Monday, June 30, 2014


This is being reported by the world's media this morning but I'll try to give you the view from here:

In one of several migrant rescue operations carried out by the Italian Navy last night, 27 - 30 migrants were found dead in the hold of a fishing boat carrying up to 600 people, including two pregnant women. It is thought that the migrants died of asphyxiation. By the time the naval ship Grecale arrived on the scene, there was nothing the personnel could do for these poor souls and, because of the position in the boat that the bodies were in, only two were transferred to the larger ship. The boat, carrying the living and the dead, is being towed to Pozzallo as I write. 

La Repubblica is reporting that 919 migrants have arrived in Pozzallo overnight and many more in other Sicilian ports. Over this weekend alone, 5,000 migrants were rescued at sea in the Mare Nostrum operation and it is estimated that 60,000 have arrived in Sicily since the beginning of this year. The possibility of 100,000 arrivals by the end of the year has not been ruled out.

The Mayor of Pozzallo, Luigi Ammatuna, a man who has always expressed sympathy for and solidarity with the migrants, has said that the situation has become unmanageable, as the town's Cpa [centre for migrant arrivals] is full and the administration is having to rely on other institutions to accommodate them. Even the cemetery is full and there are now only two mortuary cold chambers available. The Prefect of Ragusa has promised that a plan will be put into operation to relieve the pressure on Pozzallo.

Lega Nord Federal secretary Matteo Salvini has said this morning that Premier Renzi and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano have "blood on their hands" because the Mare Nostrum operation is encouraging migrants to leave Africa.

Italy's calls for international help in the migration crisis continue to fall on largely deaf ears. Frontex [the European Border Agency] is to be strengthened but there has been no new EU agreement on asylum, as requested by Italy. The Italian government believes that the Dublin Regulation, under which the country of arrival is responsible for any asylum application by a migrant, puts too much pressure on border areas. Italy has also suggested that migrants be processed whilst still in Africa.

As politicians score points, let us remember the migrants who lost their lives last night whilst in search only of the rights and comforts that most of us enjoy without question.

Update at 15.09: A video just published by La Repubblica shows that the 600 migrants were jammed into a space of 30 metres on the fishing boat.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


It's over a year since we heard from the lovely Mr Patrizio Buanne on this blog so let's put that right with this: 

Patrizio Buanne - Sorridi [Smile]

Friday, June 27, 2014


When I first settled in Italy and started watching Italian cookery programmes, I wondered who the striking, well-dressed woman who often appeared as a judge was, for there was something very familiar about her. Then I saw  her surname on the credits - SCICOLONE - and this was familiar too. Scicolone, Scicolone.... of course! This was the birth surname of Sophia Loren and Anna Maria Villani Scicolone is her sister.

In Britain, as an Italian teacher who had always followed the Italian news, I knew of the politician Alessandra Mussolini but I hadn't realised who her mother was. Anna Maria Scicolone's first husband was the dictator's fourth son, the jazz musician Romano Mussolini and Alessandra is their daughter. The marriage failed, largely due to Romano Mussolini's womanising but it is clear from Maria Scicolone's writing that she always held him in great affection.

I decided to find out more about Maria Scicolone and my chance came when the film of her autobiography, La mia casa è piena di specchi, [My House is Full of Mirrors] was shown on Italian TV a couple of years ago. In this film, Sophia Loren plays her own mother. This was not the first time she had done so, for there is an English language film of her life [Sophia Loren - Her Own Story], but this Italian version focusses on Maria's story.

After I had seen the film, I read Maria Scicolone's book of the same name and found it a fascinating and very honest tale: It is not a chronological  autobiography but is divided into chapters describing the sisters' young lives in Pozzuoli [Campania], their relationship with their determined but domineering mother, Sophia's rise to fame and Maria's struggles to obtain an education and be known as someone other than "the sister."

Maria, like Sophia, was the illegitimate child of Romilda Villani and Riccardo Scicolone but, whilst Riccardo recognised Sophia as his child, he refused to acknowledge paternity of Maria, who had to be locked away in her bedroom during his visits and saw him only through the keyhole. But there came a time, some years later, when Riccardo needed money. Romilda said she would help him if he would recognise Maria as his child and thus it was that she took the Scicolone surname.

Romilda and Maria had a troubled relationship, as mothers and daughters often do, but they loved one another dearly. Romilda didn't want Maria to continue with her studies before she was legitimised, because of the shame this might have brought upon the family, and afterwards she seemed to have thought it was too late and was also probably jealous. Maria, though, was, in her way, as determined as her mother and went on to obtain a degree in literature in 1976.

Maria often travelled with Sophia and Carlo Ponti and in Hollywood became interested in cookery. She writes of the friendships she formed with several Hollywood stars, including Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra and later she wrote a recipe book based on the meals she had enjoyed at their homes.

I was fascinated by Maria's account of her relationship with Benito Mussolini's widow,  the formidable Donna Rachele, who seems to have had a soft spot for the naive and lonely young girl and taught Maria to cook the dishes of her region.

Hospitalised for depression after her divorce, Maria fell in love with her doctor and has a happy second marriage.  

My one issue with the book is the lack, on Maria's part, of any censure of her deceased father-in-law's political ideas. That said, "Sophia Loren's sister", as she was known for so long, might have appeared, to the world, to have everything. This book charts her long and difficult search for autonomy. 

La mia casa è piena di specchi - wedding scene

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


As Simi and I went for our walk at about 7pm the streets were eerily quiet.  There was, of course, a certain football match being played far away and, while some shops had closed early, others were darkened and empty with only the sound of a radio or TV commentary indicating the presence inside of their owners. Even the man who sells cherries from his lorry had deserted his post!  

The silence was even eerier after the game but, on twitter, social networks and on TV, shock has turned into indignation and most of it is being directed at the player who appears to have bitten an Italian defender. I will say only that, if my dog were to bite someone, the consequences would be dire, so I don't see why they shouldn't be for a footballer.

I'm sorry that Mr Prandelli, the Italian coach, feels he has to resign, because I did like his suits and the style with which he wore them.  Now I read that the president of the Italian Football Federation is resigning too. Perhaps a few Italian politicians should take note.

Monday, June 23, 2014


In reporting what has become an almost daily toll of migrant deaths at sea, I am reminded of this quote from Camus in La Peste:

"Mais qu'est-ce que cent millions de morts?" ["What are 100 million deaths?"]

What he meant, I believe, was that in war, epidemic and other such catastrophes the deaths become so many that we stop being able to imagine their meaning.

In the early hours of yesterday 104 migrants, all male, were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard from a dinghy about 54 miles off Lampedusa. Another 302 migrants were rescued in two separate operations in the Sicilian Channel and have been taken to the Port of Augusta. On board the rescue ship there was also a body, already decomposing, which had been found off the Maltese coast. This poor soul probably lost his or her life on one of the many other migrant boats that had got into trouble in the past few weeks.  Today four alleged people traffickers have been arrested by Italian police in connection with this death.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, visiting Pozzallo last week, promised help to Sicily's prefects and mayors in dealing with the migrants and said that a task force on the implications for public health will be set up. He also said, rightly, that all of Europe should recognise the sterling work being done by Italy in saving migrant lives.

Matteo Salvini of the Lega Nord, however, wants Operazione Mare Nostrum stopped immediately and says the money spent on it should be diverted to Africa to stop migrants leaving in the first place. This sounds eminently reasonable until you start to wonder exactly how this could be done and how, in certain unstable states, one could be sure of where the funds would be directed and how they would be used.

On 20th June, World Refugee Day, Laura Boldrini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, said in Siracusa, on board the naval ship the San Giorgio, which has been involved in many rescue operations, that Mare Nostrum operatives should be proud because nothing is more important than saving lives. She also said that other EU states are taking in refugees but are not helping in rescuing people at sea. She thanked Sicilians and their local councils for the work they are doing, proving, she added, that

"Italy is a great country which has not allowed itself to be devoured by selfishness in the face of the economic crisis."

Saturday, June 21, 2014


The wonderful Monsieur Aznavour appears at the Foro Italico in Rome on Tuesday, so, certainly not for the first time on this blog, here is a great favourite with his Italian fans. Can you listen to this without crying? I can't! [He does sing an Italian version but I don't think it has the poignancy of the original French.]

Charles Aznavour - Que c'est triste, Venise

Rome, according to the Italian press, is at the moment in tilt due to the arrival of those eternal bad boys, The Rolling Stones, who will be cavorting around the stage of the Circo Massimo tomorrow night. Here's my favourite Stones song, also about lost love:

The Rolling Stones - Tell Me [You're Coming Back]

Friday, June 20, 2014


The cherry harvest continues and the other day, I decided I wanted to experiment by using some with a tagliata [the sirloin cut]. I know all you Italians will be horrified again at such a mixture of sweet and savoury ingredients, which you claim you never use together, so please, look away now! 

There are also days when I long for some of the Middle Eastern flavours I used in my cooking in Britain and that is why I came up with the idea of using rosewater in the dressing.

The dish turned out well so, for the brave among you. this is what I did:

Ask the butcher for a 600 gr piece of tagliata [if you are in Italy] or sirloin if you are elsewhere.  A few hours before you want to serve the salad, lightly oil the tagliata on both sides, place it on a heated, ridged griddle pan and cook it on both sides to your liking. [I like mine medium rare for a salad.]  Take it out of the pan and leave it to cool on a cutting board. When it has cooled sufficiently, slice it diagonally into fairly wide strips and put in the fridge.

Destalk 500 gr  ready-washed spinach leaves. Tear them if they are very large and put them in the fridge. 

Cook 8 slices frozen, grilled aubergine as directed on the pack and put in the fridge when cool. [You can, of course, grill your own if you have time but let them dry on kitchen paper if you do.]

Wash, stone and halve about 20 cherries and chill these, too.

Now make the dressing:  In a small bowl, mix the following ingredients well with a fork:  5 tablesp olive oil, 3 teasp culinary rosewater, seasalt and black pepper to taste and a few chilli flakes.  Leave the dressing to chill in the fridge.

When you are ready to assemble the salad, put the spinach on a large serving platter, then add the aubergine slices and, on top of these, the tagliata slices, some torn fresh basil leaves and the cherries.  Give the dressing a final, robust stir with a fork, then drizzle it over the salad and serve.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


I'm always cheered by the arrival of these mini-pears and I'm rather sentimentally attached to them because they were the main Sicilian fruit in season when I first came to live here, just over nine years ago:

As some of you may remember, the tabacchiere peaches [named for their snuffbox-like shape] are my favourite summer fruit of all:

When the angurie [watermelons] start falling off the fruit vans, we'll know that summer is in full swing!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Yesterday in the bank there were - I kid you not - around 200 people waiting and just two functioning counters. People were standing around in small groups, chatting and complaining, but no one complained to a person in a position to do anything about it.  This was probably due to resignation rather than laziness or a desire not to upset anyone, for everybody knew full well that the most likely response would be a shrug with the word "Pazienza" and that no action would be taken.

After an hour, my own pazienza was wearing thin and I asked a clerk at a closed counter if she could tell me why, when there were so many clients waiting, only two counters were open. Her reply was,

"Ah, but there are three counters working. It's just that I have other things to do so my counter isn't open to the public."

Now, maths is not my strong point but two counters working and one closed equals two counters working, not three, or have I missed something here, dear reader?  In the end I gave up and went for a gelato.


Everywhere I went on Saturday I was asked which team I would be supporting in that night's World Cup match and everywhere I went I was met with blank stares of incomprehension when I explained that as I am Welsh, not English, the England team's fortune or misfortune was of no interest to me. I didn't have the heart to add that I don't care about sport anyway!

At midnight, in a good old British "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" frame of mind, I decided I might as well watch the game, which I did with my twitter feed open, and at first I was puzzled at the number of comments disparaging the Italo-Argentinian player Gabriel Paletta, as his name had been notably absent from the Italian commentary. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the Italian tweeters' enthusiasm to get him off the pitch had nothing whatsoever to do with his footie skills;  rather, the poor man had offended their sense of style by combing his hair, somewhat ineptly, over his bald patch and this was earning him more derision than if he had missed a penalty!

One had to feel sorry for the England team's physiotherapist, who injured his ankle cheering and had to be carried off on his own stretcher; it was such a British sort of misfortune, somehow and the Italians were incredulous.  

When "super Mario" [as young Mr Balotelli has become again] scored Italy's second goal the bar opposite erupted and I'd have known what had happened even if I hadn't been watching the action on TV. And of course, at the end of the match it erupted again and over in Catania old Etna decided to join in.

A sour note was struck at around 2 am Italian time on Sunday, when Maurizio Gasparri, former Interior Minister under Silvio Berlusconi and currently Vice President of the Italian Senate, tweeted that his country had seen off the English, who are "pretentious arseholes." Now, I may not be English but I am British and I object! I have tweeted both Mr Gasparri and Mr Renzi to say so. In fairness, I should add that many Italians have also expressed their indignation and shame at this remark.

Whilst we are on the topic of Britishness, I have only one thing to say about Scottish independence:  if you do it, Scotland, it's going to be even more hellish trying to explain the concept of the UK - or what will be left of it - to Italians!

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Il Volo are appearing at the Teatro Antico, Taormina on Friday and I really wish I could go! In their honour, and because there is a certain important football match taking place at midnight Italian time, I am posting their version of Italy's official World Cup song:

Il Volo - Un amore così grande
In bocca al lupo, l'Italia!
 Good luck, England!

Friday, June 13, 2014


Another summer is upon us so there has to be a new semifreddo flavour from me!  Here's how I made this one:

First, line a long loaf tin with clingfilm. The clingfilm should come up over the sides so that you can fold it in once you have put your semifreddo mixture in the tin.

Now put 175gr digestive biscuits [or savoiardi if you can't get digestives] in a freezer bag, clip the top and crush the biscuits with a rolling pin until they look like breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Next, stone and halve about 24 fresh cherries and grate some dark chocolate - about 4 squares.

If you are in Italy, whip 500 gr panna da montare  to the soft peak stage.  If you are elsewhere use double or whipping cream.

Add all the other ingredients, plus a little Maraschino or kirsch liqueur if you wish, to the cream and stir well with a metal spoon.  Pour it all into the loaf tin and smooth the top with a palette knife.  Wrap it all around with more clingfilm and then foil and freeze overnight.

When you are ready to serve, the semifreddo should lift out of the tin easily if you wait about five minutes after taking it out of the freezer. Slice to serve and decorate with more cherries.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Two years ago, I wrote that Italy had gone loyalty-card mad and now it is even more so. The latest company to join the trend is a coffee-maker, so now you get your little card stamped every time you have a coffee in the bar.

I must say, I was quite cheered to get a free tin of coffee this morning, especially as it came in one of those nifty new wine chiller bags. Now, in the unlikely event that I manage to down another 30 coffees before the end of the month, I get an espresso cup and saucer......

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


On the day after Reuters reported that Italy had saved 5,200 migrants in the Mediterranean since Thursday, in Sicily we're just surprised that anyone is surprised and the story is not even making the headlines. Italy, I repeat, has been carrying out large-scale rescues for months and asking for help from the international community for years.

Three migrants were reported dead yesterday and these poor souls, it now transpires, lost their lives in an incident which happened near the Libyan coast in the morning, when a Maltese tanker called the Norient Star was trying to help a dinghy carrying 107 migrants. As the larger vessel edged nearer to the dinghy to carry out the rescue operation, the dinghy, which was already in a poor condition, hit the boarding ladder. This caused a hole and the dinghy started to deflate, then capsized, throwing the passengers into the sea. Some migrants managed to save themselves by grabbing the ladder and others were rescued but three drowned and two are missing. A Maltese guard ship had also been near the scene prior to the accident, but its crew had thrown life jackets to the migrants and then left the scene to take part in another rescue operation. There is no implication that this affected the outcome of the dinghy incident and the investigating magistrate from Ragusa has in fact ruled it out. 

Last night the Norient Star brought the 102 survivors and three bodies to Pozzallo, where the Mayor and a young Protezione Civile representative laid flowers on one of the waiting coffins. Mayor Luigi Ammatuna said he wanted to be a "mayor of life, not welcoming corpses but people full of hope who want to change their destiny."

A UN spokesman has apparently said tonight that Italy cannot be left alone to deal with the current volume of migration from North Africa and that an international response is needed. Words, words, words - how many people have to die before humane international action is taken?

Saturday, June 07, 2014


It's official:  Suor Cristina Scuccia, the "singing nun" from Comiso, is "The Voice of Italy." Here is one of the songs she sang in this week's final:

Suor Cristina - Life is Beautiful That Way

Friday, June 06, 2014


At London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale we are very happy to be able to announce that, in partnership with Vacanze Craunari, we are offering Italian courses this summer:

Italian for English Speakers
€450,00 per person

Course dates:
30 June - 6 July
31 August - 7 September
7 September - 14 September

Price includes:
7 nights in a shared apartment
12-hour Italian course
7 breakfasts

Services available upon payment of a supplement [must be pre-booked]:
Airport or port transfers

If you are already in Modica or have planned your trip and would like to learn Italian, London Town, Modica - Centro Linguistico Internazionale also has the following summer offers:

Summer offers – courses from €160!

8-hour and 12-hour courses
July, August or September, 2 or 3 hours per week
Tailored to your needs
Minimum:  group of 2

36-hour course
July, August and September
Tailored to your needs
Pay for 2 months and get one month FREE!!
Minimum:  group of 2

Individual courses can also be arranged.

Call Pat at the Centre now!
[0039] 0932 905642  /  +39 366 119 6467



Wednesday, June 04, 2014


As the Italy squad leaves tomorrow night for Brazil - where I understand a few footie matches are to be played over the next month - it is to be hoped that own goals will be avoided.

This, I'm afraid, was not the case in Taormina last weekend, when those who really want to destroy Sicily's tourism industry had a field day, leaving incredulous tourists gasping and swearing never to visit Sicily again. The cause? A new "rule" under which people wishing to visit the town's famous Greek theatre can only purchase entry tickets there if they happen to have the right money, namely eight euros. Change, explained a ticket clerk, curtly and in dialect, would not be given. When a Sicilian man in the queue protested, he was told that he could have a phone number which he could call to complain.

Come on, Taormina - end this farce now!

Greek theatre, Taormina

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


On the evening when the British press are carrying the story of the sheer numbers of migrants intending to sail for Europe this summer under headlines such as Looming Migrant Tragedy [Guardian printed edition for 3.6.14], I would point out that it is not "looming". There have been many tragedies already and Italy has been asking for help in this situation for years.

On the night of 31st May - 1st June alone, the Italian Navy and other agencies involved in Operazione Mare Nostrum saved 3,517 migrants from various boats that had got into trouble in the Mediterranean. Among those rescued were children and pregnant women, one in her ninth month, and two migrants in a critical medical condition. 

The primary departure point continues to be Libya and most of the migrants are of Syrian and Eritrean origin. In order to accommodate all the migrants, 500 had to be taken to Lampedusa, although the reception centre there has been closed, whilst 2,000 others were transferred to various other locations in Ragusa. A further 1,000 were taken to Augusta [Siracusa] on Saturday. 

With the weekend arrivals, the total number of migrants who have reached Italy since the beginning of 2014 is over 43,000, equivalent to the number of arrivals for the whole of 2013.

An Eritrean who had made the journey from Libya told La Repubblica that he had crossed the Sahara to get there, a journey for which he had paid $1,450, and that, once he arrived in Libya, he was taken to a warehouse where, with other migrants, he was closely guarded, practically starved and forbidden to leave. He then paid his captors a further $1,450 for the sea voyage.  Police in Ragusa have arrested five people traffickers, who are also accused of endangering the lives of their human cargo and of subjecting them to inhumane treatment.

Operazione Mare Nostrum, Italy's humanitarian mission to save migrants undertaking these perilous journeys in the Mediterranean, continues to come under fire from many quarters because people believe it may be encouraging people traffickers. Prime Minister Renzi has said that Mare Nostrum must continue but that the EU must ask the UN to intervene in Libya. He has also said that Frontex [the European border agency] should be used more effectively. Elsewhere the option of creating a "safe migration corridor" from Africa is being widely discussed and the UN is considering the creation of holding centres for migrants in Africa. The latter may not be possible, though, because of the human rights records and instability of some of the states which would be involved.

Politicians continue to talk, Italy continues to carry out rescue missions and to deal with their aftermath largely alone, the EU continues not to see and people continue to die.


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