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...