Slam and Dunk

Deep in the Northern Hemisphere winter is a time when the egg-chasing sports enthusiasts get their moment in the limelight; when the Six Nations Rugby Championship takes centre stage; where some of the people of Wales connect with a strange kind of religious fervour.

This year it all kicked off with the biennial ‘Men in Skirts‘ weekend, as Scotland arrive in Cardiff. A brief moment when men can be true to their inner selves, and at least one shopping-laden woman can turn a blind eye…

1. a) Scary scrum

Scotland were in the rarified position of being tipped by many as favourites to win in Cardiff, only to be blown away 34-7 by the native dragon of Wales

1. b) City Road dragon [2]

Next up, it was the turn for Wales to be on the road, with the fixture that inspires thoughts of a clash with old enemies rather than a celebration amongst rivals. What would the marauders across the Severn Bridge take to the hosts of England, tipped to be champions before the tournament started? Well, with dragon-hearts in mouths for most of the last 60 minutes, it wasn’t to be, as St George stumbles to a 12-6 win, and the guest fire-starters prove at the final whistle to be a little more inert in portraying their true heritage…

2. Inert firestarters

Staying on the road, next up is the always welcome trip to Ireland, where the lotion joyously flows, and the red army have frequently found travelling success. As added-on time arrives Wales are only 3 points behind and in possession with the potential of a match-winning try; and then that wayward pass…… Ireland clinically strike for a 37-27 victory, as Welsh heads are bowed…

3. Fallen head [4]

With two oh-so close matches away, Wales return home determined not to let an unpredictable season slip on the banana skin that Italy may lay down at the Millennium Stadium (no Principality Building Society product placement accepted here!). A frenetic first half is followed by a procession to a 38-14 home win…

Banana skin

Which only leaves the simple matter of a victory in the final home match with France to secure a creditable second place in the Championship. If only… Wales don’t do ‘simple’! After most of the match watched through parted fingers, mouth agape, from behind the sofa, the final whistle brings that rarest of outcomes… Rabbits 14 Headlights 13…

5. Desperately holding on

Until we speak again, you may ask “but what about the other matches?” to which the carefully tutored Juno and Bella would answer “so what!” Another Six Nations comes to an end, with congratulations to Ireland for the Grand Slam of 5 wins in 5 games, and even greater congratulations to England for their Number 5… the Dunk of finishing 5th out of 6!

4. Pride restored

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Cats in search of fish

Trinidad cat and Welsh cat converge on unfamiliar Italian terrain, and with noses pointed skywards there was nothing better to do than search out the local catch. But why make this a challenge, when the best starting point is milk-based beverages of choice? The guide tells us that Antico Caffe Spinnato is one of the better pavement-side cafes for the best in cappuccino’s or a caffe ginseng… accompanied by a 7-layered chocolate in-house design, and a wild strawberry tart.

Antico Caffe Spinnato [1]Antico Caffe Spinnato [2]

Suitably refreshed, it was time to go in search of the elusive scaly edibles. This place is known for its local fishing fleet and characterful street markets, but where is a street market when you need one? Down back streets and through piazza’s we  meander…

Albergheria streetPiazza Bologni [2]

 

 

 

 

Perhaps these guy’s might provide a clue as to the whereabouts of the local fish, after all they seemed as uninterested in strenuous activity as any self-respecting cat…

Piazza Belini [1]As we turn one corner after another the clues are hard to find, but as for Garibaldi (Teatro Politeama, that is)… that’s got to be taking the biscuit!

Teatro Politeama Garibaldi

So, we might need to resort to a hope and a prayer at this stage. Never fear, if it’s a prayer you’re after this place is over-run with prayer shops of all shapes, sizes and states of decor…

Cattedrale di Palermo [exterior 1]

 

Cattedrale di Palermo [interior 3]

 

 

 

 

 

From cathedral-sized praying venues to piazza-edged confessional sheds, or the simple street vending of pious niceties, this place has you covered…

Chiesa di San Giovanni Degli Eremiti [church]

Chiesa Del Gesu [church dome]

 

Church interior on Via Maqueda

 

As we were seemingly running out of the right kind of prayers a sight of a couple of locals emerges, as if to give us a message… ‘keep going’, was the clear  instruction, but where to?

 

 

Piazza San Domenico Via Argenteria (Keep Going)

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how cool a cat you are, you just need a matter of the luck to fall your way; and so it was to be, as two cats retreat to the accommodation of choice…

Quattro Canti [1]

Centrale Palace HotelThe statues of the Quattro Canti were smiling down on us as they shaped up to herd tired cats in the direction of fish-focused culinary delicacies. The Centrale Palace Hotel might not have projected the most promising of entrances, but the invitation to a top floor roof garden restaurant was always a throw of the dice worth taking. A mouth-watering starter of melon and locally-sourced ham or the prawn salad was eagerly supplemented by a Sicilian red wine of clear nomenclature ~ the Etna Rosso:

Hotel starters

Then, the journey was complete, as the elusive catch gets caught! A swordfish and capers affair, delicately dressed with cranberries and aubergine, or a finely prepared sea bream were laid out for our magnificent consumption.

Fish main in hotel

Successfully replete, what do you do after such a feast? Well there is always the home of the operatic and balletic cats… the Teatro Massimo provided the venue for the final scenes of the Godfather trilogy:

Teatro Massimo by night [1]

As Juno would say, until we speak again ‘that’s Palermo for you’! Grazie, arrivederci.

Fellini appeal

Forgive me for confusing Fellini for being something cat-like… particularly sensual and emotive, sleek in movement and extravagant in taste. As my resident ‘cultural imposter‘ watches a DVD of La Dolce Vita I am left wondering whether the title is meant to be an advert for a healthy ice-cream. But then, so many things in Italian just sound like they should be eaten, whether you know what they are or not.

Anita Ekberg

Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita

I am reminded of a recent sojourn into what passes as Little Italy, Cardiff-style. No, not the clusters of ersatz pizza chains designed to remind the casual holidaymaker of something they used mainly to soak up the excess alcohol. I am reflecting on something with a little more authenticity and panache. For those in the know, I am talking a gentle sashay down The Hayes to Giovanni’s joint.

Giovanni's [3]

Original since 1983, here you will be greeted by truly melodic Italian accents, and a clash of cultural images as something a little more sinister bids you ‘buon appetito’.

Giovanni's [1]I strongly advise you to check out the menu before you go, because there is so much to tempt the taste buds, and all sounding like they should be devoured with relish (no, not the American stuff for covering up bad tasting food!). Just for starters you can indulge a Carpaccio di Manzo (marinated raw fillet of beef), Gamberoni alla Marchesa (roasted large king prawns); or if you are strictly vegetarian they even throw in some humourous offers: Funghi alla Mimi e Coco’ (sort that one out for yourself). And then there is the inevitable Zuppa Giorno ( because life is a minestrone!).

As for the main course, this cat couldn’t resist the Penne Spezzatino (fillet steak pieces tossed in garlic, wine and traditional Italian tomato sauce). I am still tasting it as I write.

Giovanni's [2]

As for liquid refreshment, there is nothing like a bowl of Peroni Nastro Azzurro to whet a cat’s whiskers before the main course. And it was a certain Hannibal Lecter who once advised the choice of a nice Chianti, but just be careful what the meat is if you are taking this source of advice!!!

Until we speak again I have been Don Juno wishing you buon appetito.

[With thanks to Arte.TV blog for posting the still image I borrowed of Anita Ekberg].

Breathless bone-crunching

Rugby does offer something in the Cardiff cauldron       Wales v Australiathat football is rarely praised for… opposing fans occupy the same space hours before kick-off for banter and liquid refreshments. But my ‘In-house Rugby Correspondent’ tells me to make no mistake about pondering the cuteness of these cuddly Wallabies…

  they have a plan…

  … and the green and gold finery only masks a core of steel when it comes to slaying dragons. Australia have a historic stranglehold on this fixture… 25 wins to 10 for Wales. However, the real pain for the home team is the 20-2 in terms of wins for Australia since Wales beat them in the 1987 inaugural World Cup. And even further pain is heaped in the last couple of years where Wales have been within a score of winning with a minute or so to go on three occasions, only to miraculously snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on each occasion.

What makes today a real grudge match is the British & Irish Lions 2-1 series win over the Wallabies in their own natural environment earlier this year, particularly the mauling of the final test match. The majority of the Lions were Welsh players, but time is long overdue that they do it under their own colours. Make no mistake, fire-breathers versus furry cuddliness means only one thing… war!

It is time for this…   to smoke this…            Let’s not pretend that such an outcome will be easy following the Lions win down under. The Aussies arrive in God’s Own Millenium Stadium having lost 20-13 to England before cutting a swathe through Italy (20-50), Ireland (16-32) and Scotland (15-21) this month on their way to this extra fixture (not originally planned, so flavoured with a little extra spice!). Over 67,000 settle into their stadium seats, the roof is closed to add to the pressure cooker effect, and the rest of the home nation strap in ready to assault their TV screens with passionate advice and abuse.

     V.     

Home expectations could not be higher, fuelled by images of one Welshman outnumbering the Aussies down under earlier this year, and the cuddly ones looking rather perplexed:

               

The game lives up to all the expectations, as first Wales take an early lead, then Australia are in the ascendency for the latter part of the first half. Australia extend their lead early in the second half before Wales make yet another heroic comeback. Then, guess what? Lightening really does strike in the same place many times… with breath-taking moves and bone-crunching tackles all over the pitch, and Wales having all of the cards falling in their favour, they manage yet again to fall one score short of winning. The final score is Wales 26 Australia 30, or more importantly for the visitors 9 wins in a row against the northern hemisphere champions.

Reports suggest the match was so good the result was less important… try telling that to the locals around here. Wales have two years before they meet Australia in the World Cup group to find that extra score; then the locals will accept a little more how great the match was.

   

I am still being Juno, as long as I avoid some of those rugby tackles until I speak with you again.