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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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