Thursday, March 30, 2017


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


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


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


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 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


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 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


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


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


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!


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