martedì 29 dicembre 2009


Yesterday we got back from a lovely four-day visit to the UK where we spent Christmas (minus 1 suitcase, thanks very much British Airways) in the old-fashioned way: too much food, too much alcohol and far too much monopoly… It was great to be ‘home’ (although home is very much here) but after four days Luca was starting to tear his hair out just a little so we were pleased to head back. There’s nothing quite like sleeping in your own bed, cooking in your own kitchen and staying in the shower for as long as you like without somebody complaining about the water bill!! Ah, you’ve gotta love ‘em…
Anyway, this post is not about the fun and festivities of the past few days. It is about a far less pleasant experience which started the night before we left and will be ongoing for a while….
It was 18:30 in the evening and the snow had just turned to rain. The roads were icy and so, since I have winter tyres on my car and Luca doesn’t, we decided that I would take him to work and pick him up. As we were leaving the apartment, it started to rain quite heavily so Luca ran towards my car to get the umbrella and bring it back to me. His car was parked on the road just 10 metres or so away. All of a sudden we heard a screech of tyres, followed by a loud crash and as I picked up the pace to reach the road I heard the roar of an engine followed by Luca’s voice yelling “Ferma! Ferma! Stop! Stop!”. The next thing I saw was BMW X3 sliding from one side of the road to the other in an attempt to regain control, before speeding off and out of sight as Luca chased after him, running up the street screaming the registration number to me. Shaking like a leaf I managed (somehow) to get it in my phone, sending it in a panic to a confused K, before realizing the extent of the damage to Luca’s car. Basically the crazed lunatic in the BMW had taken the corner at high speed on the icy road and smashed straight into the side of Luca’s parked car, pushing it against the wall and into a lamppost. We immediately called the police and were told that they couldn’t do anything unless someone was injured (fortunately no one was, but had Luca been going towards his car rather than mine I dread to think…) and that we would just have to contact the insurers. The next morning as we left for England, Luca’s brother got in touch and they told us to come in and file a report as soon as we returned. We did, and they managed to trace the details of the car’s owner, which we then took to the police and they called the guy into the station. I was left waiting while the scarier than scary maresciallo took him and Luca into a room. I didn’t want us to have any immediate contact with the guy – after all who knows what someone who’s capable of leaving the scene of an accident like he did is also capable of doing… It turns out that the guy denied having caused the damage, having already filed a report with his insurers saying that the same night he had FOUND his own car parked with damage to it, so now we have to go to court. We have witnesses so the guy is in BIG TROUBLE and there’s no doubt that we’ll win but, being in Italy, it’s likely to take a long time and be a great expense. Tonight we have to go back to the police station with the other witness to make the official statements. And so the bella vita in the bel paese continues….

giovedì 10 dicembre 2009


If you haven't done your christmas shopping yet, or you still can't decide on gifts for your nearest and dearest, then look no further than:

The site and the ebay store are both still in the early stages, but you can still find some bargain products - without having to sharpen your elbows for the annual Christmas crush on the High Street! We sell genuine Made in Italy products, delivered direct to your door...

If you want to go straight to the store, visit:

Happy shopping!!!

mercoledì 25 novembre 2009

Foggy and smoggy and dull... Oh my!

Milan is not the place to be in November - it's official. Cold, damp, foggy, grey and generally depressing, the city appears to have gone into hibernation. Its inhabitants are permanently wrapped up in black coats, black scarves, black boots (they like black here), and everyone has some sort of sore throat / swollen glands / croaky voice issue... And think that when I tell people in the UK that I live in Italy, their first reaction is almost always "how wonderful to live in such a sunny climate!" Noooooooo invece...
On a more positive note, the next few weeks will be packed with days off (many thanks to Saint Ambrose for the long weekend!), family dinners, christmas parties, and on the 23rd December, the annual repatriation to the motherland! The black cloud covering the silver lining, however, comes in the shape of threatened strikes by British Airways staff, starting on December 21st. They should be aware that I will personally hunt down and seriously injured anybody who gets in the way of my christmas trip home... BA, you have been warned!!!
I've started a new project a work which involves contacting hotels across the world to negotiate tariffs on behalf of a client, and I have to say it has (once again) opened my eyes a little bit. I now have a little chart in my head as to the relative friendliness and efficiency of each nation / city. Top of the leader board is Amsterdam, followed close behind by Dublin, and then Helsinki. Nice, friendly, relaxed people to deal with. Where does Italy come? Where do you think?!! HA! Back to the old favourite of Italians having NO IDEA of client care (one place even refused to put me through to the corporate booking office because they pope was due to arrive the following week, and they were all busy praying - or something like that...) and answering calls with a "What the hell do you want from me??" tone of voice...
So, I've complained about the weather, I've complained about Italians... What else?
Ah, I'm planning an Open House christmas party, which is a new concept to most Italians I know (provoking the fear that they'll all turn up at 14:00 and stay til 20:00), but I have no idea whatsoever as to what to cook / prepare. Anyone have any ideas of good party/finger food, preferably with a UK / US theme to it?

mercoledì 14 ottobre 2009


Mamma mia, what a lazy non-blogger I've been of late! Is there anybody still out there? It's been a crazy month... Luca got promoted at the restaurant and now works approximately 23.5 hours per day, and I have rediscovered the joys of going for aperitivo with colleagues, watching my favourite TV programmes on SKY in English, and - shock horror - playing sport!! A colleague and I have taken to booking a Friday night squash court at a sports centre close to the office, and with the exception of the first week where I managed to paralyse myself from the waist down - it's going pretty well.
Feeling brave and sporty (although actually rather stupid), I signed myself up for a volleyball match last night, which I (mistakenly) thought would be some post-office fun with my nearest and dearest colleagues. It turned out to be the longest and most embarrassing 2 hours of my life. All of the 'fun' colleagues seemed to be unavailable, so the remaining not-so-fun ones rallied the troops, and we ended up with 10 people, 4 of which play in the volleyball league, 4 of which play in other sports leagues, 1 who was just very good..... and me. Have you seen that episode of friends where they play football and Rachel is so freaking awful that they keep sending her really long, and in the end she's filing her nails at the back of the field?? That was me. At one point I actually caught my boss and one our other team-mates in a head-to-head, discussing tactics for when the ball came my way:"If it arrives on her left, you go for it; if it arrives on her right, you block her and I'll take it". OH! WE'RE ON THE SAME TEAM!! Seriously, that was how much I suck at volleyball. To be fair, I never played before, but more fool me for signing myself up with all those semi-professional types...
The colleague with whom I play squash is trying to convince me to go to salsa lessons instead.... Hmmmm. I danced a lot when I was younger, and I've done a bit of salsa, but I'm not convinced. I like the stress-relieving aggression of Friday night squash, and short of kicking my dance partner in the shins every so often, I don't think I could replicate it at salsa...

What else??
Oh mamma mia I was forgetting a very important piece of information (changing the subject completely). If you live in or near Milan, please be aware that the absolute best Sunday brunch place in the city, possibly the country, and maybe the entire world... is Cioccolati Italiani, in Via De Amicis 25. Seriously, excellent food, fantastic service and the best chocolate cake I've ever tasted. They do great 'serious' dishes involving pasta, eggs, salad - the usual brunch mail courses, but the best thing about the place is its chocolate-based buffet! Cakes, brioches, pastries, fruit (tons of the stuff) with a choice of white, milk or dark melted chocolate to pour over it.... It takes a day and a half to recover but is well worth the visit, believe me! Just don't tell too many people - I'd like to find a free table the next time I go, thanks ;-)

And that's all for now. I think I've rambled on for long enough. Will get back to drooling over Morgan on X-Factor and preparing some food for my poor worker boyfriend for when he gets home (I'm so brava)...

A presto folks!!

venerdì 28 agosto 2009

Vacanze Romane (e Toscane)

Two kilos heavier, three shades darker and several hundred euros lighter.... I'm back from holiday and struggling to mentally adjust to the early mornings and use of brain power. Siena was - not unexpectedly - fantastic. The atmosphere surrounding the Palio has to be felt to be believed, and no matter how many times you see it, it never fails to take your breath away. The one disappointment from the Siena part of our trip was that we found it hard to get a table in restaurants (obviously, due to the number of Palio visitors), and although we planned an epic meal at what is reputed to be the city’s best restaurant on our last night, our timing was poor as it turned out that it and, in fact, all of the best restaurants were closed, regardless of whether or not it was their officially closing day – simply because they had all worked so much over the Palio weekend. Even so, we still ate well (it’s difficult not to in Toscana) and spent many a lazy day by the pool (just to ensure that all of that pasta, rich meat sauce and ice cream would be immediately deposited on the thigh area, as is the holiday tradition….).
Rome was great too, although I could have done with a degree or two less; traipsing around the tourist spots at midday in 39°c heat with a crowd-sensitive Sicilian is enough to test anyone’s resistance! We stayed at the Albergo Cesàri in Via di Pietra( – a small but very well-run hotel right in the centre of the centre, a five minute walk from the Pantheon in one direction and the Trevi Fountain in the other. The picture at the top of this post is of the hotel’s roof terrace, from where historic Rome barman, Camillo serves his even more historic cocktails – many of which are his own creations, resulting from years of world travel and experience. The only ‘problem’ with the Cesàri was that, given its super-central location, it is impossible to arrive by car. The ZTL (zona traffic limitato – restricted traffic zone) covers around 4 square kilometers and so all visions of us breezing into the nearest ‘free’ zone, leaving the car and strolling 100 metres to the hotel were all but shattered on arrival. Having circulated the centre so many times that even the Tom Tom was started to sound frustrated (“freaking turn around when able for the love of God….”), we pulled over to call the hotel and were informed that they are almost precisely 2 kilometres from the closest ZTL entry. Yikes. We had driven from Tuscany with 10 days’ worth of luggage, in skin-splitting heat and weren’t about to drag ourselves through the streets of Rome like sherpers, so we dumped the car in a frighteningly expensive multi-story car park and got a taxi to the hotel. Great planning, Emma. Having got that little drama out of the way, we enjoyed our time in Rome. We had a couple of excellent meals (do I talk too much about food???) – definitely worth a plug is Ristorante Federico Primo in Via della Colonna Antonnina (
The Federico Primo is a delightful little restaurant right around the corner from our hotel in a side-street adjacent to Piazza Montecittorio (where the Italian government is based). It was booked for us by Camillo, as is run by a friend of his, and provided us with one of the few genuinely honest, good quality experiences that we had in Rome. Unfortunately, with what seems like 90% of the Roman population on the beach for the entire month of August, the city becomes ripe for ripping off the poor unsuspecting tourists left behind. We were overcharged and disregarded at every turn, despite Luca’s menacing Sicilian demeanor and street-wise character. They just don’t give a damn… Anyway, this didn’t happen at the Federico I, we ate exceptionally well and had fantastic service. When the rather heavy bill arrived we didn’t even mind as it was definitely worth it. Highly recommended if you’re ‘in zona’.
It was great to go back to Siena after all these years, even though my memory has faded so much I didn’t even remember some of the streets close to where I used to live (Luca says it’s because I was drunk most of the time – no comment) and the flying visit to Rome made for a nice end to the trip. I also have to say a big thank you to Alex from Blog from Italy ( for recommending the Cesàri. Sorry Alex, I think the cat is well and truly out of the bag!!

giovedì 6 agosto 2009

The countdown continues.....

Today is my penultimate day in the office, and since the Big Boss left for Sicily this morning, we (the entire team) have already enjoyed a very long coffee break down at the bar, an extra long lunch break,songs downloaded from Limewire, photos uploaded on Facebook, and general office merriment. Tomorrow is Prosecco and Pasticcini day, and from Saturday I will be officially switching off the alarm clock until August 25th. Yay! (Don't think that we're all total slackers PS; it's been a long, tough year!!)
Luca got his bike back from the mechanics last week (after two months....) and I decided that it was time to overcome my fear and have him take me for a 'giro' on Sunday afternoon. He was pleased that I was showing interest in his number one passion but almost refused to go ahead with it seeing me pull on my helmet, shaking like a leaf, and with big fat tears of anguish rolling down my face.
Determined not to be a wimp, I went through with it, and while Luca spent the whole time asking if I was OK, was I sure, did I want to stop, etc., my response was always "Woooooooo!! Faster!! Faster!!". So much for petrified! The next plan is to take the bike to the coast for a day at the end of August. Not sure if a half hour tour of the countryside around our house is enough experience to pass straight to the 150 kilometer drive to the beach, but I guess in at the deep end is the best way. We'll see....
So this time next week we'll be in Tuscany. Following a little (friendly) persuasion on my part, we decided to tag 3 days in Rome on the end of the week. Luca's never been (I know I know, it's unforgiveable for an Italian....) and although I have, it was a long time ago. It will be deserted, I know, but it's almost better that way - less opportunity to prang the 500 in the rush hour traffic!!


venerdì 17 luglio 2009

It's that time of year again.....

….when you get into the lift at work and you can be fairly sure that somebody will pull out the question: “So, what are you doing for holidays this year?”. Up until very recently my response was – unfortunately for me – “no idea, no plans yet, maybe Luca has to work”. This response was almost always met with complete horror and a look of pity, followed by “oh I’m sorry – we’re off to the Caribbean / Thailand / Spain for three weeks / a month / for-frickin-ever….”
Now, having backed Luca into a corner by forcing him to back his employer into an even smaller one, we’ve managed to book a week in Tuscany and I am officially “off” for two weeks. Now my response is generally met with “Only two weeks off??!! And only one week away???!!! Poor thing… COME MAI??!!” That’s the thing about Italians – they feel it’s their divine right to enjoy three, if not four weeks of uninterrupted holidays every August, and whilst historically the annual company ‘shut down’ has generally facilitated this, each year more and more workers are required to stay behind for at least part of August. How else do you operate in an globalized world?
So we’re off to Tuscany. Not just Tuscany, but Siena – and I have very good reason to be very excited…
When I was 20, I spent my Erasmus study year at Siena university. I didn’t want to go – in fact I did everything in my power to get out of it, as at the time I was engaged to my high school sweetheart and the idea of spending a whole year living separate lives with 1000 miles between us was too much to bear. As is happened, the year was obligatory if I wanted to finish my degree, so with a heavy heart and the promise of monthly visits, I set off for what proved to be the most important year of my life. I found a (really grotty!) apartment in the centre, in one of the medieval streets that leads down from the main square towards the Santa Caterina convent, paying a ridiculous amount of money each month for a single room (that was only just big enough for a bed and a tv), sharing a kitchen and two small bathrooms with five other students. The first few weeks were tough – I would go through the motions, attending classes during the day, meeting fellow students for coffee and getting blind drunk in the (not very many) town centre bars (B52s were my speciality), as I partied the nights away. Behind it all, though, I missed my fiancé, felt homesick for my family and generally struggled to get by in a language and culture that were not my own. I was so unhappy that my mum came to visit after a couple of weeks, loaded with goodies from England that only made me feel worse… As time went by, though, I started to get used to the distance between myself and my fiancé, and as my new friendships grew and I got to know the town better, I started enjoying myself. Really enjoying myself. By the end of the first term I didn’t want to go home even for a week and was so happy to be back in the new year that I remember my fiancé joking about how he was worried that “Siena might steal me”. Ah, the benefits of hinesight!
In a nutshell, the remaining 10 months of my stay brought with them the biggest changes of my life. I fell madly in love with Siena, with Italy and (although I hesitate to admit it) with one of my Spanish housemates who, whilst we became close friends, remained painfully out of my reach (for obvious reasons). He now lives in Mexico City and although nine years have passed, I still feel a pang on the few occasions that he writes me an email or sends me a message on Facebook…. Three weeks after the end of my Erasmus year, I was supposed to marry my fiancé. The church was booked, flowers ordered, catering in place and the dress – well, the dress is still in a box on top of my mum’s wardrobe. Needless to say, the wedding never took place. Siena – or rather Italy - had stolen me, as my fiancé feared. Now in my sixth year as an official Italian resident, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have never been back to Siena – initially it held too many memories which I wanted to preserve as they were without adding new ones, but I can’t wait any more. We (that’s Luca and I) will be there for the Palio on August 16th – so whilst one week of holiday might not be very much as far as my colleagues are concerned, it will mean far more to me than three weeks on the beach, and no doubt about it!

mercoledì 17 giugno 2009

Two posts in two days...'s a miracle!
I just had to recount the very Italian conversation I just had with my colleague, G. Obviously, this conversation took place in Italian, but I've translated it for the sake of the blog. If you know anything about the Italian character, it's sure to make you smile:

G: "I don't feel all that good. Maybe I'm going down with something"
Me: "Really? What's wrong?"
G: "Oh just a bit of nausea, headache, maybe a touch of fever"
Me: "Wow, sounds bad - I wonder why you feel like that?"
G: "It's probably because this morning was quite cold and now it's hot outside"
Me: "But you're inside"
G: "Yes but I can see through the windows that it's hot"

martedì 16 giugno 2009

No voglia

"I have no voglia" is a phrase that comes up a lot in the anglo-italian conversations between myself and my two best friends, who are American and Canadian. If you have 'voglia' it means you want to do something - literally 'the desire to'. Lately I've had no voglia to go back to the office after lunch (especially if there was wine); no voglia to sit through never-ending meetings about budgets, savings and targets; no voglia to wake up early on a Saturday and get things done around the house, and absolutely no voglia to write about my lack of voglia on my blog!! Despite my complete apathy, I have been achieving much of the above and am proud to say that the new apartment is coming on nicely. We spent the weekend furnishing the terrace, which included the purchase of 2 sun loungers, one of which has officially become my new best friend. We are, infact, inseperable. My new best enemies, on the other hand, are the many many flying / hopping / crawling /wriggling creatures which seem to thrive out in the depths of the Val Padana. I have never seen so much wildlife before - it's insane! I have a bit of a phobia about anything that moves, particularly spiders, so I'm having to be really brave but so far I've come across spiders' nests on the balcony, weird huge wasp things that aren't hornets or calabroni and nobody seems to know what they are, a family of 6 frogs that camp out right outside our garage door every night (just us, not the neighbours!), and a line of ants from the front terrace to the rubbish bin that had to be irradicated subito. It's a wilderness adventure safari I tell you!! Not to mention the chicken, hens, cockerels etc that live on the small-holding at the end of the garden. And all just 25 minutes from Milan!!
Wild animals aside, the apartment is great and we love the location. My parents are coming to visit in 2 weeks, by which time we hope to have just about everything in its place. Time to put the lack of voglia aside and start shopping for a sofabed...

lunedì 18 maggio 2009


I thought it might be time for a quick round-up of current events - also as an excuse for my poor blogging of late....

1. I had a car accident on the tangenziale di Milano 2 weeks ago and pretty much wrote my car off. It's still being repaired.

2. The very same morning, Luca came off his bike 100 metres from our apartment, because of a typical stordito local driver who wouldn't know an indicator if it hit him in the face. The bike is destroyed and Luca has 10 stitches in each leg.

3. We picked up the keys to our new apartment and started painting the master bedroom (me on the ladder, Luca on a stool with his leg up)

4. We bought a car (to replace the bike) and discovered just how much paperwork and expense is involved in what should be a simple process....

5. My best friend split up from her boyfriend after 6 years together

How's that for action?? Not to mention the heavy workload in the office til 7pm every night, packing of all our worldly goods into cardboard boxes and all of the other random everyday tasks that seem to get longer and more complicated with each day that goes by.....

Mamma mia!!! And it's only Monday!! Ce la faremo???

mercoledì 29 aprile 2009

Calling all expat parents!!

Are you an expat currently living in Italy? Do you have children? Would you be willing to complete a short market research questionnaire?
If you answered a resounding "YES!" to all three of these questions, then I am very grateful to you! Please send a quick email to and I will send you the information to complete. Thanks!!!

giovedì 16 aprile 2009

You found me how??

It’s time for another quick dip into the fascinating world of Search Engine keywords! Here’s a selection of some of my favourite ways in which you crazies out there came across Life, Lavoro & Luca in the past few weeks. If you recognize any of the below as belonging to you, then you are either sick, mad, desperate, or somehow entertaining in your own special way….

1. “Figo della madonna! meaning” - If you’re searching for this because someone called you that, please leave your phone number in my comments box.

2. “Cultural oddities which I realize I just have to accept as something that is different to the way in which I was brought up – like the way many I…” - If this is you, please let me know how this little story ended – I’m curious

3. “Dehydration emmina” - I’m assuming my little rambling-about-my-life blog didn’t assist with this one

4. “I guess I’ll keep my mouth shut” - ok

5. “Life Luca lavoro carpet” - Did I ever talk about a carpet? I don’t think so, but this person does appear to be looking specifically for a carpet-related post on the blog. So as not to disappoint, I can recommend a rather nice beige rug from Ikea, by the name of Hellum, for the bargain price of €69,90.

6. “Public urination england pregnant” - again, it’s a little off the subject for me, but since you ask I think you’ll find that public urination is illegal in England, whether you’re pregnant or not. Please do correct me if I’m wrong.

7. “were are most poeple from rome called luca” - if you mean “why are most people from Rome called Luca”, then the simple answer is…. They’re not. Why are most people from New York called John?

8. “caramello koalas, nyc” - are we talking candy koalas?? Or is this a breed I’ve never heard of that is native to NYC? Note to self: be more informed about flora and fauna in order to provide useful factual information when needed.

And joint first prize goes to……

9. “next time i want it in my mouth”….. and

10. “naked female ass” - you are both sick. Get your sticky hands off my blog right now!

venerdì 10 aprile 2009

M'am, why are you still talking to me?

It’s Thursday evening and my friend / colleague K is returning from a 3-day work trip to Athens. As she waits in the baggage claim area at Malpensa airport, she notices that the girl standing next to her, speaking Italian to a group of guys, has a strong American accent. She is about to strike up conversation when her bag arrives, and so, being in a bit of a rush to jump in a taxi and get home, she picks up her bag and heads for the exit. Following a quick trip to the bathroom, she is out in the daylight and heading for the taxi rank. K has lived in Milan for 5 years now, and regularly passes through Malpensa so she automatically knows which way to head and where to wait in order to beat the rush. Dodging through the smokers and rowdy groups of families, she notices the American girl from her flight looking around as if lost and confused, and so K (being the friendly soul that she is) approaches the girl. The exchange goes like this:

K: “Hi, do you need a taxi? Can I help you?”


K: “Hey, sorry, were you looking for a cab, because if so you need to go to the front of the cab line”


K (confused):”Ummm… can you hear me?”

Girl (in an aggressive tone) : “Why are you talking to me?”

K: “Sorry, I thought you might need some help getting a taxi”

Girl (even more aggressive): “I don’t need your help. I LIVE HERE! And you probably don’t even speak the language!”

K: “Jeez, I was only trying to be friendly and actually I do speak the language - I’ve lived here for five years”

Girl: “I don’t need your help – I have a voucher for 80 euros which will get me anywhere in Milan”

K: “Errr, I think you’ll find that 80 euros is the flat rate whether you have a voucher or not”

Girl (in a really rude tone): “M’am, why are you still talking to me?”

K (now very angry and offended at the ‘m’am’ comment): “Why are you so mean?!”

Girl: “I still don’t know why you’re talking to me”

K: “Wow. I was only trying to help you! Just one more thing before I go… I feel really sorry for you! Have a nice day.”

And with that, K marches to the front of the taxi line, gets in the first waiting cab and leaves the mean girl, still looking dazed and confused on the pavement.
Since the UK / US expat community in Milan is relatively small, I would like to launch an appeal. If anyone knows the super bitch who travelled from Athens to Malpensa on the evening of Thursday 9th April, or if you ARE the super bitch, let it be known that this is NOT the way to treat people – especially strangers who are just trying to be friendly and helpful to a fellow citizen. Grrrrrrrrrr.

martedì 31 marzo 2009

Ever the narcissist...

OK, so I'm about 2 million years behind the rest of the world in discovering this little piece of web technology magic, but better late than never.... This is me. Cool eh?
Thanks to:

venerdì 27 marzo 2009

It's my blog and I'll RANT if I want to!

As I pulled onto the A7 motorway this morning on my way to work, the car infront of me decided he'd had enough of his lane and preferred to be in mine, even though mine was already occupied - by me. So, with no checking of mirrors or indication of any sort, he was suddenly on top of me, causing me to take evasive action and almost swerve into another vehicle in the process. Hand on horn, I flash my lights to make him aware of my presence (and, let's be honest, my wrath), to which he replies by doing what? Well, firstly the finger - not pleasant but not exactly a rarity on Milan's roads - but then a rather nasty "hand to mouth" gesture which had me retalliating with the (not very well understood) wave of the little finger, at which point he began thumping his own window (just to prove the intelligence level, or lack thereof), using just about every gesture that exists in the Italian (body) language. I mean, seriously? At 8:30 in the morning? Just how many illegal substances does a person have to consume in order to behave like that towards a complete stranger whose life THEY have just endangered. Ma che vadano a fare in culo tutti quanti!!!!!
Normal service will resume shortly.

lunedì 23 marzo 2009

Sur le pont...

Despite the many everyday situations I encounter here in Italy that I claim I will ‘never get used to’, it occurred to me during this weekend in France that I no longer consider myself to be a foreigner here in Italy, and haven’t done for a while. Maybe you need to take a step back from the place you call home to realize just what it is that makes it so. Given that I now travel very rarely (work commitments being a big issue for both Luca and myself), it’s not often that I get the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of other cultures. I don’t count going home to mum and dad’s in the UK for Christmas as it’s a bit like going to EuroDisney and claiming to have visited Paris, if you know what I mean…..
I guess I’m a homey person – I like my creature comforts, am not a fan of change, and like to be in familiar surroundings, so within half an hour of crossing the border I had already driven Luca crazy with my desperate attempts to squeeze the last of the crackly signal out of Radio Deejay, and was desperate for a cappuccino (even though I hadn’t had one for about a week in any case). Every time we chanced upon a familiar brand, I found myself saying “Ah look, there’s a Castorama / Cèlio / Zara / Trony… Just like at home!!” Most of these are probably French imports, but it made me strangely enthusiastic to chance upon places I would normally associate with Italy. Sad but true. I also made the following observations about France / the French (or at least those that reside in the Avignon area):

1. French food is elaborate, rich and complicated. All the things that don’t appeal to an Italian palate, as Luca reminded me every time we picked up a menu. Roast guinea-fowl in a cumin and cream sauce, accompanied by over-cooked spaghetti (on the same plate shock horror!!), and capsicum pepper stuffed with blue cheese, vine leaves, olives, cucumber and Moroccan spices. A nightmare for your average Italian, a stomach ache even for me…

2. The French (contrary to what I had heard) are very civilized drivers. OK, let’s not exaggerate. Maybe the French from Provence are extremely civilized drivers when compare to the Milanesi. In any case, in around 400 kilometres of French motorway, not one single car came roaring up behind me to a distance of 1.5 metres, flashing their headlights to get me to move out of the way. It took all of 2 kms over the border at Ventimiglia for the first Italian ‘testa di cazzo’ to pull this exact trick, which is something I have to tolerate on a daily basis. And I don’t even stick to the speed limit myself. Thinking about it, everyone in France seemed to drive at or under the speed limit, even on the motorway. We didn’t see a single crazy person going at 180, and I see at least 2 or 3 per day on the A7 to Milan.

3. There is nothing like the bar / cafè culture that I expected. I know we’re spoilt here with a cafè on every corner, including on a Sunday, but I was quite shocked that we ended up walking around for over an hour on Sunday morning looking for a place to get a coffee and a croissant. Maybe it’s just Avignon that falls short…boh….

4. The dress code is distinctly “I don’t think we’re in Milano anymore, Toto”. Kaftans, ponchos, ankle-length skirts coupled with flat open-toed sandals, bright-coloured jumpers, different materials thrown together, enormous fabric bags and lots of bandanas. I’m sure Parisians don’t dress like this, but I wonder if it’s just an Avignon thing, or if lots of provincial French towns are like this. Maybe I have a warped view of elegant / scruffy from years of feeling like an outcast for forgetting to put in my diamond earrings to go for milk on a Sunday morning….

5. Local councils and governing bodies in general seem to have their shit together waaaaaaaaay more than their Italian counterparts. I was shocked by the amount of cared-for communal areas, well-kept grass verges and vegetation along the roads, working fountains with no graffiti, flat pavements with no enormous holes waiting to swallow you up, and – best of all – constant, reliable signposting!

All in all I thought Avignon was absolutely beautiful. I didn’t expect the North African influences that seem to abound, and the vast array of architectural styles that all seem to merge into one. Nor did I expect such a huge selection of restaurants of every nationality and style – it reminded me of Barcelona. Most of these things came as a surprise because Avignon is twinned with my home town of Colchester, whose architectural delights and abundance of good quality restaurants are sadly lacking. I expect twinning is based on population….
My quasi-homesickness for Italy was, strangely enough, echoed by Luca on the way back. Being an absolute typical Sicilian (stubborn, hard-headed, suspicious of all that is not familiar especially with regard to food and drink), 2 days of creamy sauces, bad coffee (he’s also in the bar / restaurant business), and my mother chatting in his ear nineteen to the dozen in a language that he struggles to comprehend, all had him chomping at the bit to get back to safe ground. As we crossed the border back into the bel paese, he breathed a sigh of relief and virtually demanded that we stop at the first Autogrill for ‘a decent cup of coffee’. My protests that decent coffee doesn’t exist in the Autogrill even if we are in Italy were met with a grunt. I was just pleased to be able to communicate with the barista without being met with a confused expression and a look which said “ ah the poor foreign girl - can’t even order a cafè au lait without getting into difficulty”. Upon reaching the bar, the girl serving took one look at me (blond, fair skin, blue eyes…) and did the usual: “Yes?” “Due caffè di cui uno ristretto grazie” I replied. “Ah, sorry, I thought you were foreign” was her response. Nope, I’m home.

venerdì 20 marzo 2009

Le week-end

We're dashing off to France this weekend for a whirlwind 2-day break in Avignon, where my mum and dad are currently enjoying a well-deserved holiday. That means that (hopefully) I'll have some interesting stories to tell when we get back (and maybe some pics to go with them!). As usual I have a romantic picture in my head of us whizzing around the sunny French Riviera in my cool Fiat 500 (with the Italian flag on the side obviously), hair blowing in the breeze and Audrey Hepburn-style sunglasses perched on my head. Fast forward to Emma and Luca stuck in traffic on the A7, fighting over which CD to put on, arriving red raw from the sun / wind burn of a 5 hour drive with the roof open....
This (very) short break is most definitely needed. Aside from the day to day monotony of car - office - car - home - bed, the past few months have been a real emotional rollercoaster ride, and I for one need to get away! On the plus side, we found a new apartment (yep, again!) and will be moving on the 1st of June. This time it's for real! Completely fed up with the 130 km daily round trip, noisy locals and resident gypsies, we searched for, and finally found a newer, more comfortable place more or less half way between Milan and Pavia. It has all of the things we've suffered without over the last year (dishwasher, double glazing, air con), and - it would appear - none of the things we've had to live with involuntarily (old lady upstairs waking us up every morning with her over-zealous cleaning rituals, noisy road, adjacent field that doubles as a gypsy camp every summer weekend...). The contract should be done and dusted by the end of next week, so fingers crossed! I've tested the drive home and it's a luxurious 25 minutes average - fab!
So, all that remains to say is "Bon week-end a tout le monde, e vive la France!!"

lunedì 9 febbraio 2009

Smart parking

Here’s a little story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
My friend T went to do a little shopping in the centre of Milan on Saturday afternoon. She drives a Smart car, which in theory should be easy to park, but Milan being Milan, you can take nothing for granted, so after just a few ‘giri’ she was pleasantly surprised to find a space. Being careful to check that there were no “No parking” signs, she parked up and went on her way. Two hours later she came back to find her car blocked in by a police car. Upon closer inspection she noticed, in fact that the whole street was lined with police cars, parked side-by-side for as far as the eye could see. Close by was a man standing outside a shop, pacing up and down, smoking a cigarette, evidently waiting for his wife or girlfriend to make her purchases so that they could leave. Seeing my friend’s confusion, he pointed out that the whole area is designated police parking, and the they were in fact standing right outside the police station. His advice to my friend was to go inside and ask if someone would move the car, although obviously they would give her a ticket – not only for parking illegally but for depriving them of their own precious space. Normal, no? So, off goes my friend, more than a little embarrassed, into the police station to confess to her crime. The officer on the front desk confirms that, yes, this area is police parking, yes there’s a sign at the start of the street, and you should know from the fact that the lines around the spaces are yellow and not blue or white. Clear? OK, Now what? A ticket? A fine? License points? What do you think, dear reader?

Firstly the policeman was very interested to know where my friend was from. Canada? Ah what a beautiful country… I’d love to visit…. What are you doing here in Italy..? Do you have a boyfriend….? Blah blah blah. As my friend started to realize that the police officer didn’t seem too interested in doling out the relevant punishment, she decided to tackle the issue of freeing her car. Sadly it turned out that the colleague to whom the car belonged was extremely busy, and may not be free for hours, and with no one else available and the front desk officer unable to leave his post, he simply threw the keys over the desk and suggested my friend move the police car herself. Eh? Cosa? Yeah, just go round the block a couple of times – you’re bound to find a spot. …
So, off goes T, police car keys in hand, much to the shock and amusement of the smoking man outside the shop. A giro around the block and she’s back. Throws the keys over the desk back to the police officer, whose last words are “Don’t forget you can’t park here, bella!” Wink wink.
Only in Italy.

lunedì 12 gennaio 2009

Fa un c***o di freddo!!

.... and this wasn't even the coldest it got on Saturday - 50 kms south of Milan, at sea-level by the way....

mercoledì 7 gennaio 2009

Dude, where's my car?

This is what greeted me when I left the house at 7:20 yesterday morning- dressed, hair washed and styled, make-up on, computer bag packed, Starbucks flask full of coffee....... and back to bed twenty minutes later!!

lunedì 5 gennaio 2009

Back to school

It's the first day of school - well, work actually, but I have that first-day-of-school-feeling - and I made it in for 9.36. Not bad, eh? Am sitting in a very quiet office (there's 5 of us in total on the sixth floor), listening to Radio 2 from the UK over the internet. You know you're approaching 30 when you choose Radio 2 over Radio 1. English people everywhere will know exactly what I mean...

Happy New Year everyone!! So far, so good - a few kilos heavier, many hundreds of euros lighter (the pound is at 1 to 1 with the euro - it had to be done), and.... back with Luca. I guess that means I won't be changing the name of my blog to Life & Lavoro. Meno male!!

So, bombshell duly dropped, I must get back to my very busy day of updating my Facebook profile and reading the Daily Mail online.... Work starts "properly" on January 7th....

PS - the pic is of one of my all-time favourite christmas movies.... anyone know it?