Suddenly, in Sicily, the roadside lorries teem with different kinds of fruit, most of which you can purchase by the crate. The little Etna apples, though, are not quite as abundant outside their local area but when you find them, you have a treasure. Chestnuts are swept from outdoor tables into large bags and, if you buy fichi d'India [prickly pears] from the greengrocer or the supermarket, they will usually have had most of their thorns removed. Otherwise, handle with extreme care!
As the UN focuses on migration this week, first at Monday's Summit on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants and then during the General Debate of the 71st Session, one might have hoped for some collective action to offer a little hope to desperate people but I have to say, if I were a migrant seeking safety now, I would be more than disappointed.
Yesterday, while politicians measured their words and refugees continued to risk their lives on the high seas or to languish in camps, UNHCR announced that, as of that day, the number of migrants arriving on European shores since the beginning of 2016 had reached 300,000. This is lower than the number of arrivals in the same period last year but more than in 2014. Italy has seen virtually the same number of arrivals this year as last but more migrants are trying to stay in the country.
This is exactly what the Prime Minister of my own country wishes to see, for Mrs May made it quite clear, both in a speech on Monday and in her address to the General Assembly yesterday, that she believes that migrants should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, which is, of course, EU law under the Dublin Regulation. But if that country is already saving thousands of lives in the Mediterranean and is being stretched to its limits to deal with the number of arrivals [and is doing so humanely]? What then, Mrs May? Our new Prime Minister seems to have no answer. When she said yesterday that the UK was "committed to helping countries adapt to refugees' needs", I did not get the impression that she meant Italy and Greece, which bear the main burden of arrivals, but receiving countries bordering Syria.
Few people would disagree with Mrs May's affirmation that countries have the right to control their own borders or with what seems a genuine commitment to eradicating people trafficking and one of its consequences, which she rightly calls "modern slavery". However, her strategy for doing so takes for granted that we are dealing with non-chaotic countries of departure, which we are not. I have yet to hear Mrs May or any other top-ranking politician praise Italy for its work in bringing people traffickers to justice. [A total of 148 alleged people traffickers have been arrested in the Province of Ragusa alone in 2016.]
The British Premier gave contradictory messages, on the one hand saying that there is nothing wrong with moving to seek a better life but on the other hand stating that governments need to distinguish between economic migrants and refugees more clearly and find "a better way of dealing with economic migration". She did not say how they would do this and her speech was hardly reassuring, even to migrants-by-choice like myself, for strangely, in the middle of her address to the GA, came this:
"We must all commit to the return of our own nationals when they have no right to remain elsewhere."
This was surely a Brexit reference and if it was, it was inappropriate. If this one sentence can make a legal migrant-by-choice uneasy, what impact would her other words have on someone desperately hoping to be granted asylum?
"Italy saves lives in the Mediterranean becaue we can afford to lose some votes but we cannot afford to lose our humanity."
He also announced that Italy's humanitarian aid budget is to be increased by 30% and, with refreshing honesty, told journalists [outside the meeting] that there is no political will to solve the refugee crisis because the leaders of France and Germany have elections coming up and he himself could be swept away by the outcome of Italy's imminent referendum on constitutional reform. Nailed it, Mr Renzi!
While the politicians were arriving comfortably in their armoured cars, migrants were continuing to attempt the perilous Mediterranean journey in woefully overcrowded dinghies or even less seaworthy vessels. Here are just a few of the migration developments which have occurred while our politicians have been preparing or giving their speeches at the UN:
La Repubblica reported today that 128,479 migrants were saved in the Sicilian Channel between 1st January and 15th September and 958 of the boats which had been carrying them had come from Libya.
At the weekend a 15-year-old became the youngest refugee to be killed trying to enter the UK illegally from Calais and on 6th September the body of a young male migrant who had entered France from Ventimiglia [where the French have closed the border] was found under a flyover on the French side. No one knows what happened.
This afternoon a migrant boat sank off Rosetta in Egypt and so far 42 people are reported to have died. The Egyptian authorites have saved 155 people but no one knows how many were on board.
Need I go on?
There are, however, three positive outcomes from the UN sessions: one is the summit held by President Obama at the UN yesterday, at which significant promises were made; another is that the International Organisation for Migration [IOM] became, on Monday, formally linked to the UN as a "related organisation." This is important because it gives the UN a migration mandate. The third development is a promise to set in motion a Global Compact on safe migration upholding human rights. Let us hope that this is implemented soon. Are we to see action or was it all much ado to bring about nothing?
You can read the full text of British Prime Minister Theresa May's address to the General Assembly of the UN here.
You can read the text of President Obama's speech at the 20th September Summit here. Update: 22.9.16 at 14.41:
The latest estimate regarding the migrant boat which sank off Rosetta yesterday is that up to 600 people may have been on board. 163 migrants have now been rescued and 43 bodies have been recovered. The boat is now known to have been heading for Italy.
A big thank you to my friend Carol King for permission to use these photos of an extraordinary sight she witnessed on the Marina di Modica beach the other day. People were just sunbathing or swimming as usual when suddenly this exotic creature appeared and did not appear to be afraid of anyone.
As you can see, it was not fazed by the rope dividing different areas of the beach either and gamely clambered over it. By this time, I'm told, several people had called animal protection organisations so hopefully the wanderer was later checked over and pointed in the right direction We think it had probably got lost or blown off course on the way to or from the nature reserve at Vendicari.
I do not normally make rash promises but I think it is safe to say that this is my last Ferragosto -moaning post of the year. [For those of you who are not regular readers, the period around the 15th August holiday drives me insane, because virtually every place I want to go to is closed, in some cases for weeks on end.]
It came to my attention that the Giornale di Sicilia is holding a photographic competition on the theme of "Summer in Sicily" and, had I taken the photo below this summer instead of a few years ago, I would have been tempted to enter it. The photo shows two bars and a rosticceria, all closed for at least two weeks [and one of them for a month]. That pretty well sums up the Ferragosto state of affairs, even in 2016.
However, it would have been very mean of me, wouldn't it?
For those of you who are interested, the competition is on Instagram and the closing date for photos is 21st September. The hashtags are:
A selection of the photos will be published in the 26th September edition of the Giornale di Sicilia and yes, I will be buying it, for I'm sure they will all be beautiful.
There I was at lunchtime, daydreaming as is my wont, when a UK number came up on my mobile. When I picked up, a familiar voice exclaimed,
"We're in Modica!"
The voice was that of my Cardiff hairdresser, Pete [originally from Partinico] and the "we" referred to his wife, Carla. I'd never thought I would see them here and it was great to catch up. They'd seen most of the sights of Modica earlier and were impressed. Come back soon, Pete and Carla!
Pete and me in Cardiff last November and in Modica today
And you know you're in Modica when the waitress says,
"Yes, I'll be happy to take a photo but it'll look better if I do it when I've got the food on the table."
"What nice watches", I thought as I looked in Carpisa's window this evening - and then I saw the notice. The muddling up of "fun" and "funny" drives every English teacher to exasperation here, so I went into the shop and asked why the watches are labelled "funny". "Divertente", [enjoyable], chorused three shop assistants, looking at me as if I were mad. I explained the mistake but fear I was not believed.
Now, I can understand a small, independent shop in a small town getting it wrong but a national chain like Carpisa? Come on, guys, check your English!
From my booklet: A-Z: English Language Tips For Italian Students
In Britain and around the world, if you are a BBC Radio 4 fan it cannot have escaped your notice that a domestic abuse story has been running on the radio programme The Archers for some time now, gripping [and often exasperating] many. This week is "trial week" in the story and, in order to express their support for the character Helen and other victims of domestic abuse, listeners have been invited to share photos of themselves drinking tea, using the hashtag #soldaritea , on twitter.
I have never been a victim of domestic abuse but I do know a little of what it is like to have someone play with your mind and lead you to doubt your own sanity. Recently the offence of "controlling and coercive behaviour" has been added to the Statute Book in Britain and this should mean that sufferers like Helen in The Archers will have more recourse to justice.
So, I raise my glass of iced tea with a dash of Sicilian granita to you and all who suffer the effects of this heinous crime, Helen:
A bit late this week - or early, depending how you look at it. Not an Italian song this week, but one which I've posted before and which means a lot to me. I think it contains advice I should follow this September!
Yesterday, while my own country continued to argue about free movement of people and where the Anglo-French border should be now that we are leaving the EU, I watched, unbelievingly, the television images I imagine all of you have seen too: off the coast of Libya an Italian rescue boat approaches an inadequate fishing boat crammed full of migrants; there are so many people on board that some have to sit with their legs dangling over the side. The rescue boat takes babies and children off first and as it backs away migrants start jumping into the sea, such is their desperation to be saved. Again I ask the question: would anyone do that if their lives in their countries of origin or in countries subsequently reached had not been in danger?
This was only one of 40 operations coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard yesterday, in which 6,500 migrants were saved, it was reported last night. The Coast Guard were joined in the operations by the Italian Navy, non-governmental organisations, Frontex and EUNAVFOR MED [Operazione Sofia]. Today the Italian Ministry of Defence has updated the figures to 7,000 migrants saved and 47 operations in which the Italian Navy took part. The Navy alone rescued 2,500 people. Between Friday and Monday morning 10,000 migrants were saved in this stretch of sea.
La Repubblica reports that a further 300 migrants, including 38 women and 68 children, were rescued by a British ship and brought to Porto Empodocle last night. Of these, 133 have scabies. A further 1,273 migrants, saved in the Sicilian Channel, are expected in Palermo today.
One migrant with gunshot wounds has been transferred from Lampedusa to hospital in Palermo and newborn twins, suffering from dehydration and respiratory problems, have also been airlifted to the Sicilian capital. Their mother is now in hospital too.
So many people and so much suffering but to some, they are just statistics. "No one wants them", commented a press reviewer on Sky News last night. "Do you know how it feels to be unwanted?" I ask a person who cannot hear me. "Do you know how it feels to leave your country, to have all choices taken away from you?" "Can you watch those pictures and not be moved?" The answer to the last question would, I fear, be "Yes" and if that is the case, what has become of our common humanity? How will history judge "civilised" Europe on the way it behaved during the great migration crisis of the early 21st century?
Update at 22.17 pm CET: ONUItalia [Italy at the UN] has just tweeted that 3,000 migrants have been saved in the Sicilian Channel today.