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The Old Pianoforte

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Last week I was invited to play at an event in a school for the Elimination of Violence against Women Day. Students aged 11 to 14 performed pieces of music and short dramatic pieces highlighting the issue which moved from examples of violence towards a focus on what women can achieve when given the space and freedom to follow their dreams. At the centre of this debate was a beautiful old pianoforte, donated to the school by the family of the owner, Ernestina Giordana. She was born in 1895 in Castroreale, but was orphaned in her teenage years and was raised by two aunts. They saw her musical potential and sent her to the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome to complete her studies. After graduation she came down with the virulent Spanish Influenza and returned to Sicily to recover, where she met her husband. They had ten children but Ernesta continued to give piano lessons in the town and all those who studied piano at the time passed through Ernestina’s hands...  Everyone comment

Should I stay or should I go?

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Out and about on the daily adventures of my life, the two questions I get asked the most these days are: What brought you to Sicily? (Well, we all know the answer to that) followed swiftly by, So do you think you'll stay? Of course, the answer depends on whom I'm talking to, and always brings What's Best for My Kids into it. Sicilians unanimously agree that my kids would have better opportunities and a better future if we go back to Ireland. They think my family would rally round and be on hand at all times, unaware that in Ireland we are raised to be independent by 18 and get on with our lives elsewhere (unlike Sicily where it is common to live with parents well into your thirties). We have just come back from a month in Ireland and my children are missing their cousins, reliving the glorious summer memories, sunset by pierjump by Whipped 99 ice cream. They know school would be better and would even don a uniform if it meant jumping on the trampoline and playing hide and s

Imbolc

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Imbolc is the Celtic festival of light which celebrates the coming to an end of dark winter months and the beginning of Spring. It coincides with La FĂ©ile Bride, St. Brigid's Day, a Christian festival based on the ancient pagan celebration of the goddess Brigid, just as Candlemas, or Candelora in Italian, is based con Imbolc. Brigid is the Celtic goddess of poetry and wisdom, fertility, protection and crafts and is often associated with the Roman goddess Minerva.  It was heartening to stumble across the Irish president's message from Uachtaran citing Brigid as an inspiration for Irish women: she had to summon up extraordinary courage in order to ensure her voice was heard in a male-dominated world. In her dedication to the realm of education she had to transcend obstacles in order to survive and put a "new version of things in place". Of course, any Irish person will know that there is good reason for the invocation of Brigid at this juncture in Irish governmen

Volcanic energy

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Etna as seen from Capo Milazzo   There are many reasons to want to leave Sicily. They grow in number when you have kids. A poor healthcare system, malfunctioning public services (Sicilians and expats alike DREAD going to the comune - council offices - for official documents), and an education system that leaves much to be desired. But there are as many reasons to stay, or maybe there are more. Etna is one of them. Etna is one the reasons Sicilians abroad wax lyrical about the Motherland and why they often find the pull to the homeland so powerful as to return. Catanese refer to the volcano as "la Montagna" such is their respect. Of course if you live in the province of Catania, you will have a daily view of the changing faces of Etna. If you go hiking in mountainous terrain in the north eastern part of Sicily, you can turn a corner and be surprised by a stunning view of Etna's peak. I consider myself lucky to be able to see Etna from the end of my street. Even though the

Autumn colours

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 Lucky to be able to have lunch outside on a friend's terrace in these surroundings on 1st November. In Sicily...

Full Blue Moon Rising

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One of the things I like best about my house is that, at times I can see the moon rise from the east (levante) from my bedroom and the sun set in the west (ponente) from my kids' bedroom. Spectacular to look out the window and see this.

Olive harvest

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 Harvesting olives - a fitting way to spend Samhain in Sicily.  My kids had fun for (all of five minutes) shaking the branches with rakes to loosen the hidden olives - camouflaged by the silvery leaves. But they found your neck gets sore staring up through the branches so they soon gave up the rakes and collected and sorted the olives into green and black piles. We didn't get enough to take to a frantoio - you need about 25kilos to get a decent about of oil, but we can dry them in soil to give them an earthy flavour, or just in the oven, then put them in jars with garlic, chilli, origano and a little oil, if we want to soften them up a bit. The olives were juicy and ripe - and released an amazing aroma of spicey fresh olive oil if split.