martedì 16 dicembre 2008

Back in the habit...

Long time, no blog!! What can I say? When your life does a 180° turn, it’s hard to keep up!

Last Thursday we had our office Christmas party at the Jazz Cafè. This is one of my favourite restaurant / bars in Milan, and even more so when the boss is paying as it’s more than a little priiiiiiicey. It’s also a staple hang-out for models and associated hangers-on / beautiful people, but I find that if you drink enough you don’t even notice their presence, so the wine flowed a bit too much and the following day in the office I thought I might just drop down dead on the spot. Once a year……

A few days previously, T and I went to see “Solo un padre” at the cinema. I’d seen the trailers and thought it looked cute – or rather Luca Argentero, the main character looked cute – so we decided to give it a try. In reality, Luca Argentero isn’t just cute, he’s a figo della madonna, but that’s kind of beside the point. The film was fantastic – probably one of the best Italian movies I’ve seen. Well scripted, nicely thought out and not at all predictable as the story line led me to believe it would be. And it had the cuuuuutest little baby in it…. Sexy man + cute baby = success!

Work has been insane. I was in the office until nine thirty pm Friday before last, and not because I had no social life, but actually because I was busy! I thought that was a record, until last SATURDAY NIGHT, when T & I ended up being dragged down by certain colleagues, who shall remain nameless, and ended up working until 2:30am!!!!! This is for a particularly big contract with a rather important chocolate manufacturer, so in reality I did it in the hope that freebies will be forthcoming, especially given the season and all that! We’ll see….

Driving up Via Farini on the way to K’s on Sunday, I was minding my own business, listening to the radio, going in a straight line, when a cretino decided to pull out right in front of me and attempt a u-turn. It was dark and rainy but that’s no excuse – rear-view mirrors were invented for a reason, people!! The result was a huge dent all the way down the passenger side, and an hour spent in the rain filling out the extremely long, extremely complicated Costatazione amichevole. Names, addresses, tax codes, licence numbers, insurance company addresses, phone numbers, insurance codes, renewal dates, damage details and a little drawing of the incident -  not easy to accomplish with trembling hands and palpitations…. The only good thing about it is that they’ve given me my favourite car in the world as a courtesy vehicle, so as far as I’m concerned, they can take their time with the repairs!

I fly to England for Christmas with the ‘rents on December 21st. In spite of everything, I’m actually quite excited – it’ll be my first trip home since last Christmas, and I couldn’t imagine spending it anywhere else. I suspect I will feel pretty out of it at first – for example I have no clue who the people from X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing are – but after a few sherries and half a box of Quality Street, I’m sure it’ll all come flooding back to me. New Year will be spent with friends in a villa on Lake Garda. This will for sure be the tough part, as old acquaintances are hard to forget – especially at New Year – but I’m determined to make the best of it. So far my only resolution for 2009 is to try and arrive at the office before 9:30 each day. Now that really will be tough....

martedì 2 dicembre 2008

Moving on

I have always insisted that I will never become one of those people who stays in the office until seven thirty every night. For me it’s a sign that a person has nothing better to do, and no life outside of work. For the past three weeks, however, the office has become my best buddy, the one place where I can at least pretend that everything is fine, and where life goes on as normal, or as normal as possible, from 9am to 7pm.
It’s when I get in my car at the end of the day, and rather than heading south on the A7, I negotiate the city traffic to reach my friend’s spare bedroom, that the reality of my situation hits home and I almost wish I could turn around and head back to the relative safety of my desk… I guess desperate times call for desperate measures, and these are really desperate times.
The thought of starting again, moving on, organizing a new place in which to live a completely new lifestyle is nothing less than terrifying. I’ve been there, done that, and was quite happy to settle into a stable routine, where Saturdays were for home improvements, and Sundays for ‘us time’. Unlike many girls my age, I didn’t come to Italy for him. I came for work five years ago, lived the single girl life for a while, and would almost certainly still be here had I not met Luca. But I did meet him, so life became about ‘us’, what ‘we’ liked to do, where ‘we’ liked to go and how ‘we’ wanted to live.
Fortunately for me, I have the best friends in the world. Since the day I left, I have been constantly held up by an invisible wire , without which I would probably never have got out of bed, made it to work, got through the day, eaten, slept or generally managed to go on without either falling or throwing myself under a tram. The positive thing to come out of all of this misery is that I will now have way more quality time to spend with my girls, who have stuck by me like glue day and night, for which I am eternally grateful…
No one else was involved on either side, Luca and I are still in touch, and although he’s desperate for me to come home, I know that it’s better this way. At least for now. Some problems are bigger than the person they affect and way bigger than those who suffer the knock-on effect. I’m tired of picking up the pieces.

So, as my mum would say “Onwards and upwards”,,,,,which leads me to my next problem: Cercasi bilocale arredato, nord Milano / Monza, con posto auto coperto….

venerdì 14 novembre 2008

Life

I hope to be back in action shortly.
In the meantime I guess life will continue to take its course.
And I also hope that the old saying is true, and that time really does heal everything....

venerdì 31 ottobre 2008

Seeing Red


This blog is not usually a place for highbrow political or cultural musings, as any regular reader will know, but having spent the best part of a week imprisoned under a blanket with just the TV and internet for company while Luca earned our daily bread, I have stumbled across some interesting reading. And by interesting I mean completely and utterly terrifying.
So, we are in crisi. Economic slowdown, recession, call it what you will – in short, the world is changing, and when the world starts to change, so do its inhabitants.
I’m not going to go into the whole Obama / McCain saga – mostly because I’m not American and so am following it with only one ear – although I appreciate that, like it or not, what happens in the US does tend to have an impact on what happens to the rest of us. I don’t like to be known as ‘the rest of us’ either, but there we go.
The issue is this: Italy is a pretty messed-up country when it comes to politics. 61 governments in 63 years, Fascist brigades terrorising the population until as recently as the 1990s, and Benito Mussiolini’s granddaughter, Alessandra - former glamour model / singer / actress – a prominent member of Berlusconi’s current right-wing governing coalition. Even more worrying than this, however, is the current level of tension between the authorities and the man in the street, or rather the student in the street, with demonstrations and marches in protest at recent education reforms having paralysed the country for the past few days. Whilst it is easy to write off such events as young people taking the opportunity to cause trouble and skip class with the excuse of taking an interest in political reform, I was reminded by Alex of http://www.blogfromitaly.com/, that this is exactly the way that real revolutions start, and judging by its social and political history, Italy is a prime candidate. As Alex points out, former Prime Minister Francesco Cossiga appears to be adamant that Italy is returning to the era of the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) – in other words, left-wing extremist terrorism, born out of the reaction to hardline right-wing policy in an already unstable political climate. Just last year a number of supposed ‘militants’ were arrested in Padova and a quantity of explosives uncovered and linked to bomb plots against national newspapers and one of Berlusconi’s luxury villas. The employment situation in Italy today is, quite frankly, dire. Aside from a 6% unemployment rate (roughly the same as the UK and US as far as I know), there is the even more discouraging reality of a working world which doesn’t support its employees, offering short-term contracts, low wages and poorly-paid ‘work experience’ which have all but replaced the ‘steady job’. High taxes, low wages, poor services, no job security, rising inflation and economic slowdown are not just interesting subjects for expat blog readers. The fact is that we are facing a winter of discontent, which some believe could bring with it a new era of extremism. Let’s hope for all our sakes that it doesn’t come to that.

giovedì 30 ottobre 2008

Hoops

This post comes to you from a fuzzy-headed sick person, curled up on the sofa with a duvet and SATC re-runs on Comedy Central. It’s that time of year again, except that it feels like about 5 minutes since the last time it was that time of year….
Having moved house recently, I have had to go through the pain-staking task (even more painful than my tonsils) of registering with a new doctor and managing a rather bitchy email conversation with the HR department at work. One of the very many bureaucratic hoops that needs to be jumped through in order for daily life to go on in many Italian companies involves an obligatory sick-note for even a single day of illness. This is a pain in the ass if you have, say, a headache, or you ate a bad shrimp, as even if you don’t need medical attention you are required to drag yourself to the doctor’s office and wait in line just to get a note. As I’ve probably mentioned on this blog before, doctors in Italy don’t have receptionists or secretaries and don’t work in surgeries, so the doctor’s office is literally just that. If you call you often don’t get an answer as it is the – always busy - doctor himself who mans the phone and in many cases (as with mine) there is no appointment system. Your only choice is to turn up and hope - even if all you need is a note because that bad shrimp kept you away from the office for a day….
Then there’s the three day rule. If you’re absent for 3 days or more, you need a special note, a copy of which you are obliged to post to the National Insurance office ON THE SECOND DAY of your illness. No exceptions. So, imagine that bad shrimp has you running to the bathroom for 2 days straight. On the first day you have to drag yourself to the doctor’s and hold your stomach while you wait in line with a room full of old ladies, and on day two you have to do the same at the nearest Post Office. If you live in a small village like me, you’ll probably have the same group of old ladies for company on both days. Arriving in the waiting room yesterday evening 15 minutes before the doctor herself was due to arrive, I opened the door to be greeted by 8 pairs of elderly eyes, including my next door neighbour. Seeing me enter, she looked delighted that she would be the bringer of good gossip, enquiring sweetly “Anche Lei sta male?” “Are you ill too?”. I exchanged the usual Italian pleasantries with her and the others, before taking my seat and leaving them to natter away in dialect about the weather, feeling quite relieved that I couldn’t take part even if I wanted to as Pavian dialect is a total mystery to me. Half an hour later the doctor still hadn’t arrived and the smell of unwashed old person was starting to make me feel nauseous, so I gave up and went back to my sofa. I discovered today that I am a day late in sending the medical certificate to INPS, which apparently means the end of the world is nigh. My fault entirely of course, for not jumping through those hoops….

venerdì 24 ottobre 2008

The Big One



Somebody won 100.000.000 euros on the Italian lottery last night. Yes, you read it right. One hundred million euros. The ticket was purchased in a bar on the outskirts of Catania, Sicily, and my first thought was “I hope the lucky winner wasn’t Mafioso…”. That gives you an idea of just how many Mafiosi there are in Catania.
The second prize ticket – with winnings coming in at just under four million – was sold by a newsagent in the centre of Milan. God dammit I knew I should never have moved out of the city…..
The question on everyone’s lips is: Was it rigged? This is the largest amount of money ever given away in the Italian lottery and the hype surrounding it has reached epic proportions over the past few weeks. They apparently announced that they wouldn’t allow for the jackpot to go any further, and should the numbers not have come up last night (it’s been 6 months since anyone picked up the jackpot), they would have divided it into smaller prizes. And what d’ya know?? Somebody won! I have also been informed (by not so much of a reliable source, but who cares?) that they didn’t televise last night’s extraction as they usually do, so nobody physically witnessed the winning numbers as they came up. Hmmmm.
I’m not usually the gambling sort, nor am I one of those sheep-like people who jump on the nearest bandwagon just because everyone else does, but given that sooooo much money was involved, I felt a strange need to participate. I have to admit that I have bought three lottery tickets in the past couple of weeks and have not even so much as won back my investment (there are 90 numbers to choose from– an impossibility if you think about it)…
What does a person do with 100.000.000 euros? I can barely even imagine it, but I expect I would feel out of control, simply for the fact that I would need to put my life in someone else’s hands and I’m never comfortable doing that. Who would I trust to give me good advice? How would I invest it and in what? How much would I give to charity / family / friends and what / who would they be? And the Big One: Would I give half to Luca? Ha! That question has already come up in our house, as has the one about when you get married and have to chose whether or not to merge or separate your assets. The answer?
Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it…..


mercoledì 22 ottobre 2008

What's going on?

Did my pornographic picture bring out the blog police? Is anyone else not seeing it anymore? Do they realise I got it from a national newspaper?
Curiouser and curiouser.....

venerdì 17 ottobre 2008

Indecent



I thought I would cross the blog picket line just long enough to post this picture, which I found on the front page of the online Corriere - the electronic version of one of Italy's most 'serious' daily newspapers. Yet another example of the naked female ass culture in this delightful country, the picture accompanied the headline on a story about the relaxation of public indecency laws in the UK. It's also a perfect example of how they wouldn't know the meaning of the phrase 'public indecency' here in Italy. I ask myself how many hours of work the journalist responsible for this piece was forced to dedicate to trawling porn sites for an ‘appropriate’ photographic demonstration of his story. Time well spent, I’m sure….
As for the ‘please have sex wherever and whenever you choose’ attitude of my compatriot law enforcers, I can’t help but think that this is just another example of the moral slippery slope. I’m sure the police force would claim that they have better things to do than stroll through parks telling people to pull up their pants, but the fact of the matter is that rules are rules and the police being told by their superiors to ‘turn a blind eye’ sends out mixed messages to a nation already in moral turmoil. Call me a prude if you like, but I have always been a member of the “get a room” brigade, and probably always will be. My least favourite thing in the entire universe is a lack of respect for others. People behaving in ways that negate the existence of others is a perfect example of this, and having sex in public comes into this category for me. Just like wreckless driving, queue-jumping and people at the council who don't pick up the phone – all well-worn subjects if you read this blog with any sort of regularity….
So, my rant for the week over, I am now going to drag my (well-covered) ass through the last couple of hours of the working week before negotiating the Friday night, queue-jumping, wreckless drivers on the ring-road. Hopefully I won’t come across any public acts of indecency on the way…

giovedì 16 ottobre 2008

Strike it not so lucky (part two)

Tomorrow there's yet another General Strike:

Trains
Buses
Trams
Planes
Boats
Fire-fighters (!)
Healthcare workers
State workers

So, this post leaves you with a book recommendation to be getting on with (literally a bit behind The Times but worth it if you've not got around to reading it yet) whilst I sit on the blog picket line in protest over the lack of transport and public services.

Happy Friday everyone!!!

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/03/books/review/03HOWER.html?ex=1224302400&en=9825995e4521b7b8&ei=5070

venerdì 10 ottobre 2008

Watch and learn

http://quicksilverscreen.com/watch?video=34616

I stole this video from Jessica at Too Tall for Italy,
http://tootallforitaly.com/ simply because it involves two of my favourite love / hate things…. Italy and Jeremy Clarkson.
Watch and learn from the 8 minute point onwards….

martedì 30 settembre 2008

Next time I'll keep my mouth shut


Sometimes I think that the great puppeteer in the sky is looking down on my life and laughing til he cries. Having bitched about Milan fashion week, and how mere mortals are effectively excluded from breathing in the same air as the ‘in crowd’ for its duration, I promptly found myself invited to a very exclusive, invitation-only private sale event this weekend at Christian Dior. As it turns out, my best friend’s other half (who works at Ralph Lauren) had two tickets and since he was too busy to go, offered them to us and put our names on the list. Panic stations. What does one wear to an exclusive invitation-only private sale of Christian Dior in Via Montenapoleone? One’s best H&M shirt? A nice pair of boots purchased at Bata in a moment of desperation two years ago? The faded Armani jeans bought in the summer sales in 2004 - an unforgettable moment in which the shop assistant delighted in telling me that my size was the “biggest Armani does”, and “even so they’re a little tight on the hips, no?”.
Knowing it would be a “if your name’s not down, you’re not coming in” situation taken to the extreme, we equipped ourselves with photo ID and tottered down Via della Spiga, into Via Montenapoleone, and straight into the back of a queue of around 50 people. Ah, but we have invitations! We are ON THE LIST…. It turns out that everyone else is too, only they all seem to know how it works and have come prepared in some sort of leggings / ballerina shoes combo, which means that an hour and a half later when the queue hasn’t budged and our eyes are watering with the pain that only high heels can inflict, those around us remain dry-eyed and blister-free.
Two hours in and we’re hungry. By this time there are only 12 people ahead, but it’s a one-in one-out system and no one seems to be in a hurry to get out. I have the brilliant idea to go to the bar on the corner and grab a sandwich and a drink to take away. Sadly, the ‘bar on the corner’ in Via Montenapoleone is Caffè Cova - the only bar on the street, and with prices to rival those at Gucci across the road. My friend thinks it’s hilarious when I return to the queue with two miniature crust-free sandwiches and two miniature 200 ml glass bottles of coke, having spent a grand total of 18 euros…
After two and a half hours of hardcore queuing, we make it to the front of the line, where we are asked for the name of the person who had invited us. Errrrrr….. Well…… It was someone at Ralph Lauren who knows someone who knows someone else who works at Dior. Can we go in now please? One quick panicked called to K’s other half and we’re past the pitbull and on our way up the stairs to ‘the showroom’. No bigger than my living room, it’s stuffed full of clothes, shoes, bags and belts, and looks like a teenager’s bedroom; you couldn’t see the floor for stuff lying around. It’s a complete smash and grab – elbows everywhere, screams of “I found it!!!” and girls fighting like cats over shoes that are too small for them anyway. To be fair, the discounts were enormous – the biggest bargain I saw was a bag which was reduced from 5000 euros to 450. How can a bag possibly be worth 5000 euros in the first place?? I guess it’s all relative.
Much as I would like to say I’m now head to toe in Dior, the truth is I’m back to the day job in my ever-so-slightly-tight-around-the-hips jeans and an old jumper from last year’s Zara sale (or was it the year before…?). I think I’ll leave the high fashion to those in the know.

mercoledì 24 settembre 2008

à la mode

It’s fashion week again and I would just like to dispel a myth:
Living in Milan does not mean that you get to go to fashion shows. It seems like every time I tell someone that I live in Milan, their immediate reaction is “How glamorous – you must meet models all the time!”. Sorry to disappoint folks, but the reality of the matter is that models are usually only seen out in public during fashion week (i.e. twice a year), and then they are on the catwalks by day and holed up in the some dingy “VIP” corner of the latest ‘place to be’ by night, where they spend the entire time going in and out of the toilets in pairs, sniffing and adjusting their nostrils each time they emerge.
To get to see an actual show you have to be, without exception:

The Designer
The Designer’s friends / family / sponsor / hangers-on
A celebrity
A fashion journalist

Just to prove my point I will tell you that my best friend’s boyfriend works for Ralph Lauren in a fairly responsible creative role. He has worked here in Milan for the past 5 years, and has met Ralph himself on more than one occasion during business trips to the New York office. He has even set up and assisted at this season’s New York shows. However, in spite of all of this, he has not yet seen a show here in Milan, has never been able to get tickets or even swing a backstage pass…
Many (mostly American) tourists come to Milan during fashion week assuming that they can buy tickets to the shows when they get here and leave disappointed that the closest they got was standing in the queue for the toilets, watching one model after the other stumble out, dazed and confused. Probably not a million miles from the real thing, but then I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been…

martedì 23 settembre 2008

What next??


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1056909/Italian-Big-Brother-contestant-puts-virginity-sale-1million-Euros.html

I’m very sad to report that this story doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Those of you who are aware of the ‘cultural’ ‘phenomenon’ (careful choice of words there..) of the Veline, might know what I’m talking about.
I’m sure I’ve moaned about the Veline before, but realistically when something’s bad enough you can never moan too much, right?
Just in case you don’t know, the Veline are two ‘dancing’ girls, whose job is to turn up and ‘dance’ during the opening and closing titles of a nightly comedy / satire show, and who are replaced every couple of years with younger, sluttier versions. Auditions to become a Velina take the form of an exhaustive national competition, played out on TV every night for what feels like 6 months, during which contestants are required to demonstrate a talent (actual examples include crowing like a hen, skipping with a rope, and bursting balloons with a pin – SERIOUSLY), and gyrate in the direction of the cameras in the skimpiest possible outfits until the cameraman’s eyes pop out. At the end of this very long, very mind-numbing contest, the salivating, mostly male jury decides which pair they prefer (of girls, that is), and the chosen two are launched head-long into a life of wiggling their assets at the nation, appearing in gossip magazines for no apparent reason, and ultimately marrying a footballer, before being bumped off a couple of years later when a man called Antonio Ricci decides it’s time for the new sluts on the block.
The real tragedy in all of this nonsense is that, when questioned, an alarmingly high number of young girls aspired to precisely that – to grow up to be Veline. The below article is a year or so old, but sums up perfectly well the knock-on effect of the situation as it is today.
Last night the latest Veline made their debut on Striscia la Notizia. They were dressed, made up and styled to look exactly like the last ones. They did the same dance. They made the same coquettish smiles at the camera, sat in the same legs-open pose while the (male) presenters congratulated them on their “achievement”, wiping away tears of joy as the (mostly male) studio audience whistled and applauded their efforts.
Now, not only are women putting themselves on public display, but they are doing it with a price tag and added extras. Where is this all going to end?
Is it any wonder that women struggle to be taken seriously here in the Bel Paese??

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7d479772-2f56-11dc-b9b7-0000779fd2ac.html

venerdì 5 settembre 2008

Hum drum

I've not been updating much lately for one simple reason: I genuinely have nothing to say. Isn't that sad and slightly worrying?
I'm waking up at 6:40, catching the 7:57 train to Milan, working till 6 and taking the 6:20 home again. Chat to Luca about our days, drink some prosecco, watch the news, cook, eat, film, bed. Are you bored yet??
Luca’s working on the grape harvest – 8 hours a day of hard labour and all for a genere of wine that neither of us drinks! Slightly fizzy, beetroot-coloured 11% Pinot anyone?? I don’t think so…
The gypsies have moved on but the new challenge is the young couple upstairs who seem to have people over for dinner and / or drinks every night. I have discovered that the walls in our building are made from papier machè. Am also starting to sound like my mother (“Young people these days have no respect… If I want to go to bed at 10:30, then it’s my right to do so….etc. etc….”).
Next weekend I’m taking my two best buds on their first trip to Sardinia. Can’t wait to show them round my old stomping ground, although they have been warned that ex-boyfriends are hiding behind every nuraghe. I suspect I will be very popular for introducing some unexpected end-of-season excitement to the place (I have to be careful what I say otherwise will be forced on pain of death to edit this post..). Suffice to say that Charlize Theron’s twin sister is likely to cause a stir…
Tomorrow morning I have a very important appointment, which is part of a big plan that I can’t talk about yet. Don’t you hate it when people do that?
Let’s just say if all goes well, I’ll (or rather, we’ll) probably be sloshed on Berlucchi by midday. Just for the record, I’m not pregnant. Will post about it as soon as the coast is clear….. It may just be my ticket out of hum-drum. Maybe then I’ll have something vaguely interesting to blog about, who knows?

lunedì 25 agosto 2008

A Quiet Life

There are gypsies on the piazza behind our apartment. It’s not the first time we’ve had to put up with unwelcome visitors – local kids who litter the square and vandalise the streetlamps, the occasional camper which stops to offload its rubbish, even other gypsies have turned up in the past – but these take the cliché to another level. As soon as they arrived, the camper doors flew open, and out scampered 5 or 6 grubby-looking kids, the oldest of which at just 11 or 12 years of age, provided us with a perfect demonstration of why he will almost certainly grow up to be a professional lawbreaker, pretty much like his fathers before him.
Stones were launched at the windows of the derelict farmhouse on the other side of the piazza, the waste bins emptied and their contents scattered across a wide area, glass bottles hurled onto the neighbouring football field, its goalposts torn down. Swinging like a monkey from the net and taking obvious delight in his own ability to destroy everything in his path, the little monster displayed more pent-up aggression than you would imagine possible in an orang-utan, let alone a child. The ‘parents’, unsurprisingly took no notice whatsoever as they hurled bags of rubbish from the caravan windows and fought among themselves in an unknown – probably Eastern European - language.
Not one to stand by and witness such events without taking some sort of action, I picked up the phone and promptly called the Carabinieri – Italy’s answer to the Bad Cop. Sounding like I’d maybe interrupted his pasta lunch, the police officer half-heartedly assured me that he would send a car round to ‘have a word with them’. An hour passed, and we continued with the task of painting the second bedroom – keeping half an eye on the piazza, expecting a little blue car to turn up at any minute. Two hours. We ate our Penne al Ragù with one eye on our forks, the other on the window like we were on a stake-out. Three hours. “OK, that’s it”, say I, picking up the phone and planning a speech in my head along the lines of “Listen, officer. I pay 600 euros per month in taxes” (seriously, I do), “and when I call the police and ask them to come out because I have a problem, I expect them to do just that! Capisci??!!!”
I would never have gone through with it, but fortunately in any case a car arrived at that moment. Having done a little tour of the square, it promptly drove off again - no stopping, no confrontation, not even time to ‘have a word’. Is that it? Is that all that decent, tax-paying citizens can expect from the forces of law? Do we have any choice but to put up with lawless behaviour, literally in our own backyards? It would appear so. As I write this, the gypsies are still in residence, the dog who lives across the road is whining loudly as he does whenever his owners leave the house, the local teenagers are racing each other with their scooters up to the end of the road and back again, whilst the church bells which have been plaguing us ever since we arrived provide an appropriate soundtrack (chimes on the hour, chimes 5 minutes past the hour, chimes on the half hour plus an extra little ding, fanfare at 07:00, fanfare at 12:00, fanfare at 19:00. 24 hours a day).
Quiet life in the country, anyone??

giovedì 7 agosto 2008

Disgusted!!

The car infront of me on my way to work this morning threw two pieces of screwed-up paper out of the passenger window.
I wanted to get the registration number but couldn't as we were on the motorway and I was too busy being shocked and disgusted. Why....?

Because it was a POLICE CAR.

mercoledì 6 agosto 2008



Rush hour in Milan in August..... Bliss!!

venerdì 1 agosto 2008

Statistically speaking

Browsing through my site stats yesterday, I was very amused at the weird and wonderful ways in which you folks out there end up on Life, Lavoro & Luca. It would appear that most of the visitors to this site are innocent victims, in search of serious factual information regarding life in Italy. Not that what I write isn’t ever factual or serious - anzi, most of the time I am genuinely NOT KIDDING – but I am well aware that this blog isn’t a fountain of culinary / cultural / historical information, and realistically I’m not bothered.
Amusingly enough, it would appear that there are a huge number of cute waiters / barmen by the name of Luca, who appear to be breaking hearts up and down the land. Not a day goes by when I don’t see a search along the lines of “Luca cute waiter Rome”, or “Bar Sorrento Luca gorgeous”. For those of you who haven’t realised it for yourselves, believe me when I say they’re not worth it!! He probably has a handful of cute foreigners on the go, not to mention a wife, 3 children and a girlfriend on the side. Italian men really are the world champions of ‘screwus overus’.


What I would be really interested to know however, is whether the people who reached Life, Lavoro & Luca via the following searches ever found what they were looking for. Answers on a postcard please....

- what does auguri cazzone mean
(The real question is who said this to you? Maybe you should try searching “pugnalata in faccia”.)

- lavoro per baby sister in Italia
(I’m assuming this person is looking for work as a baby-sitter, no? If not we need to get the child labour police out.)

- lose his arm in moto crash
(Not a nice thing to happen. Bit of a weird search tag though…)

- union jack teapot
(OK, so the British stereotypes are coming out. Unfortunately I have no UK memorabilia to purchase on my blog.)

- pincode in woodland circle
(I need an explanation for this one. No idea whatsoever.)

- Italian newsreaders cleavage
(Try the lunchtime news - Studio Aperto, 12:30,Italia 1. It never fails to satisfy)

………and my personal favourite:

- people in milano are depressing
(no comment)

giovedì 31 luglio 2008

The grass is (not) always greener

Let’s get something clear. I know I moan. I know I constantly berate Milan and all that it has (n’t) to offer. I know I constantly go on about how I would rather be on a beach in Sardinia than stuck in traffic on the Tangenziale Est. Who wouldn’t?
As I sit in my office looking out over Lambrate station, surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings, with the constant hum of the ring road and the occasional roar of a plane taking off from Linate airport, it is easy to allow the smog on the horizon to cloud my vision of why I came to this area, and why I stay.
Firstly, I am well aware that I could never do the job I do if I wasn’t here in Milan. Whilst it has its drawbacks, I do really like the fact that I work for a multi-national organisation which is pretty much a pioneer in its sector. I have a reasonable level of responsibility, get on really well with my colleagues (some have become my closest friends), and take home a salary / bonus / car which I could never achieve elsewhere in Italy. I know that the first thing that I would miss should I go back to the quiet life would be intellectual conversation, or even just the banter in which you can engage as you drink your morning coffee, with like-minded individuals of similar ages and backgrounds. I also LOVE that we have a little group of mother-tongue English speakers so when the Italians get too…well, Italian…. we can reminisce about people and places far away!
The new apartment is (as I’ve said before) right at the foot of the hills which begin with the Oltrepò Pavese (miles and miles of sprawling vineyards and hilltops farms), and continue down towards the Apennines of Emilia Romagna. The Ligurian coast is one hour away (it’s not Porto Cervo but it’s not Birmingham either), as are the lakes to the north of Milan. Another important factor is infrastructure, healthcare, and all of those little things which seem to become more important as time goes by (even at the age of 28!). Here you can be (reasonably) sure of high standards of medical care, and what the hell – Switzerland is only an short car ride away if necessary! My USB internet connection works absolutely everywhere, and there is a proliferation of cultural and artistic events on offer, not to mention a year-round choice of places to eat, drink and be generally merry.
These are all little things which I remember longing for when I lived full-time in Sardinia (particularly in the depths of winter when not even the occasional warm sunny day could make up for the complete lack of ANYTHING to do other than appreciate the weather….)

So, all things considered, I’m almost tempted to say that it’s not so bad. I have a place across the water which I can hop across to as and when, and which I appreciate so much more for the fact that going there is now a novelty and not the norm. In the meantime I’ll be making the most of my current location, enjoying the friendships and opportunities I have here, and later in the year- with a little bit of luck and some careful preparation – will be unveiling a plan which might just turn things around for good….

I said in my last post that something needed to change. It was probably my attitude.

mercoledì 23 luglio 2008

A heavy heart


My recent absence from the blogging scene can be explained by the picture. I can barely describe the heart-in-the-boots feeling which came over me as the plane hit the tarmac at Malpensa airport, and which I haven't yet been able to shake off in the two days that I have been back in the office... Having lived in Sardinia for 3 years, whenever I go back I feel like I am going home. The return to Milan makes me feel like a prisoner being sent back to the slammer after a week of parole.

Something needs to change.

venerdì 20 giugno 2008

Commute


Having spent the past year and a half living a five minute drive from my office, I am now back to living the commuter life, and - mamma mia - it’s a shock to the system. When I first arrived in Northern Italy, I lived for nine months in Bergamo, which is only 40 kilometres from Milan, but on the slowest train line in the western world, so I had a two-hour round trip each day and permanent dark circles under my eyes. I had arrived from a three-year experience in Sardinia, where I drove everywhere and made time everyday for a dip in the sea. Not surprisingly, it took me a very long time to get accustomed to the city commute, and having had a two year break, the past few days have served as a reminder as to why I moved to the centre of Milan in the first place…
I’m not a morning person for a start. My ideal sleep routine is from 2 am to 10am – and I know this to be true because whenever I have a period of time where I don’t have to go to bed or get up at any particular time, this is the routine which my body automatically adopts. Hearing the alarm at 6:40 is not fun at all. I have to say, however that I find the train journey itself rather relaxing. Much as my classic English personality generally steers me away from situations involving close body contact with sweaty Italians with particularly sharp elbows, once the initial dash to the station and fight for a seat is over, it’s nice to be able to lean against the headrest and have a nap or get into a good book. The downside is that when there are strikes or delays, there’s nothing you can do except be inconvenienced, and you have to fall in with Trenitalia’s timetable – bad news for the colleagues who seem to get a kick out of staying in the office until eight o’clock, attempting to drag you down with them. I tried the car alternative on Monday and Tuesday, but spent an average of three hours completing the round trip on both days, such is the chaos to be found on any road that leads into, out of, or around Milan at pretty much any time of day. One thing I do like about train travel is that you get to observe the world around you, listen to people’s conversations and people-watch without fear of recrimination. The closely-packed seats and over-crowding can even turn into a learning experience, even if my most profound example so far was spotting the exact shoes that I want this morning, and asking their owner where she bought them. OK, so it’s not learning in the most academic sense, but at least it passes the time…..

mercoledì 18 giugno 2008

The big move


Saturday morning the clouds finally broke, the sun came out, and we made the best of it, with the help of a hired Amico Blu van and about 10 litres of Powerade.

Three and a half hours to load up the truck (try carrying a sofa down from the third floor!), two hours to unload at the other end, and a whole lot of boxes later and we were in.

Oh, and it appears that a (rather large) family of gypsies has taken up residence on the market square, directly behind the house. I'm assured by local people that they are 'just visiting for a few days' and that they are 'not trouble-makers'. Hmmm.


P.S. If I could work out how to upload more than one picture per post, I would. Any advice??

venerdì 13 giugno 2008

Emergency!

There’s obviously not enough drama going on at the moment, what with the new house, the bank, work etc. I think we need some more. Last night, hanging out at Luca’s bar, just as they were preparing to close for the day, I hear an ear-splitting, blood-curdling scream like something from a horror film from the courtyard out the back. And then another – literally as if someone had been murdered, followed by shrieks of “AIUTO!! AIUTO!!”. Adrenaline shooting through my body, I run through the kitchen, followed closely by Luca and his colleague Paolo, to find Luca’s sister-in-law, Patrizia, clutching baby Maddalena to her, with a blood-soaked sponge pressed to Maddi’s forehead. Still screaming, she removes it to reveal a deep cut, pouring with blood and mixing with Maddi’s tears to produce a bloody puddle on the courtyard floor. I freeze, Luca grabs some paper towels, and Patrizia stands there, screeching like a murder victim. Hearing the chaos, Luca’s mum races through the kitchen (in my mind in slow motion), shrieking “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”, grabs the baby and hurtles out of the gate and up the road, in the direction of the nearby hospital, with Patrizia chasing alongside, wailing like a banshee and dragging three year-old Carolina behind her – also wailing. At that moment, there is a huge clap of thunder, and the skies open as if someone had turned on a tap.
The whole scene lasted no more than 5 seconds.
It took half an hour and two-and-a-half proseccos just for my heart-rate to return to normal. 45 minutes later, Luca’s mum, brother and little Carolina stroll back into the bar as if nothing had happened, Carolina stating quite matter-of-factly that “Maddi had a bobo because she wanted her Koala and slipped all on her own”. Everyone goes back to work, and I am left pale and light-headed, wondering just how they do it.
And that was Thursday.

giovedì 12 giugno 2008

O-Key D'Oh-Key

Following on from all of my banking woes, I finally took action and filed a claim for 260 euros which I have been overcharged over the course of the past year. Having made an official complaint to the bank manager, and written a letter to the claims department, I then relaxed, under the impression that I would have NO MORE PROBLEMS.
Oops. I forgot that the cardinal rule in Italy is never to relax.
Having lost my wallet, and therefore all of my credit cards in a rather embarrassing incident, which you can read about further down the page, I was assured by Banca Intesa that my brand new bancomat (debit card) and accompanying PIN code would both be with me in 10 working days. This seemed like a lot at the time, but hey – we all know that Italy is an inefficient country, so you just have to take a deep breath and move on. However, bring Banca Intesa-Sanpaolo into the situation and all bets are off.
On the eleventh working day, I went to check my online account and was informed by a pop-up message that the “O-Key” code generator is now mandatory, and that without it I would not be able to log on. In order to get hold of the O-Key, I would need to go to my branch (bear in mind every trip means a missed lunch break and 10 points on my blood pressure), so I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and get my O-Key and brand spanking new bancomat at the same time.
35 minutes after arriving, I get to the counter and the woman informs me that for the O-Key I have to go upstairs and stand in a different line. OK, fine – deep breath. So I ask for my bancomat. Miraculously it has arrived. The woman takes at least 15 minutes to issue it to me, as they have apparently just had a new system installed and are having a few problems – deep breath. I ask about my PIN. She asks her colleague. The colleague asks another colleague, and a fourth completes the circle, informing me that I should use my old PIN as the card is a replacement, not a new issue. It seems strange to me so I question it and the woman’s response is “You are a bit too precise. You’re starting to confuse me. Use your old pin,” DEEP BREATH.
I go upstairs and wait in line to see my old buddy Massimo (the guy who effectively owes me 260 euros). At my turn, I tell him I need my O-Key, and he looks startled. He calls the manager over. She looks at me with a pitying look, and they put their heads together. No, not that way… Ummmm….. Er….. Non ho capito….. Try this….. OK, try that….. Try putting the tax code in again…… What about….. “Sorry, we can’t issue you with the key because we don’t understand how the new system works” is Massimo’s conclusion. I complain that this is not acceptable, he starts to yell and I have to tell him to stop shouting at me. The manager scuttles away with her tail between her legs. I leave the bank, minus O-Key, plus 25 blood pressure points, and go drink a prosecco with my colleagues, who have ordered, waited, eaten, drank coffee and smoked a cigarette each in the time that I have spent at the bank.
I’m not finished.
I get to the cash point after work, following my gut instinct that I would be a fool to go straight to the supermarket with no cash, on the promise that my pin would work, and guess what….. it doesn’t.
Twelfth working day of cash-flow crisis, and I head back to the bank (I swear that sooner or later they’re gonna lock me between the 2 security doors and leave me there….) and very calmly explain that my old pin didn’t work, so could I have a new one please. Much head shaking and conferring later, and their conclusion is “the new pin must be in the post, and there’s nothing we can do if it gets lost by the Post Office”.
It’s now working day 14 ( almost 3 calendar weeks), and I am still without a pin to go with my card. In the meantime, my English credit cards made their way from London to my parents’ house in Felixstowe, sat there for 3 days, and then travelled the 1000 miles to Milan, arriving at my office 3 days later. I’m off to the bank in about 10 minutes. I may be a while….

martedì 27 maggio 2008

Crik Crak

Today I had an out-of-body experience at the Osteopath’s (Chiropractor if you’re from North America, apparently!). I’m not really one for alternative medicine; to be honest I’m not really one for medicine at all if I can possibly help it, but following a recent spate of head / neck / back aches, Luca convinced me to take his appointment, and so I did. This particular practitioner is supposed to be one of the best, and has a waiting list of three months, so on the insistence of Luca’s mum (we had a double appointment), we set off two and a half hours before the appointment time, and arrived thirty minutes later. With two whole hours to spare, his mum proceeded to tell me the slightly nauseating tale of her pregnancy and labour with Luca, complete with graphic explanations of her terrible experience, doctor / butcher, 40 stitches etc. etc. In the end, she put it down to the lack of technology / mountain mentality of 1970’s Sicily, but I have to say it was a pretty scary story. When the doctor’s assistant arrived to show us in, she said “I won’t offer you coffee before your appointment as the doctor says you should be nice and relaxed”. Ha! I wasn’t. However, I also wasn’t prepared for the experience I was about to undergo. I’ve never been to an osteopath before and so wasn’t really sure what to expect, but when he took one look at me and came out with statements regarding my health and lifestyle which are 100% true, I started to feel a certain interest. This guy was an absolute magician. Apart from the crik-crak neck / back / hip treatment, he also ‘profiled’ my body type, and was right on every assumption he made. He picked up on illnesses / injuries from years ago, and even seemed to know certain aspects of my personality. The most worrying part was when, at the end of the session, he told me I have the bodily structure for twins or triplets. My first thought was ‘so you obviously think I look fat’, followed closely by ‘What?? After all of the horror stories I was put through in the waiting room???’
Needless to say, my scepticism has been somewhat abated for the time-being. Anyone else have experience of alternative therapies or osteopathy? I’d be interested to know!

lunedì 26 maggio 2008

Lost

Looking good, is it not?
Following a long, tiring day of painting, we set off home on Saturday night with practically no fuel in the car. Feeling relieved at finding a petrol station which had a self-service machine, despite being practically in the middle of nowhere, we stopped to fill up. The pump didn't seem to be working properly, so with a trickle of diesel running down my arm, I put my wallet on top of the car and went to get some paper towels.
As we pulled out of the petrol station, I glanced in my rear-view mirror to see something lying in the middle of the road. My only thought at that point, animal-lover that I am, was that I hoped it wasn't a bird or a small woodland creature. Nope, it was my wallet - only I didn't realise until an hour later, once we had travelled 50 kilometers and were sitting at home with a glass of wine. Once the panic had subsided, I logged onto the web and started cancelling my credit cards. As I have come to expect, it took me a total of 5 minutes to cancel two UK cards, with the help of polite, helpful telephone operators, each of whom confirmed to me that my replacement cards would arrive at my UK address within 2 working days. “Can I help you with anything else at all? No? In that case, have a good evening and thanks for calling.”
Banca Intesa’s turn. I called the free-phone number advertised on the website, and was told by a recorded message that it was open from Monday to Friday. Very unfortunate if you happen to have your card lost or stolen on a Saturday night…. Refusing to believe that this was the best they could do, I searched some more and managed to stumble across the emergency number from overseas when I turned in desperation to the English version of the site. The operator at the other end confirmed my personal details, put me on hold for about 2 years, and came back with a ‘secret code’ which I have to take into my branch, after which I need to wait 10 WORKING DAYS for my new card to be issued. Surprised? Not really. So at lunchtime today I shall be skipping along to my branch (still awaiting word on my compensation claim for the Zerotondo fiasco) and withdrawing just about everything I have so that I can go furniture shopping. This really was a very bad time to have to cancel my credit cards!!!
There is a happy ending, however. When we went back to the house the next day, we stopped by the petrol station and found my rather sad, run-over wallet lying by the side of the road with its contents strewn, covered in dirt across a 50 metre area. I managed to recover all of the important documents, including my driving licence, and having had a nice wash with warm soapy water, they are now nestled snugly in my new purse. I have learnt my lesson.


mercoledì 21 maggio 2008

Paint



It's been raining and miserable for about the last million years here in Milan, and is set to continue for at least the next few days. What does one do when faced with such a situation? Obviously, one decorates one's new apartment! Or, as the picture shows, one gets one's boyfriend to do it, whilst taking random pictures and enjoying back-to-back tea breaks on the balcony....

martedì 13 maggio 2008

Moving on....


If I've been a bit slack at the old blog updating recently, it's for a good reason. We found a house in a cute little village south of Pavia and we move in at the end of the month. I say house, but it's actually an apartment, although being on the ground floor, with just one person above makes it feel like a million miles from the traditional Milanese definition of an apartment (8 storeys, crumbling façade, car park view...). Also, when I say we move in at the end of the month, I actually mean we start paying rent at the end of the month, but can't move in until the kitchen arrives. I've heard 5 different versions from 5 different Italiarredo employees, so am currently accepting bets on the actual delivery date. Let's just say that it would quicker and easier for me to fly to the Amazon, chop down a tree and make it into kitchen cupboards myself, but then that's the way things are done around here.....

If anyone out there reads this blog on a reasonably regular basis (why oh why??!!), you may remember a bank-related rant in which I let off some steam about the charges and (lack of) service at my local Intesa-San Paolo. Well, there's news. Having received my latest statement, I did some calculations. The account I have is not supposed to cost me anything - no commission, no fees, no charges. By my calculations, I worked out that I have been paying an AVERAGE of 38 euros per month (£30) just to keep my account open! Everytime I go into the bank to kick up a fuss, they always fob me off with excuses, so on this occasion I decided to take affermative action and INSISTED on meeting with the manager, having written to the italian consumers association and - amusingly - having created a Powerpoint presentation to send to Le Iene (they're gonna let me know if they decided to feature me on the show!).

So I met with the bank manager, and her first reaction was "Mamma mia, this is all wrong! You shouldn't be paying this / that / the other.... This charge is not right..... Here is a mistake...... Hang on a minute! This account is not Zerotondo - it's NON-RESIDENT. What? So I have a contract in my hand stating that I have a zero expenses account, opened 9 months ago, and all along I have been paying the most that you can ever pay to bank in Italy??!! I have never even been a non-resident since I first arrived 5 years ago!!!

The bank manager swore that this has "never happened before" and assured me that I will be fully re-imbursed all charges unecessarily levied (I'll believe it when I see it!). In the meantime I really hope the miserable staff who work in the branch get to hear about it and realise why I always turn into psycho-bitch every time I walk in the door!!

Anyway, if all goes well, a life of peace and tranquillity in the beautiful Oltrepò Pavese awaits as of next month.... Here's hoping!

lunedì 21 aprile 2008

The very last straw

A mere three weeks after the (rather strange) theft of a wheel from my car, I have been victim to yet another crime here in the city of smog. Having (stupidly, I admit) left my computer in the boot of the car while I dashed into the supermarket, I returned to find the back window smashed and the computer gone. The really annoying thing is, I always take my computer with me, but on this occasion I found a spot right next to the entrance, with the security guard's van parked alongside. Since I only needed to get one thing (a bottle of champagne for Luca's birthday - his fault!) I thought I'd risk it. Of course, just when you think you can get away with something, you can be fairly sure that that will be the one time you can't. It's my own fault - the precise same thing has happened to two of my colleagues over the past six months, both in Esselunga car parks. As I (half-jokingly) pointed out to the police officer who took my statement, maybe the supermarket security guards should be checked out. His response was to shrug his shoulders and give me a blank look which said 'I can't admit to agreeing with you but....'.
I found myself ridiculously upset by the whole thing, and having already decided that the wheel theft was the last straw, I have been referring to this little glitch as the chocolate sauce on the cream on the cherry on the cake. When I called Luca to tell him what had happened, it took several minutes for me to make any sense and for him to understand what I was saying through the comedy wailing...
My recent spate of bad luck does, however have its positive side. Both the computer and the car belonged to my employer, and so the day after the theft I was given a far superior laptop, a faster internet connection, and a new car. Not a Fiat this time, thank god. So all in all, it appears that karma has prevailed. It also looks like we have found an apartment to rent near Pavia, which is twice as big as where we live at the moment and half the price. I guess I'm just not meant for city living - or at least I'm not meant to live in this particular city.

giovedì 17 aprile 2008

Can't get enough

I have an addiction. There, it's out. I said it.
I worry that my work is suffering, as I can't seem to concentrate on what I'm doing, and my social life (whatever was left of it) has taken a nose-dive as I rush home each night to get my fix. I'm going to bed way later than I should, and there is a permanent pile of washing up in the sink.
If you wish to share in my addiction, please visit

www.petiteanglaise.com

Having discovered her only recently (I know, I'm slow off the mark) , I decided to start reading from the very first post, and after two weeks, have made it to December 2005. Petite Anglaise - the book - should currently be winging its way across the Channel, courtesy of Amazon, so don't expect me to be sociable for the next few weeks - I'm far too busy!
This stuff should carry a health warning...

venerdì 11 aprile 2008

A taste of England

The parents are in for the weekend, and as always happens when they come to visit, it's raining. Hard. This meant that the usual pre-parent dash this morning involving shopping, cleaning, car valeting and general panic, made for a rather damp experience. Not that the weather makes any difference to their sheer delight in spending precious time with their (only) little girl; along with her 'mum-zilla' attitude when it comes to me, my mum also has a very Under the Tuscan Sun view of Italy, so no amount of rain, traffic, rudeness, public urination, or anything else will spoil the trip. I'm hoping some of this positive energy rubs off on me - at least enough to last me until the next visit!
However, whilst dashing through the puddles in the centre this morning, late for a doctors appointment, I happened to come across what might just be my salvation - a shop called A Taste of England. At least I think that was the name - I was too busy standing gawping at the place with my mouth open to properly take anything in. This is not your bog-standard Union Jack Teapot / Princess Diana Mug shop. This place has everything. I can't believe I've lived in Milan for over two years and never knew about it - slow or what??
So if I'm feeling particularly nostalgic and have some cash to splash (it's not cheap by anybody's standards!), that is where I shall be: PG Tips, Cadburys Dairy Milk, Branston Pickle, Salad Cream, BAKED BEANS, Dr Pepper (for our American buddies).... My mouth is watering just thinking about it! Time to take the folks out for pizza I think....

giovedì 3 aprile 2008

Cultural observations from the other side of the bar

I go to Luca’s bar around twice a week – to see him, hang out with his family, and generally make the most of the free prosecco and pizza. When it’s not too busy I tend to stand behind the till, which allows me to chat with Luca’s mum and gives me a bird’s eye view of the customers as they pay for their drinks, purchase cigarettes, or just call in to chat. The first thing that you notice when you start to frequent bars in Italy is that ‘the bar’ is so much more than a place which serves food and drink. It is a point of reference. Most Italians have more than one bar which plays an integral part in their everyday routine, and then a series of other places to serve as substitutes when they are out of range. There’s the bar where they get their morning cappuccino, the place they go for lunch, the post-work aperitivo place, and the emergency bar which sells cigarettes until late. People tend to be quite territorial about their ‘regular’ bar, and like to feel like they are more important than the next guy waiting in line for his cappuccino – they are proud of the fact that the barista knows their name, what type of coffee they drink, and their preferred cigarette brand, and are oblivious to the fact that this is the case for 90% of the people around them. Walking into Luca’s bar, I often feel like it’s Groundhog Day - there’s the couple who live upstairs and are always standing at the bar drinking crodini; the group of guys who drink large beers and destroy the buffet within 5 minutes of it being put out; the overweight lady who works in the pet shop next door and comes in for her daily brioches; the pharmacist from over the road who always has travel stories to tell….. The list is endless. And these are just the regulars that I know and who come to mind. Particularly in the smaller towns and villages, you often find that you can walk into your local bar at any time of day and always find someone you know in there. Whether or not it’s someone you like or wish to see is another matter! This was the case with me when I lived in a village in Sardinia – I always knew everyone at the bar. In fact when a ‘foreigner’ or even someone from outside of town came in, they would find themselves under observation like a patient in intensive care. Italians tend to be nosy by nature, so even here in Milan you can practically hear the cogs whirring away as they try to work out who the ‘straniera’ is, what she’s doing here and why.
The way in which people interact when making their purchases at the till makes for another interesting observation. Unlike the UK system (where you either pay the barman or you pay the waiter at the table), here in Italy you pay at the till. The idea is that first you pay, then you go to the bar and get what you’ve paid for. Those who consider themselves ‘regulars’, who know the barman, or who think they deserve special treatment do it the other way around – proudly marching to the till, empty glass in hand as if it’s some kind of trophy for being allowed to drink without having paid first. In England and North America, if you are not greeted with a smile, it’s rude. If you don’t say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’, it’s rude. If you slam your money down on the counter, it’s rude. Likewise, if the cashier slams down your change, it’s rude. None of these rules seem to apply here in Milan – or rather they do, but people are so beaten down that they no longer notice. When Luca doesn’t greet the client with a smile, jokes around with his colleagues over the client’s head, and slams down the change, it bothers me – but it doesn’t seem to bother the client. They’re too busy hurrying on their way without saying thank you or goodbye. Interaction in its purest Milanese form….

domenica 30 marzo 2008

A refreshing change

Despite having lived in Milan for over two years now, I had never made it into the mountains and so, being in need of a little (or a lot) of TLC, we booked Easter weekend at the Terme delle Dolomiti, which is a health spa built on a natural spring – the highest in Italy. We set off late afternoon on Saturday (Luca had to work until 5 – grrrrr) and by 10:30pm we were there (including 3 stops, one of which involved a failed attempt to fit the tangled mass of snow chains to the car…)
The village we had chosen to stay in is called Pàdola, situated at 1300m in the Val Comelico – one of the highest points of the Veneto region, and not that far from the Austrian border. A real picture-postcard place, blighted only by the low cloud which covered what would otherwise have been spectacular views of the mountains. Mountain people are very different from the Milanesi, as far as I could gather. In the mountains, people will stop and offer assistance if they see you in difficulty – for example the elderly man who insisted on helping us with our snow chains even though it was 10 o’clock on a Saturday night on an icy mountain road in -8 degrees, and who then insisted on leading us down to the nearest village even though he was going in the other direction. Also, they eat a lot of pork – ham, salami, sausages, chops, smoked, un-smoked, cured, boiled – you name it, they eat it. They also tend to combine these many pork variations with onions, cabbage and pickles, the likes of which I have never seen in Italy before (good though!). The spa itself was great with just one drawback – the number of children, and their combined effort at turning the place into something that resembled Naples’ piscina comunale. At one point, I was lying in the outdoor hydro-massage tub, with snow coming down on my head, drifting into some sort of trance, when a fat 10 year-old boy decided to belly-flop into the pool right next to me, screaming like a banshee as he did so. That was the last straw – I pulled on my towelling robe, and made my way passed all of the “Silence”, “Please respect the relaxed atmosphere”, “Please ensure that children behave appropriately at all times” signs displayed on every wall. I mentioned to the receptionist that it was getting chaotic and she sent one of the massage therapists to ‘have a word’ with the parents. “Unfortunately we can’t prevent children from coming here” she said, “No?” was my reply, “I would!”. She looked a bit taken aback. I have nothing against children, but I would say that a health spa is exactly the sort of place where “No children” is a good idea – in the UK, under 16s are often excluded from these places. Italy is very child-orientated, and the little darlings are generally allowed run wild in bars, restaurants and shopping centres – so is it too much to ask that we have one place just for us? In any case, 10 year-olds don’t need health spas – it’s us 50-hour-a-week workers that really need the place!
Having left Pàdola on the Monday morning, we drove down the mountain towards Belluno, passing through a village called Domeggè, where we stumbled upon a medieval-style enoteca, a sort of wine cellar place with all kinds of local products – cheese, meat, patès etc – each prepared in the form of a bruschetta (on toasted bread), with a variety of sauces, salsas and pickles. Our intention was to drink a glass of wine and try a couple of bruschettas before going on our way. We ended up drinking three glasses, and eating 10 different types of bruschetta, followed by an enormous sausage and onion sandwich. Needless to say, our next stop was the river just below the village, where we slept it off before continuing on our journey!
A few hours later, we were stuck in traffic, travelling at the speed of (to quote the legendary Blackadder) “an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping”. Having got as far as Peschiera on Lake Garda, we decided to cut our losses and hang out there for at least a couple of hours, while the traffic calmed down. Good decision. I’ve been to most places on Lake Garda before, but this was my first time in Peschiera. Despite the ubiquitous presence of the day-tripping builders from Brescia which is seems to be a feature of all of the resorts on Lake Garda, I really liked it. As the crowds moved off, we settled into a fantastic restaurant on the waterfront – the Bella Vista. OK, so the name is a bit cliché but we ended up eating the best Spaghetti allo Scoglio (seafood spaghetti) of our lives. Luca, being Sicilian, is both a food expert and very hard to please, so it must have been good!
We returned to Milan later that evening, feeling relaxed and content at our brief but very much needed weekend away. The following morning I got to my car to find that someone had stolen a wheel. We are now looking for a place outside the city…

giovedì 27 marzo 2008

Just another day

Picture the scene: my colleagues and I are strolling to the bar near the office at lunchtime, minding our own business, when we notice two cars – one taxi, one normal - stopped at the traffic lights and the respective owners screaming at each other, having obviously had a (minor) accident. Words like “Deficiente!” “Stronza!” “Cretina!” (idiot, bitch, moron) from him to her and “Scemo!” (stupid) from her to him. At a certain point, they end up nose to nose, at which point he throws a punch and they end up wrangling in the middle of the road as myself, colleagues and others try to intervene. The taxi driver, behaving like a complete animal, starts to threaten those of us who suggest he might like to calm down, telling us to mind our own f*****g business and inviting me to come over and feel his fist! We ended up calling the police before going on our way, pretty worked up and reflecting on the bella vita and bella gente to be found in this lovely city. An hour later the police car rolled up, by which time the whole thing was over and there was nothing to see.
I’ll be blogging about my (much less stressful!) weekend in the mountains later…. In the meantime this just had to be documented. People never fail to amaze and horrify me.

giovedì 20 marzo 2008

Is anyone still out there?

I've been rubbish at blogging lately. Absolutely rubbish. The truth is (apart from all of the usual excuses - busy, stressed, being slowly dragged towards a nervous breakdown by Milan life....), I am having some serious wireless issues at home. It would appear that "3" is most definitely not a magic number. "Se hai 3 si vede" ("You can tell when you have 3").... Yup, you most certainly can.
Milan is really wearing me down at the moment (so what's new huh?!). Spring appears to have changed its mind about putting in an appearance, and it's alternating between cloudy and cold, sunny but cold. This weekend they have predicted BAD weather, with snow in the mountains - which is where we'll be for a very well-deserved 2-day spa break. I'm hoping the snow isn't a problem as when I stopped by the hire car company to pick up some chains (which I believe are obbligatory in mountainous areas at this time of year), their response was "Boh / don't know / don't think we have any / you have to just hope you don't need them". The usual, insomma.
The good news, however is that our company has final taken a half-step into the 21st century and had purchased Blackberrys for one and all! Hurrah! I should get mine tomorrow, and I hope it works, otherwise it will be relegated to the same bench as the "3" card.
Luca's niece is three years old tomorrow. I can't believe how time flies - I remember how, before she was able to talk, she would use a kind of personal sign language, which used to make people laugh everywhere she went. What do three year-olds like? I guess it's time for a trip to the Disney store....
Happy (almost) Friday to everyone!

venerdì 29 febbraio 2008

Che scandalo!


A British TV presenter has recently come under fire for wearing 'racy and revealing' outfits on a family show which is aired on Sunday evenings in the UK. Holly Willoughby has apparently been horrifying the public by demonstrating proof that she is female by showing cleavage and wearing a backless dress. Mamma mia! I love this story - it is very English and a great antidote to the topless images we see here everyday on the lunchtime news. In what could easily be a homage to the classic Letters to the Editor section of The Times "Disgruntled from Doncaster" etc, one viewer commented in the Daily Mail:

"My husband and I have great fun trying to bet how low her top will be each week. She does struggle to keep them in, doesn't she?"

The article goes on to say:
"Others suggested Miss Willoughby's revealing wardrobe was far from suitable for Sunday night family viewing."

When I think of the lunchtime “news” programme “Studio Aperto”, and its daily reports on who’s stripping off for a raunchy calendar shoot, complete with images of the shoot itself (strictly for journalistic purposes of course!), I can’t help but smile at the “scandal” which poor Holly has brought about. I wanted to include some pictures of Italian TV presenters showing their assets, but 1) I can’t get the photo thing to work properly, and 2) the pictures that I found on the web are mostly too pornographic for my innocent little blog (seriously!). Do a google image search for Simona Ventura, Elisabetta Canalis, Ilary Blasi, or – scraping the bottom of the barrel – Le Veline, and you’ll see what I mean!

lunedì 25 febbraio 2008

Calling chocoholics everywhere...!!!

On Saturday, my friend and I took ourselves off for a little day trip to Torino - to escape Milan, have lunch, and most importantly visit the FESTA DEL CIOCCOLATO - the city's chocolate festival. Being a very big fan of the stuff, I got a bit too excited and didn't really pace myself when it came to the freebies and tasting sessions - but despite the mal di stomaco, it was good....
As a loyal Cadbury's fan, I try to pick some up every now and then when visiting England - and I usually bring it into the office to offer to my (I must say, undeserving) colleagues. Most make sick faces and complain about it being "too sweet" or "not cocoa-y enough" for their refined Mediterranean palates, at which point I tend to snatch it back and demand that they spit it out and give it back to me... Then they go on and on about how English chocolate doesn't deserve to be called chocolate as it doesn't contain enough cocoa butter, has too much animal fat blah blah blah.... So here was my opportunity to taste the supposed best that Italian chocolate has to offer, and report back. Let's just say I had fun carrying out this important piece of cultural research...
We started at the chocolate liqueur stand – an excellent first port of call after a hefty pasta lunch and 2km walk! Then came the Peyrano stand. There are those who claim that Peyrano is the number 1 Italian chocolate – and I have to say it was good, if a little ‘serious’ for my liking – not much sugar, very dense & excrutiatingly alcoholic. I bought 6 chocolates for 6 euros (ouch!) nonetheless…
We moved on to Bicerin – famous for an even better chocolate liqueur than the first one, but which spontaneously piles 3 kilos onto your hips before you’ve even swallowed the stuff – so I took my freebie ‘taster’ and left it at that. The next stand was all about the hot stuff – lots of different flavours to choose from, including a delicious hot chocolate with cinnamon, which gives you a strange satisfaction / nausea sensation. My altogether favourite stand however was by a producer called “Otium” who sold artisan-style chocolate fiorentines (discs of chocolate with nuts, candied peel and raisins on the top) and truffles in various shapes, sizes, colours and flavours. I bought some rum truffles for Luca and some grappa-flavoured coffee, before moving on to the cherry-on-the-cake in terms of tummy ache: chocolate crepes and chocolate-covered bananas with chopped nuts. Wow. The 2km walk back to the car park was very much appreciated after such bare-faced glutton, but I have to say, I disappointed myself by not going to the gym yesterday. Tomorrow the new sofa arrives, so I fear the next few days will involve much lying around, watching Sky and stuffing my face with rum truffles. See you when I weigh 100 kilos….

Festa del cioccolato di Torino: 22 Feb – 2 March
http://www.comune.torino.it/torinoplus/italiano/news/documents/ESC.Programma_2008_low.pdf

domenica 17 febbraio 2008

A happy medium?

On Thursday morning at 8:30, my friend called me from the bar where she was having her morning cappuccino. She was so shocked at the racist joke that she had just heard, and the fact that she had heard it on national radio, that she felt the need to share. The joke went like this: "There are 2 black guys and 2 moroccans in a car. Who's driving? The police officer". ON NATIONAL RADIO!!! The scariest part was when I repeated it in the office in an attempt to shock and horrify my colleagues. One of them found it so funny, he called a friend to pass it on, and the friend found it so funny, he told it to all of his colleagues - who apparently found it funny too.
When I think about the hyper-sensitive, politically-correct atmosphere which prevails where I come from, I can hardly believe that we are a mere 1000 miles away on the same continent. Last Christmas, a town in the north of England banned the local shops from putting up decorations, in order to not offend the large immigrant community. This to me is complete madness, and provokes pretty much the same reaction as the joke, but in a different way. Living here in Italy, I am often struck by some surprisingly racist attitudes - like the friend of a friend yesterday who said he doesn't frequent a certain bar because the staff all have "brown faces". This is the sort of thing people just don't say in England. Not any more, anyway. Here, a popular prime-time comedy show on one of the main terrestrial channels recently featured a sketch in which two guys painted their faces black, and pretended to be Indian. Luca genuinely couldn't understand why I made a fuss. I often find myself equally annoyed at stories I hear from both ends of the scale. A DJ telling a racist joke on national radio in the UK would probably lose his job, or at least be reprimanded in the press. However, I can't imagine an Italian town cancelling Christmas in order not to offend those who don't celebrate it. So where's the happy medium? Where's the place which doesn't go too far in either direction? Does it exist?

giovedì 7 febbraio 2008

Don't bank on it

I hate going to the bank. I hate it because I know that I will enter a calm, contented (well, almost!), human being, and exit a rabid animal. I am not the only person I know who feels a certain amount of animosity towards the Italian banking system and the people who 'manage' it - yet this is little comfort for the raised blood pressure I feel for about 2 hours after every visit! Italian banking is expensive. The system is overloaded with charges, taxes, and fees – most of which are linked to the disproportionate amount of paperwork which accompanies even the most basic of operations (a bit like in Italy as a whole – but that’s a whole other story…). Bank workers are overpaid (around twice the national average), customer care is non-existent, and branches open for just 5 or 6 hours per day, and never on a Saturday.
Coming from a country where banking is (for the time being at least) free of charge, I was shocked when I opened my first bank account in Italy and was immediately slapped with a 30 euro per-month fee by the stealth-charge guru of my local branch, Massimo. This was as a result of the 'non-residents' route which I was apparently forced to take whilst sorting out my paperwork, and included expensive 'extras' which not even Massimo & co. were able to explain in a coherent fashion. A whole six months later, I was back with Massimo trying to sort out my impossibly-complex online access codes (involving many phone calls, trips to the branch, and yet more raised blood pressure). As I mentioned that I was unhappy with the disproportionate fees which I was being forced to pay, Massimo’s colleague (who I believe just sits behind her desk staring at a blank computer screen as I’ve never seen her use the keyboard) pointed out that, with a full-time, permanent job and a fixed address, I was actually eligible for a regular resident’s account and therefore didn’t need to be paying the exorbitant monthly charge! Well, that’s all very well, but what about the 180 euros that I had paid out instead of 60 for the past six months? This was my first question. The answer, not surprisingly, was along the lines of “We don’t give refunds”. Hmmm. Needless to say, the 10 euro per month fee with which I was presented for my new account, turned out to be 15 a month. Apparently, they don’t include taxes when they explain charges, which is funny because my company also forgets to mention them when discussing pay rises…
The last time I went into the bank, I had a Barclays cheque in euros which I needed to pay into my account. This was the long-awaited, blood, sweat and tears compensation from Easyjet for the suitcase which went on holiday by itself and never came back. At the moment, it’s sitting with a glass of red, feet up on the balcony, watching the sunset over the ocean…. I digress. Anyway, I underwent the usual 10 hour wait behind the 4 million other customers, for the attention of the one and only cashier in the branch at lunchtime on a Monday. As I waited, I played a little game in my head of ‘guess who moves the slowest ’ – seriously I feel like I’m watching a film in slow-motion every time I go in that place! 10 hours later, I presented my cheque and the cashier looked at it like she had no idea what it was. Seriously. “Is there a problem?” I ask. “Er, hang on a minute” she replies, and slo-mos over to the colleague who sits staring at the computer screen without moving. They put their heads together, looking confused, and I start to wonder whether I have actually given them a cheque or if I’ve accidentally pulled my lunch vouchers out, and now they’re deciding where to go eat…. Nope, it’s definitely a cheque. The woman comes back and, looking pleased with herself, announces “I couldn’t tell who it was paid out to – see, the print is quite small here” – and she points to my name, printed in bold black ink, next to the words “Payee”. I guess it’s an easy mistake to make. Especially when you work in a bank. So, once again, I left like a rabid animal, late for lunch and feeling frustrated that bank workers are paid twice the national average salary for a six-hour day which appears to involve: giving people the wrong information, over-charging at every possible opportunity, staring blankly into the space between your eyes and the computer screen, and searching for the payee’s name on a standard cheque. We should all work harder to keep up with these high standards…

venerdì 1 febbraio 2008

Tanti auguri a me!!


I'm in the office and I've had about 4 glasses of prosecco... Happy Birthday to me!!!

sabato 26 gennaio 2008

Carpe Diem

My new year's resolution for Saturdays is this: no cleaning, organising, supermarket, or errands. No matter how messy my house is, how empty the cupboards, or how desperately I need to get to the post office, I refuse. Luca works, so I get to spend the day shopping, hanging out with friends, and generally doing what the hell I want - bliss!!
Today was a typical example- lunch with the girls, followed by a wander around the shops, which included the discovery of my new favourite shop in Milan. It's like an Aladdin's Cave of cute gifts, unusual designs and quirky bits & pieces. If you've ever seen the French film "The Wonderful World of Amèlie", this shop is it. We spent at least half an hour browsing, and I must have done 10 laps of the store, each time finding something new to "ooh" and "ahh" over. Amusingly, my only purchase was a toothpick dispenser in the shape of a little man that pops up and holds out one toothpick at a time - if nothing else, it'll make Luca laugh!
If you're ever in the area and fancy having a look, it's called Carpe Diem, on Viale Tunisia, right before Corso Buenos Aires. The website also lists some (but not all) of their products.

http://www.carpediem-milano.it/prodotti.asp?cid=5&p=3


martedì 22 gennaio 2008

Busy busy busy

Dammit I just can't seem to find the time to do anything at the moment!! What with leaving the office at stupid-o'clock every evening (cioè around 19:30 - late no?!!), sticking to my promise to frequent the gym at least twice a week, catching up with friends, going to the supermarket, hanging out with Luca's family, plus the usual everyday cooking / cleaning / watching back-to-back episodes of Ugly Betty on DVD..... well, it's been hectic. I am determined to find something interesting to blog about AS SOON AS!!!!
Actually, one thing practically leaps to mind. Someone gave up their seat for me on the tram on Saturday. I am neither elderly, nor pregnant (and couldn't be mistaken for it, thank you very much(!), nor disabled... yet a young South American guy actually stood up and gave me his seat! It was so confusing that I didn't get it, and thought he was getting off the tram, so I didn't even thank him. He must have thought I was a really ungrateful cow! It was only when he just stood there for another 6 stops that I realised what had happened. Not sure whether to take the feminist high ground and suggest that it's chauvanistic to suggest that a perfectly healthy young woman is any less capable of standing on a tram than a young guy... Or marvel at the old-fashioned gentile gesture which is so rare these days.... And there I go sounding like my mother AGAIN!
Talking of chauvanism, there's a new guy at work who I might just have to kill if he calls me "Bellezza" or "Bellissima" or "Carissima" one more time. It's the office equivalent of the building site mating call of "Awright darlin!!!"....

mercoledì 16 gennaio 2008

Rock 'n' Roll

We're watching Grand Designs dubbed into Italian. We do this pretty much every evening after dinner and before washing the dishes - it's yet another sign that, with each day that goes by, Luca and I are gradually turning into my parents. Or at least leading a lifestyle that they agree with. As I approach my 28th birthday, the days of maxing out my credit card with no idea as to how I would cope with the bills, and downing cocktails in one go, become more and more distant. At the office coffee machine earlier today, a colleague asked me what I wanted, and I said "a B52 please". "You don't look like a B52 drinker!" was his response. I didn't think to ask what I did look like, but it kind of suggested that my party girl days are well and truly over. The really strange thing is that I'd rather be watching Grand Designs than ordering my sixth cocktail (six was my perfect number back in the day), and a night at home with Luca, a pizza and a DVD is a million times more tempting than paying 30 euros to get into an impossibly pretentious nightclub, where the drinks are 10 euros each, and the toilets are permanently occupied by groups of 18 year-old stick insects doing as much coke as daddy's allowance will permit them to purchase.
A big indicator of this 'new era' is that my close friends have started having babies. That's when you know you're a proper grown-up!
So, Grand Designs is over, Luca's in the shower and I'm about to wash the dishes - it's a rock 'n' roll life here in Milan...

mercoledì 9 gennaio 2008

Cultural oddities



Despite having lived in Italy for a few years now, I am nonetheless surprised by things I see or hear on an almost daily basis. Many of these ‘cultural oddities’ are just that - cultural oddities, which I realise I just have to accept as something that is different to the way in which I was brought up - like the way many Italians drive, or the lack of respect for a queue, or the fact that no one drinks cappuccino after 11am. On occasions, however these 'cultural oddities' become huge, smack-in-the-face / what the hell / I can't believe what I'm seeing issues, noteworthy enough to be written down. This is one such example.
Last night, I was watching the main evening news on Canale 5. They were talking about the refuse emergency in Naples. For those who aren’t familiar with the situation, Naples is currently buried under 200,000 tonnes of household waste, which has remained on the streets for weeks, following the mafia’s blocking of new landfill sites. These sites would effectively see them lose their grip on the area’s refuse collection and disposal – a move which has led to the government introducing emergency powers and the army being sent in . Another day, another political / environmental /social mess - on this occasion, literally. Anyway, the news item showed Gianfranco Fini - one of the leaders of one of Italy’s many opposition parties, Alleanza Nazionale – as he toured the area to assess the extent of the problem. The images were fairly brief – around 5 seconds – but what struck me was the fact that he was smoking a cigarette, and was shown flicking his ash on the top of the pile, as he picked his way through the chaos and spoke to concerned local residents. Is it just me, or is this weird? I can’t for the life of me imagine a British politician visiting an emergency, and not only smoking on the job, but being shown on the news adding to the problem! It may seem insignificant, but for me this is all part of a serious issue, whereby good examples are not set by those in authority - whether it be in flicking your fag ash on a mountain of rubbish piled up outside a primary school, or being accused of big-time tax evasion (no names mentioned Berlusconi) – it all makes a difference. The most worrying thing for me is that I often feel I am the only one who finds certain situations unacceptable, and end up being forced to helplessly write them off as ‘cultural oddities’, when realistically there’s nothing ‘cultural’ about them.