Sicily: Wonder of the Mediterranean is the first instalment of a two-part series
Tanna men were the strongest in the world, he said, because of their magical knowledge. Every man knew how to split himself into two men, who could do twice as much work.
Odd and of course wrong as this man’s argument was, it reflected a feeling of honest, unembarrassed pride in his homeland.
It’s a thing about islanders, perhaps, although here on these islands we don’t seem to do pride very successfully.
We could take a lesson from Sicily: Wonder of the Mediterranean (BBC2), whose presenter’s wonder was nothing compared to the fishermen and farmers getting on with their lives there every day.
Booted into the Mediterranean by Italy, you might think Sicily was an unwanted territory. But actually its position between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean made it of key strategic value and subject to constant invasion.
Michael Scott journeys through Sicily to find out how its long year history has shaped the island
Greeks, Romans, Normans, Arabs and the US military, all have come and gone and left their traces.
In a vineyard, historian Michael Scott found a man making wine in terracotta jugs, just as the Greek settlers had done seven centuries before Christ.
“It can be positive or negative that we’ve been conquered so many times,” the wine maker said. “We need to lighten the load of that history.”
What better for lightening the load than a jug of vino?
Sicily's position between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean made it of key strategic value
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His view was shared by the men collecting salt in a lagoon, just as Phoenicians from Lebanon had done there, generations back. It was back-breaking work but that, said the men, was how the ancestors had done it.
Instead of “ancestors”, they could have said “invaders” but on an island such as Sicily, the boundaries just melt away into simple pride.
When I was a kid in the Seventies, everyone’s teenage sister went vegetarian. It always seemed to be sisters, sometimes making a stand against the cruel treatment of animals or sometimes using mealtimes as a new, adolescent battleground.
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Back In Time For Dinner (BBC2) suggested a long, venerable history to veggie eating as protest. Moving the Robshaw family a decade further into the 20th century, the ladies of the family were introduced to the suffragette movement.
On this programme they’re forever trying to tie things into the dining table and there was an obvious link in this case because the suffragettes encouraged women to reject meat.
It was a symbolic way of rejecting male power and the show-off, flesh-heavy diet of the decade before. On eating some fresh veg for the first time in ages, the female members of the family did indeed start to feel liberated.
In Back In Time For Dinner the ladies of the family were introduced to the suffragette movement
Meanwhile, after a diet of recently killed beasts and the presence of a kitchen maid to boss around, Mr Robshaw looked like he’d begun to enjoy the fake aura of manly power. In the real Edwardian era, changes in the law made other jobs, like shop work, more attractive to servants and ladies in Mrs Robshaw’s position had to try hard to keep their staff.
“This time I thought I might give you a hand,” she told Debbie the cook.
“Err… yeah. Yeah. That’s great,” said Debbie. If that response was a food item, it would be a lettuce leaf.