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!!"