Saturday, 20 December 2008

Bomb attack on local Post Office

(translated into English from the Italian daily newspaper ‘Il Telegrafo’)

Italian police are currently searching for 30 year old English woman, Melissa Morozzo, after she exploded a home made bomb in the Via Alamanni branch of the Post Office Bank in Florence yesterday morning. Nobody was seriously hurt in the blast although several Post Office employees suffered paper cuts after the piles of forms littering their desks were blown into the air. Thirty five customers who were queuing at the time are also being treated for bruising caused by flying rubber ink stamps.

The clerk who had been serving Mrs Morozzo at the time said in a statement to police that, ‘Signora Morozzo had come in earlier in the day wanting to close her current account with us and I had sent her away with a list of documents and forms she needed to do this. She came back two hours later but had forgotten to bring her full birth certificate, officially translated into Italian by the British consulate and signed by the chief of police, a high court judge and the Prime Minister. I tried to explain this to her, remembering our company policy that “the customer is always wrong and smiles are for sissies”, but she just started shouting and screaming. Next thing I knew, I was on the floor two metres behind my desk with my head centimetres from the paper shredder. Complete pandemonium had broken out.’

Another eye witness, a 40 year old man from Cameroon who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of a reprisal, claims that Mrs Morozzo’s last words before throwing the bomb and escaping were, ‘you can shove your stupid pen on a bit of string up your a*?!’.

Police bomb disposal experts have analysed the explosive device and found that it was made from a highly dangerous concoction of household cleaning products, the juice of two lemons and a large quantity of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce (toxic condiments commonly used by the English to flavour their otherwise tasteless food and available in Italy in dodgy Chinese grocery stores). Mrs Morozzo’s house has been searched and her computer has been confiscated by the police after several articles were found on it concerning her long-standing hatred of the Italian Post Office. Some articles were also found about ATAF, Florence’s public transport company, and police have revealed that they now fear a repeat attack on one of the city’s many efficient, clean and punctual buses. Mrs Morozzo’s husband and family have been questioned and declined to comment.

The Post Office has long been something of a role model in terms of customer service in Italy and there has been a general outcry from banks and the public service sector following this attack. In an official statement, a Post Office spokesman interrupted his morning cappuccino and brioche to state that, ‘the Post Office believes in treating all its customers equally. If we bend the rules for one then we have to bend the rules for everyone. This incident clearly demonstrates the danger our clerks face daily and plans to put bullet proof glass between staff and the customers are being considered.’

A nationwide search is being undertaken to find Mrs Morozzo, who is tall, dark haired and very English looking, both for her natural pallor and unstylish way of dressing. If spotted she should not be approached. Readers are urged to contact their local police if they have any information concerning her whereabouts.

Read more!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Here come the saints

‘A saint is just a sinner who fell down and got back up again!’, yelled the gospel choir master, an American with a voice like an oak tree and a smile like a grand piano. ‘Pick yourselves up, brush yourselves off and just keep on going. Oh yeah!’. I had a mini religious conversion at that gospel concert in Villa Strozzi two weekends ago. I could see the Italians around me having a hard time getting into such a fun, enthusiastic kind of spirituality, after all, they’re used to a darker, rumbling, fire and brimstone kind of God. Original sin is like the religious equivalent of ... wearing lead boots whereas this gospel singing made me feel like someone had attached a helium balloon to my heart. Still, everyone was clapping and stamping their feet by the end.

It’s turned out to be a spiritual couple of weeks since then. After the concert came an Anglican church service on Remembrance day in Milan (no whooping and yelling there, just lots of austere English ladies singing ‘All things bright and beautiful’ led by the rather camp Father Nigel). Then on the same day was my Italian nephew’s baptism. We went from Church of England to Roman Catholic as quickly as you can say ‘Holy Ghost’.

It was a mass baptism with about eight babies all done at once. They don’t actually all get dipped in the font at the same time (can you imagine the unholy racket they’d make together?) it’s more of a production line approach with the priest wandering between the pews anointing one little scrunched up forehead after another. I was looking forward to this, my first experience of a Catholic baptism and settled in next to my mother-in-law to watch from a safe distance where no-one would notice that I don’t know all the set responses to the priest’s incomprehensible mutterings.

I’ve been in total awe of the Catholic church ever since I went to G’s great uncle’s memorial service and found myself in the middle of a sea of people all droning ‘mea culpa mea culpa’ (‘I’m to blame, I’m to blame’) and beating themselves on the chest. I feared the geriatric priest was faking near-senility and was actually hypnotising everyone. I immediately snuck to the back, sweating. It was like a scene from a zombie movie. Anyway, I always feel much more prone to thunderbolts in Catholic churches, even the church mice nod disapprovingly when you’re the only one not to bow and scrape and make the sign of the cross when you go in.
Imagine my delight then when my sister-in-law scuttled up to me two minutes before the baptism ceremony and asked me to fill in for the godmother who couldn’t make it in person.

I’ve been a godmother before, but for my great-cousin whose family are all Methodist. Methodists, unlike Catholics, are more likely to offer you a nice milky tea and some ginger biscuits rather than a sip of the blood of Christ or hell and eternal damnation. So I was a little edgy, but you don’t say no when you’re asked a favour like that.

In the end it went well. The godfather was my sister-in-law’s colleague who was there with his boyfriend, so let’s just say that if anyone was going to get a thunderbolt it wasn’t going to be me. I made the sign of the cross on the baby’s head with my thumb (after the parents and godfather so I could see how to do it exactly) and held the baby with my right hand as they dipped his head in the font. It was all pretty jolly in the end. There was an apprentice priest on the microphone assisting the production line baby dunking who bravely tried to get the congregation to join in with the hallelujahs by saying things like, ‘this hymn has some rather complex lyrics… it goes “hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah”’ and ‘well, that’s about 5% of you singing, how about the rest? Come on!’.

So all in all I’m feeling quite pleased with myself. I’ve accumulated enough religious credit to last years and I crossed my fingers during the baptism when we all had to solemnly swear to help bring the child up in the Catholic faith. There weren’t any scary ‘mea culpa’ moments and despite nearly tripping up as I walked to the font in front of the smart Milanese congregation, I was safe in the knowledge that if I fell, I could just dust myself off and keep going.

Read more!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Just one cornetto

The end of the world is nigh. They said so on the evening news. Well, not in so many words but nearly the whole programme yesterday was given over to that America correspondant with too many teeth, while in the studio the presenter had put her cleavage away and tied back her hair for once. We have to stop being snooty about poisonous chemicals in Chinese food because we're all going to be doing our weekly shopping at the local Chinese discount store before long, it seems... Try as I might though, I don't really understand this global economic meltdown. 4 trillion dollars lost two days ago but miraculously found again today. The New York Stock Exchange must have some amazingly big hiding places to lose that much. For some reason, nobody knows if they're going to lose the same again tomorrow, you can tell the place is run by men. I watched the TV7 Economy Special on Rai 1 the other night but I was distracted by Gianni Riotta's fake-nose-and-glasses combo. The gist seemed to be that thanks to too many stupid people over-stretching themsleves financially and too many stupid banks willing to finance them, we are all going to lose our jobs and have to live on stale bread and left over bits of parmesan rind from the back of the fridge for several years. The Chinese banks that have apparently bought our mortgages from our banks will probably repossess our houses and end up doing their weekly shopping in HyperCoop while we trundle off to Chan's China Discount Paradise.

I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest that all this might be somewhat down to people being a teeny bit too greedy. I mean, just how big does your TV have to be? Is your viewing experience enhanced by being able to count Angelina Jolie's pores? I'm the last person I know with a TV that's actually the shape of a box. Do you really need the lastest generation phone just because it allows you to calculate the distance between here and the moon? Do you have to have a car the size of a Chinook helicopter which consumes as much fuel in a week as Lichtenstein? (Quick word on this subject: as a cyclist I'd like to remind 4x4 drivers that they might want to look left and right every now and again. We will make an awful mess of your front grill if you hit us and I dread to think what it costs to have one of those beasties cleaned.) Also America, a word in your ear: I saw you in the audience there at the last Obama / McCain debate and let me ask you, do you and your children really need another microwave/deep-fat fryer/family pack of popcorn/extra-large super deluxe tub of Ben & Jerry's Cookies and Cream ice cream? I saw a lot of elasticated waist bands stretched to the limit there and it wasn't a pretty sight. I think it may have simply come down to either the economy exploding or you.

It seems that yet again, the Italians have had it right all along. Just one cornetto, not a jumbo pack of 36 bought on credit and scoffed before breakfast. Anyway, what's done is done now and I'm off to scrape some frozen lettuce from the back of the fridge to eat with my noodles.

Read more!

Monday, 6 October 2008

The Cold War II

So I thought I lived in a quiet area of Florence. Predictable. Boring even. There’s the fishmonger who’s been here since the dawn of time, he’s so old and knarled I suspect it was him that provided the fishes that fed the five thousand. There’s the owner of the bar on the corner who asks me daily if I still have a job (she wants me to quit my steady job to be able to teach her grandson English for a couple of hours a week. I already did this last summer and it’s absolutely the last time ...I attempt to force feed the present perfect to a grunting, gangly, greasy teenager). There’s the Berlusconi look-alike you see strolling round: I stopped dead in my tracks the first time I saw him. There’s the resident crazy guy who wears a turquoise jump suit, turquoise helmet and rides a turquoise scooter. He smells of wee and has inch-thick glasses that magnify his eyes balls so that altogether he looks like a poisonous frog. There are the local youths who hang around in the park at night smoking joints and snogging each other’s faces off. Everyone’s friendly, even the youths who try to look menacing but are about as scary as their grannies who sit in the park during the day exchanging ragù recipes. Even the crazy turquoise guy is nice, if you don’t mind the wee smell.

This was how I saw my local area until a week ago when I discovered that the second Cold War had broken out in my neighbourhood.

Our local circolo (a kind of politically leftwing members club, bar, community centre and in this case, cinema, rolled into one) is next to the neighbourhood Communist headquarters. It’s not like they interrogate you on Marx’s Communist Manifesto before letting you in to see the latest Benigni film, but there is an assumption that if you go there then you are basically a free-thinking, liberal lefty. You can tell this by the number of intense looking young people wearing floaty linen trousers and interesting scarves who go to the cinema. Well, Tuscany is famous for being leftwing, so nothing unusual there. What is unusual is that a far-right (dare I say it, neo-fascist) members club recently set up shop just a couple of hundred yards from the leftwing circolo. This caused complete panic in the neighbourhood. Urgent meetings were called at the circolo to discuss what to do about this evident threat to our safety, the good name of our area and democracy itself.

Considering Italy’s brush with Fascism last century and the menacing shadow cast by the Lega Nord’s recent rise in popularity, it’s kind of understandable that they would react strongly and I am the last person to defend Fascism. I am also, however, the last person to defend Communism too. What nobody took time to find out was what exactly was going on in this new rightwing club. To be honest, from the outside, it looked a lot like young people having a chat, listening to music and snogging (sorry, there’s that word again) their girlfriends on the sofa. No bomb making classes, booming thrash metal or swastika cross-stitch in sight.

Flyers were put up all over the area warning of the threat from these fascist hooligans and the estate agent who rented them the space was assailed one morning by over a hundred people who verbally abused her for having anything to do with them. Being actually quite nice people, our local fascists decided that it wasn’t fair for the estate agent to be bullied because of them and have consequently vacated the building and, as far as I know, the area.

Being a fair-play, wise old owl kind of guy, my husband was half way through organising a meeting between the two groups when the fascists up and left. His friends at the circolo are giving him the cold shoulder now. It seems that it’s all peace and love and liberal-thinking till someone actually comes along with a different view to yours. At that point you simply stamp your organic leather shoes, put your fingers in your ears, shout ‘NO NO NO NO NO NO’ and send your friends to harass an innocent estate agent.

In any case, the Cold War II is over for the moment, that is at least until the far-right gang find somewhere else to sit around of an evening comparing Mussolini tattoos. Perhaps my husband should have parachuted in the Berlusconi look-alike, they might all have been too surprised to do anything and actually talked to each other instead.

Read more!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Beware of the History People

Most of us Florentines (adopted or otherwise) like to think we’re above the city’s charms. We don’t swoon over the Duomo or pant in awe of the Ponte Vecchio. We guffaw at the tourists who pay €3 for a bottle of water and we would rather be seen dead than be caught so much as glancing at the leather jackets in San Lorenzo. History just screams down at us from the city’s crumbling stone work but we block our ears and carry on. Our cynical faces bob into hundreds of tourist snapshots a day because we gave up spending our entire journey to work ducking down politely ages ago. We know we’re walking in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s footsteps but we act like it’s no big deal. Yes, we agree smiling, Florence is such a beautiful city isn’t it. But our heads are full of bus strikes, expensive real estate and the bald truth that wherever you live you simply get up, go to work, do the shopping and forget to buy toilet paper .. , in Florence just like anywhere else.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule of blasé behaviour. There are the History People. The History People are usually native Florentines, generally born and bred within sight of the Duomo (you will know this because they will tell you, regularly). Not only do they know that they are walking in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s footsteps but they know what colour his favourite socks were and how he parted his hair. A History Person feels it’s his or her god given gift to share this information whenever possible. If you make the mistake of asking a History Person why your local supermarket is only open on the first Sunday of the month, then brace yourself. He or she will launch into a lengthy explanation that begins five hundred years ago and probably has to do with some ancient rivalry involving a knight who bit his thumb at his neighbour’s most trustiest steed way back in once-upon-a-time. I happen to know a couple of History People personally and let me tell you, the slightest thing can set them off. I know to avoid all large topics like politics and religion which are always sure to unchain hours of 'but you see, in the fifteen hundreds…’ etc. Unfortunately, even the most banal observation can get them going because ultimately, they love history and believe everyone else should too.

To be honest, there’s so much history here that it can feel slightly overwhelming even without the History People’s running commentaries. They discovered Etruscan remains while digging the underground car park at my local super market, for goodness sake. An old house has recently been uncovered beneath the building site for the new tram line right in front of the train station. You see, when the past has had enough of gazing down on us in the form of ancient weathered gargoyles, it starts popping up from under our very feet. It’s everywhere. I suppose that’ll put the completion date for the tram lines back another 5 years or so. I saw a young guy operating a JCB on the building site who was sweating marbles as he manoeuvred the claw of his digger to scrape away soil from the uncovered brick work. Poor guy.

There's just not enough room in my head for all this history and I’m happy to remain relatively culture-free. I go to the odd exhibition and that does me just fine. The Impressionists at Palazzo Strozzi right now is really very interesting, just don’t ask me for details. I’ve already forgotten it all even though I only went a week ago and despite dutifully listening to an audio guide all the way round.

I believe that history is best taken with a spoon full of sugar. Cappuccino and brioche then museum then a huge lunch at Coquinarius, ice cream at Grom and finally a quick trip to Zara to see what new stuff they have. It’s a wholesome but delicious culture sandwich. The History People are purists and wouldn’t approve, but who cares.

Read more!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Bite me Romeo

I’m in love. I’m in love with a hundred-year-old fictional vampire named Edward. It’s an impossible love affair, doomed from the start because (a) he doesn’t know I exist and (b) he actually doesn’t exist. This small fact doesn’t stop me from dreaming about him at night though and from comparing my unfortunate other half’s actions with Edward’s. I’m too terrified of my own over-active imagination to admit ... who comes out on top. Just in case you forgot by the way, I’m thirty years old, I have a steady job and a mortgage. I like knitting for heaven’s sake. I’m not fourteen years old and even when I was fourteen I never obsessed this much, not even over Simon Harris who nearly made me faint once by just looking at me at the school disco. If you’ve read the Twilight series then you know what I’m talking about. Girls, forget ‘nobody puts Baby in the corner’, forget Romeo (he was just a squeaky voiced wimpy teenager anyway) and even forget Mr Darcy. Yes, you heard me, forget Mr Darcy. A new romantic hero has been born and I’m in a swoon just writing about him. Edward.

Ps: A first draft of the fifth book was recently leaked online and the horrifying result is that the author has decided to abandon working on it, at least for the moment. In a surprise move she has made this draft available on her website. I read all 264 pages last night. It’s like an illness that has me totally incapacitated. You have to see for yourselves:

Read more!

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Would you like to start a collection of kitchen utensils featuring the Loony Tunes characters? Or if you’re of a more religious bent, perhaps you’d prefer to collect the saints-on-cards, a different saint featured each week. Jesus must be thrilled, I’m sure that is just what he had in mind in terms of saving humanity. Failing that, what about the prestigious collection of the works of Jules Verne, bound in the highest quality leather and including detailed hand drawn maps, only €1,99 for a different edition each week? Now that would surely compliment anyone’s book shelves. Every year in September there are an incredible number of adverts on TV for these ‘collectibles’ that you can get from your local newsagent. It seems that we need something to lift ourselves out of our collective despair as our tans fade and we all go back to work after the August holidays. Apparently, starting a collection of tiny model pedigree dogs is just the thing...

Olympic fever ran pretty high here in the summer so gym subscriptions, which are usually up in September, must be through the roof too. It’s like the Italian new year is now, not in January and resolutions are made with religious fervour.
'I’m not eating bread any more', declared my other half, 'and I’m going to have fruit and yoghurt for breakfast every day!' Well, I have to take my hat off to him: he’s gone two weeks without touching so much as a bread crumb and I’d guess from the amount of melon rind and apple peel left around the house that he’s munching his way through a fair amount of fruit too. I haven’t even had to hide the bread in the oven yet. Bravo.

In any case, collectibles and healthy living resolutions aside, what really makes going back to work a more bearable is knowing that everyone else in Italy is in the same boat. Everyone, from national news readers to my postman is tanned chestnut brown (except me of course, I’m still pushing to make pale English-Rose a trendy look) and everyone wears their tan with an air of resistance. It’s like they’re saying,
'Look at my golden skin, I went to the sea, I stood on the shore in my speedos randomly splashing water over my rippling torso and muscular thighs… (sorry, got distracted for a moment there, back to the point) 'as long as my tan is here then I can hold up my head and say: yes, I holidayed.' Unfortunately, the memory of the holiday fades proportionately with the tan and conversely, backtoworkitis increases. The next public holiday isn’t till All Saints day on the 1st November and horror of horrors, it falls on a Saturday this year. The 1st November is (literally horror of horrors) the day for remembering the dead when everyone goes to the cemetery, so it’s hardly a jolly day either. Unless you’re a florist of course.

Oh well, I don’t want to worsen my backtoworkitis by dwelling on it too much. I’ve chosen this year to ignore the existence of all my clever-clogs friends who managed to get their holidays in September and to console myself with my collection of Police Badges of the World (first one only €0,99). It’s the Arizona state police badge this week so I’m pretty excited.

Read more!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Diving Lesson

I don’t think I can touch the bottom. I scuttle back and
peer down fretting, cowardly toes clenched crab-like on the jetty.
What if there’s a lurking shark or jelly fish?
I wish I was braver. Then you wave from the sea and I feel safer.
Lean forward and bend your knees. Now,
tuck your head below your arms.
You show me how. Again.
I tell a clever joke which makes you chuckle and
forget for a second what a clucking chicken I am.
You nod and I reach out, swallow and shuffle.
Your arms are held straight, strong shoulders squared.
You just have to jump, I’m right here.
I squeeze my eyes shut and when I burst through the surface gasping for air
you’re there.
You cheer, hold me firm, lift me up,
and as the salt water stings my eyes, I know that this is love.
Read more!

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Who ate all the crab pies?

Looks like I owe an apology to dear old England. We’ve just come back from 4 startlingly hot and sunny days camping on the Isle of Wight. It was so hot that I’ve come back to Italy with more of a tan than when I left, which is slightly confusing. My gorgeous other half is as red as a Ventnor lobster (‘The sun’s not so strong here you know’ he scoffed and then, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be brown tomorrow’ swiftly followed by, ‘Have we got any after sun lotion?’). The cliff top campsite where we stayed was full of half naked English people trying to turn their skin from its natural corpse-like blue to fuchsia pink. The beach was heaving with men wearing sandals with socks and carrying trays of milky tea from the café to their families...It was a pure English, stripy deck chair and crab sandwich seaside extravaganza. We even swam and although it wasn’t the balmy waters of the Med, it wasn’t the icy plunge pool that the channel usually is either. We amused my family by being fascinated by watching the tide go out and then back come in. Lovely. Well, it was lovely apart from the fact that all those English people on the beach were, umm, how can I say this without being un-PC? Impossible. I’m just going to say it: They were all so fat. Rosy flesh oozed over the top of too-small shorts which scrunched up between wobbling flabby legs, and big bellies hung over belts like over ripe water melons fit to burst. What has happened in England? Since when did it become a country of Telly Tubbies? Nobody else seemed to be shocked by it or embarrassed, not even the woman running to the ferry ticket office in hot pants and a leopard print bikini top. She can’t have been much over thirty but she was juddering around in several directions at once like an enormous jelly on top of a washing machine in full spin cycle.
I tried not to stare because English people can be a teeny bit sensitive about being looked at (ie: you’re liable to hear the phrase, ‘Wot you fuckin’ gawpin’ at you slaaaag?’ and get head butted by anyone over the age of 10 if you glance at them for more than a millisecond). Nonetheless, I couldn’t help noticing that my native people have collectively tripled in weight since the last time I saw them, hankies knotted on heads, toasting themselves on the beach.
The other shocker back home was that England seems to have become a bit of a Nazi state when it comes to smoking. When you arrive at Gatwick, it’s not enough to get out of the building to be able to light up, smoking is banned outside just as it is inside, except for a couple of designated smoking areas. I noticed a café in my home town where smoking is not allowed at the tables outside. For a country that’s been battling against ID cards because they limit personal freedom, it’s frightening to see such a huge portion of the population made to feel like criminals for smoking outside in the open air. What’s next, bringing back flogging for people who talk in the library? Before you start, I know all the reasons why smoking is bad and would never smoke myself. It’s a foul habit. Maybe living in Italy has softened me up too much, made me too tolerant of things I used to be a fully paid up flag waiving protester against. I don’t think this is true though because I still flare into a rage when cars don’t stop at pedestrian crossings and after 8 years in Italy I still regularly have to resist the urge to leap across the counter in the Post Office and punch the clerk in the face. No, I definitely haven’t softened up, England is just toughening up beyond all recognition and good sense.

It struck me after a couple of days that the English would benefit more from an anti-cake-and-pies law for the over weight, rather than the excessively vigorous anti-smoking-outside laws they currently have. I think that with that idea I might have got to the cholesterol filled heart of the country’s problems. I might even write a nice letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown about it, although I believe he may have more pressing matters to deal with at the moment.

Ps: I realise I may appear a little ‘fatist’ and this is not my intention. I apologise to anyone offended by my anti-chubby remarks. I know I’m blessed with skinny genes and am eternally grateful to my dad for passing them on to me. If it makes you feel any better, I also inherited a 100% intolerance to alcohol, a tendency to get skull splitting migraines if I don't drink litres of water every day and the most ridiculous toes you've ever seen.

Read more!

Monday, 14 July 2008

A few things I love about Italy (and a break from my incessant moaning about the bel paese)

It’s actually hot in the summer. You know how when you were a kid the summers were all long and hazy and warm? Well, if you grew up in England then what you are remembering is actually ONE DAY of your summer holiday. You have blocked out the thirteen other rainy days you spent sheltering from the hail in a grotty tea rooms in Newquay. Last August I went to England for a week and it rained the whole time. Not just patchy showers, but solid pouring rain for seven days and seven nights. I swear I saw some animals in the neighbour's field organising themselves into pairs.
In Italy, you can go to the beach at the weekend and (a) you don’t have to crack the ice off the sea before plunging into massive Atlantic rollers (what were my parents thinking?) and (b) nobody has ever even heard of a windbreak, let alone seen one. It’s much easier to bear a crunchy cheese and sand panino under a golden sun than huddled together for warmth under twenty towels saying through chattering teeth that you’re sure the weather’s better than last year.

Italian TV. I know, I know, most programmes do seem to have been invented specifically for sweaty, panting middle aged men in dirty raincoats, but where else can you watch re-runs of Murder She Wrote every day? Long live Jessica Fletcher! The baddie always gets caught and every episode ends with a smile. I’ve got the theme tune tinkling through my head just thinking about it.
Then there’s La Prova del Cuoco, the all-singing all-dancing Italian version of Ready Steady Cook. It goes on for about two hours and the chefs are regularly interrupted by peppy songs and animals dancing across the screen. Everyone in the studio knows the words and the dance for each song and they leap around like eight year olds at a birthday party, every day. I used to think it was childish madness but I’ve long since realised that being snobby and superior is actually a bit boring. I even know the words myself now and between dance routines I’ve learnt a lot of essential Italian kitchen skills like how to peel a tomato, why you should boil potatoes with their skins on and the nutritional value of cherries. These may not seem like particularly important skills, but in Italy, not knowing how to correctly peel a tomato is like thinking that there’s only one Madonna and that she’s a singer in a pointy bra.
In short, making fun of Italian TV is like picking on a small child who just wants to have a giggle and not get told off all the time for accidentally-on-purpose showing her knickers to the boys when she does a handstand. Don’t we have enough serious stuff in our lives already? Best enjoy it and just take it with a pinch of salt (freshly ground sea salt that is, not refined).

Talking of food… It’s no wonder nobody worries about all the problems in this country. As long as you can go out and be guaranteed to eat that well, who cares about the price of oil or global warming? Put a Fiorentina steak and some fried courgette flowers in front of me and to be quite honest, the flood waters could be rising around my ankles and I wouldn’t notice. Also, sorry foreigners, but Italians may not know how to cross the road or queue politely but they know how to eat and they’re right about not having a cappuccino with your pizza. It’s gross and wrong so stop it.

Politics. Nobody would want to invite Gordon Brown to dinner. He’s like a big grumpy grey teddy bear with a brief case full of doom and gloom. Is it my imagination or is there a rain cloud permanently perched over his head? Over here, the country may be going down the drain with the pasta water but at least we have a proper razzle dazzle show biz Prime Minister. His teeth literally sparkle when he smiles. You don’t only want to invite him to dinner, you want him to be godfather to your children, you want his houses, his yachts, his tan and the phone number of his plastic surgeon. I wouldn’t have voted for him, but you can’t help but admire the person who once said, ‘I am the Jesus Christ of politics.’ The man’s also about a hundred years old but looks half that. He owns a world class football team. What a legend.

Finally, in Italy, men have a habit of randomly telling you you’re beautiful and this is no small thing. I was asked out for a coffee not too long ago by a man on a scooter next to me at the traffic lights (I was on my bicycle frowning at the red light in a very stern English way). They can be a little over persistent at times (a-hem) and us Anglo Saxon women love to moan about all the ogling and bum pinching but secretly, under our tough all-weather skin, it makes us feel fab and girly. An English man has to have had fifteen pints to say he fancies you (at which pint he vomits on you and passes out) whereas an Italian will tell you at the deli counter in the supermarket. It doesn’t matter that he’s cheesier that the gorgonzola you're buying, or that he's only after one thing and tries it on with all women between the ages of sixteen and sixty. The fact is that it still gives you a little spring in your step and a sparkle in your eye for the rest of the day. And that is one reason why I love this country.

Better dash, Murder She Wrote is about to start.
Read more!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Will people give up their seat for me on the bus now? (blog)

Do I look old? Don't think so. I've got those lines around my eyes but every has them, don't they? Ha ha, yes, of course, but seriously, think about it, there are people born in the ninties who look as old as I think I look, which I fear can't be possible. I was born in the seventies and people talk about the seventies like it's some kind of distant historical era these days. Am I crossing over into that stage when you don't realise that you're dressing like a teenager and your friends cringe but don't really want to say anything?
Will people take me more seriously now? They bloody well should, there has to be some benefit to the big three-o. Will I miraculously not be totally gullible now? Hmm. I'm waiting for a mature lightbulb moment when all the sacred grown-up knowledge of the world will be passed on to me and I'll suddenly understand politics, have an intelligent opinion about the oil crisis and be able to sew hem lines properly or something.
Right now it's 11 o'clock AM on my 30th birthday and no such lightbulb moment has occured so far so I'm feeling like a bit of a fraudulant 30-year old. I hope nobody catches me out.

To distract myself I'm going to peer in the mirror for a bit and see if I can find any grey hairs.
Read more!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Ode to the Summer of '96

We sang Wonderwall down the pub, arms linked,
Sticky, sickly rum and coke, glass after glass chinked.
We were truly invincible, the most beautiful, the best,
that summer was a huge wave and we were riding the crest.

‘Whose turn to drive tonight?’ ‘Mum lent me her car!’
A gaggle of girls, lip gloss reflecting the stars.
We were breathlessly racing towards the rest of our lives,
terrified, exhilarated and dressed up to the nines.

Me, Julia and Andrea screamed during Euro 96,
of course England didn’t win (it must have been fixed).
In the day I worked in the bakery on Oak Green Parade,
selling Chelsea buns and pasties and counting the days.

Exam results brought the smell of the future in the air,
We were Columbus sailing off without any cares.
What if God was one of us?’ sang Joan Osbourne on MTV
and I knew the answer: Right then, God was me.


(I'm turning thirty in a frighteningly short time and have been thinking a lot about the future. '96 seems at times like yesterday and at others like a hundred millions years ago, a different person, a different planet. Peering back into my memories is like watching the film of someone else's life. Still, bizarre as it is, it feels great to take wander down memory lane and amazingly, the feeling of excitement about going off to uni and leaving home is still as fresh as ever.)
Read more!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Drafts and Dusting (blog)

We’re having crazy weather right now in Italy. Two weeks ago it was so hot that I nearly fainted on the bus, I only managed to cool myself down by fishing two ancient Tic Tacs out of my bag and sucking on them madly. I had smugly sat on the shady side of the bus, but of course it soon swung round a bend and plunged me into the sun’s full glare. Within two minutes I had gone from English rose to limp lettuce and was awash in a pool of sweat. It was 37 degrees (that’s really high in Fahrenheit for those who aren’t familiar with centigrade) and a weather warning had been issued the day before telling old people to stay in doors or risk death-by-melting on their daily shuffle to the local shops. That morning, as I cowered in my house -bless Italian houses with their thick stone walls that keep inside cathedral cool- I could hear the elderly lady upstairs banging around with the vacuum cleaner. For the love of God, I thought, not even an official government health warning will stop the woman from cleaning.
To say that cleanliness is next to Godliness in Italy would be an understatement. Whereas Brits are more concerned about the outside of their homes, Italians will happily live in huge ugly tower blocks with pollution-stained plaster crumbling off the façade, but they are positively maniacal about the inside of their homes. White walls are de rigueur with stone tiles or wooden floor coverings. You might find the occasional rug but mention how you grew up in a house with wall-to-wall carpets and people will run away from you screaming. Carpets are, quite simply, the devil. They are accused of sucking up an inhuman quantity of dust and dirt that only the daily sweeping and moping of a tiled floor can completely eliminate. A colleague told me that when her Italian mother-in-law was sick recently, she came out of her delirious fever for a few seconds to then fall into a fit because the floor hadn’t been moped for 24 hours.
What this means is that you could eat your spag bol off the floor in most Italian homes but you couldn’t exactly describe them as cosy. In fact, the word ‘cosy’ doesn’t really have an Italian equivalent. My dictionary suggests accogliente but this is more like ‘welcoming’ or ‘warm’, it doesn’t quite catch the essence of ‘cosy’. Having said that, for most of June, July and August in Italy you’re not really interested in curling up on the sofa with a blanket and a cup of tea, you’d rather be laying naked on your cool (and immaculately clean) floor tiles, preferably with someone pouring ice cubes on your back.
Anyway, as I said, the weather right now is crazy. Dogs dissolving in the heat on the pavement in the mornings and torrential monsoon-type rain in the afternoons. This has dire consequences for a country of people who suffer the subtlest change in temperature, people who immediately crumple if exposed the slightest colpo d’aria (cold draft). In terms of danger, a colpo d’aria is second only to wall-to-wall carpets. Unfortunately, after eight years of living here I’ve lost all my British backbone and can’t get on with cleaning my home today because I caught a colpo d’aria myself yesterday and have a terrible ache in my lower back. Oh well, nobody expects a British person’s home to be that clean anyway. My neighbours always look surprised to see me (the foreign one) buying things like milk, bread and cleaning products in the local supermarket. If I tell them about my colpo d’aria attack though, we can really bond.
Read more!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Dear Nan,

Where are you? Not in your house where
I’ve seen a fancy car there in your drive and new
curtains. Not at the church vying to make cups of tea and
slicing jammy Victoria sponge for the vicar. Not popping
to June’s for a loaf and some stamps, or down at Jan’s.
Not at bowls (‘They’re all so old,’ you used to say,
‘don’t know why I play. Last week a man died on the
bench and we didn’t realise till the end of the game.’)

Where are you? You didn’t come to my wedding.
I wanted you there. I couldn’t bear to see your empty chair.
Where? Not in the earth under a stone, cold and wondering
why we’ve all left you alone. Surely not. I’ve got so
much to tell you but it’ll have to keep. I think mum could
do with a word too, so don’t forget us, please.
Read more!

Mr Finch (a very short story)

Mr Finch was a quiet, mole-like man. His mother told him to be careful of girls as they were only ever looking for a fool to take care of them. Secretly though, he longed to be someone’s galloping knight. As it turned out, he spent much of his adult life looking after his mother and was too worn out to practice rescuing damsels.
One day after his mother's funeral when he was shuffling home from work, thinking about a tricky crossword clue, he slipped off the curb and fell hard on the pavement. A brunette with an olive green scarf swept down to help him. She smells of daffodils and morning dew, he thought, blinking up at her. They married a year later and as they rode into the sunset he held onto her tight, eyes closed and smiling.
Read more!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008


The Meaning Of Ants

I asked some ants where they were going in such a hurry,
but they didn’t have time to respond. ‘Must dash, busy, busy!’
they chimed, all of a flurry in their matching black suits.
To and fro, it made me dizzy, the patio’s like rush hour at Piccadilly,
each going as fast as he can, each with his own grand task
and individually tailored pension plan.
After this initial hitch, I tried to stop another,
‘One word,’ he spluttered, ‘performance related pay, it’s a bitch.’
‘Hang on, that’s three words,’ I frowned,
but he had already slipped back into the crowd.

The Meaning Of Slugs

I asked a fat-gutted slug what it’s all about (he was easy to pin down).
He slurped some beer, burped and muttered something like
“Eng-ger-land”. ‘Sorry?’ I prodded, ‘I don’t think I understand,
What was that about the “green and pleasant” land?’
He nodded out of his stupor, slurred a loud ‘Yeah!’
and blinked to confirm his view. I waited, but
before long he was snoring, and dribbling too.
Later, he opened his eyes, but instead of a slimy pearl of wisdom
he grunted, ‘Are you still here? If you’ve got nothing better to do,
you can shunt off and get me another nice cold beer.’

The Meaning Of Mosquitoes

I asked a mosquito why she liked
to suck my blood. She tutted and replied:
‘I don’t understand what you’re saying,
what’s this “blood” stuff lady?’
She didn’t seem to realize that my blood is
how I know I’m alive.
She sniffed, shook her head
and rolled her eyes.
I mistook her gesture for miscomprehension
so I went on: ‘Listen,’ I retorted,
pointing my finger to drive it home,
‘Every time you take my blood,’
(I shuddered at the thought)
‘You take a bit of my life.’
‘Don’t tell me about life,’ she snorted,
‘this “blood” keeps me alive,
I’ve got kids to feed and a husband
who does nothing but sleep day and night.’
For a second, I felt a twinge of guilt.
She tilted her head, big eyes gazing up, quite calm.
In the end though, you won’t be amazed to hear
I squashed her, right there on my arm.
Read more!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

How to buy a toilet seat in two or three hundred easy steps (blog)

Two weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I had to buy a toilet seat. There’s a small shop round the corner that sells everything you might need for your bathroom so naturally I headed there, thinking that while I was at it I might pick up a new shower curtain and toilet brush too. The word Italians commonly use for toilet seat is ‘ciambella’ which also means doughnut. Not wanting to make a fool of myself I tried to find a more formal, less ridiculous way to explain what I needed to the elderly shopkeeper. He frowned at my ‘the seat for the toilet’ then exclaimed,
‘ah, a doughnut!’ (in Italian though, of course) and went on to ask me what make my toilet is. Hmmm. When we bought our house the bathroom was already there and I had no idea who it was made by. I told him this and he nodded gravely. He said that the only way to get the right toilet seat would be to come back with the make and a photo of the toilet. A photo. When I asked if he might not perhaps have any one-size-fits-all toilet seats he shook his head with a grimace and said that each toilet has its seat and no other would do. If they still make that particular toilet seat, then he could order it and in a couple of weeks it’d be here. What? Couple of weeks?
'And if they don’t make it anymore', I cried, 'will I have to buy a new toilet?'. I trudged home empty handed to my still naked toilet.

Have you ever taken a photo of your toilet? I once took a photo of a toilet in the centre of Florence because it had a large hand-scrawled sign that said, ‘carta for culo’ with an enormous arrow pointing towards the toilet paper. I’ve wanted to photograph plenty of other toilets in Italy, mainly to send the pictures to some kind of governmental health and safety body, but I’m usually to busy holding my breath to start fiddling round with a camera. I cleaned my toilet before taking the photo and then felt even more ludicrous. Show me your best side, I was thinking, that’s it, the camera loves you baby. I took two photos from different angles to be sure of capturing my toilet’s true essence and trotted back to the shop.

This time it was the shopkeeper’s wife, so I had to go through the whole doughnut rigmarole again, but then was able to proudly tell her the make of my toilet and pull out my digital camera and show her the photo.
'Ah, signora', she sighed shaking her head, 'but we need an actual photo of the toilet, we then physically take it to the warehouse and try to match the make, the photo and the toilet seat.' I told her I couldn’t print photos at home and certainly wasn’t going to ask a photographic shop to print a photo of a toilet.
'There must be an easier way than this,' I begged.
'Well', she smiled, 'instead of a photo, you could take a piece of newspaper, place it on top of the toilet and make a cut-out of the shape. That would be as good as a photo', she assured me.

I thanked her very much and left the shop to go and have a cappuccino and calm down. What had started out as a simple shopping expedition was turning into a surrealist nightmare. On the way to the bar I passed another bathroom shop that I’d never noticed before. One last shot, I thought. I came out five minutes later with a very reasonably priced universal toilet seat that I’m thrilled to say fits perfectly.

The whole palaver made me feel exceptionally foreign and stupid. For the umpteenth time I felt as if I was missing the map to understanding how to get things done here. I’m sure Italians don’t get asked to photograph their toilet and I’ve never seen anyone walking down the street with a new toilet seat under their arm like I did when I finally found one. Still, at that point I was too happy to care.
Read more!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Duvet Love

I see you Giovanni, frowning behind the Sunday paper.
Pages are scattered across the duvet that’s rumpled and crumpled
into the mountains and valleys of our private kingdom.
You tussle with the paper as you turn the page and
recount some story you’ve read. We shake our heads
in amazement, safe in our remote island bed.
You shift mountains as you wrap your long strong legs around
mine. You're warm like sun-baked rock. Above we’re quite apart
but below your feet stroke my feet as you reach for your tea.
Slowly, imperceptibly, we grow closer, first our elbows touch,
then shoulders, then I feel your stubble rough against my cheek.
How can something so bristly be so comforting?
Limbs entwined we fall under the soft valleys, asleep.

I see you now Giovanni, in your navy suit, running your hand
through your hair and swearing because you can’t find your keys.
You hurl me a kiss as you slam the door, a mountain lion roaring
off to catch his prey. I flatten our island hills but all day think of
Sunday Morning Duvet Love.

Read more!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Ode To My Mother-In-Law's Lemon Tart

There's a bomb ticking in the bottom of my fridge,
behind the potatoes and next to the parmesan wedge.
If the diet police come knocking I'll have to come clean
and admit to possessing a dangerous quantity of cream.
Read more!

The Wolf (A Story)

Why did I do it? I was lonely. It gets to me, just hanging out in the forest, no other wolves to pick fleas off. I know what you’re thinking. It all goes back to when I saw my mother killed by that woodcutter when I was a cub. Whatever. Just to set the record straight, I did not gobble up the girl’s dotty grandma, my emotions may be flattened by Prozac but I’m not a complete monster, I just locked her in the bathroom. I slipped on her cotton night dress and night cap and did a spin in front of the mirror. I used to secretly prance around in my mum’s high heels and lippy you know. Never told anyone of course, you’ve got to maintain a certain reputation in the pack but now I’m a lone wolf it doesn’t matter. Anyway, I was snuggling down under the old dear’s quilt when the girl knocked on the door. It seems crazy now, but I really thought that this was the only way to make friends with the little girl, to get her to like me for who I am. Admittedly, there were some quite major flaws in my plan but I was desperate. Initially she seemed to have fallen for my disguise and I was so excited I couldn’t help smiling. That’s what did it. All those pointy teeth that I’m so fussy about flossing had her running for the door, bang into that damn woodcutter. Wouldn’t you believe it but it was the same hulking buffoon who shot my mother. Typical. It was the grandma who saved me by screeching from the bathroom. I ran out while the woodcutter was smashing the door down.
I’m thinking about a fresh start now, another forest maybe. I still wear that night dress from time to time though and I simply adore the night cap.
Read more!

Ortigia, mille foglie di stucco,
Rifatta bella da mille voglie.
Tempeste tolgono suo trucco,
Il tempo porta rughe e crepe.
Galanti i suoi corteggiatori,
Il mare quell'unico costante.
Aspetta vestita da storia,
Ortigia la sposa paziente.
Rara sua aria distinta,
Tant'è vero lo sguardo sereno.
Illuminata, l'anima brilla,
Grintosa e di rispetto degna.
Io m'inchino, mi sento povera
Accanto a questa vera signora.

Read more!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

BBQ Police (blog)

After months of endlessly grey weather ('You should be used to this, Signora!' they chortle in the bakery), the sun is finally shining here in Tuscany. Hallelulia. It's also that briefest period of time when it's hot enough to sit out but when the mosquitos haven't hatched yet and begun their relentless attack. In short, it's BBQ weather.

There's nothing more guaranteed to bring people out of their homes, onto their balconies, noses first, than the smell of meat grilling on a proper BBQ. It's the Pied Piper of odours. Men flex their muscles recounting tales of successful past BBQs (outdoors grilling and manliness go hand in hand, after all) while women cringe at the thought of scrubbing last years grease off the grill as their partner stands over them, prongs in hand, like Braveheart about to go into battle.

A recent BBQ in my neighbour's garden didn't go down too well with the rest of the neighbours though. It was quite smoky, this is true. But really, who does their laundry on May 1st anyway? One old lady hung off her balcony and yelled down at us with an especially sour face and shaking fist. You'd have thought she was announcing our eternal damnation. Then the doorbell rang and a younger, very snazily dressed woman stepped up and let loose an avalanche of complaints, before I could even tell her that the BBQ wasn't actually mine. Her house was FULL of smoke, she'd have to do ALL her washing again, it just WASN'T acceptable, her kids were choking to death AS WE SPOKE, (well, she didn't actually say that but I could see that was where it was going). I invited her to go through and tell this to Lorenzo who was ignorantly but happily turning the sausages over just a few feet away, but she declined. 'I just want, I just want..' she tailed off. 'You just wanted to come down and complain to me.' I snapped and shut the door in her face.

If you can't have a BBQ on May 1st then quite frankly I don't know what the world's coming to. Anyway, this was clearly a case of garden envy. If you live on the third floor and you see a lot of young, cool people skewering bits of chicken and marinading meat in their beautifully kept gardens then you get mad. Just don't come and tell me I'm responsible for your kid's asthma.
Read more!

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Rhyming Cutlet Recipe

A rhyming cutlet is easy to prepare,
It should be well-done and never rare.
Just pop it in a pan with salt and pepper on it,
and serve with a hefty side order of sonnet.
Read more!

First proper post

So, you know that I love tea and I'm married but you don't know much else about me. I'm in my twenties (I can only say that for the next 58 days so I'm milking it) and I live in Italy where fortunately, you're still considered a kid until you're about forty five which makes me a baby.

I don't want to use this blog to write what I do everyday because, to be frank, it's often dull enough while I'm doing it without then writing it all down to bore someone else too. I want to put all the extraordinary things that happen to me here. Things that make me laugh (trying to buy a toilet seat), want to scream (going to the Italian Post Office), cry (Berlusconi's back) etc.

This is also my personal space to put my poetry and stories. It maybe the only time my work ever sees the light of day and it's enormously satisfying for me to put my stuff out there even if no-one ever reads it. The point is that someone might read it and like it, and that's enough for me.

Mrs MdR (AKA Mel)
Read more!

Saturday, 26 April 2008

A Little Tea Time Prayer

Our tea, who art in the pot,
Delicious be thy name.
Thy crockery come,
Thy will be done,
With loose leaves as it is with tea bags.
Pour us this day our daily brew,
And forgive us our cappuccinos,
As we forgive those who sip cappuccinos in front of us.
Lead us not into Starbucks,
But deliver us to the nearest tearooms,
For thine is the cuppa,
The comfort and the flavour,
Forever and ever. Our Char.
Read more!

At Last

So my lovely husband has finally put me on the net .... he's such a nice guy I really love him.
Where would I be without him.
Read more!