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23 Oct

Just when you thought my inane chatter had finally come to an end…

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Italianisms: Part 2

1 Jun

I started writing this a while ago but never really got round to finishing it, but here you go, part 2:

Fashion

While Italians are often seen as being the epitome of style, there are a couple of definite fashion throwbacks going on here in Spoleto. One repeat offender that I’ve seen a few times now is that 90s trend of wearing lipliner wayyy darker than the lipstick, and drawing it past the edges of your lips to try and make them look bigger. It looks something like this

Sorry random internet lady for stealing your likeness to prove a point

Another look harking back to the 90s is the tying of hoodies, cardigans, jackets etc. round your waist if you don’t want to wear it. I distinctly remember throwing a strop around the age of 11 saying that I was ‘too old’ to do that, but here you’ll find adults of all ages doing it. I’m not gonna lie, it’s growing on me.

Boobs

I’ve probably mentioned before how Italian advertising is big on ‘sex sells’. I’ve managed to find a few examples here:

Trying to sell sofas? Boobs.

Trying to sell pharmaceuticals? Boobs.

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The few inches of cleavage aren’t massively clear in this because I was subtly trying to get a swift photo while an elderly Italian man watched what I was doing, but they’re definitely there

Trying to sell cracker snacks? Boobs.

The only thing us girls get is the hot guy selling chocolate biscuits:

EDIT: I also saw this shower gel ad the other day with a couple getting clean while getting dirty (bikinis on though…logically)

Education

The Italian education system is vastly different from in the UK. This is mainly down to a lack of funding, meaning most schools have no playground (and therefore very little outdoor breaktime, if any), no staff room, and on any given day there’s a 70% chance that the printer and/or photocopier will either be broken or out of ink, and no one’s going to order any more for at least 2 days.

Of the schools which do have a bit of space outside, often the kids aren’t allowed to run much in case they fall over and hurt themselves and the parents come suing. Parents have a huge amount of control over what goes on in school, and can be incredibly demanding. Most focus on the end result rather than the process of getting there, meaning that teachers often get a berating from angry mums if their child isn’t getting top marks, even at the age of 8.

In the schools where I worked each student didn’t have a ‘work tray’ like at my primary school where you can put books that you don’t need for homework. Instead they have to drag almost everything for every subject home every day, and to accommodate for this their bags look proportionately akin to the 60 litre monstrosity I carried round China a few years ago. Most of them are so heavy that the children don’t actually carry them, but they have airport-style wheels and handles so they can be dragged home.

So that’s the end of part 2, although undoubtedly there will be a part 3 at some point when I’m back in England…

Trieste

31 May

A couple of weeks ago I ventured off into the furthest reaches of north-east Italy to Trieste, where my maternal grandparents are from. They now live in Australia but I have one remaining relative there, who is my Nonno’s stepbrother’s ex-wife…so I guess a kind of great aunt? The train up took about 8 hours but for €25 I really wasn’t going to complain, you can barely get from Woking to Bristol for that price.

Luisa (the great aunt) basically acted as a stand-in grandmother for the weekend, keeping me well fed and entertained. We visited a couple of the nearby castles (Miramare and Duino) which are right on the coast. I don’t have many pictures of Duino because the weather was crap that day, but the day we went to Miramare was lovely and I got some great shots of blue skies and sea which made a change to the terrible weather we’ve been having here in Spoleto. (This morning I was woken up at 8am by truly biblical amounts of rain and hail. I wasn’t too worried though because I have my 50m swimming badge.)

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Castello di Miramare

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Myself and Luisa

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I also got to visit the city of Trieste itself, which is very different from most of the other places in Italy I have visited as the architecture is far more modern (although occasionally a little bit fascist). Trieste runs down from a mountain side to the sea, meaning you can enjoy both the amazing views near the top of the city, or hang out by water which is what we did when I went to meet up with Andrea, the granddaughter of my Nonna’s friend.

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Andrea and me

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For this post I’m relying mostly on pictures of this beautiful area of Italy since I’ve been pretty uninspired to write anything recently. At the moment I’m busy trying to sort out what stuff needs to go in the suitcase I’m sending and what stays with me until I leave Spoleto, which is in just over a week!

The no-skill no-bullshit guide to: Artichokes

13 May

Italians fucking love artichokes. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but having been served it a few times and liking it, I decided to hop on the bandwagon when they were on special at Tigre. The last time I was with my friend Jo she had a few questions about this mystery veg, such as ‘So how do you cook it?’ and ‘Where’s the edible bit?’

After a bit of googling I found out that they’re very easy to cook, it’s the eating bit that’s difficult, but after some experimenting I am now the apartment expert on artichokes (as well as on everything else. Perks of living alone.) If you’ve never encountered an artichoke, they look like big green flowers and have the texture of a money tree:

This is an artichoke

This is an artichoke

The appearance generally leads to the question of: so how do I get into it? Patience my dear. First of, cut the stem down to the last inch or so. In my opinion the next bit is optional but I do it anyway. You see all the leaves have a spiky tip? Cut all of them off. Preparation done.

Ta-da!

Next, chuck it into some boiling water for 30-45 minutes depending on the size. Ideally it needs to be completely submerged although lots of people won’t have a saucepan this big so just do your best. You’ll know it’s done when you can pull off one of the base leaves easily.

Not a good example of a fully-submerged artichoke

Before

Nearly done. The water should go an unpleasant colour

After. The water should go an unpleasant colour

Chuck it on some kitchen paper upside down to drain, and prepare your dip. Yeh there may be no knife and fork involved, but it’s only an uphill struggle from here. You can dip it in whatever you choose, although some of the classic Italian choices include melted butter, or olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper.

Draining

Done

Starting from the bottom outer leaves, pull one off, dip it, then stick it in your mouth and using your teeth scrape off the fleshy veggie stuff from the non-rubbery side. Repeat until you get to the weird looking inner leaves that look kinda like rose petals. By this point the leaves will have super sharp spikes on the tips, so don’t do what I did and try and bite the whole thing off.

The side with the edible stuff

The side with the edible stuff. So appetising

This bit can be grabbed and pulled off in one chunk, leaving you with a weird hairy bit that looks sort of like troll doll hair called the ‘choke’. Don’t try and eat it. Grab a spoon and scrape it off, so all that’s left is the stem and the best bit, the heart. It’s hard to explain the taste but I guess it’s sort of meaty? Eat what’s left. Done.

The aftermath

The aftermath

Don't try to eat any of the hairy bit
Don’t try to eat any of the hairy bit

THE HEART. Looks quite assuming, tastes great

THE HEART. Looks quite unassuming, tastes great

So there we go, now you all (by which I mean Jo) know how to prepare and eat an artichoke. I hope you feel enlightened, knowledgeable, and hungry.

So I went to a disco…

8 May

A few weeks ago I went out on Saturday with high school aged friends to what I was told was a school-based sort of club night but not a school disco, although the fact that the Italian word for club is discoteca always makes me think that they will be full of people with afros and flares. As I was unsure on the etiquette for this night since I didn’t really know what it was all about, I prelashed a bit before assuming I could have something to drink there.

The location was something akin to a town hall that had been decked out with decks, flashy lights and some artsy sofas to make it seem more clubby. My best guess is that this is an event that happens once a month to please the people of Spoleto since there are no clubs here. When we got in, I was confused by the age range since there were people as young as 14 but also people my age and a few random 50 year olds.

The first thing I usually do when I get into a club is grab a drink, but apparently that wasn’t the done thing. I don’t even know if alcohol was on sale, but if it was, no one was buying it. In fact hardly anyone was buying anything from the bar, not even water despite the ridiculous temperatures inside, which just adds to my believe that Italians run solely on caffeine.

To paint a picture, I’d describe the general vibe as being like Bunker if no one was drinking but smoking was allowed inside, which is an unpleasant combination. One thing is for sure: young Italian people LOVE to dance. Never anywhere else have I seen a group of sober 14-18 year olds dance for 3 hours straight without a break to drink, chat, or just sit down for a bit.

What I particularly enjoyed is how even towards the end of the night at 3am when the dancefloor had cleared substantially and there were only guys left, they were still dancing. Many young men here favour an Inspector Norse style dance, complete with arm movements, which perked up my night a huge amount when I was struggling with being very sober in the middle of the night in a smoky room full of teenagers.

The standard dress code for girls was: slightly eurotrashy, synthetic materials, stuff you would never ever see people wearing even on the hottest summer day. For guys the uniform haircut of the moment is a short back and sides, quiff on top kinda deal, although there was one excellently dressed young gentleman who I recognise as a friend of a friend who wore a suit and bow tie complete with a moustache like Michael Cera’s alter ego in ‘Youth in Revolt’. I take my hat off to him for his ballsy choice in facial hair.

I got home at 3.30am, completely sober and wondering exactly what my €10 entry fee paid for. And so ended the tamest 20th of April that ever there was.

Even more dancing:

The last 2 weeks were completely taken over by rehearsals and shows, as I have mentioned, although now that’s all over I am taking a break from dance to write my essay (kill me now).

Here’s a few funny show-related tales:

Each of the 3 shows I was in were with other groups of dancers, so I got to witness a few different (and often weird) styles of dance. In the first show we were on after a contemporary group. Contemporary has never been my favourite style since I find it a bit too wishy-washy and ‘interpretive’ for my liking, which was exemplified in the one I saw where they swayed around stage to a soundtrack of a classical piano piece with a woman saying random German words and numbers over the top. I’m still not persuaded.

Another dance involved three women on skis wrapped in tight gold foil outfits with pointy gold hats shuffling around the stage. I don’t really know what else to say about that. To balance out the weirdness they were followed by two finely chiselled topless men doing acrobatic stuff. I don’t know why they had to be topless but I’m not complaining.

In the final show, which was performed with a dance school, I really got to understand why they always say never to work with children in theatre. Trying to explain to 5 year olds why it’s important not to talk in the wings is practically impossible, as well as trying to stop them pulling on various ropes/curtains/cables backstage.

The best bit was at the end of a dance where the girls must have only been about 4, when the lights faded they decided to stay on stage and chase each other round in the dark, then one girl sat down in the middle of the stage and started to take off her tutu. In the end a very angry ballet teacher stormed out and dragged them off stage, which was lucky since they were very close to have a lemming moment involving the orchestra pit.

Overall I had a great time though and it made me miss Bristol Uni’s Dance Soc show which I couldn’t be involved in this year, but I’ll be back!

100ish days of Spoleto

2 May

Due to being very busy for the past week or so, this post’s title is a more crap version of what I was originally intending to name it, but I can’t be bothered to try and think of a witty alternative. It’s more like 104 days now.

First up, a couple of days ago the blog reached the scary milestone of 5000 hits! Thankyou to all of you who include reading this in their procrastination time. It would probably be more helpful for your future to go back to revision/dissertations, so shoo.

Recently I seem to have spent most of my time rehearsing for a dance show next weekend, although another couple of shows have somehow popped up in the meantime, which apparently slipped past me when they were announced. This led to me rocking up to what I thought was a dress rehearsal at the theatre last Friday, only to find a strangely large number of people milling around eating aperitivi nibbles and a lot of other dancers in full costume. At least it meant that I didn’t really have time to get nervous! The performance was part of a maratona di danza show for ‘Spoleto a Colori’, the week-long mini festival thing that has been going on here. Here’s a picture of the group:

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As part of the festival, there was a Holi-style ‘ColorMob’ last Thursday evening, which was great fun albeit pretty messy, and I now own a pair of murky grey looking Converses.

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ColorMob

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This weekend I finally got to visit the Vatican museums. This involved one of the all-to-familiar early morning trains (the first of the day in fact) heading to Rome at 6am on Sunday. I met Jo at Roma Termini, since she’d been on a trip to Sicily (lucky bitch), and eventually got to the Vatican by 8.30am to find the biggest queue I have ever seen for anything, and that was just along 1 of the 3 walls of the city that the line covered.

It took about 2 hours of standing in 27 degree sunshine (Jo took a leaf out of the Asian tourists’ book and used her umbrella as a parasol) and making friends with a student from Hong Kong before we eventually got in. Every last Sunday of the month it is free entry, meaning it is packed and everywhere you go you feel like a group of sheep being herded around.

After a few hours of traipsing round squished between all the other tourists, we got to see the Sistine Chapel then decided to call it quits. A word to anyone who ever was/is/will be a tourist: YOU ARE NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON HERE. If everyone just followed this simple guideline, the world would be a far happier place.

Vatican Vatican

Super busy

Super busy

Vatican Rome

Had to wear jeans for the vatican, quietly melting

Had to wear jeans for the Vatican, quietly melting

On Sunday evening Jo came back to Spoleto where she stayed for a couple of days. I showed her all the great sights of Spoleto (La Rocca and the aqueduct) and we ate far too much ice cream. It was nice being able to act as a tourguide, and to have some solidarity in wearing a dress when the weather is over 25 degrees despite the stares and unwanted comments from guys.

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The other day I ended up wearing leggings under my dress, which made me look a bit like a mum, but that still wasn’t covered up enough for April. I was told earlier today that people don’t wear summery clothing until summer, even though it’s already that hot, so it’s unlikely I will blend in anytime before I leave.

Speaking of which, I have a bit over a month left here, with lots to pack in before. Most importantly, my 2nd year abroad essay is beckoning, and I’ve already shot myself in the foot by choosing a title that requires me to track down a lot of people to interview which involves far more self-motivation than I can muster right now.

Sights of the day

In a little garden square near Piazza Garibaldi I was excited to find it was named after Baden-Powell. I spent a couple of years helping out with Beavers (the cute youngest Scouts) so I was impressed to see that his influence is so far-reaching. However, I’m pretty sure there’s a typo on this sign. Awkward.

Italianisms: Part 1

19 Apr

This post is dedicated to all the weird and wonderful little things that make Italy Italy and that make the Italians Italian, some of which I find amusing, others which drive me crazy.

I’ve already mentioned several times how Italy suffers from a major case of technophobia, and recently I found out just how deeply ingrained (engrained?) it is within the language itself. One of the first words I ever learnt in Italian is macchina, meaning ‘car’, although it translates more literally as ‘machine’. Ok sure, I’ll accept that, back when cars were first invented I guess they were novelty machines.

I also found out that a camera is called a macchinetta, or ‘little machine’. Maybe pushing it, but I’ll let that one slide. However this extends even further, as I discovered watching the Italian-dubbed version of How It’s Made. While the English track in the background would say something like ‘the dough is transferred from the industrial-sized mixer to the divider using a conveyor’, the Italian version would translate as ‘the dough is transferred from the machine to the machine using the little machine’, as apparently it’s not possible to distinguish between anything that looks remotely mechanical or electricity-based. They all run on witchcraft anyway right?

Next up are a couple of things I’ve noticed both here and in France:

Although the English are known for being conservative prudes, we still manage to say the rather straight-to-the-point ‘oh I’m just going to the toilet’ without any embarrassment. The Italian/French way of doing things just makes me cringe: I have heard university students and grown adults say (in Italian) fare pipì or (in French) faire pipi which literally translate as ‘go for a wee wee’. Come on guys we’re not 5 years old any more.

Secondly, I find it slightly bizarre how often I have heard people say ‘that’s disgusting’. I swear people in the UK hardly ever find things so repulsive that they need to point it out, especially not 3 times a day which is the average amount I hear this phrase. There’s also a scale of disgustingness which translates quite well between the languages, with the use of the handy cover-all verb/noun/adjective ‘fuck’.

Italian : fa schifo                           fa schifoso

French: c’est dégoûtant            c’est dégueulasse

English: that’s disgusting           that’s fucking disgusting

So now if you ever need to complain about something being gross (which apparently EVERYTHING is over here), you’re well-prepared.

Moving on, we’ve had some beautiful weather here this week, with quite a few days averaging 26 degrees. Being the optimistic Brit that I am, I’ve been straight out in the sun in a bikini and shorts getting some vitamin D in me, much to the displeasure of the retirees who live nearby. Having found a field the size of Stoke Park (sorry for the very Guildford-specific reference) I was surprised to find it completely empty.

Italians making the most of a beautiful day

Italians making the most of a beautiful day

I settled down for a couple of hours with some Murakami (definitely give at least one of his books a read) and the whole time saw a grand total of 4 other people, all of whom were walking through the field to get somewhere else rather than relaxing for a bit. A woman in her 60s from Lombardia came over to chat after her chihuahua decided I was its new best friend, and she ended up talking at me for 50 minutes about: problems in Spoleto, problems with living alone, problems with her apartment building, problems with Italian police, problems with immigrants and people from Napoli, the holocaust (?!), and finally her dog’s dietary requirements.

Aside from not going outside to enjoy the weather, people also don’t seem to dress according to temperature, but rather according to season/month. It may be unseasonally warm, but it’s still April, and that means coats/jackets/scarves/boots/trousers. I’ve only seen people in tshirts for the first time in the last couple of days, and the only people I’ve seen in shorts are middle-aged men jogging. I don’t  really own shorts longer than hotpants because I don’t want a weird mid-thigh tan line, but this realllly doesn’t go down well with the locals who openly stare at my naked legs as I walk around.

What makes me laugh even more is how one person even complained to me how they were too hot (while wearing black trousers and a puffa jacket) as if there was just no way of avoiding it. Logical thinking is not Italy’s strong point, and most choices made are based less on ‘what could make me feel more comfortable/happy’ and more on ‘what would be the right thing to do in other people’s eyes’.

Logic also doesn’t make an appearance when it comes to healthcare. Italian’s are hypochondriacs who still subscribe to the belief that you can catch illnesses from cold air, but not just in winter! The dreaded colpo d’aria (blast of air?) can occur any time of year without warning if you are silly enough to leave any area of skin exposed, and you have to make sure you also wear your maglietta di salute (vest of health) to prevent this wind attacking you. Of course I think it’s all bullshit and the nation is just suffering from a widespread case of mass hysteria, but that’s just my opinion.

At dance this week we’ve had longer classes which means everyone leaving red-faced and sweaty and generally gross, but still everyone insists on putting on a couple of jackets and zipping them up to the neck when they leave despite the toasty temperatures outside. When I asked what the hell they were doing, they explained that when you are sweaty and go outside without covering up, the sweat cools down and then you get ill from it…

Hmm. There seems to have been a major breakdown in communication somewhere down the line in understanding the purpose of sweat in the first place. I also find it worrying that educated people my age still believe this kind of stuff. But hey, it’s not my place to say, I will freely walk outside cooling down after exercise while everyone else runs to their cars to avoid the killer Italian air.

My own Nonna has many strong beliefs about what causes illness, and she still has a go at me if I walk around her house without shoes or socks on as it will definitely give me a cold. I love you Nonna, but until you can give me an explanation for how being barefoot makes you ill, I’m not going to change my ways.

Oh and lastly, it’s both difficult and expensive to find tampons in this country. I can only blame Catholicism for this.

Well I think that’s enough for now! I’ve named this part 1 since I’m pretty certain there’s much more I have to say about Italian culture which I’ve forgotten to put in this post, but which I will surely remember as soon as I click ‘Publish’.

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