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

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!!!