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.

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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.
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