Sunday, 16 December 2012

Non è Smog, è Snog

The Japanese Car Park

Snow + Fog = Snog

Bravo A

Vanishing Point

The Swan

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Still life: flowers

With my anniversary flowers I set myself up a little studio next to the french doors. Natural light, clean wooden floorboards and drapery curtesy of the curtains. I think it worked surprisingly well!  With the narrow aperture you'd never guess how basic the 'studio' was.

Iconic Red

This icon was found in a Piemontese Orthodox church.
I love an Orthodox church. the ones in Russia had such a special atmosphere.

I love the way you can wonder around, even as a service is being held.

I love the chanting and the insense and the icons and the archaic cyrillic script.

I love how they feel christmassy all year round.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Why I will never use instagram

Well firstly, I don't have an iphone even though if I wanted to stretch my finances I could maybe afford one, (which makes me a 'radical chic di merda' according to a friend's brother). So I won't be taking any sqaure photos or using an instagram app. 

I could end this post right here, and maybe I should but....

Why instagram or use instagrammy effects in the first place? Iphone cameras often aren't so good on the colour front or the sharpness front so a filter or two can help hide that defect. I only ever play with these things post processing when my original photo came out badly. My nostalgia for what could have been  makes me try to hide whatever damage I caused with some severe vignetting, blurring or 'lomo' effects.

For example: the photo came out blurry because I forgot the first rule in photography (which is to stay still).

For example: the camera auto-focussed on the wrong thing.

These pictures came out pretty "arty" after a filter or two, but the problem is that deep down I know the only reason they look like this is because I messed up when taking the picture. And that means everytime I look at these photos I feel annoyed.

The biggest reason I don't like retro filters though is that vintage is just not my style. I look at the photos above and think pretty much anybody could have taken them. Nothing about them says that they're mine.

So in short, friends and lovers of instagram, I won't be joining you, but it doesn't mean I don't enjoy looking at your pictures. Just as long as you promise to stick to baby and family photos (so cute, like our parents' early photo albums) and stay way away from the food snaps. The last thing food needs to look is old.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Ombre Moment

Glowing Ombre

The weather's starting to feel ever so Novembery, but every now and again there's still a photo op. This one was during breakfast.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Lunch time in Milan

It's a long weekend here in Milan. Four days of weekend. It's wonderful. Yesterday I went to the city centre to watch A. eat his lunch and buy lots of birthday prezzies and I took my camera with me. I was a bit late to my appointment, but you can see why. There was just the loveliest autumn light and at 1pm to boot.

Lunch Time in Milan

Piazza Duomo

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele

Tram 1


The Pharmacy

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why don't wet dogs get a colpo d'aria?

I went to a nearby lake at the weekend and sat in the sun while A went for a run. I wasn't feeling so chipper. I think I might have caught the legendary colpo d'aria (symptoms include just about anything really), even though common wisdom states English people are immune to it. However I went out without my scarf on Friday and there was a strong breeze which was pretty perilous.

As I sat in the sun I tried to photograph people's dogs playing in the water. It was quite difficult. I didn't want to get too close and invade their space, but I hope it was obvious I wasn't taking photos of them.

I love the water droplets in the second two photos. It was quite hard to capture the dogs shaking as they run about so fast, but I think photo number two is my favourite. The afternoon sun was already coming in at an angle, even if it wasn't quite the golden hour. The one thing I look forward to with the shorter days is better light for photography!

But the question is: if it's considered deadly to leave the house or hairdressers with wet hair, why does nobody worry about their dogs getting a colpo d'aria?

Saturday, 6 October 2012

How Not to Open a Bank Account in Italy

It's taken me a while to finish the tale of bureaucratic headache that started up a few months ago. It was mostly resolved (fingers crossed!) back in June but it has taken me a few months for the shame to die down enough for me to be able to write about it.

Things you should know about opening a bank account in Italy

1) You need an identity card.

2) To get an identity card you need residency.

3) To get residency you need a job with a proper contract and an application process that lasts over six months.

4) You need a piece of paper stamped by your previous bank to prove your identity if you have never opened an account before. (Illogical? Very! And my previous bank wouldn't help me out either).

5) To get the identity card or residency you need to get to the registry office.

6) To get to the registry office you need to use the metro.

7) To use the metro I needed my metro pass to accept my top up.

It wouldn't. It was starting to feel like a "for want of a horse-shoe nail" moment, but fortunately it wasn't, as I was able to get both my identity card and a new metro pass within one week. The unexpected speed of over coming these difficulties probably went to my head because I approached the last hurdle, hurdle number 4, with an uncharacteristic can-do confidence.

I took the metro with my lovely new responsive and modern looking metro pass up to the city centre and quickly found the road and the bank. I went inside.

Odd. Very odd. There was no reception, nobody around. I wondered down a few corridors but saw no workers except a couple of people in suits on telephones. Eventually a found a nice lady who helped me "I need to finish opening my bank account," I told her, "I started it on line, but I couldn't prove my identity, can you help me?"

"Sorry madam, this is the bank for businesses. You need to go to the branch for private banking."

Oops! (or Opps! as they say here) She told me where to go and I very nearly complained that they had the wrong address on their website but it was all a bit awkward so I didn't, because most fools would have spotted that they were in the wrong place before wandering around all the corridors. My morale was still quite high though.

I went around the corner to another square and there sure enough was the bank: big new offices, prime real estate and very orange decor.  I was directed to a ticket machine so I took my number and waited my turn.

It was mega slow. The manager kept shouting to get things moving but it was at least 40 minutes I waited in line. First impressions were not good. I started to seep morale.

Finally my turn came and I sat down and handed my documents over and explained the situation again. She dutifully typed my details into the computer but nothing came up. She looked bewildered and I started to bleed morale more quickly.

We tried different combinations but nothing worked. Morale was gushing out of me like a waterfall. I couldn't bear the idea of starting all over again. She turned over my papers.

"Ahhhhhh," she said, "but this isn't THAT bank. We are THIS bank."

Long and awkward pause.

I appologised and started to feel myself go a bit red for rubbing my not wanting to open a bank account with them in their faces so wantonly.

"Don't worry," she smiled, "it happens all the time."

"It doesn't though, does it?" I hastily tried to stuff  my papers that had exploded all over her desk into my handbag.

"No, it doesn't." She admitted cheerfully.

I got out of there quickly and fifteen minutes later I had a bank account. I went back to the first road and looked right instead of left and saw that there was another very orange bank. They were extremely friendly and efficient and I haven't been back since.

Long may it stay that way.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Fortress of Bard

Sleepy Hollow

The Fort

One Dalmation

Wet flagstones

The Shining

7 myths about living in Italy

You may believe these myths because you have read too many expat books about living in Italy like Extra Virgin, or from bumping into an Italian once at university, or because you tasted the Italian experience when on holiday. So if you were thinking about the good life in Italy, and I'm sure it exists somewhere, let me put a few things straight first.

It's better this way.

Myth #1
Italians are sooo superior when it comes to food. Never cook for an Italian. They will hate it because it isn't like their nonna's.

Reality: A lot of Italians eat the same meals week in week out, like pasta and tomato sauce or a exist only on tiny coffees. They will love any attempt at British cooking for the sheer novelty value and appreciate any sweet baked treats because Italian desserts are really limited in range. Whilst the vast majority do not go wild for marmite, some do.

Myth #2
Everyone is very well dressed. You will be made to feel shabby.

Reality: Actually yes, but only in city centres (it is impossible not to feel shabby in Milan). Everywhere else though, people wear practical clothes for doing practical things. Teachers even wear jeans to school!

Myth #3
You will acheive a work-life balance because you will be making a modest but steady income running a B+B, teaching English for a few hours in the afternoons or living off the land.

Reality: Hah! In this economic climate?! Also, I don't think I've ever heard an Italian use the term "work-life balance".

Myth #4
Italians are smiling buffoons full of joie-de-vivre.

Reality: No, but that's what they want you to think if you are a foreign tourist in a touristy restaurant. (Italians don't tip). Little known fact - Berlusconi is in the pay of Italian waiters as they encourage him to promote this adorable national stereotype abroad.*

Myth #5
You will go for a passeggiata every evening with your friends and family.

Reality: Once a week maybe, on a weekend if you aren't retired. Everybody else is too busy. See myth #3.

Myth #6
Italians don't say mmmmmm when  they think something is tasty (Is this from Driving Over Lemons or some such expat book?).

Reality: They do.

Myth #7
Italian men are better looking.

Reality: It's not a myth. However, they are shorter.

Any more myths I should tackle? Or am I mistaken? Leave a comment below by clicking on "comments:"

*I made that up.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Hipster "Porn" from Canon

The Canon EOS M promotion video - could it be the most annoying advert ever?  The Fake Intellectual here has everything he could ever dream of:
  • Macbook 
  • Appartment in trendy city 
  • Silk scarf  and Man Bag.
  • Dates wannabe models/ fashion bloggers.
  • Makes blueberry pies (blueberries - they're so hot right now!).
  • Wears his trousers too short to show off his desert boots.
  • Has no DSLR because he is obviously using a small mirrorless Canon with interchangeable lenses (I'm not making fun of that - that looks like it might be quite practical).

So far not particularly annoying..... just run-of-the-mill hipster fake intellectual. What really annoys me are his photography habits.

During the video he takes rather boring close up shots of four tomatoes, an artichoke, a box of maccaroons (maccaroons - they're so hot right now!) and small pastries. 

Really?! There is no way he is going to want to look at shots of shiny cakes through shiny glass when he is 80.

But when he has finished his decidedly odd shopping habits he then goes and does the most annoying thing ever.


By all means play with your photos after you take them and keep an original just in case the novelty effect wears off, but even if he took the close up tomato shot of the century it's going to go stale faster than the baguettes he forgets to buy. 

ps. Note that they don't show you the shots "he" took with the flash, because even the model isn't going to look pretty like that.

So what could be an amazing little camera now now just seems really gimmicky and like it's all about pandering to the latest trend. Shame.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Brilliance of Boredom

So first things first, you may have noticed I've turned my back on the interactive blog layout. I liked it, but I've been having a lot of problems with people not being able to comment, and I missed the archive and personalization of the old layout. So welcome to my new blog. Notice how the header now reaches all the way across! That's the view from the roof of the Duomo in Milan in case you were wondering.

I'd also like to invite you to write a comment at the end of this post (click where it says "no comments"!) so I can see if the comment section, which should now open as a separate window is foolproof, or should I say mum-proof?!


I spent a lot of this summer travelling around and generally having a very good time. But I did wonder if I was ever going to get the chance to get bored. I knew that if I was ever going to want to get back to work I was going to need to get really bored. And finally last week it happened. At home with A studying from dawn til dusk I suddenly found time to do all kinds of things I'd been meaning to do for ages.

I've got my computer fixed, finished my knitting project and my painting on top of a whole heap of other boring stuff I had been putting off.

The original inspiration taken at Porto Venere one cold winter's day.
I have been procrastinating so long it's been hung on the wall for months like this.
Finally the finished thing!

 The painting was originally conceived as an idea to cover another painting I'd done which I no longer liked and the knitting project was an attempt to use up some of the leftover wool from my knitting mania last year. Thrifty art is often the most rewarding though.

I used 12mm needles which was fortunate because I had decided to make a shawl style scarf which ended up at over 90 stiches wide. It had become exceedingly boring but then I discovered... TASSELS! It is now fringed in tassels, and given how easy it was I suspect a lot of other things are about to get covered in tassels.

Compare, plain snood I made last year to this year's project.

Plain and simple: last year

This year: Fringe heaven!

Want tassels on your scarf? I am your woman!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Beautiful Baha'i

Up in Evanston on the shores of Lake Michigan, North of Chicago, is one of the world's first Baha'i temples. It's a really stunning building. Set in the suburbs of spacious painted wooden mansions and green green manicured lawns it sticks out a mile.

Get that polarizing filter on.

The building has nine sides which represent something profound, I forget what exactly and the building is covered in the symbols of all the major religions. The Baha'i faith is all about inclusion and focuses on the teachings that all main religions have in common, which is one of the reasons it's such an attractive place to visit.

The people at the temple were seriously welcoming in a totally genuine way, by which I mean they didn't seem interested in trying to convert people, but really happy to let you have a look around and a chat if you wished. They even opened the visitor centre for us early so that we could use the toilets. I mean who arrives before 10am to look at a church? (Answer: People with serious jet lag.)

O Rich Ones on Earth
According to the information my Dad read there, the Baha'i religion is run by elected councils and has no clergy and no services as such. I think he was seriously impressed by this.

The thing that I liked the most though was undoubtedly the way the gardens and temple are planned to fit together as one. The gardens are an extension of the temple and so they have a really special feel to them with fountains and flowers all laid out in nine different sections. I could have wandered around the gardens for a very long time, except we had other stuff to do (like wedding rehearsals!).

So in conclusion, if you are ever in Chicago the Baha'i temple is a must-see along with the skyscrapers of down town and the lake front.

Oh, and take some sunglasses. It's seriously bright!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Mountain Perfection

Ahh, the last day in the mountains and a picnic following a strenuous climb. I was so tired on the way back down that I was practically sleep walking. But what a view. I want to paint this onto my balcony wall so I can see it from my bed, but obviously I'm not going to.

Is this why mountain people are so mountainy? How could a city ever compare when you've got cows with bells on, marmots and a duck that looks a bit like Mario Balotelli outside your front door?

Sort of.

Photo Reportage - The Student (and his chocolate)

Studia, sottolinea, legge, fa una pausa, beve il caffè e finisce il cioccolato.

He studies, he underlines nearly all the words, he has a break and drinks some coffee. He eats all the chocolate and then goes back to highlighting.

The chocolate is Novi - if you are interested in ever trying some of the best Italian chocolate out there. It is seriously good stuff and probably very calorific which makes it a very satisfyingly chocolatey experience. It also comes with hazelnuts in to give the student extra brain power.

When I lived in the Dolomites I pretty much coped with my brand new teaching schedule by eating large quantities of the stuff. Despite this I lost a lot of weight which probably makes it a miracle food. In the end though it was seeming to cause my skin to break out.

Nowadays I have fewer spots but am fatter as I now eat my Novi in moderation.

Another really good chocolate to try, though somewhat pricier, is the artisan chocolate from Gobino, a famous chocolate maker in Turin. The Giandujotti come in little ingot shaped forms in gold, silver and bronze foil.

My absolute favourite (and A's and pretty much everyone-else-I-know's) are the silver ones. The secret recipe contains no milk but are somehow extremely creamy. MMMMMMMMM CHOCOLATE.

So if you have a birthday coming up or feel owed a Chrizzy prezzie just let me know which you would like to try.

Friday, 10 August 2012

And there were marmots everywhere

Carting that zoom lens around is finally paying off, like I said in my last post. So far a few butterfly and plant shots is about the max of my capabilities with that lens, but some times I like to use it a bit like a telescope. In the hope of spotting more deer, or maybe something juicy like an eagle or an ibex I've been carrying the camera complete with heavy lens around my neck. When it gets a bit too heavy and I'm on the way home I give in to the temptation to carry the camera on my back. 

And that is of course the moment you see a chamois, scarpering across the path, in a forest glade exactly where it isnt supposed to be. An amazing animal it was, much much bigger than I had expected, more like the size of a deer with a powerful body and incedible agility. It retreated down the slope and then stood there whistling at us from among the trees. I couldn't have changed the lens fast enough so I didn't bother trying.

That's always the way though. Animals don't really understand that they are supposed to be found in their  dedicated nature reserve, and that's how I've seen an otter fishing next to a loading ferry and a chamois in a forest. 

So when A's mother suggest we go for a walk to see marmots and athe very rare edelweis I was a little sceptical. Especially when we made it up to this valley where the treeline ends and I saw the terrain. 

Where are the marmots? (Why am I always the slowest person?)
I didn't see any edelweis because I was too tired to make it up to the pasture, but I did see marmots and lots of them, maybe seven or eight in total. A's mum is the best at spotting them before they vanish. I took lots of photos but nearly all of them show a marmotty lump that could be a rock. When I dowloaded them onto the computer I was a bit disappoint with the pictures. 

Except this one. This one makes all my aching muscles worth it.

You can even see its little face.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Macro Love

I'm staying in the mountains at the moment. It's beautiful. We've had a bit of rain but mostly the weather has been glorious. I take my camera out nearly all the time. I'm even carting around my big zoom/macro lens. It's great, because normally I take a lot of sweeping mountain scenes, but this summer I'm determined to get a bit more variety for my 'portfolio'.

I've managed to take some nice macro shots though of tiny flowers and browsing butterflies. Very hard to keep the hands steady without a tripod and to focus on the right part of the plant - such a narrow aperture!

Small alpine flowers growing on a rock

How have I not used my macro lens more?

Tuesday, 31 July 2012


Oooh it's been a while. I've been very busy reading other blogs. In particular I've been reading which has been eyeopening. So many good tips for new photographers and old photographers. Fascinating videos from areas of photography that don't excite me at all, but turn out to be just what I need to see to get me thinking about things in a new way.

I've even been showing some of the best videos to A and even he likes them. He wasn't that into photography before but I think he's getting it. He certainly spent more time than normal behind the camera this holiday and I was even able to answer some of his questions about aperture. Go me!

Best video so far was a tuition video showing how do take portraits in full sun at midday. Guess what it really works! I really liked the in the shade over exposed trick against a light wall, and getting the model to hold a relfector under the dark side of the face, so we had a go on the balcony (with white A4 card - no reflectors
in this house to hand) and it really works.


And this:

Are definitely an improvement on this:

That is all.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Summer Camp Poem.

Dear Me,

Laruchka has not been posting recently because she has been too busy with Summer Camp. The children have used up most of her energy and the heat and humidity have taken the rest.

Please excuse her from sport for the next few days, unless it is the televised variety featuring the England football team.


It's my second week of afternoons at Summer camp, and I have to say, it's really not as bad as I thought it would be. The children are actually pretty nice kids and making crafts is right up my street. But OH MY GOD it is so much more tiring than I expected. 

Aside from sports (one dead right arm from turning the skipping rope for and hour and thank God I am better at them at piggy-in-the-middle) which in 32c heat is predictably hard, hot and sticky work.  Craft is an hour of jungle-like cacophony as kids whine my name continuously.I rush from kid to kid to help them make their bumble bee, or show them how to mix their salt dough but I don't seem to have enough arms. One child today was whining my name at the top of her voice and when I turned around she stopped. She didn't actually want or need my help, it's just that's what everybody else was doing. And that's just the ten year olds!

Break time seemed promisingly named, but the amount of stupid, irritating and down right dangerous ideas the kids come up with is just phenomenal. I wish I had their imagination.


One Hula Hoop in a tree,
Wobbling teacher on the table.
Earth and water in a Frisbee.
Half of a dead bee,
No that's not a chrysalis.
Climbing up the tree.
Throwing clods at passing traffic,
Drawing on school property.
Frisbee in the classroom,
Skipping ropes around the neck,
Mosquito repellent fight
Can I get it in your eyes?
Flood the school yard,
Make a splat,
Charge the play house with a table,
I think that's enough of that.


I asked one of the helpers if the morning shift or afternoon shift was easier. She said definitely the morning. 

I bloody knew it!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Wild Strawberries

This Saturday, the weather and my health were finally working in my favour, so A and I decided to go on a day trip to the mountains, something we hadn't done for a long time. We had a look in our book for something new and turistico because I'm not yet feeling capable of hiking. We found what seemed perfect, though it was a bit confusing as it said "short walk" and "2 hours."

However this seems to be totally normal in Italian guidebooks and websites, where despite the fact that Italians don't like walking, and would rather wait for a bus for 10 mins than walk 10 mins, anything I would consider quite difficult is listed as medium or easy. The lack of medium length walks is quite frustrating.

If you do go walking you get up at 5am and drive to the mountains so as to be setting off by 7am. Then you walk until about 3 in the afternoon probably climbing over a 1000m. Hence I am very much suspicious of even "tourist" walks. My idea of a tourist walk is a track you could take a pushchair or your grandmother down.

It turned out a success, though not in the way we expected. We decided on going to see a large cave up in the hills. The track up from the village was pretty steep, so we left the car at the bottom, but it was very very pretty. The dappled shade meant that there was everything from ferns to hundreds of wild strawberries all over the banks.

On occasion you got a glimpse of a very promising view.

Once we got to the path going to the cave it started to feel like we were entering the jungle. It was sticky and green and there were creepers falling from the trees. Curiously there was no-one around.

Within twenty minutes we saw the rock walls looming and we knew we must be close. Alas, I spied orange tape. "That won't be very good for the photos," I thought. But even worse was the sign. The cave was shut. There had been a landslide and we couldn't even see it.

At the cafe later we asked when it was going to open again. They didn't know if or when. But their ice-cream, strawberries and jam tart more than made up for it. With a view like this I'll definitely be going back.