Sean\’s Sicily

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Posts Tagged ‘Culture

Bye Bye Bertie

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It’s quite sickening how the bloody-hungry pack of howling dogs (“wolves” would be a metaphor too far!) that was the Irish press have turned into a big flock of bleating sheap over Bertie – each journalist outdooring the other in saying “Ah sure, I always liked Bertie, it was the other rags that were doing him in”. At least Brendan O’Connor has been consisent in his bootlicking of the ex-Taoseach so his latest article isn’t that out of place.
But the Indo is certainly leading the pack as far as I’m concerned (or the flock, rather); just a few weeks ago we had Senan Molony writing a very negative review of Aherns Sky News interview.
The list could on, but Google only gets me back a few weeks and that’s been enough time for every paper to fill up with how fantastic Bertie really is and how awful the Tribunals are.
Face facts folk – the guy was banking home multiples of his take-home pay! He obstructed the Tribunal at every turn. It’s taking years to dig out of people information that they clearly don’t want getting to the light of day.
So good riddance to Bertie, you won’t hear me complaining.

Written by seancasaidhe

May 11, 2008 at 10:55 am

Posted in Ireland, Politics

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Congestion Charge – Sicily Style

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Ok, so Cammarata decides Palermo needs a congestion/pollution charge. As Palermo doesn’t actually have any infrastructure in which to implement a per-user charge like London, or indeed any traffic management plan that I can discern, the city has been split into 3 zones;
Zone A; the southern part of the city centre
Zone B; the northern part of the city centre
Everywhere else.

Zone Map Palermo
Zone Map Palermo

Typically Italian style, the whole thing is extremely cumbersome and buearocratic. No simple rules for us here in Palermo!

To start with, the type of car you have affects what zones you can use. If you have a care Euro 0, 1, or 2 standard car, you can’t get into Zone A.

If you have a Euro 3, you can access both zones…

and if you have a nice new Euro 4 or 5 standard car, you don’t have to pay a thing.

So, all those rich people with big Mercs and Beemers, don’t pay a penny, but all the poor sods who can’t afford better than a creaking Fiat 500, get done for 15 euros.

And it doesn’t stop there, no sir! Burdensome and slow is just part of Italian state, we’re beyond that here! This is where the “Sicilian” style comes into it!

I saw that the Vodafone shop in via Marchese della Villabianca was selling the cards, so I assumed that Vodafone got the contract to sell them – hah, I was thinking like a northern European again! Silly me.

No, just that Vodafone shop. Suspicions as to why and wherefor shall remain unsaid, thanks to Italian libel laws…

So what’s everyone to do? I’ll telll you; wait outside the Vodafone shop, having added one’s name to the list, and sit in the baking heat until the staff deign to open the doors to a lucky few customers. And the shop didn’t start selling them until 4pm, by which time there was 130 names on the list, and some 2 dozen people waiting.

And the process takes 15 minutes per card…

Congestion charge, Sicilian style!

Written by seancasaidhe

May 8, 2008 at 3:19 pm

My Ireland

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My Ireland

Originally uploaded by A’mÃŽo

These are some of the images A’Mio has captured on some of her many trips to Ireland. I particularly like the shot of the GPO and the Spike, which has a great angle.

Written by seancasaidhe

May 8, 2008 at 9:59 am

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La Villa del Casale

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On the way back from Catania, Sonia and I decided to take a side-trip to Piazza Amerina, a small mountain village in the middle of nowhere, and a long way from any autostrada. I wasn’t entirely clear on the reasons for doing so except that I’d been complaining that all I’ve seen between Palermo and Catania was, in fact, autostrada 🙂 Sometimes when my mental translations have fallen behind and I subconciously skip a few sentances in order to catch up, which normally works fine when someone is banging on about the weather, football, etc. but sometimes (especially with Sonia) I miss crucial parts of the conversation or decisions and then have to ask “uh, why are we going to Piazza Amerina again?

So for all the misunderstood conversations I’ve had with you, Sorry, Sonia! 🙂

Anyway, in Piazza Amerina there is a Roman villa ‘La Villa del Casale’, a Unesco world heritage site with very famous mosaics. Actually not a villa in the proper sense (or at least not as I understand it) but more of an administration building with attached apartments for the local Tribune (or whatever the local boss was called in Roman times).

The entire experience is an excellent example of much that is wrong in Sicily, and how the little people either get screwed or get a great big chunk of pie, depending entirely on who they know and if the people they know are in political power or not.

In the case of la villa del Casale, the ones who are getting screwed are the tourists and the local vendors that one finds at tourist attractions all over the world. We found the stalls all closed up with signs saying “Closed by Court Injunction” and the vendors outside the entrance to the Villa, sheltering in the shade, peacefully protesting. The story, as Sonia found out, was that their stalls had been shut on public safety grounds, to open the road for heavy equipment that was going to be used to carry out some work on the villa. Some 3 months later, not a single piece of heavy equipment (we’re talking about big earthmovers, cranes etc) had come down the road, and the works that were being carried out were accessed from a different road across the valley. But still the local mayor (linked to Forza Italia) refused to allow the stalls to reopen.

The alleged actual reason (alluded to in typical Sicilian fashion) was that the local government had given permission for a new restuarant/shop to be built right on the doorstep of the villa complex, and once this was completed, the competiting vendors were shut down to force the tourists to dine at this one place, and to buy their touristy junk from this one place.

No-one wants to suggest that the owners of the new place has paid kickbacks or is linked to the local administration, of course. Oh no, I quite emphatically want to say that there are NO SUSPICIONS AT ALL that the mayor or those close to him have been paid off to nobble the competition. Right, got that? All clear? The vendors have been shut down for 3 months for public safety. Good…

Of course, that begs the question that if the vendors have been shut down for public safety – I remind you, to make way for great big dangerous earth-moving equipment which would probably crush Joe Public under their huge tires without noticing – why are the same endangered public forced to park their cars on that very same road and walk down it to the villa (but only after paying 1 euro to the Parcheggiatore for the privilege of parking their cars on a public road)?

Did I mention yet the Eur90million that the local administration got for improving the site? Basic things like running water, public toilets, a bit of paint for the rusting greenhouse-type thing that’s covering the villa? Which instead is being spent on a series of concerts and events? Again, I wish to make clear that there’s no suggestion at all that the money’s been used for these activities in order to facilitate kickbacks to the local administration, or that the people organising the events are linked to the local mayor in any way. It could be argued that a large series of small payments offers more scope for skimming than a small series of large payments, as well as directinng more work/jobs/contracts/money towards friends and family, but that’s just unjust paranoia, and I’m ashamed for even thinking it.

And so, despite the money, despite the steep Eur6 entrance fee, despite the bus-loads of tourists, the site still lacks running water, toilet facilities, or any kind of interpretive centre to explain the significance of the place. Sure, they’re a couple of sunburned posters, and the odd room has a leaflet, but really (and I’m an archaeology enthusiast) I came away with the impression “Some nice mosiacs…”

In case anyone thinks I’m being anti-Sicilian, Sonia’s take on the whole thing is here

Written by seancasaidhe

August 29, 2007 at 10:27 pm

Modica

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Palio di Modica

Just back from Modica, where they were having the Palio della Contea, a festival. It’s a good distance from Marzememi to Modica, and the roads aren’t great, so it was a long trip, especially for Sonia who was driving.

Modica itself is another city which was largely rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, and thus is hugely important for it’s Baroque architecture, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. But we weren’t there for the architecture (I’ve had enough Baroque in Noto, thanks!), but rather the Palio, which has it’s origins in the battles between Roger II and the Arabs in the 13th century, and basically is a bunch of horsemen with lances racing up and down a course, collecting rings which are attached to points along the way. The horseman with the most rings and the fastest time wins.

Modica has the honour of having served me the worst food I’ve ever eaten in Sicily – some sort of foglia with mushrooms which looked and tasted like a sheaf of Kleenex that’s been dipped in mushroom soup. I threw mine away but Sonia was hungry and ate all of her’s, which she regretted later when she started feeling ill! However on the good side, Modica boasts a unique type of chocolate, all crumbly and full of cocoa crystals. Not the sort of chocolate you’d eat like a Mars Bar, but the sort that you’d nibble on one piece after dinner as a desert. Fanstastic.

The failing light caused problems for me (dusk is fast in Sicily) and I’m still struggling with the new camera, so I don’t have a lot of good shots of the initial parade (a bunch of young people dressed up as medieval nobility and others carrying flags or playing music), and then a parade of the horsemen (about 20 in all) with attendent groomsmen, also all dressed up medieval style. I do have a few good shots of that, we’ll see what I load up to Flickr.

And after that, the tournament began – one by one, the horsemen entered the course, picked up their lance, and were off, racing full tilt down the course. Luckily I was quite near one of the rings, and near enough to a second, so I was able to snap some images with lots of movement. I didn’t notice at first that the rings got smaller as the competitor went along, with the first ring being the biggest and the last (15 in all) being the smallest. All good fun but after 15 riders, I got a bit bored and Sonia and I took off for the end of the course where there was a turning circle, in the hope of snapping some action shots there, but the crowd was 10 deep so we gave up and went off to get some chocolate and get back to Marzamemi before it got too late.

Written by seancasaidhe

August 14, 2007 at 11:14 pm

Into the Heartland

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Making Pasta


Strong Hands Required


Katia invited us to her grandmothers place for dinner, in a tiny sunbaked hamlet next to the railway line a good 20 minutes from the Syracuse-Pachino road, in a big old farmhouse with a surprising modern electric gate. We found everyone in the middle of making pasta – Katia’s aunt had bought a little table-top machine for pressing the dough, and she wanted to try it. While I tried to keep out of the way, and Sonia talked with the nonna, Andrea, Katia and Katia’s aunt got down to the business of mixing the flour and eggs, kneading the dough and making the pasta.

After the first few goes at the machine, the Nonna laughed “Let me know when you kids are done playing so I can make some pasta!” (said in Sicilian of course, so Sonia had to translate for me). But at the end it was a success – the dough had to be just right for the machine to press it correctly, not too thick nor too thin. After this we said our goodbyes and went on to Marzamemi, stopping off in Pachino for a huge 5-litre bottle of wine, poured straight from the vat.

After returning, I got sucked into a game of draughts with Katia’s uncle (but only after he’d bested Andrea twice in a row), and managed to hold my own against him for a good 20 minutes – probably largely because he couldn’t figure out my strategy (me not knowing what I was going myself, I didn’t have one!). I only lost after Sonia interrupted me with a question about the dSLR and I made a stupid mistake. Thanks Sonia! 🙂 And then the call to dinner came…

…and what followed was simply heaven – quite easily the best bloody lasagna I’ve ever tasted. I normally don’t like lasagna too much – too much cheesiness for me – but this was divine. I was too busy stuffing 3 portions into me to take any photos, more’s the pity. Thoroughly stuffed to the gills, we returned to Marzememi with the car creaking under our own weight!

Written by seancasaidhe

August 13, 2007 at 8:23 am

A new purchase

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Since meeting the a Flickr Palermo group at the Punta di Vista exhibition, it’s come to my mind that my ancient Cosina CT1, fantastic camera and all, is just not up to the standards of todays’ amateur photographer.

So the next step is to find out which dSLR I want to get. Easily solved, in my price range, the Nikon D80. Easy peasy.

Next, the lens. Ah, now there’s the rub!

I have 3 lenses for my Cosina, two 50mm fixed lenses (one of considerably better quality than the other) and a Toshina 80-200mm telephoto lens. The better 50mm lens goes out to f1.4 – this is obviously quite big and takes great landscape and portrait shots. It’s also pretty fantastic indoors, that huge aperture lets in a lot of light.

When I want a better framed shot I’ll turn to the Toshina, which supports f2.8. Not so good for indoors, and the times I’ve forgotten to lug the 50mm to cathedrals or shows, I’ve really regretted it, ‘cos the Toshina takes crap pictures indoors. I have to fiddle a lot with the exposure and speed, and use a tripod, to get usable images.

So here’s the dilemna, the Nikon comes with a Nikkor DX 18-135mm, which is a good camera and all, but at max it’s only f3.5. It’ll still take good pictures, but camera-shake is gonnna be a problem. Is it worth the money to upgrade to, say, the Nikkor DX 18-200mm with Vibration Reduction – by all accounts this is some pretty neat technical trickery to steady the sensor. At almost Eur700 (as opposed to under Eur300 for the 18-135mm) it’s a lot of money to pay for being able to take better low-light shots. ðŸ˜Ķ

Written by seancasaidhe

August 8, 2007 at 1:12 pm