Thursday, 22 December 2011

Colour vs B&W: part 1

Impressionist: taken from the car, through a dirty window on a dark dark day - but it worked!




Black and White or Colour on a grey day? I can't decide.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Everything you'll ever need to know about Christmas in Italy

Last year I went to a lot of trouble to make this Christmas photo reportage special on Christmas in Italy and practically nobody read it. So I am re-posting it again. Enjoy! See you in the New Year!


I am walking through the centre of Milan at 6.10pm on a Saturday. It is pitch black. There is an enormous crowd in front of the Duomo. What the hell is going on? Why can't I see anything and why are there so many people here? Then I see a sign advertising a "light show" at 6pm. I decide to hang around. Nothing happens. It really is very dark. We go to the English pub "The Football".

The next day I'm still asking "Where are the Christmas lights"?  What's up with Milan? It's a really poor effort. The street decorations that they do have look like giant chicken nuggets and they don't even light up.  The Christmas market isn't a patch on the one in Trento either. The metro was insanely packed when we went because people from all over the place come to have a look at the "Oh Bei Oh Bei". This is an ancient Christmas tradition here, and is supposed to sell all sorts of exciting christmassy artistic things, but this year they decided to move it away from it's home in the atmospheric Sant Ambrogio and put it in front of the Castle. It was a  bit of an anti-climax, a few white tents selling things that had very little to do with Christmas, (bed side table lamps and buddhas of all things). They did at least have hot chestnuts.

Christmas here is more about the eating and the presents than carols and fairy lights. The shops are heaving and everyone's favourite topic of conversation is the perennial question "Which is better, pandoro (a sweet bread with icing sugar) or panettone (a sweet bread with dried fruit)?" Everyone has long made up their minds about the answer (panettone)  but everybody argues about it every year anyway.

Another thing Italy is really into are nativity scenes. Any self resepecting town has an enormous life size nativity scene with at least 10 characters. Any self respecting family will DIY their own. The shops are even selling mini bags of hay, moss and gravel. My friend M's parents have one that takes up two tables with easily a 100 parts to it.

Oh, and by the way, if an Italian goes to the trouble of writing a Christmas card you should for heavens sake keep it. The first Christmas I came to Italy I caused great offence by throwing the tag on my present in the bin a few days later, where it was discovered by A's distraught father. With hindsight, I now understand the 20 minute negotiations and agonising that A and his sister went through when writing Papa's birthday card. He'll probably keep it for twenty years. 

I know, I know, I'm sorry. I'm such a heathen. What can I do though? I can't help being English! I haven't yet spent Christmas in Italy so I have done a little interview with A to satisfy your curiosity instead...

L. "You eat Christmas dinner on the 24th don't you?"

A. "Yes, you eat your Christmas dinner on the 24th, pasta, fish (fried or in the oven) then you go to mass, then you go to sleep, then you open your presents, (well there are two versions, you might open your presents and and then go to bed) then you go to lunch and have something meat based. You usually eat a lot and end up with panettone."

L."Do you eat in the evening as well?"

A: "Well, I usually go to my rich uncle's and we eat sweets and panettone, but then last year I went to my trendy uncle's and we drank champagne and ate panettone."

I hope that was informative. Buon Natale!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

All I want for Christmas

Back to work after five days off. Five days off. I think my brain has turned to porridge. I know my brain has turned to porridge because I when I turned up at work my colleagues laughed at me for staring at the door too long before entering.

It was five days of intensive Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, writing labels and making decorations. I love wrapping presents but like pretty much everyone I know I do not like Christmas shopping. I asked my students if any went Christmas shopping in the centre this weekend and they all said no. Of course they said no. You have to be a bit mad to go when half of northern Italy descends on Milan to go to the Christmas market.

Anyway I digress, because I found something that made me laugh: The top ten accessories of the finto intellettuale ("fake intellectual").

Yes, here in Milan, being cool is not just about carrying an Abercrombie and Fitch bag, talking about how you can't wait for Starbucks to open and a shiny puffer  jacket.  Despite it being male I think this new look is more me, but I don't have anything like all the (quite expensive) accessories I need. It's quite subtle which might be why it took me ages to realise Clarks shoes were a fashion statement here.

Along with my Clarks I unwittingly already own the other two things on the list, (as you know from my last post, I am one of them). So please for Christmas I want/need:

1) a moleskine notebook.
2) a rolled up Economist to stick in my coat pocket.
3) some vinyl.
4) roll ups.
5) elbow pads
6) a cute dilapidated bike with basket.
7) a mac.

N.B. This was a joke. Except for number 7. And maybe number 1. And I would definitely like number 6...


As futher proof of the fact I am one of them, I have begun following la ragazza cool che si compra una reflex per fotografare posaceneri ("the cool girl who buys a reflex to take pictures of ashtrays") on facebook, and have since discovered I have already come up with some of the same ideas. God, I am so unoriginal. Not quite in-focus close up of a Christmas decoration, anyone?!

Consider yourselves tagged on facebook under the caption Merry Christmas everyone!!!!!.

Hope your Christmas shopping is going well!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Navy, yellow and dark dark green.

I had been fantasising about taking some really autumnal pictures all week. Glorious sunshine  coming through the golden avenues on the way to work had been inspiring me.

But then the weekend came and the weather was far from delightful. 

The new 50mm lens came to the rescue.

And proved that the woods in Piemonte are beautiful however dark the sky may be.

I think I want a printed dress in these colours. Who will make me one?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

I am one of them

It's November. The month when it starts to feel really dark. When I work on a Saturday morning I have very limited day light hours left with which to go outside and get my weekly green. For this reason, I did not take my camera to Monza this weekend, as I knew the light quality would be poor by the time I got there.

The sunset was stunning anyway, and the park was wonderfully hazy and muted. What really struck me though was the amount of people walking around with big digital cameras. Wow talk about the way photography is changing - whatever happened to the old disposables? Now all the teens have a serious digital one, and if they don't have one yet, they are getting one for Christmas. Recession. What recession?

As much as I'd like to be snobbish about all this in my heart of hearts I know I am ONE OF THEM. I have a beautiful camera which I take everywhere but still do not know how to use properly.

Yes, I have experimented a bit. I can take foamy waterfall shots, and just about use manual focus with hap-hazard results, but normally the camera's sophisticated auto function can beat anything I can do. These days your digital camera is a serious piece of technology. Your differing results seem to mainly boil down to five factors:

a) your choice of subject
b) your framing
c) your choice of lens
d) your ability to work with the lighting conditions
e) your knowledge of digital manipulation.

That last one there is a bit controversial with A and many other people. He believes that, with the exception of cropping, you shouldn't doctor an image because it is cheating and not real photography.

We've had this discussion before but yesterday I finally found a way to bring him round to my way of thinking, through the language of music.

Digital editing is just like recording music. You might record it exactly as the band played it, but often that doesn't achieve the effect you had in mind. Some things are too quiet, others to loud. You want to add this, bring out that etc... The exact same is true in photography. You can create an photo using only your computer if you want, perhaps the equivalent of what David Guetta does.

It might not be your taste but it doesn't mean it isn't valid.

Still when all's said and done, I do prefer an image that maintains the original acoustic integrity. Here are my favourite pictures from November. And all I did was crop (and add the water mark).

Those colours!

Definitive misty woods shot.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Now what?

Berlusconi has resigned. A. says he never thought he'd live to see the day, which is quite frankly ridiculous given that the man is 50 years older than him.

Now what?

I reckon he'll be back.... in some form or another!

What I really hope is that it's not too late for public television. It would be nice to watch some actual news for a change.  Normally obsessed with reporting on Berlusconi's movements, he's been keeping a low profile the last few months and has left them with pretty much nothing to report on apart from the Sollecito-Knox trial. You would have thought they would have shown a shot of Berlusconi consoling the inhabitants of the flooded out towns in Liguria, but maybe even that was too risky after he told the victims of the last disaster to pretend they were on a nice camping holiday.

Hence this once in a lifetime scoop from Rai 1: In Autumn it gets cold.

I particularly like the bit when the Moldovan lady tells them "it's not actually that cold." Also check out the shot of the trams in Milan. Nice.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Up to my ears in Halloween

A florist's display in Piemonte.

I will not be going to a Halloween party this year and I am quite happy about that. The past week has been total immersion in all things Halloween. (Speaking of immersion, one of my favourite places if  not THE favourite place in the world, Vernazza was badly flooded this week in a turn of events that left nine dead in Liguria but is too big a subject for me to tackle).

All the children's classes must celebrate the main festivals in the English speaking world and I didn't want to discriminate by age so this week all my classes were Halloween themed. It also happened to save on preparation time. Drop me a line if you want any materials to use in the classroom. I think I have an activity now for every age and every level. Even teens that groan "oh no not another Halloween lesson" (my thoughts exactly I might add!) and adult conversation classes. I have watched Meg and Mog and Owl about fifteen times this week.

The main problem with celebrating Halloween it seems, is that it is a very new thing in Italy. It's been imported artificially, (well, I assume its not all the american tourists that brought it to Italy) and some people resent that. I can understand that. So unless you are 5 and your parents are relaxed about celebrating festivals that are associated with the occult you can probably expect not to need fancy dress.

Not to worry. There are heaps of other festivals to celebrate in the autumn and nearly all of them food related. My favourite are the chestnut festivals. Roasted or candied they are yummy yummy.

Never had a candied chestnut, (am I the only person who thinks of the Redwall series when hearing the words candied chestnuts?)? Here's a little pic to let you know what you are missing. They are sweeter THAN THE SUN.

Chestnuts in the cafe window (sorry about the glare).
 Mmmmmmmm........ Sugar.............

Happy Halloween!

P.s. Next year I am so going to celebrate Diwali instead.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


At about 9 o'clock on Friday night I got an unexpected phone call. I had just got back from work and was slumped on the sofa when my phone went off. A was with me, so I had no idea who could be ringing me. An unknown number.

"Devo consegnare una busta," said an unfamiliar male voice. He had an "envelope" for me.

It sounded quite shady but he knew my address and he was insisting that I come outside and meet him....  so I did.

There was no-one there....

Perplexed, I went back up to the flat. 5 mins later the doorbell went. Aha! And there was a delivery man on the video phone.

I ran down again and recognised that envelope and signed for it straight away. It was my photo-book from Snapfish.

I decided to be frivolous and make my own portfolio (no not for modelling, just my own photography) and now I am really happy I did so.

The quality of the print is very nice, and it feels really nice to have all my best photos from the last 6 years in one place. Definitely worth the money (it was expensive even with the discount).

It totally made my Friday evening!

Perhaps I'll make another in another 6 years. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Gnam Gnam as they say round here.

Well I never, it turns out that I CAN do pretty food after all!

I haven't been feeling great the last few days so these banana muffins have been just the trick. All gone now.

The recipe is on the BBC - although I put in only one egg because I wrongly believed to have run out of eggs. Taste wise it was pretty much the same. Just slightly lighter. 

Gnam gnam.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Writer's Block

So there we have it, a month after my triumphant assertion that the blog is back, I am at a loss for words.  There are several reasons for this.

Firstly I have started my new job, and it's very time and energy consuming. I am putting a lot of pressure on myself at the moment to up my game in the classroom (the new school uses new methods and materials to my previous school) and it's not left me with much enthusiasm for blogging. Certianly it's not left me with enthusiasm for teaching blogging.

Secondly I have become more aware through a couple of chance encounters via the net that the internet is not as anonymous as I believed it to be (ie: somewhat). If I can recognise people's blogs that were perhaps not meant for my eyes then there's no guarantee they won't find mine. So I won't be writing about my professional life any more (not that I wrote about it much anyway). Its simply not professional.

So I am wondering about why I have an urge to write about my life publicly at all. If I have to self-censor where's the freedom of expression? I enjoy reading other people's blogs where they recount their run-ins with waiters etc, but I don't think they worry too much about offending these people in "real" life anyway.

I saw an interesting article that said if you want to write you should a) start writing, b) continue writing and c) write the kind of thing you enjoy reading.

So if I follow that logic I shouldn't be writing a teaching blog. A living in Italy blog maybe, but nothing too cliche, and probably an arty blog would work well. But then if what I really like reading are confessional blogs then....

.....and round and round we go.

If I am really honest, what I REALLY like doing is looking at food blogs' tasty pictures, but we can eliminate that from the possibilities because I do not do pretty cooking.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Fear

I suppose I knew in the end that the day would come. It wasn't really a surprise. I had already come up with my coping strategy, but sadly even the best laid plans fail.

A's foodie Dad has announced that he and his foodie girlfriend would like to come and visit us in Milan for the weekend.

That I have no problem whatsoever with. They are very welcome, too. I told them so. And then craftily I added "and A will cook you something really tasty."

But they weren't having any of it. They know he can cook and they want to try something English. 

 "Well maybe I'll make a dessert," I tried to fend them off. No luck there either, they've already eaten my cakes before.

*Insert four-letter-word of your choosing!!!*

You might think I am overreacting but the pear-puddle-pudding (pear crumble) and the milk soup (leek and potato) speak for themselves. I cannot cook under pressure even with idiot-proof recipes.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

7 Things

I have a confession to make: I cried at the airport before flying back. I wasn't really expecting it, but it does seem that the longer you stay away from 'home' the harder it gets. Obviously first and foremost I miss my family and friends, but there's not much I can do about that except for Skype and email and Facebook. There are a few things I miss though from England that I can only get hold of in Italy at great expense. When I pack I always try to pack some large bags of pasta for my family in order to ensure that there is space on the return journey.

The funny thing is that everbody's list is different. A friend once received an "emergency" parcel from her brother when we were in Mother Russia. I went over to her house to help her eat it. Imagine her surprise to find tins of Heinz baked beans and an enormous Christmas pud. The beans were a welcome taste of home, but Christmas pudding in June?

Another friend kindly sent me off to Belgium with a pack of "emergency" Rich Tea Biscuits.  Again, not something I eat very often, but I imagine something he himself misses when abroad.

I went on holiday to Minorca this year. So much fun and so relaxing. It was a bit of a shock to find it was an English colony though. Perhaps I should have known, but I've never been on holiday in Spain before on account of me being a language snob (I have to know the local language). We didn't even take a phrasebook - epic fail - but that is a (funny) story for another day.

Jealous Much?

In the supermarkets, even the little corner shops, I found every iconic British product under the sun. Not just marmite, but Coleman's mustard and Dairy Milk. You name it, they had it.

Unfortunately My only souvenirs of Spain are PG Tips and a small pot of nuts.

 Here are 7 things you should consider putting in your luggage if you are coming to visit me.

1) Peanut butter or Marmite.

2) Tetly tea.

3) Cheddar.

4) Lemsip, Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Anti-histamines or other cheap drugs.

5) Baking powder.

6) Muffin cases.

7) Ground almonds (you can't make a Bakewell tart without it).

Have I missed anything?

Oh yes, if you bought a magazine or paper for the plane you can leave that here too. A particularly enjoys the Economist although I prefer National Geographic.

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Blog is Back

The blog is officially revived. Much like the basil, that was brown and dry when we came back from holiday, it is flourishing once more, (though admittedly it - the basil- might take time to return to its former glory).

I have had a very creative summer. I think I really needed this break from working. I have started all kinds of projects. One of the most time consuming was the building up of a portfolio for my photography. I have renewed my enthusiasm for learning to knit via youtube vids and have accomplished two scarves with one more in the pipeline. I have resurrected my German, been dreaming in French and regenerated my English (I was starting to sound a bit odd).

I also got my beautiful friend Em to pose for me again and let me take another portrait of her. This is the finished result.

It's a fairly large painting (for me) on canvas in acrylics so please do click on it to get a better view. I am really pleased with it. I have painted her before, (unfortunately no photo available), but this time I really feel like I got a good likeness. Except of course she still looks better in real life. Hey ho.

All this artwork has reminded me of my survey that I put up on my blog to learn more about what direction people thought I should go... It was... oh a good few months ago. So far only six people have voted, and one of them was myself. I voted for more art by the way, so I'm obviously on the right track. If I exclude myself from the results, the result is a tie so I'd like to take this opportunity to ask you, if you haven't already, to vote yourself. The survey is over on the right hand side of the page under my profile. You can vote for multiple options if you so desire.

You have until midday October 1st!

Thank you very much.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

From the freezing North to the sweltering South.

How do you go about beating the heat in Milan in August? We all know it's hot but I started to feel concerned when friends advised that I "prepare" before coming back.

Now I don't know about you, but I'm still not exactly sure how one prepares for heat such as this. My only idea was to wear plenty of layers while still in the UK so that I could simulate it and then feel less overwhelmed on arrival. That plan was pretty quickly scuppered.

Firstly I had just spent a week in the highlands of Scotland, where when it wasn't raining it looked mostly like this.

Not that that was bad for the photos, but it did mean by the time I made it back to 18c I put on shorts to celebrate. 

Secondly it was a bad idea because I ended up carrying my coat all around the airport and it was a bit of an encumbrance because I spent a long time looking for my lost luggage (somebody had taken it off the conveyor belt and left it behind some chairs but I only saw it after I had queued to report it missing).

So as I am totally unprepared for this stuff A. has been sharing his top tips with me. Namely not eating a dish of steaming polenta washed down with mulled wine.

I've taken his advice and here are my own top tips.

1) Move to the seaside or don't go outside.

2) Don't put the cooker on. Salads only. If you're lucky you will get some fruit that will ripen quickly.

3)Stay still in front of the fan. Stay very still. Sleep.

4) Blog.

Off for a nap.

Stay cool. x

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Til September!

Hours are thin on the ground, the kids are tired of my educational games now and I am sick of the taking the metro with all the sweating stinking commuters packed in like sardines at rush hour. A appears in public without a jacket on. Even the blog wants a holiday.

This can only mean one thing. It's the end of June and I finish work this week and am heading back to the UK to make the most of my summer holidays/unemployment. If all goes to plan I should be starting at a new school outside Milan in October. Fingers crossed! It's been sad saying goodbye to people, but hopefully it will all be worth it.

On the upside I am really looking forward to seeing my family and catching up with old friends. Weddings and babies are the order of the day. Very much hoping the weather will let me adjust gently. I had to repack my suitcase when I realised I had been packing for a summer break in Madrid. Wishful thinking?

Bye bye A. I'll miss you! Don't get too sick of rice salad and pasta pesto.

Oh and don't forget to water the plants on the balcony AND inside the house. The basil needs watering once a day.

Ciao for now!

P.s. If you end up spending more than an hour looking at jars of pickles in the supermarket, then I will write you a shopping list, but only then.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


Last post I bitched about my new school course, but the upshot was that the next day I went back and clarified a few things and a couple of teachers said "hi" and it was all OH SO much better. I think some of these kids must have a very good English teacher. And I suspect they are actually English as the children's pronunciation sounds UK, (before they see the word written on the board anyway). What did they do that impressed me so much? 

Today we "went" to the zoo. They "bought" tickets and received a leaflet. I asked them to imagine what animals they might see.

Lion! Tiger! Giraffe! Snake! Elephant! Bear! Monkey! Zebra! Monkey! 

I wrote them all on the board and tried to elicit some more even if my imagination was running out.

One small boy put up his hand eagerly jumping up and down in his seat.


"It's already on the board, thank you."

"MUNKAYS! MUNKAYS!" called out another boy in unison.

I moved as if to move on. The monkey fervour was getting a little irritating.

"MUNKAYEEZ WITH 'S'" cried the boy again even more desperately.

Ohhhhhhhhh riiiiiiiight.Well, OF COURSE! What fun is a monkey unless it is plural?!

Monday, 13 June 2011

An Opposite Post

Here's how I started at my new school course today, except for fun, I am going to tell it in opposites.

I arrived at the school and went in (no wait, that bit's true). I immediately knew where to go because the head teacher was waiting to greet me. The head did not on any account leave a six year old to show me to my classroom, but took me there her/himself. On the way s/he pointed out to me where the toilets and entrance to the garden were and introduced me to some other teachers.

Upon arrival at the classroom the students were already there, ready with their books and pencil cases. I was introduced to the class and the class were brimming with enthusiasm for English, despite school finishing on Friday. Nobody was inexplicably absent and there was a professional adult to verify the addition of the new student to the class and the identity of the others.

I learnt everybody's names within in a minute.

I did not forget about my lesson plan.

Towards the end of the lesson some students arrived to fetch things from their classroom before lunch. They knocked on the door before entering and agreed to wait for two minutes while I finished my class. They waited patiently and shut the door after themselves. They were very polite about the fact I was in "their" classroom as they recognised I was a figure of authority.

When I finished my class my students waited patiently by the door until a member of staff came to collect them for lunch. I was not left guessing about the lunch time procedure while my pupils vanished into the distance.

I left in a calm state of mind with a satisfied feeling of being welcomed at a new school and a sense of some rapport established with my new pupils.

Then I went to lunch with A and ate tasty ice cream.

That last bit did actually happen. That's a relief.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

My Very First Italian Wedding

While I was a student I spent six exciting months in the capital of bureaucracy - Brussels. The bureaucracy was thrilling (not as sarcastic as you think), but my real reason for going there was to learn to speak French. I ended up with Italian house mates who had Italian friends so instead I got an Italian immersion and was doomed to practise French every now and again. Mainly in restaurants.

At the end of those six month we had to say goodbye, and while I intended to keep in touch with them, I foresaw a future based mainly on emails. But sometimes fate has a different plan for you, and for romantic reasons I ended up in Italy after all. Now I feel really blessed to have old friends in a new country.

This weekend my wonderful friend got married in the achingly romantic city of Verona (ignorance is bliss and so we shall choose to ignore Verona's xenephobic underside). The city hall is next to the Arena, which is a more complete version of the Colosseum in Rome. The reception was in the middle of the vineyards in the surrounding hills. The setting really was perfection.

And of course Valentina's boyfriend husband is a "bit of a legend" and so everybody was really happy they were getting married, including his crazy medic friends. A maintains that this is the proof of the old adage that people from Verona are crazy.

Veneziani grand signori,
Padovani gran dotori,
Vicentini magnagati,
Veronesi tuti mati.

The rhyme also says that people from Vicenza eat cats, so I don't think we can read too much into this. Besides medics as a profession tend to be a bit mental.

I digress.

It was a really beautiful day, the sun came out and shone and we escaped with only a thunderstorm. Apparently here though it is thought to be lucky if it rains on your wedding day. Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata. 

It was a very nice wedding too with all the things weddings should have, lots of food, wine, dancing, smiles and photos (I took my new 50mm lens and it worked a treat). I was a bit outraged that there were no speeches as I was really looking forward to someone dishing the dirt on the groom but they tell me it's not the done thing here.

I'll quit my jibber jabber now because I know all you really want to see is a picture of the dress.*

Auguroni to the happy couple!

*Note on the dress: I have been informed that cleavage and bare shoulders are a no-no for wedding dresses in church or at the town hall so that is why the bride is wearing a shawl in 29c.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

I need my mummy.

One of the nice things about teaching is that the year is clearly divided into parts and at the end of the year it's clear how much progress has been made and we all go off on holiday. The only problem is that it also makes life feel like it's flying by.

By the end of the summer some of my students probably will barely recognize me. The precocious little boy of last year is transformed into a bashful shy and retiring type when I ask "how are you?" despite the fact it's only been 4 months since we last saw each other.

My boys and girls that couldn't write at the beginning of the year can now spell using the alphabet. Once they were six. Now they are seven. Next year they will be taking tests!

They seem to grow up so fast, but every now and then you catch a glimpse of the child inside. One of my students, Tommaso, a confident lad of 10, got lost on his way back from his speaking exam at the hotel today. I went to look for him. I wandered around for about five minutes in the crowd of mum's and dad's until I spied him in a corner.

His face was completely white and he looked very lost and rather scared. I laughingly told him off for getting lost and led him back to his mates by the shoulders but it took him a moment or two to recover.

I feel the same way sometimes. I look at myself living away from home, with a job and paying rent and bills and cleaning ALL the things and going to the motherfucking bank and feel all grown up, but other days I have a Tommaso moment and I think WHO THOUGHT IT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA TO LEAVE ME RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL THIS? and I freak out.

That's why we all need our mummies. Even when we're 80 we still need our mummies. I'm about to ring mine now. She hasn't been able to help me with my homework since I was 11 but she's still there whenever I need advice on cold relief, aphids, cooking or sympathy.

Yey for mums!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Fashion Update

I have a feeling that a fashion update is way over due. I think I've only blogged about once so far, but I'm sure you're all itching to hear about the latest trends from the fashion capital.

The reason it's taken me so long to blog it is because this season's trends are hard to identify.The shops are bulging with white, peach and beige and floaty garments ad nauseum, (Vale - if my frock is the same colour as your wedding dress I am truly sorry but beige and peach make me look like death). Double denim is back. High waists, nautical themes and white capri pants are in.

OK, so what I really mean is that it's hard to identify a trendy person.

I think it's mainly because these trends were exactly what people were wearing before. The Fillipinas have always been big on denim jackets so I'm not really sure when I see a young woman in doubling her denim, if she's been reading vogue, or still wearing her 90s fashions. Light light denim is back too, so that middle aged lady in the high-waisted, tight, washed out jeans is bang on the money. Especially when she partners it with a shiny red belt.

The gypsy girls in their long floaty skirts, t-shirts and sandals are back in fashion too.

The Milanese dames have always been stick thin, sun-damaged and dressed in a nautical fashion during the summer, so their white trousers, jackets and stripy navy tops are no indication of trend awareness either. Actually some of the girls I have seen this week looked anorexic enough to put you off your lunch. I don't remember them being so thin. (Have they been swaddling themselves in puffa jackets this winter or has a new rehab centre opened?)

Frankly I have almost given up critiquing people's outfits on the metro. We truly have come to the point on the cool circle whereby the fashionabled and the fashiondisabled are indistinguishable.

And what about where you live or is this only the case in Milan?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Order is restored.

I haven't written much in the way of blog posts recently. No, instead I've been very busy with work as all my students try to catch up on all their lessons before the exams. The end in sight is near because today we had our first exam session. Little boys and girls came in from other schools for their speaking exam and they were all BEAUTIFUL.

Not only were they beautiful, they were delightful. My job was to keep them from talking as they waited for the exam. It was harder than I thought as they had memories like goldfish. I also made the mistake of looking at the news on my computer.

"William and Kate! William and Kate!" they cried jumping up when they saw their photo.

Yes, it is. SHHHHHHHH! But they had royal wedding fever bad. Very bad.

Then they got uncontrollable giggles when they saw a photo of an African lady in a hat shop. No idea why. I turned the computer off.


Finally they were all extremely anxious as to whether they should knock on the door or not if I had already opened it, so I made the mistake of telling them to ask me (as opposed to their friends) if they had any questions.

"Do you have any pens?" said one tiny girl brightly. "Pens? Huh? You don't need a pen." I said. "Who's got a pen?"

"I have a pet!" offered another girl. "Oh right, no, I don't have a pet," I said.

And then followed a whole flood of personal questions from the other kids.

"Why not?"

"Describe your apartment!"

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

"What was the weather like two days ago?"*

The last question utterly confused me. I smiled and nodded at them in a way I hoped was both authoritative and warm until it dawned on me.

"Excellent," I replied, and order was restored.

*I wish I could have seen the examiner's face when he trotted that one out.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Canvas number 1: finished

Happy Easter everybody! Hoping you all got some sunshine like we did here in Milan. A and I totally failed on nearly all of Easter plans (mountains, no, church, no, Turin, no, Ikea, no) but ended up being super spontaneous and hired bikes at the park in Monza and went round and round aimlessly. So good to feel the wind in my hair again.

What's more I finally finished my canvas.

This painting is pure nostalgia for home. I miss England to the point when sometimes I feel like it will overwhelm me but still.... I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. A friend posted this quote of Keats on Facebook and it describes my feelings perfectly.

Happy is England! I could be content 
To see no other verdure than its own; 
To feel no other breezes than are blown 
Through its tall woods with high romances blent: 
Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment 
For skies Italian, and an inward groan 
To sit upon an Alp as on a throne, 
And half forget what world or worldling meant.

Friday, 22 April 2011

A cheeky bit of blogging

My friend Nikkichik has come to stay and as we all know a good host doesn't leave their guest unattended at 10am when the guest may want breakfast/tweezers/towels etc...

So why am I doing a cheeky bit of blogging? Because Nikkichik is one of those rare and excellent guests with a capacity to entertain and fend for themselves and coincidently can sleep past 11.

It's been so great having her here. I love the fact that she always arrives in a faint whirlwind of chaos and breathes fun and hyper into everything we do (yesterday's activities: shopping for dresses and shoes, picinic in the park, impressionists, ice cream, aperitivos, easter egg hunt).

She arrived on Friday with no phone at an airport along way from an unfamiliar city where she doesn't speak the language. I offered to meet her at the Duomo, but she reckoned no she could make it to my work unaided. I waited nervously. I checked my phone every so often even though I realised it would be useless.

But nevertheless there she was at my work ten minutes late but ready to go. She looked a bit surprised when she saw that I already had my jacket on and had locked up. "Ooh am I late? I don't have a watch."

Nikkichik is gradually dispensing with the modern trappings in life that the rest of us would find to be essential. First it was the phone, then the watch, she's also done away with the handbag and the purse (loose change in the boots and notes in the bra). Next she says the laptop's going.

I admire her but  I don't think I'll be following in her footsteps. I find all that stuff pretty useful for my job. Plus, you wouldn't believe the amount of change that fell out when I picked up her boots. How can she walk?!

Anyway, when she wakes up there's tea and cake awaiting her on the balcony.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

I just got a little more Italian

Look. I'm a proper Italian housewife!

Along with my new cleaning obsession I also recently made the best lasagne EVER!  I would make a great casalinga if I had more time.

It really was a masterpiece of vegetarian cookery.

I just got that little bit more Italian and it's not only my culinary skills that are benefiting. The other day I explained an Italian joke that used word play to A because he didn't get it.



(They were dancing to Shakira's 'Loca' with a goose- l'oca - sock puppet on their hand. I am so proud! )

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Am I the only one?

Today is a terrific day for you, Scorpio. You finally seem to have a grasp on your thought processes and inner emotions. You will feel extra sensitive and loving, and people will be drawn to you because of it. You're able to look at your feelings in a rational, levelheaded manner instead being at the mercy of your wildly fluctuating emotions.

I just chose it from the site that google provides when looking for your horoscope. Definitely not been acting in a level headed manner today. No sir.

I did however got in touch with three friends from uni who I hadn't spoken to for aaaages today (I have been hanging around on Messanger all this time while everyone else had moved to Skype). This I felt was more significant (and fecking amazing) than my supposed lovingness. If ever I had done anything vaguely horoscopey in a day "getting in touch with people from your past" would have been it.

OK, this is anecdotal evidence, and not a valid scientific test, so if the sceptics aren't convinced by my scepticism, when I was 16 I did an actual scientific test. I literally cut the horoscope page out of my favourite magazine at the time and stapled it into my diary in the hope of finding some correlation every month for about a year. Mum was not impressed. "That's not very Christian of you!" she said decidedly disapprovingly when I asked her if she thought there was anything in it.

Regardless of its unorthodoxy the results were decidedly disappointing. Disappointing enough for me anyway. I relegated astrology to the box of interesting claptrap. And I still haven't heard anybody in Britain discussing it really seriously.

So I was in for a big surprise when I moved to Italy. Some days I feel like I am the ONLY one who doesn't believe in it. At my interview I was put under pressure to sign the contract on the same day and as I stalled in order to buy time I said "I don't like making decisions quickly." "What's your sign?" asked my interviewer. "Scorpio." I said. "Ahh that explains it". I looked up at her, but she was serious.

My boss, to my amazement, explained to a visiting parent the nature of her daughter's problems by putting it down to her star sign. Even the Buddhist monk from time to time says, "You don't need me to explain to you why astrology is important." YES, YES, I DO!

His explanations so far have been limited to "just think of the influence the moon has on the tides," "and people have been doing this for centuries." Given that he's a wise man it's a little worrying, (but the good thing about Buddhists is that they tell you not to believe what they say until you've tried it out).

So notwithstanding the dubious scientific background to it, what happens if you don't act like your star sign? Maybe I'm not really a Scorpio? Someone was equating being a "typical Scorpio" with anti-Semitism the other day and I'm not anti-Semitic.  To top that off I've been told by a fellow Scorpio that I'm not "evil enough".

So there we have it. My birth certificate must be wrong instead then.

A has a told me something sweet about one of his fellow interns who is an ardent communist. Said colleague told A that everyone would be communist if it was explained to them properly. People are just ignorant and misguided and that's why they are right wing.

I used to think like that too, until I had a few conversations with people and pretty soon learnt that it doesn't matter how reasonable your own views are to yourself nobody will ever think just like you. Not even if you explain it to them for a MILLION years.

It's quite hard to come to terms with actually and although I've managed to accept this on issues such as women's rights and racism, I have yet to manage it with astrology. I still expect the person to bust out laughing or a quick internet search on proof that full moons do not cause homicide rates to go up to change their minds, but experience says that this is not going to happen.

Not in Italy anyway.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Canvas number 1: Sneak Preview

Poor A has been working so hard this week, until midnight on Wednesday and Thursday and until Saturday morning on Friday. Really, who'd want to be a lawyer? So I've been taking the opportunity to start work on Canvas number 1. It's not finished and I don't know when I'll finish it yet, so here's a sneak preview. 

Recognise this detail  anyone?

Thursday, 17 March 2011

10 Reasons Italians Should Cheer Up

Happy Birthday Italy! Wow! 150 years! (I don't want to sound patronising as that doesn't sound like a very long time, but you made it this far!) Not that you care anyway, you miseries.

I had the day off work today. You'd think that that would be enough to cheer them up, but like some people in England who are grumbling about the royal wedding causing them to take time off work, or just resenting the whole situation on constitutional grounds, most Italians remain decidely subdued.

I have taken it upon myself recently to try and show my grumpy friends their luck whenever they start to complain again about the current political, cultural or economic situation and sigh over how I will never understand it because I'm British. Yes the UK has a lot going for it when it comes to politics (in comparison with Italy anyway) and education but that doesn't mean that Italy has nothing to offer.

I usually start along the lines of "Just think about the food and the weather!" but apparently these are so obvious they don't count any more, so I've had to think a bit harder. Here's my list of things to celebrate about Italy. I've got ten items, but there must be more, so you if you think of any more add your own at the bottom.

I present to you the Gnocco Fritto...

1) The food. Yes it is pretty good.

2) The weather. It's better.

3) Partying culture involves more eating and less drinking which is definitely a good thing if you are a light weight like me.

4) People eat more but somehow do not get so fat.

5) Society dotes on it young. People are much more tolerant of children, and young men aren't feared like they are in the UK. Teenage girls are less pregnant.

Look - families even hang out together!

6) Yes they will probably call everyday but your family can be counted on if you are in need to do pretty much anything: from ironing your shirts to giving you the entire contents of their fridge to letting you stay in their holiday house.

7) People are more open. People are allowed to touch each other. Some men are comfortable enough with their sexuality to even kiss each other hello! People can get angry, argue, get over it and then move on (if they want). They can also tell people they love that they love them.

8) Going to university doesn't require taking out a huge loan.

9) No obstacle is an obstacle. Why else would the Italians have the largest organised crime network in the world? Even at work, I think my boss will surely have to say no to a client but my timetable is endlessly played with until they get their lesson. (Maybe straight forward things are so challenging precisely because they aren't challenging enough?)

10) Italy still has some of the most interesting architecture, history, art, and music in the world.

There's probably a reason you haven't seen this photo of the Duomo before...

During the recital of this list I can guarantee that any Italian who is reading will nod their heads thoughtfully to all of them except the last. "Oh, that doesn't count," they say, "that has nothing to do with modern Italians." Why the hell not?

Most of the Brits alive today didn't fight in WWII but that doesn't stop them from thinking they're better than the rest of Europe.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Goat Cushions and Fox Scones

Excuse me for a lazy post but sometimes life seems so messy. It's Thursday evening - I need to write my blog, but nothing tessellates.

What have I done this week? Well... I have been to Olgiasco on Lake Como for an exhilarating ramble around the beautiful peninsular and the peaceful Abbey of Piona, gone food shopping and cleaned the floors. Then I finished my goat cushions and went to a well known furniture shop which destroys my soul but at the same time makes me spend loads of money on things that will allow me to make scones in the shape of foxes... or moose in the shape of a moose.

The weeks at work are whizzing by with mock exams and marking, setting homework, checking homework and trying to give students a gentle reality check. All of this is interspersed with trips to the Doctor's, getting shoes mended and other errands.

I feel a bit like I'm getting swept away by the craziness of the mundane, drowning in trivialities, losing myself in the daily grind... In short I need a holiday. Fortunately next week is Carnival and a bit of a respite. I'm looking forward to it. I need to find myself again. After all, the daily grind is what life is made of.

A randomly asked me when I was going to make my giant cushion.
"I just don't know! I have so many projects in my head!" I cried despairingly.

When a non-existant manta-ray pillow is stressing you out you know its time to take a break.

Uninspiring Cushion

Goat templates

Many hours of sewing later...
Billy Goat's Gruff

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The not so "argh" post afterall...

Yesterday I was frustrated and angry and despairing. I wanted to write a blog post along the lines of AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH and spew rage and cry and laugh hysterically. But today I feel so much better. In fact I have a big smile on my face. Maybe Italy is not so bad after all. Just maybe.

Yesterday I had my appointment at the Comune of Milan to start my residency process. I had waited two months for that appointment and my friend came with me to help translate. Unfortunately she didn't get a chance to do much interpreting as the building was open but nobody was there on account of Italy being a unionised country and all the staff had gone to their union meeting. So it left us with no option but to ring around switchboards for an hour, have Skype let us down repeatedly and then find nobody who knew anything about anything. So I was left with the only option of going this morning at 8.30 which felt like the crack of dawn and braving it out.

Well, we eventually got directed to a woman with an "non-me-ne-frega"* face and before we (yes I know my friend is amazing to get up so early to fight the tyranny of bureaucracy with me) had even opened our mouths I could see the answer was going to be a "no". Just as I was about to get ready to PRETTY PLEASE it a different woman walked by and took pity on our cancelled appointment state and  coaxed her colleague to allow her to help us.

Such a pleasant surprise! She was super nice. She even called me as I was leaving the building to say I had forgotten to photocopy my passport and gave me directions to the nearest photocopy shop and then kept the desk open for us. As we left she blew us kisses goodbye. I am so grateful to her. If she hadn't stepped in it would have been months until the next available appointment.

This afternoon culminated in the same wonderful friend accompanying me to my x-ray. I bought her a coffee afterwards but I think she deserves flowers, cake and several bottles of wine for all her help. It was at a private hospital and the service for me as a state patient was fantastic. There was someone at the entrance just to answer dumb-ass questions about where to go and we paid within 10 mins. In fact my x-ray - which was a chest x-ray, as it turned out  (who knew?)- was over BEFORE my appointment was even due. The service was so efficient that as I stood on the x-ray machine not understanding directions in my "stupid foreigner" way I found my face pushed abruptly into the metal and my arms hoiked for me. It was startling but probably necessary.

Ladies and gentlemen I can proudly announce, that what I had once thought too close to call is actually true. Yes. Italian bureaucracy is better than Belgian! Why, they even have a government here (and only the one!). Post office queues are only 30 mins long as opposed to 50. Regional antipathy is not so great that I am banned from moving to Naples if I so choose. It might take 6 months but I don't have to pay 300 euros to get a piece of paper that says I live here.
And these are all small comforts.

The next time an Italian complains at the post office I will say to them "Yes Italy sucks, but it could be worse. You could be in BELGIUM."

*"I couldn't give a s***".

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Reasons to like February

If I had to pick a least favourite month February would win. I know a lot of people would choose November, but my birthday is in November and so that makes the whole month a lot more bearable. No, it would  have to be February. It's the middle of the brown season and Spring is showing very little sign of ever remembering the world. There are no holidays and this year there isn't even pancake day.

However there are a few reasons why I'm starting to forgive February this year. It has it's own ways of cheering me up. The first is Valentine's day. Any excuse for flowers in the house is surely a good thing and A really excelled himself this year, I am a lucky lady.

I made him a Love Heart card but they don't have the sweets in Italy so he didn't know what it was. FAIL.

Then there is Carnival. My friend had a fancy dress themed birthday party in honour of the carnival season. Here we are. Aren't we magnificent? Can you guess what the theme was?

The birthday girl (centre) won the Oscar, and A was happy as ragioniere Filini, Fantozzi's best mate in many Italian comedies. He came joint third with Napoleon.

Plus Carnival gives you a great excuse to eat deep fried sugary "bugie" which is another mood booster. Until the sugar come-down at least.

Finally, and this is more of a personal reason, February has introduced me to loads of great crafty blogs which are giving me tons of inspiration. I'm creating a little sacher torte box of creative things. Yep, even the playing cards have come to fruition.

Bird Power! May my Eagle Owl bring you wisdom, my Song Thrush bring you creativity, my Blue Tit, intimacy and my Jackdaw, courage until Spring arrives.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Thursday Curse

A and I have been arguing again. We were fully concious that we had a high probability of arguing but somehow we ended up doing it anyway. We even laughed about how we were going to argue. In fact it's a running joke now that we will end up having a spat on Thursday.

A came in triumphantly one evening after having read a piece of research that said that 8 pm Thursday evening  is the worst time for couples' arguments. For us, actually, the time of the argument will be somewhere between 9-10pm. However we felt that was insignificant given that we don't get back from work until past 8.

So what is it about Thursday that makes it so uniquely favourable to bad moods and bickering? Well, I put it down to the confluence of the constellation of Thursday teens and the planet "Annozero," ruling planet of televised fervent political debate.

My sweet colleague cackles with glee as she wishes me "Happy Thursday!", (schadenfreude is not only for the Germans), partially because I like Wednesdays and she doesn't, and partially because the look of doom on my face must be amusing. While I don't find Thursdays as odious as I did at the beginning of the year, I still couldn't say that I bounce into work with as much enthusiasm as I would like. 

I normally come home feeling a bit frazzled and in need of hot tea and relaxation, which is why it is probably very unfortunate that it coincides with A's favourite programme of the week, which equally unfortunately stresses me out. Every week they discuss Berlusconi and every week there is a lot of incomprehensible shouting, angry music and futile debate. People are invited because they are either really pro Mr B and prepared to say on national TV they would send their own daughters to one of his parties, or they are anti-Berlusconi, but can't be heard because the others are shouting so much, or they are communists and anarchists making provocative statements for the hell of it.

I can't follow the show, because of the cacophony of voices, but it's got vibes of Jeremy Kyle meets Jeremy Paxman. To add insult to my injured ears, A insists I happily sit next to him while he watches this show. (Sorry A, I know you love the show, but if you watch it, I have to be allowed unwind in a different room).

So if you were planning on having an aperitivo Thursday evening or going out for pizza, or even just wanting a chat, let me know, and help us save us from ourselves.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Winter Sun on Sant' Ambrogio

A couple of weeks ago we went out for a trip with the camera to the atmospheric area of Sant' Ambrogio. San't Ambrogio is Milan's patron saint and also the name of a stupendously old church. It dates from the 4th century so its a simple building with a mix of styles from different epochs. One thing hasn't changed though, Sant' Ambrogio hasn't left his church and you can seen him today in all his grisly gory glory.

To get there however we needed a bus and we missed it. This meant we had to walk, but fortunately there were plenty of things well worth looking at. This is the Basilica San Lorenzo from the back. (I think it looks better from the back).

 The two guys on this motorbike were definitely breaking the law, but I don't think it bothered them. They were quite excited to be included in the picture.

 And here we are near Sant' Ambrogio itself. I think it was at this point that I realised the light was too far gone for the pictures I had had in mind.
It was still beautiful though! When we arrived the sun was almost set and the top half of everything was covered in gold.  

We had a look at some of their ancient frescos, the man himself and then went on our way. By the time we hit the January sales it was completely dark but Via Torino was still heaving. We pushed our way through the crowds and I could feel desire for buying things evaporating. Shopping on Saturday in Milan is not for the Milanese. 

Until I saw this really cute navy buttoned skirt that is.