Archive | January, 2013

Things I have been doing other than eating pizza

30 Jan

So life has been very busy here, this week I started teaching properly, more about that later though. Like in Bordeaux, my boiler here also seems to hate me, and for the first week the clock on it was out of use so I had to deal with a few sleepless nights from from the freezing temperatures inside. I would have left it on all the time instead of off if it weren’t for the exorbitant gas prices here. To heat my apartment all the time would cost a lot more than my monthly rent, so instead I leave it off unless I want to have hot water or I can’t feel my fingers.

I have also had a few internet issues, as my apartment doesn’t seem to have a phone line so I’ve had to make do with a dongle. Unfortunately where I live is a black hole for signal, and after changing companies 3 times I have settled with 3, who allow me 100kb/s max download speeds if I sit on the windowsill. Italy are pretty behind in terms of internet speed in general, and I wasn’t surprised to read the other day that apparently 25% of Italians think the internet has no purpose.

I have done a bit more exploring of the town, which despite everyone here saying is ‘so small and quiet’, actually has a population of 40,000 which is about 2/3 that of Woking. The centre of town itself is very small, but there are loads of suburban-y outer roads which is where I think all the people are hiding, although I still find it strange that everyone seems to know each other (you can always explain who someone is by going ‘oh you know, she’s my friend’s sister in law’s cousin’s teacher…’). Maybe there’s a very low proportion of people who actually leave the house.

Last week I went to a Buddhist meeting with Tina, which is definitely something I didn’t expect to find myself doing, but it proved that the stereotype of Italy being strictly Catholic isn’t true. I have also met up with lots of people my own age, thanks to every teacher and their friend/brother/hairdresser offering me their children to be my friend, which is much appreciated. I’ve had coffee, gone on mini tours of the city, and gone out for dinner, which has kept me busy (and distracted me from starting my first year abroad essay, which constantly hangs around the back of my mind and prevents me from ever really relaxing). On Saturday night I went out for pizza with Sara (one of the teacher’s daughters) and all of her friends, which meant lots of attempting to speak Italian and being the awkward person who brings a dictionary to a restaurant.

Thanks to these meetings I have been offered to try out a few other dance classes, including a jazz-type one that I went to last night. This week I’ll be trying out belly dance and hip-hop as well, although I’m going to have to limit it to what I can afford and what I can fit in. Yesterday I also went to an Italian class hoping to iron out the considerable creases in my Italian which have developed since finishing uni for the summer last June. It turned out to be an A1/A2 level group which was way too easy for me, although I got to meet some other stranieri living in Spoleto, including Ali who comes from Togo but was working in Libya and had to flee 2 years ago. The horrible story of his journey here (many people died on the boat over) has made me realise that I don’t really have the right to complain about anything ever again.

I’ve been meaning to get some photos up of my apartment, which I will definitely get round to once I do some washing up. As for living alone, it definitely has it’s benefits, but also some downsides. It can get a bit lonely, so I try to make sure I have lots going on all the time, plus having this much free time means I am getting through the 100 hours of internet 3 gives me per month far too quickly. I’m looking to change company yet again. The other day I walked past a pet shop and considered buying a cat to keep me company, but then decided that probably wouldn’t be a good life decision. Besides, I can always steal one of the strays that live up by La Rocca.

Speaking of which, on Saturday it was actually sunny for once (I have brought the steady downpour back from Bordeaux, via Bristol) so I went to visit La Rocca Albornoziana, Spoleto’s very own fortress. I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty awesome living in a town with a fortress, walled centro storico (historic centre), and aqueduct. To get to the fortress, which is on top of a hill, you can either walk up through the town centre (done it before, don’t need to do it again), or take the escalators. Whoever decided to construct them is definitely my kind of person. I might talk to them about my plans to put a ski lift up Park Street.

Enough talking, here are some photos:

Escalator! Una bella vista La Rocca Aqueduct I gatti!

I then decided to walk back down, assuming that as long as you keep going downhill until it’s flat you can’t get lost (not true), but I eventually found my way back to the bus stop. Here are a few shots of the town itself.

A piazza (can't remember which one) Spoleto centre Walled city

After 3 days of teaching I feel I’ve already learnt a lot, both about teaching in general and about what difficulties there are in teaching English to Italian children specifically. Unlike in English, where you make a statement into a question by putting ‘do’ at the beginning eg. ‘You come from England’ becomes ‘Do you come from England?’, in Italian they don’t have this. For any question which doesn’t start with one of the usual who, what, where (chi, cosa/che, dove) type words, they just say the sentence as it is but add a ‘questioning’ intonation at the end. Here’s more Brian and Stewie to illustrate my point. Sorry I just can’t help myself.

The kids haven’t quite gotten to grips with this mysterious ‘do’ verb, which has led to some confusing moments when combined with the fact that they don’t always get the difference between I/you/he/she/it. This is a conversation I had the other day in the middle of what was supposed to be an ‘ask Louise every question ever’ session:

Student: I like dog.

Me, thinking he just wanted to say something about himself: Ah…well that’s nice.

Student: Yes, I like dog?

Me: Do you mean ‘Do you like dogs?’ ?

Student: Dog.

Me: Ooook…yes I like dogs too.

From school to school the standard of English varies, and while some classes are loud and confident and can introduce themselves with simple sentences quite easily, others just give me blank stares and then tell me in Italian that my name is strange.

Sights of the day

When it comes to supermarket names, Italy has gone a little ‘outside the box’. Some of my locals include Tigre, Euro Spin, and Despar, which from the looks of it is related to the UK’s Spar. On my list of all the prefixes you could use to make a shop sound more attractive, ‘de-‘ is somewhere down the bottom, below ‘im-‘ but a bit above ‘anti-‘.


In the classroom

Seen today: 2 boys with short back and sides, plus the addition of not only tram lines but their initial shaved into the side of their head. Don’t forget the obligatory earring.

I’ve managed to embarrass myself a few times already with my lack of knowledge about things like beefeaters, why the Union Jack is called Jack, or the story of Tom Sawyer, and not realising that ‘kneeling’ has the word ‘knee’ in it, which was apparently very obvious to all the 9 year olds who managed to guess the meaning of it without me explaining.

Today when a class was asked to describe me, they said I was ‘tall’, if not ‘very tall’. One boy even suggested I was ‘at least 2 metres’, which might be a bit of a stretch. However, I’m excited to say that in Italy, I am actually average height. In fact I’m taller than quite a few of the female teachers.

Here is a small sample of the lovely artwork the students here have done for me:

Putting Woking on the map...although no one here can pronounce it.

Putting Woking on the map…although no one here can pronounce it.



La Scuola

25 Jan

This week has been spent visiting most of the schools I will be teaching at. Earlier in the week Tina found out that I’m only allowed to teach at 3 schools at once, so the plan is to work at Federico Toscano, Via Visso and Tempo Pieno until April, and then Sant’Anastasio and Santa Croce after that.

So far I have visited all of the schools apart from Santa Croce, which is apparently up in the hills somewhere and only has 2 pupils in year 5! Everyone at the schools has been very welcoming, the kids made posters and banners saying things like ‘Welcome Louise’ and ‘Benvenuto in Italia’, while the teachers offered me various kinds of cake, pastry, pizza, pie, fruit…basically enough food to keep me going for the rest of the day.

I will be mainly teaching year 5, although every week I will also spend a bit of time with some of the younger ones, right down to year 1. While I was sitting in on one of the year 1 classes I realised how challenging it can be to teach something as basic as numbers in English, when they only just have a grasp of what numbers really mean in their own language, and they don’t entirely understand how the symbol for a number also means the same thing as its name.

In the older classes I was bombarded with all the questions they have been learning recently, which mostly revolves around ‘What is your favourite ### ?’, so now everyone knows my favourite colour, food, animal, music, musician, shop, season etc. etc. I have also found a kindred spirit in a 10 year old at Sant’Anastasio who appreciates Drake as much as I do.

When being put on the spot with children you sometimes have to adjust your answers, either for their general English ability, or because the answer probably isn’t appropriate eg. when asked your favourite animal, don’t say Slow Loris, and when asked about The Beatles (all Italian children love The Beatles) only to realise their only song you know all the lyrics to is ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, it’s best not to mention it. I don’t want to be responsible for a sudden influx of 9 year old hammer-wielding murderers.

One thing I have noticed is how different Italian children and from the English. Here, they are a bit more confident and a lot more enthusiastic towards strangers, especially foreign ones. The rules in school are more relaxed than in England, so if a child is a bit upset and they want a hug, you’re allowed to give them one, whereas in England if you accidentally bump into a child you tend to get put on the Sex Offender’s Register. The teachers also trust the children more, so they are allowed to go to the toilet without being accompanied or to take me to find another teacher and be trusted to come back to their classroom instead of running away.

I am already really excited about working in the schools and getting to know everyone more, and many of the teachers have offered their son/daughter to show me round town and take me out for pizza, so it’ll be nice to get to know some other people nearer my own age.

Sights of the day

I didn’t have my camera with me at the time, but in the toilet at a restaurant I went to last night there was a poorly translated sign on the seat cover dispenser saying “Woman, this is for you !!!“. There was a bidet in there as well, which I found to be more than just a little bit weird.

There is also a bidet in the bathroom in my house. I have no use for it but hate to see something go unused. I was thinking I could put a fish or terrapin or something in there, just to liven the room up a bit.

In the classroom

(This is a new section where I’m going to put funny things seen/heard at school.)

Many Italians find the letter ‘w’ difficult to pronounce, and sometimes replace it with an ‘h’, or a sound somewhere in between, as demonstrated by Brian and Stewie:

At an open evening for Federico Toscano last night I was helping out with a demonstration of learning English using the interactive whiteboard, and we were looking at the fairytale ‘Hansel & Gretel’. When it came to the part where their dad took them out into the woods and left them there to die, due to the teacher’s accent it came out as ‘Their father took them out into the hoods and left them there to die’. I guess that would kind of work in a modern retelling.

And now for something completely different

22 Jan

Did you miss me?

Gold star to anyone who can tell me where the title of this post originally came from. Also note the slight name change (don’t worry, for anyone who bothered to google what it meant, it still means exactly the same thing but in Italian).

I arrived in Spoleto, Italy on Saturday, here’s my attempt at abridging the last 3 days. So for me that means something like 2000 words instead of 5000. Happy reading!

Given that it snowed shitloads on Friday (I spent the day wondering through pristine fields listening to Tycho instead of packing of course) I was slightly concerned my flight wouldn’t set off, but thankfully Gatwick got their act together. After landing at Rome Fiumicino I had a slight ‘oh shit, I don’t actually speak Italian’ moment when I had to try and find my way to Spoleto by public transport having neglected to really look into it in England, but thankfully the people who work at the airport and Roma Termini station speak English, and sent me off on in the right direction. It took 2 trains and a couple of hours but eventually I arrived, having spent the journey next to an elderly gentleman who alternated between staring at my Kindle like it was witchcraft and snoring while still awake, which is quite a skill really.

At the station I met Tina, a teacher at the school who has been my lifeline for the past 3 days. She is the one who organised my whole teaching assistantship, my apartment, my internet…essentially she has created a life for me here, I can’t thank her enough.

We went straight to my apartment, where I will be living alone (not as scary as you’d think) until June. It’s a steal at only €280 a month and has been decked out by the landlord so it has pretty much everything I could ever need, including a lot of stuff which I can’t really identify and probably will never need. However, no complaints about the provided hoover, real oven as well as a convection oven (pimped-out microwave), mahussive non-cabin bed, TV (!!!), and a collection of all the classics but in Italian. I’m planning on tackling ‘Il Grande Gatsby’ and ‘La Fattoria degli Animali ‘ at some point.

That evening Tina took me to a dinner party held by one of the teachers from one of the schools I will be helping out at. There were about 10 of us in total, mostly invited because they spoke some English as I was definitely struggling to string a sentence together at that point. The meal was amazing, and although I already knew Italian’s loved their food, I didn’t realise how many courses there are! (Conclusion: more than a little person like me can handle). The menu went something like this:

  1. Antipasti
  2. Lasagne
  3. Chicken
  4. Gorgonzola + pear pizza – definitely worth a try
  5. Tiramisu with frappe, the pastry not the coffee-based drink
  6. Pineapple, separate from the…
  7. Fruit Salad
  8. Coffee

At the host’s house everyone’s children had collaborated to make a welcome sign for me, and after the meal they performed a little song and dance in English, which was lovely and completely unexpected, and I was then given a sort of welcome pack full of proper Italian olive oil and pasta by the adults. As I have found out even more in the past few days, the Italians are incredibly generous, especially when it comes to food! I was also lucky enough to be invited to a belly dance class with one of the women, which will make up for me completely neglecting it last term.

On Sunday I headed to a big supermarket with Tina to stock up, and she treated me to a very Italian breakfast of coffee and a pastry. I have to say I much prefer the European breakfast as it tends to include more chocolate and less muesli, which is a poor attempt at food if ever I saw one. Tina even suggested that I buy a fruit pie or some castagnole for breakfast, which I happily agreed to.

Foreign supermarkets are always full of surprises, and in Italy that includes aisles full of bags of cookies, biscuits and pastries which look fancy enough to give as a thankyou present but cost less than €2. I think the Italian’s are generally just a bit better at designing packaging than us, even my crisps look all artisanal and handmade.

I then went out for lunch with Tina and her husband at a restaurant on a hillside which overlooks the whole town, and apparently on a clear day you can see all the way to Perugia. Inevitably the revenge of the multi-course meal got to me and I couldn’t finish everything, but Tina kindly asked for the waiter to ‘american-style’ what was left so I could take it home for dinner.

As per, it was followed by coffee. Now anyone who knows me well, especially my dear friend John who has had to deal with this many a time, will probably have experienced me walking into their room after forgetting to ask for decaf at Starbucks and going ‘Oh no…I did it again…’ This is usually followed by me curling up in a ball on the floor for a few hours while I wait for the caffeine shakes to pass.

Italy is known for its love of coffee, and being the overly-polite English girl that I am I have been unable to refuse any so far, meaning that by Sunday morning I was feeling decidedly unstable. I think now may be the best time for me to try building up a tolerance, and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy hearing about my attempts!

That afternoon I went back to Tina’s to try and organise my timetable, which seems pretty complicated as Il Secondo Circolo Spoleto is made up of 5 different primary schools spread out around the town. This week will be spent visiting the schools and meeting all the teachers and classes, generally getting a feel for what things are like.

I’ve changed my mind and have decided it will be far too long and boring for me to try and talk about Monday and Tuesday in this same post, so that’s it for now!

Sights of the day

This is actually leftover from Bordeaux, but I never got round to posting it even though I had been meaning to since about September.

Based on the image provided by Bordeaux tram services, you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘strapontins’ means strap-ons. I’m not going to correct your assumptions.



she's gone away again

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