friend's generation to keep the memory alive, call the small incidents out so that they do not become massive ones and, if I may paraphrase a much decried British Prime Minister who did, however, get several things right, "Educate, educate, educate".



Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A HAPPY NEW YEAR (I THINK)

In Catania at the end of November


Every now and then, in this seemingly never-ending Covid situation, I get stopped in my tracks with fear and that is what happened in December when Omicron blared out its presence to the world. We were so near, we thought, so very near, to having a "normal" Christmas and to living in a way that resembled pre-Covid times. But it was not to be and, although triple-vaccinated, I'm still scared, especially with positive test results rising exponentially in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy - 947 in my town of 53,000 inhabitants today. Although we are not locked down or restricted as we were a year ago, masks are compulsory outside as well as inside again, we are supposed to be social distancing wherever possible, unnecessary mixing is discouraged and school reopening has been postponed from today until at least Thursday. It is not yet known whether teaching will be via distance learning or on school premises. In addition to these measures, you will have read about the Italian government's decision to bring in what amounts to compulsory vaccinations for the over 50s. We watch, we try to be careful and we hope, like the rest of the world.

At Christmas, I am glad to say, we were not required to fill in the hated self-certification documents in order to go anywhere at all or prevented from seeing friends and family and I spent a lovely Christmas Day with three friends who love books and dogs. Yes, I did consider staying at home but we are all vaccinated and at nearly 72 and with the virus raging, I wondered, and still wonder, if I will see another Christmas and whether we will at some point be barred from even small household mixing again, although the Italian government is doing everything it can to avoid having to take such a measure and Prime Minister Draghi has assured the nation this evening that he is not intending to take the country into lockdowns again. 

Having decided to accept the kind invitation, however, things did not exactly go to plan in the run-up and on Christmas Eve I nearly went into full hysterical mode as I was in the middle of making a cake to take to my friends' house when a domestic disaster struck. The recipe was for the wonderful Dame Mary Berry's Chocolate Cappuccino Tart, a cake I have made many times before and which has always been a success here. (I don't use instant coffee granules, though, because I don't buy them; I make myself an espresso and use a teaspoon of it in the cake and I use mascarpone in the filling.) If you look at the recipe, you will see that you have to make the base first, then refrigerate it while you make the filling. Well, I had just popped the base in the fridge and had the chocolate and coffee in a bowl ready to put over the saucepan of simmering water when I happened to look at the floor and beheld disaster in the form of a flood. The water, I ascertained, was coming from under the sink and at 1pm on Christmas Eve I estimated my chances of finding a plumber willing to come out as nil. While controlling my breathing, I did summon enough common sense to switch the hob off and then I went downstairs to warn the neighbour in the flat below. Luckily - phew! - her son was there and informed me that he was a plumber and would come. (I'd had no idea, either that he was home from the North or that he was a plumber.)  He fixed it but it took a while, not least because we had to wait a few hours for the shops to reopen for parts. Thank you, thank you, whoever is up there and to the kind man who happened to be down there!

I finished making the cake at midnight but didn't think the filling looked as smooth or as inviting as it had before (probably because I'd had to put that in the fridge too - I didn't have enough chocolate left to start again) but decided there was nothing I could do till it was set and I could inspect it in daylight. In the morning I came to the same conclusion though, and wondered whether to give up on it and just take some shortbread biscuits I had bought a couple of weeks before in Catania for Burns Night (the first time I had been there or anywhere outside Modica since my birthday in February 2020 - no need to tell you why!) I discussed it on the phone with a friend and his opinion was "cake, cake, every time" but I decided I had to check the taste. If it was OK, I would take the cake and just explain why a small slice was missing and that is what I did, but not before decorating it with some grated chocolate. Then later, at my friends' house, I added some candied orange peel to the top. Now, chef Carlo Cracco of Masterchef Italia fame says you should never garnish a dish with an ingredient it doesn't contain and I'm sorry, chef, but what else could I do? My friends thought it was all rather comical, by the way - which they wouldn't have if they'd seen the kitchen floor - and they enjoyed the cake.



On New Year's Eve I did stay at home, as I have for many years, because I like being at home with Bertie and because I would not risk leaving her on a night when there will almost certainly be fireworks outside. There were not many but when Italians decide they are going to have them they do not hold back! It didn't go on for long after midnight, to be fair, and there was only one episode that I heard of fireworks being let off in the street earlier. On New Year's Eve in Italy you are supposed to eat lentils, which it is believed will bring you money and my philosophy is why take chances and not do it? For years, to honour the Italian tradition while in Britain, I made a lamb dish with lentils, then lentil loaf, and here I have made Mary Berry's Cottage Pie with Lentils  (minus the swede, which I dislike and can't get here anyway and I only ever mash potatoes with butter) and lately Nigella's Bulgur Wheat and Lentil Salad, all of which I can recommend. But this time I wanted to make something different, so I prepared Claudia Roden's Rice, Lentil and Date Salad from her new book Med and I will certainly be making it again. To go with it, I made chicken escalopes with Parma ham and sage (from a very old Sunday Times cookbook I have) and for dessert a mini-semifreddo with candied orange peel. Well, to be honest I made the full quantity - I just put it in mini-tins! I don't believe in not spoiling yourself on special days just because you are on your own.



Then came Twelfth Night last week and Italy's good witch the befana brought treats to good children (that's all of them on that night!) On Thursday I carried out the sad task of taking the decorations down. Sad, for me at least, because I love that period of sitting at home with a book and reading it by the flickering lights of a Christmas tree and because we do not know what will happen in another year. (And it's just as well we didn't on New Year's Eve 2019-20!)  

Speriamo bene - "Let's hope all will be well", as Italians say and Bertie and I wish you all a belated but very Happy New Year

Buon anno a tutti!







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