Saturday, February 24, 2018

From ‘Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons. Travels in Sicily’ by Matthew Fort

On the far distant horizon, a single cloud rested, like one of those fluffy things women used to use to powder their faces.

After visiting the island in 1786, Goethe wrote: ‘To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.’ ‘Sicily is the schoolroom model of Italy for beginners, with every Italian quality and defect magnified, exaggerated and brightly coloured,’ wrote Luigi Barzini in The Italians.

Cooking and eating are central to Sicilian life. The Sicilians I had met were passionate about what they ate to a degree that made even Italians on the mainland seem positively diffident.

……….Caffetteria Grand’Italia, a handsome place run with the cheery professionalism that seems commonplace in Italy.

….to read the Odyssey, much of which, according to most authorities, is set in or around Sicily.

In theory, all Italians had been required by law to wear protective headgear for some years, but Sicilians at any rate did not seem to have the nice regard for the letter of the law that is the hallmark of the British. Helmet-wearers were in a distinct minority.

………….Salemi. It was quiet and a bit battered now, but it had known days of glory. It had been one of the few Sicilian towns that offered shelter to the Moors and Jews after Ferdinand of Spain banished them from Spanish territories in 1492; and in 1860, early in his campaign to liberate the island from the Bourbons of Naples, Garibaldi had declared it the capital of Sicily. This heady period lasted three days……….Salemi seemd to reflect a thread of nonconformity running through Sicilian culture. Occupied, dominated, exploited, coerced, superficially compliant they may have been; biddable Sicilians were not.

The Mafia bosses of Corleone didn’t believe in external displays of wealth. They kept their luxury well hidden, ‘rather like Arabs,’ said the lawyer.

Cannoli are the classic Sicilian pastry – ‘Su biniditti spisi li dinari, ogni canola e scettru di re (Blessed is the money spent to buy them, every cannolo’s the scepter of the king)’

While pork plays an important part in the Sicilian diet, it didn’t strike me as having been raised to the specialized heights it has on mainland Italy……the range and variety of Sicilian pork products were limited by comparison.

……..Sicily, which had been thickly forested a thousand years ago. The trees had been gradually stripped away by the island’s succession of invaders and conquerors to provide the raw materials for their navies.

Vinegar is an ancient condiment. That’s not surprising. Wine has been going off since man first started making it. It happens when certain naturally occurring bacteria drop in uninvited, and set off a chain reaction that turns alcohol into acetic acid. Vinegar’s gifts as a preservative and flavouring agent have made it a store-cupboard essential since before records began. It seems that the Babylonians were making vinegar from date wine, raisin wine and beer in 4000 BC. ………You can make vinegar out of practically any liquid as long as it contains alcohol, because you need the sugars in alcohol to turn to acid. Vinegars vary in acidity from 7 per cent at the high end, which is pretty enamel-stripping, to as low as 2 per cent in black Chinese vinegar.

The eggplant…….has made a long journey from the shores of India, where small versions grew wild, via the eastern Mediterranean and Turkey. Neither the Romans nor the Greeks seem to have known anything about it, and it would appear that it is yet another vegetable that the Sicilians owe to their cultured Moorish occupiers. It had been cultivated since the fifteenth century.

He was here to celebrate the first communion ….There must have been close on a hundred people: parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, friends, friends of friends, and me. The dress code ranged from considerable formality to careful informality, from dark suit to carefully pressed jeans and fabulously decorative shirt, from matronly matching skirt and top to figure-caressing white trousers and dashing blouse. If dress expressed different views of self and life, there was nevertheless a deep sense of harmony, of community, about the gathering. There was none of the social awkwardness or painful exploration of social niceties you get in Britain. People talked to one another with absolute familiarity and confidence. It was easy to settle into it.
……..The guests eased themselves into dinner in stages. There was a lot of kissing, embracing, rapid exchanges, wandering round, coming, going, coming back again, admiring a baby, kissing a baby, chucking a baby under the chin, talking all the time. And then, quite suddenly, like a flock of starlings coming in to roost, they settled and began to eat, steadily, rhythmically, talking, talking, talking. According to Leonard Sciascia, the great Roman orator Cicero said that ‘rhetoric had its origins in Sicily.’ It was easy to believe. God knows, Italians are fluent conversationalists but these Sicilians made them seem positively Trappist. The level of conversation was pitched at allegro vivace, and it remained that way for the next four hours, fueled by not inconsiderable amounts of food.
………… ‘Mangia come un Siciliano – eat like a Sicilian’……. Around me the other guests ate with the same exuberance with which they talked, the women on equal terms with the men, quite as opinionated, formidable and expressive; qualities shared, it seemed, by all generations.
………The surfeit of food seemed to impair my hearing. The evening was taking on a certain dreamlike quality. I had a heady sense of well-being, of excitement, of pleasure in companionship for the first time for several days.

Sicilians are just as unimpressed by other villages’ or regions’ produce as other Italians; but they are more subtle in the way they express their discrimination.

The two grannies and Signora Siracusa went about their business in the kitchen with that unfussy, unhurried, confident manner that comes from long, long practice. This was the way they had cooked every day of their lives. They were intelligent, independent-minded women, but they stayed at home, ran their households and cooked the meals for their families. That was how life was. But it is difficult to see this rigorous, prescriptive pattern lasting much longer. Even in Sicily women are beginning to assume the right to go out to work, to escape for a time from the tyranny of domestic servitude, or from some of it anyway.

The family drank very frugally, like all Sicilians I had come across, and only when food was on the table.

The countryside beyond Villalba was soundless under the brilliant sun. this was the region of wheat, the grano duro or frumento duro, hard durum wheat for which Sicily had been famous since the Greeks. Cato the Wise had called the island ‘the nation’s store house, the nurse at whose breast the Roman people is fed’…..

Why is it that you can spend 20 minutes and £75 in a supermarket and come out feeling depressed? Why is it you can spend twice that in a market, feel your arms being pulled out of their sockets and your fingers cut from your hands by the weight of the bags you are carrying, and still come out sunny and exalted? Well, I do anyway.

Arab culture runs through Sicilian life like so many threads: through the names……..through the language, through the relationship to time, and through the food. So many of the fruits and vegetables on display in the market owed their place to the influence of agricultural techniques introduced by the Moors – oranges, lemons, aubergines, rice. The influence extended beyond growing to the cooking as well. Spices and their uses, sorbets and granitas, sweet pastries, spit roasting, deep frying and stuffing vegetables, are all markers of the Arab kitchen.

Leonard Sciascia had said that decadence wasn’t a temporary state in Sicily, but a permanent one. It was as if repeated invasions, occupation and exploitation had left Sicilians with a pessimism so deep and so ineradicable that it had turned a kind of defining nihilism into a vital energy.

No ceremony in Italy is complete without a fairly lengthy demonstration of oratory. ..

All Sicilians had an astonishing awareness of their own past, it seemed.

Sicilians …….spoke more and told you less than any other people I had ever come across. Actually, it wasn’t so much that they told you less but that what they told you was set out with such obliquity, hidden references and layered significance it might as well have been in code.

….there is pasta’s relationship with its sauce, closer than that of any other food I can think of. Mild though its flavor is, it always retains its character and integrity in spite of the sauce. Or should do. Too often, non-Italians seem to think that the pasta is simply the vehicle for the sauce, and drown the unfortunate tagliatelle or fusilli – or whichever of the thousands of shapes have been chosen to carry the burden – in an ocean of highly flavoured gunge.
But the flavor, and so the quality, of the pasta is a critical part of the dish. You should be able to taste the sauce and the pasta. Consequently, for Italians there is a precise relationship between the two, with this sauce good for this pasta but not for that, and this pasta a perfect partner for that sauce but not for this. It has something to do with the shape and tensile surface, which affects the way different pastas hold their sauces. There are even mathematical formulae to express these things………
To other cooking cultures the relationship between all other foods and their accompanying sauces is unequal. Either ingredient or sauce is in the ascendancy. Rice, corn, potatoes all absorb sauces, and so their flavours become subordinate to them. Meat, fish, vegetables are elevated by sauces (or beaten over the head by them). Sauces, according to la cuisine francaise, enhance the food they accompany. Indeed, sauces are the point of French cookery. And what would English cookery be without its gravies, chutneys, mustards and jellies? Only pasta lives on equal terms with its sauce. The sauce and the pasta are coevals, each essential to the other in an equal partnerships.

…..Sicily….Nor did the island conform to an idealized image of the Mediterranean. It was far wilder, harsher, less personal. It was ravishing, nonetheless. It had the brilliance of light and the magnificence of space, the enchantment of paradox and unpredictability.

Until the agricultural reforms of the 1940s and 1950s, most farmworkers had been day labourers, forbidden to own land even in the unlikely event that they could afford to buy it, who sold their labour in return for barely subsistence pay or food. Before mechanization, all the work on the land had been done by hand; daily, back-breaking labour in a heartless landscape under a roasting sun. most fields were a long way from the nearest town or masseria, agglomeration of farm buildings………Social isolation, economic poverty, political impotence, domination and exploitation by Church and landlord – that was the life of so many Sicilians.
Poverty of every kind encloses the human spirit, turns it inwards. All choices are restricted to the point where there are none. Nothing is left but personal pessimism or fatalism, and acceptance of the will of others. But such is the energy of the human spirit, it seemed to me, that these people without hope, without choices, had found self-expression through personal and family loyalties, through criminality and subtle, almost abstract subversions of the conventional world. I was beginning to think that food was also among these visible signs of collective resistance.
Anyone expecting the precise harmonies of Italian cooking with its emphasis on the individual flavours of carefully selected ingredients defined by local loyalties, is in for something of a shock when they come across Sicilian food for the first time. Sicilian cooking contrasts, discord, counterpoint, counterpunching, variance and the absence of delicacy. The dishes work through contrast – sweet/sour, hard/soft, sweet/salty, hot/cold.

Above all, history was in the people, both in their kindness and their opacity, in their generosity and obliqueness. If you have been occupied, dominated and exploited for 3000 years, I suppose you learn to suppress direct expression of your natural instincts, open discourse and individual behavior. It teaches you to be watchful, wary, to be careful, to have regard. It teaches you to listen, to be aware of the mental, emotional and social processes of your occupiers. And it teaches you how to survive them – more, how to coax and cajole, how to insinuate, how to achieve your ends by other means, without upsetting your lords and masters along the way. It breeds a subtlety of intellect and a suppleness of manner, a judicious realism, a clarity of judgement as to why and how people do things. Sicilians have few illusions.
…………at the end of ……my journey, what I had not foreseen or been prepared for, was the level of kindness, of generous daily decency, of thoughtfulness, of simple grace. Whatever their suspicions of the wider world, and the elliptical way in which they related to it, when dealing with an individual, with a stranger, Sicilians were unfailing in their warm-hearted kindness.

This is all basalt, volcanic pumice, the deconstructed magma that has gushed out of Mount Etna for millennia, and flowed down its flanks and cooled. It takes two or three hundred years for the magma to be transformed into one of the most productive mediums known to agriculture.

The food, the warmth of the people, the hypnotic beauty of the landscape made up a piece of theatre as dramatic as any opera……….

………..the passion for deep-frying is another culinary debt Sicilians owe the Arabs. It’s a perfect cooking method for sealing in the natural sweetness and distinct flavours of fish that have been twinkling in the sea a few hours before.

His mouth moved with that enviably intelligent eloquence that all Sicilians seemed to possess. His hands curved through the air, describing expressive arabesques, more restrained, more elegant than the operatic energy of southern Italy. In Sicily, gestures seemed to be employed to amplify a conversation rather than act it out.

Horses had once been a regular part of the rural diet in the valleys, where they pulled ploughs and carried loads, just as donkeys had done in the mountains. In those days no one would have thought of turning their noses up at a potential source of protein, so when a horse died from natural causes or had to be destroyed or was found to be superfluous, it was eaten as a matter of course…… wasn’t that long ago that horses were the main form of transport in Catania……..the diet of poverty had unexpected benefits. Like pulses and vegetables, horse meat was highly nutritious, low in fat, untainted by growth promoters and easy to digest; the perfect modern food you might have thought.

…………with the kindness and thoughtfulness that I was beginning to see as an integral part of Sicilian manners…….

Unlike on the mainland, honey has an important part to play in Sicilian cooking. Its used to sweeten cannoli, nougat and various biscotti, as well as providing the dolce in several agrodolce recipes.

………..there’s a strict etiquette governing honey assessment in Sicily, and elsewhere for all I know. First of all, we used plastic spoons because metal ones interact with the honey and alter the flavor. Secondly, we didn’t just dig the spoon in and whip it up to our mouths…….we had to smear the honey vigorously round the inside of the plastic pot, the better to release the perfumes and flavours. Then it was sniff and savour, and only after that were we allowed to taste. We refreshed our mouths between each honey: water if the honey was quite light and multifloral; a slice of apple and water again for the heavier, single varietal honeys.

I didn’t hang around in Siracusa. Oh yes, it been the greatest and richest Greek city ……… reams had been devoted to the glories of Siracusa, to its Greek theatre and Roman amphitheatre, Federick Hohenstauffen’s Castello Maniace, the cathedral built over the Great Temple of Athene, the Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco, and so on – the usual bewildering array of historical glories.

Wild almond trees have been in the Mediterranean since time immemorial, and there is evidence of domesticated versions as early as the Bronze Age. ……….it was the Arabs who started exploiting their qualities ground up in pastries and puddings.

….Noto, World Heritage Site and perennial favourite among British lovers of high baroque architecture. Its true that there is something fantastical about the frothy mass of buildings in golden-red stone, but for me there was a touch too much of the theme park about the place. Noto was too perfect, too tidy, and seemed to know it. It could do with a bit of ruffling up, I thought.

………sorbetti, or sorbets, the corruption of the Arabic sherbet, those icy, crystalline essences of orange or lemon or coffee that cleaned away the heat and dust of the day and made my teeth and temples ache.

……Modica Bassa …….baroque is not my favourite style of architecture, but here it was elegant, confident and handsome……..the way the houses clambered up the sides of the tremendous gorge, almost as if they were stacked on top of one another like card houses: uneven tier upon uneven tier……strung along a series of tiny winding streets and steep flights of steps……. Modica had its individual splendours too…….the Chiesa di San Giorgio reached via a monumental flight of 250 steps and regarded by one and all as being among the most remarkable baroque churches in Italy. I found it ……not as pleasing as the duomo in Caltasinetta….. Modica…..was a decent place full of decent people who enjoyed living there……. Modica had been part of the fiefdom of a Spanish family, the Cabreras, who had been responsible for rebuilding it after the 1693 earthquake.

……Selinunte…….the great temple to Hera has remained my favourite Greek temple, almost my favourite monument of any kind………high on a headland, sideways on to the sea, monolithic, solitary, sublime both as an artefact and as a ruin; horizontal order of steps leading up to expansive base, vertical mass of the great, honeyed cream pillars, grasses and creeping plants growing in the cracks between the massive blocks……..around it the tumbled remains of other temples, the low, flat land running down to the sea, tufted with scrub, bushes, pines and the wild celery, that gave the place its name – selinon means wild celery in ancient Greek………It represented another Sicily, long gone, when the island was the centre of the civilized world. Then it was part of Magna Graecia – the richest part of it, too, hub of Mediterranean trade, prosperous if not independent. But then Sicily has never been independent in three thousand years……it has meant it has never been possible for a civil society to evolve naturally as it has in other places………

Surrounded by such physical beauty, it was easy to forget the grim realities about which Giovanni Verga and Carlo Levi wrote with such dispassionate humanity. Whatever the inequalities and injustices of contemporary Sicilian life, and whatever the consequences of unemployment, which ran currently at about 19 per cent, the fact was that things were easier and better than they had been within living memory. It seemed almost impossible to believe that until 50 years ago ferocious poverty combined with complete social disenfranchisement…….. Most fields were a long way from the nearest villages…….it was not uncommon for the men who labored on them to have to walk several kilometres to and from work. People lived with social isolation and ceaseless exploitation. Above them were ranged layers of authority: brutal, backward estate managers, absentee landlords; the Mafia; the Church; the government. They couldn’t own land by law. They had large families to support. And then mechanization arrived, and their labour was no longer needed. There was little industry in the towns to employ them and so they left in their millions.

……Sicilians had seemed to me to be relatively law-abiding drivers. It was true that they drove in a highly competitive manner……..they stopped at traffic lights – most of the time.

……..Sicily ……Its capital, Palermo …….At one time the area around the city, the Conca d’Oro, the Golden Shell, was the most valuable agricultural land in Europe, due to the lemons that grew there in abundance, and which were exported all over the world………..Its easy to wring one’s hands at the despoliation of what had once generally been considered the most seductive of European cities: ‘It is an ancient and elegant city, magnificent and gracious, and seductive to look upon,’ wrote the Arab scholar and traveler Ibn Jubayr in the twelfth century, a view that persisted pretty much up until 60 years ago.

At the table just across from mine was a couple…… They were both wearing sensible shirts, sensible trousers and sensible sandals. They spoke to each other in short, sharp bursts with long periods of silence between each exchange, scarcely engaging the other’s eyes as they talked. British.
Next to the Brits were a family of six, covering three generations. They hardly stopped talking at all, not for a single second. They didn’t have the vivid, soaring, tumbling discourse of Neapolitans, but there was an irresistible flow about their conversation. It coursed, glided, eddied, burbled, ran onwards, not dramatic or demonstrative, but supple, constant, sociable Palermitani.
………two couples, jolly but eating carefully. Each of them seemed to be on a special diet: no meat for this, no fish for that, another not really approving of tomatoes, and none of them drinking wine, just Coke. Americans.

Sicilians use their horns to let other drivers know they are about, and occasionally to express exasperation but never anger. I had yet to see an angry driver.

The children came and ate and went to play outside, and came back from time to time to refuel, while their parents talked and talked. If they ate a lot and steadily, they talked twice, ten times as much, with gestures as fluid and expressive as their voices. There was hardly a single moment in the whole afternoon and evening when there weren’t one, two, three voices intertwined in conversation ……….There were no divisions, no hierarchies, when it came to conversation. All speakers held the floor, were shouted down, questioned, listened to with equal weight. When it came to the food however, there was a distinct, traditional division of labour. Men minded the fire. Women minded the cooking and the washing-up.

So the late afternoon air was filled with the luxuriant, nutty, brown butter smell of meat over flame, and I was wondering where I was going to put one more mouthful, and at six o’clock we started eating again. Or perhaps we had never really stopped.

I had not come across a lot of chilli in Sicily, which was odd considering how ubiquitous it was in Calabria just across the Tyrrhenian Sea. Like tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, corn, tobacco and much else besides, chillies had arrived from Central America when that part of the world, like Sicily and southern Italy, was part of the Spanish Empire. But while the Italians had taken to them with immense gusto and ingenuity, Sicilians used them sparingly. It may have been that the diet of rural Sicily was just slightly more varied than that of Calabria and Campania, where the vegetable/spice was used to liven up a whole raft of dishes that would otherwise be terribly boring; other spices were far beyond the means of poor labourers. Peppers grew easily wherever there was enough sunshine and water, and so universal did their use become that they were known as la droga dei poveri, the drug of the poor.

I stopped at Tindari or Tyndarus, depending on your classical allegiances, to look at the Greek-Roman temple and theatre……..Tindari was set on a headland high above the shore, with umbrella pines, olive trees…….quite small and personal compared to the Olympian splendours of Selinunte……..the fine theatre must have the most beautiful view of any in the world, out over the true-blue sea ……towards the island of Salina.

Sicilians and Italians have a morbid fear of death, and see solitude and silence as being synonymous with it. Perhaps the constant roar of television reminds them that they are still alive …….

‘Messina leans against the mountains,’ that energetic traveler, Ibn Jubayr, had written in the twelfth century, and so it did. The Monti Peloritani rose like a wall behind it. The sea lapped to the front…… The entire old city was destroyed in a few seconds in 1908, when a hundred thousand people died in an earthquake and the tsunami that followed it. Only one building survived: the church of Santissima Annunziata dei Catalini, which had been built on the ruins of a Greek temple to Poseidon, god of earthquakes and the oceans.

It was like listening to scientists discussing the finer details of some theory of quantum mechanics. There was a seriousness about the subject, an acceptance that other people’s views were worth listening to (although they might be wrong), a feeling that the quality of cake and the flavor of prickly pears were matters for serious discussion by intelligent people.

……..said Leopoldo. ‘Sicilians are wonderful people, generous, decent, kind and hardworking, but they aren’t pessimists. If you’re a pessimist, you feel all things are going to turn out badly but you might take some kind of action as a result. Sicilians are worse than pessimists. They’re fatalists and fatalism is passive. They accept whatever happens to them. There isn’t the energy or will to change things’
Perhaps Sicilians needed to escape from Sicily in order to succeed, Federica had said over lunch: ‘We Italians have very supple minds. Italians have always had to adapt to very difficult circumstances. Our governments have been such failures. ………So we have had to look after ourselves. That’s why Italians have done so well when they have emigrated, because they have adjusted so rapidly to the circumstances they found. They worked out what they needed to do to survive because that’s what they had to do back home in Italy. The minds of Sicilians are an exaggerated version of Italian minds.’
……..It seemed almost absurd that passive fatalism could produce such a vigorous and dynamic food culture. Perhaps Sicilians expressed themselves through their food in a way that they couldn’t through other forms of communication. It was a kind of coded lingua franca, the one radical, personal act against a world that bore down on you in every other respect.

Irrera on the Piazza Cairoli was the finest café I had come across in Sicily. In fact, only Scatturchio in Naples could equal it as a source of pastry pleasures in my experience. Its ice creams came closest to the intensity of flavor and delicacy of texture of my ideal, but it was the classic Messinese breakfast of granita di caffe con brioche that held me in its thrall.

…….the lines Enzo, the son of Frederic II, the Swabian king of Sicily, had written………
There’s a time to mount; to humble thee
A time; a time to talk; and to hold your peace;
A time to labour; and a time to cease;
A time to take thy measures patiently;
A time to watch what Time’s next step may be.

No matter where I travelled, I had met with kindness and generosity. I tried to recall a single example of meanness, a moment of fear, a disagreeable incident, and I couldn’t.

Sicily………. is an encyclopaedia of paradoxes presented to the outside world with an enigmatic theatricality. There was, there is, generosity and brutality, grace and subservience, decency and criminality; acute awareness of history, tolerance of vandalism of cities and landscapes; sense of exploitation, the creation of one of the world’s most exploitative corporations; subtlety and suppleness of mind, rigidity of social structures; Christian mores, Islamic manners; individual vitality, collective inertia; individual courage, collective cowardice……. Conventional, mainstream politics, which we in northern Europe assume to be the fundamental guiding force to social stability and development, plays an even smaller part in Sicilian life than it does on mainland Italy; and heaven knows, that’s small enough.

Leonardo Sciascia observed, ‘the island has always been what it is, and centuries of historic stratification have not changed it much or for the better.’ Sicily was the way it had always been.
So had Goethe and Barzini been right in their views that Sicily was Italy writ large, or more crudely? Or was the island ‘la fine dell’Europa’ as a young woman in a pasticceria in Palermo had said with an elegant spread of her hands.

Yes, I found much of Italy in Sicily – the suppleness of mind, regional sense of identity and loyalty, family loyalties, deep pragmatism, despair for conventional politics and passion for food. And yes, the island is the point where Europe and Africa meet; the Moorish sense of hospitality, manners and time are as much a part of the texture of Sicilian life as the foods and cooking methods they introduced. ………In the end there are simply too many mysteries, contradictions and paradoxes about it………..Perhaps it is a place that needs to be felt, not explained.
Perhaps nor surprisingly, the Sicilians I met had a profound sense of their history. In terms of everyday life and expectation it weighed down on them, encouraging a kind of spiritual inertia from which, it seemed to me, they escaped by using food as the medium……as a solace. If ever there was a country whose history was written in its food, it was Sicily, in the methods of cooking, ingredients, finished dishes, even in agricultural techniques. This gave an extraordinary richness to the texture as well as the range of Sicilian food………….Some dishes owe their origin to the Greeks, some to the Moors, to Rome and to Byzantium. You could spy out the Spanish love of embellishment and theatrical gesture and the French insistence on structure and technique, and even trace shades of England and Germany……their food had many bewildering, intriguing levels, was full of sharp contrasts……It had layers of flavours, effect was piled on effect. It had invention that gave life to the most boring of foodstuffs………In absolute contrast to the fatalism and passivity Sicilians themselves proclaimed, it was brilliant, bold, even brash on occasion, the confident statement of people who knew exactly who they were, and proud of it.
True, superficially there wasn’t quite the same sense of regional variety you find in Italy, where every region, valley, town and village has its own range of dishes…….based on local produce that follows the seasons.

Sicilian cooking had always moved with the times, drawing inspiration from whoever happened to be in control, and it continued to do so.

Now the homogenizing forces of a global culture were beginning to stalk the towns, and the economics of global food production were having an impact on the land. Sicilians had been escaping from the harsh realities of a harsh land for centuries. As Concetta had said, who wants to live that life any more? Now there were fewer and fewer reasons to stay on the land. And as the world of the contadini eroded, with it would go much of Sicily’s treasure house of vegetables, fruits, cheeses, ingredients, and the knowledge of how to grow or produce them.

As Nanni Cucchiara had said, ‘All the foreigners who come to govern Sicily end up becoming Sicilian – Greeks, Romans, Arabs, French, Germans, Spanish. Even you English. There is something about this island.’

From ‘Moments of Truth. My life is Acting’ by Roshan Taneja

koi to sood chukaye
koi to zimma ley
us inquilab ka
jo aaj tak udhaarsa hai
-          Kaifi Azmi

….a remark about Chekhov by Maxim Gorky. ‘In Chekhov’s presence everyone felt in himself a desire to be simpler, more truthful, more one’s self.’

Danny [Denzongpa] also is an accomplished singer: he has sung with Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle – three stalwarts of Hindi film music. He has recorded Nepali songs and has sung for Nepali movies too. His two most famous songs recorded in the 70s are still popular: ‘hiso chiso Hawana’ (In the cool air) and ‘Manko kura bandhi mara kha…’ (do not keep the words of the heart tied).

Vijendra Ghatge…………. A descendant of the Holkar royal family of Indore, he abhorred any kind of physical exertion.

What I found personally more satisfying was working with Naseer and Shabana in a film called Albert Pinto Ko Ghussa Kyon Aata Hai? In it I played Shabana’s father, a rum guzzling Catholic who talks about migrating to Canada. It was a cameo, but I got noticed for it.

……..Nargis [film], with Rehman as the male lead………I’ve found that among all the heavy-handed acting around him, Rehman stood his ground. It’s a marvel that in the melodramatic madness of the industry he has never been tempted to go the melodramatic way. I regard him highly, as he was a method actor without knowing anything of the method at all. He made use of himself the method way, and this has always amazed me about him. He was an actor with a heart.

During the late 1930s and 1940s, the major development in the art of screen acting was in the rise of the ‘screen personality’. Actors like Paul Muni, Charles Laughton, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Betty Davis, Clark Gable etc. were more effective as ‘personalities’ than as actors. They seldom varied their performances from role to role, and embellished every role with personal mannerisms and gestures. These mannerisms – like Gable’s smile, Tracy’s bowed head, and Davis’ hands – endeared them to audiences and became the trade-mark of their performances regardless of the roles they played. In our films, too, “personalities” have prevailed, from Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Meena Kumari, to Rajesh Khanna. Even today, most actors are ‘personality’ actors. Among the older lot, Nargis was the only one who tried to vary her performances in different roles.