Basil pesto. So good and easy to make that you won’t buy it again.

Basil: a very popular aromatic herb used to make pesto and linked to an old Sicilian tradition.
Try to make your own pesto!

Photo credits:“Basil” by zoyachubby is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Every Sicilian has got a basil plant, big or small… It is used so often that having a little basil plant in the garden or balcony is the most natural thing.

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It can be used for parmigiana or pasta alla Norma to give flavour, but you really enjoy all of its potential when you make pesto. This very easy pesto recipe is so easy, cheap and genuine that you’ll never buy a ready-made pesto again.


Ingredients:

40g fresh basil leaves
30g olive oil (better if extra virgin)
15g pinenuts
50g parmesan
garlic (to taste, max 1 clove. It can be made without garlic if you don’t like it)


Andiamo in cucina! Let’s go to the kitchen!

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STEP 1
Take off the basil stems and wash the leaves. Pat dry them with kitchen roll.

STEP 2
Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and blend till smooth with a stick blender.

And it’s done!


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Try not to put too much garlic at first, you can always add it later. Salt is not needed, but you can add a pinch.

You can add this on pasta ideally, but it’s good on focaccia, homemade pizza, rice or pasta salads and everywhere you like it!

Basil is linked to an old Sicilian tradition. To show friendship between two people belonging to different families, a plant of basil decorated with a red ribbon would be given to someone. After receiving the gift, the two people would become comari di basilico or compari di basilico meaning friends of basil (women in the first case and men in the second).

This tradition is described by Giovanni Verga into his book ‘I Malavoglia’: the tormented story of a Sicilian family set in Acitrezza, where you can still visit the house where the novel takes place

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Hands, facial expressions, movements, emotions and words: that’s how Sicilians talk.

Within every Sicilian there is a world of cultures different from each other. And it seems that using hand gestures is the only way to make all of them coming out at once.

Italians use a lot of gestures and Sicilians even more. And it’s not just about moving their hands while they talk: each gesture has got a meaning that can be translated not just in words, but into emotions too.

Photo credits :“Hands Fidgeting From Boredom” by Mark Spearman is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Facial expressions play an important role, also. The key for expressing yourself with Italian and Sicilian gestures is the feeling. If you don’t feel it, the movement of your hands will just be… a movement.

What is communicated through a gesture is a concept that goes beyond words. It is more about an expression of all of the emotions inside a person.

Sicilians learn to understand this special sign language very soon… no Sicilian child wants to see their mum biting her hand (meaning: if I’ll get you, you’ll be in trouble).

It seems that this habit comes from the Greeks, people to whom Sicilians still owe their special way of saying ’no’. Have you ever heard the Sicilian ’no’? Well, that’s a ntz sound (as if you wanted to make the sound of a kiss but with your tongue touching the top of your back upper teeth). While Sicilians make that sound, they lift their head up, similarly to a nod. A bit confusing, isn’t it?

Photo credits: “A view out to sea from Tahomina in Sicily. #sea #sicily #tahomina #beach #bay #island” by ocean-design is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Probably the use of gestures was born for the necessity of communicating with so many different people: Sicily is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and it was a very popular destination for everyone.

Within every Sicilian there is a world of cultures different from each other. And it seems that using hand gestures is the only way to make all of them coming out at once.

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With my great surprise, our son who speaks mainly English, uses the Sicilian ‘ntz’ sound. Needless to say that this makes me very happy.
Here a video that explains about Italian gestures.
And this is a fun video that explains about Sicilian gestures
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Invented by the nuns, you can smell them from miles away: I biscotti della Monaca.

Anise seeds biscuits: made by the nuns centuries ago, still fill the city of Catania with their characteristic smell

The nun’s biscuits or biscotti della monaca are delicious dry biscuits that contains anise seeds. You can smell them from miles away.

This type of biscuit was originally baked and sold by the nuns of Santa Chiara monastery in Catania. The church is a few steps away from Palazzo Miceli guest houses, another reason that makes it the perfect location for a holiday in Catania.

The Church of Santa Chiara in Catania, where the nun’s biscuits were originally baked and sold.
Photo credits: Image by fazen is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
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Once you’ll bake these biscuits, you’ll be able to picture what that part of the city would smell like a couple of centuries ago.


Ingredients for 15-20 biscuits:

250g plain flour
60g butter
1 tsp anise seeds (or 1,5 tsp fennel seeds if you can’f find anise seeds)
50g sugar
1/2 tsp baking ammonia
50ml milk
a pinch of salt
some additional milk


Andiamo in cucina! Let’s go to the kitchen!

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  1. Dissolve the baking ammonia into the milk and put it on the side
  2. Put the rest of the dry ingredients in a bowl
  3. Add the softened butter and mix briefly
  4. Add the milk with the baking ammonia
  5. Mix to form a dough
  6. If the dough seems too dry, add a tablespoon of milk at a time. Roughly 3 tablespoons should suffice for a compact yet workable dough
  7. Cover in cling film and put in the fridge for one hour.
  8. Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out with a rolling pin.
  9. Whit a flat knife cut the dough in strips (10 cm long, 0.5 cm wide, 0.3 cm deep)
  10. Put the strips on a baking tray covered in baking paper giving the traditional “s” shape
  11. Put in pre-heated oven for 10 min (200 degrees C). Take them out and let the biscuits cool down.
  12. Put the biscuits back in the oven for 20 min (140 degrees C)

The biscuits are now ready. Buon appetito!

When something belongs to someone, in Italian we use the preposition ‘di’.

Examples:
Il libro di Simona
The book of Simona/Simona’s book

Il Duomo di Milano
The Cathedral of Milan/Milan Cathedral

I biscotti della monaca
The biscuits of the nun/The nun’s biscuits.
In this case we use ‘della’ (di+la) as what follows the preposition di is not a proper noun (like Simona or Milano), but a common noun (monaca-nun) and therefore it needs the article “la” before it.

Another example with ‘della’
L’odore della città
The smell of the city

Now make your own sentence! Get the first thing you find, who does it belong to? Use an online dictionary to find the words you don’t know.

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Almond Biscuits Christmas Decorations

In the old times Christmas trees used to be decorated with feathers, pines, cards, pictures, fruits and sweets: let’s carry on the tradition!

As for the almond biscuits Christmas tree, these biscuits can be used as Christmas decorations. In the old times Christmas trees used to be decorated with feathers, pines, cards, pictures, fruits and sweets: let’s carry on the tradition!

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Ingredients:
300g plain flour
120g ground almonds
120g caster sugar
180g unsalted butter
2 yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the icing:
120g icing sugar
1 egg white

Sugar decorations

Andiamo in cucina! Let’s go to the kitchen!

1. Mix all of the ingredients together (don’t add the ones for the icing). The butter needs to be at room temperature. It will be crumbly at first, but eventually you’ll manage to form a nice dough.

2. Wrap the dough inside cling film and leave it in the fridge for 1 hour.

3. Using different shaped cutters, cut the biscuits. Make sure that you make more than one style. Whit a toothpick, make a hole in the biscuits.

4. Put the biscuits in pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C. Leave them for 12-15 min. Make sure they are cooled down before moving them from the tray.

5. While the biscuits are in the oven, make the icing. Work the egg white with an electric whisk till it’s foamy and then add the icing sugar a bit at a time. You need a syringe or a sac-a-poche for the next step.

6. Decorate the biscuits as you like.

7. Add a ribbon and your decorations are ready!

In Italian, if we want to add an element of surprise to a question, we start it with ‘ma’ (but)

Ma cosa stai mangiando??!!
Un biscotto
-What are you eating??!!
-A biscuit

Listen to this song from Marco Masini (Il confronto) for an example of the use of ‘ma’ in questions.

Buone feste!
Happy holidays!

Almond brittle: torrone, cubaita or minnulata. Just two ingredients for a delicious dessert.

Almond brittle: torrone, cubaita or minnulata. Just two basic ingredients for a dessert that tastes like the old times.

Almonds, along with dried figs and ricotta are the basic ingredients of the traditional Sicilian desserts. In times when sweets and big meals were intended just for the main festivities during the year, even the poorest families could afford to make the minnulata using just almonds and sugar.
Photo credits: “Tito Luis’ almonds” by Tom Raftery is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Mandorla (Italian), Mennula (Sicilian) = Almond
Minnulata (Sicilian) = something made with almonds, almond brittle.

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For this very simple but tasty almond brittle, you’re going to need just two ingredients.

Ingredients for 6 people:

200g almonds
150g sugar

Andiamo in cucina! Let’s go to the kitchen!

  1. put the almonds in the oven at 180 degrees C for 12-15 min depending on how toasted you like them.
  2. Caramelise the sugar: put the sugar in a pan at low heat. Leave it till caramelised (it needs to become golden brown and completely melted).
  3. Take the almonds out of the oven and pour them in the sugar. Stir the taosted almonds for a few seconds to coat them with sugar.

4. Transfer the almonds in an oiled piece of baking paper

5. Spread the almonds with a spoon to make a square. Careful, they’re hot!

6. Press from the top with baking paper

7. Cut the square in pieces with a big knife and your minnulata is ready!

Buon appetito!

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8th of December: let’s put the Christmas decorations on!

In Sicily, Christmas decorations are traditionally put on the 8th of December and in a little village close to Trapani, people go far beyond a Christmas Tree.

The 8th of December is the day in which traditionally all the Christmas decorations are put on in Sicily. This day is known as the Immaculate Conception (Immacolata Concezione) and it is a national festivity in all Italy.

If you find yourself to be in Sicily during Christmas time, a visit to the living nativity scene of Custonaci is well worth.

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Photo credits: “Presepe Vivente di Custonaci” by Emanuele Bellini is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photo credits:“Grotta Mangiapane – 31” by Jim Waddington is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The scene takes place in a prehistoric cave, inhabited till recent times. Such a suggestive place that is has been chosen as cinematographic set in several occasions.

Andrea Camilleri set one of his most famous Inspector Montalbano’s books in this cave, giving a vivid description of it: The Snack Thief.

If you want more info about this event, you can visit the Presepe di Custonaci’s website. It’s written in Italian, but there are lots of pics to look at.

Some Christmas vocabulary for you:

Natale = Christmas
Notte di Natale = Christmas night
Presepe = Nativity
Buon Natale = Merry Christmas

Almond biscuits Christmas tree

A stylish Christmas dessert with a traditional almond taste: the almond biscuits Christmas tree.

Almonds are the protagonists of traditional Sicilian desserts. Since the Romans’ times, Sicilians and Italians celebrate every important events with sugar coated almonds: these are called ‘confetti‘.

Photo credits: “Tito Luis’ almonds” by Tom Raftery is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

To recreate that traditional flavour while adding a touch of style to your Christmas dessert menu, this almond biscuits Christmas tree is exactly what you need.

Ingredients:
300g plain flour
120g ground almonds
120g caster sugar
180g unsalted butter
2 yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the icing:
120g icing sugar
1 egg white

Andiamo in cucina! Let’s go to the kitchen!

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1. Mix all of the ingredients together (don’t add the ones for the icing). The butter needs to be at room temperature. It will be crumbly at first, but eventually you’ll manage to form a nice dough.

2. Wrap the dough inside cling film and leave it in the fridge for 1 hour.

3. Using star shaped cutters, cut different size stars. Make sure that you make more than one of the bigger biscuits as these are the ones that are more likely to break.

These cutters are perfect for this type of job. Click the picture to get info and prices.

4. Put the biscuits in pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C. Leave them for 12-15 min. Make sure they are cooled down before moving them from the tray.

5. While the biscuits are in the oven, make the icing. Work the egg white with an electric whisk till it’s foamy and then add the icing sugar a bit at a time. You need a syringe or a sac-a-poche for the next step.

6. Decorate the stars with the icing. Pile the stars one on top of the other, from the biggest to the the smallest.

7. Add some Christmas decorations.

Your Almond biscuits Christmas tree is ready.

Buon Natale! Merry Christmas!

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A strategy that lots of people are using to crush mafia’s oppression. And there is something you can do, too

A strategy that lots of people are using to crush mafia’s oppression. And there is something you can do, too

It is quite common that the first thing a person links to Sicily is mafia. Very sad, but very true. Mafia exists, it’s closer to us that we might think (independently from where we live) and at the same time it is so subtle that goes unnoticed to most. 

Far for the romantic idea of being honourable men wearing Italian tailored-made suits, mafia people have ruined many lives and many places. 

Pic courtesy of: “Piazza Chiesa San Giusseppe-Taormina-Sicilia-Italy – Creative Commons by gnuckx” by gnuckx is marked with CC0 1.0 

The link mafia-Sicily is not something Sicilians go proud of. We prefer to be known for Falcone, Borsellino, Peppino Impastato: all people that fought mafia paying with their lives. Like them there are many, many more. 

Sicilians wants to be known for Franca Viola, who fearlessly fought for women emancipations; Archimede, who went far beyond the triangles; Pirandello, who has translated into literature the secrets of the human essence. 
Pic courtesy of: “Palermo – I mitici Giovanni Falcone e Paolo Borsellino” by Claudio Nichele – Twitter: @jihan65 / Instagram: c is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In simple terms, mafia is a criminal organization. Who knows what they do, one can just guess. Anyone who can assert something specific should report names and surnames to the police. One thing  that any Sicilian knows is that their attitude has ruined our beautiful island. But how did they do it? It’s quite simple: they scare people. Fear is the most effective weapon any not-so-good organisation uses to manipulate people and obtain whatever it wants (usually power and money). 

To make things more clear, picture this. Wonder you want to open a shop in Sicily. You are very enthusiastic, what you want is just a simple life working with people and selling what you are passionate about. After going through the thousands of bureaucratic hoops, you finally open. One night a guy enters the shop. You address him politely. He asks you for money. If you’re Sicilian you know what is going on. But you are probably not Sicilian, so I’ll explain. You ask the reason why you owe him money. The man says that the money will protect your shop. “From who?”, you would ask. “From us”, the man would reply. 

Mean, vile and simple. 
You don’t pay, they set fire to your shop (and this is a not-too-bad scenario).

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Still, some people manged to overcome this nasty situation. These are the people who deserved to be mentioned above and of whom not all names are not known. These are the people who said “NO” to mafia. 

How did they do it? They simply put a sticker on their shop doors saying “Addio Pizzo” (goodbye extortion). 

Addiopizzo is an organisation of businesspeople and consumers saying ‘NO’ to mafia. It’s that simple. The just say “NO” all together. What was not so simple was to mobilize the mass towards a no-fear attitude. It all started with 5 graduate guys from Palermo who wanted to open a coffee shop but didn’t want to pay pizzo. They chose dignity. You can read more about their story on addiopizzotravel.it. In this website you can find a way to contribute to eradicate mafia in Sicily by choosing the businesses who refuse to pay pizzo. Please, consider that there might be businesses not listed on addiopizzotravel website who don’t pay the mafia.

Mafia turned their back to the shops displaying the sticker as it would have represented too much hassle to deal with them. Sometimes, all it takes is to say “NO” all together. 

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Arancini: Inspector Montalbano’s favourite. With this step-by-step guide you will be able to make yours.

Montalbano’s favourite. With this step-by-step guide you will be able to make yours.

Aranicini are not easy stuff. Making the ones we eat in Sicily takes time. Lee found an easier way to make them and they taste fabulous. 

In short, Lee makes a risotto, creates some balls, coat them in batter and breadcrumb and finally he fries them. This seems quite simple, but along the way there are lots of little tricks he uses to make them taste good. He watched him closely last time he made them and I’m here now to tell you how to do them yourself. 

Arancini can be filled with anything. The classic ones are filled with meat cooked in tomato sauce. They can be vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free, too depending on your choice of filling. Since Lee used to fill them in the restaurant every day in different ways depending on the fresh ingredients he was using for his other tapas, we tried any type of arancini. These ones made with mushrooms, bacon and gorgonzola is my favourite.
Photo courtesy of “Arancini from Taormina, Sicily, Italy” byjaimefok is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ingredients for 12/14 arancini (depending on size):

For the filling:
500g Risotto rice
150g smoked bacon
75g chorizo 
200g mushrooms
3 spoons olive oli 
1 stock cube 
Salt
60g grated parmesan 
125g grated mozzarella
70g blue cheese 
For the batter and coating:
300g breadcrumb
25g flour
1 egg
1-2 l of sunflower oil for frying

Andiamo in cucina! Let’s go to the kitchen!

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*In a frying pan, heat some olive oil and put the chorizo, the bacon and the mushroom. Leave them to brown for a while on a medium to high flame and stir so that the bacon does not stick to the pan. You’ll see a reddish sauce forming on the bottom of the pan. That’s what is going to give flavour to the risotto. 

*In the meantime, prepare a stock using 1,5l of water and a stock cube 

*take the mushrooms, bacon and chorizo out of the pan and put them on a plate. Leave on the pan the sauce they made while they were browning. 

leave the sauce in the pan. This will give flavour to the rice

*pour the risotto rice on the pan and stir the rice on the sauce for 3 min. 

*after the 3 min start adding the stock a bit at a time, like for a risotto. Keep stirring and adding water when the rice absorbs it. Taste it and add some salt if needed.  

*when the rice will be about ¾ cooked, add the bacon, mushrooms and chorizo to it. Keep cooking and stirring. 

*stop cooking when the risotto will be still slightly, slightly crunchy.

*now add 60g of grated parmesan and mix it to the rice to create a creamy texture. The parmesan will help to bind the risotto together so that you can create the rice balls. 

*Now transfer it on a tray and let the rice cool down at room temperature. 

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*when cooled, put it in the fridge.

*when cold, take it out of the fridge. Add the grated mozzarella and gorgonzola cubes and with wet hands mix everything together. 

*get two bowls and fill one with the breadcrumbs and the other with batter (wisk together flour, egg and 100ml of water)

*with wet hands form a rice ball, roll it in the batter and then roll it in the breadcrumbs.

*heat sunflower oil in a deep pan, when hot add the 3 or 4 rice balls depending on the size of your pan) and leave it frying for about 6 min.

* Take them out and now you have got your arancini!!

You use ‘sono’ + adjective to describe more than one thing

Gli arancini sono buonissimi!! The arancini are very tasty!!
Gli arancini sono bellissimi! The arancini are very beautiful!
Gli arancini sono caldissimi! The arancini are very hot!

Arancini is the plural form of Arancino (singular). This is how we call them in Catania. 
In Palermo they are called Arancine (plural); the singular form would be Arancina.This final vowel matter is a bitter diatribe that has been wearing out East and West Sicily for years. 

I’d say that arancini are the quintessence of Sicilian cousin. So good and famous that are often named by one of the most famous contemporary Sicilian author, Andrea Camilleri. In fact, the inspector Montalbano can’t resist to an arancino and neither can we.

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Buon appetito!!

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What it is like to spend two days as an everyday person from Catania in this quirky yet traditional little apartment in the heart of the city.

On our last visit to Sicily, we decided to rent a small apartment in the city centre for one night. That was the best choice ever, holiday wise.

I lived in Catania for years and years, I know it inside out. I really love my family home with my garden and view on Mount Etna. Just one thing I didn’t like about it: it was too far away from the city centre (just a 10 min car ride, actually, but still too far to go on foot).
Photo courtesy of: “Catania” by Freebird_71 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This is why, on our last visit to Sicily, we decided to rent a small apartment in the city centre for one night. That was the best choice ever, holiday wise.

It all started at a school friends reunion when I found out that Alessia, one of my friends, owned a small property in the heart of Catania and that she was renting the first floor to tourists. As Alessia’s surname is Palazzo (palace) and her husband’s is Miceli (no translation for this, it’s a surname), they decided to call the guest house Palazzo Miceli (Miceli Palace), what a great name!

We are lucky enough to be friends with Alessia and her husband Marco, so, on the night that we spent at Palazzo Miceli, we had a nice dinner in their lovely apartment. Eating homemade food in a terrace with a view on the tops of the most historical buildings, side by side to a real bell campanile sounding the hot summer hour, under the light of a giant moon is a priceless experience. I’ll always be grateful for that dinner quickly organised with organic vegs and meats produced by my friends’ families in their lands in the centre of Sicily. 

What expected us downstairs, in the apartment we rented for the night, was exceptional too.

When we arrived in Via Consolato della Seta, we were overwhelmed by the tall grey and reddish buildings, typical architectural style of the less affluent people in the past centuries. I can’t know for sure, but some of those building must date back to the ‘700. 

The inside of the building was a surprise: both quirky and traditional, gave us the feeling of spending a day in the Catania of 200 years ago, but with all of of the modern stylish facilities. A combination of elements overlapping so smoothly that felt just right. 

Finally, my dream of living in the centre of Catania came true. From there, we had so much to reach on foot. Above all, probably my favourite place in Catania, the fish market. 
That’s a market like no one, outside Sicily. We didn’t cook that time, but next time I’ll rent my friends’ apartment I’ll definitely get up early in the morning, walk down Via Garibaldi and buy all I need to prepare some traditional dish. Eaten in that lounge-kitchen, the meal would gain something that goes beyond taste. Probably the old frescos that my friends found on the ceiling during the renovation works, still emanate some aura from the people that once used to live there. 

“Catania – Fish Market” by Flavio~ is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Being just a short walk to Piazza Duomo, where the Cathedral is, Palazzo Miceli would have been my ideal place to live. From there I could have reached my favourite Sicilan author Giovanni Verga’s museum house, Ursino Castle where some sort of art display is always on, Via Crociferi and its beautiful churches, the touristic bus, the Benedettini Monastery that I actually visited at night the day I stayed in the apartment, the long and packet with any type of shop Via Etnea, the Abbey of Saint Agata that can be visited inside and from which dome I saw the best skyline of the whole city. 

At night, the area is packed with any type of food place. Some of the most famous are at the fish market itself. What I enjoyed the most, though, was getting up early in the morning, getting ready, going out and walking to the main square, piazza Duomo, where Lee and I had a very nice breakfast sitting on the outside tables of a coffee shop, meters away from the main Church’s step. 

Everything is special for me, there. The contrast between the black of the lava rock and the light blue of the sky; the smell coming from the coffee shops mixed to the one of washing powder coming from the narrow side streets; the background sounds of splashing water and the long marketeers’ yells elevating above the people’s murmuring; the refreshing feeling of finding a bit of shade… it’s just my favourite place.

I hope that from my words you will get what it feels like to be in my hometown. Just take a plane and go there!

A presto!