Gallery

The wildflowers of the Sicilian Spring

‘Where are you going on holiday?’ asked an Italian friend. ‘Sicily at the end of April and the beginning of May’.  ‘Ah, just the right time for the wild flowers’.

He was right.  Before the arrival of the suffocating, ‘tyrannous‘ summer heat, Spring in Sicily is when ‘the climate’s delicate; the air most sweet‘. The local ancient Greeks believed that Persephone, queen of the underworld, emerged in Spring from her Sicilian captivity at the hands of Hades, bringing new life and the renewal of nature.

At this time of year, Sicily is carpeted from end to end with beautiful swathes of wild flowers that line the roads and country lanes, cling to the walls of Greek ruins or deserted farm houses, spread across untended fields or sit underneath groves of olive, almond and orange trees.  When driving you glimpse the blue of borage and echium, the pink of valerian, the blood red of roadside poppies, the yellow of broom, corn marigold, mimosa and wild fennel, the lilac of wisteria, the creamy white of snapdragons and other flashes of orange, purple, scarlet and magenta. Everywhere the air is heady with the ‘erotic waft‘ of citrus blossom, referred to as zagara, an word passed from Arabic into Sicilian and then Italian.

The Sicilians say ‘Aprili fa li ciuri e le biddizzi, l’onuri l’havi lu misi di maju‘ — April makes the flowers and the beauty, but May gets all the credit — making this a perfect time to visit this enchanting island as shown below.

Video

How they (really) drive in Naples

A girl puts a camera in her grandfather’s car to see what he says as he drives through Naples.  You don’t need to speak Neapolitan to get the gist as he speeds along, sometimes even with a hand on the wheel.  

The video’s payoff is that we spend on average 7 years of our lives stuck in traffic, six of them angry, and we should all go by bike.  Fortunately there is the new Bike Sharing Napoli now to get you out of the car and get around the city in a calmer manner.

As long as you don’t meet Gramps coming the other way.

Pursuing Happiness in Naples

You may have missed, as I did, that yesterday, March 20th, was International Day of Happiness, established in 2012 by the United Nations to recognise that the ‘pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal’.

To mark the 3rd anniversary of the Day, Voices from the Blogs, an Italian project that studies online tastes, preferences and opinions, published its report (in Italian) of the state of Happiness in Italy, based on an analysis of millions of tweets during 2014.  There was bad news for Naples: it languished in second from bottom spot in the list of happiest cities in the country and was the most unhappy place in Campagna.  August 8th was identified as the unhappiest day last year.   Overall, Italy grew slightly unhappier during 2014 in comparison with 2013.

How can this be?  As Pope Francis stated today as part of his visit to the city during his open air Mass to the faithful in the benighted area of Scampia, Naples faces serious problems.  High unemployment, exploitation, crime, drugs, discrimination, and especially corruption which he said ‘stinks’, using the Neapolitan slang term spuzza, all undoubtedly impact on happiness.  But the Pope also said that Naples remains a place of hope; ‘although life in Naples was never easy, it was never sad’.

On a beautiful Spring day, in Piazza del Plebiscito and in front of 25,000 people, he urged Neapolitans to reject the quick, criminal path to happiness and work together for ‘redemption’:

Dear Neapolitans, be open to hope and do not allow hope to be stolen from you! Do not give in to the lure of easy money or dishonest income. This may be bread for today but hunger for tomorrow. It cannot bring you anything. React firmly to organizations that exploit and corrupt the young, the poor and the weak, with the cynical drug trade and other crimes. Do not allow hope to be stolen from you. Do not allow your youth to be exploited by these people. May corruption and delinquency not disfigure the face of this beautiful city! Moreover, may it not disfigure the joy of your Neapolitan hearts.

But, despite these challenges, perhaps Voices from the Blogs got it wrong in their study of tweets. Maybe there is another way of measuring happiness, as captured by the Naples wrier Erri De Luca who said, in response to a previous index placing the city low down in quality of life, that Naples was too exaggerated, too off the scale to be able to measure:

I consider quality of life to be the ability to eat simple exquisite things anywhere and at low prices, which elsewhere would be unreal. I consider quality of life to be the sea which wanders into the room of the gulf between Capri, Sorrento and Posillipo. I consider quality of life to be the wind that sweeps the gulf from the four cardinal points and makes the light air.  I consider quality of life to be the excellence of Neapolitan coffee and pizza.  I consider quality of life to be courtesy and a smile when entering a shop, the music on the street. I consider quality of life the history that emerges everywhere.

Certainly the young people in the video are Happy from Naples.  I am. Are you?

Happy St Joseph’s Day!

In Italy, March 19th is the Festa di San Giuseppe, or Feast of St Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary and a ‘fatherly symbol of love, compassion, kindness, generosity and acceptance’.  So today is also Festa del Papa, Italian Fathers’ Day.  Many southern Italians are named in his honour.

In Naples, to celebrate the day, the cafes are absolutely crammed with trays full of thousands of Zeppole, a delicious fried or baked doughnut topped with sweet cream and garnished with an amarena cherry.  They are a very southern Italian thing; Don Pasquale Pintauro, a pastry chef from Naples, created Zeppole di San Giuseppe from his road side bakery in 1840.

Over the last week, I’ve tried both fried and baked Zeppole and prefer the latter; they are lighter than their fried cousins yet still pack a sugary punch and go perfectly with a morning coffee.  A great authentic recipe is here.

Auguri!

Io Amo Napoli!

Marcello Mastroianni Marriage Italian style (1964)- A greying, sick man sits on a beach on a southern shore and speaks warmly about Naples.  Marcello Mastroianni, the incomparable and very cool post-war Italian actor, notes that ‘the strength of the Neapolitan is ..in their character, in their nature, in their traditions’.  He continues:

‘Io amo Napoli. E’ la città meno americanizzata d’Italia anzi d’Europa. Una volta a Roma,mentre passeggiavo,qualcuno alle mie spalle disse:”Ammazza le rughe,come s’è invecchiato!”, invece a Napoli uno mi si avvicinò così:” Marcellì, ce simmo fatt’ viecchiarell,eh? ‘o volite nu cafe?” :che garbo,che gentilezza d’animo…Napoli va presa come una città unica,molto intelligente: Napoli è troppo speciale quindi non la possono capire tutti’.

Translation and video below. Continue reading

Viva, Viva La Befana!

befane

Le Befane

Last night, as we packed away our Christmas decorations for another year, Italian children hung their stockings and awaited the arrival of a special visitor, Befana, a kindly and very ugly witch.  In Italian folklore, Befana drops in at Italian homes on the eve of Epiphany and leaves presents: nice gifts for good children and coal (now black sweets) for naughty ones.

A popular rhyme goes:

La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
con le toppe alla sottana
Viva, viva la Befana!

There was a nice vibe in Naples today.  Family groups promenaded together along Lungomare in the glorious sunshine, and street entertainers amused the children (both the good and the not so good).  A fitting last holiday before the year’s work starts tomorrow as ‘L’Epifania tutte le feste si porta via‘.