Tuesday, August 30, 2016

SUMMER TIDES, 2016 - 5

Yesterday, while my own country continued to argue about free movement of people and where the Anglo-French border should be now that we are leaving the EU, I watched, unbelievingly, the television images I imagine all of you have seen too:  off the coast of Libya an Italian rescue boat approaches an inadequate fishing boat crammed full of migrants; there are so many people on board that some have to sit with their legs dangling over the side.  The rescue boat takes babies and children off first and as it backs away migrants start jumping into the sea, such is their desperation to be saved. Again I ask the question: would anyone do that if their lives in their countries of origin or in countries subsequently reached had not been in danger?

This was only one of 40 operations coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard yesterday, in which 6,500 migrants were saved, it was reported last night.  The Coast Guard were joined in the operations by the Italian Navy, non-governmental organisations, Frontex and EUNAVFOR MED [Operazione Sofia]. Today the Italian Ministry of Defence has updated the figures to 7,000 migrants saved and 47 operations in which the Italian Navy took part. The Navy alone rescued 2,500 people. Between Friday and Monday morning 10,000 migrants were saved in this stretch of sea.  

La Repubblica reports that a further 300 migrants, including 38 women and 68 children, were rescued by a British ship and brought to Porto Empodocle last night. Of these, 133 have scabies. A further 1,273 migrants, saved in the Sicilian Channel, are expected in Palermo today.  

One migrant with gunshot wounds has been transferred from Lampedusa to hospital in Palermo and newborn twins, suffering from dehydration and respiratory problems, have also been airlifted to the Sicilian capital. Their mother is now in hospital too.  

So many people and so much suffering but to some, they are just statistics. "No one wants them", commented a press reviewer on Sky News last night. "Do you know how it feels to be unwanted?" I ask a person who cannot hear me. "Do you know how it feels to leave your country, to have all choices taken away from you?" "Can you watch those pictures and not be moved?"  The answer to the last question would, I fear, be "Yes" and if that is the case, what has become of our common humanity? How will history judge "civilised" Europe on the way it behaved during the great migration crisis of the early 21st century?

Update at 22.17 pm CET:  ONUItalia [Italy at the UN] has just tweeted that 3,000 migrants have been saved in the Sicilian Channel today.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


Seven years ago, on the occasion of the L'Aquila earthquake, I posted this. It still seems the most appropriate piece of music I could post at the end of this tragic week:

Katherine Jenkins - Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

Thursday, August 25, 2016


At the end of a tragic day for Italy, there is little that I can add to the news updates that you will all be following in your own countries but here are some snippets:

As I write, just before midnight in Italy, the death toll is 159 and 368 people are reported injured. Rescuers are still working, however, so these figures are expected to rise.

Early this evening the Mayor of Amatrice said that he thought 100 people were still missing in the town.  There is said to be nothing left of Amatrice and for me the most poignant image of the day has been of the town's clock tower with rubble all around it and the clock's hands resting at 3.36, the time this morning when the earthquake struck,  [Eerily it was at 3.32 am on 6.4.09 that the L'Aquila earthquake struck.]

A ten-year-old girl was pulled out alive at Pescara del Tronto after 17 hours. Sadly her sister has died.

A 28-year-old Sicilian man from Siracusa Province was pulled out from the rubble of the bakery where he had been working in Amatrice this afternoon.

The youngest victim was an 8-month-old baby.

At least 1,000 people have lost their homes.

Reports of strong aftershocks are coming in frequently.

In Ascoli Piceno 20 asylum seekers have asked if they can go and help the rescue effort in the village of Amandola.  In Gioioso in Reggio Calabria 75 migrants have offered the allowance they receive in Italy to families affected by the quake. I am sure that other migrants and refugees are also offering help.

People around the country have been queuing to donate blood since the first news of the quake broke.

If you are in Italy, you can donate €2 by texting a message of support to the number below or by calling the number from a landline:

You may find other ways in which you can help here.

Food blogger Paolo Campana has come up with the idea of raising funds through Amatrice's famous pasta dish: for every plate of spaghetti all'amatriciana ordered, participating restaurants will donate €2 to the earthquake fund via the Italian Red Cross:

The Italian information hotline number for the earthquake is:

800 840 840

It may seem that there is nothing we can say or do but we can donate funds if we are in a position to do so and blood if we are in Italy. There is also a need for underwear and blankets for the many displaced people and these should be taken to your nearest Protezione Civile branch if you are in Italy. [Please check with them first.]  But most of all, Italy tonight needs our love.

Albinoni [attrib.] / Giazotto - Adagio in sol minore

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


I do not often refer to the British Daily Mail on this blog, nor do I often write about sport, neither being favourites of mine, so tonight is a little different. 

You see, those eagle-eyed journos at the Mail have ranked what they consider to be the 20 best football badges in the world and Palermo has the honour of coming seventh. It is a pretty badge, I think, though carino is probably not the first word that comes to the mind of those hunks when they don their team shirts.  [I will not risk posting a picture of the badge here for copyright reasons but it's on the Mail page - they've got more money than me to cope if they get sued - and, of course, the club one.]

The two other Italian clubs listed are Juventus in fourth place and Roma in twentieth. And the winner is...?  São Paulo. Take a look and see what you think. There is also a link on the page to the newspaper's ranking of the worst badges - I'll leave you to decide if you can face that!

Saturday, August 20, 2016


Here's a golden oldie from 1970, posing the question, "What is love?" The singer seems to know - I wish I did!

Orietta Berti - Ah, l'amore che cos'è?

Friday, August 19, 2016


If there is one thing that has not stopped over the Ferragosto period, it is the arrival of "boatloads of sorrow" carrying migrants seeking refuge and hope in Europe. Amongst so much sadness, today I can bring you a story which proves that Italy, as we all knew, has a great heart:

A few days ago, a thirteen-year-old Egyptian boy called Ahmed was found on a migrant boat and he was clutching a medical certificate wrapped in plastic as if it were a treasure. The certificate proved that his seven-year-old brother Farid, then still in Egypt, is suffering from the blood disease thrombocytopenia and Ahmed had boarded a migrant boat in order to find help for his sibling.

He spent much of his journey hidden in an animal crate - this despite a promissory note for EGP 2,000 which his uncle had handed to the traffickers -  and some of the events he had witnessed along the way are truly shocking.  He thought he would die on the journey.

Ahmed had decided to take this risk after hearing his parents and other members of his family talking about his brother's plight: Egyptian doctors had already carried out one operation and a second would cost EGP 50,000.  How could a family of date pickers find this sum?  Thus it was that Ahmed, determined to find work to pay for any medical treatment his brother might receive in Europe, made the dangerous crossing.

"I'm asking for help from doctors and hospitals in Italy but I'll work to pay for everything", he told a volunteer on Lampedusa.  "My dream is to see my little brother playing football with me."

Ahmed was transferred to Florence today and there the NPO Fondazione Careggi had already set about raising funds to help the family.  Tuscan Regional Councillor for Health Stefania Saccardi said,

"We wanted to respond to Ahmed's great gesture of love for his brother with a gesture of love of our own."

Farid and his parents will be joining Ahmed in Florence later today and the Meyer Hospital, with help from doctors at the Careggi, is standing by to treat Farid.  The Palermo Children's Hospital has also offered to help.

Well done, Italy. I'm sure my readers would wish me to express, in turn, our love for you.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


The above is my attempt at a portmanteau word to describe my feelings in this Ferragosto season. The closure of just about everything - in some cases for almost a month - doesn't usually get to me as badly and maybe it's partly because I've been a bit down but I am not the only one to be giving vent to my frustration.

In mitigation, I would say that, for a person without family around them, going to the bar for a coffee might be their only face to face interaction in the day and a visit to the hairdresser or the beautician might be their only tactile contact with another human being. Not everyone, even in Italy, is surrounded by family so there must be others who are as fed up as I am.

Yes, normally I am the first person to say, "If you can't accept a country's customs, don't live there" but the most successful societies do absorb some ideas which come from outside and long-term settlers who contribute to a country's economy do have a right to voice their opinions from time to time. All societies have to adapt to some extent to the age they are living in. As I have said many times before, the fact that Italy so often fails to do so is often part of its attraction but surely a compromise could be reached at this time of year.

The tourists the country depends upon, expats and Italians who have travelled all have expectations and one of these is, "Be open!"   Obviously, I can understand a sole trader needing to close for a week to go on holiday but where there are two managers and several workers, surely time off could be staggered?  The rest of the world works during August, Italy, and much of it for 24/7. When non-Italians see signs saying, "Closed 13th - 31st August" their reaction, more often than not, is "WHAAAAAT?!!" People also expect such notices to be polite, so any visitors to Modica who saw and understood the Post Office's sign this week will have been unimpressed:

"Remember we're closed on 15th August. We need to spend it with friends and family too."

Where else in the world could you display such admonishments to your clientèle and get away with it?  And where else could hairdressing salons, greengroceries and even pharmacies demonstrate disdain towards their customers by closing down for as long as three weeks? These businesses would not survive in more competitive economies and a lot of them know it.  Come on, Italy - it's 2016!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


I very much enjoyed a concert by the catenese soprano Daniela Schillaci and her masterclass pupils in Modica last week. Daniela Schillaci, besides having a wonderful voice, is quite the most graceful opera singer I have ever seen.  The programme ranged from Puccini to I Feel Pretty from West Side Story and of course, there was some Bellini, so there was plenty for all to enjoy.

Photos courtesy of Marisa Di Natale

I'm sure we are going to hear more from Daniela's pupils, Mariagrazia Caruso, Domenico Mento and Roberta Celano, too.

Daniela Schillaci -  Ah, chi mi dice mai [Don Giovanni]

Sunday, August 14, 2016


At this time of year, with the Ferragosto closure of virtually everything, I still get very frustrated with Italy. Therefore I'm reposting this, because it reminds me how very much I love this country - makes me cry.

Ligabue - Buonanotte all'Italia

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Yea - a gelato with Snickers for me and a yogurt and carrot doggie one for Bertie!  [I know you can't see Bertie's gastronomic treat as half the fun seemed to consist of pushing it around the floor but she pronounced it "cool" in all ways.]

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Here's some soothing music for la notte di San Lorenzo, when Italians look for falling stars. If you see one, you must make a wish or say a prayer. But don't panic if you don't see a shooting star tonight - they should be around for several nights afterwards.

The guitarist is Giovanni Baglioni, son of the singer Claudio Baglioni.

Giovanni Baglioni - Quando cade una stella

Me looking for shooting stars in 2009

Tuesday, August 09, 2016


Image: WPClipart.com

I'm not interested in sport but I was interested to read of the popularity of cupping amongst today's athletes.  It is, as the article says, an ancient technique and in Sicily the practice, or something akin to it, has probably never stopped.  Here's what I wrote about it in 2007:

Some years ago a friend's son had a nasty chest cold and my friend got him to bend over and breathe deeply, then placed heated glass cups, open end downwards, all over his back. Next, she massaged his back with warm olive oil. After this, the lad was wrapped up in fleecy pyjamas, a fluffy dressing gown and as many blankets as could be found in the house and was sent to bed with half a dozen hotwater bottles. My friend who, like many Sicilians I know, prides herself on hardly ever switching on her central heating - they prefer to sit around in their own homes in jacket, muffler, cap and gloves in deepest winter - did switch it on that night.

Needless to say, in the morning the young man was fine and I'll never know whether it was some magic property in the heated cups, the olive oil, the deep breathing, the unaccustomed warmth in the house or just sweating the cold out but who am I to question something that works?

I hate to tell you, dear athletes, but the Sicilians got there before you!

Monday, August 08, 2016


You'll know when your nail varnish is good and hard and dry in Sicily because [especially if it's near lunchtime] your beautician will say to you,

" Signora, ora può impastare la pasta! - You can go and knead the pasta dough now!"

Saturday, August 06, 2016


Here's an old favourite of mine from Al Bano and Romina Power, who appear in Taormina tonight in the only Italian date on their current tour:

Al Bano e Romina - E mi manchi sai


"Cry if you need to", said one friend here this week when I told her I was a bit down in the dumps, "but a good cup of coffee is better."

Photo courtesy of Cicara Caffeteria, Modica

"Cry if you need to, " said another, "but a nice plate of pasta is better".

"I'll cry if I need to, but a beautiful cremolata di gelsi [mulberry cremolata] is better",  said I.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

SUMMER TIDES, 2016 - 4

If, like me, you follow the Italian Marina Militare , various migration organisations and most of the Italian newspapers on twitter, you sometimes won't believe the figures that you see before your eyes, for they are very grim indeed:

To give you an idea of what is happening, let us take the period from last Friday to Sunday, when 5,500 migrants were saved in the Mediterranean. Rescuers also watched, horrified, on Sunday as five males threw themselves. or were pushed, into the sea, and died from drowning despite the rescuers' best efforts to revive them.   

On Monday 1,800 people were saved in 16 rescue operations coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard, helped by the Italian Navy, German Navy, a MSF ship and a Rettet ship. Yesterday 385 migrants were brought to Catania, along with four bodies.  Among migrants brought to Pozzallo was a Libyan man who had been shot in the thigh. No further details of his story or condition are available.

On the A18 motorway a 12-year-old Eritrean migrant was found walking after absconding from a youth facility in Acireale. When he was stopped by police he said that he was only trying to reach the other boys who had disembarked with him at Pozzallo. Can you imagine his desperation and loneliness? At the end of 2015 there were estimated to have been 6,135 unaccompanied minors like him, all of them untraceable now. 

Meanwhile 12 people have been arrested in Sicily today on suspicion of people trafficking and the Mayor of Pozzallo is so disgusted by the lack of promised help for his city from central government that he says he will no longer allow Prime Minister Renzi or Interior Minister Angelino Alfano to enter the town hall there.

Figures released yesterday by the IOM show that there have been 4,027 migrant deaths in 2016, of which 3,120 were in the Mediterranean.  [These are, of course, only the ones that we know about.] From 29th July to 1st August 17,923 migrants were rescued at sea. From 1st January to 1st August this year migrant arrivals in Italy totalled 96,000.

Each one is human, each one has a story and each one has a dream. What ocean can absorb so many tears and what hearts can hold so much sadness?

Monday, August 01, 2016


Last week I wrote about light in this extremely dark world.  Could it be, I wonder, that we saw a glimmer of it in events at the weekend?

As has been reported all over the world, yesterday in France Muslims attended Catholic church services as a gesture of solidarity with their host country following the horrific events of last Tuesday. It has not been widely reported that Italian Muslims did the same here and that as many as 23,000 went to Mass in major cities from North to South.

To mention but a few of these services: in Rome three imams attended Mass at Santa Maria in Trastevere and one of them read the message,

"Here we are at home. We have come to say we are brothers."

The imam of Palermo attended a service in the Cathedral with other Muslims and Mayor of Palermo Leoluca Orlando. In Catania, president of the Islamic Community of Sicily and imam of the Grand Mosque of Catania Abdelhafid Kheith said,

"We are here with our children to convey to them a strong message and to let them understand what it means to be among friends and brothers, what the human brotherhood means."

There are, it has to be said, people who have criticised the initiative but I think the message read in Catania is a very hopeful sign.

And now, if I may quote a Welshman:

"Light breaks where no sun shines."
- Dylan Thomas


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