Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SOMBRE DAYS AND DREAMS

Late on Monday night I suddenly found myself, like people all over the world but particularly British people, unexpectedly glued to my television screen as horrific events unfolded in Manchester, UK and the gravity of them became clear. The next night, two brave Italian anti-Mafia judges would, I believe, have forgiven me, when Nicola Piovani conducted a performance of the theme from La Vita è Bella at the very place where one of them was murdered exactly 25 years ago, for thinking of the Manchester children who had set out so eagerly for a concert, only to meet with unspeakable carnage. Yes, these two men, who loved life, would have understood.

On 23rd May 1992 [the year I first came to Sicily] Judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and his bodyguards Rocco Dicillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani were killed by a bomb as they travelled from Palermo International Airport [now Falcone-Borsellino Airport] to the city. His friend and colleague Judge Paolo Borsellino was killed, along with his bodyguards Agostino Catalano, Walter Eddie Cosina, Vincenzo Li Muli, Emanuela Loi and Claudio Traina 57 days later, on 19.7.92 as Judge Borsellino was ringing his mother's doorbell.

Yesterday Italy remembered and, in the three-hour Rai special programme, Manchester was present in everyone's thoughts too. If you go to 23.34.46 [scroll down on the right] in this link, you will be able to see the moving performance of the La Vita è Bella theme as a car, a replica of Falcone's - the judge was driving himself - travels along the autostrada to the final notes.

Life, as we all know, goes on, as does death and on Wednesday news came in of the loss of 34 migrants at sea: A migrant boat, carrying 500 people, had got into trouble off the Libyan port of Zuara in bad sea and weather conditions and there was a sudden movement of migrants to one side. This may have been caused by panic as the Libyan Coast Guard threatened them, according to MSF and SOS Méditerranée crew who had gone to back up the Italian Coast Guard but whatever happened, around 200 migrants fell into the sea. The Italian Coast Guard and NGO operatives saved most of them but 34 bodies have been recovered and we do not yet know how many were those of children.

As I think of all three tragic events, I am reminded of the words of bodyguard Montinaro's wife [not "widow", she insists]:  As the remains of the bodyguards' car which was blown up 25 years ago were brought, in stages, from Peschiera La Garda in Veneto to Palermo for the anniversary, Tina Montinaro said that she wanted everyone, young and old, to understand that Judge Falcone's escort had been made up of people "with dreams, a life, children and a family". For that is what links the three groups of people: two judges who were also husbands and one a father, excited children who had parents, brothers, sisters and friends, and migrants who had families either back home or with them on that perilous journey - and every single one of them had dreams. We who are left must now dream for them.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

INFIORATA 2017



The third weekend in May is the time to head for that most architecturally homogeneous of the Baroque cities of the Val di Noto, Noto itself. Completely rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1693, its honey-coloured stone buildings are a joy to behold and the town is particularly welcoming on the three days of its Infiorata - carpet of flowers.

Before we go along via Nicolaci to see the flowers, let us first remind ourselves of the beauty of Noto:



The theme of the Infiorata this year has been Sogni e Colori del Principato di Monaco - Dreams and Colours of the Principality of Monaco and celebrates the town's links with the Principality. Prince Albert of Monaco, who has done much to support the Ente Fauna Siciliana and, through this, the nature reserve at Vendicari, was made an honorary citizen of Noto in September.

When you arrive in Noto by bus on an Infiorata day, the first thing you see is a thriving market. for it would not be an Italian festa without one. What always delights me about such markets is the aroma of vanilla coming from all those sweets and biscuits they are selling - I find it very comforting, and I think it must be because it reminds me of the smell of custard cooking for Sunday dessert at home when I was a child.



But now let us make our way along via Nicolaci.  It is difficult to get really good shots because you have to walk, obviously, along the sides of the display and you also have to contend with the sun beating down on one of them! I have done my best:


I was glad that Princess Grace was there:


The card theme running through the display was, I thought, inspired:



About half way up, I ducked into a nice little restaurant for a lunch of bruschette and vegetarian couscous:


Then it was one more nod to Monaco, a look down via Nicolaci and a preview of next year's theme, China:



Well done as always, Noto and special congratulations for reaching out with these international themes.

Prince Albert of Monaco will be visiting Modica in the autumn, when he hopes to explore the story of the branch of his family, the Grimaldi, who settled here.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

MOTHER'S DAY THOUGHTS

Today is Mother's Day in Italy and many other countries, though not the UK, where it was celebrated on 26th March.  For those of us who neither have a mother living nor have become one, it can be a difficult day. For me it is a day on which to avoid social media and here in Italy I steer clear of pasticcerie before lunch, when you see everyone purchasing trays of dolci to take to the family table. It is not that I begrudge people time with their mothers - I am glad for them - but it would be unnatural not to miss mine on such a day.

As many of you know, I had two mothers - the one who bore me and the one who nurtured me -so there are two kinds of "missing" that vie within me on this day. My natural mother has a grave, lovingly tended by the sister with whom I was reunited only recently and my adoptive mother has no memorial except in my heart - because she wanted it that way.  In March my sister lovingly placed daffodils [a symbol of Wales] on our mother's grave on my behalf and I am grateful to her.

When you are no longer a daughter but are not a mother either, you begin to wonder where your place is at the table. I would add that not only does the non-mother not know where to sit, but she doesn't "own" the feast, having no brood to create it for.  She is never the main provider or creator of any feast, though she may be a helper. Many of you might envy this position, but the willing aunt, sister, cousin or friend at the table is not always happy.

If, like me, she is approaching her seventies and has not reproduced, she may look at her body and ask, "What was it all for?" as her body has reminded her what was expected of her every day of her life:  when her feminine attributes literally took shape, she learnt their power and their danger;  as her physical charms faded, she learnt what it was like to become invisible - a state not without its advantages - but did not have the respect due to a mother or grandmother to fill that void.  Women, said de Beauvoir, define themselves in relation to "the oher" and this is sadly still largely the case. The world likes to categorise us in terms of our relationship to others whilst continuing to judge us on our looks

So tied up is our psyche with the idea of motherhood that when my [adoptive] mother first showed symptoms of the dementia-related illness which would be her last, I, a successful career woman at that time, convinced myself that it was all my fault because I hadn't given her the joy of grandchildren. I felt that that had I been able to provide her with this "stimulus", everything would have been all right. I am also certain that there are childless women who abuse their own bodies because they consider them "useless", though I have yet to find any psychological research on this.

Today I want to think of all women who, for one reason or another, would have liked to have had children and did not, for this is a "loss" and rarely seen as such. I want to think of women like my natural mother, pressurised, so long ago,  by a judgemental society into giving up her child, all women who have suffered the loss of a child in any circumstances and, as it is the weekend and more migrant tragedies are probably occurring at sea as I write, of migrant mothers;  those whose children die as they cross the Mediterranean, those who have their children literally torn from them in slave camps in Libya, those who make the dangerous journey alone, in the hope of being able to send for their children later, and those who survive the journey, only to become separated from their children in the chaos. All are mothers, all have a mother's protective instinct and all deserve a place in our hearts this Mother's Day.

If you mised my posts about adoption and my reunion with my sister, you can find them here.  There are links to all my posts about migration in the Mediterranean on this page.

Monday, May 08, 2017

LUNEDÌ MUSICALE

In view of events yesterday in another country close to my heart, I think I should post this. Vive la France!

Charles Aznavour et Zaz - J'aime Paris au mois de mai

Monday, May 01, 2017

MAY DAY AND ST JOSEPH



May Day or the "Workers' Holiday" is being celebrated today in Italy, as elsewhere, but some of you may not know that the day also celebrates Christ's earthly father St Joseph or San Giuseppe for the second time in the year. St Joseph's main feast falls on 19th March but in 1955 Pope Pius XII inserted a feast day in the liturgical calendar to remember "St Joseph the Worker". The day chosen for this was 1st May, precisely to counteract the secular holiday largely associated with socialism and communism. Pope Pius wanted people to remember not only St Joseph, but the dignity of work, which "continues the work of the Creator and enables men to make themselves useful to their brethren".  He also said that people should ask St Joseph to intercede for them in their work.

Besides being the protector of workmen - including, as you might expect, carpenters - St Joseph is said to protect bursars, lawyers and fathers everywhere.  He is also believed to have saved Sicily from famine, hence the tradition of creating altars of bread in his honour for his March feast day.

The above portrait of San Giuseppe is in Modica Bassa but the grille which shelters it from the elements is only ever open for a few days around 19th March. I have always loved it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

The title track of the number 3 album in the Italian iTunes album chart:

Francesco Renga - Scriverò il tuo nome

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

FRYING TONIGHT? MAYBE NOT



Since 4th April a new crime has existed in Italy and it is that of causing "olfactory nuisance" via cooking smells.  

It all began with a dispute between neighbours in a block of flats in Monfalcone [Gorizia, on the Gulf of Trieste]. A couple living in the building often cooked what must have been vast quantities of pasta sauce and fritti misti di pesce [mixed fried seafood] and the resulting odours caused real distress to another family, who said they felt as if the couple's kitchen were in their own flat. Neighbours complained of noise and smoke coming from the kitchen too.

Having been found guilty of anti-social behaviour by two courts, the couple took their case to the Cassazione, Italy's Supreme Court in Rome. There the previous two rulings were upheld and the judges decided that the crime of "olfactory nuisance" is covered by article 674 of the Italian Penal Code, which deals with the "dangerous ejection of things".  The term "things" apparently includes fume emissions and the level of tolerability is covered by article 844.  The couple were fined €2,000.

In Italy over 70,000 people a year consult their lawyer about offensive smells caused by neighbours or restaurants situated near their home.




Sunday, April 23, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

If, like me, you need cheering up, who better to do it than the lovely Mr Buanne?  Found this by chance.

Patrizio Buanne - Gli occhi miei [Help Yourself]

Saturday, April 22, 2017

AN AWARD FOR A HUMANITARIAN



In the midst of so much tragedy and sorrow in the Mediterranean and when it so often seems that recognition that it is happening at all only comes from the wider world when politicians want to use the migration crisis for their own ends, an acknowledgement of Italy's humanitarian work with migrants and, in particular, the part played by one tiny island, is a welcome development. 

This week, Giusi Nicolini, Mayor of Lampedusa, was awarded the UNESCO Peace Prize or Félix Houphouët-Boigny Prize for the humanity and commitment with which she has managed the migration crisis as thousands of refugees - and, often, sadly, their bodies - have arrived on Lampedusa over the years.

In her acceptance speech, Giusi Nicolini said.

"At a time when there are those who want to close their borders and build walls to stop a non-existent invasion, the award of this prize gives us hope for a Europe of solidarity, which has not lost its humanity. It is upon these principles that Europe is built. If we ignore them we, too, risk drowning along with the refugees and migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean."

Giusi Nicolini dedicated the prize to "the migrants who didn't make it across the Mediterranean because they lie beneath it", to Gabriele Del Grande, an Italian journalist and human rights activist who has been imprisoned in Turkey since April 9th for interviewing refugees near the Syrian border and, of course, to the people of Lampedusa.

SOS Méditerranée was also awarded the UNESCO Peace Prize for saving lives in the Mediterranean.

Update, 25.4.17:  Gabriele Del Grande has been freed and is back in Italy.

You can find links to all my posts on migration in the Mediterranean since 2006 here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

HAPPY BUNNIES

At the Liolà in Modica
I reckon they get to eat all the ice cream at night!

PASCHAL TIDES



On this Easter Sunday, while most of us celebrated with friends and family, while a Queen, resplendent in turquoise, attended church, while a sportsman triumphantly drenched his teammates in champagne, while two statues met and kissed in Modica, a drama which operatives involved have described as "unprecedented" in its scale has been taking place in the Mediterranean and once again, people have died in it and are probably continuing to die as I write.

Calmer seas, the escalating war situation in Syria and the continual lack of hope in other countries of provenance have seen migrant boats leaving for Europe without cease and on Friday more than 2,000 migrants were reported to have been travelling in the Sicilian Channel. The Italian Coast Guard says that, in 19 operations involving 16 migrant dinghies and three small wooden boats, 2,074 migrants were saved. One teenager was found dead in one of the dinghies. The SOS Méditeranée ship Aquarius was last night bringing 500 of the rescued migrants, including three children under the age of five, to Pozzallo.

Early reports today said that at least 20 migrants had drowned off Libya in the preceding 24 hours but this was later corrected to seven. However, there are conflicting reports, probably because of the number of rescue operations necessary and the difficulties encountered in them, so the situation is still unclear. MOAS [Migrant Offshore Aid Station] had saved 1,500 people on nine boats since Saturday morning and, taking them on board their ship Phoenix, had to give priority to women, children and the sick.  Once capacity was reached at 453, they issued life jackets and supplies to the migrants still waiting for rescue on board their inadequate boats.  

In all 4,500 people were saved on Saturday and a MSF ship has taken 649 migrants, saved off Libya on Friday, to Calabria. Many of these migrants had signs of torture on their bodies and some had gunshot wounds. An eight-year-old boy is also  reported dead.

In this video of 7th April, Dr Pietro Bartolo of Lampedusa mentions what he calls the "illness of the dinghies", as witnessed by medics since the people traffickers have started using dinghies: this illness, which can lead to death, is caused by a mixture of petrol and water soaking migrants' clothes and causing burns.  It affects mostly the women, he says, as it is the women who tend to be crowded together sitting on the floor - a different sort of drenching, then, to the one inflicted by our friend the sportsman above.

Dr Bartolo also had strong words for Europe's leaders, saying that he does not understand why a great and civilised continent cannot deal with the migration crisis with intelligence and rationality but he puts it down to indifference rather than inability to act.

The other person who has uttered strong words about the migration tragedy is Pope Francis, who said the following at Friday's Easter Vigil in Rome:

"We can see the faces of those women* in any number of other faces: the faces of mothers and grandmothers, of children and young people who bear the grievous burden of injustice and brutality. In their faces, we can see reflected all those who, walking the streets of our cities, feel the pain of dire poverty, the sorrow born of exploitation and human trafficking. We can also see the faces of those who are greeted with contempt because they are immigrants, deprived of country, house and family.
Shame for all the scenes of devastation, destruction and drownings that have become ordinary in our lives."

* The two women Pope Francis refers to are Mary and Mary Magdalene as they visited the tomb of Jesus.

Update - 17.4.17 at 20.29:

UNHCR has said that the number of migrants saved in the Mediterranean by naval or NGO operatives from Friday to Sunday was a staggering 8,300.  It has now been confirmed that seven migrants were found dead. A pregnant woman was evacuated from a migrant boat last night and brought to hospital in Modica, where she is said to be in a very serious condition.
Source: La Repubblica

Friday, April 14, 2017

BREKKY BREAK WITH BERTIE

Stopping for refreshment on our walk the other day, Bertie thoroughly enjoyed her little taste of a seasonal Sicilian brekky!


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

IN WHICH I GIVE UP!

Over the years, I have tried my best - I really have - to promote, whenever possible, a positive image of Sicily, to reassure readers that it is a safe and lovely place to visit and, above all, to dispel the stereotypes. Italy, however, is even better than Britain at shooting itself in the foot and the latest instance of this is the app distributed to accredited foreign journalists for next month's G7 summit in Taormina. This is the opening image of the app., which has been approved by the Italian government:



Not the Greek theatre in Taormina, the azure-violet sea that surrounds the island, the majesty of Etna, Sicilian food or wine or, as La Sicilia's editorial remarked this morning, Sicilian fishermen saving migrants in the Mediterranean but this, which to me looks, at best, like a Dolce & Gabbana fashion show gone wrong. Are we in the 1950s? What does this say about women and what does it say, for that matter, about Sicilian men in the 21st century? So much for former Prime Minister Renzi's announcement in October that this would be "a G7 characterised by themes concerning education, culture and Italian and Sicilian identity". 

The objections are being voiced thick and fast on social media, as they should be, and President of the Sicilian Regional Assembly Giovanni Ardizzone has announced that he is writing today to Prime Minister Gentiloni to demand that the image be withdrawn.

Italy, I give up!

Update - 12.4.17:  The offending image has been removed from the app., I am glad to say.

AN IRONY AND AN INITIATIVE - A MIGRATION POST

If I have been absent from this blog again, it is because, just like most of you, I imagine, the news of the past week has found me glued to my television screen and not in any positive way. Millions of words have been written about the shocking events themselves but I have seen little acknowledgement of the irony of wringing our hands over the treatment of children in a war-torn country and the refusal of many of our own countries to take in those very children - which brings me, again, to the theme of migration in the Mediterranean and its subsequent tragedies, which can only increase given the current situation.

On Friday 7th April the SOS Méditeranée ship Aquarius brought 432 migrants, including 77 minors, six of whom were aged between one and four and 59 of whom were unaccompanied, to Catania. The migrants had been saved by Aquarius and other ships from four migrant boats which had got into trouble off the coast of Libya.  Later the Italian Coast Guard ship Dattilo brought 1,131 migrants, saved in eight operations, to Catania along with one body. 

The above figures represent only a proportion of the migrants rescued in the Mediterranean every day and it is not unusual for as many as 3,000 to be saved in just 24 hours.  To the Italian Coast Guard, Navy and NGOs such as SOS Méditerranée falls, too, the tragic task of recovering and bringing into port the bodies of those whose journey of hope brought them, not to their hoped-for destination, but to death and I have chronicled the sad numbers over the years.

There is, however, some good news for migrants in a world that doesn't seem to care about them and this news comes from Italy where, on 29th March, Parliament passed a law to protect unaccompanied child migrants: from now on their treatment should be consistent all over Italy, they cannot be deported, will be appointed individual, trained guardians and will have the same rights to healthcare, education and other services as Italian children. UNICEF has called it "a historic law" and you can read more about it here.  Well done, Italy, for shining a light amid so much darkness.

According to figures released by the Italian Ministry of the Interior, 25,845 unaccompanied child migrants reached Italy in 2016 and 4,000 have arrived here since the beginning of 2017. This article reports that in 2016 one person in every 113 in the world was a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum - not a figure we can be proud of in the 21st century.

I ask again and I direct my question to the men and women in power:  how can the world express horror at what is happening to civilians in a war zone and, at the same time, attempt to push them back when they flee for their lives?

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