Archimedes and his Terrible Stomach Ache

This puzzle, at least 2.5 thousand years old, is called a Stomachion, which means “stomach ache”. It comes to us thanks to Archimedes, Sicily’s greatest scientist and one of the greatest mathematicians in the world. He described it in a book now called The Archimedes Palimpsest and used it to inspire some of his great mathematical discoveries.

All you have to do is fit the pieces into a square shape. You can turn any of them over if you want to.

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Why is it called a stomach ache? Well, there are 17,152 different ways to solve this puzzle and, as you fiddle about realising you cannot even figure out ONE of them…. trust me, it’s sickening!

Last weekend we went to Siracusa, birthplace of Archimedes, and tried our hands at solving this puzzle at the Tecnoparco Archimede. We were guided about the open air museum by a pair of charming and highly knowledgeable old fellows, who let us play with the catapults, set tissues on fire using the burning mirrors, and tell the time using the water clock. I shall be posting more of those fun things later, but let’s get back to this stomach ache, shall we?

Print this square out. Before cutting out the pieces, cut another piece of paper the same size to use as your base… then see how many ways you can fit all these shapes into the square.

If you can figure out any, that is.

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The tecnoparco guides began by presenting my son with a wooden stomachion, which he managed to solve in three different ways before we continued our tour. Later in our hotel, Hubby and I fiddled with it for ages before coming up with a single solution.

How many can you manage?

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The Archimedes Palimpsest – You can see the real thing in the Art Walters Museum, Baltimore

 

The Do-Good Brothers

I had to have a little operation recently. It was preceded by some blood tests in the nearest hospital, called Ospedale Buccheri La Ferla Fatebene Fratelli. The Sicilians are good at coming up with catchy names that way.

Buccheri and La Ferla are the names of the founders. The Fatebene Fratelli translates as “The Do Good Brothers”. Though they sound like a blues band, they are actually an order of monks, who lurk in the corridors annoying the patients.

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The Blues Brothers…. not seen recently in any hospital in Sicily

They mean well, but they all have medieval-looking skin diseases that make you desperately hope they won’t come any closer. I’m sure they all have nothing worse than eczema or psoriasis, or maybe a few septic bedbug bites in the most severe cases. There’s just something about seeing them in their full-length, brown monks’ habits, and white cord belts with knots all along them, that makes you think of leprosy, scrofula and smallpox.

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The Do Good brothers – encouraging patients in hospitals in 50 countries since…. oh, quite a long time ago.

It’s like an intensified form of waiting to see the dermatologist. Nobody wants to handle the magazines, and everyone sits in a funny way to make sure no part of their bare skin comes into direct contact with the seats. You never know what could be catching.

The Do-Good Brothers dedicate their lives, in Buccheri La Ferla hospital, to urging the patients to join them in the hospital chapel for a brief spot of group prayer, Gregorian chanting and bible reading. They guarantee it will take no longer than ten minutes. They assure people they’ll only do one prayer, and that they can recite it really fast. They promise that the bible reading will be so short it will seem like a Haiku poem. Eventually they offer to skip the Gregorian chanting altogether. Yet still nobody wants to go.

Is it because the patients are scared their name will get called to have their X-ray taken while they’re off saying the Lord’s prayer? That they’ll miss their bone density scan in the middle of a Hail Mary, so they’ll have to book another appointment in a month’s time? Is it that they have already been on a pilgrimage to seek a cure for whatever disease they have, and reckon some extra last minute praying would be superfluous?

Or is it the angry-red, peely, exposed dermis on that Do-Good Brother’s hands, dotted with pustules, which may have recently come into direct contact with the prayer books in the chapel?

Finally, the Do-Good Brother gives up, failing to disguise the fact that he is exasperated and disappointed, and probably feels a bit sore and itchy inside his habit. He heads of for some solitary prayer. Again.

He probably consoles himself by fervently reciting prayers in Latin, whilst mortifying his flesh with a flagellant, an even scratchier hair shirt, and some really stingy iodine lotion.

I felt so sorry for the Do-Good Brother who invited me into his little chapel that I actually did go. He was so flabbergasted he actually hopped up and down a couple of times in his home-made macramé sandals.

The prayer he said for me was really very beautiful. He read from the bible, and then in a prayer he asked for my operation to go well. I sat in the chapel and felt myself filling with serenity and the sun slanted in through the window.

God must have been listening, as it all went fine. Thank you, Do-Good Brothers!

THE DO-GOOD BROTHERS OFFICIAL WEBSITE

So you’re Sicilian. Are you in the Mafia?

“Mummy, why are the baddies English?” my son asked me last week. He was watching “Rio”, a cartoon film about parrots in which the bad parrot, from the Brazilian jungle, inexplicably talks with a very posh English accent.

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A wicked Brazilian parrot, who …. went to an expensive posh school in England?

“Well, it’s just one silly cartoon,” I reassured him.

Then he listed all the English baddies he knew in cartoons: Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda; Jaffar in Aladdin; various baddies in episodes of the Simpsons and Gumball; Scar in the Lion King; and others which I don’t even remember now.

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An Evil African lion, who had elocution lessons from an English aristocrat? Whilst his brother has lessons in morality somewhere in the US of A?

“How can Scar be English and Mufasa be American if they are brothers?” he asked me. “And why is Jaffar English? I thought they were supposed to be Arabians.”

“Yes, they are supposed to be Arabs,” I said. “It’s very strange.”

I didn’t go into the fact that it’s not very strange, it’s very racist.

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Uncle Jafar, the only man in Arabia who talks with an English accent… unlike the rest of his family. They talk like Americans, because they’re nice.

Sadly for my son, he scores the American racist double whammy. He is half English and half Sicilian.

Can you think of any film or television show at all where there were Sicilians are portrayed as law-abiding, kind Christians with strong family values, some mouthwatering family recipes, a great sense of hospitality, and pride in their ancient and seminal culture? I can’t.

I can think of dozens and dozens, however, where Sicilians are the baddies, always part of a huge family with no morals, which has commited atrocious murders for generations.

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A German-American actor portraying Sicilian-Americans as evil

Of course The Godfather is the kingpin of them all. It stars German-American actor Marlon Brandt, who chose the vaguely Italianate-sounding stage name Brando. It was written and produced by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, Americans of Italian ancestry who had no connection with Sicily.

The films portray Sicilians in both America and Sicily as a pack of criminals. And they have never been portrayed any differently ever since.

The Sopranos is the latest in this long line of anti-Sicilian garbage. The man behind this is David Chase, who claims to be Italian American… not Sicilian American. And he can only get away with calling himself “part Italian” at best, since last time I checked, nobody in Italy has the surname Chase. Sicilians suffer enough hatred from mainland Italians at home. It’s a real shame the nonsense continues across the Atlantic.

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One could claim that this is only entertainment and, in reality, the Americans know it is merely fiction. But this ain’t so.

Try going anywhere in Europe or America or, actually, anywhere in the world, and telling them your husband is from Sicily.

“Oh, is he in the Mafia?” they ask, as if it were not an insult. As if it were an acceptable thing to say. As if asking a stranger whether their husband is a murderer is normal behaviour.

A friend of mine from Palermo went to Palestine and was surrounded by people saying “Oh wow, Sicily, that must be so dangerous, how do you cope with living there?” Yeah seriouisly, Palestine.

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And let’s go back to the British thing, shall we? Do you think I am exaggerating the anti-British sentiment that wafts across the Atlantic?

You can read one list here about how Barack Obama has insulted the British (Oh! Let me count the ways!) and another here. He supports Argentina in their unjustified desire to take control of the Falkland islands and their British residents. He threw out a statue of Winston Churchill from the White house which had been a gift. He downgraded Britan from “our number one ally” to not being mentioned at all in the list of American allies on the official US foreign office website.

There’s no getting away from it: America’s leader hates the British.

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Thththththtth and snubs to you, ya Limey!

“So what?” I hear some Americans say. “Britain is a has-been nation and Sicily is just a tiny island.”

If Sicily is so unimportant, why do the Americans want so many MASSIVE military bases here? The civil movement against this, and particularly the MUOS base, is so strong that the Sicilian regional government may tell the Americans to go away in the future.

Could America have protected her economic interests in Libya without using Sicilian civil airports for months, leaving countless Sicilians unable to take holidays or business trips abroad?

And if Britain is just a has-been nation, why does America send envoys over to grovel every time we think about reducing our military spending? Could it be because Britain is the second largest contributor of military resources to the United Nations? Might it be connected with the fact Britain followed the US into Iraq and Afghanistan even without UN approval?

After Barack Obama had grossly insulted his predecessor, just thinking about reducing military spending got current British PM David Cameron a 19-gun salute at the White House.

So far, these old allies of America are still hoping to be friends. They hope this is just a bad patch and that the racist brainwashing of the younger generation of Americans is just a brief, unpleasant phase.

But don’t push it. When big bully America REALLY upsets other countries, sometimes they fight back.

Nine eleven.

I don’t suppose the Sicilians or British will do anything like that any time soon, of course. Like I said, all that stuff about the Sicilians being Mafiosi and mass murderers is basically fiction.

But look out for those North Koreans. I think that movie “Olympus Has Fallen” was a big mistake. Naturally, I enjoyed seeing a film where the baddies weren’t English or Sicilian, for once.

But I wonder how the Koreans felt?

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A Narrow escape from the Fashion Police

In Italy, it is against the law to emerge in public with bad hair. Italians remain housebound on bad hair days.

In the summer, having white skin is also considered a serious fashion gaffe. There is simply no excuse. Strangers repeatedly threaten to report phosphorescent Celtic people like me to the fashion police.

Sometimes gangs of vigilantes take the law into their own hands and organise lynch-mobbings. Only the other day, I was walking along the sea front in my village when I was intercepted by four women plus an uncountable number of children, dragged onto the beach, and forced to lie there until they felt my skin must surely have changed colour a bit.

Wearing unfashionable clothes is another serious crime in Italy. Unless you are capable of preserving old clothes intact for many years, it is also impossible. Non-trendy clothes are simply not available in the shops. I suppose shopkeepers want to protect frumpy people from themselves.

This summer, for example, when you buy new shoes they will be pole-dancerish sandals with flowers on. If you want to wear something more comfortable, well you can’t, so there.

Last summer I actually flew to England to buy some flat-heeled summer footwear.

“In Italy, even the nuns wear sexier sandals than those” commented my English nephew.

The best place to ensure compliance with the only laws Italians actually take seriously is, of course, the shopping centre. They have very few of them in Sicily, but the ones they do have are the bees’ knees.

I decided to visit Sicily’s largest, the “Outlet Village” in Dittaino. If you happen to like designer gear and ice cream equally, it is paradise.

Before going, I had to prepare myself. I had some grey hairs, which I am led to believe are nowadays called “wisdom highlights”. So my first step was to go to the hairdresser and have myself dumbed down.

Next I applied the fake suntan cream I had ordered online after the lynch mobbing. It smelt of curry, which made me really hungry. Do they give it the tikka masala smell to inpsire you subliminally to achieve darker skin?

The whole of the Dittaino outlet village is purpose built. The upper storeys are just for decoration, and to provide shade from the sun as your husband lugs your trendy shopping around.

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“Ah yes, I’ve been thinking we could do with a new car. Or two.”

The Ferrari shop.

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Here I am in the semi darkness, hoping to buy a pair of shoes which I can actually walk in. I ended up with an ice cream instead. I am such a failure!

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Ready to go home.

Goodbye Gucci. Very nice to see you, Versace. It was fun, Fendi. Do come again, Dolce and Gabanna.

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Sicily vs. Australia

A wonderful guest post called Sicily vs. England, written for my blog by Pecora Nera, turned out to be so popular that it inspired another great Sicilian blogger, Rochelle Del Borello of Unwilling Expat, to write this article – Sicily vs. Australia – for my blog.

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The beauty of experiencing different cultures is seeing how they differ, and embracing the parts which are refreshingly good for your soul while simultaneously feeling frustrated about the other things that simply don’t work.

There are many aspects about life in Sicily that make me want to bash my head against the wall, but Sicilians certainly know how to enjoy the moment, their family and communities. Despite being way too close knitted for my tastes I can see how they can be comforting, nurturing and safe for young families.

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I’m taking a moment to highlight some subtle and less subtle differences between my native Australia (I think perhaps some points may also be poignant for America and the United Kingdom too!) and my current adopted home in small town Sicily.

Spontaneity: The last time I was back home in Australia I hated having to make an appointment to see my friends in advance. I understand you may have something on but to have every moment of my time programmed isn’t part of my routine. I think when you have young children around the whole ‘programming’ of time thing has to go out of the window, at least in the rigid sense.

I longed to have more spontaneous interactions with my Australian friends. In Sicily everyone simply comes over with a bottle of wine or some nice ice cream and put some pasta on, it really is that simple, no need for bookings at restaurants, just come over and hang out a little!

Pace of life: Since moving to Italy more than a decade ago, Australia’s population and economy has boomed, and once laid-back Ozzies now are always in a hurry – to where I’m not sure? Sicilians are way on the other side of the spectrum. Things here are too slow for me (perhaps if I was an elderly pensioner I’d like it better!)

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I came across a helpful article on a web page called When In Florence student services, http://www.wheninflorence.com which explains the different concepts of time between Italy and America which I think is useful to understand why the two cultures are soooooo very different.

It explained:

America is a monochronic culture. We believe that time is a precious commodity; it is meant to be made, used, wasted, spent, given, allotted, and saved. Our lives are a series of rigid schedules and each day is chopped up into time blocks. 9 – 10:45 AM : eat breakfast. 11 AM – 7 PM : work. 7 – 8 PM : dinner. Repeat.

Italy, on the other hand, is a polychronic culture. People with this time orientation see time as a flowing river; it is smooth and one minute flows into the next. If something isn’t done this minute, it can be done the next. These people do not see time as tangible or controllable. There are things to be done, but they’ll get done.

The Sicilian Housewife loves the way old people laze about in Sicily. It is too darn hot to hurry!

The Sicilian Housewife loves the way old people laze about in Sicily. It is too darn hot to hurry!

Work Ethic: In most Anglo Saxon (and Asian) cultures life is all about work. In comparison Sicilians come across as down and out lazy, a little work only when necessary is their motto because they know that unemployment is just around the corner so why should they worry (evermore so in the current economic situation). Australians are workaholics , very competitive but when they decide to relax they can be great fun too! Surely there must be some middle ground somewhere?

Food: Up until ten years ago Australians were really a little clueless when it came to good food (mostly beer, steak and chips) and have only recently discovered fine wine and European cuisine (and they are loving it!). Food in Sicily is more like a religion, it is a must to eat and prepare fresh seasonal products and don’t get me started on the wine, all quite hedonistic really but why the hell not!! (Perhaps I am becoming Sicilian after all!)

This was the roof of a Sicilian Cafe. Go on, pick one!

This was the roof of a Sicilian Cafe. Go on, pick one!

Schools: Italian schools are loud, confusing affairs with little discipline or logic. I like how even at an early age children study a lot of history and art but I find there is a terrible lack of structure, it’s all creative and sporadic but what’s the good when children don’t know the basics. (My niece is in her last year of middle school and is preparing for a state exam, she doesn’t know what a paragraph is!) Primary schools in Sicily remind me of old style country schools where everyone knows one another, terribly nurturing but very cliquey. Australian schools are green, open aired, well maintained, with swimming pools, athletic tracks, theaters and a wizz bang curriculum to make children want to learn more each day.

Hospitals: Don’t ever get sick in Italy because the hospitals may kill you. If you do you need to find a private clinic or a good doctor to follow you as public hospitals have no toilet paper, no cleanliness, lazy nurses and barely present doctors which makes for a glum prospect indeed. Australian hospitals are great in comparison even though the population boom has resulted in having to wait a long time at your GP.

The last time I was home my mother had a problem with her eyes, we had to wait a couple of hours at the emergency room but we were sent to a specialist at the main city hospital, who met us in front of the door of the Optometry ward at 8pm, which she opened up for us, examined my mother and reassured her that there was nothing serious and she did it all with a smile! This would never happen in Italy.

Ambition: Sicilians don’t have much ambition as their history has made them quite fatalistic, material things can be taken away and unemployment is always a threat for them so they live for other things like family and food rather than highly paid jobs. Australians are all about work and ambition.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a good work ethic and goals but not to the point of screwing over other people or not taking the time to look after yourself or for having a family. There needs to be a balance, Sicilians are to exaggerated and Anglo Saxons are way too anal!

Family expectations: Sicilian’s and Italians live for their families. Italian towns and communities are simply an extension of their family life. I mean it’s great to have families around for big celebrations or life events (like births,marriages and deaths) but a big eager Italian family can be extremely invasive!

It ticks me off when they tell me when to have children, how to dress my child and what to feed him (amongst many other things!) I am always expected to cook, clean and babysit other peoples children as the favor will be returned (even if I never leave my child with anyone other than his father.)

Australian families are more along the Anglo Saxon lines quite distant and each to their own, I wouldn’t mind my Australian family to be a little less distant and my Sicilian family to take a leaf out of the Australian book!

Personal space: There is no such thing as privacy and very little personal space, it comes from being an over populated and nosey people. In Sicily if you’ve been shopping people will want to know what you’ve bought. Australia is about having a lot of space, even if most of the population is spread around the coastal areas Australian’s are used to having big houses, big cars and big helpings of beer in the pub! Heck, why not there’s enough space!

Outlook on life: Life in Sicily is very much about living in the moment which at times can be quite superficial, I mean living for your family, friends, socializing and food might be all right when you are younger but it really is a juvenile way of living life.

Australians on the other hand are all about work and gathering material wealth, often when people reach retirement age they are left twiddling their thumbs not knowing what to do with themselves and with too much clutter in their lives. Perhaps its the do-gooder in me but what about giving something back to the world or getting involved in something that is less about yourself?

Female health: I guess because hospitals and doctors are so horrid in Sicily people tend to neglect things like regular check ups, but gals really shouldn’t be lazy about their health and have regular checks. Even if gynecologists in Italy are scary as hell. There are no private change rooms or robes to cover up your nakedness, you will be asked to drop your ‘dacks’ anywhere and without hesitation or shame. And girls if you are going to give birth in Italy anyone with a white coat in the hospital will get a peek at your ‘who-ha’, including the guy who mops the floor in the morning. [This is certainly true. By the time my son was born, my loins had dealt with more traffic than the Palermo ring road. Ed.] Lordy my, how I miss prudish Australian gynecologists, bless them!

Manners: Please, thank you and sorry are foreign concepts to Sicilians as are table manners, you will be spoken to by a full mouthed Sicilian and will have to pour your own wine, unless you are dating in this case ‘he’ will be on his best behavior, for obvious reasons. [Oh poor Rochelle! this must be a regional thing. I can assure you here in Palermo they keep the grub in their mouths at all tikmes! They would hate to waste any by letting it fall out... Ed.]

Australians will apologies if they accidentally cut you off with a shopping trolley at the supermarket, if they accidentally brush up against you or have any form of physical contact or simply get in your way without realizing it. (Also forget about getting compliments from Sicilians, they are very stoic people!)

Language: Sicilians will pretend not to understand you, immediately pick up a foreign accent, furrow their brow and try to charge you double. (While a Florentine on the other hand will know you are a foreigner and will probably compliment you on trying to speak their language while genteelly correcting any grammatical error.) Australians will say they love your accent and will probably buy you a beer!

Feminism: Sicilian women are still very traditional yet they defiantly wear the pants. I’ve seen many masculine women and lazy effeminate men who do next to nothing while the womenfolk do practically everything. I swear I’ve seen some Sicilian women with more ‘balls’ than their men. Australian women are constantly battling men in the workforce and are happily leveling the playground and often outdoing the gents, so yawn at male machismo. If you tell a sexist joke in an Australian office you will be sued!

Please bear with me as I’m just going to have a little rant about women in Italy:

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This is a scene from Italian national TV

I’m aghast at how many women in the Italian spotlight are still simply ‘eye candy’ and do little much else than dance around in scant costumes. Socially ideals like the ‘velline’ dancing girls and nude calendars are still seen by some young women as careers and ambitions to aspire to (How fucked up is that!)

These scientists made groundbreaking progress in new treatments for cervical cancer. Oh no, oops, that was someone else.

These scientists made groundbreaking progress in new treatments for cervical cancer. Oh no, oops, that was someone else.

Even the majority of Female politicians seem more concerned with getting their pictures published in glossy gossip magazines than having an informed opinion. Come on girls don’t give in and stop reinforcing stereotypes.

Please note I did say ‘some’ women not ‘every’ women- there are many exceptions that come to mind of well known female celebrities, politicians and journalists who are perfectly serious about their jobs and are very good at what they do. For example off the top of my head: Mariastella Gelmini, Giorgia Meloni, Michela Vittoria Brambilla, Stefania Prestigiacomo, Daniela Santanchè, Maria De Filippi , Lucia Annunziata, Lilli Gruber , Rosy Bindi, Bianca Berlinguer and Cesara Buonamici.

P.S: This post was inspired by an idea by Pecora Nera from an Englishman in Italy who compared Sicily with England. I stole his idea with great respect and reverence and ran with it way too fast and now I’ve slipped, fell and made a god awful mess. I hope he will forgive me.

A Shop on Wheels

Do you like this Sicilian Greengrocers? If you look carefully, you can see its wheels.

His weighing scales are hanging off the brake light. They hold them up with one hand and slide the ball weight along a metal bar to get the weight of your fruit and veg.

if you query the sweetness of their merchandise, they will instantly chop a fruit in half and force you to eat it on the spot to prove its quality.

These mobile greengrocers can be seen everywhere in Sicily. I have been meaning to photograph one for ages, but was beaten to it by my friend Brita. Thanks for the picture, B!

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Seven Top Tips: How to cook pasta like a real Sicilian Godmother

When I got married, I was given a 35 person dinner service which had belonged to my husband’s grandmother. Not just a 35 person dinner service, but a nine-course 35 person dinner service.

“I’m sorry a couple of items have got broken over the years,” my mother-in-law, The Godmother, apologised.

A couple of pieces missing? Did she actually think I might notice?

This was one size of plates. There were six other sizes, not including the pasta dishes.

This was one size of plates. There were six other sizes, not including the pasta dishes.

I piled all the towers of variously sized plates in my antique dresser, then added soup tureens large enough to use as bath tubs, bowls you could live in, and oval platters big enough to serve Silvio Berlusconi roasted on a spit. The dresser bowed under the weight, and the shelf inside turned into a kind of wooden hammock.

Of course, The Godmother thinks nothing of cooking up meals for 35 people at a time. The indispensable course of any Italian meal is the pasta, naturally.

The Godmother has a saucepan large enough to boil a dead body in hydrochloric acid and then bury the gold fillings. It is so large that, when she is carrying it, it looks as if the pot has grown two feet and is waddling along all by itself. Of course she has never really boiled a corpse in it. That would taint the taste of the pasta.

So, here we go, seven tips on how to cook pasta properly, like a Sicilian Mother. Or even Godmother.

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1. Pasta cannot cook if it is packed in the water like vegetables. I has to be able to swim about freely like goldfish in a tank. You need a bigger pan than you think.

2. Make sure you salt the water enough. Otherwise the pasta will taste sweet and go mushy.

3. Do NOT add a dash of oil to the water. Whoever invented this ridiculous idea was a struggling and dishonest oil salesman.

3. You may only add the pasta to the water when it is bubbling like a volcano in full eruption.

4. Stir the pasta immediately, and at least 3 times during the first minute. Keep stirring it lovingly at least once a minute throughout its brief cooking time to make sure it doesn’t stick together.

5. One minute before the cooking time is up, fish a piece out and bite it. The centre should offer a little bit of resistance to the teeth. Italians call this “Al dente” which means “to the teeth”. If it has gone beyond this point and is soft throughout, do not serve it to any Italians: they will think you are trying to kill them. Seriously, they call this kind of pasta “glue” and they think it causes bowel cancer.

6. Once it is cooked, you need to drain it and get the sauce on it instantly. If there is any delay, pour on some olive oil and stir it, to stop it turning into wallpaper paste. Then buck up and get the sauce ready.

7. Italian etiquette decrees that you start eating your pasta the moment it is in front of you. You do NOT wait till everyone has a full plate in front of them.

BUON APPETITO!

The Godmother's spaghetti saucepan

The Godmother’s spaghetti saucepan

 

A Summer Vacation in Sicily

I have been devilishly busy lately, doing translations, writing a book (in Italian! Yoinks!) and eating ice cream with my little lad, whose school has broken up for the summer.

Luckily for us all, my gifted friends are still writing wonderful guest posts for your entertainment!

This gorgeous PHOTO ESSAY is a gift from Rochelle Del Borrello, otherwise known as the UNWILLING EXPAT of Catania. Her insider tips for those planning a holiday in Sicily are truly excellent, and I have actually learned several top tips from this post myself.

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Last summer I had a real ball as we had some visitors. They were cousins who had never been outside of Australia and had a wonderful trip planned around Italy and France. It was such an honor to have them stay with me and give them a little taste of Sicily. There is so much history and art to see around the island that I think you would never be able to see it all even if you tried, that’s what I love about this place!

We managed to fit many things in and I thought I’d share some of the great photos I managed to get during a wonderfully sunny, at times uncomfortably humid Sicilian summer. Who knows, perhaps it will persuade other people to come and visit me this summer? (Just a subtle hint to family and friends, we have the space if you’ll want to come, and for those who aren’t family, Sicily is a big island and there are plenty of places to stay!)

Port of Messina

Messina summer

We began our summer picking up our guests at Messina. They caught the train down from Calabria where they had been staying with other relatives. (A special note to who may be considering traveling by train in Italy, try to keep the trips short as train travel in Italy is slow and uncomfortable!) [A note for those of your from the UK: Train travel in Sicily is highly recommended as you will be gobsmacked by how modern and luxurious the trains are. You can even use the toilets!!! Just hold onto your head as you will NOT BELIEVE how fast they go. Ed.]

At Messina, the Madonna of the Port meets and greets everyone, with her blessing: ‘Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus’ which is a special salutation the Virgin Mary sent back to the city after a delegation of Messiness went to visit her in 42 AD.

Exterior of Tindari church

Tindari

Any mildly religious visitor to the province of Messina will visit the sanctuary at Tindari to see the famous religious icon of the Black Madonna of Tindari, a beautiful statue of the Madonna and child that is said to be miraculous.

Interior of Tindari church

Interior

The church itself is a living, breathing work of art and the historical icon is amazing. If you manage it, try to sneak into the original little church behind the main altar, which housed the statue until the 1960’s, when the new church had to be built around it to house all the visiting religious pilgrims.

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Santo Stefano ceramics

For me, the most spectacular souvenir that one must take home from Sicily are the ceramics. There are many tourist traps around the island who claim to sell authentic pieces but you really can’t go wrong visiting the ceramic factories at Santo Stefano di Camastra. There are endless stores in the town but if you stick to the big warehouses on the other side of the town away from the autostrada exit you will be buying directly from the producers, with wholesale prices and international shipping!

Strawberry granita

Half finished granita

Summer in Sicily must be savored through endless gelato and granita ice drinks. Might I suggest trying a refreshing lemon flavored granita for when you feel dehydrated, strawberry granita topped with fresh cream for a fine dessert and coffee granita and cream for the ultimate iced coffee breakfast?

Iif you are offered brioche sweet bread with it, you must try breaking the brioche into pieces and dipping it into your granita once stirring in the cream with the coffee. It really is a food orgasm! If you are feeling particularly adventurous or hungry for ice cream, try their ‘gelato con brioche’ which is a sweet bread ice cream sandwich packed with at least two different flavors of gelato!

Sicilian beach

Sicilian beaches

Sicilian beaches can be crowded especially near the major cities but you can always seek out more deserted places around the coast. Why not pack a lunch, beach umbrella, a towel and hunt down a secret spot!

Taormina piazza and kiosk

Taormina

Kiosk Taormina

As much as I hate to admit it, Taormina is really worth a visit, even if it is way too touristy these days. It is really pretty, filled with art galleries, antiques and every major Italian fashion house has a store here, so there’s a little for everyone.

On the other hand it is always overcrowded, over-priced and confusing in the summer. I personally would visit in the late afternoon after it cools down and when there are less tourists, perhaps have dinner or see a show if something’s on at the ancient amphitheater. A good idea I think would be to find a place to stay at the nearby seaside town Giardini Naxos which has next to no tourists, great beaches and seafood restaurants and go up the cable car from the train station to visit Taormina when you feel like it.

Randazzo

Randazzo

I’ve always loved the city of Randazzo at the foot of Mount Etna. It is a beautiful town made of suggestive lava stone, filled with historic buildings, castles and museums. On Sundays there is a huge market which I love to visit, with a bit of everything from local cuisine to antiques and fashion.

Details of Randazzo church

Church Randazzo

My favorite gem of Randazzo is the Church of Santa Maria Randazzo. Its exterior is a contrast between intricate white lace and charcoal lava stone, while the inside is filled with art and the most outstanding stained glass windows.

Old lava flow from Etna

Etna3

All tourists who visit the island must go is to Mount Etna! There are many ways of experiencing the volcano and the national park that surrounds it, from taking a tour bus from Catania to see the more touristy spots closer to its peak or take one of many walking tours. You can go up via cable car, riding on four wheel drive buses or on Sicilian donkeys. For the less adventurous types there are many places to explore away from the main peak like old extinguished craters and shopping at higher altitudes for retail therapy.

Old crater, and shops on Etna

 

Etna2

Etna

Sicily is always filled with surprises and accidental discoveries which makes it such a special place to visit. I always enjoy meeting the locals who are the real treasures of Sicilia. Wherever there is a Sicilian, art is never far away.

Artist displaying his art at Randazzo

Artists

Unwilling Expat

Thank you Rochelle for this wonderful post!  You can read more fantastic insider tips on Rochelle’s blog, here.

Please note that all the photos in this post are the property of Rochelle Del Borello and may not be reproduced without her permission.

31 Mafiosi Arrested in my Town Yesterday

They arrested 31 mafiosi in my little town yesterday, and two of them were neighbours of mine. The newspapers are saying that this has practically demolished the Mafia in this town.

Personally I am not so sure. Fighting the Mafia is like trying to eliminate cockroaches. You can stamp on a couple but there are always about 100 more, dashing about the cupboard under the sink waiting for their chance to get promoted to the fruit bowl.

cockroach-costume-36571

But anyway, let’s enjoy this moment of victory. At least I am free of two scary neighbours!

In traditional style, let me list their various crimes:

1. Mafia association (in Italy this is a crime in itself, even if they cannot prove anything specific you may have done)
2. homicide
3. kidnap
4. extortion
5. armed robbery
6. Not paying their share of my street’s water bill hence making me live in a house with no running water for a year
7. Having the most hideous-looking plucked eyebrows (yes, on a MAN) I have ever seen

They were largely captured with the help of two pentiti (“repenters”). The arrests and the investigation have resolved about 50 previously unsolved homicides and revealed the criminal activities of lots of local businesses and local politicians who were previously regarded as pillars of the community.

Of course we all knew who most of the crooks were already.
“Don’t eat in that pizzeria,” people will whisper “they’re Mafiosi there.”
“That local councillor takes massive bribes and sits as work listening to porno phone lines all day,” they mutter.
“His business is a big success in this economic crisis and we all know why,” they will hiss under their breath.

I am really looking forward to cruising around town over the next few weeks to find out which commercial establishments will have “closed” signs displayed.

Since I live literally cheek by jowl with some of these people, I shall not name any names nor post mugshots (real stunners though they are).  Here instead are my two favourite Carabinieri photos again, just to honour the courage of the Italian “Boys in Blue.”

500carabienieri auto-carabinieri-napoli

QUESTIONNAIRE: Could YOU make the grade as a Sicilian Housewife?

Housewives exist all over the world, but Sicilian Housewives are a unique breed. Are YOU are made of The Right Stuff? Answer a dozen questions to find out!

1. What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

A) Have a mug of tea.

B) Have a cup of coffee.

C) Scrub all the floors in case some dust landed on them over night.

housewife 2

2. When your clothes are all dirty , what do you do?

A) Stick them in the washing machine.

B) Go shopping for more clothes.

C) Squirt each particular stain with a different brand of stain remover, fill the washing powder drawer with antimicrobial disinfectant of five different kinds, and pass the time whilst the machine is running by wiping it down and giving it a French polish. Slosh bleach into the washing powder drawer during the second rinse and, once the machine has finished, repeat the whole procedure again before hanging up your laundry, because displaying a stained item on your washing line would be so humiliating you would probably have to emigrate.

3. Where is your washing machine, anyway?

A) In the kitchen

B) In the utility room

C) On the balcony, so all your neighbours can see how clean it is, and feel inferior.

4. What is the usual number of courses you serve your immediate family for dinner each day?

A) One.

B) None. They know the local takeaway numbers by heart.

C) Not less than seven.

housewife 1

Being a hosewife is so stressful! Shall I relax by ironing for 4 hours, or have a bottle of red wine and watch telly all morning instead?

5. How do you usually clean the floors in your house?

A) Whizz the vacuum cleaner round once a week.

B) Rearrange the furniture in a concealing manner whenever a fresh mark stands out more than the others.

C) Refuse all social engagements for the day, dress up in a flowery pinny with frills round the armpits and get out 27 bottles of ammonia, hydrochloric acid and other cleaning products which tend to make the dog hallucinate, then scrub the floor with a set of wire scrubbing brushes in 12 different sizes. Then scrub the walls and ceiling as well, just to be on the safe side.

6. What do you use your oven for?

A) Heating oven chips and fish fingers.

B) Making roast dinners and baking cakes.

C) Storing your spare saucepans. If you actually turn it on, the kitchen gets so hot that the oven knobs melt and you can never turn it off again.

7. Just out of interest, how many kitchens do you actually have?

A) One, of course.

B) One, but only because it came with the house.

C) Two. One indoors and another one outside on the balcony, which you use when you are planning to cook things by burning them and disappearing inside a cloud of acrid black smoke.

housewife 5

This is what it looks like when Sicilian Housewives are frying steak.

8. What time do you start preparing lunch?

A) When your tummy begins rumbling around midday.

B) You don’t have lunch – what are chocolate bars for?

C) At 9a.m. as soon as you have finished sanitizing your house. You are hopping with excitement at the chance to hand-peel 1,000 prawns and just cannot hold off any longer.

9. When someone drops in on you unexpectedly, what do you do?

A) Offer them a cup of tea immediately to make them feel welcome.

B) Offer them tea or coffee after ten minutes since it would be rude not to.

C) Offer them nothing, because they should have had some coffee before they came. And also they should know better than to interrupt you when you are peeling prawns.

10. You consider ironing to be:

A) A tragic waste of your time and talents

B) Boring but probably necessary for a few items

C) Relaxing. So relaxing that pressing everything (including socks and underpants) is the highlight of your day.

housewife 3

I know the cupboards look a bit sparse but there’s twelve saucepans and a fondue set in my oven. And I’m wearing ironed knickers.

11. Some friends with a young child come to dinner. The child finishes a colossal plate of pasta. Do you…?

A) Quickly hide the vegetables, and urge them to go for a jog round the block?

B) Ask the parents if their kid has been tested for tapeworms?

C) Cry “Well done! Good boy!” and immediately serve him another two platefuls, before the pudding courses commence?

12. Select your method of cleaning the toilet:

A) Squirt bleach into it at arm’s length, slam the lid and flush.

B) As above, but swizzle the loo brush round a couple of times before flushing.

C) Pour peculiar blue stuff into the toilet and leave it with the bog brush sticking out for about an hour. Then flush the loo and bend right over it, deeply inhaling droplets containing trillions of E-coli, streptococcus and staphylococcus while you scrub your S-bend. Then tell everyone you have no idea why you keep getting these atrocious sore throats since you always keep your house so very clean.

ANSWERS

Mostly A: You are a normal, generic housewife and far too laid back ever to be a Sicilian Housewife.

Mostly B: You’re not really a housewife, are you?

Mostly C: Congratulations! You are the perfect Sicilian Housewife!  If you ever fancy a holiday in Sicily you can stay at my place and sort it out, as I am afraid things tend to be a bit slack round here.