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.

Monday, April 17, 2017

HAPPY BUNNIES

At the Liolà in Modica
I reckon they get to eat all the ice cream at night!

PASCHAL TIDES



On this Easter Sunday, while most of us celebrated with friends and family, while a Queen, resplendent in turquoise, attended church, while a sportsman triumphantly drenched his teammates in champagne, while two statues met and kissed in Modica, a drama which operatives involved have described as "unprecedented" in its scale has been taking place in the Mediterranean and once again, people have died in it and are probably continuing to die as I write.

Calmer seas, the escalating war situation in Syria and the continual lack of hope in other countries of provenance have seen migrant boats leaving for Europe without cease and on Friday more than 2,000 migrants were reported to have been travelling in the Sicilian Channel. The Italian Coast Guard says that, in 19 operations involving 16 migrant dinghies and three small wooden boats, 2,074 migrants were saved. One teenager was found dead in one of the dinghies. The SOS Méditeranée ship Aquarius was last night bringing 500 of the rescued migrants, including three children under the age of five, to Pozzallo.

Early reports today said that at least 20 migrants had drowned off Libya in the preceding 24 hours but this was later corrected to seven. However, there are conflicting reports, probably because of the number of rescue operations necessary and the difficulties encountered in them, so the situation is still unclear. MOAS [Migrant Offshore Aid Station] had saved 1,500 people on nine boats since Saturday morning and, taking them on board their ship Phoenix, had to give priority to women, children and the sick.  Once capacity was reached at 453, they issued life jackets and supplies to the migrants still waiting for rescue on board their inadequate boats.  

In all 4,500 people were saved on Saturday and a MSF ship has taken 649 migrants, saved off Libya on Friday, to Calabria. Many of these migrants had signs of torture on their bodies and some had gunshot wounds. An eight-year-old boy is also  reported dead.

In this video of 7th April, Dr Pietro Bartolo of Lampedusa mentions what he calls the "illness of the dinghies", as witnessed by medics since the people traffickers have started using dinghies: this illness, which can lead to death, is caused by a mixture of petrol and water soaking migrants' clothes and causing burns.  It affects mostly the women, he says, as it is the women who tend to be crowded together sitting on the floor - a different sort of drenching, then, to the one inflicted by our friend the sportsman above.

Dr Bartolo also had strong words for Europe's leaders, saying that he does not understand why a great and civilised continent cannot deal with the migration crisis with intelligence and rationality but he puts it down to indifference rather than inability to act.

The other person who has uttered strong words about the migration tragedy is Pope Francis, who said the following at Friday's Easter Vigil in Rome:

"We can see the faces of those women* in any number of other faces: the faces of mothers and grandmothers, of children and young people who bear the grievous burden of injustice and brutality. In their faces, we can see reflected all those who, walking the streets of our cities, feel the pain of dire poverty, the sorrow born of exploitation and human trafficking. We can also see the faces of those who are greeted with contempt because they are immigrants, deprived of country, house and family.
Shame for all the scenes of devastation, destruction and drownings that have become ordinary in our lives."

* The two women Pope Francis refers to are Mary and Mary Magdalene as they visited the tomb of Jesus.

Update - 17.4.17 at 20.29:

UNHCR has said that the number of migrants saved in the Mediterranean by naval or NGO operatives from Friday to Sunday was a staggering 8,300.  It has now been confirmed that seven migrants were found dead. A pregnant woman was evacuated from a migrant boat last night and brought to hospital in Modica, where she is said to be in a very serious condition.
Source: La Repubblica

Friday, April 14, 2017

BREKKY BREAK WITH BERTIE

Stopping for refreshment on our walk the other day, Bertie thoroughly enjoyed her little taste of a seasonal Sicilian brekky!


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

IN WHICH I GIVE UP!

Over the years, I have tried my best - I really have - to promote, whenever possible, a positive image of Sicily, to reassure readers that it is a safe and lovely place to visit and, above all, to dispel the stereotypes. Italy, however, is even better than Britain at shooting itself in the foot and the latest instance of this is the app distributed to accredited foreign journalists for next month's G7 summit in Taormina. This is the opening image of the app., which has been approved by the Italian government:



Not the Greek theatre in Taormina, the azure-violet sea that surrounds the island, the majesty of Etna, Sicilian food or wine or, as La Sicilia's editorial remarked this morning, Sicilian fishermen saving migrants in the Mediterranean but this, which to me looks, at best, like a Dolce & Gabbana fashion show gone wrong. Are we in the 1950s? What does this say about women and what does it say, for that matter, about Sicilian men in the 21st century? So much for former Prime Minister Renzi's announcement in October that this would be "a G7 characterised by themes concerning education, culture and Italian and Sicilian identity". 

The objections are being voiced thick and fast on social media, as they should be, and President of the Sicilian Regional Assembly Giovanni Ardizzone has announced that he is writing today to Prime Minister Gentiloni to demand that the image be withdrawn.

Italy, I give up!

Update - 12.4.17:  The offending image has been removed from the app., I am glad to say.

AN IRONY AND AN INITIATIVE - A MIGRATION POST

If I have been absent from this blog again, it is because, just like most of you, I imagine, the news of the past week has found me glued to my television screen and not in any positive way. Millions of words have been written about the shocking events themselves but I have seen little acknowledgement of the irony of wringing our hands over the treatment of children in a war-torn country and the refusal of many of our own countries to take in those very children - which brings me, again, to the theme of migration in the Mediterranean and its subsequent tragedies, which can only increase given the current situation.

On Friday 7th April the SOS Méditeranée ship Aquarius brought 432 migrants, including 77 minors, six of whom were aged between one and four and 59 of whom were unaccompanied, to Catania. The migrants had been saved by Aquarius and other ships from four migrant boats which had got into trouble off the coast of Libya.  Later the Italian Coast Guard ship Dattilo brought 1,131 migrants, saved in eight operations, to Catania along with one body. 

The above figures represent only a proportion of the migrants rescued in the Mediterranean every day and it is not unusual for as many as 3,000 to be saved in just 24 hours.  To the Italian Coast Guard, Navy and NGOs such as SOS Méditerranée falls, too, the tragic task of recovering and bringing into port the bodies of those whose journey of hope brought them, not to their hoped-for destination, but to death and I have chronicled the sad numbers over the years.

There is, however, some good news for migrants in a world that doesn't seem to care about them and this news comes from Italy where, on 29th March, Parliament passed a law to protect unaccompanied child migrants: from now on their treatment should be consistent all over Italy, they cannot be deported, will be appointed individual, trained guardians and will have the same rights to healthcare, education and other services as Italian children. UNICEF has called it "a historic law" and you can read more about it here.  Well done, Italy, for shining a light amid so much darkness.

According to figures released by the Italian Ministry of the Interior, 25,845 unaccompanied child migrants reached Italy in 2016 and 4,000 have arrived here since the beginning of 2017. This article reports that in 2016 one person in every 113 in the world was a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum - not a figure we can be proud of in the 21st century.

I ask again and I direct my question to the men and women in power:  how can the world express horror at what is happening to civilians in a war zone and, at the same time, attempt to push them back when they flee for their lives?

Sunday, April 02, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

To reach no. 25 in the Italian singles charts isn't bad for a song from 1977, so congratulations to Umberto Tozzi who, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the song, has recorded it with Anastacia. It features in a new album, Quarant'anni che ti amo.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

A TIME FOR EVERYTHING

If you are thinking that I have been somewhat absent from this blog of late, you are right, for a little thing called Brexit has been taking up much of my time and thoughts. Like most British expats  and, I imagine, most EU nationals currently resident in the UK, I find the situation very worrying indeed. My 23rd February post on this subject has had, to my surprise, over 22,000 views to date - a record for Sicily Scene - but I wish it hadn't been necessary to write it.

I spent most of yesterday - jubilantly called "Brexit Day" by the Brexiteers - in deep gloom but did raise my head for long enough to notice that the bars of Modica are starting to bring out traditionally made gelato again and what could I do but console myself with some?

The freshly squeezed orange juice I so love in autumn and winter has now disappeared, as no bar owner worthy of the name would sell you a glass of the stuff once he deems the oranges past their best but gelato is definitely back for the duration, if not of the Brexit process, at least until October! Yes, I can safely say that Brexit has driven me to gelato!



Saturday, March 25, 2017

QUIZ: SICILIAN PROVERBS - 22

A little light relief is needed and it's ages since we had a proverbs quiz, so why not have a go at matching these seasonal proverbs in dialect to their meanings?

1.  Marzu, mi rifaccio.

2.  Marzu tingi, aprile dipingi.



3.  Marzu pazzareddu, talìa u suli, e pigghia l'umbrellu.

4.  La luna di marzu règula sei misi.

5.  Marzu conza e guasta, né cuvernu cc'è che basti.



a.  There's no way to stop the breakages and  [subsequent] repairs needed in March.

b.  The March moon influences the moons for six months [ie., the weather of the March new moon period will influence that of the beginning of the next six months].

c.  In March I remake myself.

d.  Tint in March, paint in April [with spring colours].

e.  March is mad - if you see the sun, grab your umbrella.



 Highlight the space below to see the answers:
1c, 2d, 3e, 4b, 5a.

Friday, March 24, 2017

SPRING TIDES, 2017

A mere 36 hours have passed since the events that shocked the world happened in my country and already, as if their situation were not bad enough, migrants are being blamed in some quarters. I ask, as I have asked many times, what woman, knowing that she could go into labour at any moment, would step onto a totally inadequate, crowded boat and attempt a dangerous sea crossing if she had any choice? What kind of parents would take or put their children onto such a boat, knowing the risks? Who would gamble in such a way with their own life if there were any hope in their own country? Surely you do not have to be a psychology professor to work out the answer.

As I write tonight, up to 240 migrants are feared dead in yet another tragedy that has taken place on the "central Mediterranean route", that is, the one with Italy as its destination, which is again being favoured by people traffickers following the closure of the Balkan route. The tragedy happened when two migrant boats got into trouble off the Libyan coast on Wednesday and so far five bodies have been recovered. All five, presumably men, were aged 16 - 25 and had died from drowning. This news comes on the day when a Libyan court blocked a Memorandum of Understanding on migration between Italy and Libya.  At the same time, the court in question blocked further negotiations on the matter between the two countries. The reasons are too complicated to go into on this blog but you can find more details here.

With the spring comes better weather and with better weather come more migrant boats: at the weekend Italian operatives saved 3,315 people in 25 operations in 24 hours.  Subsequently 1,477 of these migrants were brought to Augusta. Three bodies were also recovered. In addition, the SOS Mediterranean ship Aquarius, working in conjunction with MSF, saved 946 migrants off the Libyan coast in nine operations coordinated by the Rome Coast Guard on Saturday - Sunday night. The migrants had been travelling in seven dinghies and two wooden boats.  These migrants were brought to Catania and on the way, a baby called Mercy was born after an eight-hour, difficult labour. The midwife who attended Mercy's mother on board the Aquarius said she must have been desperate to have undertaken the journey in her condition. Mercy, as you can see, is healthy and is said to be doing well. Who could look look at her and feel no compassion? 

However, for every "Mercy" born, hundreds die at sea - so many, over the years, that no one knows exactly what the figure is and worse, the world does not seem to care. I am as upset by the London attack as anyone not directly involved but please, politicians and right-wing media, don't blame migrants.

In 2015 4,600 people died on the central Mediterranean migrant route and more than 10,000 are estimated to have died attempting this journey since 2014.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

I knew of this Eros song, but not that he had sung it with Pavarotti. When I heard it on the radio last week, I was moved to tears:

Eros Ramazzotti e Luciano Pavarotti - Se bastase una canzone

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A CIVILISED STOP

A civilised stop as Bertie and I were on our walk the other day. I didn't ask for such a big slice, honestly, but it would have been churlish to refuse it once it was served, wouldn't it? And when you start to see borage in Sicily, you know that spring and the ice cream season are on their way!


Sunday, March 12, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

Nice to see this collaboration between Tiziano Ferro and Catania's Carmen Consoli. No. 12 in the Italian singles chart this week:

Tiziano Ferro e Carmen Consoli - Il conforto

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

MIMOSA AND MOTIVATION

Mimosa blossom is very much the order of the day for the festa della donna [International Women's Day] so it was nice to be presented with a sprig of it with my Sicilian orange juice in the bar this morning and lovely to receive the gift on the left from a friend:


I thought it would be appropriate, on this day, to tell you about ten Italian women who have inspired me - well, more than ten, really, as there are whole convents of nuns involved - but it started at ten!

Teresa Mattei
Firstly, if you are wondering why the mimosa is the symbol of International Women's Day in Italy, it was the idea of one Teresa Mattei , activist, partisan and one of the "mothers of the Italian Constitution".  

The other great ladies on my list come in no particular order and I make no apologies for the fact that several of them are writers. I'm just made that way.

Oriana Fallaci has fascinated me since my student days and I learnt only recently that the woman once known as "Italy's most aggessive journalist" could be just like the rest of us when she fell in love!

Elsa Morante was another writer whose work I started reading as a student and in my opinion her greatest novel remains La Storia or History. Of that other literary lady who is so popular both here and in Britain, namely signora Ferrante, I have read only one volume, so I am reserving judgement for now.  If I get hooked you'll be the first to know!

The works of Natalia Ginzburg were a comfort to me in my student days and they are a comfort to me now.

Rita Levi Montalcini, who left us almost five years ago, was a scientist and Nobel laureate who, even at the age of 100, had a special empathy with the young, whom her achievements and words continue to excite. The world is poorer without her.

Rita Levi Montalcini depicted in flower petals at the Noto Infiorata, 2011
Franca Viola

No woman living in Sicily can forget Franca Viola, whose determination not to submit to bullying changed Italian law.  She lives happily today in Alcamo.

Maria Grammatico, Ericean pastry cook who told her story to Mary Taylor Simeti in Bitter Almonds, was brought up in a convent, where she learnt to make pastries. I have yet to achieve my ambition of visiting her pastry shop in Erice.

There are still convents in Sicily where the nuns make and sell pastries to raise funds for maintenance or good causes and I'll never forget the day I bought these, through a grille, from a convent in Agrigento. You have my admiration, dear sisters:



The story of Daniela Spada is one I read recently and who could not be inspired by this lady's courage and the determination with which she fought her way back from devastating illness? I learnt so much from this book.

Artemesia Gentileschi is a woman I've admired since the first film about her came out in the 1990s. More talented than her father and brothers, if ever a woman literally suffered for her art, it was she. Artemesia continued painting, against all the odds, and was the first woman to become a member of the Florentine Accademia di Arte del Disegno.

Finally, the word pazienza is not in my vocabulary and I've often said it should be banned in Italy as it is too often used to excuse inefficiency by the very victims of that inefficiency. However, when pazienza is employed to create great or small works of art, I wish I had it so, as we are coming up to Easter, I would like to express once again my admiration for The Palm Lady.

I hope you've all had a wonderful festa della donna!



Monday, March 06, 2017

A POET, A POPE AND A PLATE



It was with great pleasure that I participated, on Saturday, in the launch of Modican poet Antonio Lonardo's 40th anniversary collection, Alla ricerca dell'Oreb, which I had translated.

Before the big event, of course, two visits were necessary - one to Giovanna Linguanti of Beauty Giò, and the other to Giorgio at Saloni di Successo:


At last, I am ready!


Alla ricerca dell'Oreb [In search of Horeb] is a collection of poems dedicated to migrants, describing their hopes, losses and heartbreak - a cause which is, as many of you will know, close to my heart. The second part of the book is dedicated to the migrants' champion, Pope Francis and I can assure you it makes for moving reading for people of all religions or none.  There are also poems dedicated to Gabriel García Márquez [born 90 years ago today] and to Mandela.

Besides reading my English versions of the poems at the launch, I spoke about the particular difficulties a translator of poetry faces and the changes necessary, especially in word order, when translating from Italian into English.  I ended by saying that, whilst very few translations ever match the beauty of the original - the linguist George Steiner said it was possible but rare - I hoped that mine had done justice to Antonio Lonardo's message.

Here are some more photos from the event:



Me with Antonio Lonardo
At the end of the evening I was delighted to receive this commemorative plate, specially commissioned by Antonio. I shall treasure it:


Thank you, Antonio and many congratulations again!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

Asked to talk about the process of translation last night at the launch of Antonio Lonardo's poetry collection, Alla ricerca dell'Oreb, which I have translated, I quoted some lines from this Aznavour song. Although, in this case the "song" had already been written, I felt the search for the right words in another language was similar.  Here are the French and Italian versions of the Aznavour song: 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

HAPPY ST DAVID'S DAY 2017

It's St David's Day and naturally, there have to be Welshcakes:


A girl also has to have St David's Day nails:


And there has to be this:

Only Men Aloud - Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau



To the Welsh everywhere, to those who wish they were Welsh and to all with a song in their heart, 
Happy St David's Day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A FAREWELL TO MEAT

Carnevale has been in full swing in many Italian cities but in Modica there is no particular carnival tradition. This is, in some ways, a good thing as it does mean you can walk around without getting sprayed with coloured sludge but it also used to mean that children had few places to go where they could show off their carnival costumes.

This is changing, however and I think we should congratulate La Fortezza shopping centre for organising several events for children over the carnival season and for cheering us all up with their lighting:



The word carnevale is either a corruption of Italian carne levare, the withdrawal of meat or a joining together of Latin carne and vale, a farewell to meat. [As a linguist I favour the second theory.]

Thursday, February 23, 2017

BREXIT - THE PLIGHT OF EXPATS



"Come home, then", was a comment I received on twitter a few nights ago in response to a point I had made about the situation of expats in the era of Brexit and it has to be said that, although curt, this comment was nothing like as rude as others that we "remainers" have been subject to in recent months. When, I keep asking myself, did my tolerant and open country become intolerant and closed?  It is a heartbreaking change to watch.

"Come home":  I'm afraid that for many expats, including me, the situation is not as simple as that. It is a myth that we are all slugging gin on sun loungers in sunny British enclaves and it is equally a myth that we are all rich. It would not be financially possible for most of us to come home and I am not the only one who would have nowhere to go in my native country.

Therefore, when we raise concerns about the future of our pensions or access to healthcare in the countries where we now live, they are real concerns, for a freezing of our pensions would spell poverty in old age for thousands of us and the threat of cutting off our right to healthcare, at the time in our lives when we are likely to need it most, fills us with fear.

Now, before I am shot down by those who think that, having decided to no longer live in the "green and pleasant land",  I deserve everything that is, or more likely is not, coming to me, and before I am told that, for the same reason, I have no right to any British pension at all , I would like to point out the following: I believe I served Britain tolerably well in my role as a teacher and then as a lecturer. The schools I taught in were far from "élitist" and I worked hard for my pension. With regard to healthcare, the agreement in place at the time I moved to Italy was one of entitlement because there is a reciprocal agreement in place for Italians living and working in Britain. I have never sponged off either system in my life. When you move to another country, you do so under a certain set of circumstances and you do not expect retrospective legislation to pull the rug out from under your British feet.

Incidentally, if the value of people's pensions had been cut by up to 25% in the UK , there would be uproar, yet this is exactly what has already happened to expats since the Brexit referendum and we are all afraid to say so publicly because we will be branded "selfish, élitist remoaners." Well, it is about time someone said it and I do so here.

Another fear we have is that, even if a "right to stay" agreement is reached, it may be dependent upon some sort of property qualification. No, I am not restoring a castle or tending my vineyard - like many other expats, I pay my way but I do not own property in either country.  We do not figure in  the British Prime Minister's narrow vision of the "jams" [families who are "just about managing"] but that is often the reality for expats.  [Oh, and I'm not out here with family, either - I am truly dispossessed!]

Why, some of you may wonder, would anyone want to leave Britain in the first place?  My answer is because I am a modern languages graduate and I fell in love with Italy at an early age. Loving another country does not mean that you love your own any the less; in fact you can come to love it more, because you see it with new eyes from abroad. Moreover, having had the chance to teach in Italy, I believe I have contributed in my small way to the spreading of British culture here.

When the British State educated me and trained me as a teacher, it did not do so in order that I might live exclusively in one country or the other;  it did so in order that I would have a choice.  That's what education does. I was given the ability to make a choice and I made it, believing, like others, that I was protected in it by treaty. That our native land now wants to rip that treaty up is hardly our fault and we are appalled by our formerly gentle nation's abandonment of its own citizens in the EU.  This is not the Britain that I recognise and it is not the free and fair Britain that I have told so many Italian students about.

I am hurt, as I am sure other expats are hurt, by the name-calling we have had to endure: I am not a "remoaner"; I am merely someone who wishes to embrace more than one culture and my languages have enabled me to do that fully.  Where was I on the day that such a wish became a crime in Britain?

The general view in Britain seems to be that three million expats are just a few snail-eaters who do not matter and I have no information on how many of us still have voting rights there. But elections and referendums, as we have seen, can turn on very few votes.  Perhaps one day soon the British government will wake up to the fact that we matter. I hope it does not do so too late.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE

A beautiful song and the runner-up at Sanremo:

Fiorella Mannoia - Che sia benedetta

Friday, February 17, 2017

A TIMELY COLLECTION



Some years ago, I translated a collection of poetry called Il Profumo del Pensiero - The Essence of Thought for the Modican poet Antonio Lonardo

This year, Antonio celebrates 40 years of publishing poetry and I was delighted, in the summer, when he asked me to translate his new collection, Alla Ricerca dell'Oreb - In Search of Horeb.  Most of the poems in this new collection are on the theme of migration and the plight of migrants, a cause which, as many of you will know, is close to my heart. 

There is no good time to be forced to leave your country but the era we are living in is one of the most dangerous and precarious the world has witnessed so a collection of poems on this theme is, in my opinion, timely.

As you see from the poster above, the book launch takes place in Modica on 4th March 2017 and I shall be proud to be part of it.  

Thank you, Antonio, for giving me the opportunity to work on these poems.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

ANYONE FOR "FUD"?

Finding myself in Catania yesterday, I decided to try out a restaurant called Fud which had been recommended to me by a student. 

Fud, you see, is how the word "food" sounds to Italians [the u is pronounced like oo in English] and the whole menu is deliberately written in this way, as are all the notices in the establishment.  I must say, I was a bit peturbed at the notice telling me to "use my ends", but then I realised that this clipped, aristocratic pronunciation, prevalent in the UK among the upper classes until about the 1960s - "hends" for "hands" - is exactly what is still, incredibly, being taught in some schools here. Drop the h, as Italians tend to do, and you have "ends"!



I ordered Fud cips, which the cooks there do not stint on, and a beefburger which looked and smelt so good that I forgot to take an elegant photo before I bit into it decisively. It was both enormous and excellent.  


I loved the phonetic spelling of "cheesecake" but not as much as I loved eating it!






You can see more of the menu here.

The service at Fud is friendly and attentive. Oh, and "real" English is spoken!

If you are ever in Catania, go and have some good food and a lot of fun at Fud!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE - SANREMO 2017




Throughout this post, I shall be posting links rather than videos as there are no official clips, as yet, on youtube, presumably for copyright reasons.

Another Sanremo Festival has come and gone and I've already mentioned one of my favourite moments. Undoubtedly the most touching was the appearance, on the first evening, of representatives of Italy's emergency services and volunteers - including a wonderful labrador -  who had helped in recent disasters such as the 24th August earthquake and the Rigopiano avalanche. The rescuers deservedly got a standing ovation. 

I also enjoyed the appearance of a favourite man of mine, chef and MasterChef Italia judge Carlo Cracco last night. Goodness, Carlo scrubs up well! He had time to tell us that the dish he would choose for presenter Carlo Conti is a Tuscan ribollita and for co-presenter Maria De Filippi spaghetti with tomato sauce, "because it's every Italian's favorite dish." She, lucky girl, got a kiss from chef Carlo, before the other Carlo sent him back to the kitchen.

There couldn't have been a dry eye in the house last night when Zucchero sang a duet with a virtual Luciano Pavarotti and the press dubbed this performance "the real winner."  You can see this here from 01.38.00 mins.

I thought the best song in the whole competition was this one, which was knocked out on the fourth evening and I also liked this and this, both of which made it to the final evening. The winning song was this, ably performed by Francesco Gabbani and a monkey and I can say for it that it certainly cheered everybody up!

Thursday, February 09, 2017

KEEPING YOU ABREAST



The Sanremo Festival always makes good TV and I thought I'd keep you abreast of it tonight. I haven't decided on a favourite song yet but I have no doubt about my favourite moment so far: it happened last night when the underwiring in singer Giorgia's gorgeous dress failed her.

Hasn't it happened to every woman - that moment when your strapless bra refuses to behave, you're in the middle of the street and you just want to get somewhere where you can hitch it up?  Giorgia finished her song and then, when presenter Carlo Conti came to interview her, calmly handed him the mike and, with a style that brooked no nonsense from either the underwiring or her boobs, yanked the dress into position.  You can see the moment here.

"I'm not very well-endowed", joked the singer.  

Believe me, Giorgia, it happens even when you're more - err,... curvy.  Well done, though - you have freed women everywhere!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

DOMENICA MUSICALE - DIVIDED LOYALTIES

This afternoon Italy plays Wales in the Six Nations Rugby Tournament, so the only song I can play is, once again, this:

Max Boyce - The Glory That Was Rome
I, needless to say, have divided loyalties:


Saturday, February 04, 2017

A WELL-DESERVED AWARD

It is always good when hard work is rewarded and no oganisation deserves recognition more, in my opinion, than the Italian firefighters, who, on 27th January in Ulm, were awarded the Conrad Dietrich Magirus Award 2016 as the best firefighters in the world. They were chosen from a shortlist of firefighters from nine countries by a specialist international jury.

Receiving the prize on behalf of firefighters throughout Italy were four representatives, including two from Agrigento. The prize was awarded to the Italian corps for their incredible work following the earthquake of 24th August 2016 in Central Italy, when they tirelessly pulled humans and animals from the wreckage, made people safe and comforted them. The important work of their colleagues from Genova and Imperia, who took photographs documenting the events of that terrible day and its aftermath, was also recognised, as were the organisational skills of national coordinators, who sent firefighters and equipment to the scene from all over the country within hours.

As well as winning the Conrad Dietrich Magirus statuette, a team of Italian firefighters will visit the world-famous New York Fire Department but I am sure that they would say that their reward is in the number of lives saved.

Congratulations to these wonderful men and women.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

HIGH DAYS AND......

Cicara Caffeteria's tiramisù                           Strawberry tiramisù                                 Katia Amore's tiramisù


There are high days, there are holidays and then there are "take me high" or tiramisù days.

Now this most beloved of Italian desserts is to officially get its own day and, just in case you need an excuse to make or buy and eat it, that day is 21st March.  It will be celebrated in 34 locations around the world and is the initiative of Eataly and Clara and Gigi Padovani, who have written a book about the dessert and its history, including the hotly disputed topic of which region of Italy can claim to have invented it. 

I've made traditional tiramisù, have followed Katia Amore's recipe for ricotta tiramisù and Matthew Fort's for a strawberry version, which I in turn adapted into an apricot one.

I'm not brave enough to join in the argument about the origins of the dish - I'm just going to continue to enjoy it!

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