Thursday, May 31, 2007


"You had better leave your impeccable English manners at home if you want to be a social success in Italy. Half tones will not take you even half way; understatements are taken at even less than their face value. If you are deeply worried about something , it is no good remarking softly, 'I'm a little peturbed.' If, on the contrary, you run about the room berserk, beat the walls with your fists, froth at the mouth, turn purple and scream for half an hour then people may gather that you are slightly irritated though not annoyed."
- Thus wrote George Mikes in Italy for Beginners in 1956.

I was just strolling along the street with Simi, wondering what to post about this evening, when I witnessed the most magnificent argument about a parking space: My neighbour, Mr N... was arriving home in his car and the car in front of him was about to manoeuvre into Mr N's personal parking space. Mr N beeped and made a "No, no" gesture. The other driver made frantic hand signals and pointed to the nearby ATM that he wanted to use. There ensued a lot of shouting and gesticulating , with the would-be parking space usurper marching over to Mr N and asking what was the matter with him - anybody could see he only wanted to park there for a minute to get some money, to which Mr N responded loudly that this was HIS parking space, he'd had a hard day and all he wanted to do was park and go to his apartment. [The other guy could have withdrawn his money and driven to the next town in the time that this took.] Meanwhile, all the other traffic in the street had come to a standstill and Simi and I just stood and watched [ along with many others, including several shopkeepers who had come outside to see the fun]. We couldn't have passed the two cars and we couldn't use the pavement either, as it is being repaired. Finally Mr N threw his hands in the air and uttered "Pazienza" to himself, the other driver ran to the ATM and got his money and at last there was movement again in the street.

Half a century on from George Mikes the English no longer have "impeccable manners" and probably the whole episode would have ended in a "road rage" punch-up in Britain these days. But here it all ended in smiles, thanks and even a handshake!
On Saturday I'll have been here two years and I still occasionally forget myself and indulge in the odd British understatement. Mikes is right about that: here people will take it literally or, as he says, at "less than its face value."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Two weeks ago a 15-year-old boy died at school in Milan after smoking a joint which appears to have contained traces of crack cocaine. Now the Mayor of Milan has offered drugs test kits to parents who want them and the Health Minister wants to send the "health police" [Nas] into schools to check for drugs. The latter move has caused uproar , with parents and teachers saying they are perfectly capable of monitoring the situation themselves. What do you think?
You can read more here.


All my adult life my shoe size has been a British 5, which is continental size 38. Whenever I came to Italy before settling here I would buy one or two pairs to take back - for who could come to Italy and not buy shoes? - and every time the 38 would fit perfectly. But lately I seem to need the 37 more often than not. What is going on?

The shoes pictured are the nearest I get to "sensible" footwear. [Are you there, Sally in Norfolk?] I've been looking ever since I arrived here for a casual navy pair to wear with navy trousers and the colour has been very difficult to find. So when I spotted these yesterday I decided to grab them [37 again].

It's all very well having shrinking feet: I want the rest of me to follow suit!


New potatoes on sale this morning, Sicilian style.
Buying from these lorries is cheap but you have to purchase the amounts that they want to sell - by the bag or crate, usually - and I can't always carry that much.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Shall I use the magic word "Diana" in the title of this post and get lots of hits? - No, I don't think I will.
Almost a year ago, when an Italian magazine published photos of the dying Diana, I wrote this post and received more hits than I had ever had before, though only one comment. [I’d been blogging since April 2006.] In my naivety, I didn’t realise that what a lot of these visitors were looking for was a copy of the magazine. I was amazed when I found out that copies were being sold on ebay.

Now British Channel 4 TV is planning to show a documentary containing video footage of the Princess’s last moments and I gather there is a public outcry. As one commenter wrote to the Telegraph, how long will it be before the Mercedes is sold on ebay?

Here the film The Queen has been available for a couple of months on DVD and friends who have borrowed my copy ask if the situation was really as portrayed in the film. I tell them that it’s an interpretation . They also express, as they expressed in 1997, their amazement at the way the British people “let themselves go” emotionally at that time. I was convinced then , and am convinced now, that this behaviour can be partly explained by the fact that, for the first time, it had become possible to reach middle age without having known bereavement. So for many, the “loss” of this person they had never met was their only experience of it. There were other factors, of course: our collective guilt; our fascination with celebrity, even in death; and if many had not known bereavement, who had not been betrayed in love? We identified with Diana in this, at least.

My opinion is that no one deserves to have their dying moments paraded as entertainment – unless you were Allen Ginsberg and wanted it that way – and , whatever you think of the woman, she has sons, a brother and sisters still living. Please, channel 4, spare a thought for them.

Here is something I wrote in the early days of September 1997. I have not edited it:


Like most people in the country, I switched the radio on last Sunday morning and began to go about my routine. Then I realised that these were not normal programmes. At first, I could not work out who they were talking about. When I did, I thought for a moment that they were going to say that she had topped herself. However, the manner of Diana’s death was so arbitrary as to have been absurd had it not been so tragic. As I listened, I hoped that she had not, at any stage, been conscious.

Then I sat, mesmerised, in front of the television for the rest of the day - something I never do. A week before, we were laughing at her over her denial of what she was supposed to have said to “Le Monde”. Now her funeral was being planned and no one mentioned “Le Monde”.

Of course it is sad. Yet thousands all over the kingdom will have suffered their own tragic losses this week, and they, unlike royalty, do have to worry about how to pay for their little funerals or whether the floral tributes received for their loved ones will be sufficient.

I have never been able to comprehend the mass purchasing of flowers on these royal occasions. If you wish to pay a tribute, why not take flowers to the old, the lonely or the sick? Perhaps, as one newspaper suggested, these improvised shrines are taking the place of religion in the land.

And how does a republican feel about the woman in question?

Let’s face it - we all coveted her looks, her figure and her style. Charitable she certainly was and she showed a genuine warmth towards those she met. But there is a dichotomy in attending a ball to raise money for charity and spending thousands on the dress you wear to it; in campaigning for funds for the underprivileged when what you spend on tights in a week would keep a third world family for thrice as long. But she did her best in the circumstances in which she found herself and the world in which she moved.

As to the rest of the royal family, I think that the judgement of history will be “too late”: Too late, the flag at Buckingham Palace; too late, the viewing of the tributes by the royals; too late came the realisation that they had to be seen to be responding to the situation by the people.

And how did they look at Balmoral, Charles and the Duke? - Like relics of a bygone age, in their silly, and, to our eyes, inappropriate, kilts. And there was the Queen, outside the Palace yesterday. Whoever goes just outside their own home with their hat on and a handbag? Diana, hatless, tightless in summer, gloveless, blew all that away.

For all the respect that the Establishment claims to feel, and although the coffin has been draped, since last Sunday, in the royal standard, the HRH has not been posthumously restored to the Princess. That says it all.

Going back to the lady herself, I truly hope that she did find some happiness with Dodi. However, had she lived, would this hypocritical and deeply racist nation have allowed her to marry a Muslim without comment? I doubt it.

For hypocrites we all are. It is inevitable that someone, somewhere will one day publish a photograph of the dying Princess. When they do, we will all go out and buy the papers. Ghouls to a man, we are too fascinated by her not to do so.

I watched the solemn procession to Kensington Palace last night and honestly felt that anyone with a camera should have been arrested. Hypocrisy, again. After all, I was watching.

I watched again today, in between bouts of working. As the touching cortège passes, you want the young Princes not to hurt so much. You want Diana to know that she was appreciated in a way that she could never have imagined. Most of all, you want it to be last Saturday night and you want to say to her, “Don’t get in the car”. But the reality is all too clear now.

Whatever the Queen says, I do not believe that the royal family will learn from these few days. I think that without Diana they will revert to being the stuffed shirts that they always were. You cannot tell me that, with the exception of William and Harry, they have not collectively breathed a guilty and secretive sigh of relief, now that the force for change has gone.

If the monarchy is to survive at all, perhaps they should declare a regency under Anne until William comes of age. Then Charles can marry the detested Camilla instead of conducting the affair, as we all know he will, behind the drawbridges of his dreary castles.

The royals have come through this week, but only just. It was the closest call they have had. Now, as shock and grief subside, the anger may well resurge.

The kings and queens of Britain live lives of enormous privilege and owe their continued existence to the will of the people. The House of Windsor would do well to remember it.



This is another dish from the cookbook that never lets me down, Marcella Cucina - pork bundles containing smoked pancetta and slices of gherkin, cooked with garlic, sage and tomatoes. I didn't use to have much success cooking involtini in Britain as the cuts of meat were either that little bit too thick and didn't brown properly, or else too thin and they would break up during cooking. But here if you tell the butcher you are going to prepare involtini he will know exactly what you need. This is a dish which is on my "Italian comfort food" list.

Chicken, veal and aubergines can also be used to make types of involtini.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Liz and James wanted to know what the tomatoes tasted like: I can report that they are delicious, tasting very ripe, of the sun and even a bit winey. Now, I think that an Italian caprese salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and, of course, olive oil is a very fine thing indeed, but I am also of the opinion that excellent tomatoes make a good salad in their own right; they do not have to be buried under mounds of lettuce or anything else. Here's what I do:

Slice the tomatoes, lay in a dish and season with fine seasalt and black pepper. Pour over a little red wine vinegar and add some very finely chopped shallots and garlic. Then add some torn basil leaves and mix everything gently. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour and drizzle with good olive oil just before serving. Simplicity itself.

My friend Anne has found a website giving the history of the cuore di bue. While you're over there, do take a look at Anne's lovely pottery!

Saturday, May 26, 2007


What a voyage of discovery a trip to the greengrocer's still is! I had never seen this variety of tomato - cuore di bue - before. I am assured that they will make a fine tomato salad. They smell very - well - tomatoey!


.. I have acquired some summer plants for my balcony. The geraniums and other balcony plants have been "arriving" in the shop domani for three weeks and, when they did come on Thursday, I had got distracted with clothes shopping, as you know. Yesterday morning the plant shop owner said that if I went along there in the afternoon he would give me a lift home and deliver them. By the time I got there, though, he was busy, so the plants didn't arrive until this morning. I brought my Bill and Ben planters from Britain - I just couldn't bear to leave them behind - and Ben's pot was the only thing that got broken during the move. I have now stuck another one onto him and it's nice to see both Bill and Ben filled with blooms again. It's good that shopkeepers here will deliver, very willingly and without charge, whether your purchase is large or small. I remember having a terrible row in a Debenhams store in Britain once because they wanted to charge an outrageous price to deliver a small item of furniture.

I'm not much of a gardener - I hate it, in fact - so I have to have plants that can cope with benign neglect. But could that be a flower that is appearing on my one and only fico d'India [prickly pear plant]?


This is for Sally, pinkacorn, Liz and Ruthie, who have asked for photos of the clothes bargains I bought on Thursday. They don't look much there on the hangers, I admit, and do bear in mind that linen creases as soon as you look at it, but believe me when I say that the neck detail on the white dress is really pretty and there is lace detail at the neck and hem of the turquoise number, which has quite a swingy shape. I'll need something to relieve the pure white and the blue earrings are a favourite pair which I bought for about 20p on the Charles Bridge in Prague four years ago. [I also have a dark green pair like this and wish I'd gone back and purchased all the other colours the vendor had, too!] I'm thinking if I wear these with the white plus another item that matches them [perhaps a bracelet] then that will clinch the look. Now there's the matter of the correct biancheria intima to wear under each of these, especially with the effect of the sun! [And that could cost more than the clothes, here!]

Friday, May 25, 2007


A touch of red in my hair colour was what I needed, decided Raffaele the hairdresser this morning so here I am, folks! Sorry about the pile of chairs behind me - the Altro Posto were making more room on their terrace - and I didn't like to ask a busy waiter to attempt another shot. When I asked him to take the photo and explained it was because of my new hair colour [they already think I am mad because I am constantly snapping the food there] he decided to try his English: "Yes, please, please - hair - good, good".

Raffaele has been on a course in Napoli and has come back brimming with new ideas. He is very pleased because his certificate is in English and says "Get the Look" and now he wants me to have one of those new "messy" cuts. "Not till you show me a picture of what it will look like", said I. So now we await what he calls "Il Look Book", which the course organisers are sending him. Watch this space!

Thursday, May 24, 2007


My friend Lee recently wrote about her first love and, for no particular reason, tonight I thought I'd tell you about mine:

It seems odd to be writing about him at the beginning of a Sicilian summer, for it is usually winter when I think of “Winter”. I don’t know why; I was too young for the time of year to have really registered in my mind; but I think it must have been winter when I knew him, as I remember him in long, woolly socks, short , dark trousers and a grey, rough-textured coat that would scratch my face as he hugged me in the playground.

Everyone wore drab clothes then, mostly grey or a very dull green. Some women used to try to brighten things up by wearing red lipstick and dead foxes round their necks [which used to terrify me] but mostly the dreariness was unrelieved. People of my parents’ generation were still in shock from the war and certain items remained on ration. Interiors were dark, too [though people were shortly to rebel against this], there were still bombsites in Bristol and the streets seemed grey and cold. There was a lot of poverty and it was so normal for children to wear threadbare old clothes to school that no one remarked upon it.

I could only have been about five and school was St Gabriel’s Cof E, at the top of Twinnel Road in Bristol. [It was one of the roads leading off Stapleton Road, where our shop was.] I can’t remember a sunny day in that playground, though there must have been some! I can only visualise it as dark and dismal..

“Winter”’s name was actually Gunther, but there was no way I could pronounce it. He used to spend ages trying to get me to say it properly, but his tuition was of no avail to the future linguist! I can hear him now: “My name is Gunther, not ‘Winter’. Say it: G-U-N-T-H-E-R”. “Winter”, I would diligently reply. [I honestly could not understand why he would laugh and I used to get quite upset about it!] Then he would kiss me and tell me that he loved me and I would feel a warm glow for the rest of the day. It was a lovely, all-enveloping feeling of knowing that you are loved and I’m not sure if I have ever recaptured it.

I don’t know what his nationality was or what tragedy his family had escaped; he always talked about his mother, never his father. There were so many families from Central and Eastern Europe pouring into the country then and there were a lot of Poles in Bristol; but obviously his name was not Polish.

“Winter” had ash-blond hair, worn with a long fringe flopping over his forehead, large, smiling blue eyes which I can picture even now and I don’t think I ever saw him without that overcoat on.

He must, I think, have been bullied because I can remember one day telling a teacher, “Winter’s crying”. Then I was pushed aside while this Miss Adams [whom I hated with a vengeance from that moment on] dealt with whatever it was that had upset him. [It was my job to comfort Winter, not hers!]

Breaks were the highlight of my little life, because I knew Winter would come and find me and we’d stand in a corner of the playground cuddling and exchanging chaste kisses while he told me that we were going to get married when we grew up. Winter had it all planned; he was going to buy the shop from Dad! I didn’t see him at lunchtimes; most women didn’t work then , so the majority of children went home for lunch. In fact the “dinner children” were regarded as something of an oddity. I couldn’t wait to get back to school in those days!

One day he just wasn’t there. “Gunther’s gone”, said Miss Adams when I enquired and that was that. Winter certainly hadn’t known about any move or he would have told me and I’m sure he would have cried! I suppose the family were suddenly rehoused in the cold, efficient, unfeeling manner of the time; or perhaps he was taken out of school because of the bullying; or maybe his father reappeared; I just don’t know. The sense of loss was overwhelming and suddenly the world grew cold.

We all need fantasies to keep us alive and one of mine is that one of these days I’ll be strolling along a street in Modica, Catania or Palermo, I’ll suddenly stop and there he’ll be – Winter!


I went out to buy some balcony geraniums this morning, but got distracted by a sale in a fashion store which I would not normally enter, staffed, as it is, by ultra-thin young lovelies who make me want to climb into the nearest binbag. However, today in I went and 86 euros bought me two pure linen dresses, one white and the other in the colour that I have come to call "Mediterranean turquoise" [the exact shade of the turquoise gemstone] plus a long, flouncy, white cotton skirt. Nature will have to wait! Now I'm thinking accessories, girls!


This is especially for my commenter begonia, who is homesick for Italy. [I can't get into her blog to link to it.]

The parmesan cheese here looks, tastes and smells very different from that available in Britain, though the latter has improved greatly in quality in recent years. I just couldn't resist buying this perfectly coloured, crumbly chunk this morning. I expect it tastes even better if you are lucky enough to be able to buy it in Parma itself for even a short journey has an effect on it, so the deli owner round the corner tells me. He says that the same is true of the Parma ham, which changes its texture during the trip down here and this must be true as a friend whose daughter is studying there makes her bring supplies of it every time she comes home; she won't buy it in Sicily!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


No, not me after a few gin and tonics but the name of this cheese - ubriaco sul pavé - because it is flavoured with wine. On June 2nd I'll have been in Sicily two years but I still delight in finding new food items.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


... this fresh fruit salad topped with lemon granita.


Working on "was / were" with a student yesterday, we were asking each other questions such as:"Where were you at 6pm yesterday?" /"What day was it yesterday?"/"Were you on holiday last week?" and so on. Then my student had to ask me, "Were you in England in 2000?" She looked astounded when I replied, "No, I wasn't." When she got over her astonishment, she managed to put together the question, "But where were you in 2000?" "I was in WALES!" I replied, clapping my hands and adding a "hurrah!" Italians have constantly to be reminded that Wales is not England or in it and that a Welsh person is British but not English. You see, reader, that I do my bit.


I've written before that one of the advantages of ageing is that I can put my sunglasses on and people-watch from a café terrace without anyone taking a blind bit of notice: In another district of Modica where I sometimes go to shop, there is an undertaker's, the employees of which spend each day sitting around in the various nearby cafés, mobile phones at the ready, waiting for someone to pop off. It seems a strange kind of job, akin, perhaps, to that of being the heir to the British throne. One of these men is - well- gorgeous, in a way that only Italian men can be and his manner suggests that he knows it! Unusually tall for a Sicilian [my friend Gina is convinced God made Sicilians short so that they'd be further away from the hot sun!] dark and swarthy , he strolls along, white t-shirt pulled tightly across his muscular chest, spotless designer jeans fitting perfectly and sporting a loosely cut, open black jacket. Gucci sunglasses complete the look. Most of the time I am beneath his notice but occasionally, if he is feeling gracious, he will deign to say "buongiorno". I saw him this morning and noticed - oh, no! - he has grown a goatee! Now, I've nothing against goatees; but this one just doesn't look right on Mr Gorgeous!
[I have written this post in the full knowledge that I couldn't get away with it if I were a man writing about a woman.]


Many of you will know that I am a fan of the BBC Radio 4 series The Archers and that I listen to it here on the internet. In Britain I wouldn't even answer the phone if it rang during the sacred 15 minutes of the programme's duration, figuring that anyone who knew me would not ring at that time. Here I'm now a bit more selective about which episodes I listen to: I read the online synopsis and if the episode has consisted mostly of the Adam character droning on about his strawberry growing, or Nigel and Lizzie [who used to be fun but has turned into a corporate bore] discussing how to make even more money from their stately pile, I don't bother listening as well. But if the episode has featured the Brian - Siobhan - Jenny triangle, my headphones are on straightaway and the world can wait! I know Liz has written about this so apologies to you, Liz, for repeating the tale and sorry if you've read it on her blog. If you haven't, the situation is as follows: Brian Aldridge, a rich farmer married to Jenny "dahling" had an affair with flighty Siobhan Hathaway some years ago. They had a child, Ruari, Jenny found out and hit the roof and, though tempted to go off and start a new life with Siobhan, Brian decided to go back to wifey. [Typical.] He has, however, been seeing Siobhan and his son on the quiet over the years. Now Siobhan is dying of cancer and has asked Brian and Jenny to look after Ruari. This Jenny has categorically refused to do but, as Brian has made it clear that he will take the boy on in any case, she is now wavering and looks set to cave in. She doesn't want to lose Brian but she also doesn't want to lose her lifestyle. There is a poll on the programme's website about what she should do and 55% say she will have to take the boy now.

I thought I'd conduct my own poll among women friends here to see if their reactions say anything about cultural differences and I have asked women aged from 18 to 60. Not one of them can see any dilemma; all they would be concerned about is the child, so they believe that Jenny has a duty to look after him. Me? I'd probably cave in, too, partly because Brian, for all his philandering, is quite a charming character who has a very sexy speaking voice! "Meglio un uomo che ti mette le corna ma che può darti qualcosa" [="Better a man who is unfaithful but can give you something"], says Irma. But I think it would make much better radio drama if Jenny and Brian were to divorce with Jenny taking him for everything he's got and then finding herself a nice gigolo. Brian, of course, would soon find himself some long-legged young trophy, as men in their 50s and 60s do, but she would not satisfy him for long. Then we'd see how he manages without his Jenny "dahling" ministering to his every need.

When I first came to Italy, a man told me that for Italian men there is "a woman of the bed" and "a woman of the heart" or some such nonsense. In my touching romantic naivety of the time I suggested that the roles should be combined in one and the same woman. You live and learn.

Monday, May 21, 2007


This is not at all what I was going to post about today, but my June edition of Good Housekeeping magazine has arrived from Britain and I am engrossed in it. For some reason I didn't receive the May edition so I have been having withdrawal symptoms. I am not a "good housekeeper" at all, but the magazine is much more varied in content than the title would have you believe. I tend to read it from the back, rather as a man might read a newspaper, as I of course go to the cookery pages first. Then I reach the fashion [which often, but not always, depresses me; I think it does most women, given the youthful, unwomanly females we have to look at, but I'll let that be for now]. Then the articles - always interesting - and at last, the make-up section, which gives me hope!

The arrival of this magazine in my letter-box is a little glimpse of "home", and, although I don't want to live anywhere else now, sometimes it makes me a tiny bit nostalgic. I think it's the comparative calm of the British colours in almost every photograph that does it. The Mediterranean is so gloriously exuberant in colour! I suppose it's a similar feeling to the one I experience sometimes when I watch Sky or the BBC: "Oh, my gentle, understated country, where people are using umbrellas in late May!" - and where you can wear a long-sleeved item and even a jacket in summer. [One of the first things I had to do here was buy a new summer wardrobe : outfits which would do in Britain are simply not cool enough for a Sicilian summer.]

Sometimes I wonder how the colonial British managed as they did not have e-mail, or even very fast snail-mail and news from home came late. I suppose the answer is that they hardly embraced the foreign culture but lived sheltered lives in their own communities. The last thing I want to do is to live in an enclave of Brits - might as well have stayed in the UK! - but a little "touch" of home in the form of a magazine is sometimes welcome. I read the British Sunday papers online and of course , keep up to date via blogs, but , just as you want to read a book rather than reading online sometimes, it is nice, occasionally, to sit down with a British magazine. I'd like to be able to add "and a cup of tea" here but in truth, it is more likely to be a g & t!

Anyway, GH, Mslexia and Private Eye [though, as I keep saying, Dodo is funnier] keep me going! Incidentally, friends here are amazed at the irreverence of "Private Eye" when I show them the covers!
It occurs to me that I could "measure out my life" in the magazines I read at particular periods: let us pass over the time when my Dad was trying to show me the beautiful castles and lakes of North Wales and I just sat in the back of the car with my nose in "Romeo" and "Bliss" comics: after that I progressed to "Honey" magazine, then for a long while was a "Cosmo girl", was a "Spare Rib" woman in my strident feminist era and now find refuge in good old GH. Whatever next? Well, I shall wear the red lippy and matching shoes till I die so I don't think it will be one of those "comfy retirement" periodicals!

One more thing: a woman is writing in GH asking if it is OK to wash and re-use kitchen foil. Am I profligate in the kitchen and have I been missing something all these years because it truly has never occurred to me that you could do this?!

To those of you I normally visit: I'll be over tomorrow. Right now I have to go and read Sandi Toksvig on tennis and find out how to make a pork and pistacchio terrine.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I stole this recipe from my Sicilian friend Irma many years ago. It is one of the simplest recipes I know of to prepare on a hot day. It looks elegant, too.

Poach some boneless, skinless chicken breasts until tender and no pink juices emit when they are pierced with a fork. Drain them and let them cool. Slice them, then dress with a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and Dijon-style mustard. [You can use a flavoured or honey mustard if you wish.] How much of everything? I don't know as it depends how many chicken breasts you are using and upon their size. But supposing you have two largeish ones, then I would say the juice of 1 very large lemon, a tablespoon or so of oil and about a teaspoon of mustard. Then decorate with capers and sultanas. This is a dish which looks pretty served upon what Elizabeth David called the "eternal lettuce leaves"* so I make no apologies for using them here. The dish may be served chilled or at room temperature and you can, of course, arrange the cooked chicken slices on a platter well in advance, then dress and decorate them at the last minute. Even if you dress and decorate them a couple of hours in advance, everything will still be all right.

I like to serve this with pesto potatoes: Roast some new potatoes [I never bother to peel them] in olive oil, then drain them and toss with freshly made pesto. You can use red pesto if you want a contrast of colour. I always make green pesto but do buy the red.
* In French Provincial Cooking [1960]

Saturday, May 19, 2007


- The scene outside our greengrocer's today. They threw in an enormous bunch of flat-leaved parsley with my purchases!

As you see, my new camera battery has arrived!


I rarely eat chips and when I do I am usually out, as I work on the totally logical premise that the calories cannot possibly count if you are not at home. Today, at the Altro Posto, I ordered steak with chips [an Italian steak being a thin-cut affair] instead of with salad as I usually do. When the meal came, everything was tepid so I sent it back. [This is not something I would do lightly, having once been dumped by a man for "acting like a teacher and being too assertive" when I took his flat pint of beer back to the bar, something he felt too timid to do himself.] However, I can eat food at room temperature if it's meant to be that way; I can eat cold or chilled food if it is meant to be that way; but I cannot stand tepid or cold food that is meant to be hot and the Italians have an irritating habit of serving it in such a manner. When the plate came back, the steak was hot but the chips still weren't. I complained yet again and received effusive apologies plus a bowl containing three times the quantity of [very hot] chips that I could manage. Then they made me this especially pretty ice cream. I got more apologies as I paid my bill; I said that 99% of the time they get everything exactly right, which is a lot better than your average British restaurant does!

Friday, May 18, 2007


I arrived at Raffaele the hairdresser's this morning to find [a] that there was no sign of the man and [b] that they had no water! The assistants would not dare fare lo shampoo [with tonic stress on the first syllable] without Raffaele's express orders to do so, and, as we all had to wait anyway, the water situation didn't make much difference. After about half an hour the water lorry turned up but then there was some problem with the pressure. Raffaele was still nowhere to be seen and, as it was getting on for 12 and I had many errands to do before the sacred 1pm closure, I could feel all my carefully learned Sicilian pazienza ebbing away and I became more British and tetchy with every passing moment. Just after 12 the great man appeared, the water pressure came back on as if by magic and I sighed with relief as I heard him utter the welcome words, "Fai lo shampoo a Pat" [= "Shampoo Pat now "] .


How many miles to Babylon?
Three score and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Aye, and back again.
If your feet are nimble and light
You'll get there by candlelight.
- Nursery rhyme.
I wandered into Santa Maria yesterday. As I've mentioned before I am not religious but am sympathetic and drawn to Catholicism. I went in to contemplate, or pray - when does one become the other? - for Madeleine, mostly. Perhaps, reflecting upon the evil in the world, I wanted to remind myself that there is good and there is peace. The church was so beautiful in the quiet morning, with the sunlight streaming in via the upper windows. I think there is much truth in this from Rabbi Lionel Blue:
"Sit in an empty place of worship and let whatever happens happen. You'll need ten minutes because you'll go through layers of anxiety - 'Have I left the gas on?' Or embarrassing thoughts. Or feeling sorry for yourself. You might cry. Or feel what nonsense it all is. But at the end there is a moment of quiet."
When I went to light my candle, I noticed with some surprise that there are no longer any conventional, long, white ones or tea-lights; you have to put your offering in the slot first and then an electronic candle automatically lights for you. Sigh: a sign of the times, perhaps? I imagine tourists must have been lighting candles without leaving an offering. I used to rather like lighting my candle manually and leaving it wherever I wished on my chosen altar. Are the electronic candles ubiquitous now?
I lit my candle for Madeleine at the altar nearest the famous terracotta crib as I thought it should be near Mary and Joseph. And yes, I did cry.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


"Look up in Sicily and you'll always see something interesting" , said my friend Irma during my first visit here. Down in Modica Bassa this morning I chanced to do so and saw, again, the line marking the water level of the 1902 flood. Then I came home and dug out this photo of it which I took last year. In the early hours of September 26th 1902 the equivalent of 6 months' normal rain fell in Modica and the surrounding area within 20 minutes. 112 lives were lost and many buildings were terribly damaged. After that the rivers were paved over so, if you take a stroll along the Corso Umberto, Modica Bassa's main street [which is daily becoming more elegant] you are walking where the river used to flow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I refer, in the title for this post, to the misuse of apostrophes in the photo in the previous one. Unpremeditated of As a Dodo has "saved" me tonight, as I didn't know what to post about [and am not helped by the fact that I am still awaiting the digcam battery]! He asks what the "almond's pudding" referred to in the photo is. I think it must be gel and I posted the recipe here last year, when I had few readers! The photos of the dish are here. Do try one of the recipes if you can: Sicilian gel is so zingy, refreshing and surprisingly easy to make!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


... and he makes all the wine! My new digcam battery still not having arrived, I am trawling through my photo albums for images to show you. I just love the use of the apostrophe in this one, which I took in Modica Bassa in 2004. I always meant to send it to Lynne Truss, but never got around to it. This board is no longer on display down there so someone must have spoilt the fun by informing the bar owner of the mistake!

I do hope this photo makes my friend Steve smile: like me, he finds the news depressing.


I thought I'd post something happier about my Mum today, so here she is in the lovely Ligurian town of Alassio: It was 1984 and I was going through one of my less felicitous financial periods, so to cheer myself up, I started entering consumer slogan competitions. An Italian company had just brought out wine boxes containing enough for two glasses and slogans were invited which extolled the convenience of the invention:
"It's wine for two
with less ado"
I scribbled on the form, sent it off and forgot about it. You had to buy one of the wine boxes to enter and Mum thought this was a dreadful waste of money as I am a g and t, rather than a wine lady. Imagine my surprise when, two months later, a letter arrived informing me that I had won a two-week holiday for two in Alassio, plus spending money! "Who are you taking with you?" asked Mum. "You, of course", I replied. We danced around to Italian music that evening, for my Mum belonged to a generation that did not, as a matter of course, holiday abroad and she'd never thought she would see Italy! See it she did that year and she came to understand why I loved it.

After that I went in for slogan competitions in a big way, for I have never been a lady who does things by halves! I'd scour the supermarkets for the latest competition leaflets, bought the "Competitors' Journal" and bought the products whose labels you needed to enclose with your entries. [I did some very weird cooking in those days, using up all these foodstuffs which I would not normally buy!] I started winning to the extent that it became a standard joke in my school [a different one, where I was happier]. "Hello, Pat, what have you won today?" the Head would ask each morning. Among the items I won were:
a microwave
a case of Budweiser [which I sold to a neighbour, then bought some gin with the proceeds]
a set of Le Creuset pans which I have brought to Sicily with me
restaurant meals
concert tickets
designer jeans
£250 Habitat vouchers [with which I bought a smart desk which has also accompanied me to Sicily]
a hairdryer and "2 years' supply of lacquer"
- And those are just the items I can remember!

Sadly, this type of competition became harder to find during my last few years in Britain: it was all prize draws or "click and win" - no fun at all!

Incidentally, I never let Mum forget that she'd said buying that wine box was a "waste of money"!

Monday, May 14, 2007


UPDATE: 15.5.07 - The printed edition of "Corriere" has devoted an entire page to the story today. With developments in the case today, it is, again, Sky's top story. We wait and hope.

There has been little media coverage here and my neighbour who is a policeman did not even know about the disappearance of Madeleine. Earlier today the Corriere della Sera site had the new poster of her as one of their Foto del Giorno but now it has been replaced. You may care to have a look - perhaps they are alternating it. La Repubblica's site also has the new poster, a fair way down on the right-hand side. I am doing my best to spread the word here, particularly among people who travel.
UPDATE: I note that the world-shaking news that a British TV presenter has had an altercation in a provincial curry house has replaced the above as Sky's "top story".
The polls closed at 1500 and all the indications are that Berlusconi's cdl coalition [centre-right] has won in Sicily. This would retain the status quo.
Seven more boats carrying clandestini [would-be illegal immigrants] have been intercepted in Sicily's waters within the past 24 hours. The ironically named "welcome centre" on Lampedusa, built to accommodate 190, is now overwhelmed again as it struggles to cope with 400 desperate people. The authorities do their best and the coastguard have saved many lives, for there have been several tragedies when the inadequate, overcrowded boats have capsized and I fear that we shall witness more this summer. Several of the people traffickers involved have been brought to justice.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

MUM - 4

“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds”
- Shakespeare, Sonnet CXV1

This is the continued story of what happened to my Mum. It has a bearing on why I am here in Sicily today. [I know it is long so understand if some of you do not wish, or do not have time, to read it.]

In my diary I had written, “Now I know what Dr. S meant”. For a few precious moments, Mum was lucid. We take “normal conversation” for granted, every day of our lives, but now I was so grateful for a semblance of it! I wrote, “You are not quite my mother, but you are as my mother might have been in 15 years, had ageing taken its natural course”.

During that week I also wrote, about myself, “goddam failure of a woman.. I see women older than Mum every day, on the bus, with their grandchildren and I did not give these to Mum. So it is my fault.”

A Sunday. Mum was agitated and almost like someone who was drunk. I wrote that her hands were reaching out like those of a beggarwoman - or someone in Bedlam. All modesty was gone. Yet she managed to say, “You’ll always remember me?” If my heart had not already been broken, I think it would have broken then. Her fingers started to turn purple that day. I pointed it out to the housewoman - they hadn’t noticed. Sue [my nursing tutor friend] said it was the circulation beginning to close down. During the night Mum got very agitated and they sedated her again.

5.7.93 - 6.7.93
Mum was pitiful to see. She was sedated and seemed to be obsessed with her hand. [She had had a carpal tunnel operation earlier that year and I think it was something to do with this.] Her eyes, unseeing, opened once or twice.

Mum was rambling again. I wrote, “All I want to do is fling myself across the body of this woman who used to be my mother and cry deep into her shoulder as I did as a child.”

The registrar said she had come full circle. Mum was now cantankerous in the way that she had been during the first few days. She talked to me of spiders, snakes, pebbles and “clinkety clonky”. She asked, “Why don’t they come?” I assumed she meant the doctors. I said they were dealing with a lot of ill people. She said, “And Dad is one of those people”. I wondered if that was what it was all about?

Mum was talking, but confused. I left her for 15 minutes only, but when I got back she was that yellow colour again, and was again being that cantankerous person whom I didn’t know.

The day began badly with one of Joan’s calls. [ Joan was the deputy head of my school.] I got to the hospital and 2 physiotherapists were trying to make Mum stand. It seemed such a cruel thing to do, but maybe they were worried about clots forming. As soon as she saw me, Mum started sobbing and clung to me. I started crying too and the 2 physios, who were supporting her on either side, burst into tears as well! Then they just left - they realised this was no place for them.

They’d moved Mum again - this time to a side-ward at the other end of the ward. Her ranting had disturbed the woman in the next cubicle.

Mum was talking deliriously about her own mother and making dough. She was still obsessed with her hand. Later she shouted at me and I went home because I could take no more that day. In the evening I got another insensitive call from a male colleague.

I went and bought an answerphone so that I could at least filter my calls and would have some warning if it was Joan. Mum was still talking about spiders. At one point she said, “You will protect yourself, won’t you?” I noticed that her lovely dark lashes had suddenly turned all sandy. [Her hair never did go grey.]

A psychiatrist came. Later a junior doctor devastated me by saying that he thought a nursing home was possible. Hadn’t he even looked at her?? I thought, “Is this how it’s always going to be - nursing home-hospital-nursing home-back again?” I wrote that I didn’t think I could go on coping alone. [Of course a nursing home wasn’t possible; he didn’t know what he was talking about; but I could have done without the further stress his words caused me.]

Mum said, “I’m so scared I’ll never see you again.” She took a lot of reassuring. I suddenly realised, because of her movements, that the “snake” obsession she had developed was to do with the catheter.

She was very afraid. She said, “I’m dying - help me”. God, how I was trying to! Was she asking me to help her to die? I couldn’t do any more about that than I already had.

Now Mum had become incontinent of faeces. She would have been so distressed if she’d been “herself”. She looked much worse and was trembling. All I could think was, “Why doesn’t it end?”

Just sad and confused.

It occurred to me that I’d had no time to watch Mum become a little old lady. It had just happened, literally overnight. She said, “Save me”. She had such faith in me - she thought I could do anything.

The psychiatrist had reported that he thought it was primarily a psychiatric illness. I was flabbergasted. There was blood in the urine again and you only had to look at Mum to know that there was something dreadfully, organically wrong. I had a feeling that the consultant would have withdrawn treatment if he could have been sure that that’s what Mum would have wanted.


I wrote, “Where is Mum? I haven’t seen her for so long.”

They made Mum sit up. She looked terrible. She said, “I don’t want to live like this.” So if I had any doubt about the instructions I’d given, it was dispelled now.

Blood in the urine again. Mum’s skin was turning grey in places. She said, “I don’t think I’m going to make it for you this time”.

Mum was very drowsy and had had a fit during the night. They thought death was imminent.

28.7.93 - 31.7.93
Mum was still very drowsy and having fits all the time. I was terrified.

Mum had deteriorated again overnight. I gave in and called the chaplain. I’d have called anyone who might have been able to give her some comfort!

Another fit was noted during the morning. Mum’s breathing was poor and the nurses were very uneasy. I wondered if this was it? Sue, calm, instinctive , experienced nurse that she is, thought not yet. She told me that when the end really was imminent,there would be a change that would be unmistakeable even to a non-medical person.

The drip was in again. A doctor from the psychogeriatric hospital came and told me that some strokes do not show on scans. That was the nearest to the truth that anyone got, as it turned out. The nice nurse from the George Thomas Hospice Organisation came, realised the horror of the situation and promised that they would do everything they could. They had one of their palliative care specialists beside Mum within minutes. [I had contacted this organisation because I was worried about Mum maybe dying in pain. Also, as she couldn’t communicate properly, it was often impossible to know whether she was in physical pain or not. This organisation primarily helps cancer patients and their families but they were incredibly supportive to Mum and me. The work that they do is truly wonderful. ]

Mum’s breathing was very shallow and the nurses were worried. The only thing she said was, “I’m worried about what I’ll be called.” [I didn’t know what she meant.]

Again Mum mentioned something about not having a name. I never did work it out. The George Thomas lady came again with a colleague and they were very kind. I managed to recite Shakespeare sonnets XX1X and CXV1 to Mum.

Mum’s lips were white and her eyes had gone all puffy. I finally cracked and went down to the chapel. I said, [in full pedagogic mode], “Now listen up if you’re there. I don’t know how to talk to you but it’s about time you helped. Her name is Violet Rosamund Eggleton and she has never harmed anybody, so just you remember that.” - Not much of a prayer, was it? But it was the best I could do! I think I stayed there a bit and cried.

7.8.93 - 11.8.93
These were just terrible days with Mum in a deep sleep. I wrote that I was very frightened.

Mum was less sleepy. Her colour was awful. The registrar said a psychiatrist would be taking over. I said I wouldn’t allow it. He then admitted that the condition was life-threatening but that he still didn’t know what it was.

They moved Mum into a four-bedder because a woman who had had a miscarriage needed the cubicle. I got very upset because the privacy had been taken away.

I was no good to Mum as I couldn’t stop crying. I left at about 1700.

I was shocked by Mum’s appearance when I got there today. They moved her back into the cubicle. [If they hadn’t I think I might have lashed out at someone physically - I was so bloody tired.]

16.8.93 - 17.8.93
Mum was just staring into space. They later said that this was one long fit.

I began to think I was losing it. I kept thinking I saw Dad at the end of the bed and I was saying, “Do something.”

This was the day they were discussing transfer to the psychogeriatric hospital. I’d told them not to mention it to Mum, as she knew what being sent there implied. Next thing I know, a registrar from there comes blustering in, says where she’s from to Mum and starts talking about taking her there! God, I nearly went for her! [I did get an apology later but why do they have to be so bloody careless?]

Mum’s mouth was by now a mass of sores. All anyone could do was administer water via those swab things. It was dreadful. She said she had pain in her head.

Sundays did not seem to be our day, somehow. Mum was curled up foetally and at one point seemed to just deteriorate before my eyes. She seemed to shrink for a few seconds. I don’t know what I saw to this day - maybe a change in the aura? - but I called the sister and she said that there had, indeed been a change in those few minutes. She thought the end was close but that I should go home and ring at 2200, which I did. There was no change ; Mum was staring into space again.
2007 note: Some years later, I heard, on a radio 4 programme, someone saying they had seen a sort of “haze” around their adult daughter a few days before she died suddenly. I wrote in to the BBC message board but no one else responded that they had ever seen anything like it.

Mum was terribly sick during the afternoon. They were still going on about the transfer! I couldn’t believe it. This was the day I phoned my MP. The consultant from the psychogeriatric hospital came again. He admitted he was baffled but said he thought he could help. I thought Mum was beyond it.

24.8.93 - 26.8.93
Just terrribly drowsy, knowing me but no one else.

Mum’s mouth was again a mass of blisters. Nobody talked about moving her now. We were all just waiting. In the evening she had a fit which she did not come out of.

The ward rang in the morning to say that Mum had deteriorated and I had better get there quickly. When I got there she was in obvious pain so I insisted that they did something about it, as they had promised they would. Sue came in the afternoon and confirmed that this time this was it. She thought we had, maybe, 48 hours or so. The two nurses from the George Thomas Hospice came, too. Mum was in this long fit and never closed her eyes. I stayed that night and the next one. It was horrible.

The bank holiday. I felt terrible. Martha came to the ward at 0830 and drove me somewhere where she thought she could make me have breakfast - Safeway’s, I think. I went back in the afternoon and was physically sick - not because I was squeamish but because I was frightened. The nurses said I looked ghastly and they and Sue persuaded me to go home. I think they knew I’d need my strength the next day. Strangely enough, I actually slept that night.

Sue came to the Heath with me in the morning. Mum was that terrible colour again and seemed to be in pain. I went bananas about it and the sister arranged a morphine pump.. We left at around 1530 and Mum’s friend Margaret came and sat with her in the meantime. I came home and took my dog out and just as we got back the phone was ringing. The sister said Mum was a lot worse and I had better go back. [Dr S had warned me that I might have some physical reaction and my legs gave way for a moment.] I coudn’t think who to call: Martha’s car was not in her drive; Katie was home but she and her partner were in the process of splitting up and there was a bit of an “atmosphere” next door. So I called poor Sue again. She said she would get us a taxi and so I walked around to meet her, knowing I was going to a death. Sue held my hand all the way to the Heath and the taxi driver was considerate. We got there at about 1830. It was such a shock, seeing Mum in that last struggle - worse than with Dad all those years ago. Her eyes were glazed and her breathing was very difficult. She calmed a bit once I held her in my arms and I couldn’t even cry because I didn’t want her to know what was happening to her. [She was probably too far gone anyway, but there is no way of telling.] All those months and now it was so quick! The breathing changed several times and at one point Sue said to her , “Let go, Vi”. Then three gulps which I shall never forget - I just had time to say to Sue, “Oh god, what’s that?” but I knew. And then it was over. It was precisely 19.36.. I’ll always be grateful to Sue for bring there and guiding me through it.

Well, we went to the day room while the nurses did what they have to do. They were very kind - they made sure the light was soft and they put a rose in Mum’s hand. Then I went back in and somehow recited the two Shakespeare sonnets [see above] and the lines from Quasimodo [so Sicily comes into the tale again].

Then the registrar came and he was more ill at ease than I was. I insisted on a post-mortem. He tried to tell me that even if they did one, it might not be conclusive but I said I would not leave until they promised that they would do it. So he caved in.

Martha arrived and she and Sue somehow propelled me towards the lift and out of the hospital. Back here, Sue called the Head and Joan and I just went for a walk with my dog. Martha asked if I wanted to sleep in her house but I was afraid if I didn’t face up to things that night, then I wouldn’t the next. Then Josie and everyone were ringing..

I coudn’t make any arrangenments for 3 days, and I was actually glad of the respite. On the Thursday I got the call from the coroner’s office and Josie drove me there. The first thing I asked was whether they had established a cause of death and the answer was yes, in fact, three: The death certificate reads: “chronic pyelonephritis; atherosclerosis with vertebral artery thrombosis”. [ Later, when I received the full post-mortem report I read that Mum had had not one, but two, major strokes. Dr. S explained that these would have been in an area of the brain that does not show up on a scan. ] I was so relieved to at last have a diagnosis and to know that it had been organic; to know that I had been right to insist on hospitalisation on that June night; so I burst into tears right there in the coroner’s office. He became quite concerned. Then we went to register the death and Josie got a parking ticket. I went bezerk at the traffic warden, which didn’t help matters.

I made the funeral arrangements and was quite determined that I was going to do the oration, although the undertaker advised against it. I think he thought I’d cry. I decided I’d just pretend it was a school assembly and so I got through it. I think I was beyond tears anyway. I also think that you are lent a superhuman strength at these times. The undertaker apparently said to Martha, “That’s some woman.”

The next ordeal was clearing the flat, which was much worse than the funeral. I kept finding things like my Dad’s love letters, which I still have. And the vultures were out, all right! One neighbour asked if she could have a lamp before I’d even got through the main entrance door! Martha helped me sort things; another friend came to take stuff to the charity shop; and 2 colleagues borrowed the school minibus so that we could move furniture. [They had the Head’s permission but you can imagine it went down a treat with Joan!]

Joan actually left me alone for a few days. I saw my own doctor - I was physically and mentally exhausted – and he decided I needed a couple of weeks just to myself. I was still likely to burst into tears in a classroom . So he signed me off again.

Then Joan’s threatening calls resumed. She upset me very badly one day and Dr S, trying to help, wrote to her explaining how traumatic the whole experience had been. This was playing right into her hands. One day - it was just before I was going to go back - I got a call from a teaching union to which I didn’t even belong warning me that I was going to be suspended from duty. I totally freaked, as I’d only heard of teachers being suspended as a disciplinary procedure if they hit someone or something. It was by now evening and I again didn’t know who to call: Josie and other colleagues to whom I was close might have inadvertently made matters worse by marching into Joan; Martha and Sue were both away; and my own union officer, John, was at a conference. Finally I called his wife, whom I knew, and she managed to locate him. John called me at 2300 saying it was ridiculous and he would sort it out the next morning. I didn’t exactly have a pleasant night. The next morning he called and said we had to go down to the education offices in the afternoon. He also said that the administrators had received a copy of Dr S’s letter [they could only have received it so quickly by fax] and that they were interpreting it as evidence that I had gone nuts. John had said “Well, what do you think she’s going to do, then?” and they had said, “We’re afraid she might end up being a screaming wreck” . Now those had been my very words to Joan at the beginning! I was so shocked and upset; I couldn’t believe that, after all I’d been through, I was now faced with this! I was shaking by the afternoon but on John’s advice I power dressed and we went down to the education offices. They’d lumbered an education officer whose son I had taught with the job and he seemed most embarrassed. But John must have made a few calls earlier because now they had completely backed down and the officer explained that there had been no question of a disciplinary procedure at all; all this was about was that there was a new procedure whereby if you were absent for more than a certain number of weeks with stress, you are given what is called a “medical suspension” pending a further doctor’s report and that’s all. There was no question of loss of salary or anything else. The officer then apologised for any worry they had caused me - they weren’t going to go through with it in any case.

Hmmm… Well, I marched into school the next day [ a Friday] and announced I’d be back on the Monday. I should have got an Oscar for the cool act I put on: “Oh, it’s fine, Joan. I know they were only following procedure and I don’t have a problem with it.”

So I went back for another 2 years. It was difficult getting some of my classes “back” onside but I did it. Joan and I re-established a cordial working relationship but I never got over the way I was treated during the worst time of my life and later when I was grieving.

John Arlott put it best: you are, when such things happen to you, “reduced” in a way, he wrote after the death of his son. You are are never quite the self that you were again and some of your resilience is lost. 2 years later I had a nervous breakdown and left secondary teaching. Yet, if I had not, I don’t think I’d even be alive today, such was the pressure at work. I’d certainly have been more financially secure if I’d been able to carry on with a job I had previously loved and I do think about that now that I am approaching “normal” pensionable age. But then I wouldn’t have found the friendship, understanding and love that I have in Sicily and I wouldn’t have been sitting writing this in Browning’s “land of lands”.


Local elections are taking place today and tomorrow and I heard all my neighbours rising early to go off and vote. Later, Simi and I saw many of them sitting outside the cafés, discussing the vote and the possible outcome [one of the advantages of holding elections on a Sunday being that you can take the time to do this]. There are literally hundreds of candidates, there is no voter apathy and there is quite a jovial atmosphere in the town. You would think that, with the voting upon us, the comune would have given up its fruitless efforts at concealing the illegally placed election posters on the famous poster wall, but last night, there was the town billsticker, happily covering them up yet again!

The summer heat arrived yesterday and, even though it has been expected, we are all [except Simi, who is totally unfazed] surprised and made lazier by it. It is not really "scorching", by Sicilian standards - only about 26 C this afternoon - but you could have heard a pin drop in the street between 2 and 4. We forget, during the winter, just how hot it gets!

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Ai lettori italiani:
La bambina inglese, Madeleine McCann, è stata rapita il 3 maggio 2007 mentre era in vacanza in Portogallo con i genitori. Oggi compie 4 anni. Madeleine potrebbe essere in qualsiasi parte d'Europa o anche nel Marocco. Vi preghiamo, soprattutto se viaggiate, di stare cogli occhi aperti per questa piccola e, se avete delle informazioni, di contattare la polizia. Grazie.
Aux lecteurs francophones:
La petite Madeleine McCann a été enlevée le 3 mai 2007 pendant qu'elle était en vacances au Portugal avec sa famille. Elle a 4 ans aujourd'hui. Madeleine pourrait être maintenant n'importe où en Europe ou même au Maroc. La famille de Madeleine vous serait très reconnaissante, surtout si vous êtes en train de voyager, d'essayer de repérer la petite fille et, si vous avez des renseignements sur elle, de vous adresser à la police. Merci.

Friday, May 11, 2007


I confess I couldn't think what to write about today and I couldn't take any new pictures as my digcam battery is kaput; of course, the shop does not have the right type in stock and I have to wait for them to order me a new one. Then something Lizzie said in a comment on the previous post reminded me of an Italian idiom I like: if you appreciate your food here, you are said to be una buona forchetta = "a good fork". It occurs to me that you might have to be quite careful how you say that in English after a g and t or two!

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I can't draw to save my life but even I can manage a pin man standing under a few raindrops, so this, along with the words "a bit under the weather" is the image I use to introduce the concept of idioms to students.

One of the English colour idioms I was working on with students yesterday was "as white as a sheet". As Italians pronounce "shit" in exactly the same way as they do "sheet", you may imagine what they made of the expression at first!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


My new friend eurodog has expressed an interest in the story of how I brought Simi here. It occurred to me that other readers who have not been following the blog from the beginning might be interested, too, especially if they are pet owners and / or are thinking of moving abroad themselves. I chronicled it all last May and June in the weeks leading up to the first anniversary of our arrival here. I didn't have many [any!] readers then and wasn't getting any comments. Here are the links:
UPDATE: The words of Robert Browning to which I refer in the first instalment are:
Open my hear and you will see
Graved inside of it, "Italy."
Such lovers old are I and she;
So it always was, so shall ever be!
- From "De Gustibus-"


... and bringing with it these tiny, succulent peaches. You will notice that they are not all perfectly formed and unblemished as they would be in a British supermarket and they taste all the better for that.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Well, strictly speaking, it's fun with the famous poster wall: when Simi and I were on our first walk of the day yesterday morning, I noticed that there were about four pieces of fallen masonry on the ground beneath the posters. By the time we came back, this had prompted the arrival of two fire engines and their crews, police, an ununiformed gentleman who seemed to be organising everything and, of course, the usual crowd of onlookers shouting advice, exclaiming and chatting to each other. The street had to be temporarily blocked to traffic [which will really have irritated all those who refuse to walk up to the post office, I can tell you]. I confess, reader, that I joined the group of spectators for there is nothing like a good, clamorous Italian commotion to kick-start the day.

Later, I began to wonder what had caused the wall to start crumbling in the first place so checked this site to see if I had missed an earthquake tremor again. [Regular readers may recall that I'd mistaken the last one for over-enthusiastic bedroom activity in the flat above!] But no, all had been quiet here on the seismic front. So I can only imagine that the billstickers [for the "contravention of the law" notices have yet again been covered by more election posters] had gone about their task with greater determination this time!

Monday, May 07, 2007


Simi has had the first of her summer haircuts today and is very pleased with herself. She got lots of treats afterwards for having proved herself to be "educata" [well brought-up] at the doggie grooming parlour!

Sunday, May 06, 2007


That is the name I have conferred upon the piazzetta around the corner. It is a peaceful, shady haven from the scorching summer sun and, at this time of year, the scent from its orange blossom hedges is quite heady as you pass.

My "signature" perfume is YSL Paris and I spray it on lavishly every day, but sometimes if I'm relaxing at home or just before going to bed I'll dab on some Zagara [orange blossom] di Sicilia cologne. [Zagara comes from Arabic zahar = blossom.] This cologne is mostly sold in souvenir shops here nowadays. It is a very refreshing , zingy fragrance and I have never been able to buy anything like it in the UK.


The BBC site has featured not one but two Sicilian stories within the past 24 hours. The first has cheered me up, pointing, as it does, to the Sicilian capacity for exuberance, not to say audacity. I'll leave you to make what you will of the second story.


I have my work cut out this afternoon, podding and freezing these fava beans which the kind gentleman who lives opposite has just brought over from his garden in the country. Last week I received a similar batch from Linda's garden, so what a lot of lovely vignarola I'll be making!

Saturday, May 05, 2007


The Italians, I have found, are not all that original when it comes to naming their dogs, who are always referred to collectively as Fido in the press in stories such as the "Prozac for Dogs" one so brilliantly lampooned by As a Dodo recently. When I was down in the little house in Modica Bassa, the old gentlemen who would sit on the wall to chat to each other were quite convinced that all British dogs are called Bobby and nothing would change their minds, even though I told them that Simone is a Simone and a "she"! "'Elo, Bobby, 'ow are you?" they would ask each morning, proudly showing off their English. There was a delightful little puppy with his elderly owner in the petshop down there this morning. Now, you have to understand, reader , that I go soppy over dogs in the way that other women do over babies, so after I had "Ahed" , cooed to and petted this newcomer, I asked his owner, "E come si chiama questo piccolino?" ["What's this little one's name?"] I should have guessed it: "Piccolino", he replied, looking at me as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Children usually make a fuss of Simone - "Guarda il bel cagnolino!" ["Look at the beautiful doggie!"] they cry - and she is incredibly gentle and good around them. But this morning, as we were on our walk, a brat in a buggy pointed and shouted , "Un cane - brutto!" ["A dog - it's ugly!"] I quickly covered Simi's ears [her Italian being quite good now] and smiled indulgently whilst forcing myself not to risk a lynching by retorting, "Well, actually, I think you're a horrible, ugly child with no aesthetic judgement" . How can his parents allow him to speak ill of a dog? If the creature wants to go through life insulting his peers, so be it. But dogs?!!

Friday, May 04, 2007


In this "city of 100 churches" , the Carmine is definitely one of my favourites. It was begun around 1250, the period of the arrival in Sicily of the Carmelite friars from Palestine. Much of the church was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1693 but the portal and rose window survived. For me, there is something so simple and pleasing about the proportions of this church and I often go to have a look at it when my spirits need uplifting but I am not, perhaps, in the mood for the baroque majesty of San Giorgio. I call the Carmine my "quiet church".

Thursday, May 03, 2007

MUM - 3

For those of you who can bear it, this is the continuing story of my mother's last illness and the way it all connects to my life in Sicily now.

This is pieced together from my diary:

I did not get home till around 0800. After I called school I called the hospital again. They said that Mum was even more confused and they did not know the cause. I went there in the afternoon, spoke to the doctors, who were at a total loss to explain what was happening, then saw Mum. She was still talking about all this money she thought she had won.

Mum was in bed. She was hallucinating and kept talking about the sixty cars she was going to buy. She was aggressive and demanding with me and the staff.

She was sitting in the chair, wearing the pretty dress and was still confused. But she had stopped talking about the money.

She was sitting in the chair. She was confused but could chat. She was much quieter. She’d put her hair up and her skin was clear. She looked almost young.

Sue, my nursing tutor friend, came to the hospital with me. Mum had tried to get up that morning but could not walk. She was very nostalgic and kept crying about Dad and telling Sue about the time I took her to Italy. There was some confusion but her long-term memory seemed OK. I actually dared to hope that day. I saw the registrar, who told me that they still had no idea what was wrong.

This day was a terrible shock. Mum’s complexion was a reddish-yellow colour [which I was to see again early on the day of her death]. She was very cantankerous with me. Sue had gone over to see Mum earlier in the day and was worried by her colour. When I passed Sue’s house on the way home, she called me in and gently told me that, in her opinion, Mum wasn’t going to recover. “I don’t think she’s going to ‘do’, love” were her words. I cried all that night.

A Wednesday. The first shock was that they had moved Mum to a side-ward, on her own. Her cantankerousness and ranting had begun to upset the other patients. By the time I got there, she was sitting in the chair, wearing the pretty dress. She didn’t even recognise me or acknowledge my presence. There was a bit of birdshit on the outside of the window and all she would do was try to scratch at it. She looked about 90. A nurse had told Sue that she’d been shocked by Mum’s appearance when she came back on duty. Apparently Sue had said, “What do you think it was like for her daughter?”

This was a terrible day. Mum could not speak and it seemed that her sight was affected - she seemed to be focussing on light and then dark areas of the room. I left mid-afternoon to get a few toiletries for Mum from Safeway’s. As I approached the checkout, they closed it and I went bezerk. [They reopened it!] This shows how a little thing can make you snap in such a situation. How on earth could I have coped with 32 aggressive children at a time?! When I got back, Mum was crying and distressed but as she could not tell me why I didn’t know how to help her - that was the worst of it. All I could do was hold her and I didn’t even know if she was aware of me. They performed a lumbar puncture that evening; it took 3 doctors 3 hours to do it because Mum was fighting them. Afterwards she looked at me as if it was my fault , as if I’d let them hurt her. She didn’t look like my mother at all. At some point during that night she had a fit.

They tested for encephalitis. I was praying [yes, praying] that it would be something like this so that they would at least be able to treat it. She could not speak. She did draw me to her twice. It was as if she was saying goodbye. I wrote in my diary, “The pain of it is unimaginable”.

The test was negative. Back to square one. Mum could just about utter “yes” and “no” She was gazing at me with so much love and we actually had a peaceful, loving day, to the extent that I told Sue that if she died that night at least she would have had that lull in the suffering. I had to feed her: the hospital staff thought I liked doing it, that it made me feel involved, but I hated it as I knew how demeaning Mum would have found it had she understood what was going on.

Mum was in much distress and obvious pain. She managed one sentence. It was “I love you”. What it must have cost her to utter those words I’ll never know.

By now I had told the medical team, “I can cope with you telling me bad news; I can cope with you telling me that you don’t know what it is; but I can’t cope with you telling me nothing.” So they were being straight with me and realised that I did actually understand what they were talking about.

Mum had gone into a deep sleep. The senior registrar warned me that she might not come out of it. There was a tremendous lot of blood in her urine.

I came home at 2230 to feed my dog, freshen up and force myself to eat. The phone rang and my heart missed a beat. It was a male colleague who wanted to discuss a power struggle at school. As if I could have cared less! Then my neighbour Katie drove me back to the Heath and stayed with us a while.

This was the first day that I saw Dr S… at the Careline offices. I was explaining to him how I felt “torn” because of work and he said something which has always remained with me: “ In this situation every moment of lucidity is a gift and you cannot afford to miss one.”

The deep sleep lasted until Friday 25.6. That was the day Mum started screaming - long, loud, shrill screams every minute or so. She was shouting about spiders [of which she had never been afraid]. This was one of the days on which they said they thought the condition might be mental. They let the screaming go on until the Sunday night. [They didn’t want to administer drugs because they still didn’t know what they were dealing with.] But they sedated Mum twice on the Sunday. It didn’t work.

That night I wrote in my diary:
“If you’ve never sat at a hospital bedside and watched a loved one die, you don’t know. I’ve done it twice now and it has not become easier with experience. If you have never watched the destruction and disintegration of the personality, you don’t know. If you’ve never dreaded walking onto a hospital ward, you don’t know. If you’ve never been afraid to answer the phone, you don’t know. If you’ve never called upon an unlistening god to end the suffering, you cannot know. If you’ve never watched a lovely, vibrant woman become a shell, you don’t know. If you’ve never grieved for one still there, you cannot know.”

I also wrote down the words of Salvatore Quasimodo’s poem that I love so much, Ed è subito sera [“And Suddenly it’s Evening”]:
Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra
trafitto da un raggio di sole:
ed è subito sera.
Each one of us is alone on the heart of the earth
pierced by a ray of sun:
and suddenly it's evening.

2007 note: I’d known this poem since university but it was not until I came to Sicily that I visited Quasimodo's birthplace, here in Modica. It’s another of the strange ways in which what happened to Mum brought me back to Sicily.

Mum was sleeping. She looked like a young girl. They did an ultrasound scan.

Mum was delirious. She was talking about colours all the time. She was repeating, “In this grey house where I live..” [I guessed that her sight must have been affected again. Nobody knew.] Then she said, “All the colours in the world won’t save me now”. There was still blood in her urine - they did not know why - and she seemed very distressed. A drip was in but she was pulling it out all the time. A kind nurse kept bringing me tea and said to me, “It must be awful for you - it’s not even peaceful.” That started me off - you know how you can be strong until someone sympathises? In the late afternoon Mum suddenly said, “I’m going, I’m going.” - “Where are you going, Mum?” - “I’m going to a place called Syracuse.” - So somewhere in that confused mind she remembered me telling her about Syracuse, in Sicily . That is why I finally said goodbye to her there, in the port, that Christmas, and why, if ever I write a book about all this, the title will be A Place Called Syracuse.

The hospital rang in the morning and asked if I’d like to see the consultant again. So I prepared myself for more bad news. Mum had pulled the drip out again and was moving around in the bed following the direction of the light. Was she grasping at light?

The consultant said that he now thought that it was mental but that certain biochemical changes occur once a person is in hospital, particularly if they are elderly. So I started blaming myself again, wondering if it was my fault for having got her to hospital. He thought a mental recovery was very unlikely. He mentioned the possibility of another hospital [she was much too ill to go into a home]. I understood that he wanted me to tell him what to do should there be a chest infection or other deterioration. I told him calmly that I wanted no futile treatment and he said he very much appreciated this. I was able to do this because, years before, Mum and I had watched a programme about Alzheimer’s and she had asked me to not to let her linger if ever her mind “went”. But even though I knew that I was doing what she would have wanted, I still felt as if someone had opened a hole in my stomach. It was, I thought, the most difficult day of my life.

A kind colleague called Josie arrived at the hospital that evening and she had her 2 toddlers with her. Upon seeing them, Mum started making odd statements about not having had children [I had been adopted] and that upset me a lot. I suppose seeing Josie’s little ones had sparked off a memory of the 9 years during which Mum and Dad had tried for a child in vain. This person who was in the bed was and yet was not my gentle Mum, who had always said she felt as though she had given birth to me. Josie swept me away to her house for a blessed couple of hours of respite. Josie makes anywhere she lives a haven of peace and I sobbed my heart out in her garden.



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