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!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

SABATO MUSICALE

Number six in the Italian singles charts and a fine comment on our times:

Fabio Rovazzi - Tutto molto interessante

Friday, January 27, 2017

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY 2017



Today is Holocaust Memorial Day and I am sad to say that never has the danger of such horrors happening again been greater and never has it been more important for us to reflect upon the words below:

First They Came

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me. 

-  Pastor Martin Niemöller

SOMEONE'S NEW COAT

Someone's got a new coat - and it's not me!


Thursday, January 26, 2017

BLACKBIRD DAYS COME EARLY

The words "storm" and "hurricane" are often bandied about in Modica to describe any winter weather that is not sunny but we certainly had a storm at the weekend. Starting on Saturday evening, relentless rain fell in sheets throughout the night and all day Sunday and did so with quite frightening noise.  A girl from Cardiff - Britain's rainiest city - does not scare easily when confronted with the wet stuff, so I'm sure you will agree that it must have been quite something to terrify me and confine me to my flat!

The area where I live escaped the worst of it but there were floods in Modica Bassa [the Old Town], Modica Alta, nearby Scicli and the surrounding countryside with considerable damage to property, cars and goods in shops. In via Fontana in Modica Bassa - a street to which I am sentimentally attached because it is where my dog Simi and I lived when we first settled in Modica, twelve years ago - several cars were swept away.  In the early hours of Sunday the Mayor of Modica, who had been out on reconnaissance for most of the night, announced on facebook that all schools in the city would be closed on Monday as a precautionary measure.  Later. we were told not to drink the water until further notice.

Flood in Modica Bassa, 22.1.17


The rain eventually stopped on Monday but more is forecast for next weekend  during i giorni della merla  - the days of the blackbird [29th - 31st January], traditionally the coldest period in Italy. There are several legends that purport to explain the reason for this name but the one I prefer tells us that, long ago when January had only 28 days, a proud blackbird [who was actually white], fed up with the cold, asked January if he could cut a few days off his "reign".  January, it seems, got in a huff and asked his friend February to lend him three days so that he could use them to make the blackbird's life even more miserable. February agreed and when the blackbird, thinking that the weather would be warmer and drier now that January had gone, next went in search of food, mean old January blew up a snowstorm.  The bird found shelter in a chimneystack but when he emerged three days later, his beautiful plumage was black and thus it remained, with all but a few blackbirds, forever, the rare white blackbird being a sign of good fortune.  Let's hope that one appears on via Fontana soon!

Today the Mayor of Modica has met with Regional President Rosario Crocetta, who has thanked Modicans for their fortitude and determination to carry on with business as usual after the storm and it is likely that some regional funds will be directed to the city to help with the clear-up.

When Simi and I left via Fontana, I bought this souvenir of our time there:



Take it away, Dino:



There is a lovely Juliette Gréco song called Un  Merle Blanc but I cannot find a video of it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A TRAGIC WEEK

Both Britain and the US have had a good, or a bad, week, depending on your point of view but there is no doubt that Italy had a tragic one:

As further eathquake tremors again brought fear to Central Italy, on Wednesday an avalanche weighing 120,000 metric tonnes and travelling at 100 km per hour struck the Rigopiano Hotel in Abruzzo. So far six people have been declared dead, 23 are missing and 11 have been pulled out alive.  Among the missing is a young Senegalese, Faye Dame, who had refugee status in Italy and was proud to be the factotem of the hotel. I keep thinking of this young man who had, like so many others, come to Europe in search of a better life. He must have been so happy to have been granted permission to stay and to work and to be able to live in a little apartment near the hotel.

Geologists say the tragedy was caused primarily by three strong earthquake tremors combined with heavy winds blowing in from Siberia, much heavier snow than usual and ground that was already wet.

We were all cheered when the Rigopiano's's Abruzzese shepherd dogs, Lupo and Nuvola, were found alive and well in a village 11 km away, where they are being cared for. Lupo and Nuvola, who are symbols of the hotel, always greeted guests and enjoyed their attention. Fortune was also smiling last week upon this young man, a member of the singing group Il Volo.

On the same day, another earthquake hit Amatrice, the town that suffered so badly in the quake of 24th August. "What, in God's name, have we done to deserve this?" asked the Mayor on Italian radio. The people of Amatrice could certainly have done without Charlie Hebdo's cartoon [not for the first time] but the Mayor's response was, "We will reply to this macabre provocation with life."

Better news from Amatrice was that the first 25 wooden houses have been allocated, by ballot, to some of those made homeless by the 24th August quake.

Tonight my thoughts are with all affected by the avalanche and tremors, all who grieve and all who wait for news of their loved ones. I'm sure that yours are with them too.

Update at 16.34 on 23.1.17:

Lupo and Nuvola's three puppies have been found alive and well in the wreckage of the hotel.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

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