Sunday, April 29, 2012


I think this year will be the year of living wild - well a bit!

Made nettle fritters today - delicious

soon it will be time for Elderflower champagne

and I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Forgotten lemons

Just back from my first ever trip to Sicily - I hope it won't be the last; there are so many places still to visit but I really loved this one. In fact I've only ever been to Italy twice before: Florence about twenty years ago and Rome about ten years ago - both wonderful trips.

We flew across the alps - they reminded me of the icing that my mother used to always do on top of the Christmas cake - fluffy whips of snow. We saw a helicopter going over them - it looked smaller than a toy to us; I've never ceased to marvel at what you see from an aeroplane.

We arived very late at our hotel in Taormina and they had thoughtfully left a cold supper in our room - really kind and extremely tasty too!
And in the morning, I opened my eyes to this

We mooched about a bit that first day, people watching and getting a feel for the place and the life - and trying to remember those few words that I first learned back in 1976 when I was supposed to be teaching Italian teenagers to speak English one summer in Eastbourne.

"Vorrei una prosecco per favore"

It was Palm Sunday so there were lots of people all dressed up and greeting one another. A wonderful atmosphere began to wrap us in its warmth and friendliness. And all the while, Mount Etna watched over us.

 And that evening we enjoyed our supper on the terrace and sampled a wine  from the slopes of the mountain - little knowing it would erupt that night! The following day dawned cloudy with ash but we explored the ancient ampitheatre which was built by the Greeks and repaired by the Romans.

We visited hill top towns such as Savoca, Chiarmonte Gulfi, and my favourite: Licodia Eubea which was really my favourite because I managed  to have several short 'conversations' involving no English at all - and not much real Italian on my part .... and because the people in the cafe were so nice but it's broad sunny streets are something to behold.
It was remarkable to go up narrow, winding and often precipitous roads to find at the top of a hill, a large town with broad sunny streets, large Churches and sunny cafes. In some places, the high rise apartment buildings merged with cliff faces in an uncanny feat of engineering. And, of course, we went up Etna - when it was safe! A cable car ride, followed by a four by four vehicle which went through paths cut through eighteen feet of snow, then a fairly short walk through snow and volcanic ash (an uncanny mix) took us to within 600 feet of the summit.

It is an alien landscape and achngly beautiful. For the first time in my life I wished I could ski because it must be thrilling to swoop and swerve down such a slope!

It was like being on a Baked Alaska! It almost seemed the snow had been scorched.

Along the roadsides we passed vast quantities of fennel growing wild and what I at first took to be acres of golden gorse but which turned out to be wild Laburnams everywhere! There was wild Borage and there were small flowers like Californian poppies in form and colour, as well as the more familiar red poppies and a large type of sedge in amongst giant Aloes and Agaves and prickly pears. There were also some deep pink meadow flowers that might have been Campions and a deep red one a bit like the ‘paintbrush’ of North America. In some gullies there were red stonecrop. And there were the largest Sempervivums I have ever seen!
There were both types of palm trees that I know – the one I call coconut and the ones I call pineapple, I don’t know their real names. On the ruins of the temple of Apollo at the entrance to Ortigia, the meadow flowers have taken over – just as the lichens and mosses grow back on the rocks on the slopes of Etna.
In the fields, there were extensive crops of globe artichokes – which we also saw being sold from the backs of small vans in the towns. And of course, there were acres and acres of lemon groves, orange groves and olive groves. Once, we came around a corner to be greeted with a neat orchard of pink blossom which I think was almond but may have been pistachio. Then there were the vineyards ..

The lemons and oranges seemed in some places to have been forgotten, clearly once laid out as orchards but now left untended it would appear. In the archaeological park at Siracusa, the oranges and lemons grew in amongst the stones and caves.
Here too, was the sight which I found most poignant. It was the smaller, Roman amphitheatre which made me feel a little sad and had the goose bumps stand up on my skin as I could almost hear the cheers of long ago crowds on what were now just grassy banks.
The larger Greek amphitheatre there was in the process of having a wonderful new wooden stage built (a marvellous piece of carpentry) for a forthcoming play. As Niall Allsop writes, “The Italians are cool about the past, it is no big deal, it’s all around hem ... it’s there to be both appreciated and functional ... it is, above all else, a natural part of the present.” (location 298, Stumbling through Italy)

There were so many beautiful sights and sounds that I could write about. Back home, much as I love it, I miss that blue vault of sky and the sea which was so clear that you could see the pebbles below the water’s surface even from way up high. We saw beautiful buildings, some designed to be so, others which were supposedly utilitarian but which had become delightful with age. We saw other buildings which seemed to have just been forgotten about, as though the owners had simply moved on. We tasted perhaps the best pastries and ice cream ever in the Cafe Sicilia in Noto and had so many delicious meals, including one of just salami, cheese and olives at the Bar Vitelli in Savoca – people go to the latter to see where the Godfather films were shot but I’ve never seen those and I’d say go for the Insalata!
And isn’t it strange how you can be in these big cities and see the same people several times? One day, we saw the lovely waiter on his way to work who had explained to me all the things on the menu the evening before. I saw one couple two days running: in Ragusa Ibla and then in Noto. We saw a family in a restaurant one day and in the archaeological park the next and sat next to another family in two different cafes!
The people were all so nice, shaking hands and saying “Piacere di incontrarla” (pleased to met you) and even, on one occasion,  giving the two kisses as farewell!
And the only time it rained was after dark – perfetto!

But now we are home, is this graffiti true?

oh, and those lemons ...