CHIAVARI, Italy - The photos in this
post were taken at the border between France and Italy last week.They show the plight of French speaking
migrants trying to leave Italy and enter France, only to be refused entry.
Migrants on the French-Italian Border
As Americans celebrate 4th
of July this weekend, a date that represents the birth of the United States of
America as an independent nation, there are many people around the world for
whom freedom is still only a dream.
France - So Near and Yet so Far
The dream of the migrants arriving in Sicily and
other parts of Italy, is to travel to France, Germany, Britain or Sweden and
request asylum. But French border police have been ordered not to let them
through. Their fear is they will not pass through France but will chose to
remain there, as the majority of them speak French.
They Sit and Wait For a Solution
The European Union recently suspended the 1986
Schengen Agreement, which abolished all internal borders allowing for the free
movement of people within Europe. This allowed the French border police, to
refuse entry to 200 migrants.
They Protest in Silence
The angry migrants decided to go on a hunger strike
while others organized a sit-in at the border crossing and tried to block
“We are not going back, we need to pass,” read one
large banner, while another read, “We need freedom.” Before the Italian police
could act, the migrants sat down on pieces of cardboard and sheltered under
trees and buses. The women and children accepted the food provided by the
Italian Red Cross, but the men did not.
Sometimes They Raise Their Voices
eat,” said one 20-year-old man. “ We spent all day yesterday in the heat and last
night in the cold and rain. If we are going to die here, there is no need to
A record number of 1,439 migrants were intercepted
last week by the French police in the mountainous Alpes-Maritimes region of
southeast France, and 1,097 were returned to Italy. They were the ones who had
slipped through the bordermade their
way into France.
They Go on Hunger Strikes
In Italy the influx of asylum seekers
from the Middle East and Africa is reaching critical mass. An average of 10,000 people a week are
being rescued from the Mediterranean and there have been warnings that as many
as 500,000 refugees could try to cross over to Italy this year.
While there is sympathy for the plight
of people fleeing war, persecution and poverty, Italians say they cannot be
expected to shoulder the burden without help from Europe, but so far all the
European Union has offered is bad advice.
They Plead for Solutions
Italy was required to terminate its
search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, last October and replace it with a
much smaller operation run by Frontex, the European Unions border control
agency which has to rely on help from merchant ships. Last year, merchant ships
rescued 44,000 migrants, out of the 170,000 who reached Italy from North
One Italian tugboat, which normally
supplies oil rigs in the Mediterranean, claims to have assisted in 60 rescues
last year and 22 so far this year.
The Italian Red Cross Helps Where it Can
“The situation is unsustainable,” said
one Italian tugboat owner. “Taking part in rescues is no longer unusual – it
has become routine. Like other merchant ships we are being called on to help
out on a daily basis, but our crews are not trained to deal with these
operations. We can’t provide medical care, thermal blankets or emergency food.”
Kind Words and Understanding
Italy is simply overwhelmed by the
sheer number of migrants crossing from the North African coast in search of a better
life in Europe. Italian Intelligence Reports state that there are up to 800,000
additional migrants waiting in Libya and other parts of North Africa to make
the crossing to what they think of as the “Promised Land”.
Sometimes More Than Words are Needed as Migrants Confront French Border Police
Realizing the bad impression they are
giving the rest of the world, the French government is slowly accepting the
demands of the Italians and allowing some immigrants through. When asked about
it, the border police merely shrug and say, “C’est la politique,” “it’s
politics.” But the reality is that many migrants are still being driven back at
the French-Italian border.
And So They Wait
But the Italians are holding their
ground and last week, when the French wanted to return 40 migrants to Italy,
the Italians would not accept them.
The Dream - So Near and Yet so Far
The sad news is that there are no
winners or losers in this game of human ping pong – nor does there seem to be a
CHIAVARI, Italy – After my brother’s
first visit to the Italian Riviera, I was curious to know what he had enjoyed most.
I was a little surprised when instead of naming one of our famous seaside towns
like Santa Margherita or even historic Genoa, he said Montallegro.
Church of Montallegro
It must have been the part when we
were having lunch under the leafy trees looking out over the harbor and town of
Rapallo far, far below us that he liked. It surely couldn’t have been the
harrowing ride up the side of the mountain in the cable car because I saw him
gripping the handrail as we sailed high above the trees. Nor could it
have been the part where we were climbing the steep slope to get to the
Basilica of Our Lady of Montallegro either, because I wasn’t the only one
gasping for breath at the top of the stairs.
Truthfully other than the church and
two hotel/restaurants, there isn’t much else up on that mountain, unless you
count the hiking paths through the woods that lead down to sea. What it is, is
a very peaceful place far from the reach of the hustle and bustle of the posh
seaside towns below. But the main reason I had brought my brother all the
way up the mountain was to see the Basilica of Our Lady of Montallegro and all
the ex-votos in the church.
The Easiest Way to Get There
The Basilica is the centerpiece of
Montallegro. It’s the only church I’ve ever been in where the walls are
covered, practically floor to ceiling, with ex-votos, those small offerings
often given in gratitude to a saint for fulfilling a vow. The ex-votos in Our
Lady of Montallegro were given for help in passing a school exam to recovering
from an illness to being rescued from the middle of the sea during a war time
bombing. Some ex-votos are photos, others are hand drawn pictures or copies of
school exams or medical results, but mostly they are little silver hearts tied
with a small red ribbon. Ex-votos are part of a very old tradition that dates
back to ancient Egypt, and like the Egyptians, the people of Rapallo had many
reasons to be grateful.
During the 16th century, when the church was built,
Rapallo was just a small village of about 1,300 people. With easy access from
the sea, the village was often attacked and sacked by the Ottomans and Barbary
pirates. With only a small civilian army, it was fairly easy for the
famous Turkish pirate Alì Dragut Rais to overtake the village. During one
brutal attack he sacked the village, captured many of the village’s inhabitants
and then sailed away to Algeria to sell his captives as slaves.
Delegation of Priests from Naples Visiting Montallegro
After that devastating event, the
villagers decided to build a fortress near the waterfront, and get themselves a
cannon. Both the fortress and the cannon are still in place, just in case they
are needed, even though the pirates are long gone.
But less than ten years after the
attack by Ali Dragut Rais, Rapallo once again became a battleground. This time
the war was between the two local noble families, the Bianchi and the Del
Torre, who were fighting each other for control of the territory. At the same
time, an equally dangerous threat was looming, the Black Plague.
Ex-Voto Dated 1899
The Black Plague, which had already
killed thousands of Europeans, was rapidly spreading throughout Liguria, and if
by some miracle you managed to avoid dying from the plague, you had a good
chance of dying from small pox or TB, as both of those diseases were also
spreading like wildfire. And if you did manage to avoid those diseases, there
was always the threat of dying of hunger because of widespread famine
caused by the fact that so many people were dying there was no one left to tend
the fields, which were flooding because of torrential rains. In other
words, life was tough.
It was during this period that a
farmer, Giovanni Chichizola of Canevale, claimed that the Virgin Mary had come
to him while he was tending his goats in the hills above Rapallo, and told him
to build a church on that site. To make a long story short, the church was
built and even during the period of construction, life seemed to miraculously
improve for the people of Rapallo.
After Visiting the Church, Lunch Under the Trees
The townspeople thanked the Virgin
Mary for their improved fortune and began showing their thanks by bringing
ex-votos to the church and putting them up on the walls. Farmers would give
thanks for healthy crops, the merchants and artisans for continued success.
Even seamen and fishermen would go to the church and make their vows and pray
to the Virgin Mary to keep them safe at sea.
Just because the pirates weren’t
attacking the town any more didn’t mean that they were not lying in wait in one
of the many coves that line the Ligurian coast, ready to pounce on the ships
hauling cargo or bringing in treasure from far- away places. And let us
not forget the ever present danger of violent storms at sea and what that meant
to fragile fishing boats and sailing ships out on the open sea.
And if they survived, even salty
sailors would trek up the mountain and show their gratitude with a heart or a
painting or a souvenir brought back from where ever they had sailed home from.
From its position high above the town, and closer to heaven, Montallegro was
the perfect place to sit and give thanks to the Virgin Mary for their survival
for they knew just how precarious their journey had been.
But I’m not a sailor or a merchant
or even a farmer, I’m not even a believer but there is something truly
spiritual about being in Montallegro that brings me peace. I cannot think of a
better way to spend an afternoon than sitting out under the trees at the Il
Pellegrino hotel/restaurant, looking out over the sea, thinking about things
and enjoying that feeling of renewal that I get when I’m there. It’s no wonder
the Italians don’t talk about this place. They probably want to keep it all to
themselves, and I don’t blame them.
CHIAVARI, Italy – This
post on scrippelles is one of the most popular posts on my blog, and one I
thought was worth repeating.
Scrippelles are a
typical food of Teramo, a small town in Abruzzo. If you have never heard
of them, you are not alone. I had never heard of them either until Debra
Cardelli Cellucci of Philadelphia Pa. talked about them on an Italian-American
Facebook page I follow.
Scrippelle are very
thin pancakes made from flour, eggs and water. If you are thinking that’s the
same recipe for crepes, you are right. They are one and the same. In fact,
there is a real French connection to this dish according to an article
published in a local Abruzzese magazine called The Abruzzo Enogastronomica, but
more about that later.
The real difference
between them is the way they are served. In Abruzzo scrippelles are served
m’busse, which means in chicken broth. The basic idea is to first prepare a thin
batter . . . but wait a minute, I think it’s better if Debra tells you herself.
Here is her recipe from the Facebook page:
Debra’s Scrippelle M’Busso Recipe
“12 eggs, 3 cups of
water, 1 cup of flour in a large mixing bowl. Beat eggs, add water, then slowly
add flour while constantly mixing. Use a good crepe pan. Depending on the size
of the pan you may want to cut them in half after rolling. Heat pan to medium
to high heat, then lightly grease the pan with either fat back or olive oil.
I use a 10” crepe pan
and add about half a soup ladle of batter and roll it around quickly so it
spreads evenly. It should be very thin. Lift the edges of the crepe and
when the edges start to curl pick it up quickly and turn it over. It only takes
about a minute or less on each side. Let each one cool for a minute or two
before stacking them on top of each other. 1 dozen eggs makes about 40
10” crepes. They can be cut in half to double that to 80.
After they are cooked,
mix grated pecorino cheese with black pepper to your taste. Take each crepe and
sprinkle with a good amount of the cheese/pepper mix, and tightly roll the
crepe. Cut them in half and stack them close to each other in a casserole dish
or plastic container if you are going to freeze them. When you are ready to
serve, let them come to room temperature. Place them in individual soup bowls
and pour your favorite chicken soup over them.”
Timballo di Teramo
And that, according to
Debra, is all there is to it. In researching this dish, I found that some cooks
like to roll the scrippelle tightly and then slice them into ribbons, like
fettucine and then serve them with soup. The crepes are also used to make another
delicious local dish called Timballo di Teramo.
This timballo is made
in layers, like lasagna, but instead of pasta locals use scrippelle. And there
is one other small difference; this timballo is made in a casserole dish rather
than a lasagna pan. Using an ovenproof casserole dish, first put in a few
spoons of sauce. The sauce can be a white béchamel sauce with fried
artichokes (spinach or peas works well too), and scamorza cheese. Or, you can
use your favorite red tomato and meat sauce. Alternate a layer of scrippelle
with a layer of sauce. The top layer should be sauce sprinkled with a good
grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
It All Starts Like This
In the Italian recipe
it says to preheat your oven to 320 degrees F/160 degrees C and bake for about
an hour until the flavors blend together and a slight crust forms on the top.
You can probably get the same results with a 350 degree F/ 175 degree C oven
and a cooking time of 25-30 minutes. What’s important is that the ingredients
heat through and the sauce and the cheese are bubbling.
As for the French
connection, the story goes back to the 16th century when the French ruled Abruzzo.
It seems the French chef in charge of the officers' mess in the town of
Teramo, used to serve his officers crepes instead of bread. He though they were
more ‘attractive’ than the dark coarse breads that were common at that time.
As it happened, one
day when Messer Enrico Castorani, the chef’s helper, was moving a heaping plate
of crepes, they fell into the soup pot that was filled with hot chicken
The chef didn’t know
what to do. He decided to serve the crepes and the soup, and when he tasted the
crepes in the soup, he found that it was a most delicious combination, and that,
according to local legend, is how scrippelle in broth was created.
A special thanks goes out to Debra Cardelli
Cellucci for sharing her recipe with us. Thanks Debra.