Category Archives: Random Jottings

The Godfather in Savoca

Al Pacino

Excitement is high among fans of The Godfather trilogy, with the release of the newly re-mastered films, three movies that are Shakespearean in drama, operatic, and complex. As one of those fans I delved into my archives to search for photographs I took in Savoca, location of a few major scenes of The Godfather, and a reminder of one of those serendipitous moments that occur from time to time in one’s travels.

A shady spot at the Bar Vitelli

It was in Sicily, about 30 years ago, when we came across Savoca, a medieval village perched on a hill overlooking the Ionian coast. We had driven through the mountains from Taormina, stopping here and there to admire villages clinging to the sides of the mountains and blue seas far below on which floated toy boats. We pulled into Piazza Fossia, saw a parking place opposite a pleasant looking bar with terrace which meant we could sit outside rather than in the inky black interiors preferred by the Sicilians, and entered Bar Vitelli.

The Bar Vitelli

We ordered drinks, and the owner graciously waved me inside to see what else was available.  What she really wanted me to see was her wall of photographs of the stars of The Godfather and various artifacts to do with the film.  Most were of Marlon Brando – although he was never in Savoca for filming – Al Pacino, Simonetta Stefanelli, who played Apollonia in the film, and James Caan. 

Then I made the connection.  This was the small, cliff-side café where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) sat with his two bodyguards (one of whom would later betray him) and drank wine. In fact, this small patio with the dappled sunlight playing on the tables, was the location of several scenes filmed over a six-week period during the shooting of the first Godfather movie. 

Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) had fled New York City to escape both police and the Mafia and came to Sicily to take refuge. Out hunting one day, he saw a beautiful Sicilian girl and immediately fell in love with her.

Back room of Bar Vitelli with photographs and connections to The Godfather

The Bar Vitelli, as it is now, was actually the home of the beautiful young girl he’d seen, and it is here he asks the café owner for permission to court his daughter, the lovely Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli). A later scene, depicting a traditional Italian family Sunday dinner and a still later scene of the eventual outdoor wedding reception, was also staged on the terrace of the Bar Vitelli and in the tiny piazza in front.

La Signora watched me carefully and when she could see that I was suitably impressed with the display she sat me down and told me tales of what it was like when she had Pacino and Brando in her café.  Of course, I knew that Brando had never been there but everyone’s allowed a little bit of licence and in that small village of less than 100 inhabitants, The Godfather had sprinkled a little bit of its magic on both the village and the Bar Vitelli. 

La Signora sits outside Bar Vitelli.

Savoca owes it’s connection to Hollywood to the fact that Francis Ford Coppola thought that Corleone, a town near Palermo and the book’s setting for The Godfather, looked too modern for his vision of the Sicilian village from which the family came. After much searching throughout the island, he found two small villages untouched by modernisation for his locations, – Savoca and Forza d’Agro.

At the time we were there, few tourists visited this remote village so La Signora was happy to spend time talking to us and showing us some more pictures of the stars of The Godfather, plus some newspaper cuttings she’d collected.

Back room of Bar Vitelli

I never got back to Bar Vitelli but I saw a short film a while back that showed it looking exactly as it had been when I visited, and as it was in the film – right down to the bead curtain in the doorway.  La Signora is no longer alive and the bar/restaurant is now successfully run by her descendants: Godfather tours (along with Montelbano tours) are now big business in Sicily, and Savoca is a port of call on the trail. 

It was nice to know that it hadn’t been commercialised at all and that the stone-flagged walls covered in greenery and the terrace with vine covered pergolas, still offer shade to travellers, along with coffee granita, supposedly the favourite drink of both Pacino and Coppola when they were there.

When I watch the 3-hour long film again on March 26th, I will be carried back 30 years to when I sat on Al Pacino’s chair in Bar Vitelli and heard first-hand from la Signora that, although Pacino may have come from New York, he was molto Siciliano.

This was the prettiest house we saw in Savoca, and we were told it belonged to someone very important. I wonder who it belongs to today?

  1.  In Savoca, apart from Bar Vitelli, the nearby Church of San Nicola was used as a location for the wedding of Michael Corleone and Apollonia. The church is only a short walk from Bar Vitelli.
  2. Bar Vitelli is housed in the 18th century Palazzo Trimarchi, located in the Piazza Fossia, the town’s main square, near the Town Hall.

The Godfather:

The Godfather revolutionized film-making, saved Paramount Pictures from Bankruptcy, minted a new generation of movie stars, and made the author of the book, Mario Puzo, rich and famous.  It is compelling, dramatic, and complex and it started a war between Hollywood and the high echelons of the Mob as the makers had to contend with the real-life members of the Mafia.  Location permits were withdrawn without notice at inconvenient times, Al Ruddy’s car was found riddled with bullets, and ‘connected’ men insisted on being in the cast (some were given film roles, whether due to threats or talent nobody knows)!

An Artist in Ice

Birthday Party on the Beach

The Buffet table at your holiday resort looks stunning, the food arranged with aesthetic attention to detail, and dominating the centre is a beautiful carving in ice, a pagoda, a ‘plane, a fantasie in ice with coloured lights making it dance and dazzle, or a bird, its neck an opaque white and the translucent wings poised as though to take flight.  In a few hours it will have dissolved into a puddle.

The people who create these centrepieces are artists in ice, men and women who have the ability to create these beautiful animals, birds, and flowers in frozen water to add a shimmering brilliance to the tables.  And they do this knowing it will all disappear in a few hours. Performance art? Or art installation?

Khun Panas Suchantra at the Dusit Thani Resort in Hua Hin, Thailand, was the resident artist in this ephemeral medium when I was last there.  He is involved in every aspect of the work, from the early discussions with the F & B Manager, the chef, and the General Manager if the event is of importance.  

I watched him work on various carvings over a three week period and never tired of the theatricality of the scene as he chipped and chopped, moved around with speed (the ice continues to melt as he works on it) and created delicate ice flowers and feathered wings with the precision of a mathematician.

Most ice-carving artists use many different types of chisels, plus a saw, to get their effects.   Initally, a V-angle chisel is used to score the outline and to draw on the uncut ice, gouge chisels with their round tipped blades are used for making patterns, and flat chisels are for shaving.  The saw is used for cutting and carving (see photograph below).

Khun Panas  often works outdoors in a covered Pagoda overlooking the sea, a piece of performance art that is much appreciated by the visitors to the hotel who gather round to watch in silence, as a solid block of ice is transformed into a three-dimensional sculpture. 

As he works, the mateial starts to melt and there is a sense of urgency about his actions but with a few quick movements he saws off a piece of the block on which he outlines a shape before beginning to chisel away the excess.

With the outer shape of the subject delineated he starts on the base cutting into the ice to enhance the main figure.  After that it seems but a very short time before the ice-carving is complete, to be taken into the kitchens and stored in the freezer until it is ready to be placed centre table at the buffet.

Japan is the country that has elevated ice sculpting to high art: you only have to look at the Winter Festival in Sapporo to see what visions they create.  It goes without saying therefore, that the best and most expensive tools come from that country, seasoned by years of experience in making Samurai swords.

Tools of the ice-carver’s trade

When Democracy Ruled

Image by Carol M. Highsmith –

Depressed by the current news, the arguments, the depths to which politicians and supposedly clever men and women are sinking, I think back to how years ago Franklin D. Roosevelt was a beacon of light to a world deep in a fiscal depression. As he saw America through a war and put in action methods to help Europe build itself up after the second world war, he laid the groundwork for 20th century democracy in the western world. Less than a century later, we stand to lose it.

FDR had many faults, he was a human being after all, but he was a giant compared to what we see today.

BLOCKS – Not liking them

It’s not that I don’t like the blocks themselves, it’s that the script offering them runs across what I’m trying to write, causing frustration and annoyance. For a while back I was coping but now WP seems to have put a gremlin in the works. Instead of the block for Image showing up, I get a list of blocks I don’t need or use (for business, mostly) so I have to find ways to get the image block up which means time spent searching. If I only use paragraph and image can’t the Blocks intuitively sense this? Why offer me blocks I’ve never used?

Today I was uploading a Sculpture Saturday post and the tools down the right-hand side disappeared, leaving me with a page which held my text and image but nothing else. I couldn’t find categories, tags, slugs, anything like that so I had to add these via the list of Posts. Then I wanted to defer this posting until Saturday, but that button wasn’t there either. I thought if I hit Publish it might give me the chance to put a date in but no, I hit publish and guess what, it’s published it!

My Memory Bank

Every Mediterranean Holiday I’ve Ever Had

Day something in the great lock down and my place is tidier than a monk’s cell so while I’m thinking of what past travels to write about, I’m sorting half a lifetime’s accumulation of trivia, travel books, cards and pamphlets kept from the last great tidying session when I downsized six years ago.   It’s been hard, but hey, I’ve managed to throw out two books, and at least five pamphlets I’ll never read again and I have put some of the postcards aside to send to friends!  The rest will have to stay put until the next national crisis.  More I cannot do!

So here are just a few pictures that remind me of happy times.

Sifting through my memory box I relive and recall trips which have slipped to the back of my mind.  These in turn encourage me to look out photographs, some prints, some transparencies which I must get down to converting to digital images one of these days.  Black and white prints, slides, then coloured prints and finally digital prints and computer discs. And then there are the old family photos and my husbands wartime photos in Burma to be sorted through one day.

It was the early sixties when we discovered a little village called Castel de Ferro when the son of the owner of the only hotel there jumped out in front of our car to stop us and invite us in to see the new swimming pool. Those were innocent days when we politely stopped and they actually thought it was a good way to get tourists to stay with them.

And stay we did, for two weeks or so, during which time the local boy-goatherds followed me around wherever I went. They had never seen a ‘foreigner’ before and when my husband took them all for a ride in the green Austin van we had in those days, their giddy pleasure knew no bounds. We spent many hours with them and we’d supply a picnic as they were on the mountains from dawn till dusk with only a few scraps to eat, caring for the skinny goats. On the day we left all the little boys were crying and it near broke my heart.

Spain opened to tourism sometime in the fifties, and those of us who went then were greeted with warmth and friendliness. Franco had kept Spain out of World War Two (it was a broken country after the Civil War 1936-39 anyway) but as he leaned heavily towards the Axis’ powers help was not forthcoming to re-structure the country. Until the advent of the Cold War and the West’s fear of Russia that is, when the need for strategic military basis and airports ushered in the Marshall Plan, and Spain, along with other countries in Europe received aid, mainly from the USA, which helped it get back on its feet again.

It took a long time though, for the infrastructure to get into place. For many years the roads throughout Spain bore the chalked message “Franco, Mas Arboles, Mas Agua, Mas Carreteras” (more trees, more water, more roads). Not only were the existing roads in dire states but there were few of them. The above photo of the car breakdown took place on the main road between Valencia and Granada. Our car hit a rock or stone in the middle of the road and combined with driving on many untarmacked roads throughout our trip, it brought us to a halt. Local farm-workers helped move it and we managed to limp on until we came to a repair shop/garage.

Nowadays Spain has some of the best roads in Europe.

The photo of Benidorm is of the town before it became the biggest thing in tourism and the Avenida Hotel (still there) was one of only a handful in 1959. We stayed there in a room where our balcony looked on to the open air cinema which showed mainly very old, heavily censored films, but with a cheap bottle of wine and some nibbles to enjoy, it made for a fun night. I say ‘night’ because the cinema didn’t start until midnight or later – no-one worried about the possibility of people not being able to sleep. You either slept or you went to the cinema. What? You want another option?

I think I’d better stop there as the post is getting too long. I’ve still got a bunch of photographs on the computer which I hope to downsize and caption and I’ll put a few more up after I’ve tussled with the garden where the weeds are in a defiant mood. I’ve got to get them under control before they master me.


Hey, I hadn’t realized I had changed my blog theme!

I had ‘lost’ my blog, something I’d also done six years ago, and it’s taken me 2-3 days to get it sorted out with the help of the nice people on the WP Help Forum. Meantime, passing the time I was looking at other Themes and clicking on them to see what they looked like. I hadn’t meant to change my theme, but obviously, I have done so – even using one of their header photos. It’s not a bad theme, but when I have more time I shall have to come back and change it again, either to what I had before or something different.

When I have more time, that’s a joke isn’t it? but it seems that the more time I have on lock-down the less time I seem to have to do essential things. Mind you, I’ve done a lot of sorting out, (bags full of stuff for the charity shops when they re-open), tidying up in general, and fulfilling those halfhearted resolutions I made at New Year. Half my day seems to be spent making lists for the grocery slots I might get!

Unlocking the Past

April, 2020: I miss a lot during these days of lock-down, of isolation and no contact with friends, but what I’m missing more than I thought I would is the work I and a group of other volunteers have been doing with our County Archaeologist, Dr. Ruth Waller. 

“The past is another country “said J.P. Hartley, but I don’t think he had in mind the 13th or 14th centuries when he said that. It is something very obvious to me however, as a volunteer with the Brading Community Archive Group, when I open a centuries-old Rate Book, a Fee Farm Rent Book or a Poor Rate Book.  For over a year now we have been working on unlocking the past through old documents, books, paintings and photographs from the village of Brading on the Isle of Wight, a project made possible by a Grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and without which the project would not be possible.

Old Brading – British Library Print from Villages & Geographical Maps

The end result will be that books and documents which have been hidden away for centuries will be transcribed and available online to researchers.  The original documents will be seen side by side with the transcribed documents and will also be available in paper form for researchers.

Charles lst gave this once thriving seaport as security for a loan from the City of London.  Today Brading is no longer a coastal seaway: after failed attemps in the 16th century the marshes were finally drained and the embankment completed on 1881 which enabled the railway system to progress.

Brading Norman Church, Old Town Hall with Stocks Below – Photo Mari Nicholson

Brading’s history is apparent from the Norman Church at the top of the incline to the well-preserved 16th and 17th century houses that line both sides of the High Street with their eclectic range of windows, roofs and chimneys.  Next to the church is the old town hall, a stone and brick building with an open arcade housing the stocks and whipping post, once the site of the butchers’ shambles for the market first held in 1285.

It is here that we work, in the Old Town Hall, a musty room over the stocks, a cold place in the winter as we can’t have heating because of the fragility of the books.

One of Brading’s attractive buildings – Photo by James Stringer

As bacteria, acids, oils and dirt on our hands can be transferred to the materials we are working on, disposable rubber gloves are worn at all times, no food or drink is allowed on the premises and it goes without saying that no pens are allowed anywhere near the documents or books (all notes must be taken using pencils).  Working on the books is done according to prescribed rules: opening them at 1800 could cause irreparable damage (1200 is the maximum opening) and tightly bound books should be opened no more than 900.     To prevent damage to the spine they are opened in a box made into a sort of cradle and as fragile surfaces must not be touched pages must never to be turned by the corners, and more ….  And I haven’t got to photographs and pictures yet!

Before we got to the transcribing stage we had to carefully clean the books with special brushes which wouldn’t damage the paper, first the front, back and spine, then each page.  When I say this was boring, believe me, I’m not exaggerating.  After that, each book was wrapped in special acid-free paper, tied up with acid-free cotton tape, given a number which was attached to it and then placed carefully on shelves ready for the next stage. 

Original Stocks, under the Old Town Hall – Photo Mari Nicholson

In the midst of all this ancient paraphanalia we sit among modern technology, overhead scanners, laptops, computer storage devices etc. 

Once the transcribing began the brain was engaged and the fascination with ancient ways and history meant that even two cold winters in the Old Town Hall could be coped with – just!  As well as remembering that 1752 was the first year in England to begin on January 1st (until then the New Year began officially on March 25th, Lady Day) there was the fact that two centuries earlier, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII had reformed the Julian calendar because it did not conform to the solar system, and cut 10 days from the year.   England did not follow other European countries in this and remained ten days behind until an adjustment was made in 1752 and these days removed.   Then there are Regnal years versus calendar years and other hazards for the careless transcriber, one of the trickiest being documents written in the reign of Charles ll who came to the throne in May 1660 although he calculated his regnal year as beginning on 30 January 1649 the date of his father’s execution.  These anomalies do not interfere with the actual transcription of the documents but they have to be kept in mind for dating purposes.

The actual transcription has to retain the original spelling and as spelling in English was not standardised until the 18th century this can create difficulties.  Before then phonetic spelling was used and people wrote in the local dialect so when transcribing it is often necessary to say the word aloud as it appears on the page to get a sense of what the word might be.  It is useful to know where the document was written or by whom as a word written by someone who spoke in a Somerset dialect say, could differ in spelling from that of a Londoner. 

Old Brading – British Library Print from Villages & Geographical Maps

The books and documents themselves are fascinating and sometimes one can spend too long reading about the fines for allowing a pig to roam in the street, money requested for footware for a shoeless child of the village, for a cart to take an old woman to the Workhouse, or for bread for a hungry family.  One is made aware of the importance of policing certain trades by the weights and measures being strictly kept under lock and key and checked and signed for each year, and made to wonder at the many pubs the village supported.  There are many sad tales and one is grateful beyond words to have been born in this present day and age where despite its failings, there is a safety net to catch all but the most vulnerable in our society.

Part of Brading High Street – Photo James Murray

We shall be working on the books for another year at least, but once away from the ancient past and into the 20th century it will get easier, and I dare say, less interesting.  Coronation street parties, the coming of street lighting and the contract to the lamp-lighter (£16 a year), are still fascinating but I shall miss the dark, old days, when life was ruled by the rising and setting of the sun and when having the price of a candle meant that a woman could wear her eyes out doing sewing to make an exra few pennies to feed the family.

When the lock-down is over and things return to normal, our little band of volunteers will return once more to our job of unlocking the past so that future generations will be able to research the history and times of Brading, Isle of Wight.  Although it is but a small town on an island, the broad outlines of how it was run apply equally to towns and villages all over the country and the knowledge gained by looking at this one small town gives an insight into England’s governance at a micro level.