Saturday, March 31, 2007


I am not a "morning" sort of person in the best of seasons so I was not a happy Sicilian Easter bunny when my doorbell rang at 06.30 today. Whoever it was had already rung the bells on other floors, for I had heard them:
"Who is at this hour? " I asked crossly over the intercom.
Stranger: "I'm here to work. Open the door." [We have a system whereby we can "buzz" people into the building.]
Me: "It's not even 7 am, signore. I am not opening the door."
Stranger: "Open the door! Open the door!" I could also hear that the man had a companion. I repeated that I had no intention of opening the door as I didn't know who he was and slammed the citofono back onto its holder. The man went back to ringing all the other bells and eventually rang mine again. Much the same sort of conversation ensued. Then he and his companion started bashing the main entrance door loudly. Yes, I was frightened by this time but still more angry at having my beauty sleep disturbed!
Not until 7 am did the pair go away. It would not have been possible to peep through the window without the men seeing me as they would have heard the shutters opening. I stayed up then, thinking that perhaps the men would come back. At 7.30 I figured that by now, law-abiding citizens would be about so ventured out onto the balcony to see if the men were lurking somewhere, but couldn't see anybody.

At 9 I spoke to the police, who said that because it is coming up to Easter there are a lot of people going from door to door asking for money. Some are selling flowers, palms or blessings cards and are authorised to do so, but not all. It is true that I have seen more beggars than usual in Modica this week. When they wander into shops, the shopkeepers usually give them a few centesimi to get rid of them whilst the bar owners tend to shoo them away. Most Italians speak quite kindly to them, explaining that they have no change to give them or offering some other reason why they cannot help them. All I can say is, if you are dependent on the compassion of others, attempting to batter their front doors down at 6.30 am would seem to be a strange way to elicit it.

Friday, March 30, 2007


Bullying at school, particularly cyberbullying, is causing increasing concern all over Italy. Today it is reported that the national helpline set up at the beginning of February is receiving, on average, 120 calls a day. These are mostly from concerned families and teachers, with fewer calls from the pupils themselves, which would indicate that those most affected are still reluctant to talk about it or seek help. The majority of incidents seem to be taking place in middle schools and the occurences drop as the students become older.

In such a family orientated society and one in which most young people seem happier at home and more "open" with their parents than their British counterparts, it is surprising that the problem is so widespread. I watched a 12-year-old boy cuddling up to his mother in the hairdresser's today and reflected that most British children of that age would run a mile from such a public display of affection towards their parents, so infra dig would it seem in the eyes of their peers.
Children, of course, have always been capable of great cruelty towards each other and as a teacher I came across many forms of bullying: physical, verbal and that most insidious and literally soul-destroying kind, exclusion bullying. The sort of cyberbullying that goes on now did not exist when I left full-time secondary teaching in 1996 because the internet was fairly new to most of us and mobile phones were in their infancy; most people didn't have access to one and there were no camera phones or digital cameras. Was it inevitable, then, that once the technology became widely available ways of misusing it would be found just as they have with regard to every invention known to man? Sadly and probably, yes. [And I would be the last person to deny mobile phones to children, a dreadful nuisance though they can be in a classroom. In general they can function as safety equipment for children and the advent of texting was a godsend for some profoundly deaf students I later taught.]
The Italian curriculum does not provide the sort of "pastoral" slots that a British school timetable does: secondary school pupils do not have a "form" teacher and so there is no "form period". [I've always been unconvinced of the value of both; in my experience if a child has a problem he / she will not automatically go to their form teacher but to the teacher they get on with best.] There is no weekly PSHE ["personal, social and health education" or whatever it is called now] period, either. This, in a British school, is where the subject of bullying might be tackled in discussion and a perceptive form teacher [for, whatever his / her subject, it is the form teacher who teaches this period] might become aware of some undercurrents here, though, again, so might any teacher worth their salt during any lesson. So whether the introduction of such a slot in the Italian curriculum would help to combat the problem is a moot point as far as I'm concerned.
Perhaps the most hopeful aspect of the figures released today is the decrease in all types of bullying as the children progress through the education system. [I cannot find any definitive information as to whether this is also the case in Britain but what I have read suggests that it is not.] Italian students learn to debate at a much higher level than British children once they leave the middle school and it just may be that the inclusion of philosophy as a discrete element in the curriculum has an effect on their thinking. [Most of my teacher friends here are appalled that the subject is not taught in Britain.] Whatever type of liceo [upper school] a student attends, he / she will have to have read the Italian classics. A country that teaches some of the ideals of classical philosophy and values its own contribution to world literature has, in my opinion, a better chance of solving the bullying problem than one which undervalues and even ignores them. Certainly, workplace bullying is not as prevalent here as in the UK and, although this may be connected with the different lifestyles and rhythms, I like to believe that it is also an indicator of the acquisition of wisdom with age.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


And finally, for tonight, a groan because earlier I listened to last night's Archers episode on the internet and have learned that the Eddie Grundy character is to attempt a "town cry" in Italian! I think I will have to stop listening until after this dire and painful event as I will not be able to stand it....

And a smile because Simi and I have just been for our evening walk and outside the greengrocer's the assistants are sitting on upturned crates tying together large palm fronds with coloured ribbon ready for Palm Sunday [when everyone here will carry one].


Here is a bad photo which I have just taken from the balcony [nearly strangling myself with the clothesline in the process] of the comune lorry pumping water into our cistern. So now you all know that it really does happen!


The weather has turned windy again so last night I cheered myself up by cooking this Tuscan beef stew. The beef, after being browned in olive oil, is just simmered slowly with garlic, rosemary, a generous amount of good red wine [for it is true that a wine not fit for drinking is not fit for cooking with either] and what is becoming my favourite ingredient, 'strattu [tomato paste]. Authentically the dish should, I read, contain carrots and celery too, but it turned out very well cooked this way.


Our new post office opened, to much fanfare, yesterday. Now the question is, will it function more efficiently than the old one? I hope so but fear not. There seem to be seven counters in there but yesterday and today only two were open, as ever. The same six hard, wooden chairs have been placed by the window for those who cannot stand for long [you tell the person behind you that you need to sit down and rejoin the queue when it's nearly your turn], the queues are still snaking almost out of the door and the customers look as resigned to the situation as before. In short, there may be more room in which to fling your arms outwards and upwards but you will need your pazienza just the same!
In Cardiff I often used to find myself waiting at the bus stop beside a permanently tired -looking woman whose spirit had been ground down, over the years, by the unreliability of Cardiff Bus. "It's them buses - they makes you bad", she would proclaim to all who would listen. [Cardiffians use the third person form of the verb for the entire present tense.] Were she beside me today, I would be able to inform her that whilst that may, indeed, be the case , the Italian Post Office "makes you badder"!


My Cardiff hairdresser, who happened to be Sicilian, had a print of this photo displayed prominently in his salon. It is a very attractive photo and is an excellent evocation of the period [1951]. The young men certainly seem to be enjoying themselves but take a closer look at the girl: does she seem happy to you? I've always thought that she looks rather uncomfortable for, flattering though it can be, there comes a point where such attention can also feel threatening.

Some of the comments I received in response to yesterday's Manuel post set me thinking and remembering: when I first came to Italy, in 1969, I was followed everywhere by young and older men. I think it was just because I was pale-skinned and blonde at a time when British girls had a reputation for being very free and easy with their favours whilst Italian girls were hardly let out of the house! I used to find it all quite frightening because a man with good intentions does not, as a rule, approach a woman in the street in Britain. I used to run home to Lucia [to whose family I had been engaged to teach English] to tell her my woes and she would just laugh kindly at me. "How is a man going to get to know you if he doesn't speak to you?" she would ask. "What do you think the passeggiata is for?"

As I grew older and kept coming back, the attention lessened and one good thing about ageing is that it does "free" you in this way. But you do not become invisible to men as you do in Britain once you are over 50. An Italian man will still, sometimes approach you and there is still, from time to time, unwelcome attention. Men of your acquaintance, whether married or not, will always notice what you are wearing or what your perfume is and remark upon it and Italian men can certainly turn a phrase!

- Which brings me to the "spiel". Oh, I did enjoy this when I was younger! The men had the wooing phrases ready for the compliment-starved British girls off pat. It would begin with some remarks about your fair beauty, move along to how he would like to give a rose to this incomparable English one ["Welsh!" I would hiss at this point] meander down paths concerning the fact that there was no one like you in the whole of Italy and end with your eager swain threatening to throw himself off a balcony or bridge [whichever was nearer] if you did not satisfy his ardour. The "Welsh!" correction was my undoing, really, for if you interrupted, he couldn't just continue with the next part - oh, no! It all had to start again and before you knew it it would be 1 am and Mamma would be waiting up for him!

I have no idea what it is like to be young, pretty and foreign in Italy these days, of course, but I would imagine that the girls have become more assertive and the young men not noticeably less romantic!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


This post of Ellee's yesterday reminded me of what happened when I went from Modica to Siracusa [Syracuse] by bus - a journey of about two hours - during my first visit to Sicily in 1992. I was being rather British, minding my own business and gazing out of the window, for the scenery was all new to me then, when a small, fairly scruffy man got on and sat next to me, a little too close I thought. He resembled no one as much as Manuel from Fawlty Towers! After a few minutes, he uttered the conversation opener that someone of obvious Anglo-Saxon appearance gets used to here:
Lei non è di qua? ["You're not from here, are you?"]
Me: Non - thinking that a curt reply would silence him, as by now it was becoming rather obvious that he was not over-attentive to his personal hygiene. And that would probably have worked in Britain. However, he was not going to be so easily put off and before we reached Ispica [the next town] I knew that he was a widower not averse to the idea of marrying again and a blond foreigner, he thought, would do very nicely , provided she could cook and would tend to his chickens! I kept my replies as monosyllabic as possible but he kept on asking loud, quite intrusive questions [which is not, to be fair, as rude as it sounds as Italians will ask you about matters which are taboo to the introverted British, such as how much you earn, your age and how much rent you pay, very early in a first conversation] . In Britain you would get up and move to another seat [but they were all taken anyway] or someone would notice that he was edging up to you too cosily and ask if you were all right, but here if I'd told anyone the man was bothering me it would probably have provoked laughter and hands flung up in the air. Not until the first stop in Siracusa did he leave the bus and after I'd breathed a huge sigh of relief, I reflected upon the fact that Shirley Valentine immediately makes the acquaintance of a waiter in the form of Tom Conti abroad, whilst it was my luck to meet Manuel! [I do not judge by looks, by the way, reader, but hygiene and conversational skills do matter to me, yes! And I'd never have been any good at feeding chickens!]
Siracusa is a city that means a lot to me, not only because of its beauty, and if you have not been following the blog for long, you can read why here if you wish.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


- The ice creams in the bars, that is. [A waiter would look at you as if you were mad if you asked for an ice cream out of season here!] Thus I find yet another way to celebrate the coming of spring.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Come for a walk with me along my street on this fine, Sicilian Monday morning. Last week's bad weather has disappeared, spring is in the air and there is a spring, too, in my step. [There certainly wasn't last week, the dampness having triggered an arthritic flare-up so that by Thursday I could hardly walk!] Today I am going in the opposite direction to the one that leads to the Via Sacro Cuore with its fashion stores and beauty salons and I am making for the small supermarket at the far end of my own street.

On Monday mornings all but food stores, newsagents, ironmongers, stationers and florists are closed, but that does not mean that the shopkeepers are not working: some can be seen out and about doing their banking, whilst others are attending to their artistic and perfect window displays.
Passing the fresh pasta shop, I smell the dough that will soon be turned into a myriad varieties of Italy's staple food and through the window I can see tubs of bright red 'strattu on the counter. It is a little early for a queue of customers here, but in another half an hour they will come!
The wine merchant's is open and he is standing outside in the sunshine, enjoying a chat. A notice in his window announces the arrival of the new Frappato. In this shop you can take your empty mineral water bottles to be filled with a more Bacchic liquid and you can taste before you buy.

As I walk, the scent of fresh pastries wafts towards me on the breeze: I imagine sugar being sprinkled over hot biscuits and I catch just a hint of vanilla. Then, as I reach the corner of the side street where Caffè Moak has its premises, the aroma of good, fresh coffee is almost overwhelming.

The supermarket resembles an early incarnation of the genre in Britain: narrow aisles, a black and white check vinyl floor which needs replacing and untidily stacked shelves. But I find what I need and the women pack for me and are so obliging that not even the layout there can irritate me today.

On the way back, at the larger greengrocer's they are still setting out the newly delivered goods. The bananas look startlingly yellow and are hanging from a column; enormous, bright green grapes have just arrived and sacks of dried chickpeas and other pulses are stacked beside the door; above them there are boxes of fresh dates. One thing that strikes me about Sicilian greengrocers is that the price labels nearly always tell you which town the produce has come from. Come to think of it, it is usually labelled thus in supermarkets as well. I cannot resist looking in on our newer greengrocer's at the other end of the street and today his trestle table is groaning under the weight of what looks like several tons of fava beans, quite possibly the first vegetable known to man and the true herald of spring in Sicily. The greengrocer himself is busy hacking artichokes off their stalks, watched by a group of men [ and the men are incredibly discerning food shoppers here, as I've mentioned] who are waiting to see what will arrive next. The little old gentleman in a wheelchair who always greets me kindly and asks after Simi is there, too: he seems to spend most of his day there, chatting to the owner and watching the world go by.

11.30 and in the café opposite they have decided it is time to set out their arancini [stuffed rice balls] and scacce [focaccia breads] on the hot counter. I can smell them from over the road and soon you will see many Modicani stopping off there and then hurrying home with their well-wrapped antipasti. Shall I buy some? I think I should.... something fresh and warm to celebrate the freshness of spring...

In the salumeria another group of men is waiting, this time for the midday delivery of fresh bread. The first delivery arrives at 6 am., the owner has told me, and then there are several further ones throughout the day. None of these customers is going to go home with the bread of a few hours ago!
Well, I have everything so it is time to go home now. On a day like today, just a little stroll like this will remind me that there is still so much to see and marvel at right on my doorstep and that I am, after all, in the place where I want to be.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Stinco is shin of veal or pork and is much beloved of Italians for Sunday lunch. This weekend I decided I could wait no longer to practise cooking one, for , reader, when my [Italian] knight on a white charger arrives [ and I am hourly expecting him] surely he will expect to have a plate of perfectly cooked stinco set before him on a Sunday? [I am momentarily putting aside my feminist principles here as your average courtly knight does not seem to appreciate them.]

Anyway, what you see above is a pork stinco, which I studded with sprigs of rosemary and slivers of garlic as you might a leg of lamb and roasted in [homemade] stock and olive oil according to Antonio Carluccio's instructions. This is not the only way of preparing it: I have watched friends braising such a cut, and some cooks braise it first then finish it off by roasting. Detaching the meat from the bone afterwards was not particularly easy [nor did I expect it to be] but it was very tender and I was quite pleased with myself and the aroma which pervaded the kitchen!

Saturday, March 24, 2007


The weather has been unkind to our Eurochocolate Festival this year. There were many visitors last weekend but a friend who runs a B&B here has had nothing but cancellations all week. This morning, at least, it wasn't raining, so I decided to venture down to Modica Bassa to see what could be seen and it seems that everyone else had the same idea!
There was so much chocolate fare on display - from our famous pure, Modican chocolate in all its glory and flavours to chocolate liqueurs, pastries decorated with chocolate, chocolate-dipped pieces of candied orange peel, to Easter eggs, chocolate pastes and chocolate from other lands - that you felt your mind and taste buds to be boggling!
Exhibitions of hand-made ceramics, lace and other typical products were also dotted about, music was playing and the atmosphere was, indeed, very jolly. If I have a criticism it would be that more tastings should be on offer, more obviously. You could have tasted virtually anything upon request, but a non-Italian tourist might not realise this or know how to ask. And there should definitely be more places to sit and pause in your meanderings, along with more indoor events at which the audience could be seated. But I'm carping for I truly had a very pleasant morning....
What I liked best were the chocolate sculptures: the one in the first picture is on display at the stalls - a pity it was deemed necessary to accompany it by a rather strident notice instructing you not to touch! - and the others are on show at a separate venue. I particularly love the "band" - they did cheer me up!
But at 12.30 pm Modica Bassa's real show began, as the elegantissima Eleanora [whom I have mentioned here] made her magnificent progress along the Corso. This 70-something [let us be kind] lady was resplendent in a knee-length Shirley Bassey style mink coat, black tights and high, maroon [the colour of her hair] stiletto-heeled boots, with bag and umbrella to match. Everyone turned to watch as she strolled along and you have to hand it to her for distracting their attention from the stalls! I can't approve of the real fur, but otherwise well done, Eleanora! The tourist board should pay her.
In the last photo you may behold the goodies I brought back from the festival: Chocolate liqueur with chilli pepper has a sensational taste and can be drunk as it is, chilled and / or with ice. You can pour some into your coffee or glass of almond milk and it can be drizzled over desserts and ice cream. I've also got my little cazzuola [trowel], the symbol of this year's festival, filled with cinnamon-flavoured chocolate. A bar of vanilla chocolate came free with my 5€ chococard [which you can use to get discounts at the stalls and in the shops and bars] and I bought a marjoram flavoured bar as I had not tried this type before. Now to the fun stuff! I have some wonderfully scented chocolate bubble bath, soap and samples of face and hand cream. Imagine, reader, the relaxing bath I am going to have after writing this post: I shall play Mexican music, pour in the bubble bath and massage myself lazily with the chocolate soap. I shall lie back in the tub and sip a shot of the chocolate and chilli liqueur. Afterwards, I shall use the creams, then stretch out on the sofa with my dog and watch the film, Chocolat again, intermittently nibbling at squares of cinnamon, vanilla or marjoram chocolate. For decadence, reader, is a state to be enjoyed in style!

Friday, March 23, 2007


Looking back at the week's posts, it occurs to me that I have been rather grumpy and it's nearly a week since I posted a food picture! I haven't even been down to Eurochocolate, as the cold, damp weather has caused a flare-up of my arthritis. [I will try and get to the festival tomorrow or Sunday.]

Thinking again about the bureaucracy that has irritated me this week, I never cease to marvel at the Italians' ability to put up with the waiting, form-filling and literal rubber-stamping that accompanies every single transaction, not to mention their tolerance of inefficiency! The different attitudes that the Italians and the British have regarding this is perhaps best summed up by a conversation I had with friend Irma about that persistent bugbear of mine, the post office: "Oh, I go back at siesta time if the queue is long", said Irma. Apart from the fact that going back later, without a car, to an area of the town in which I have no other errands to do would be very inconvenient for me, my instinctive reaction is that it is not for me to go back when the queue is shorter, but for the post office, as a public service, to operate efficiently whenever it is open.

Yet it is this very patience and forbearance, along with attention to detail, which make Italy the country it is: Little shops survive because Italians have the patience to go to them and maybe the many pleasant courtesies that you exchange as you carry out your day to day business come about precisely because you just have to talk and ask questions during all the long transactions! Anything you buy will be gift-wrapped for you free of charge upon request and this practice continues because Italians care about detail and are willing to wait while it is done. [It can often take a very long time, as the shop assistants are fussy about the finished look of their packages; I have often seen them decide that one is not pretty enough and start all over again!] Would we in Britain, at Christmas, say, be prepared to wait while the parcels are wrapped, over and over again, at shop after shop? I doubt it, with our frenetic lifestyles.

I just wanted to end the week by reiterating that I happen to love this fascinating, beautiful and often exasperating country!


Family Day
Catholic organisations are planning a massive demonstration in Rome for May 12th, "Family Day". Its purpose is to call for legislation which supports the "traditional" family but actually it is anti-Dico [the proposed diritti e doveri dei conviventi law, which will grant more rights to cohabiting couples regardless of their sexual orientation]. It is somewhat ironic, then, that the demonstration is to take place on the 33rd anniversary of the referendum which put the possibility of divorce onto the statute book in Italy! Many single parents have said that they will join the demonstration to show that their households constitute families, too, whilst some gay groups have announced their intention to hold their own demonstration on the same day, for the same reason. Watch this space!

A Fruitless Proposal
The EU has announced its intention to allow synthetic "fruit juices" [containing no fruit] to be sold in supermarkets alongside "real" fruit juices. This has caused much concern in Sicily, which produces wonderful fresh fruit juices, as it could hit the island's economy hard. I am usually pro-EU, as many of you will know, but this does seem to me to be one of its more nonsensical ideas: you have something good, natural and popular produced by one of your members, so instead of supporting its production, you go and threaten its survival by allowing rubbish to be displayed next to it!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


- and any of you boys who care to read it, but, be warned ... it's a girly one!

Yesterday my personal B-day had come, in that I just couldn't leave the task of buying some new [black] bras any longer. So off I went to the little intimi shop, which may look old-fashioned and sweet but is actually filled with tempting, costly, classy designer goods! I've never been one for buying such garments at M&S in Britain, having been lucky enough to have lived in Cardiff where for many years we had the now much missed David Morgan store where a posse of efficient, motherly women d'un certain âge would measure you, fit you, hold the item so that you sort of ladled your equipment into the cups and then they adjusted the straps with a jerk so that [after you got your breath back] you felt suddenly taller, firmer and at least a size thinner.

None of that here! For a start, as I've written before here [and I also discussed underwear here and here, if you're new to this blog] you do not find the items on display so that you can peruse them first. And you are not measured, for the shop owner takes pride in being able to look at you once and know, just as the owners of some shoe shops do. Then in you go to the tiny changing cubicle where item after item is handed through the curtains to you. You know what it's like, my voluptuous sisters: parts of you will persist in falling out of one end or the other of the thing if you do not choose very carefully and so the whole episode can become rather fraught, especially by the time you have tried on the twentieth garment!

Having made my selection, out of the changing cubicle I come and where is the shop owner? She has been busy, for she is already holding up half a dozen lacy, matching - er... nether items for my inspection and praising the quality and workwomanship thereof. And of course I bought some, dear reader, for who could resist such prettiness, so charmingly sold? [Ok, so I'm gullible!]
Buying intimi in this non-browsable way is a much more expensive adventure than similar shopping in the UK, but now it occurs to me that the lack of free display is actually sound, Italian business sense!

Anyway , I can walk tall and comfortably until the summer, when another visit will be necessary to obtain items that won't show tell-tale straps peeking out of summer dresses and I'll leave you with more Lawrence Ferlinghetti:
"Women's underwear holds things up
Men's underwear holds things down
Underwear is one thing
men and women have in common
Underwear controls everything in the end
Take foundation garments for instance
They are really fascist forms
of underground government
making people believe
something but the truth".

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Continuing yesterday's story, the landlord's wife came with me to the same bank today. [I was cursing all the way as it is cold by Sicilian standards, reader - 9C daytime temperature and icy pavements for the first time since I've been here, with rain and hail as well!] We asked to see the manager [I was so taken aback yesterday that I didn't even think of that!] and he told her exactly what the cashier had told me. She was as astounded as I was. The manager was full of apologies, but - pazienza - what could he do? [Arms flung up in the air gesture.] It was a new law, it had taken effect last month and they had been informed of it themselves very late. Winchester Whisperer asks about a standing order, but no, you are not allowed to set up one of these on someone's personal account either! It does seem, however, that I can make a transfer every month but it will have to be carried out manually each time - I can't just set it up and have done with it. Anyway, we asked what solution could be found for this month and , provided Mrs Landlord was willing to take two copious forms to Mr Landlord's place of work to be signed by him, she could come back and the money could be paid into his account "as if he had done it himself." So I waited while off she raced. Back she came, panting, after about twenty minutes and the transaction, for this month, has been completed. I'll worry about the next one a month hence!


Mucking about with the layout tonight. I "may be some time"!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


In Italy, things can appear to be going swimmingly for you; then suddenly you will come up against an element of Italian bureaucracy and if you're me, you will take it personally! For nearly two years, I have paid the rent on the designated day of the month into my landlord's bank. Apart from the fact that you have to produce about 500 documents to carry out the simplest transaction in Italy and so have to remember to take them along with you, this has never been a problem - until today:

Bank clerk: "You can't do that any more."
Me: "Sorry?"
Bank clerk: "You're not allowed to do that any more."
Me: "But I've been paying this rent in for nearly two years, in this very bank, and you've got all the details on your computer so why can't I do it today?"
Bank clerk: "Because they've changed the law, signora, and now no one can make a payment into anyone else's bank account."

This, I imagine, is anti-mafia legislation, but I have convinced myself it's the Italian State conspiring to make my little life more difficult. For god's sake, Italy, why do you have to upset ordinary, innocent folk with it and why don't you at least tell us about it? ! [Banking in Britain is so straightforward in comparison and any change in the law like that would occasion your own bank to write to you explaining it.] Grrrrr!!!!! Reader, my pazienza has deserted me!

Monday, March 19, 2007


On Saturday I bought some fruit and vegetables costing, in total, €2.60 from our nice greengrocer's. I had the 60 centesimi in change but otherwise had nothing smaller than a €10 note. The greengrocer, having no change either, did not rush over to the nearest café to get some or wait till another customer arrived with some; instead, he just thrust the goods into my hands and said that it didn't matter. When I went over today to give him the €2 he looked at me as if I was mad and seemed about to faint from shock! His gesture has, of course, ensured him my trade for evermore.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


I bottled my ratafia di arance liqueur this afternoon. [Recipe here if you missed it.] Only four weeks to drinking time!
Now, where's Ian Grey? I'm sure he'll come over and tell us what the colour reminds him of!

Saturday, March 17, 2007


A friend gave me these home-grown and salted capers, so I just had to make caponata! Besides, a commenter has asked for the recipe. And a third reason for making it is that there is something unmistakeably Mediterranean about the perfume that results from having a dish made with aubergines and peppers bubbling away on the hob.
In Sicilian Food, Mary Taylor Simeti tells us that the dish was probably seagoing food because the vinegar in it means that it keeps well. In the recipe she gives, she includes some chopped, toasted almonds and the optional addition of some cocoa powder. I add neither of these, but almonds do marry well with peppers, so you may like to try it. Some recipes say use tomato sauce [which is what I do - I make my own using Keith Floyd's recipe in Floyd on Italy] whilst others tell you to sieve a can of tomatoes. I should think you could get away with using passata, but I would then thicken it with some tomato paste and maybe use the almonds. [I add a bit of 'strattu anyway, though it's not an authentic ingredient for this dish.] I do stone the olives [and you can use green ones instead of black or a mixture if you prefer] but as the elongated peppers available here don't have much membrane, I don't bother cutting it out. Here is the recipe:,
1 aubergine
c. 5 fl. oz olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 stick celery, sliced
2 red peppers, sliced [or 1 red and 1 orange pepper]
c. 1 pint good tomato sauce
goodly dollop of tomato paste
2 tblsp red wine vinegar
1 tblsp brown sugar
handful stoned black olives
c. 1 tblsp salted capers, rinsed and drained
Halve the aubergine, score the flesh and sprinkle with coarse seasalt. Put in a colander, jam a plate on top and leave for c. 30 mins. Rinse well and dry with kitchen paper. Cube the aubergine.
Heat the oil in a deep pan and add the onion, garlic, peppers and celery. Cook, stirring, for c. 5 minutes, then add the aubergine cubes.
Add the tomato sauce and paste, vinegar and sugar and cook for a few more minutes.
Add the capers and olives. Season.
Cover and simmer for about 25 minutes or until it is all squashy and looks and smells Mediterranean!
This dish is most often served here as an antipasto and in summer it is served chilled. You can serve it hot if you want to, but I prefer to serve it at room temperature. The dish freezes well and will serve 4 generously. In my opinion it needs no acompaniment other than some good, Sicilian pane arabo.
I had read about but never seen the rounder, paler type of aubergine in the last picture until I came to Sicily. Simeti tells us that this is the "Tunisian" variety but they are charmingly sold as violette here.
Still on a vegetable theme, today I found celeriac on sale for the first time since I've been in Sicily. I have missed céleri rémoulade and shall now be making up for it!

Friday, March 16, 2007


Just a couple of photos for you this afternoon; we have got our blue sky back and so I went around snapping what took my fancy. The juxtaposition of the almond tree among the palms struck me in this garden as I passed and I have always liked the statue of Christ looking out over the town and, hopefully, protecting it, from the other side of the Sacro Cuore Church.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


From Saturday, for just over one week, our little town will be very important in Sicily, as, for the third time, Modica hosts the Eurochocolate Festival. So there was much bustle and activity in Modica Bassa when I was down there yesterday morning. During this festival the town really comes into its own and shows how well it can organise and stage events when it tries: there will be tastings, exhibitions, lectures, films and even a beauty parlour featuring products made with chocolate! Free transport from this district to Modica Bassa is provided and everyone is happy and proud of their town. The theme this year is chocolate and films because someone has had the bright idea that a bar of chocolate, divided into sections, resembles a roll of film. Personally, I think that is quite brilliant and innovative. I have written about Modica's most famous chocolate maker here and there is some more information in Italian about the festival here and , in English, here.


I have never seen the shutters and grille which usually hide this portrait of San Giuseppe open before, down in Modica Bassa and right next to the Caffè del Portico outside which I have whiled away many an hour, I assure you. Presumably the niche has been opened ready for the saint's day on March 19th. San Giuseppe is credited with having saved Sicily from famine: the fava bean is eaten and special breads are baked in his honour, altars of bread being created in some towns, most famously in Salemi [Trapani].


A comment of Liz's a while back made me want that ultimate comfort food beloved of the British, Shepherd's Pie. For a long time, I have used Madhur Jaffrey's Anglo - Indian version [from Madhur Jaffrey's Cook Book, a general collection rather than a specifically Indian one] but when I make it here I have to modify it further: I can't get minced lamb, so I use beef and, as this makes the dish "heavier" I use half the quantity of meat given in the recipe. Then I "cheat" by using the ready-grilled aubergines in oil which are sold here rather than grilling them myself. [You can get these in some delicatessens in Britain and you used to be able to buy them at one stall in Cardiff Market, but I have not found the quality good by the time the packs arrive in Britain.] MJ does not tell you to peel the tomatoes and I don't, but I rather think Sicilians would. She does, however, tell you to peel the potatoes but that is something I rarely do, so I don't for this dish. [Serving unpeeled potatoes to the Sicilians results in their spending the whole meal trying to get the cooked skin off, though, so I do sometimes concede when entertaining.] I used red chilli peppers instead of green ones and this time, I didn't have any thyme to sprinkle on so I used oregano. Above you see the layers of aubergine and tomatoes, the potatoes laid on top of these and the meat [which has been fried with the spices] ready to go in the oven and the finished dish - true fusion-comfort-food!


... but I think the site meter is working again!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I've shown you the Altro Posto's veal escalopes with mushrooms before, but not, I think, with this delightful contorno [accompaniment] of peas, tiny cubes of ham, chopped onion and sweetcorn, gently sweated in olive oil. As I've mentioned, there is no issue around eating veal in Italy - if you eat meat, it is hard to avoid.

Monday, March 12, 2007


I was delighted to have made the acquaintance, this afternoon, of Nanni, who has this interesting blog about the nearby town of Scicli. It was great meeting you, Nanni!


It has been raining incessantly for four days and some areas of Modica have been flooded.

Persephone [Core / Kora], daughter of Zeus and Demeter [Ceres], was abducted by Hades [Aidoneus / Pluto] whilst gathering flowers at Enna*. Demeter's grief for her daughter knew no bounds and she wandered the earth trying to find her, neglecting her duties as goddess of corn and so causing a worldwide famine. Zeus, forced to intervene, persuaded Hades to allow Persephone to return from the underworld, but she was tricked into eating some pomegranate seeds, the "food of the dead". [According to Robert Graves in The Greek Myths, there was an ancient taboo on red-coloured food.] This precluded Persephone's return to earth. Sources vary in their accounts of how many seeds she ate - Homer says one, Graves seven, Tennyson assumes three, other sources six - but it was agreed that Persephone would spend a month with Hades for each one. Let us believe, for the sake of the story, that it was three or four. Thus Persephone spends the winter months with her husband, returning to earth and Demeter for the spring. I like to think that, this year, as well as bringing about new growth, she has brought the much-needed rain for the crops with her. For Persephone [lucky girl] had received Sicily as a wedding present, so it is only fitting that she should take special care of it.
I'm not very good on the Greek myths and I get confused between the Greek and Roman names for the gods. No doubt the learned Gracchi will be able to correct any errors here.
Above you see our magnificent drainage system - this in an area which has a water shortage!
* The Sicilians, and I, believe it was at Enna. It could have been almost anywhere in the Greek world.


My site meter is still stuck. I can't reinstall it /put on an updated one /put on another statistics counter because to do that you need a "layout" tab and I haven't got one! According to blogger help, to get it I have to upgrade my template and that involves losing most of what is in the sidebar. I'm scared I won't be able to reinsert the information! So I am sitting here procrastinating and trying to summon the courage to muck about with it...

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I am flattered and delighted to have been asked to write a guest post over at Ellee's today. Thank you for the invitation, Ellee!
UPDATE: Quite a heated debate over there now, so do take a look if you haven't already!

Friday, March 09, 2007

WHAT A BLOGGER WILL DO... get a post. Today in the Altro Posto I espied this lovely torta alla strega [Strega liqueur cake]. I wanted to sample it only in the interests of blogging, you understand! I'd like to be able to tell you that the little flower was a sugar one, but alas, it was plastic. Nevertheless, I thought the cake looked very pretty, so imagine my horror when I looked up and saw that the staff were taking the flowers off and throwing them away! At dessert time they all fell about laughing when I said, "I'm not having any of that unless you put a flower back on it, even if it's out of the bin - I need it for a photo for my blog." Reader, if they only thought I was mad before, they are convinced of it now!


I mentioned that lamb is not often available but yesterday I found some appetising - looking pieces of shoulder and so made this sort of lamb ratatouille, an Aldo Zilli recipe.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


I hope readers will bear with me in the little Bristolian tale I am about to tell, for the experience of spending much of my childhood in a library has shaped me, made me the person I am, influenced what I brought to Sicily and still affects my life here:

In 1950s Bristol, UK., my parents ran a newsagent's shop. "Nothing unusual in that", you may say and you would be right. But at the back of our shop was an oblong room with shelves all around and this was "Eggleton's Library". People subscribed to borrow books from it and could browse there for as long as they liked; to many, I believe, it was a haven from the cold, grey, still rationed post-war world outside. Dad, who knew all about books, would order them from far and wide for his customers and they appreciated his knowledge. But the star and doyenne of "Eggleton's Library" was my Great Aunt Mabel [always known as "auntie"] who lived with us. Totally self-educated, she had travelled and been a missionary in Africa and her wide reading would shame many Oxbridge graduates today. Auntie would sit there in what I suppose was a Victorian clerk's black gown, and all the borrowings and returns were recorded in her meticulous hand. So there, dear reader, began "Welshcakes Limoncello Eggleton's" love of books and ever since I have felt safe in a room filled with them. When I go into other houses, whether I am in the sitting room, study, bedroom or kitchen , if there are no books I start wondering, "Where are they?" and I feel uncomfortable. I know I have some Bristolian readers here,here and here and there may be others [sometimes the site meter gives only "UK"]; do any of them remember, or know anyone who remembers "Eggleton's Library" at 110 Stapleton Road?
All this is a preamble to telling you that when I examined the paper in some of Dad's "Tarzan" books [not my kind of reading anyhow though they didn't have the connotations in the 1940s and 50s that they would have today] I realised that it was too damaged and decayed to bring to a hot country. So, with regret, those books had to go but I kept 2 of the labels [above]. I have framed them and they were a source of interest to my Sicilian guests last Thursday. Thus it is that I have a daily reminder of that little library in Bristol, so long ago, in my own well-stocked library in Modica, Sicily. [Some of my Sicilian women friends don't say anything but are probably apppalled at the dust-attracting possibilities of having more than 5,000 books around. I don't care: next to Simi, my books are my most important possessions - and my excuse is that a linguist automatically collects more of them!]
Well, it occurred to me that you might like to see my cookery library. So here is part of it, in the kitchen. I have the books arranged by country / region , rather than author, and the "general" cookery books continue around the corner and into the hallway. In the left-hand bookcase, the top shelf consists of books on French cuisine and my treasured Larousse Gastronomique might well be my "desert island" book choice. Nearly all the rest of that bookcase [which was one of Dad's] until you get to the middle of the bottom shelf, is filled with books on Italian cookery, for this must be the richest country in the world in culinary traditions. I took a separate photo of my Sicilian section, which begins with Mary Taylor Simeti's Sicilian Food, which I believe to be the most authoritative tome on the subject in any language. Next to it you may be able to make out her Bitter Almonds [written with Maria Grammatico] the extraordinary tale of a young girl brought up by the nuns, from whom she learnt the art of Sicilian pastry-cooking. And then there is the excellent Victoria Granof's Sweet Sicily, another wonderful read on this aspect of the island's cuisine . Of course, I am adding to this section all the time and I will soon need Mr G... the carpenter to come and put up more shelves [somewhere!]
The last photo shows my own precious recipe books: they contain many recipes that I have collected from friends here over the years, plus cut-out recipes, all annotated with the magazine title and the date [perhaps I was in the wrong career as a teacher!] and recipes written in my mother's hand. Italian women learn early exactly how much pasta and how much water they need to cook it in for each meal, and, as Granof rightly points out, many of them do not like trying out new recipes as they cook the same traditional food, in the same way, day in, day out. They do not need to look anything up because they will have learned the methods orally from their grandmothers and mothers. But how many young British women, I wonder, will have recipes passed on to them by their mothers these days? Is mine the last generation to enjoy this heritage? I do hope not. What do you think?
When I am in need of comfort I look around my library and remind myself that Mr Eggleton would have been very happy to know that his daughter thanks him, from Sicily, for the love of literature he instilled in her and that Mrs Eggleton would have been delighted that some of her recipes have travelled so far!


I spent most of yesterday being depressed before realising that my "sitemeter" is stuck and has been for 27 hours! Is anyone else having trouble and does anyone know what to do? I'm also nursing a broken finger which is really stupid but slowing down my typing! Long post coming up soon!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


A death
I am ashamed to say I knew nothing about Nino Baglieri, "the saint of Modica" until this week. He must have been a wonderful and courageous man: tetraplegic since an accident at work when he was 17, Baglieri cursed God for 10 years then, one day, found acceptance. After that he inspired and gave comfort to many. Only able to move his head, he used his mouth to write books and had begun his third when he died on Friday. Over three thousand people attended his funeral and a square in Modica Alta is to be renamed for him. I admire those who are able to bear their own suffering well and help others - I really do - but I cannot accept it and I'm afraid I'm with Albert Camus on the question.
A prison sentence
Modica has a lovely and charming theatre, the Teatro Garibaldi and for years when I first used to come here I was frustrated because I could never get inside: it was always in restauro. Finally it was restored to its former glory but in 2001 the new roof fell in! Miraculously, no one was injured. Now six of those involved in that restoration project have received suspended prison sentences. I should add that the theatre is now functioning again and if you are in Modica it really is worth a visit.
A warm winter
It's official! This has been the warmest winter, all over Italy, for 200 years. Now there are fears of a summer drought, especially down here.
...And a "war"
Two villages in the Province of Palermo, Campofelice di Fitalia and Mezzojuno, have been "fighting" over the TV presenter, Mike Bongiorno. Both villages claim to be the birthplace of his ancestors. The rivalry might have continued peaceably had Bongiorno not announced at the Sanremo Music Festival that his forefathers definitely came from Mezzojuno. Imagine the bitterness of the "betrayed" residents of Campofelice di Fitalia, where the presenter has now been declared persona non grata!

Monday, March 05, 2007


Whenever I am out and about and it's safe to look up I carry out a reconnaissance of what people have on their balconies for whole lives are lived on them, much as the British use their back yards or gardens. Air conditioning apparatus abound, as you would expect but you also see old fridges and washing machines, toys, vegetable racks, shoes, bicycles and rubbish bags which will later be taken down to the communal bins. Some people have built little glass -covered utility rooms and others have sun lounges reminiscent of British conservatories on their balconies. Others have patiently grown pretty gardens enclosed by trellises, especially those who live on first floors where the terrace extends further outwards, or those who live on top floors. And of course you see lovely, trailing plants all year round.

Today I reconnoitered the balconies opposite and for the first time it occurred to me that my portable clothes drier , about which I wrote here, has higher sections at either end so that you can place one of those ends over the shorter, lower part of the balcony wall. How you do live and learn when you move to another country - and yes, it has taken me nearly two years to work this out!

Sunday, March 04, 2007


.... before this ratafia di arance, made to Chiara's recipe, will be ready to drink. Today it had its first straining and I have added the syrup. Now I have to wait two weeks before straining it again and then it will need to be left for a further month. It already smells good!

Saturday, March 03, 2007


This creature, as big as the Wright brothers' plane [or so it seemed to me, the perennial city woman] decided to take up residence in our courtyard this morning. I know it's not a good photograph but I wasn't getting any nearer!

Friday, March 02, 2007


That's "Welshcakes" as in Welsh cakes, not "Welshcakes" as in me! Sorry about the lack of posting over the past two days but I was either cooking or recovering! Since about 8.30 last night, I've been in what my friend Lee would call the "aftermath of the aftermath" stage and by 10 pm I'd decided that all I was fit for was sitting down with something seriously alcoholic - so I did.
Above you see my St David's Day table set for the buffet tea to which I had invited about fifteen friends, with, from the left: salame tarts, mortadella and Asiago bites, tea punch, Welsh rarebit muffins [at the back], bang-bang chicken and strawberry and Asiago bites. Oh, and I always put out some crisps or something as I am terrified of not having prepared enough food! Second photo, from the left: Welshcakes, mandarinetto cake [at front], chocolate cake [that's a C for "Cymru" on it] and the rest of the salame tarts, this lot topped with olive pâté and basil. I did make some hot tea as well for those who wanted it, in case you're wondering! And here I am "flying the flag" in the third picture.
Liz, the Welshcakes are the best approximation I can manage with the ingredients available here and using my testo romagnolo as a flat griddle. I didn't make bara brith [Welsh fruit cake] as Italians in general dislike dried fruit. In a country where the power goes off at the drop of a hat if you've got too many electrical appliances switched on, the prospect of making "real" Welsh rarebit, which is toast covered with a cheese sauce, daunted even me; besides, you want to be spending time with your guests, not faffing around in the kitchen. So when I was menu-planning, I thought, "There must be a way of making rarebit-flavoured muffins or buns" and sure enough, Nigella has a recipe for rarebit muffins. [Had I not found this, I would have made one up.] The ragusano cheese worked well in them. I have joined the ranks of British women here who complain that their cakes, muffins and buns don't rise in Italian ovens and I think it's to do with the humidity as well, for even a cake which has risen will sink before your very eyes as it cools. Never mind: "The proof of the pudding...." For the bang-bang chicken I adapted Elizabeth Luard's recipe: instead of steaming a whole chicken with ginger and spring onions tucked into it as she does, I poached boneless, skinless, chicken breasts along with these flavourings. I toned down the sauce a little for Sicilian tastes - but not much! The salame tarts are a Jill Dupleix idea but, rather than topping them with silverbeet as she suggests, I got the olive pâté brainwave. When you entertain and you don't have a partner to dispense drinks, keep everyone chatting and generally help out, you just have to think of ways to minimise your time in the kitchen once your guests arrive. This does mean thinking everything through for several days beforehand and it probably increases your preparation work, but I think it is worth it. By the way, Italians see no "shame" in using plastic plates and glasses: they'd think you were mad if you didn't when you invite a lot of people!
Well, the company was jolly, everyone partook of a bit of everything, we toasted Wales with Asti and for a few hours yesterday, strains of We'll Keep a Welcome, Cwm Rhondda and , of course, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau rang out from a balcony over a small Sicilian street.


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