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

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….