Friday, February 18, 2022


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 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


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.


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