domenica 23 dicembre 2007

We're off!!

Well, the bags are (almost) packed, the gifts are (almost) in the (almost) packed bags, and we are (almost) ready to go! Actually, I've been ready to go for about six months now....
We're off to England to spend Christmas with my mum and dad, and I've never been more excited. It's been a long, stressful year here in Milan, and I'm feeling a serious need to go back to my roots - even if it is only for four days. It just doesn't feel like Christmas to me until I'm in my mum's house, eating mince pies and listening to Christmas music on the radio. I've been very disappointed at the complete lack of Christmas music here, and no Christmas films on TV at all - it's just not festive!! OK, that was my last little moan about living here until next year....
Merry Christmas everyone!!!!!

mercoledì 19 dicembre 2007

La Scala & Rinascente hell

If you suspect that some of the anecdotes I tell on my blog are made up, or in some way elaborated, I can assure you that this is not the case! It occured to me on Saturday, just when I was thinking "this is one for the blog!" that some of the situations I get myself into are so ludicrous that they must seem fake, or at least embellished in some way. Take this one, for example.
On Saturday afternoon, I went to La Scala for the first time. Despite living in Milan for two years, the opportunity simply hadn't presented itself, and given that my friend and I both have other halves who would rather walk across hot coals than sit through a three-hour opera or ballet, we decided to go together. It was a Christmas performance of Swan Lake. The dancers were a bit wobbly (that's a technical term you know) but the setting was - obviously - spectacular, and it was nice to do something a bit different. However, I still found that I couldn't get away from my increasing difficulty in tolerating other human beings. We were in a box of six people, two of whom - a mother and small daughter - arrived 20 minutes into the performance. Having made their grand entrance, little Anastasia (really!) decided she didn't want to be in the theatre, and spent much of the entire first act moaning "I want to go home" loudly. This is obviously fine - small children don't understand theatre etiquette - the problem was that the mother kept engaging her in high-volume conversation, even when she was sitting quietly. When not attempting to distract little Anastasia, the mother would be writing a text on her mobile, or - unbelievably - answering a call. She received a total of three text messages and two phone calls during the performance, and on no occasion did she think it might be a good idea to switch her phone off, or even put in on silent!
Following the ballet, I decided to suck it up and head for Milan's largest department store, Rinascente, to buy gifts for Luca's young nieces. I was fully prepared for the two-saturdays-to-christmas hell, and in fact it took 20 minutes of crowd-surfing up the escalators to the 6th floor to reach the toy department. Not being all that experienced in what might appeal to a 2 year-old child and 8 month-old baby, I grabbed an assistant, and having considered and rejected practically every item in the department, finally settled on a set of animals that fit together and make noise if you get it right for Carolina, and a plastic mushroom thing with different buttons for Maddalena. All I can say is, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Having waited 15 minutes in the queue to pay, I got to the front only to discover that the credit / debit card machines in the entire shop had stopped working, and so they were accepting cash only. This is a store where you can buy items of clothing that run into four figures - I don't know about other people but personally I don't carry that amount of lose change around in my pocket! I was 5 euros short so their suggestion was to find a cash point and come back later. Great! The largest department store in Milan, 2 weeks to Christmas, and they can only take cash! Since there was no one to take my frustration out on (the poor assistants were getting it in the neck as it was), I calmly headed for the lift. 50 people. So, I headed for the escalator. 150 people. Six long escalator rides later, I was out the door and heading for the nearest cashpoint. 200 million people!!! A mere THIRTY FIVE minutes later, I had my money and was back on my way to the store to purchase my gifts. Having done so, I headed for Luca's bar to proudly show him the fruits of my first solo expedition to buy presents for the girls. "Can I say something?" says his mum, as she looks over our shoulders. "Carolina already has that".
I haven't summoned up the strength to take it back and change it yet, but I will have to at some point before Saturday. Wish me luck!

martedì 11 dicembre 2007

Strike it (not so) lucky

For the past two days, Italy has been subject to a transport strike by Road Haulage firms, whose lorries have been blocking motorways and sliproads, and causing general havoc up and down the land. The latest news is that 60% of the country's petrol stations are without fuel (a grossly-exaggerated figure if you ask me, and asking for trouble, given the increasing queues to fill up) and supermarkets are running out of fresh produce. The thing is, here in the 'bel paese', you can't walk ten metres without running into a picket line of some sort. Most of the time, no one has a clue what it's all about, or takes any particular interest other than being mildly annoyed at the inconvenience, and nothing ever seems to change, as the same sectors continue to strike year after year. Over the past 12 months, the following industries have walked out on strike for one reason or another:

- Water distributors (great start!)
- Practically every railway company in the country (no surprise there...)
- Lawyers
- The Naples office of the Ministry for Justice (!!!)
- Water purifying companies ( I haven't quite understood this one - it's something to do with making land viable for crop growth)
- Italy's largest bank
- Pharmacies (very bad)
- Hospital staff (worse)
- Surgeons (excuse me??)
- Anaethetists (say what??)
- Italy's main electricity provider
- Helicopter pilots (errrr....)
- The Environmental Health Agency
- Security firms
- Metal Workers
- The Transport Ministry
- The Post Office (lots and lots of Post Offices actually!)
- Cleaning companies
- The local police of Busto Arsizio (HA!)
- Various local authorities / town, city, provincial & regional councils
- Private medical clinics
- Telecom (no comment)
- Airlines, pilots, cabin crew - various and often. Alitalia practically every week.
- Baggage handlers (grrrrr)
- Airline safety companies (not too keen on this one)
- The Port Authority
- Local transport providers - bus, metro, tram (once a month in Milan booooo)

In 2006 there was a Catwalk Models strike. I am not kidding.

Joking aside, apart from the general disruption caused to people who are prevented from going about their everyday business, these situations can have an even more sinister effect. Doctors and hospital staff go on strike and operations have to be cancelled or postponed, putting patients lives at risk. Transport strikes prevent vital deliveries of food, water and medicines - I was reading in the Corriere that ambulances and other emergency vehicles may be left without fuel as a result of it not being delivered to fuel stations. Also, they are predicting that tens of thousands of live animals being transported by the striking truckers are likely to die from starvation / dehydration from being left in the lorries, parked on the motorway. It makes me sick, to be perfectly honest. Sadly this is one of the harsh realities of life in the 'bel paese' and there's nothing 'bel' about it.

lunedì 10 dicembre 2007


It's up! The tree is up!
And not without a certain amount of effort, I have to say... The queue at IKEA was distinctly unfestive - a bit like the supermarket deli counter on a Saturday morning, only colder and with more prickly produce. Just as I arrived, some woman at the front was having a real go at an older guy for jumping ahead to pick out a nice-looking tree that had just been brought out of the lorry. When he protested that he was only choosing - not being served - she started screaming about how if he picked the tree she'd wanted when in theory she was ahead of him, then he might as well be jumping the queue completely, and that he should wait his turn to choose as well as take away.... Mamma mia.... Then a young girl next to me spotted that our receipts had numbers on them, and suggested that we implement a number system. That was fine until someone pointed out that the numbers were only sequential if you had paid at the external till, not the one inside - so that little idea didn't pan out. The guys doing the bagging and tagging were taking no notice, so in an I'm-turning-into-my-mother moment, I decided that if anyone had to sort out these bickering Italians who have no idea who's next and who isn't, it should be the English girl. "Can people not just take notice of who arrives before them and who arrives after? We're all grown adults after all...." was my contribution, at which point they all shut up and waited their turn. Brilliant!

giovedì 6 dicembre 2007

The price of furbo

I knew it! I knew when I parked my car on the pavement last night that some idiot would come along and block me in this morning without thinking about it. And that's exactly what happened! For the FOURTH TIME in as many weeks...
The problem is that on a Wednesday evening in my street you are forced to park on the pavement as the street cleaners pass during the night and give you a fine if you are on the road. That means that people who arrive early on Thursday morning simply park alongside, blocking in those cars still on the pavement. Do they not look? Do they not think? Are they not aware that, unless you drive Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, you are simply not able to sprout wings and hop over obstacles in order to get your car out???
And so, in an attempt to manoeuver between the offending vehicle and an unfortunately-placed lampost, despite the enthustiastic attempts of passers-by to guide me out, I still managed to end up with a king-sized scratch down the side of the back passenger door. In the end, a mechanic from the nearby garage came to my rescue and, after much shunting backwards and forwards, the car was out.
Arriving at the office very incazzata indeed, I recounted the story of the inconsiderate parking to an Italian colleague, whose reaction was to shrug and say "That's just the Italian way. It's like when we jump queues or red lights - we don't think about the danger or the annoyance to others. We just have to be first. We have to be more furbo than the next person".
'Furbo' is a word that comes up a lot in Italy. It literally means 'sly' or 'cunning', and is considered a positive attribute to have. You're furbo if you can find your way around having to pay a fine, without getting caught by the authorities; you're furbo if you succeed in pushing your way into the supermarket queue; you're furbo if you jump a red light and therefore avoid the chaos left behind for all those other suckers to endure. Bravo! Well done, you're furbo!
The problem with this attitude to life is that it tends not to consider the consequences of a person's actions, or the way in which they might affect others. In Italy, the general impression seems to be that if you don't try and outsmart the next guy, he will outsmart you.
So quick - grab that parking space before someone else gets it (don't worry about the fact that you're blocking a driveway); push the old granny out of the way to get to the front of the queue (you don't want an old granny to beat you to it, surely??!!); run the red light to avoid a 2-minute wait (nevermind the lady with the pushchair on the crossing - she'll soon realise you're just being clever and happily jump out of your way...)
Moral of the story?? DON'T BLOCK ME IN!!!!!!!

sabato 1 dicembre 2007


It's not often that we meet people who inspire and move us whilst going about our everyday errands, but that is exactly what happened to me today when I spotted a seamstress' shop as I was collecting my dry cleaning. Since I have been driving around for about a month with a bag full of clothes that need to be adjusted and mended in the back of my car, I thought I would take the opportunity, and so I stopped and rang the bell. A little old lady let me in, and as she took my measurements, began recounting her life story. An hour later, I was still there.
Signora Liliana was born in a seamstress shop just outside Milan, where her father employed 12 women to make and mend clothes designed by important local designers. One of those designers was a little-known but highly talented young man by the name of Valentino Garavani. Known to you and me simply as "Valentino". Liliana showed a talent for clothes making, but was determined not to end up working for her father her whole life, so she pursuaded him to allow her to study at college in exchange for a few hours a week working in his shop. During this time, Valentino - who had become a family friend by this time - noticed Liliana's talent and offered her a job in his Milan shop, making clothes for his haute couture lines. She accepted and worked for him for the next seventeen years. During this time, he announced that he was moving to Paris, and offered to take her with him, but she had married a local man and had a young son, and so remained in Milan, becoming a full-time housewife and mother. Then, one day, the unthinkable happened, and she lost her husband suddenly. Being widowed left her with no job and no money, and a young son to care for. Her father had died a few years previously, leaving his business to Liliana's brother, who very sadly had turned his back on her when she left the family shop, and was determined not to share his inheritance. Just when things were at their worst, and Liliana was struggling to feed herself and her son, a friend stepped in and offered her a job working as a secretary for her lawyer husband in the city centre. She remained in this job until she reached retirement age, which was when she feels that her life really took a turn for the worst. Four years ago, she was waiting to cross the street at traffic lights on a busy roundabout when a motorcylist who was travelling too fast lost control of his bike, mounted the pavement, and knocked her into the path of an oncoming car. She broke several bones, and was left with partial blindness in one eye. It took her a year to recover from her injuries. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, just 18 months later, she was waiting for her son outside the bank, when she felt a pulling motion from behind. Three young men dragged her to the ground and ran off with her handbag, leaving her with a dislocated shoulder and serious bruising. Again it took several months for her to get back on her feet, and when she did, she was left contemplating the paths her life had led her down. Liliana is convinced that her husband is watching over her, through her hardship and misfortune, making sure that she always bounces back. One year ago, her son - now an architect - bought her the small seamstress shop where she spends her days putting into practice the skills that she learnt all those years ago, and browsing through Valentino's books, which are brought to her each season by an ex-colleague whose daughter also works for the designer. The same ex-colleague recently sent her a ticket for one of Valentino's Paris shows. Much as she would love to be re-acquainted with her old employer, she doesn't want to go as she feels she will be disappointed with the way in which the fashion world has changed since she was involved in it. She told me that some days she looks in the mirror, and doesn't recognise herself. She keeps herself busy in the shop, and as she works she thinks back to when she was Valentino's promising young seamstress, looking forward to a lifetime with the man she loved and a family to raise. Her advice to me was simple: enjoy each day as you never know what tomorrow may bring.
Wise words from a wise lady, who really made an impression on an ordinary Saturday afternoon.

mercoledì 28 novembre 2007

The best Italian film ever made (in my humble opinion)

Must do better. This is my new motto in the light of criticism from those - OK, one person - who have noticed that I'm not really keeping on top of the blogging thing - and it's true. It would appear that the three elements of my blog title are encroaching on blog itself and blog is letting the side down....

It's been a busy week so far. This morning I arrived at the office in record time, just before nine (despite having overslept and woken up at 8:20 rather than 7:20!), parked my car and headed in, only to open my bag and discover that I had picked up Luca's car keys by mistake. So I had to get back in the car, queue in the traffic going into the city centre to get home and give him the keys before returning to the office an hour late. Great start!

On Sunday evening I introduced Luca to my all-time, number 1, favourite of all favourite Italian films. I love it so much it even makes it into my top ten favourite films ever. It's an Italian classic, and if you haven't seen it, drop what you're doing and rent / buy / steal it NOW... It is Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.
The film is set in a small Sicilian village during the 1940s / 50s, and follows the life of a young boy called Salvatore (otherwise known as Totò) and his relationship with the village cinema, which at a time when foreign travel, entertainment and education were very limited, serves as a single point of reference for the entire village population. The film is very authentic in its depiction of 'the old Sicily', beatifully put together and set to tear-jerking music by the one and only Ennio Morricone. It's impossible to watch this film and not cry at the end - no matter who you are! Even Luca found it emotional, although he claimed it was just because it reminded him of his Sicilian childhood... Well I was brought up in Essex and it still gets to me every time!
If you don't have it already, this is definitely one for the Christmas list...

martedì 20 novembre 2007

Three cheers for Ikea!!

Ikea have recently announced that this year anyone who buys a real Christmas tree from any of its stores in Italy will be provided with a living tree and instructions on how to keep it alive. After Christmas, you can then return the live tree and you will receive a voucher for its original cost to spend in store. The tree will then form part of a new butterfly farm, to be built in a national park in the province of Udine. This initiative has been launched in collaboration with Friends of the Earth and the Comune di Bordano. The original press release and other information can be found in the links below.
What can I say? If you live in Italy, get your tree from Ikea.... and tell your friends!!!

martedì 13 novembre 2007


I work for one of Italy's most historic, influential and successful organisations. Today I discovered that as part of 'company policy' for all but senior management, if you badge in on your arrival in the morning even 1 minute late, you are automatically docked half an hour from your overtime. The same deal if you arrive a minute late from lunch. Apart from the fact that the badge culture is unacceptable in itself if you ask me - unless you're working in a chicken-stuffing factory in the 1970s - in any case, my protestations to the Human Resources department were met with "I know, it's a pain in the ass; it happens to us too...". I asked where this 'policy' comes from and who makes such decisions and all I got was a classic shrug, followed by "It's just always been this way..."
I hear from my American colleagues that us 'English / North American' employees are considered to be the 'rompi-palle' ( ball busters ) of the organisation because we always complain about little mistakes on our payslips and question things that most of the Italians just accept. GOOD!!

domenica 11 novembre 2007

The lunatics of Lulù

One thing that I have always felt is missing in Milan is a simple, relaxed place to drink tea and eat cake in a cosy as opposed to trendy environment. A little bit of chintz once in a while never hurt anyone... So anyway, out and about with a friend yesterday we're at a bit of a loose end when she remembers a really cute little tearoom called La cucina di Lulù, where they do a mean hot chocolate and have more choice of cake than your grandma's house on a Sunday. Despite the fact that it means a bit of a trek across the city, we decide it's worth it so we jump in the car and 25 minutes - and much road rage - later there we are. What do we find? "Closed". Noooooooo I can actually see all of the cakes lined up on the counter and my stomach is already rumbling. Upon closer inspection, K notices a sign on the door stating that they open at 6. "What's the time?". "5:30". "Damn it". What to do? It's cold and the nearest shop sells sheets and towels. So we decide to go for a wander, and in our cake-staved state end up drooling over a stupidly-expensive designer shoe shop, picking out our fantasy favourites for imagined occasions... At 6 o'clock on the dot, we are outside the cafè, expecting some kind old lady to come along with the keys, open up and put the kettle on the stove just for us. 18:05, 18:10... We start observing the comings and goings of the neighboring gym, the groups of girls tottering in in their stilettos and heavy make-up (??!!), the "hip" young guys in their designer gym gear, and a middle-aged couple having a blazing row about his 'appreciation' of afore-mentioned females. 18:15, 18:20... Getting really annoyed by now... 18:25...At this point, we decide we've had enough and just as we're starting to move away, I notice a light on towards the back and so I knock on the door. A chef appears, turns the key, pulls the door open slightly, and lets go of it so it slams in my face. Errr, ok... Not sure what to do, I put my head around the door and say "Excuse me, are you open?" "Six thirty" is the response I get as Mr Rude Chef Man turns his back and starts to walk back to the kitchen. "Oh, it's just that on the door it says that you open at 6" I protest. "Does it? Well it's six thirty" he snaps as he disappears, slamming the kitchen door behind him and leaving us in the dark. I'm sorry? What? Say what?? Needless to say, our desire for tea and cake made a sharp exit, as did we. Being used to a lack of customer care, and the general rudeness that seems to be a part of everyday life here is one thing, but this was beyond the limit. The plan is to go back this afternoon and 'have a word' with whoever is responsible for the place. I doubt it will make any difference, but at least we'll feel better - more so if the tea and cake really is as good as they say it is.

giovedì 8 novembre 2007

The land of contradictions...

I've been thinking recently just how much Italy is a land of contradictions - or certainly Milan is a city of contradictions. This is a city where people take home the minimum wage, yet dress from head to toe in Dolce & Gabbana and carry genuine Louis Vuitton handbags. It is where people live in small, overcrowded apartments, yet drive brand new BMWs / Mercedes / Ducati motobikes. It is where you can spend 100 euros per person on a gourmet meal in a smart restaurant, yet find that the bathroom is a hole in the ground over which you have to squat. In Milan, people pay 4000 euros per month to live in apartments on streets where not a single one of the buildings has escaped the work of the local graffitti artist, and where the pavements are smeared with dogs' muck and discarded chewing gum. This is a land celebrated for its artisitic and musical heritage, yet your average Italian will not set foot in a theatre or concert hall from one year to the next. Here everyone spends their lives worrying about "bella figura" i.e. looking good infront of others, yet they're quite happy to cut you up at the traffic lights, slam their hand on the horn, and stick a finger up at you in the rear view mirror as they pass. Stranger still, they have low cost red wine that practically runs out of the taps yet they don't tend to get blind drunk, and the women are slim and gorgeous yet I've never seen so much food in my life. It appears we're no longer in Kansas, Toto....

mercoledì 7 novembre 2007


In the local newspaper today, it was reported that there are 800 premature deaths each year in Milan as a direct result of air pollution. The city council's latest idea to help combat the problem is the introduction of a congestion charge, along the lines of the system adopted by London, to discourage drivers from using their cars in the city centre. Whilst in principle, I like the idea and am totally in agreement that something needs to be done, in practice I ask myself how such a revolutionary plan will be executed and maintained in a city where even the most basic rules and regulations go ignored (and the ignoring goes unpunished) on a daily basis. If it takes the city administration anything up to 6 months to process a residency request, and even a year to provide a Permesso di Soggiorno, where the hell are they going to find the necessary resources to manage such a system? Plus, when the congestion charge was introduced in London, the city council spent months planning and implementing a whole new road system, adapted the traffic lights, and tripled the public transport links within the centre. It is not uncommon to wait half an hour for a bus to pass, even right in the centre of Milan, or to find that your route has been spontaneously cancelled for a reason known only to whoever did it.
Milan simply has too many cars. The city is densely populated, with the majority of its residents living vertically - in blocks of apartments whose inhabitants were never meant to have 1, 2 or even 3 cars per family. When much of modern-day Milan was constructed ( or rather re-built ) in the post-war years, who could ever have imagined that 50 years on the motorcar would have become a cultural necessity, rather than a luxury reserved for the special few? When I look at my street - cars parked on every available pavement space, the grass verge, the zebra crossing... - I wonder where it's all going to end. As a driver myself I am well aware that I am contributing to the problem - actually Luca and I both have our own cars - indispensable during the day when we both travel for work, but which I wish we could fold up and put in our pockets when we get home at night and begin the daily ritual of 5-times-round-the-block-to-find-a-damn-spot.
Perhaps the 'powers that be' could do a little more to get the worst polluters off the roads - I don't know how many times a day I find myself choking in the wake of some rusty old heap which lost its road-worthiness long ago.

Ultimately, whilst I think an initiative such as the congestion charge can work well in a city such as London, which is equipped both financially and culturally, I am not convinced that it will go down so well over here. Aside from the fact that saving the planet doesn't seem to be all that high on many people's agendas, the Italian and his car go together like horse and carriage. I can't imagine the very many young "fighetti" ("cool people") dumping their sports cars and getting the number 54 bus to the Armani Caffè on a Friday night. And when it comes to 'finding a way around the problem', Italians are world experts... We'll see.

martedì 6 novembre 2007

And again....

Having enjoyed a whole month of good health, here I am again in my dressing gown, ibuprofen to hand, feeling very sorry for myself indeed. I did some research today on the internet (didn't feel much like working...) on getting a tonsillectomy. I wondered if this might solve the problem as I seem to suffer constantly with swollen glands and throat-related issues, but from what I have read it looks like a fairly horrendous procedure for an adult to undergo. One website even compared the pain of having your tonsils taken out with that of childbirth! I don't see how that can possibly be the case since they use a general anaesthetic and fill you with painkillers for a week afterwards. Ugh, the more I think about it, the worse I feel - I guess I will have to learn to live with a neck like Mike Tyson's, feeling pretty much like I've been hit by him too....

lunedì 5 novembre 2007


Having lost our suitcase on a flight from Milan to Naples in August, we just received a letter from Easyjet stating: "I note from your Baggage Questionnaire that you are pursuing a claim through your private insurer for your losses. As you are unable to claim through both the insurance company and the airline for the same losses, we are unable to assist you further with this matter". Guys, the "private insurance" was some ridiculous plastic wrapping that cost 7 euros , obviously did nothing to prevent our suitcase from being stolen BACK IN AUGUST, and who pay out ONLY IF THE AIRLINE COMPENSATES....... When the Easyjet lost luggage office opens at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning, wherever you are, you will hear the fireworks I promise....

sabato 3 novembre 2007

When in Rome....

The link below takes you to an article written in 2003 for the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper. It has recently sparked a long, heated discussion on an Expat website which I frequent - and both the article and discussion have proved very thought-provoking. First of all I have to say, I agree with much of the author's observations, and am impressed by his courage in putting such strong opinions in the public domain. Some (mainly Italian natives) have found the article to be unneccesary scathing, and whilst I am certain that everywhere in the world - not just Italy - has its lifestyle / culture / economy problems, I believe that many of the issues in this article need to be addressed. What do you think?

domenica 28 ottobre 2007

My island in the sun

I've been reminiscing lately about the 3 years that I spent living in Sardinia. It seems like a lifetime ago, not least because my lifestyle has changed beyond recognition since I left. Firstly, I was younger. OK, so 27 isn't exactly pensionable age, but somehow the emotional difference between 27 and 22 feels like light years. Sitting in the usual morning gridlock of Milanese traffic the other day, I decided that the only way to properly ignore the cretinous behaviour around me was to stick on a CD at full volume to block out the sound of car horns and rain, and the CD I picked at random was one I made in the summer of 2003 - undoubtedly the best ever. I arrived in Sardinia in May of that year to work as a rep for a Tour Operator and spent 5 months working in 5-star hotels, and getting to know the locals, my fellow reps from across Europe, and it has to be said, myself. I had already spent a year living in Italy as a student, but somehow the idea of getting a job and finding my way on my own in a foreign place without tutors, Erasmus societies and other English students by my side, was exciting and scary. I remember the first night in a strange, damp apartment with none of the home comforts I had expected, wondering what would have happened to me by the end of the season and how I would feel. Somehow the memories of those early Italian experiences are more real and seem closer now than the memories of what I did last week or last month. I only wish I had realised at the time just how much of an historic moment it really was.
Suffice to say, I ended up staying in Sardinia for just over 3 years, moving from tourism to property and starting my own little business, which is still going strong without my direct input. When I think about it, I can't believe I had the courage to do many of the things I did then - good and bad(!) - and although I would never go back, I do miss the carefree years before the responsibilities of house, career, boyfriend, credit card repayments (sigh) etc. seemed to take over. I guess life has its stages, and things have to change in order to move onwards and upwards - I'm glad I have those memories though and I honestly believe that I learned much more than I would have done had I stayed in England and settled down with a job and a mortgage straight from uni as many people do. A few weeks ago there was a robbery at the post office in the Sardinian village where I used to live, and one of my ex-boyfriends was caught in the cross-fire, although not seriously hurt. Having joked with my girlfriends that to be honest, you could stand in the middle of the piazza, fire a gun in any direction and you would probably hit one of my exes, I now find myself being quizzed by my colleagues about my 'crazy' former life. It wasn't actually that crazy, but just crazy enough that when I put on my 'Summer 2003' CD on a rainy Monday morning on the Milan ring-road, it raises enough of a smile to get me through the day....

lunedì 22 ottobre 2007

Che giornataccia!!

Right, that's it. I think this is what is known as 'the limit'. For those of you who know me and haven't seen / heard from me in about a gazillion years, this is why - I have turned into a lean, mean working machine, programmed to churn out presentations, capable of interacting exclusively with excel spreadsheets and interested in making genuine human contact only when I get the opportunity to wind down my car window and shout "Che cazzo fai, stronzo?!" It's a sad state of affairs. I realise I am by no means the only person in the world - or in this city for that matter - who is stressed out by the ups and downs of everyday life, but I'm starting to think that I might need some sort of an outlet for the aggression which I feel accumulating in my blood minute by minute. Maybe yoga? A cat? (to stroke, not kick..) Any suggestions?
I don't like to talk too much about work in my blog - more than anything because you never know who might be reading it - but suffice to say it's an agressive, competitive environment where everyone is under pressure and people are more likely to listen to you if your contribution involves a certain amount of 'strong language'. My team is all male (apart from me!) and when you get them all in a room together to talk about targets / budgeting / deadlines etc., the testosterone is enough to make your head spin. And God help he who tries to duck out of the office before 7 o'clock in the evening oooooooo!! Add to that the fact that I am forced to fight it out on the roads as I need my car to get to clients (Milan is roadrage central) and often spend 20 minutes driving around in endless circles at 8:30 in the morning in an attempt to park my car within 20 miles of the office...
Blimey I feel better already! On the up side, Luca's bringing home his mum's Cannelloni for dinner - and I'm on my third glass of prosecco... Happy Monday!!

sabato 20 ottobre 2007

Festive feelings...

Following much time and effort on my part, we have finally booked our tickets to go back to England to spend Christmas with my family. This will be Luca's first proper trip to England (we spent two hours in London whilst waiting for a connecting flight in April) and I absolutely can't wait to introduce him to my culture and the people and places that are important to me. We spend so much time in 'his world', surrounded by Italian / Sicilian culture and traditions (which is fine but...), that I am desperate to take him to my world for a few days - and Christmas time will (hopefully!) show it at its best. I was chatting to a friend the other day about the difference between Christmas in Italy and in the UK / US. I know that I am obviously biased given the fact that I grew up in England and so have all of those warm, fuzzy memories of Carols from Kings and the Queen's speech every year for the last 27 years. However, as a holiday, Christmas seems to be so much bigger at home than it is here in Italy. Maybe this is because there are so many religious holidays / festivals here, or perhaps the fact that Italian families tend to be close by nature, whereas in the UK it is normal to see your closest relatives only at Christmas, Easter, and, if you're lucky, once in the summer. Obviously this depends on whether or not you actually like spending time with your family...

So, being in a festive mood, I've been making a mental list of all the things that come to mind when looking forward to Christmas at home.

LOVE the smell of pine needles and cinnamon in my mum & dad's house

DON'T LOVE the fact that said pine needles tend to find their way into your socks - whilst they're on your feet...

LOVE the "holidays are coming" Coca-Cola advert!

DON'T LOVE the fact that they start to show it in September...

LOVE my mum's turkey dinner - best meal of the year

DON'T LOVE the stomach cramps that come on around 2 hours later

LOVE "Carols from Kings" & "The Snowman" on Christmas Eve

DON'T LOVE the fact that they both make me cry

LOVE the fact that almost all the houses on the street are decorated with fairy lights

DON'T LOVE the fact that each neighbour tries to out-do the next by putting up bigger and better displays each year

LOVE walking to the pub on Christmas morning

DON'T LOVE walking back from the pub ( gin and tonic at 11:30 in the morning doesn't seem to agree with me...)

LOVE Nat King Cole singing Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

DON'T LOVE Nat King Cole singing Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

Yep, I'm really feeling in a festive spirit now - can't wait!!!

giovedì 18 ottobre 2007

Basta con le moto!!!

I'm having trouble keeping up with my blog at the moment - work is proving extremely demanding at the moment and I'm arriving home later and later every evening. As a result, I'm also having trouble speaking / writing in both English and Italian - am awaiting the moment when my brain short circuits completely. Until then, please excuse the posts that make no sense / poor grammar / worse spelling etc. and bear with me...
I've been wanting to write about my hospital visit experience since last weekend, and this is the first chance I have had. I've mentioned before (more than once!) my utter disgust at the unecessary dangers which one faces when driving in Milan, and the general lack of road safety evident at every turn. The whole situation was brought home to me on Sunday when we went to visit Luca's ex-roommate in hospital, following a serious motorcycle accident. Basically he was coming home from work one evening on one of the long straight roads which leads into the city from the northern ring-road, and was hit hard by a car jumping a red light at a crossroads. His bike flew 20 metres and smashed into a million pieces and he landed on the road after 40 metres, breaking both of his arms and both of his hips. Actually his hip bone snapped in two. I hope no one reading this is either squeamish, eating or both. In order to visit him in the intensive care unit, we were required to wear gowns and shoe protectors. He was full of morpheine and only just understood who we were. It turns out that the guy who hit him is an illegal immigrant with no driving licence. He probably didn't even know what the red light meant. It makes me so angry to see someone who lives a quiet, responsible life be brought so much pain simply as a result of someone else's ignorance. Umberto will have to remain in hospital for three months, after which he will be unable to move from his bed for 6 months. This will be followed by up to two years of intensive physiotherapy - a painful process in itself. How life can change in a split second of time. I have never been a big fan of motorbikes - Luca wrote his off in a serious accident in which he broke his leg, and just about everyone I know has either been involved in a bike accident or knows someone who has. I myself have witnessed a handful in the past 5 years. Luca's already planning his next motorbike purchase - I think my nervous breakdown is just round the next corner.....

domenica 14 ottobre 2007

I take it back!!

Having waxed lyrical about the comedy show Zelig, I have to say that last Friday's episode was awful - it was 80% Claudio Bisio (who I personally don't find very funny) singing out of tune, and lacked the proper stand-up routines from previous weeks. They must have run out of money to pay their performers or something! Just in case anyone saw it and wondered what the hell I was talking about....

New look

Like the new look? I fancied a change so here is the new, slightly more feminine blog. What do you think??

giovedì 11 ottobre 2007

SKY's the limit....

Don't get me wrong - I don't enjoy being ill, much less missing all the "fun" I could be having in the office (ha ha) but there is one thing that eases the pain greatly, and that is Sky TV ALL DAY LONG. Or, to be precise, Fox Life, BBC Prime and Discovery Real Time. I just watched two episodes of the American series "So you think you can dance?" - I was drawn to it originally as it's hosted by the lovely Cat Deeley, who I remember fondly from the hangover-haze that was my university years, when she co-hosted the Saturday morning kids' show SM:TV Live with Ant and Dec. Ahhhhh how I miss Ant and Dec - none of their current programmes seem to have made it to BBC Prime yet, and Bruce Forsythe on Strictly Come Dancing is all very well, but just not the same. If you are not English you will probably have fallen asleep by now so I will get back to the point.
I'd love to say that I don't buy into these reality "Pop Idol" / "X Factor" / "Make a fool of yourself to entertain the masses"- style programmes, but the truth is I get easily hooked. There's something strangely addictive about watching real people's real struggles, talents, and geniune emotions.... I've even found myself welling up over a quiz show when one of the contestants picked the number 14 as he married his wife on the 14th of the month and had been married for 14 years. Sad but true. Aside from reality / talk shows, I find myself getting emotional over any TV show that reminds me of home and / or my childhood. Mary Poppins dubbed into Italian, without Dick Van Dyke's classic mid-Atlantic cockney accent is just not the same...
There is only one programme on Italian TV that I will watch and enjoy, and that is the stand-up comedy show Zelig, which is currently being shown on a Friday night at 21:00 on either Canale 5 or Italia 1 - I can't remember which. Since Luca and I have turned a bit middle-aged, and now stay at home on a Friday night as we're too tired to go out, Zelig has provided us with our end of the week entertainment and often has us rolling around clutching our stomachs in hysterics. Last week the show-stopper for me was a singer who took the p**s out of Tiziano Ferro quite spectacularly. Neither Luca nor I can stand Tiziano Ferro so it made us laugh even more. And this is the only example that you will ever see of me praising anything on Italian TV. OK, I like Le Iene too, I admit it. That's all though. This post is not going to degenerate into a rant about the dancing quiz show girls, or the amount of cleavage shown by news readers, although it easily could. Suffice to say I miss English / American TV and whilst I know it "rots your brain" ( in my mum's words ), I am appreciating this one-off all-day I'm-sick-so-I-can-do-what-I-like TV extravaganza...


Having been ill for almost a week now, I decided this morning that it was time to drag myself to the local health office, choose a local doctor and make an appointment. I finally sorted out my residency last month and the only thing standing in my way was the lack of desire to go through one of those typical public health office experiences which tend to take hours and raise your blood pressure enough that you really do need healthcare by the end of it all. However, it appears that the bureaucracy gods were smiling this morning (or at the least were on a coffee break) and I had one of the most pain-free experiences I can remember. Now I think about it, I have actually visited that office once before and the person who dealt with me was helpful and friendly, but I put it down to luck on that occasion. This morning I arrived, found a parking space directly outside in the free carpark(!), and had only 1 person ahead of me in the queue. The staff were not just helpful and friendly, but efficient, informed, polite and professional. In 10 minutes flat I had registered for a health card, chosen a nearby doctor and even made an appointment for this afternoon. What can I say? Ufficio Scelta e Revoca, 1st floor, ASL in Via Bassini, Milan: GOLD STAR FOR YOU!!

sabato 6 ottobre 2007


Roughly half way between my house and the office there is a large supermarket. In front of the supermarket is a small park area, with benches and a childrens' playground. On one of these benches "lives" a homeless man, who I pass everyday. When I go by in the morning, he is usually sleeping, and in the evening he will generally be standing at the nearby traffic light, dirty rag in hand, attempting to "clean" car windscreens. The other morning I passed and he was sitting on his little bench, combing his hair, using a small, cracked hand mirror. He keeps his personal belongings - enough to fill two carrier bags -under a tree close to the bench. I have never seen him talk to anybody, he doesn't even have a dog for company, yet he appears to go about his life like the rest of us. It sounds so much like a clichè but it makes you realise how lucky you are. I heard on the news the other day about another homeless man in Milan who was arrested for theft (he was trying to steal a jacket from a supermarket), and who confirmed his official address as being a certain bench in a certain piazza. This was reported in a very lighthearted, almost jokey way, as if the fact that this man has no home was entertaining, which I found rather sad. In the same report they talked about the fact that homeless people have more or less set up a community in one of the cemeterys in Rome, where they have broken into old tombs and are sleeping there at night and then leaving them locked up during the day when the visitors arrive. It's been cold recently in Milan, and we have felt the effects of not having any heating (they have to wait until a certain date before they can legally switch on comunal heating here). I guess we should think ourselves lucky.....

giovedì 4 ottobre 2007

The little things

Since taking on a new role at the beginning of September, I have been required to travel the 30 kms or so from Milan to Bergamo anything from once to five times a week. Leaving aside the fact that the A4 motorway is not exactly the most relaxing place in the world, in any case I am quite happy to get away from the city and breathe some fresh air. When I first arrived in this area, almost two years ago, I was provided with company accommodation in Bergamo for eight months, so I already know the town fairly well and I have to say it is well worth a visit. One of the wealthiest towns in Italy, you can't move for Porsche Carreras and Gucci handbags - real ones - and its hilltop medieval old town provides breathtaking architecture and views, although combined with life-sucking prices.

This week, having escaped the office for half an hour one lunchtime, I wandered up the hill for a panino and was reminded of the way things used to be before I was swallowed up by the black hole that is Milan. I found myself a cute little caffè in a pedestrianised street and sat in the warm sunshine reading a magazine. I watched as the local residents went about their daily business, and it seemed like something from one of those cutesy documentaries about life in the south of France - mums pushing babies around in prams and stopping to chat, pensioners strolling to the corner shop to buy a newspaper, and even a grocer on a bike with his deliveries in a BASKET. I have to say it was genuinely lovely and really helped me to get my perspective back a bit.

I may have to tackle the rush-hour traffic of one of Italy's most notorious motorways to get there, not to mention the long and stressful day's work ahead, but it's the little things that count, and I think that lunchtimes in Bergamo will give me a great opportunity to re-discover precisely those little things that make up the real Italy...

domenica 30 settembre 2007

Safety First

Last night, Luca and I were on our way home from the bar when his mum called to say that his dad had been knocked off his motorbike and it didn’t seem serious but they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive. We took off – almost literally – and sped across the city to find his mum, two friends, and various passers-by crowded around the ambulance, and his dad strapped into a neck brace on a stretcher inside. I’m not good with emergency situations at the best of times and following the ambulance to pronto soccorso was pretty scary, but after a couple of hours waiting outside the hospital, we discovered that he had a simple knee injury and was just a little shocked. Whilst we were waiting, a number of other motorbike accident victims were brought in, each with their worried families in tow. I’m started to have a genuine fear of the traffic here in the city. It seems that everyone has something to say about the general lack of road safety, people’s apparent incapability to follow the rules and the poor lighting and maintenance of the street system. Just the other day, following heavy rain, a hole appeared in the road outside our apartment which was certainly deep enough to throw any motorcyclist doing more than about 50kms an hour off their bike. A passing police patrol car stopped to have a look, and after much shrugging of shoulders they placed a road cone small enough that you would need a microscope to see it next to the hole, and went on their way. Whilst hanging around the Emergency Department at the hospital, Luca picked up a newspaper carrying the headline “Road Safety: new law could increase number of victims”. The article talked about the fact that the government is proposing to decrease the amount of time a new driver has to wait before being allowed to drive cars over a certain number of cylinders – from three years to one. Given the number of accidents that already take place as a result of teenagers driving powerful vehicles at excessive speed, I hate to think of the consequences of providing them with an even earlier opportunity of killing themselves and others….
As Luca’s mum provided her witness statement to the police (needless to say the car which knocked his dad down sped off immediately and nobody on the scene managed to get a look at its number plate), she commented on the fact that, despite being one of the main roads leading into the city centre, with three lanes of constant traffic, it is one of the darkest streets in the city. The policeman’s response was to shrug his shoulders and “I know Signora – my colleague filed a report about this exact problem six months ago following another accident, and nothing’s been done yet”. If the new law allowing new drivers to get behind the wheel of increasingly-powerful vehicles comes into effect, I wonder where the extra insurance premiums will be directed….

mercoledì 26 settembre 2007

Running on empty

It's fashion week. And what does that mean? Well, for many it obviously means lots of beautiful people meeting in over-priced, over-crowded venues to enjoy a free cucumber slice with their half a glass of post-catwalk mineral water... For me, however, it means traffic. Lots and lots of it. Take yesterday evening for example. My parents had just arrived so I skipped out of work early - at 6 o'clock - and jumped on the bus home, where I had to collect the car so that I could pick them up from their hotel. The distance from the office to my house is about 2 kms - 5 minutes by car or 15 minutes on the meandering bus. The traffic was already pretty awful, so the journey took half an hour. Hmph. Not good, but hey - now I get to jump in my warm, cosy car and in 10 minutes I'll be at my destination (Città Studi to Porta Venezia for those in the know - not exactly a million miles...). Except that when I get in the car, I find is has NO PETROL. I won't go into the anger and frustration that I felt towards my usually lovely BF at this point - suffice to say I was angry and frustrated. By this time it's 7 o'clock but no worries - the petrol stations around here are all open until 7:30. So I drive off with my fingers crossed and do a circuit of the one-way system, fighting my way through red lights and queues to get to the nearest one. CLOSED. How closed?? It's too early! OK don't panic - there's another station down the road and left a bit. So I get back in the traffic jam and head towards it. CLOSED - self service only. WHAT?? But it's only 7:15!!! No fair!! OK, so I can use the self service, right? Wrong! It only accepts 10 and 20 euro notes, and I only have a 50. Dammit! So I get on the phone to L, and he tells me where to go for another fuel station which DEFINITELY closes at 7:30. I switch the engine back on (slightly to my surprise) and drive off, repeating the mantra please don't break down please don't break down all the way. By this time the traffic is horrendous and it takes my a good 10 minutes to get 500m... but finally I see the petrol station looming in the distance, with the word APERTO (open) on the sign outside. Hurrah!!! I drive onto the forecourt triumphantly, only to notice that it's strangely quiet. And the door to the little hut is locked. And the pumps are switched off. NOOOOOOOOO!

My friends, it doesn't finish there.

OK, so it is now 7:25. I am not going to find a petrol station that is open for service - I am going to have to do it myself. I need to change my 50. Right, so in this street there are no shops or bars as it's completely residential, and even if there were, they'd pretty much all be closed at this time. I do however know of a cash point in the next street. I'm going to have to go and draw out 20 euros, then go back to the previous station and fill up myself. So I drive (well, actually I stick the car in neutral and coast) to the corner, dump the car in the middle of the road with the hazard warning lights on (as one does in these parts) and head for the bancomat. I am absolutely not kidding - FUORI SERVIZIO (out of order). By this point I am practically crying and have totally run out of solutions, so I think "F*ck it, I'm just going to continue to my parents' hotel, and hope that if I break down, it'll be after I pick them up so that they can at least provide moral support!" Mean but true. Amazingly I get there, collect them and start heading for Luca's bar, and about 200 metres from their hotel we find a damn petrol station, and my dad gives me a 20 euro note for the self-service machine (am loving the strong, independant woman lifestyle...). We then sit in traffic for the following 40 MINUTES as we attempt to make our way the short distance to the bar, where Luca and his family are waiting for us to join them for dinner. Yes folks, for me Fashion Week is no more than a pain the the (scrawny) butt.... Tonight we have a table booked at 9 o'clock. I'm leaving the office at 5:30.

lunedì 24 settembre 2007


I've been giving some thought to the types of blogs and bloggers out there in expat blog land. There seem to be those who recount their lives to entertain, those who use their blogs as some sort of cathartic outlet for the ups and downs of 'la bella vita' and those who have some sort of hidden motive which determines the content and style in which they 'publicise' places and situations. This post definitely does not fall into the latter of these categories, so if you are of a sensitive nature, or are one of those tireless 'bel paese' advocates, by all means stop here and go drink a nice glass of Chianti on your terrace. Otherwise, pour yourself an extra large glass and read on. It's been one of those Mondays; I promise I will be nicer in future....

1. Why is it that people insist on taking up the entire aisle in the supermarket, refusing to move, no matter how much effort I make to get by. Yet, if I leave my trolley unattended for more than half a second, somebody will start huffing and puffing and complaining about 'these people who have no respect'.....?

2. Why is the bank open for about 2 minutes per day and closed at lunchtime and on Saturdays – the only time that us poor workers can actually get there. Why do I then have to queue for 40 minutes to pay MY cash into MY bank account, and then pay 2 euros for the 'service' (otherwise known as the air-you-breathe fee)....?

3. Why when I run out of bus tickets, why do I have to trek 300 metres to the nearest tabacchi, despite the fact that the bus stop is outside my house, only to find that it is closed / has run out of tickets / only sells them every third Tuesday, if there's a full moon and a 'z' in the month....?
The same goes for scratch-and-park tickets.....

4. Why do I have to watch naked women posing for raunchy calendars EVERY DAY on the national lunchtime news....?

5. Why does everyone seem to think that they own the roads, in spite of having no idea as to how they are intended to be used? The concept of lanes appears not to have reached these shores....

I could go on but I shall stop here as I am starting to annoy myself. Why??

venerdì 21 settembre 2007

Everyone's an expert...

It's Friday afternoon in the office, and everyone is in full brain-storming mode. Ideas are thrown around, methods discussed and timescales defined. The conclusion? Giant prawns gently fried in white wine and lemon juice. Yes folks, the comunal brainstorm was the result of my simple request for ideas as to what to cook for dinner.
Italians are well known for being serious foodies, yet it never fails to amaze me just how damn expert they all are when it comes to cooking, regardless of age, gender or background. One of the major contributors to the discussion is the type of young guy you see hanging out in the coolest clubs on a Saturday night, D&G sunglasses surgically attached to his head, Negroni in hand - yet you wouldn't believe the way his eyes lit up as he described the perfect way to get the best flavour out of your scampi. "Oh, and don't forget the fresh parsley!!"Damn experts they might be, but what would we do without them?!

giovedì 20 settembre 2007

Fight! Fight! Fight!

I am often to be found ‘hanging out’ at the bar that Luca runs with his family in the city centre. I tend to go a couple of times after work during the week, and during busy times will occupy myself by working on my laptop, catching up on emails or updating my blog. This is what I am doing right now in fact, interspersed with the odd cigarette break or chat with the locals. About two metres to my right, seated outside is a couple who are fighting like cat and dog. I can hear them through the glass and it’s getting more and more violent by the second. They’re both wearing wedding rings so I – perhaps foolishly – assumed that they were having a husband / wife disagreement. When I heard “your wife gets everything and I get nothing”, I started listening in. “You stand up for her and you never stand up for me!” “She gets the best of you and I get the leftovers!” “You never acknowledge me in public!” and so on and so forth. It’s been about half an hour now and they show no sign of letting up. This is another curious cultural oddity which I noticed fairly on in my Italian experience when, aged 16 on holiday with my parents, my dad and I began having what my mum would call a “heated debate” in the middle of an outdoor cafè (I think my skirt was too short or something!). Part of the way through I realised that no one was taking any notice as most of the people around us were making more noise than we were, whether they were arguing or not. It was then that I realised if you want to get ahead in this country, you need to make our voice heard. Whether it’s yelling out “I’m next!” when the lady at the fish counter stops taking notice of the numbered tickets and starts serving her next-door-neighbour before you, or simply getting your point across in any discussion regarding politics, football, food, religion - well anything really - in Italy you must raise your voice; the louder the better….

mercoledì 19 settembre 2007

Miss Communication

At brunch last weekend, my girlfriends and I were at the till waiting to pay when I became aware of a certain amount of huffing and puffing from the girl behind us. It soon became clear that she was bitching about us as, in the chaos and confusion of the place, we appeared to have jumped the queue – completely innocently I might add. She was moaning to her friend (in Italian) that “these foreigners have no manners….” “They think that they can do what they like just because they’re American…” (I’m not American FYI). “Just because I’m Italian doesn’t mean I don’t understand what they’re saying…” (We hadn’t said a word about them). Needless to say, I waited for the perfect moment, and much to the amusement of my friends, turned around and said, very abruptly, in Italian “Did we jump the queue by any chance??”. “No no, it’s fine”, spits back the girl. It blatantly wasn’t fine, but I certainly enjoyed the moment.
This reminds me of when I was a student in Siena, and one day whilst walking through the town, a group of teenage boys directly behind me started making comments amongst themselves, in Italian about the “bella biondina straniera” ( I was ten kilos lighter and seven years younger, you understand). Again I gave them a chance to say all that they needed to (some of it was really quite rude!), before spinning around and yelling at them in my then broken Italian: “Don’t think I don’t understand what you’re saying!!”. I remember them looking a bit shocked, but not much else as I turned on my heels and sped off, slightly embarrassed at the outburst, particularly since I was still finding my feet linguistically. Should something like that happen now, I would probably hang around, but then again that’s what ten kilos and seven years of experience does for you....

martedì 18 settembre 2007

Aperitivo time

One of the great things about Milan is the aperitivo. From around 6pm to 9pm every evening throughout the city, almost every locale, from Joe's Cafe to the Armani Bar lays out a spread of anything from peanuts and crisps to plates of pasta and rice, pizza, salad, and roast chicken. Depending on where you go it can be a real feast, as long as you are willing to pay the 6 to 8 euros per drink in order to enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet.
What really interests me about the aperitivo however, is the cultural take on it, and the way in which different personalities and backgrounds seem to shine through. When faced with a spread of free food, your average Italian will dive straight in, automatically reaching for the long toothpick with which to spear the various goodies lined up on the counter. We Brits are more reserved. I have actually seen a group of English tourists form a queue at the start of the buffet, plastic plate in hand, only to be stampeded by the passing locals. I remember when I was fairly new to Milan and my friends took me for an aperitivo in a trendy bar in the city centre. The fried olives were proving tricky to spear with the long toothpick, and following various attempts, involving chasing a damn olive around the dish to no avail, I finally picked it up with my fingers, and dropped it on my plate guiltily. I looked up to find one of my friends grinning from ear to ear. "You managed to catch it then?!".
I've decided that the best philosophy when it comes to l'ora dell'aperitivo is 'elbows at the ready', and if all else fails, just pick the stuff up with your fingers - chances are everyone else is too busy digging in themselves to notice....

lunedì 17 settembre 2007


My colleagues are comparing toothpastes. They are actually crowded around a desk, each with their toothpaste of choice in hand, comparing the benefits of the green one over the yellow, and whether this brand contains more fluoride than that one. This is all part of the daily post-lunch office ritual of comunal teeth-cleaning. I know this is not specific to my organisation because I once walked in on a lady cleaning her teeth in the toilets at a client's office, and it all fell into place - something else to add to my rapidly-expanding list of cultural oddities.
Dentists must have tons of free time here...

Big city life

It has been brought to my attention that the previous posts may have been ever-so-slightly negative in their tone, so in an attempt to redress the balance, I have decided to share with you a few of the reasons why I like living in Milan. Let's get one thing straight from the start: Milan is not typical of your average Italian city. In many ways it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the country whatsoever. It feels at times like you are forced you to endure many of the negative aspects of city life - endless traffic jams, pollution, dirt, extortionate prices - whilst being deprived of the potential benefits - efficient public transport, shops open at all hours, a cosmopolitan mindset... At the end of the day, Milan is a bit like an over-grown provincial town which struggles to accomodate its growing population, and doesn't seem to have learned from its other European equivalents. Look at me, I'm bitching again.

So anyway, reasons why I like living in Milan are:

1. The weather is almost always better than in the UK - you can eat lunch outside practically every day from April to October.

2. Places like Florence, Rome, Venice, The Alps, Switzerland, the Ligurian coast are just a stone's throw away.

3. Good quality food and wine at reasonable prices - both in the supermarket and when eating out.

4. The Milan aperitivo - purchase a drink and you can help yourself to food from the buffet until you are fit to burst.

5. Saturday brunch à la New York style (-ish) - this is catching on fast, and gives you the opportunity to stay in bed until midday and still make it in time for eggs and bacon.

6. Truly great cappuccino - my personal favourite is to be found at Bar XXI Secolo in Via Procaccini...

7. Shopping. Say no more.

Wow I made it to seven! Maybe city life isn't so bad after all..... Or maybe I should write a list of the things I dislike about Milan. I would probably get to seventy-seven, so I shall quit whilst I'm ahead.

domenica 16 settembre 2007


A traditional way of congratulating the bride and groom at an Italian wedding is to say something along the lines of “Congratulations and may you be blessed with male children”. What??!! Say WHAT?!?! Its use may be rapidly diminishing, but it does make you wonder about the mentality of a nation where “mamma” is everything but the true blessing is to have boys. I’m told that it’s to do with maintaining the family name, but did nobody worry about where the next mamma might come from? I say be careful what you wish for!

Luca has two young nieces, one who is two and a half, and the other just seven months. I have witnessed the progress of the first since she was one, and participated in the pregnancy and arrival of the other (not literally!). My experience of children is quite minimal, being from a very small family and not having siblings myself, and whilst at the start I would hold them like a football and panic at the merest whimper, I realise that I am actually now quite comfortable in the company of these little people who never fail to amaze in the way that they view the world, and the reaction they provoke in complete strangers. Italians are famous for their love of children, and they don’t appear to have yet adopted the paranoid, fretful method of parenting which is so popular where I come from. Here, people take their children to expensive restaurants on a Saturday night, allow them to play in the streets, and let them scream incessantly on public transport without fear of reprisal, no matter how much the little angels continue to annoy other passengers (i.e. me!). On the one hand I think it’s great that babies and children are included in everyday life, and not packed off to bed at 7pm every night, and that they generally have hordes of family members on the doorstep to love and spoil them. On the other hand I fear the consequences of a generation of young people who are so used to being centre-stage and too cute to be disciplined that sometimes the practicalities of sharing the world with those around them seem to be overlooked. Maybe it explains the reason why Italian “children” stay under their parents’ roofs until they are about ninety three…

In any case, this post is dedicated to my friend Maria, who discovered a couple of days ago that the little person who has been kicking her in the stomach for the past few weeks is in fact, a girl. Congratulations and may you be blessed in spite of the fact that you are not expecting a boy… :-)

sabato 15 settembre 2007

Dub dub

I’m watching Ugly Betty in Italian. To be honest I much prefer to miss the TV broadcast of UK / American TV series, and get them on DVD but on this occasion I’m too into it to stop watching, even though the dubbing is making my ears bleed. OK, so this is a subject which has been expat- blogged to death – along with bureaucracy, waiting your turn (or not), the Italian healthcare system, etc.etc. I’m going to talk about it anyway. Firstly, the fact that many of the greatest, most well-known Hollywood actors are dubbed by the same voice really bothers me. The first time Luca and I were watching a film together and he came out with “this is usually Al Pacino’s voice”, it took me a while to work out what the hell he was going on about. Isn’t a major factor in what makes an actor great the way in which they deliver the role, their timing, tone and intonation? If you understand Italian, try watching the dubbed version of friends. “Could I be wearing any more of your clothes?”, delivered with perfect comedy timing by Joey, and followed by genuine audience reaction just does not work when conveyed as a serious question, and met with stony silence (audience laughter doesn’t seem to have been imported into the dubbed version). For those of you who, like me, grew up with The Fresh Prince of Belair at teatime every weekday, the clip that I found on You Tube at will either make you howl with laughter or cry with pain – these are the opening titles for the Italian version. Note the fact that Will (or “Willy”, as they call him here) is dubbed by some guy who must be at least 60 years old, and who is to rapping what Eminem is to flower-arranging. I guess if these programmes are going to be broadcast to a non-English speaker audience, there really is no alternative, and, when challenged on the subject, most Italians will bore you with a long, in-depth lecture on how talented their dubbing professionals are. Maybe that’s just what they need to do to convince themselves of the fact. Or maybe they just don’t know what they’re missing, and that’s rather a shame when you think about it.

lunedì 10 settembre 2007

Highly "recommended"....

This, my friends, is the first of what I fear will be many, many ramblings / rants / observations (I'm being as polite as I can be) on the "joys" of living in the "bel paese" (sarcasm starting to creep in already you notice). I fully accept that it was MY decision to move here, MY decision to stay, and I can damn well leave if I don't like it. I know all of that, and don't get me wrong - there are plenty of positive aspects to living in Italy (ummm....errrrrr....we'll come back to that later), and then there are the negatives. As you can probably sense, one of the negatives is on its way.
A new girl started at work today. Her first words were more or less these " Hi, my name's Giulia, my dad builds hotels." OK, they may not have been the exact words, but that was more or less the way she presented herself. This is something that you get a lot here and I have to say it drives me crazy... It's called "Raccomandazione" and basically involves daddy's golf buddies being Chief Executives / Managing Directors of multinational organisations, which completely coincidentally just happen to be looking for someone just like little Johnny / Jack / Giulia, to be cunningly inserted in some job which the rest of us have had to sweat blood and tears to get anywhere near.... It's just accepted in Italy that if you know the right people, pretty much regardless of your education or qualifications (although chances are, daddy had a hand in getting you into the best schools / colleges anyway...) you can expect a nice cosy job, straight out of university, bypassing all the slaves on stage contracts, to which you can drive your brand new car (bought for you by daddy), carry your Prada handbag (grazie papà) and totter around in your Gucci shoes and obligatory matching Gucci belt (guess whose money....). And at the end of the day it's not even like you need your salary to pay the extortionate rental prices here in Milan - after all you'll be going home to sleep under mamma and papà's roof....
No wonder you get treated like someone from a planet far far away when people discover that you live a thousand miles from your parents (shock horror), earn your own money from a job that you obtained out of your own merit (mamma mia!), and have been feeding yourself since you were eighteen years old (Dio Mio!!!). Rant over.

"I do"...or do I?

Yesterday we went to our friends' wedding in Lodi. It seems about a hundred years that they've been planning, preparing, attending those awful 'marriage preparation' classes with the local priest (eugh!) etc. etc., so I think we were all pretty relieved that the day had finally arrived, even if our collective desire to spend the afternoon doing the funky chicken and being polite to aging relatives was about... well, zero. Strangely enough, I have never been to a wedding in Italy before, despite living here for five years. I guess I just never moved in the 'marrying' circles until now, but in any case I was curious and fairly excited at the prospect of a 25-course meal, or whatever it is that you get at these occasions.

We arrived late, and by late I mean... LATE. The ceremony was long gone, and the guests had already finished their antipasti by the time we rolled up with Luca's brother and his girlfriend. Ah the joys of being in a relationship with someone who runs their own business..... I should probably get used to being four hours late for everything.

The first thing I noticed was that, despite the first course not yet having been served, the musicians were already in full swing, as was the dancing and...wait for it... KARAOKE!! I am assured that this is not typical of all Italian weddings (actually Luca's words were "solo quelli dei terroni" - ouch!) and being from a nation where nobody gets up to dance until at least 6 units of alcohol have been consumed per head, it was to say the least, a little bit bizarre. They actually arrived at the Conga before the meat / fish course had been brought out, and by the time we got to cake, it was complete chaos. At one point, the bride's cousins started attaching helium balloons to their baby sister in an attempt to launch her into autonomous flight... and I'm talking adult cousins! It was all very amusing, although by the time we got back to Milan, the copious amounts of sparkling red wine (yes you read that right!) were starting to wear me down...In any case, Auguri Andrea e Betty!!!

domenica 9 settembre 2007

Lost my luggage, lost my mind....

I guess it had to happen sooner or later. After many years of dragging myself and my suitcase(s) from A to B, via C, D and E, and back again, mostly without any major problems, I now find myself sans suitcase. Annoyingly it happened on the way to our destination, where we had just 7 days to 'relax', 'unwind', and think about all of the clothes we could be wearing had the suitcase managed to make the trip with us. Malpensa airport is well known for bags that miraculously jump from the luggage trucks and make a bid for freedom, although it's little consolation for the fact that - in my opinion - somewhere there is a baggage handler's wife / girlfriend who is very pleased with her new handbag and matching shoes....
Anyway in a final attempt to shed some light on the mystery, I made the 50km trip to the airport in Luca's dad's car (desperately trying not to scratch / scrape / break it in some way), arriving at Terminal 2, where I parked in the '15 minutes for free, over 15 minutes for about 200 million euros' carpark. In the terminal I met a nice, helpful (excuse me while I pass out from shock) security lady, who escorted me to the deposito and let me search through the mountainous pile of unidentified bags. Needless to say, mine wasn't amongst them. The kind security lady suggested that I have a look over at Terminal 1, as you never know, può darsi blah blah... So I head back to the carpark, insert my ticket in the cassa, and what does it tell me? SIXTEEN MINUTES. Cazzo!! Oh well, call it bad luck, pay the hundred million euros and head off. Fine.
Terminal 1. I park in the '15 minutes for free etc. etc.' carpark and head to the lost luggage office. Only this time the security guard doesn't look too friendly. He asks me for the paperwork, which I have. Good. He asks to see some ID, which I have. Great. "Er, Signora, I'm afraid I can't let you pass." "Why not?" I ask. "Because the name on the paperwork doesn't correspond with the name on your ID" "MA DAI??!" It turns out that at check-in they put Luca's name on both bags, and so his is the name on the paperwork. Dammit. I protest to the security man that I have all of the paperwork in my hand - the original airline ticket, the luggage receipt, the PIR form etc. and that surely if I was looking to locate and ultimately steal a suitcase not belonging to myself, its true owner would be pretty stupid to provide me with all of this documentation. O no?? So the security guard caves a bit and tells me to wait while he consults his female colleague. At this point I know I've lost the battle, and infact she totters over, wiggling her ass in the security guard's direction (just to make sure he knows who's boss, i.e. the ass is boss...) and promptly tells me to send the person named on the ticket, or return with a 'delega' - an official letter from the named person, authorising me to collect the bag in his place. My damn bag!! I argue a bit, before I start to worry they're going to do something awful like use their 'powers' - ha - to have me escorted from the building, so I retreat of my own accord. I get back to the carpark, and guess what.... SIXTEEN MINUTES!!! Cazzo.

mercoledì 25 luglio 2007

I can't believe I am writing a blog...

... it's just that you get to a point where you feel so bombarded with other peoples' thoughts and experiences - thanks to Facebook / My Space / Friends Reunited / MSN etc. etc. - that you feel the need to put your own life in black and white for all to see! So be prepared.... Emmina has a blog and she's not afraid to use it!!