Saturday, September 30, 2017

(SLIGHTLY SICILIAN) CHOCOLATE REFRIGERATOR CAKE

Every cook, I imagine, has a favourite chocolate refrigerator cake recipe and this one, which I came across a few weeks ago, has now become mine. I did add glacé cherries and I "Sicilianised" it by using three different flavours of Modican chocolate (lemon, Zibibbo wine and cinnamon last time). As it is the season, I also added six chopped sticks of the candied orange peel so lovingly made at home or by hand in the pasticcerie here. Go on, try it!




Sunday, September 24, 2017

THE END OF SUMMER

Summer has officially ended and, whilst I am not a beachy person and rejoice in everything at last being open again, I will be sorry to see the end of the gelato season and of its companions cremolate and granite.

Left to right:  granita di mandarino; cremolata di gelsi (mulberry); granita di pesche e fichi d'India
(peaches and prickly pear, the latter being a late summer addition to the granita repertoire)


My favourite peaches,  pesche tabbacchierie, get larger and less sweet as August ends but then these delights appear:

Centre:  frutta di Martorana
Right: "cakes" of cotognata (quince paste)



Finally, I cannot let the summer end without sharing this with you:  the other day, a Sicilian friend said he had spotted a British man coming out of the B&B opposite his house. I asked how he had known the man was British.

"Because he was wearing sandals and socks", came the reply.
Embed from Getty Images

Monday, September 18, 2017

SABATO MUSICALE ON MONDAY

I'm sorry there's been a bit of a break - blame the relentless heat, even for Sicily, this summer and, quite posibly, ageing!

Anyway, what better way to kickstart the blog again than with music? This is fabulous and comes from the Celebrity Fight Night Concert with Andrea Bocelli in Rome last week, where millions were raised for the Andrea Bocelli Foundation and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Centre. 

I am sure you will join me in wishing the tenor well, as he was briefly hospitalised after a fall from his horse on Thursday.  He says he is fine and will travel to Jordan for a concert on Monday.

Andrea Bocelli and guests at Celebrity Fight Night 2017 - Imagine

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

TRUE LOVE

I just thought I'd let you all know that true love is alive and well in Sicily:


I don't know why the sea turned pink in the second photo - perhaps it knows fuschia is my favourite colour!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A TALE OF TWO HEROES

On the eve of the first anniversary of the horrific 24th August earthquake in Central Italy, it is sad indeed to be writing about another quake, this time on the Neapolitan island of Ischia. The quake, which struck on Monday, killed two women and 39 people have been injured, some seriously.

As always, when there is such a tragedy, there is also heroism and courage and the video of firemen rescuing a seven-month-old baby who had been trapped for seven hours went around the world. Who could watch it and not cry? Later the baby's brother, eight-year-old Mattias, was rescued and finally, after 16 hours, the third brother, 11-year-old Ciro, who had saved his siblings by pushing them under a bed. Firemen kept talking to Ciro throughout the rescue operation and at one point he asked a fireman, "Do you love me?" "Yes, I love you", came the reply. "Then come", said Ciro and come they did. Interviewed in hospital today, Ciro said he had thought he would die but that when he was pulled out and saw the light, knew that God exists. All three boys are said to be in a good condition and, though Ciro has a fractured foot, he hopes to be playing football again soon. His pregnant mother, who was in another room when the quake struck, is also well and his father is with them.

Meanwhile, today in Amatrice, the town which was literally half wiped out by last year's quake, a statue honouring a very special dog is being inaugurated. Camilla, a border collie working with the Ligurian Fire Brigade, died in the line of duty in June. In the days following the quake, she helped save dozens of people trapped in the rubble and Amatrice will never forget her. Her statue is also dedicated to all the search and rescue dogs who were deployed during that distressing time.

Let us think of all who have been affected by earthquakes and all - human or canine - who work to help them, wherever they are in the world, over the next few days.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

FEASTING WITH AN OLD FRIEND

My friend Carol King, who has recently returned to Sicily, and I decided to celebrate Ferragosto a day late this year, so I kind of cooked her a little meal:


The antipasti included olives, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh datterini tomatoes, mini sausages, bresaola and Parma ham topped with Grana cheese shavings, marinated mushrooms and - I must tell you about this - watermelon with salted cucumber. My original intention was to chuck the cucumber - peeled, deseeded, chopped, salted, left then rinsed, drained and chilled - into the salad but at the last minute I thought it would be a nice addition to the dish of watermelon. Turns out I was right!  The seemingly small apples around the antipasti dishes are actually azzaroli or Neapolitan medlars, which are related to hawthorn. There are mini-pears as well and they are a fine partner for the cheese.


The main course was grilled chicken salad with grilled nectarines. (Yes, I have a thing for grilled nectarines!)   I marinated the chicken in culinary rosewater before grilling and seasoned it with sumac afterwards. I used the dressing I invented for this recipe. The other ingredients were grilled peppers and rocket leaves.

For dessert, I made strawberry tiramisù and Carol brought along the delicious sweet treats on the right.

Everything on this menu can be made in advance and all you have to do is make the antipasti look pretty and assemble the salad.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

BUON FERRAGOSTO 2017

Top, left to right:  Duomo, Cefalù; looking up from Modica Bassa
Bottom, left to right:  The Madonie; Princess Grace of Monaco depicted in flower petals at Noto Infiorata, 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

BUONA NOTTE DI SAN LORENZO 2017

This is the night when Italians look for shooting stars. If you see one, don't forget to make a wish! But don't worry if they don't appear for you tonight - they should be around for a few nights more. Have a happy St Lawrence's night, everyone!

Eros Ramazzotti e Patsy Kensit - La luce buona delle stelle
City of Stars from La La Land

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

CHICKEN AND CHERRY SALAD


Regular readers will know that, at this time of year, I love experimenting with salads and a few years ago I invented a tagliata and cherry version. This week, I decided I wanted something lighter still and I came up with a chicken and cherry salad.  I wanted to use my favourite spice, sumac, and took the wonderful Nadiya Hussain's advice about sprinkling it on the meat after cooking to keep the red colour. Then I added to the red by playing with pink peppercorns. It all turned out rather well but here is my usual warning to Sicilian purists: I never said it was Sicilian; it's just what I do with the ingredients and cuts of meat available to me here and I like including the Middle Eastern ingredients I learnt to use in Britain.  And yes, the dish contains meat and fruit and I'm not apologising!


Chicken and cherry salad

1 chicken breast, cut into escalopes  (That's two chicken breasts, as sold in Britain, where they are sold in halves, and one as sold in Italy. An Italian butcher will auomatically cut them very thin. In Britain you may need to pound them.)
about 30 fat, dark cherries, stoned
half a large cucumber or 1 small one
500 gr bag rocket leaves
5 tablesp culinary rosewater
olive oil
1 tablesp runny honey
Himalayan pink seasalt
1 dessertsp pink peppercorns, crushed
1 teasp ground ginger
1 teasp ground sumac
1 teasp dried herbes de Provence

First, marinate the chicken pieces for 2 hours in 3 tablesp of the rosewater (or marinate overnight).
Peel the cucumber, deseed and chop it as small as you can. Sprinkle with (ordinary] fine seasalt and leave at least 30 mins. (This is a trick I learned from an early Jennifer Paterson book and I always prepare my salad cucumbers like this.) After 30 mins, rinse, drain and let dry on kitchen paper.
Drain the chicken pieces and pat dry with kitchen paper. Cook them over low heat on a lightly oiled ridged griddle pan - about 2 mins per side. Put them on kitchen paper and let them cool.
In a small bowl, mix well with a fork 6 tablesp olive oil, 2 tablesp rosewater, the honey, ground ginger, pink salt if you have it, half the pink peppercorns and the herbes de Provence. Leave in the fridge.
When the chicken has cooled, cut it into bite-sized pieces - I do this with a kitchen scissors - and place them in a bowl.  Sprinkle the sumac over it and add the cucumber, cherries  and rocket. (At this stage you can leave the salad in the fridge till serving time.] When you are ready, add the dressing and toss well.  Finally, sprinkle the rest of the peppercorns over the salad.

Serves four.

Buon appetito

Note:  Sumac does, in theory, grow in Sicily but I have yet to meet anyone who has heard of it here!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SWEET CATANIA

A day in Catania is always a welcome change but when it's 40°C, my first port of call is not my favourite bookshop but the first bar selling yummy-looking gelato (not that it ever looks anything but delicious). The one below, with stracciatella, pineapple and gelsi (mulberry) flavours was particularly so.  I liked the idea of the mini-cones on top, too. Later, when a friend suggested a break in order to partake of a little cassata and iced tea, who was I to refuse?


Friday, July 21, 2017

18 THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT PALERMO

Palermo has been selected as Italian Capital of Culture 2018 so here, in no particular order, are 18 facts - some quirky, others not so - that you may not know about the city:

1.  Its Palazzo dei Normanni was, from 1130 , the seat of the Sicilian Parliament, one of the oldest in the world. (I've met a lot of Sicilians who claim that it is, in fact, the oldest.] It now houses the Sicilian Regional Assembly.

2.  In 2016 Palermo was declared the worst city in Italy for traffic congestion.

3.  Frutti di Martorana, the marzipan "fruits" you will see everywhere in Sicily in autumn, were, according to legend, first made in The Martorana Convent in Palermo.

4.  The city's most important Arab and Norman buildings, along with the Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale, were collectively named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.

San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo


5.  Palermo street food is legendary. Eat it first, then ask what's in it!

6.  The Palermo football team's badge has been ranked (by the British Daily Mail) as among the best in the world.

7.  The city has wide boulevards reminiscent of towns in France.

8.  The word for traditional Sicilian rice balls, arancini, is used in its feminine form, arancine there.

9.  The Catacombe dei Cappuccini (Capuchin Catacombs) are a very macabre, and often upsetting, sight but must be seen. I once decided to leave them till last on a school trip but my students, having been shown the Parliament, Cathedral and other beautiful buildings, were impatiently demanding, "Can we go and see the dead people now?" by mid-morning.

Me with students in Palermo, 1995


10. The city is second only to Naples for the number of coffee manufacturers that call it home (47 in 2011).

11. During the reign of Ruggero (Roger) II, Palermo was a city in which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side in harmony. This was to come to an end, however, under Frederick II, who expelled the Muslims in 1224.

12.  In 1185 Roger's daughter and Frederick's mother Costanza d'Altavilla (Constance d'Hauteville) travelled to Germany to be married with the greatest dowry the world had ever seen. She gave birth to her son in the market square in Ancona on her way back to Sicily. You can read more about this extraordinary journey in a book I reviewed here. Costanza is buried in Palermo Cathedral.

13.  Palermo has a museum of traditional puppets  (opera dei pupi) where you can also see puppet shows at certain times of the year.  You can find out more about opera dei pupi in my post here.

Some of my own Sicilian puppets


14.  Traditional Sicilian carts vary, from province to province, in their design and size. Those from Palermo were squarer and wider than many of the others and were originally used for transporting grapes. This is a link to an article on Sicilian carts that I wrote for Italy Magazine in 2010.

15. Not strictly in the City of Palermo but in Palermo Province and a short bus ride away is Monreale, whose cathedral, begun in 1174, is one of the best preserved examples of Norman architecture anywhere. It contains Byzantine mosaics throughout. There are stunning views of Palermo from Monreale.

16. In 2014 the priests of Palermo Cathedral were much criticised for displaying a prominent WC sign in a side chapel there. I don't know about you, but when being a tourist I've often desperately needed the loo by the time I got to a city's cathedral!

17.  Palermo was named Panormus ("complete port" or possibly "well-protected bay") by the Greeks, This became Balarme under Arabic rule.

18.  To end on a sombre note, Palermo Airport, formerly known as Punta Raisi, was renamed in 1995 in honour of the anti-Mafia judges Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone who were both murdered in 1992, the latter along with his wife. The airport's full name is now L''aeroporto Internazionale Falcone e Borsellino di Palermo-Punta Raisi but it is usually referred to as aeroporto Falcone e BorsellinoItaly has been remembering the two judges in this, the 25th anniversary year of the stragi (massacres) of Capaci and via D'Amelio. We must not forget that all but one of their bodyguards died with them on those terrible days.

The candidates for Italian Capital of Culture 2020 are Agrigento, Catania, Messina, Noto, Ragusa and Siracusa. Guess which two I'll be rooting for!


City of Palermo
Coat of Arms





Sunday, July 16, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

Here is Gianluca from Il Volo to cheer us all up:

Il Volo - soloist: Gianluca Ginoble - La Danza (Rossini)

Friday, July 14, 2017

BONNE FÊTE NATIONALE 2017!

Recently I've been reminded how much France and her freedoms have meant to me by reading Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Café, a history of existentialist philosophy told in an effervescent, innovative style which is hinted at in the book's subtitle,  Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails. I felt as if I were "meeting" all the French authors who had so influenced my youth all over again and it brought back the excitement of encountering their thought for the first time.

A detail I'd forgotten but was reminded of in the book is that the lyrics of the song below were penned by none other than "Mr Existentialism" himself, Jean-Paul Sartre. Its subject matter, with its references to executions, is hardly cheery but I remember having great fun with it celebrating Bastille Day in 1989 (the bicentenary of the French Revolution) at the school where I was then head of modern languages. I don't think my noisy teenage students' renderings of it, interspersed by my playing of all nine verses of the Marseillaise, brought my colleagues in neighbouring classrooms much joy but I have fond memories of the day, even though at the end of it I was so tired that I was rather glad there was a century to go till the next such celebration. Vive la France!

Juliette Gréco -  La rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

POLLO ALLO ZA'ATAR

Well, here we are, more than half way through 2017 and I find I have not posted a single recipe this year! So, although other matters, such as health and keeping up with Brexit developments (which will affect me very directly, as they will all expats), mean that I am not currently blogging as often as I'd like, let's at least put the culinary matter to rights.

My pollo allo za'atar is my take on a recipe in the June edition of the Italian magazine Vero cucina. This recipe is for bone-in chicken thighs cooked in very litle oil with lemon slices, then sprinkled with a sauce of lemon juice, garlic and mint. I tried it and found it excellent, but this week I decided I wanted to spice it up a little. There is very little za'atar in my version, actually, but I was so delighted to find some in Catania a few weeks ago that I decided it had to feature in the name of my dish.  Here we go:

Heat the oven to 180° C (fan).
Lightly oil a roasting tin and put in 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs.
Cut 1 lemon into wedges and add these to the pan.
Add 3 grilled peppers, preferably yellow, orange and red, cut up. (In Italy we can buy fresh, ready-grilled peppers in supermarkets but you could use well-drained grilled peppers in oil or, of course, grill them yourself.)
Sprinkle over some coarse seasalt, black pepper, a little sumac and some fresh lemon thyme leaves and drizzle over a little more olive oil.
Cook for 30 mins.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix 2 tablesp Chinese plum sauce,  juice of 1 lemon, 1 teasp sumac and half teasp za'atar.

Check the chicken and if necessary give it 10 mins more in the oven. When you take it out, pour the sauce over it and serve.  Garnish with more lemon thyme leaves if you wish.



Sunday, July 02, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

Time for a little fun with the number three song in the Italian charts (not the Volare you may be thinking of!)

Fabio Rovazzi e Gianni Morandi - Volare

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"CENTOCHIESE" UPDATE

For those of you who have been following the short story A Bench for Vecchietta on the Tales from Centochiese blog, the last two installments are up on the blog:

Part 5

Part 6

I'm told that another story is coming soon!


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

LOOKING FOR LUIGI

Casa natale di Luigi Pirandello

As a French and Italian undergraduate back in the late sixties and early seventies, one of the authors whose work was to have a lasting effect on me was Luigi Pirandello, born 150 years ago today. Although or perhaps because his works were complex and posed questions rather than answering them, they immediately appealed to me. A recurring theme in the works of Pirandello is the nature of truth, probably most famously explored, for British and American audiences, in the play Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author) but my favourite has always been Enrico IV (Henry IV). The title refers to Henry IV of Germany, Holy Roman Emperor and the plot centres around an actor who believes himself to be Henry in “real” life – or does he?

It is always difficult to justify a liking for authors whose political views you abhor and Pirandello, although declaring himself apolitical,  initially supported fascism.  However,  in 1927 he tore up his party membership card in front of fascist leaders and was thereafter watched closely by the régime’s police.

I knew that Pirandello had been born in the Agrigento or Girgenti countryside, but I never thought I would visit his birthplace or dreamt that Agrigento would become one of my favourite cities.

No one, then, was more surprised than me when, on a hot October day during my first visit to Sicily in 1992, I found myself standing outside the 
Casa Natale di Luigi Pirandello (Pirandello Birthplace) at 12.55 pm., five minutes before it was due to close. I had left Modica at 5 am in order to catch a bus to Gela, where I had despaired of the connecting bus to Agrigento ever arriving, let alone leaving. Once I arrived (late) in Agrigento, it had taken the rest of the morning to find the stop for the local bus that would take me, via a circuitous route on which it seemed to call in on every housing estate in the city's suburbs, to Luigi. I explained what had happened to the custodian and she kindly let me in and went out of her way to explain the exhibits. Then I walked down to the author’s grave under a pine tree, from which you can see the sea and, on a clear day, the coast of Africa.  Pirandello had written,

Take my urn to Sicily and place it under a stone in the Girgenti (Agrigento) countryside, where I was born." 

I, less eloquently, said, 

Luigi, I’ve come to see you. It’s taken me a long time and you weren’t always easy to study, nor were you easy to find today. But you taught me to look at life from many different angles and, although at times I've cursed you for it, today I'm here to thank you."




A page from my postcard album


Luigi Pirandello:  Agrigento, 28 June 1867 - Rome, 10 December 1936

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

RELIGION AND RAVIOLI

The weekend again saw the festival of the Sacred Heart or Sacro Cuore and, although I wouldn't describe myself as a religious person, there is something that I find very uplifting and restful about watching groups of people gathering together to celebrate their religion in a joyful, peaceful  way without causing any harm or disurbance to anyone.  It may be a small festival and it may not be very sophisticated but it is, quite simply, "good" in the Christian sense of the word.



I was invited to watch the procession from a friend's balcony and we had a great time chatting out there, intermittently watching the proceedings, listening to the music coming from the church courtyard, exclaiming at the fireworks and finally, eating.





For yes, there has to be food and this year the programme proudly announced the Sagra (food festival) of ricotta-filled ravioli in sauce - not any old sauce, you understand, but a rich tomato sauce that is lovingly cooked for a long time with 'strattu and pork.  The cook serving the trays of ravioli told my friend's husband that she had earlier made no less than 1,000 ravioli by hand! Well, faced with that information, I'm sure you would agree that it would have been churlish to leave any of the tempting offerings on the individual trays on which they were served. Everyone who bought a tray got ricotta ravioli with not just sauce, but a generous portion of the pork used to flavour it, a sausage, bread and cheese and some sweet ravioli to finish.  Of course, it wouldn't have been an Italian summer festival without ice cream and I had made and taken along some of  that old stand-by of mine which I call "chocolate thingies".



Keep gathering in peace, cari modicani, and I hope the "ravioli lady", once she has recovered from Sunday, gets to make many more!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

SUMMER TIDES, 2017 - 2



Yesterday the UN and people around the world marked World Refugee Day. It followed a weekend during which 2,500 desperate souls were saved in the Mediterranean and fell the day after 1,096 of those rescued had been brought to Palermo and 495 to Pozzallo. These numbers are in no way unusual these days.

Among the migrants who disembarked at Palermo on Monday were the only four survivors of a dinghy which left Libya for Italy last Thursday with 126 - 130 people on board. Before long a group of people traffickers approached the dinghy and took the engine. Sudden movement among the migrants in the dinghy probably caused it to sink and the survivors were found clinging to the wreckage by Libyan fishermen, who deposited them on yet another migrant boat in the area. They were then rescued, for the second time, by the Italian Coast Guard.  The four survivors said that many women and children were among those who drowned.

Speaking on World Refugee Day, President Mattarella called for cooperation in finding long-term, rather than emergency, solutions to what he called a human tragedy to which Italy cannot be indifferent because migrant arrivals in the country are a daily, not an occasional, occurence.  He said that this would involve a commitment to preventing conflict in the regions most at risk, combatting climate change (which leads to "environmental migration") and making choices regarding the causes of conflict.  He emphasised that such action must involve the whole international community as the effects of migration are being experienced not only in the countries most involved but worldwide and because migration flows need to be managed on a global level.

UNHCR estimates that 2,000 lives have been lost on the Mediterranean migrant route since the beginning of this year. Of the 77,000 who have attempted this dangerous journey in 2017, 60,000 have reached Italy.

"This is not about sharing a burden. It is about sharing a global responsibility, based not only the broad idea of our common humanity but also on the very specific obligations of international law. The root problems are war and hatred, not people who flee; refugees are among the first victims of terrorism." 

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

Thursday, June 15, 2017

HERE COMES SUMMER

And here comes Bertie-Pierrine with her summer haircut! It makes you feel waggy when you're cooler.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

SUMMER TIDES - 2017



Today, it is being reported that 2,500 people have been rescued in operations coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard in the Mediterranean and the weekend still has five hours to go.  UNHCR has expressed its deepest concern at the latest deaths on this migrant route, as should we all.  The organisation also reiterates, as has the Italian government many times, that "solutions cannot just be be in Italy."  IOM reports that from the beginning of this year to 7th June, there were 61,234 migrant arrivals in Italy.

Now, no one can be more aware than a Brit this week that the world's leaders have other things on their minds but their willingness to ignore the migration situation in the Mediterranean and let the Italians and NGOs get on with the rescue and recovery operations is nothing short of disgraceful. Where, I ask again, is our common humanity?

As if this were not bad enough, now a row has broken out in which the Libyan Coast Guard has accused NGOs who help in the rescues of being in contact with people traffickers on migrant boats and waiting for the boats in Libyan waters. Yesterday they ordered them out. This is not the first time that such an accusation has been made as the matter has been brought into question within Italy and an inquiry is in process. MSF says it carried out the rescues this weekend in the normal way with guidance from the Italians and MOAS says it has never received calls from people traffickers. Not being a journalist and therefore not having all the necessary sources at my fingertips, I will make only two comments on a matter which is sub judice in Italy: Today I have read, for the first time, articles referring to the migration "industry" and the change of terminology may be indicative. However, someone has to save the migrants' lives and that is what the NGOs, under Italian Coast Guard coordination, have been doing this weekend.

Four of these ships yesterday saved 1,129 people and recovered three bodies. Eight people were confirmed to have died in a deflated dinghy off the Libyan port of Garabulli but at least 52 have disappeared.

A total of 716 migrants are being brought to Palermo along with one body. Of the survivors, 53 are children and 31 of these are reported to be four to five years old. 

This is only the beginning of the summer season so the attempts to sail in more clement weather are not going to end any time soon. MSF has again called for safe corridors for migrants.  The UNHCR article says that 1,770 people are believed to have died trying to reach Italy on the Mediterranean route this year and many of these will have died long before they saw the sea, in the Sahara desert. Others will presumably have died in what amount to slave camps in Libya and today, as a Save the Chidren ship brought 219 migrants, of whom 25 were unaccompanied minors, to Trapani, delegates from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (already in the area) were at the quayside.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

SABATO MUSICALE

Sorry about the lack of posting this week, everyone - I've been somewhat distracted by events in my home country, as you may imagine. 

This morning I decided it was time to head for Catania for a change of scene and some ingredients I can't find in Modica. (I don't know why bay leaves have disappeared at the moment - they are like gold dust!)  Here is my catenese summer breakfast and my "haul" from Cristaldi:



Well, night is falling and I'm feeling sentimental, so here is a song for everyone who's ever lain awake missing someone:

Arisa - La notte

NEW INSTALLMENT ON "CENTOCHIESE"

Some of you may like to know that part 4 of the short story A Bench for Vecchietta is up on the Tales from Centochiese blog. Part 5 is coming on Wednesday.


Sunday, June 04, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

What else, tonight?

Stay safe, wherever you are.


Ariana Grande with Parrs Wood High School Choir - My Everything  #OneLoveManchester

Friday, June 02, 2017

"IL GATTOPARDO" TO BECOME TV SERIES



Back in 2009, in part 1 of two articles on books about Sicily for Italy Magazine, I explained how Il Gattopardo had inspired me as a teeneager and was perhaps even instrumental in eventually bringing me to Sicily. I've reread the book many times since then and I can't tell you how often I've watched Visconti's iconic film of the same title.

Il Gattopardo [The Leopard] by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was published posthumously in 1958 and now it is to be turned into a television series. The rights have been acquired by the Italian company Indiana Productions who will work with the book's original publishers, Feltrinelli, and have the support of Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's adopted son and heir to his intellectual property.

The series will be internationally produced and will be filmed in locations mentioned in the book. Marco Cohen of Indiana Productions has said it will definitely not be a remake of the Visconti film, as that would be impossible but it will be authentic.

The production team are exploring the possibilities for an English language adaptation and the cast - top secret for the moment - will probably be international.

Carlo Feltrinelli said,

"Il Gattopardo not only put our publishing house on the map but also played an important part in the history of literature.  Today it allows us to relive a crucial moment for our identity as Italians and as Europeans. We are very happy about this new production which, nearly 60 years after the publication of the book, will help us discover the significance for our time of  Tomasi di Lampedusa's masterpiece and introduce it to a new generation."

Shooting is expected to start in Sicily in 2019.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

SIGNING FOR AMATRICE

Last night on this blog I expressed the hope that something good would come out of last week's G7 summit in Taormina and here's a positive development from a project that even its creators didn't really expect to take off:

The enterprising owners of the clothing store La Pagoda in Taormina's Corso Umberto decided to display a canvas with portraits of the G7 leaders on it in the hope that some of them would sign it. They were quite surprised when President Macron, the First Ladies of Italy and Japan and Justin Trudeau stopped by to do so. You can see a video of President Macron signing the canvas and having a chat here.

The canvas will now be auctioned and the funds raised will go to Amatrice, the town devastated by the earthquake of 24.8.16 and which was struck again on 26.10.16. President Trudeau found time to visit Amatrice on Sunday in a gesture of solidarity.


NEW EPISODES ON SICILIAN STORY BLOG

I thought some of you might like to know that there are two new installments of the story A Bench for Vecchietta on the Sicilian story blog Tales from Centochiese. I am told that part 4 is coming next Wednesday:



A WEEK OF CONTRASTS

Italian G7 Presidency 2017
Tortelli with basil and pecorino in a Sicilian red prawn sauce; sea bream with cherry tomatoes and a basket of steamed vegetables; cannolo, cassata and "seven veils" ice cream; ice cream and brioche for breakfast - these were just some of the sumptuous Sicilian dishes enjoyed by the G7 leaders, their first ladies and the first husband at Taormina last week. At the same time, a MSF ship carrying 1,446 migrants who had been saved from 12 inadequate boats in the Mediterranean was not permitted to dock in any Sicilian port because of security measures in place from 22nd - 28th May for the summit. This meant that the ship was at sea for 48 instead of 30 hours and ran out of food and water. As the situation became truly desperate and a hygiene emergency developed on board as a consequence, the ship was allowed to pick up supplies at Palermo but no one was able to disembark. The ship finally docked at Naples on 28th May.

Paragraphs 24 and 25 of the G7 comuniqué make interesting reading, as while all this was going on in the very sea that served as a backdrop for the leaders' jolly photos, they promised to uphold "the human rights of all migrants and refugees." It is worth remembering that this meeting took place two days after 34 people had died in the Mediterranean, including seven children.  

The leaders have returned to their homes now, but there is no end to the scenes of devastation for those who have no home:  Yesterday 252 migrants were brought to Pozzallo. Of these, 135 had been on an overcrowded migrant dinghy which had sailed from Libya.  The middle section of the boat began to break up and 25 migrants fell into the sea. Two were rescued but sadly died later. One people trafficker has been arrested by Italian police in connection with the tragedy and a second alleged trafficker from another boat is in hospital. All the survivors are said to be in reasonable conditions of health and are being transferred to reception centres in other parts of Italy.

Some good, it is to be hoped, came out of the G7 and of course Italy had to put on its best show. The leaders were filmed strolling through the streets of a Taormina that had been cleared of all except residents and security personnel and they even visited a few shops. None of them, to my knowledge, visited a migrant centre.

La Repubblica reports today that 1,720 migrants have drowned in the Central Mediterranean this year and that 60,000 have attempted the crossing. Last week alone the Italian Coast Guard and other operatives saved 9,500 migrants in the Mediterranean.



Saturday, May 27, 2017

SABATO MUSICALE

At the end of a sad week in both my countries, I think this, sung by a Welshwoman and an Italian, is appropriate.

Andrea Bocelli and Katherine Jenkins - I Believe
My thoughts are with all affected by the events in Manchester, UK, and with the families and friends of Judge Giovanni Falcone, Judge Paolo Borsellino and the members of their escort who lost their lives on 23.5.92 and 19.7.92.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SOMBRE DAYS AND DREAMS

Late on Monday night I suddenly found myself, like people all over the world but particularly British people, unexpectedly glued to my television screen as horrific events unfolded in Manchester, UK and the gravity of them became clear. The next night, two brave Italian anti-Mafia judges would, I believe, have forgiven me, when Nicola Piovani conducted a performance of the theme from La Vita è Bella at the very place where one of them was murdered exactly 25 years ago, for thinking of the Manchester children who had set out so eagerly for a concert, only to meet with unspeakable carnage. Yes, these two men, who loved life, would have understood.

On 23rd May 1992 [the year I first came to Sicily] Judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and his bodyguards Rocco Dicillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani were killed by a bomb as they travelled from Palermo International Airport [now Falcone-Borsellino Airport] to the city. His friend and colleague Judge Paolo Borsellino was killed, along with his bodyguards Agostino Catalano, Walter Eddie Cosina, Vincenzo Li Muli, Emanuela Loi and Claudio Traina 57 days later, on 19.7.92 as Judge Borsellino was ringing his mother's doorbell.

Yesterday Italy remembered and, in the three-hour Rai special programme, Manchester was present in everyone's thoughts too. If you go to 23.34.46 [scroll down on the right] in this link, you will be able to see the moving performance of the La Vita è Bella theme as a car, a replica of Falcone's - the judge was driving himself - travels along the autostrada to the final notes.

Life, as we all know, goes on, as does death and on Wednesday news came in of the loss of 34 migrants at sea: A migrant boat, carrying 500 people, had got into trouble off the Libyan port of Zuara in bad sea and weather conditions and there was a sudden movement of migrants to one side. This may have been caused by panic as the Libyan Coast Guard threatened them, according to MSF and SOS Méditerranée crew who had gone to back up the Italian Coast Guard but whatever happened, around 200 migrants fell into the sea. The Italian Coast Guard and NGO operatives saved most of them but 34 bodies have been recovered and we do not yet know how many were those of children.

As I think of all three tragic events, I am reminded of the words of bodyguard Montinaro's wife [not "widow", she insists]:  As the remains of the bodyguards' car which was blown up 25 years ago were brought, in stages, from Peschiera La Garda in Veneto to Palermo for the anniversary, Tina Montinaro said that she wanted everyone, young and old, to understand that Judge Falcone's escort had been made up of people "with dreams, a life, children and a family". For that is what links the three groups of people: two judges who were also husbands and one a father, excited children who had parents, brothers, sisters and friends, and migrants who had families either back home or with them on that perilous journey - and every single one of them had dreams. We who are left must now dream for them.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

INFIORATA 2017



The third weekend in May is the time to head for that most architecturally homogeneous of the Baroque cities of the Val di Noto, Noto itself. Completely rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1693, its honey-coloured stone buildings are a joy to behold and the town is particularly welcoming on the three days of its Infiorata - carpet of flowers.

Before we go along via Nicolaci to see the flowers, let us first remind ourselves of the beauty of Noto:



The theme of the Infiorata this year has been Sogni e Colori del Principato di Monaco - Dreams and Colours of the Principality of Monaco and celebrates the town's links with the Principality. Prince Albert of Monaco, who has done much to support the Ente Fauna Siciliana and, through this, the nature reserve at Vendicari, was made an honorary citizen of Noto in September.

When you arrive in Noto by bus on an Infiorata day, the first thing you see is a thriving market. for it would not be an Italian festa without one. What always delights me about such markets is the aroma of vanilla coming from all those sweets and biscuits they are selling - I find it very comforting, and I think it must be because it reminds me of the smell of custard cooking for Sunday dessert at home when I was a child.



But now let us make our way along via Nicolaci.  It is difficult to get really good shots because you have to walk, obviously, along the sides of the display and you also have to contend with the sun beating down on one of them! I have done my best:


I was glad that Princess Grace was there:


The card theme running through the display was, I thought, inspired:



About half way up, I ducked into a nice little restaurant for a lunch of bruschette and vegetarian couscous:


Then it was one more nod to Monaco, a look down via Nicolaci and a preview of next year's theme, China:



Well done as always, Noto and special congratulations for reaching out with these international themes.

Prince Albert of Monaco will be visiting Modica in the autumn, when he hopes to explore the story of the branch of his family, the Grimaldi, who settled here.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

MOTHER'S DAY THOUGHTS

Today is Mother's Day in Italy and many other countries, though not the UK, where it was celebrated on 26th March.  For those of us who neither have a mother living nor have become one, it can be a difficult day. For me it is a day on which to avoid social media and here in Italy I steer clear of pasticcerie before lunch, when you see everyone purchasing trays of dolci to take to the family table. It is not that I begrudge people time with their mothers - I am glad for them - but it would be unnatural not to miss mine on such a day.

As many of you know, I had two mothers - the one who bore me and the one who nurtured me -so there are two kinds of "missing" that vie within me on this day. My natural mother has a grave, lovingly tended by the sister with whom I was reunited only recently and my adoptive mother has no memorial except in my heart - because she wanted it that way.  In March my sister lovingly placed daffodils [a symbol of Wales] on our mother's grave on my behalf and I am grateful to her.

When you are no longer a daughter but are not a mother either, you begin to wonder where your place is at the table. I would add that not only does the non-mother not know where to sit, but she doesn't "own" the feast, having no brood to create it for.  She is never the main provider or creator of any feast, though she may be a helper. Many of you might envy this position, but the willing aunt, sister, cousin or friend at the table is not always happy.

If, like me, she is approaching her seventies and has not reproduced, she may look at her body and ask, "What was it all for?" as her body has reminded her what was expected of her every day of her life:  when her feminine attributes literally took shape, she learnt their power and their danger;  as her physical charms faded, she learnt what it was like to become invisible - a state not without its advantages - but did not have the respect due to a mother or grandmother to fill that void.  Women, said de Beauvoir, define themselves in relation to "the oher" and this is sadly still largely the case. The world likes to categorise us in terms of our relationship to others whilst continuing to judge us on our looks

So tied up is our psyche with the idea of motherhood that when my [adoptive] mother first showed symptoms of the dementia-related illness which would be her last, I, a successful career woman at that time, convinced myself that it was all my fault because I hadn't given her the joy of grandchildren. I felt that that had I been able to provide her with this "stimulus", everything would have been all right. I am also certain that there are childless women who abuse their own bodies because they consider them "useless", though I have yet to find any psychological research on this.

Today I want to think of all women who, for one reason or another, would have liked to have had children and did not, for this is a "loss" and rarely seen as such. I want to think of women like my natural mother, pressurised, so long ago,  by a judgemental society into giving up her child, all women who have suffered the loss of a child in any circumstances and, as it is the weekend and more migrant tragedies are probably occurring at sea as I write, of migrant mothers;  those whose children die as they cross the Mediterranean, those who have their children literally torn from them in slave camps in Libya, those who make the dangerous journey alone, in the hope of being able to send for their children later, and those who survive the journey, only to become separated from their children in the chaos. All are mothers, all have a mother's protective instinct and all deserve a place in our hearts this Mother's Day.

If you mised my posts about adoption and my reunion with my sister, you can find them here.  There are links to all my posts about migration in the Mediterranean on this page.

Monday, May 08, 2017

LUNEDÌ MUSICALE

In view of events yesterday in another country close to my heart, I think I should post this. Vive la France!

Charles Aznavour et Zaz - J'aime Paris au mois de mai

Monday, May 01, 2017

MAY DAY AND ST JOSEPH



May Day or the "Workers' Holiday" is being celebrated today in Italy, as elsewhere, but some of you may not know that the day also celebrates Christ's earthly father St Joseph or San Giuseppe for the second time in the year. St Joseph's main feast falls on 19th March but in 1955 Pope Pius XII inserted a feast day in the liturgical calendar to remember "St Joseph the Worker". The day chosen for this was 1st May, precisely to counteract the secular holiday largely associated with socialism and communism. Pope Pius wanted people to remember not only St Joseph, but the dignity of work, which "continues the work of the Creator and enables men to make themselves useful to their brethren".  He also said that people should ask St Joseph to intercede for them in their work.

Besides being the protector of workmen - including, as you might expect, carpenters - St Joseph is said to protect bursars, lawyers and fathers everywhere.  He is also believed to have saved Sicily from famine, hence the tradition of creating altars of bread in his honour for his March feast day.

The above portrait of San Giuseppe is in Modica Bassa but the grille which shelters it from the elements is only ever open for a few days around 19th March. I have always loved it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

The title track of the number 3 album in the Italian iTunes album chart:

Francesco Renga - Scriverò il tuo nome

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

FRYING TONIGHT? MAYBE NOT



Since 4th April a new crime has existed in Italy and it is that of causing "olfactory nuisance" via cooking smells.  

It all began with a dispute between neighbours in a block of flats in Monfalcone [Gorizia, on the Gulf of Trieste]. A couple living in the building often cooked what must have been vast quantities of pasta sauce and fritti misti di pesce [mixed fried seafood] and the resulting odours caused real distress to another family, who said they felt as if the couple's kitchen were in their own flat. Neighbours complained of noise and smoke coming from the kitchen too.

Having been found guilty of anti-social behaviour by two courts, the couple took their case to the Cassazione, Italy's Supreme Court in Rome. There the previous two rulings were upheld and the judges decided that the crime of "olfactory nuisance" is covered by article 674 of the Italian Penal Code, which deals with the "dangerous ejection of things".  The term "things" apparently includes fume emissions and the level of tolerability is covered by article 844.  The couple were fined €2,000.

In Italy over 70,000 people a year consult their lawyer about offensive smells caused by neighbours or restaurants situated near their home.




Sunday, April 23, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

If, like me, you need cheering up, who better to do it than the lovely Mr Buanne?  Found this by chance.

Patrizio Buanne - Gli occhi miei [Help Yourself]

Saturday, April 22, 2017

AN AWARD FOR A HUMANITARIAN



In the midst of so much tragedy and sorrow in the Mediterranean and when it so often seems that recognition that it is happening at all only comes from the wider world when politicians want to use the migration crisis for their own ends, an acknowledgement of Italy's humanitarian work with migrants and, in particular, the part played by one tiny island, is a welcome development. 

This week, Giusi Nicolini, Mayor of Lampedusa, was awarded the UNESCO Peace Prize or Félix Houphouët-Boigny Prize for the humanity and commitment with which she has managed the migration crisis as thousands of refugees - and, often, sadly, their bodies - have arrived on Lampedusa over the years.

In her acceptance speech, Giusi Nicolini said.

"At a time when there are those who want to close their borders and build walls to stop a non-existent invasion, the award of this prize gives us hope for a Europe of solidarity, which has not lost its humanity. It is upon these principles that Europe is built. If we ignore them we, too, risk drowning along with the refugees and migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean."

Giusi Nicolini dedicated the prize to "the migrants who didn't make it across the Mediterranean because they lie beneath it", to Gabriele Del Grande, an Italian journalist and human rights activist who has been imprisoned in Turkey since April 9th for interviewing refugees near the Syrian border and, of course, to the people of Lampedusa.

SOS Méditerranée was also awarded the UNESCO Peace Prize for saving lives in the Mediterranean.

Update, 25.4.17:  Gabriele Del Grande has been freed and is back in Italy.

You can find links to all my posts on migration in the Mediterranean since 2006 here.

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