Thursday, September 29, 2011

Japan six months later

Six months ago Makiko Hastings designed and created 1000 ceramic birds to sell to raise funds for victims of the earthquake/tsunami in Japan. 

She's recently flown home to see her family and while there spent time visiting friends in the tsunami ravaged areas.  Here's her story - please give generously when her plans are finalised.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stalking Inspector Montalbano

Some of us on the trip are rabid Inspector Montalbano fans, so we undertook a slight diversion to Punta Secca to have a look at Salvo Montalbano's house on the seaside.  Then we returned to Ragusa for dinner at his favourite restaurant.  Sad?  Maybe - but we had fun and I paddled in the sea!

Apparently the house is owned by an Italian lawyer who lets it for the summer season - there were many people wandering around inside. It was difficult being subtle when everyone knew what we were up to!
The magic of movies makes one think this restaurant is down the road from the house - but in fact they are about 40km apart!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rain, another luxury ship and Mt Etna

For the past 24 hours Toarmina and surrounds have felt very tropical - high temperatures,  constant thunder rumbling and non-stop rain. The sea at Giardini Naxos is brown with run off from the mountain sides.

Consequently, it was difficult working out the name of this boat - but I succeeded!  It is Le Ponant, a French luxury yacht which has had serious adventures - in 2008 it was captured by Somali pirates.

This morning's adventure was scaling Mt Etna in a huge 4-wheel drive vehicle with immense tyres.  The last major lava flow was almost 10 years ago, but there are always little eruptions and fumaroles to enliven the day.  Mt Etna is currently 3300m high - we went to 2400m.  Low cloud cover gave way to sunshine when we reached the highest permitted point.  Here we collected lava - in my case, pieces with very high iron content to use (hopefully) for fabric dyeing.
Birch skeletons


It snowed last Tuesday - this is the remnant on the mountain sides

Rocks of Etna - we left the sulphur one behind

Small crater and fumarole

"Cushion" plant growing on the lower slopes

Spiky grasses

Ladybirds at 2400m - why? There's not plant life around.

Monday, September 26, 2011

One week in Sicily

A small - but beautiful! - group of us are travelling with leading Victorian chef Patrizia Simone on a two-week discovery tour of Sicily.

This trip is a foodie trip so for the past week we've travelled through many towns, but probably more importantly - we've eaten in many osteria, trattoria, restaurants.  Fresh vegetables, fresh seafood, delicious local cheeses, not a lot of meat and surprisingly, we've seldom ventured into pasticceria.  But despite that the kilos are piling on.

The weather has been hot. As a consequence of the hazy days, photos tend to look a little average and will need some refining before posting.

 This is Sea Cloud moored off Toamina - she arrived in Palermo as we flew into Punta Raisa airport and now she's in Toamina - as are we!  You think that's a poor fuzzy pic? As I write this in Villa Belvedere the rain is bucketing down and you can scarcely see her.

The absolute best, most stunning meal was at La Madia in Licata. The chef of this two Michelin starred restaurant in Licata is Pino Cuttaia.  To get into this small restaurant (seats 20), you first have to ring the front door bell.  Dining is set-menu, and Pino's choice - but he will make exception for "alternative" diners (such as me).  The photos are on someone else's camera, so this is just to whet your appetite until I get hold of them.  Suffice to say there were many groans of pleasure as each beautiful, delicious course arrived.  Pino accompanied each dish to explain its provenance. Staff appear to be minimal - two waiters - except in the kitchen where about a dozen young (male) faces peered back at us as we trooped out.  There is a lot of competition among young chefs to win the opportunity to undertake a "stage" and it seemed that most of Japan's young chefs are at La Madia at the moment.

The other news - probably only pertinent to Australians - is that we've been eating bananas; at one euro a kilo, from Ecuador.  These are the first we've eaten in nine months, since the Queensland crops were destroyed by cyclones and the prices for these rare fruit skyrocketed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Arrived in Rome an hour ago - en route to Sicily and a fortnight's discovery of food, wine, people, producers, history .... everything to do with the delights of this amazing island.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spirit of the Beehive

Came across this wonderful 29 minute radio broadcast from Radio 4 in the UK - the site may not last long, unfortunately, so head there NOW and have a listen.

Composed and produced by Nina Perry, it explores our enduring relationship with the honeybee, lifting the lid of the beehive to hear some surprising lessons to be learnt through observing and working with bees, as well as how the life of bees inspires human endeavours in the arts and in business.

I've listened twice now, and have ripped the audio to keep for more listening, just in case the BBC pulls the link.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remember the blue skies a short while ago?

Well - look at this!
Click on the pic to see the HUGE raindrops.

Talk about weather confusion.  In fact, it's nonsense to talk about confusion - this happens every year.  With the recent warm weather I've been debating taking the shadecloth covering off the lemon and cumquat trees. But there's no debate really - we all know that we'll get frosts until late October and even into November, regardless of how gorgeous the days are.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nature in a rush

Currawongs have created a new club house in the compost bins.  Most mornings they gather around, calling each other to come and glean.  Their songs/calls are very distinctive and can be heard long distance.

Delivery of lucerne/grass for laying in the blueberry orchard on our return.  This young man lives down the road - tall, handsome with the most beautiful blue eyes.  Loves to stand around and talk.  And very proud of the fact that the tractor "can turn on a sixpence" - only I don't think he's ever seen a sixpence!

Daffodils intact - proof of turning ability!

Apricot blossom

Blossom on one of the many varieties of blueberries in the orchard.

Another variety of blueberry blossom.

Blossom on one of the few evergreen blueberries.

Luminous - rampant - borage.

Angelo (left) and Engelbird (right - formerly known as Engelbert)

Coppiced willow starting to sprout.
Medlar bud



Quinces (there are two but it's difficult to distinguish from this angle)

Monday, September 5, 2011


I wanted to write more about our Vietnam/Cambodia trip, but then I came across these blog entries and didn't have the heart to go any further.  They niggle at the unease I felt throughout the trip - lovely people, daunting histories, appalling conditions, interesting landscapes.  But ....  What is real?  How do these people survive?  What difference does our tourist presence make (as in good difference, not the usual destructive difference)? How can the rampant corruption be tamed?  So many questions that can't be answered when one skims across the surface of a country.

We visited one of these places, and visited one similar to the other.

I've no idea who this man is - he's Australian, seems to spend time in India and Asia, has a very accurate view of things, cares but won't be conned.  And he's just done my head in, to use a terrible colloquial term.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Saturday, September 3, 2011


For years I've read about and acquired several furoshiki - but never used one. Until today.  Furoshiki 風呂敷 is a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth - you can use it wrap just about anything/everything.

You could start the day by wearing it as a scarf, go shopping without one of those ubiquitous recycle bags so whip off your scarf and wrap your purchases.  I wrapped two bottles of sparkling to take down to the gardens.
Post-war, furoshiki use declined with the introduction of plastic bags.  But they are coming back into Japanese culture for environmental and ecological reasons.