Monday, March 31, 2014


Modica, Santa Maria di Betlem

I've often said that a lot of the problems Modica has with promoting tourism could be overcome if the tourist board and council would realise the importance of one word - aperto [open]. Nothing is more frustrating to a tourist who only has a day to spend in a certain location than to arrive at the most interesting or beautiful building in the place only to see a notice saying, "Chiuso - torni domani" ["Closed - come back tomorrow"].

To be fair, it doesn't only happen in Modica, in Sicily or even in the South but I do have to say that every time I have passed Modica's Church of Santa Maria di Betlem in recent years - this is the church with the famous crib featuring Sicilian characters - I have noticed that it has been closed and felt sorry for any hapless tourists visiting the city that day.

Now, though, an agreement has been signed between officials of the churches of Santa Maria, San Giorgio and San Pietro, a consortium of tourist companies and the cooperative Progresso Ibleo, which will be charged with the security of the churches during opening hours. Under the agreement, the churches will remain open all day during the tourist season.

Far be it from me to be cynical but I do hope that those concerned realise that the tourist season includes August and that "all day", to folk not from these parts, encompasses the hours between 1 and 5pm!

You may be interested in this 2010 article of mine for Italy Magazine, "The Bells of Santa Maria".

Saturday, March 29, 2014


There's a lot of truth in this eighties song from Fiorella Mannoia - "What Women Don't Say":

Fiorella Mannoia - Quello che le donne non dicono

Friday, March 28, 2014


In case you're wondering what I did with that kilo of broccoletti on Tuesday, here's the salad I invented!

Broccoletti con datterini

Trim, wash and drain 1 kg broccoletti. Bring a pasta pan of salted water to the boil and plunge the broccoletti in. Cook for about 3 mins, then drain. Heat 4 tablesp olive oil in a 2"-deep, wide pan or small wok and cook 1 crushed clove of garlic in it for 1 min. Add the broccoletti, season and stir round for about 5 mins. Add 20 or so datterini tomatoes or the smallest cherry tomatoes you can find and cook, stirring, until these just begin to soften - about 2 mins. Then add a few pinenuts, cook for a further minute and add the juice of 1 lemon. Give it all a good last stir then use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a serving dish. A few shavings of Pecorino stagionato over the top and you're done. 

This is great served warm but it's also pretty good cold!  Serves 4 as a contorno.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


It's always nice to be mentioned favourably on other blogs and sites and I am delighted to have received this nice write-up on Ville in Italia. Do take a look, as it's a very interesting site and I'm in good company there! Thank you, Ville in Italia!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


We all get nervous when speaking in public so let us be kind to poor Davide Tripiedi, a Movimento 5 Stelle politician who, when he stood up to speak in the Camera dei Deputati yesterday, began by announcing that he intended to be "brief and circumcised" instead of "brief and concise". He was corrected by the Deputy Speaker, who informed him that "that is another thing" and, though momentarily embarrassed, Mr Tripiedi apologised, smiled and continued with his speech. I rather think he made the Chamber a more interesting place for a few minutes! Thank you, Corriere della Sera:

Saturday, March 22, 2014


There is only one performance that everyone in Italy is talking about this week, and it is this one by Ursuline nun Suor Cristina on The Voice of Italy talent show. All I can say is, "Wow!" and I am sure you will, too.  I am doubly wowed by the fact that Suor Cristina is Sicilian, from Comiso.

She chose the rapper J-Ax as her mentor as he was the first of the panel to turn round. He told Suor Cristina,

"If I'd met you when I went to Mass as a child I'd be Pope by now!"

When asked why she wanted to try her luck on The Voice, Suor Cristina said, 

"Because I have a gift and I offer it to you."  

As to what the Vatican might have to say about her appearance on the programme, Suor Cristina said she was expecting a phone call from Pope Francis. There is no word yet as to whether this has happened, but I, for one, believe that it will and that he will be delighted.

Go for it, Suor Cristina!

Suor Cristina - No One 

Friday, March 21, 2014


Public transport, as Modicans would be the first to admit, does not work well in this town and I have often lamented the fact that, whilst I can get a bus from Modica Bassa to Catania and arrive with no trouble in less than two hours, it sometimes takes almost as long to get from the Sorda district of Modica where I live to Modica Bassa in the first place.

Therefore, whenever I go to Catania, I feel as if I'm in paradise as soon as I see a city bus. It feels normal! But oh, dear, what is going on? It seems that the Catania bus company is not doing well, the reason being that over 60% of its passengers do not bother to purchase tickets and a further 30% of those who are fined for this omission do not pay that, either.  The problem, it is reported, is widespread in southern Italy but less so in the north, where only 30% of passengers habitually travel without tickets. This, we are told, is not because northern Italians are more honest, but is due to a basic mistrust of bus services among southerners, dating back to a time when the service offered was, indeed, poor, even in large cities like Catania.

In order to combat the problem, more ticket inspections are promised in Catania from April but I would like to suggest another solution: make the system for buying tickets easier! Granted, it is mostly local people who use the city's buses but a stranger or a tourist is likely to be very perplexed at the lack of information about where to buy tickets and it is not obvious to someone from another country that you can buy them in most bars and tobacconists.

Once I found myself stranded on the outskirts of Catania and needed to get into the city at a time of day when everything was closed. I boarded a hopeful-looking bus but, being British, became so terrified of an imminent ticket inspection [despite the driver's assurances that the inspectors don't work between 1 and 4 pm] that I got off three miles from my destination and walked.

Make the ticket-purchasing points more obvious, Catania - and it would help enormously if they were actually open as well!

The Hollies - Bus Stop

Thursday, March 20, 2014


It is now being reported that the body of a migrant was found on board one of the boats saved by the Italian Navy on Tuesday night. The cause of death is being given as inhalation of hydrocarbon fumes on the boat. Another migrant from the same boat was airlifted to hospital in Catania after he or she was found to be experiencing serious breathing difficulties.

Now it is estimated that a further 1,000 migrants have been rescued by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard in the last 24 hours.

Once those migrants who survive the incredibly dangerous crossing arrive on Italian soil they are helped to an extent but facilities for them are inadequate. Most do not wish to stay here and either escape from the holding centres and try to make their way north - in which case they may again fall into the hands of people traffickers -  or wait for permission, which may not come, to move on. And then what? Some are lucky and manage to legally stay in northern Europe; others are not.

Throughout history, people have fled persecution, poverty, danger and war and no one has the right to prevent them from doing so. And no one, least of all me, knows how to tackle these sources of the problem.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Spring has come to the Mediterranean and better conditions at sea bring with them more boatloads of desperate souls seeking a better life.

On Monday night alone, 13 boats carrying, between them, around 1,532 migrants were rescued in the Sicilian Channel by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard. Rescue ships were still trying to reach other migrant boats that had run into trouble as these figures were being reported.

South of Lampedusa naval ships saved 596 migrants, including 141 women and 116 minors. The majority of these, like the migrants rescued from other overloaded and inadequate boats, are believed to be from Syria, Palestine and Eritrea. The migrants were transferred to another ship on which they were given medical care and where representatives of the NGO Fondazione Rava NPH were on hand to help. Police were also on board to try to identify the migrants. Today some of them were brought to Pozzallo.

Latest estimates are that, in the last 48 hours, the Italian Navy, Coast Guard and three Italian Merchant Navy ships assigned to Operazione Mare Nostrum have saved 2,128 migrants.  UNHCR has said that the operations were an example for other countries to follow.

The Italian Navy has been involved in 76 rescue operations since the launch of Operazione Mare Nostrum in the autumn and 10,134 migrants, including 713 women and 1,019 children, have been rescued at sea.

Tonight, as so often since I came to Sicily, my thoughts are with all migrants and those who seek to save and help them.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Belgian singer-songwriter Stromae certainly impressed as a guest star at Sanremo this year and this track has entered the Italian charts at no. 5:

Stromae - Tous les Mêmes

Friday, March 14, 2014


I am honoured to have had my portrait taken by photographer Luca Migliore 
and to feature in his 11 Donne ["11 Women"] project here.

Grazie, Luca!

Thursday, March 13, 2014


I've mentioned before that I'm not fond of Thursdays, partly because Thursday is not Friday and partly because it's - well, Thursday. I also think the BBC is to blame for my aversion as, when I was a child, the Watch with Mother schedule ran thus: Mondays - Picture Book, which was sometimes interesting; Tuesdays - Andy Pandy, which at least had the virtue of a loveable teddy bear; Wednesdays - The Flower Pot Men, which only children could understand; Thursdays - Rag, Tag and Bobtail, a hedgehog, a mouse and a rabbit who were as dull as can be; and Friday - The Woodentops, which I loved, mainly because the programme featured "the very biggest spotty dog you ever did see." So there you have it - Rag, Tag and Bobtail spoiled Thursdays for me for evermore and the only duller thing I've seen on television was the much hyped live announcement of the winner of last week's Masterchef Italia final - also on a Thursday.

As regular readers will know, Masterchef Italia has, for three years, been a programme which I have followed avidly and there were some great episodes in this third series. Rachida from Morocco and lovely 67-year-old Alberto from Cremona were eliminated a couple of weeks ago and the semi-finalists were the worthy and non-temperamental Enrica, Almo of the glowing shoes - I have several times had to put my sunglasses on when there have been full-length shots of Almo - and Federico, an analytical and serious torinese doctor, who deservedly won the title.

It has been fun, too, watching the three judges - Carlo Cracco the "sexy chef" [who actually writes extremely good cookbooks], Bruno Barbieri, whose jackets and glasses stunned viewers week after week, and the entertaining and unpredictable Joe Bastianich, whose best trick was to throw dishes he disapproved of across the studio. Fun, that is, until the final went live when, awaiting Almo and Federico in a packed studio, the three were obviously at a loss as to how to fill the agonisingly long minutes. As one tweeter pointed out, they are, after all, chefs rather than professional anchormen and it was all a bit much for them. Even when the two finalists arrived, Cracco played the suspense for all it was worth and, along with several million others, I had started to wonder if he'd ever put us out of our misery by reading out the name. "Please don't go live again!" begged tweeters all over Italy and eventually Sky Uno staff had to admit that the idea had been a mistake.

But now it is all over and here I am on Thursday evening wondering what to do with myself: Junior Masterchef Italia starts tonight and two of the judges are Bruno Barbieri and Joe's mum Lidia Bastianich. [Presumably the producers believe that the audience would not tolerate Joe chucking around dishes created by children.] However, I'm not sure I'm up to the rigours of following such a contest, so roll on, Masterchef Italia 4 and the return of chef Cracco - on Thursdays again if you can manage it, please, Sky.

Masterchef Italia logo - Wikipedia Italia

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


On International Women's Day last Saturday a 67-year-old Sicilian woman was received by President Napolitano at the Quirinale [the President of the Republic's official residence] and invested with the honour of the Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana.

The woman was Franca Viola, a tenant farmer's daughter from Alcamo [Trapani]. At the age of 17, Franca was kidnapped by her former fiancé, Filippo Melodia and some of his friends. Franca's father had ended the betrothal because Melodia was a member of a Mafia gang. The Viola family home had already been burned down as a reprisal.

Franca was held for eight days and repeatedly raped. Her father pretended to be cooperating with Melodia's gang but actually he was helping the police, who on the eighth day found and released Franca. Her kidnappers were jailed.

In those days, rape in Italy was regarded as an offence against public morality rather than an offence against the person and a man who had raped a woman could be absolved of the crime if he married his victim. The woman would agree to the marriage to save her reputation. 

Franca, however, refused to marry Melodia and her father supported her. This took incredible courage amid the threats that the family received and in the cultural climate of the time but both were determined.

The story has a happy ending, for Franca married her childhood sweetheart in 1968 and had two children. She is now a proud grandmother.

The law whereby a rapist could be absolved of his crime by marrying the victim was abolished in 1981 and Franca Viola was instrumental in bringing about the change. Rape was not designated an offence against the person in Italy until 1996. 

On International Women's Day 2014 the Quirinale was bathed in red light in remembrance of victims of femicide in Italy.

Franca Viola

Monday, March 10, 2014


Do you ever wonder how talk show presenters prepare their programmes? You might think that they would read everything they can about people they are going to interview, bone up on geographical locations that are going to feature or, at the very least, make sure they are well-briefed by people who can do this for them. 

Miss Barbara d'Urso, the presenter of the Sunday afternoon programme Domenica Live on Canale 5, appears to have done none of these things this week and has caused a Sicilian storm by referring to Siracusa as "a forgotten village in southern Italy" whilst interviewing the teacher who arranged a school concert to welcome new Premier Matteo Renzi to the city.

Siracusa: 2,700 years old, the birthplace of Archimedes and the most important city in Magna Graecia. Siracusa: UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has a Greek amphitheatre to rival those in Greece itself and classical plays are performed there to this day. It also has a Roman amphitheatre and Cicero described Siracusa as "the greatest and most beautiful" of Greek cities.  

Teatro greco, Siracusa being prepared for the performance of a Greek play

Mayor of Siracusa Giancarlo Garozzo is understandably appalled and points out that the city is ranked fourth in Italy [after Rome, Venice and Florence] for its artistic and architectural heritage. He also thinks that Miss d'Urso should have glanced at Wikipedia before the programme went on air. This morning his administration sent a written protest to Mediaset [Silvio Berlusconi's group of television channels, which includes Canale 5]. Both the city council and the tourist board are now likely to invite Miss d'Urso to visit the city. 

Ironically Miss d'Urso is from Naples and changed her name from Maria Carmela - judged "too southern" by her bosses at Tele Milano, a precursor of Canale 5 - to Barbara in 1977. What a pity she didn't change her reading habits too.


Imagination, especially in the kitchen, is always to be commended in my opinion so I was delighted, on Saturday, to be offered this "mimosa cake" in my local bar. Mimosa blossom is the symbol of International Women's Day in Italy, because it is plentiful at this time of year and women can obtain it without spending money. It was originally the idea of the WW2 partisan and later one of the "mothers of the Constitution", Teresa Mattei. "Teresita" died almost exactly a year ago.

Those are minute pieces of yellow-coloured sponge cake decorating the torta and it was filled with fresh strawberries. Needless to say, it tasted good, too!

Saturday, March 08, 2014


Here is a song for International Women's Day - Le donne lo sanno ["Women Know"] and men would do well not to forget this fact!

Ligabue - Le donne lo sanno

Buona festa della donna a tutti!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


Look out, NASA! You've got competition from Sicily, no less, in the form of the "Sicilian Space Program"! This was the brainchild of three young people from Enna - Antonella Barbera, Fabio Leone and Paolo Capasso - who one evening had the idea of sending a cannolo into space.

Our determined space pioneers paid for the mission from their own funds and equipped themselves with two video cameras, an empty ice cream carton, a GPS system, a helium-filled balloon, a small parachute and, of course, the "cannolo", made from modelling paste.

Next, they had to get permission from Enac [the Italian Civil Aviation Authority], Enav [the company which provides civilian air traffic control to the Italian state] and the military at Sigonella - all of which took 45 days, during which time the three friends finalised the details of their project.

At last, the launch date of 2nd February arrived and the cannolo took off from Rocca di Cirere in the Enna Geopark. It reached a height of almost 30,000 metres before the balloon disintegrated two hours later and the parachute brought the adventurous cannolo back to earth as planned. It was retrieved by the "Sicilian Space Program" team at Bompietro in the Madonie [Palermo Province], 25 km from the launch site. 

Antonella, Fabio and Paolo say they see the cannolo flight as a gift to Sicilians and hope it has made them smile. I think it is safe to say they have achieved this, as the video has now gone viral. They also say they celebrated with a cannoli party - let's hope that this time they were well-deserved real ones!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


I dedicate this song to all my students who had to have a lesson this afternoon instead of enjoying the last day of carnevale. I'm very impressed that you came!

The Seekers - The Carnival is Over

Monday, March 03, 2014


Even though it's started raining again, you can tell it's spring by the armfuls of Sicilian asparagus being sold from vegetable lorries at the roadside and the other day I decided I could resist no longer!  As there's still a bit of pumpkin to be had, I saw no reason for not combining these two favourite risotto vegetables of mine:

First, take a piece of pumpkin weighing about 250 gr and separate the flesh from the skin. Discard any fibrous bits and the seeds, then chop the flesh into small chunks. Now prepare the asparagus - as I said, I got about an armful! Wash it, then cut it diagonally about an inch below the spears. [Sicilian asparagus is very tender so you can leave more of the stalks on if you wish, or chop and add them separately.] Cook the pumpkin in a pan of salted, boiling water for about 10 mins or until tender, then add the asparagus for just a minute or two. Drain.

In a wide pan at least 2 inches deep, soften a chopped white onion in 4 tablesp olive oil.  As I've said before, there are only two secrets to making a good risotto: one is to use the right kind of rice and the other is contained in that word I would ban in other circumstances - pazienza. Once the onion is softened, add about 2 tablesp out of 500 gr arborio or other risotto rice and stir it around for about a minute. Have ready 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock. [If you are awfully good and have had time you'll have made the stock from the asparagus stalks and some other vegetables but I'm not and I didn't.] Now add the rest of the rice and about one third of the stock. Stir everything, turn the heat down and go and do something useful such as checking that the world didn't end while you weren't on facebook. Come back, check that the rice has absorbed the stock and if it has, add another third. [If it hasn't, stir and wait!] Repeat the process, adding, with the final third of the stock, some seasoning - I decided it was time to use that nice lemon and mint flavoured seasalt I showed you a couple of weeks ago - some chopped fresh sage and the pumpkin and asparagus. Add the juice of a lemon, stir and let the rice absorb the last of the stock. Once it has and is al dente, stir in a couple of tablesp grated Parmesan, Grana Padano or Ragusano cheese and add a few knobs of butter. Stir vigorously and serve.

Serves 4 generously.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


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