Pronto.. Montalbano sono

  Many years ago I visited the site of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty’s fall to their deaths – the waterfall at Reichenbach. I was taken first by my mum and dad and then by my ex Husband 

When an Italian colleague mentioned to me that you could visit the house where inspector Montalbano lives  I was inspired but the idea of finding  my way in a car by myself in Sicily put it out of the range of possibility. 

This year, for some reason, I thought, why not?

I love this  series! You can practically  taste the Arancini, feel the dust of scrubby southern Sicily and the salt of the sea. But mostly I love the humanity of Montalbano (and of course I appreciate the beauty of the actor Lucca Zingaretti!).

We saw the office of the commissariat, the opening credits – beautiful Ragusa Ibla  

 
And attended a gig at Punta Secca outside his house- with, to put the hat on it, the musicians staying at our B&B. I have felt lucky and proud that I got here. 

   
   

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On needing a mirror 

  
What are the chances of finding two old neighbours on holiday in the same place as us with children for Rosie to play with? No. 75 French Street was in Rome and no. 71 French Street was in Sicilia.

Rosie and Arlo were reunited on the beach at Sampieri whilst I brought his mum up to speed on the soap opera which has been my life – she was up to date to April. 

  
She’s a psychotherapist by profession so I asked her why my jaws are still tight, why I still grind my teeth at night. 

I told her I was mostly angry with him but still also very sad. She said I was far too British (she’s Argentinian) and did not know how to express my anger and a good slap round his chops might help! The hypnotherapist I have seen from time to time who I rate enormously has sent me a questionnaire to fill about my goals and I can’t think of any. I don’t know what I want now. At times I see the beauty of my life, but mostly I am uninspired. It has felt for some time that nothing was worth having without him, even whilst I see intellectually all the reasons it may not have worked between us.

She thinks the last thing I need is someone to manage me on my goals right now. She’s right that achieving goals has always been something I’ve been excellent at. She thinks I should learn to deal with failure and be less of a control freak. That the fact that I can’t do anything about his decisions is partly what is impacting me so badly as I am used to getting what I want and controlling my environment. I objected. The only domain I don’t get what I want is in relationships with men – which also feels like the most important domain. She countered that even the end of my marriage has not been a failure- I can boast about it being the best divorce in the world. 

She suggested I wallow in the failure of my relationship with Him. 

I talked about how he made me feel – beautiful, loved, smart. Her view was that when I feel those things without needing him as a mirror, it’s at that point I will meet someone.

It’s been an amazing holiday. Lucky, beautiful, epic. I’m tanned, full of pasta, but still in some anguish. I am going back to a life which doesn’t fulfil me – because perhaps I don’t fulfil myself. I need to look at all that. I’ve made so much progress with myself over the last few years and this is still the missing  piece. She is convinced he will be back. I really don’t think he will, but I need to be in a good place to bat him off, if and when he does. 

   
 

Charming Henry

  I’m shallow I know but I love a good hotel. It’s a long time since I’ve found one. In fact I think big anonymous hotels really need to look to their laurels with the rise of air bnb, good bed and breakfast and boutique hotels. The Only point of a big hotel is if it’s easy to find and has a pool. 

We’ve stayed in two big hotels here in italy and the reception staff really didn’t care. In the first place they didn’t care enough to come and let me in when I shoved Rosie over the gate which had been locked between our exit and return from dinner and in the second to find out for me whether there was a petrol station close to the airport to fill up my rental car. 

In all the small places including the very very cheap B&B in Rome, they couldn’t do enough to help.

But Charme Henry’s hotel in Ortigia, Syracuse, Sicily takes the prize for the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in. 

Housed in an old building it has been not just sympathetically, but artistically converted to create an atmosphere of relaxed rococo luxury. Buddhist icons mix with gold leaf and naïf paintings. 

        
     
  

   

   

 We stayed in the old wine cellar where the original floor remains and the bathroom is not compromised to keep an old fashioned feel. 

     

   The two roof terraces both over looked the sea. The service was personal and constantly exceeded expectations. On asking for a glass of wine it was delivered together with three bowls of  local produce to the top terrace where we were sunning ourselves. 

     

   For sicily it’s expensive at around 90 euros a night but for me, whilst it boasts four stars, it ought to have five. 

My day at Shalai Sicilian restaurant 

Working in a restaurant is really hard. Not that I worked much, just chopped a lot (watched by 3 hulking Sicilian boys) and watched and tried a sample of everything. But what struck me was how repetitive it all is. That and the heat. 

So having chopped 6 beautiful aubergines and 5 kgs of tomatoes in the morning, they get to do it all again in the afternoon – often in 40 degree heat.

   
 
The chopping was for the tomato sauce (for which recipes obviously vary massively) and for the caponata – a typical Sicilian recipe. 

Recipe for pomodoro sauce (lots)

  • Lots of olive oil
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • 2 kg tomatoes
  • Lots of basil
  • 2 medium onions
  • Salt, pepper, olive oil and sugar

1. Squash the garlic and put in a good cover of oil. When it starts to get hot and you can smell it, remove the cloves.

2. Put peeled and chopped onions in (half rings is fine).

3. Fry off until they start to soften then put in the tomatoes which have had the head chopped off and been quartered.

4. Keep the heat as low as possible . Add lots of basil leaves, salt and pepper.

5. Put the lid on and leave for an hour and a half, every now and then picking up the lid and wafting the smell to your nose saying mmmm. Add sugar – around a fistful for a big pan like this.

6. More salt and pepper then ideally pass through a tomato passata maker but if not a hand held blender will do.

This sauce is not only used for pasta but a ladle full goes into everything – pepperonata, caponata…

  As we started to chop the power went off all over Ortigia. The other restaurants all stopped work and waved their arms a lot but I suggested we could still cook as there was gas. We had a lot of fun laughing and joking around in my bad Italian and their bad English. Of course they all want to come to England and are apparently all going to live in my loft whilst they find work.. I hadn’t appreciated how bad the economic situation in Italy is of course and they see London as a place for jobs. 

It was so much fun .

  

I love you

I have never been to Sicily before. The heat, salty clear sea, warm people, passion for food and ingredients, music everywhere has made me completely lose my heart – and the tense jaws are finally starting to relax.

Ortigia, Syracuse is a peninsula with it’s own character. Crumbling white buildings, narrow streets, crystal clear sea and arts everywhere . 

    
    
We had the best day yesterday. Waking up in the best hotel I have ever stayed in- so sympathetically restored, full of artwork, breakfast terrace overlooking the sea, then went for a boat ride, a swim and a pony and trap ride. 

  

  

  

   
 Aside from our hotel and one or two of the restaurants, tourism is not polished here. So the boat ride started with our sitting on the bottom of the boat so that we could pass under a bridge then the music  started to blast and the boat started to sing along – sone Italian and the ubiquitous “cheerleader”. Commentary was non existent.

Later we found an exhibition with working models you could touch of Leonardo da Vinci and Archimedes. It was utterly inspiring. 

   
 Today I cooked in a Sicilian restaurant kitchen. They took me to the market where we saw the most beautiful tuna and swordfish and where they made me share their sandwich and explained to me that in Sicilia lots of ingredients  go in. A sandwich of mortadella, mozzarella, pecorino, tomato, radicchio, honey and lemon in a delicious crunchy (salted!) bread.

  
Back at the restaurant there was a power cut but I suggested we could still cook. Lots of singing and joking and mostly me chopping whilst three boys in their twenties looked on and told me they were coming to london next year. ( to stay in my loft obviously)

Tonight I finally got hit on by a Sicilian. I was starting to think I’d lost it. He took me down to show me the underground  cave in the restaurant which was quite impressive I must admit. 

  
It feels like I’ve been away forever. 

Lessons from a volcano

  So much of our reality has been dictated by the Romans. 

The oldest Basilica, not in fact a church, but the original meaning – a court of justice- is to be found in Pompeii, complete with podium for the lawyer and no stairs to the judgely throne – he ascended by ladder which was pulled away in case an unhappy villain wanted to extract vengeance. 

  The first Beware of the Dog sign

Their homes were ecologically much sounder than ours with a system for collecting rainwater through a hole in the roof collected in a symmetrically pleasing atrium – naturally with lead piping running water to the kitchen and domestic toilet via the aqueduct.

  Toilet

Public toilets afforded no privacy but the brothel at least offered private rooms with fellatio the most popular service costing roughly the same as a loaf of bread and provided by prostitutes demarcated by the wearing of a blue wig. It was considered acceptable to be homosexual with only serfs receiving rather than giving.

   
Notice to explain how this was paid by taxes 

Public service was so important – res publica – (Republic) – with in time of water shortage the last place to be cut off the public fountain – after domestic homes and the city baths. Rich citizens were expected to offer benefactor services to the town. 
The origins of so many of our words come from Rome! Fas – a penis carved into the wall represented magical state – hence fascinating. Personae were actors – it meant a mask. Clientes visited their rich patrons.

  Amphitheatre

As you can see, today was my visit to Pompeii. My advice to you? Don’t bother going unless you get a guide. This is my third visit and the first where I have learnt anything at all. Nothing is signposted. It’s huge and difficult to navigate. A guide brings it alive. One final piece of information I did not know. The town had already suffered an earthquake a few hundred years previously, was looted for centuries  and partially obliterated by ww2 bombs. Only a small percentage of the population perished – mostly the elderly and slaves with around 12000 escaping. Grazie Salvatore.

  

The oddities of italy 

 
La vita bella

 We know that french women stay thin through the lack of carbohydrate and small portions, but how do Italian women manage not to be the size of a small mansion? Eating a long lunch and long dinner is part of la vita bella with the clue in the antipasta, primo piatti, secundi piatti and dessert list – which some regularly do chow their way through. 

 As we know it’s hard to eat badly in italy and how do they dream up such a  bewildering number of different variations on pasta ribbons? And not for them the timid drizzle of olive oil we put in the bottom of the pan to fry  off our ingredients, their sauces positively swim in oceans of the stuff.

  The exception to this mangia bene rule  might just be breakfast.

In big hotels, a nod to the English breakfast is manifested in one of those dispensing  devices full of rubbery scrambled egg on one side and cut up frankfurter sausages on the other. The other side of the  table is taken up by a little fresh fruit if you’re lucky, tinned if. you’re not and a huge array of pastries. Cream and chocolate filled croissants, cannoli, fruit tarts and cake. The bread is mostly unsalted. This apparently comes from a time wherein it was illegal to salt bread as considered a ruse to make you drink more. 

 
The swimming cap

Another Italian oddity is the use of the swimming cap. For a country not known for it’s obsession with hygiene as any visitor crossing the Swiss to Italian side of the alps will see, it’s surprising that every swimming pool insists on caps, life guards gesticulating wildly at the dirty habits of the cap less tourists.

Old stuff

For a country swimming in antiquity they take for granted their ancient ruins to the extent that historic sites are mostly unlabelled, children get in for free, motorways are built on ruins and 30% of Pompeii remains unexcavated

Chaos

Yes they are as chaotic as you imagine. My friend commented when viewing the “system” at the Collosseum that a LEAN consultant would have a field day and she was right, but then how would they find employment for all those civil servants? 

The Italian rooster drivers tend to sit in two lanes (why make use of only one) and love to love the car in front by sitting as close to it’s bumper as possible.

They also laugh loudly, talk to each other and have the most beautiful language in the world. 

  

Let us play 

   
 It was hard saying goodbye. For Rosie to the horses and for me to the beautiful people we had spent the week with and especially to the wonderful Italian nonna. Not a word of English but happy to explain all the recipes, always pleased to see everyone and still does a lot of the heavy lifting in running the place. Good for everyone. 

   
 We drove the lovely couple from Santa Fe down from horse heaven to Rome. We discussed the options for lunch which were skip it, service station or come off somewhere. They were game for a detour so off we went to Orvieto. 

Umbria is in my opinion still a better tourist destination than Tuscany and it’s because of places like Orvieto which are not packed full of tourists and tatt like Sam Gimignano but instead boast a slow food market in the shade of the most beautiful cathedral 

  
 The most gorgeous views, folk singing buskers and enough food places at reasonable prices you definitely won’t starve. 

   
 I was pretty elated to get to Rome. I’ve been wanting to come to italy for years but the driving scared me too much.  I’m pleased with myself for having bitten the bullet and made it this far. We are staying at the end of the metro in a lovely apartment for £35 and unlike London it only takes 10 minutes to the centre of town where friends of ours were staying right by the Collosseum.

Rosie had particularly wanted to come to Rome so I was irritated when all she and her friend Lorcan did was play silly games and not pay any attention to the history. But I was wrong. The colloseum was after all built for games ,and they will remember playing there forever. 

   
   

La bella pasta da italia

  
I’m still wobbly and my jaws are so tight where I grind my teeth all night but better than I was. I can’t believe this tension has been there for more than a year now…. I just want it to be over – but I haven’t yet created a future to live into which doesn’t look like more of the past without the delight and drama of Him in it. I know I need to do that.

 I know I need a bigger game but am all out of ideas for now.