Monday, October 18, 2010

Syringe-Wielding Sisters

I work in a religious school. Very religious. So religious my colleaugue calls it 'the kingdom of the nuns'. And as I have found out nuns are good at trying their hand at a lot of things. If you need to sign your contract there's Sister Gloria, if you need to make an enquiry about your playslip, go and ask Sister Assunta.

But I must admit that nuns didn't enter my mind when Sister Eileen came to tell me that I was required by the school to arrive early one morning last week without having eaten breakfast to do a blood test. I have very reluctant veins that require a lot of two-fingered arm slapping and aborted attempts with needles to be drawn from, so I was a little concerened, but all the same I was confident in the assumed capability of the doctor who my very reputable and prestigious school would no doubt procure to do my check up.

So I arrived apprehensive and hungry at 7.20 a.m. only to be presented with, you guessed it, a sister with a syringe. Okay, I told myself, don't make any hasty judgements. Just because she's wearing a habit doesn't mean she isn't qualified and capable.

There commenced quarter of an hour of the traditional arm slapping and punctured veins. I was getting more and more agitated and sister wasn't helping with her running commentary. "Let's try again, it won't hurt much. Okay I'm doing it near the hand so it'll probably hurt more than in the arm" . Then, when she finally started to draw blood "oh dear, I'm making a bit of a mess here. Oops, got some on the table there. Oh no, there goes some more".

My head started to spin and I broke out in a sweat. "Err, I don't feel all that well" I pleaded Sister. "It'll pass" she said airily as she mopped up drops of my blood from the desk and towel "let's just cover this stain up shall we, so that the next person who comes in doesn't get a shock".

"No really sister, I feel lightheaded, what should I do?"

"Here!" she shoved half a glass of water towards me, stirred in a packet of sugar and told me to drink it. "Okay? Better? Right then, let's call in the next teacher".

One may cast doubt on their dubious training and non-traditional techniques, but these no-nonsense nuns definitely get the job done! What a wake-up call!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Autumn Calling

September is a time for new starts, and I always feel this rule applies more here in Italy than elsewhere because during the summer things wind down to a crawl. Here in Rome it can take up until mid-September for the city to creak to its feet, shake off the last of that summer dust kicked up by motorinos cruising along dry roads and get things up and running again.

In its annual state of sweaty lethargy was how I found Rome when I came back from England a month ago. Then I started a new job and things got very hectic. I've therefore only just noticed that life, in the meantime, has rediscovered its old rhythms. The traffic along my road is constant instead of trickling, small shops on side streets have reopened their shutters with a vengance, and there's the definite, delicious hint of a chill in the air early in the morning.

Raising my head above the parapet for the first time after three tiring weeks in my new job (more about that another time) I realise that while I have been spending my weekends in a daze of exhaustion I have been missing out on the lasts of the summer. Last visit to the lake or beach, last good peaches, last really, really cold beer, last chance to wear that cute red sundress. And worse still, it's last-chance saloon at the gelaterias, who are going down to weekend-only opening.

But that's ok, because autumn in Italy brings other joys. When you leave the house it means the sun warming your cockles instead of frying your brains. Autumn means the grape harvest and all its associated pleasures. It means being able to stay inside reading a book without feeling guilty that you should be doing something becasue it's such a beautiful evening. On the other hand it means strolls in the park, visiting museums, going on trips, and all those things you haven't been able to do during daytime hours for 3 months because the sun would have melted the soles of your shoes. It means starting to eat yummy soups again, and afterwards maybe allowing yourself the odd pudding or two, because, after all, that flesh'll be covered up soon.

How are you settling into autumn where you are?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

You know you're getting older when....

Ah, flatsharing. You either hate it or, well, you hate it (or maybe I'm just a misery guts).

I remember when I was still living at home and about 18. I had an older boyfriend Dan who lived with his student friends, which seemed ever so exciting and glamorous until I realised staying over meant getting into a grimy damp-spotted shower in the morning and fighting my way through the pizza boxes to try and find some milk for my tea before leaving for work. And then there was the moaning. I swore to myself I would never rant boringly like him on the topic of whose turn it was to buy the toilet roll (don't moan at me, moan at THEM I wanted to shout but obviously, being British, he couldn't).

Ok, I accept that that particular house offered an authentic student house experience, and I happily spent three studenty years afterwards wallowing in a similar kind of grotty pigsty with likeminded people. Of course there were moans about things, there were always the moans, but there was a kind of unspoken pact that we would live in a godforsaken mess and no-one would care. It seemed almost expected of us.

The real problems started afterwards when the houseshares with 'real' people started. I didn't particularly want to share a house, and neither, I imagine, did they. There were no pally 'house dinners', no boozing the night away then bonding in the kitchen over burnt toast at 2am. 'Grown up' housemates weren't particularly looking for friends, they would have much preferred having their own place, thank you very much. They were also too used to sharing houses and weren't shy about telling you what they expected as good 'housemate behaviour'.

Maybe I've just had some bad experiences in the last few years,, but I really hope my time in houseshares is almost over. Friends my age have reported similar yearnings; one, after discovering that there were mice scratching away behind her bedroom wall sighed "aren't I too old for this now?". Another lives with a married couple who can't afford their own place, and frequently feels like a third wheel in his own home.

Sorry if this itself feels like a big old moan. Maybe I have finally ended up like poor old Dan. I've just moved house, so here's hoping the new year (September is like new year in Italy with everyone back from their month-long break) brings tolerable housemates and a non hair-clogged plughole...oh and plenty of riches so I can start saving for that deposit on a hosue!

On a side note, the last I heard from Dan he was an extremely successful management consultant being flown around the world to do management consultant-y type things. I imagine he doesn't have reason to moan about the loo roll any more.

Above: Past housesharing memories.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Disjointed Return

Hello? Anybody out there? I know I deserve to have NOBODY read this blog after my exceptionally haphazard approach to updating, but I hope there might be one or two who have kept the faith.

I'm just back from a damp but enjoyable few weeks in England seeing friends, doing daughterly chores and trying to make inroads into a teriffically dull online teaching course (example question: "Is there a best seating arrangement for a class? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various seating plans." No really, I'm serious).

Yesterday evening, after a suspiciously incident-free journey I disembarked and waited at the luggage carousel, getting to the front and adopting an aggressive wide-legged stance in the midst of all those pushy Italians. On seeing my blue suitcase with the cheery polka dot ribbon tied round the handle I edged forward and prepared myself to lift the heifer off the belt. One, two, three, heeeave....and the handle came off in my hand. Cue friendly Englishman chasing it down the carousel and hauling down the case amid cascading bits of splintered plastic, the remains of my handle contraption. Despite the man's best efforts to help me fix it back on it was beyond repair so I set off slowly for the station, alternately attempting to carry the 20kg weight and folding myself in half and wheeling it along by holding the actual body of the case. Tragic. Twenty minutes later, having managed to get to the station, sweating in my English jeans and jumper, I pondered what to do. I umm-ed and ahh-ed for a while over calling the ex, worried that if he accompanied me home I might have to spend the rest of the evening with him being awkward. In the end I called him and he didn't pick up, which was probably better for all concerned. I hopped on the train (or, more accurately lugged myself and the sorry, bits-dropping-off excuse for a suitcase onto the nearest compartment) and decided to get off a couple of stops before mine where there's a taxi rank and take a taxi home. I managed to get off the train and luckily a kind boy saw me struggling and offered to take the case. I'd stuck the deficient handle into the front pocket and the look of comedy surprise on his face when he pulled on it and his arm, attached to the handle flew straight into the air, was hilarious). He deposited me in a taxi and looked like he was going to do something embarassing like ask me for a coffee, so I steadfastly ignored him, willing the driver to leave. The driver, not sure what the situation was ("er, maybe he wants a tip?"), stayed put while the guy waved, tapped on windows and mimed telephoning to try to get my attention. In the end we managed to establish through a crack in the window that I wasn't interested, but thanks for the help anyway and off we went. I tipped the driver enough at the other end to get the case as near to my door as possible. Finally inside the house I breathed a sigh of relief and got on with making a well-deserved plate of pasta. Ah, it's good to be home.

ps, This is my second suitcase broken in a couple of years when going through Fiumicino airport. Has anyone had a similar experience? Are the luggage handlers particularly "enthusiastic" there or buoyed up on one too many coffees?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

All Change Please

For a while my life in Italy seemed to be like a runaway train. Not because unmentionably exciting things happened to me, but becasue life seemed to speed by the window as I sat neatly in my compartment watching the landscape pass me by. Opportunities to jump off came rarely and to be honest I didn't really consider taking the leap, comfortable as I was gazing out the window from my cosy compartment.

I am, of course, talking about my life with my ex-boyfriend E. He had been my stability, my constant, almost from the moment that I arrived in Italy. All of my 'firsts' were experienced with him. First ride on a scooter in Rome, first Italian sunday lunch, first shared electricity bill, first friends, first grin-and-bear-the sweat-patches summer in Rome. First sense of belonging.

Hard as it has been, in the last couple of months I have come to the decision to leap of the train and explore the landscape, hopefully discovering a few new firsts of my own. I'm hope I'll be telling you all about them soon.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rocky terrain

So I hauled myself out of biscuit-induced stupor in order to accept a date. "A date?" I hear you cry! "This one doesn't hang around!" Before you start giving me old-fashioned disapproving looks let me explain myself.

A large part of the reason E and I are on a break is that I'm not sure I can marry him because I still feel young and want more experiences. This includes romantic experiences. This particular experience was offered to me on a plate so I decided to grab it with both hands, hoping that it could help me understand my feeling for E a bit more, or at the very least that I could have an interesting evening.

This was the kind of date everyone expected me to have when I arrived in Italy, when I flummoxed them all by hooking up with an Albanian pizza maker instead. Fabio is tall, good-looking, well-dressed and speaks passionately on a wide range of subjects from philosophy to architecture to Beethoven. He asked me many questions about myself and was charm personified. He made me a beautiful dinner and got me a bit tipsy on good wine.

Almost perfect. Almost. But (and you knew there had to be one) the thing was, he expected me to have an opinion on everything. And while I am not stupid, I am most definitely lazy and tend to acquire knowledge only if it finds its way to my white matter by accident. I knew I was in trouble from the start ("so Francesca, which is your favourite Renaissance city"? Errr..). I tried to blag it but the questions just got more and more specific and more ridiculous so that in the end when he asked me what my favourite Germanic names were, things came to a head. I couldn't contain myself any more and burst out laughing.

Fabio looked confused and hurt. "What's so funny? Are you making fun of me?"
"Yes!" at the sight of his outraged face I laughed even harder "I'm sorry Fabio, but you can't ask a girl out on a date and then interrogate her on which are the most rocky landscapes in England or if she prefers Germanic or Latin names"
Fabio looked put out "Well, I find it interesting".

So that was my first date in 3 years. I haven't seen Fabio since although he's been in touch. Only time will tell if my lack of knowledge of Britain's rocky landscapes is an unimpeachable barrier between us or if it is the start of something beautiful.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On pause

Sorry I've not been writing too frequently, the thing is the above-mentioned Albanian and I have decided to take a 'pausa'. Yes, we're going on the famous 'break'. During the break I need to decide whether I'm going to make an honest man of him. Because that's what they do you see, in Albania-land. They get married young, have babies, and the women make cheese by draining socks of yogurt over the sink for 2 days. Whilst I'm not sure I'd be capable of making sock-cheese from scratch, the other two I have to at least consider as possibilities if I love E as much as I claim to. But this is a decision I want to make da sola, with lots of English objectivity and a fair bit of Italian heart-following thrown in too.

So, back to the pausa. So far I haven't had any life-changing revelations. It's gone something like this:

Day 1: Got out of bed only for two reasons: unfortunate necessity of work, get packet of biscuits to eat in bed.
Day 2: Moped into work. Went for dinner with friends, got horribly drunk before the meal was put on the table and couldn't eat any of it.
Day 3: General moping and squalidness. Trying to sleep on top of two inches of biscuit crumbs becoming uncomfortable.
Day 4: Today. Pro-activeness! Blog! Lesson-planning! Room-blitz coming up!

I'm hoping the pro-activeness will continue (although maybe with a bit less mania. I'm quite scared I'll give myself a heart-attack). I'll keep you updated and if you don't hear anything please send out a rescue squad to come and dig me out of my biscuity hovel!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In famiglia

It's been a busy and emotional time here at casa mia. I live in a house which belongs to a Puglian family. There are an Aunt and Uncle who live in the mini-appartment below, whilst their two nephews live in the house above, along with me and another housemate, Yasar.

I've been here since October, and we've all ticked along well together. Occasionally the aunt would offer me a homemade goody in passing, or the uncle would come upstairs to deliver fresh milk for the youngest nephew (apparently 21-year-old males aren't capable of keeping themselves in milk). I'd often hear voices raised in argument from down below or the aunt shouting up to her nephew Michele to come and get a nice hot plate of pasta.

Then one day a couple of weeks ago the boys' mamma Maria arrived from the South, along with various bags of produce, 3 different varieties of homemade cake...and a suitcase. Yes, it turned out Maria was planning on staying a few days. Never having had a controlling Italian-style mamma I groaned inwardly at the thought of the inevitable interference that would ensue. In fact it started immediately, with Maria taking issue with Michele's new girlfriend and banning her from the house while she was staying on Michele's floor (quite rightly too). This immediately caused a rift between son and mother, and Maria was left to the company of me and my Syrian housemate Yasar.

However despite my reservations, she turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to the house! If there was a problem, she'd sort it, if there was an old tomato, she'd make it into a pizza, if we were sad or stressed she'd sit us down for a chat over a limoncello.

While she was here the downstairs bathroom was being repaired and the boiler broke, leaving us with only one bathroom and no hot water for the whole easter break. What could've turned into a disaster zone with hysterics and a full-scale war against the aunt and uncle who refused to call the emergency plumber, was neatly averted by Maria who played mediator and even got us invited to easter lunch downstairs. After a few moments of tension all was fine and we happily stuffed ourselves, shouted along with the rest of them (it turned out the shouting wasn't arguing, it was just normal conversation at top volume), and admired the family photo albums.

Now Maria's gone back to Puglia, Michele's girlfriend is firmly re-instated in his room, and me and Yasar feel just a little bit lost without out Italian mamma. On the plus side, we're left feeling much more in famiglia than before, with the aunt bringing us some fresh jam tart, or even popping up for a quick chat. And mamma Maria has promised to come back soon to help us reorganise the kitchen and make some homemade jam. Now to work on those conversational shouting skills...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Learning a language

"Er, what was that again?"

Here are a few things I have learnt whilst learning Italian these past two and a half years:

  • I understand a lot more than I can speak. Maybe that's natural seeing as I'm a fairly quiet person in English too, or maybe it's a common phenomenon. I've seen people who've lived here for years who understand nearly everything but can't string a full sentence together. I guess you can exercise your ears with no effort but opening your mouth and forming the words takes a bit more dedication (who knows? I ain't no linguist). Anyway, this often leads to the frustrating situation of being in the middle of an interesting conversation, following everything and then wanting to contribute but not being able to find the words, so you end up always looking just a little bit simple.
  • Different people speak to me in different ways when they find out I'm foreign. There are those who speak extremely sloooowly and intersperse their speech with random words that they happen to know in English (but which invariably I don't catch because they surprise me in the middle of an Italian sentence and are often spoken with a strong Italian accent). This I find fairly patronising as quite soon into a conversation I think it's obvious that I have the capacity to speak at more than 10 words per minute. Then there are people who speak at normal speed, but perhaps slow down if they are explaining something complicated, or quickly ask "you know what that means?" if using a difficult term. These are ideal conversation partners. Then finally there are those that make no concession to the fact you are foreign, never slowing down and often using slang or dialect. They're a great challenge for an advanced level comprehension lesson, but less good conversation companions as you're always left lagging 5 minutes behind.
  • This is connected with number 1. Due to the fact that I listen a lot more than I speak, I am often called 'mysterious' or 'charismatic'. I am obviously nothing of the sort, I'm just trying to work out what's going on a lot of the time. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE being seen as a mysterious foreigner, but I have wondered more than once if my percieved aloofness doesn't stop people from approaching me.
  • I have learnt to love my accent. For a long time I wanted my 'R's perfectly rolled and I used to plan my sentences before walking into the shop and asking for what I wanted so as not to slip up. I just wanted to fit in really. No longer. I suppose after a couple of years I have realised that you don't have to assimilate to fit in; you can be different (ie, foreign) and still belong. In fact, since I let myself go and started to talk more to strangers I feel I belong more because the fact that I'm foreign can be a conversation starter, leading to more meaningful relationships. Ok, I am only talking about the relationship between me and the fruit-seller or local bar owner, but it's mostly these small things that give you that sense of 'belonging' in a place.

What has leaning a language taught you?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

On sport and keeping up with the pensioners

You know that feeling when the diet just isn't going ahead as planned? You know, when you can't kick that mid-afternoon sugary treat-trap. Or you are incapable of ordering less than three courses and a bottle of wine at a restaurant because it just seems such a damn waste of opportunity not to. And of course you are friends with loads of foodies who all want to outshine eachother by cooking and sharing with you their yummy creations. Since I am a exceptionally greedy and have the self-control of a gnat these are major obstacles to my post-christmas healthy eating plan (or perhaps I should do some goalpost-adjusting and call it "run-up to easter healthy eating plan" so I don't have to remind myself of the two months I have passed in eating).
As I have almost given up hope of changing my ways I decided that the answer was sport. I am profoundly unsporty but my boyfriend E has been known in the past to pull on a pair of shorts and, well, I don't actually know what he did afterwards because I shut myself in the bedroom to read with a bar of chocolate, only looking up again when I heard the door slam to see a red-faced E pulling sweaty layers off and getting into the shower.

So we organised a trip to the park, me in my mish-mash of 'sporty' clothes and set off jogging round the lake. Let me tell you something, it is a lot harder than it looks this jogging lark! I was being lapped by over-60s whilst going about 1 mph faster that walking pace. After one lap of the lake I collapsed in a heap panting on the floor. "Are you tired already?" asked E, jogging on the spot and looking at me concernedly. " ...think?" I managed to get out. "Just...bloody...go" (I don't think sport brings out the best in me).

Anyway, after that occasion we tried going together again but sadly after my 1 or 2 laps of the lake I was incapable of doing anything but sitting on a bench waiting for E to finish his one-hour marathon around the park. Not good for the morale.

Happily, I've now found a better jogging companion. My housemate is just as unfit and lazy as me and together we have contentedly jogged at snail's pace round the local park and done a few (but not too many) excercises.

I've now been jogging a grand total of 5 times and at the risk of sounding like a smug sport-convert type person, I already I feel loads better. I eat less and have more energy. Hopefully, by the time easter with all it's associated goodies arrives I'll be strong enough not to have to warrant a pre-summer diet!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Big fish, little fish

When I first arrived in Rome I was almost scared to leave the house. Not only because my Italian language skills were sorely wanting, but also because of the chaos on the streets that made my poor English rule-conditioned heart bound with panic every time I had to cross a road. And I don't even drive! Even facing a simple zebra crossing as a pedestrian had the power to inspire sweaty palms and a burst of terrified adrenaline as I finally took the plunge and stepped off the kerb, motorinos and cars either stopping just centimetres before me or swerving round me as I walked.

Needless to say I soon got used to it and I now step regally off the kerb, the power of my glance halting all but the most insistent motorinos. Those who dare to swerve past can skim my ankles and I won't even deign to turn my head.

When travelling as a passenger in a car I try to embrace a state of zen-like calm that helps me cope with the crazy traffic, parking arguments and contant near-crashes. My boyfriend E deals manfully with all this hassle, and indeed it doesn't seem to bother him. Just yesterday in fact he was waiting for somebody to vacate a parking space (spaces are notoriously difficult to find in Rome) when a woman pulled in front of him and put on her indicator, waiting for the same space. After a fair bit of swearing and some Italian-style gestures that I took to mean "bugger off and let me take my rightful space" the woman still didn't move on. At this point E got out the car, walked over and told the woman in as many words to bugger off becuase he was there first, thank you very much. During this episode I was slouched down in my seat dying of mortification. "Just give her the space" I begged "we'll find another one".
But it turned out the woman was playing dirty, and insisted that as she had "asked" (through gestures) the man who was leaving the space if she could have it, the space was hers. In the end she left, we parked, all was fine.

The moral of the story? You gotta learn the rules of the jungle. Or, more aptly, when in Rome, play as dirty as the Romans do.

But it's not necessarily always foreigners who are the fish out of water. Last week we went on a jolly to Naples. That is me, E and two friends Giorgio and Maria. The guys, who are both hardened illegal-hazard-light-using, parking-space-argument Roman driving pros, took turns behind the wheel.

As soon as we came off the motorway and drove into the city of Naples a change came over them. They were no longer the agressive, sweary, multi-taksing drivers I knew but nervous, attentive and careful strangers in a new city. We got a bit lost needed to ask for directions but every time the he'd rolled the window down halfway Giorgio lost courage and hastily rolled it back up, fearing every second person to be a Camorrista who might take against us. E turned on to a roundabout and needed to exit, but couldn't get off it. "Why won't anyone let me out?" he whimpered as cars seemed to come straight for us and close in on us from all angles. We parked the car and promtly a parcheggiatore (a guy who "helps" you park in the city centre then expects a fee) showed up and we organised a furtive and fearful whiparound of our loose change in the backseat of the car. In the end we gave two euros, twice what we'd give in Rome.

It was funny seeing these mouthy Romans when faced with Naples' mean streets turning into the equivalent of a pale English girl trying to cross the road in Rome. Maybe when the next time in Rome I close my eyes and pray when Giorgio overtakes on a corner or cringe as the 10-ton bus I'm travelling on screeches to a stop centimetres from the car in front I can remember our day in Naples and feel a little better.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Sorry for the lack of posts. My day to day existence has been taken over by the whims of an enigmatic lady, Dottoressa Urso, whose English lessons I am subbing for a couple of weeks and who, despite knowing approximately 20 words in English wants me only to help her translate European parliamentary documents for her forthcoming trip to Ireland. Er, good luck with that Doc.

Obviously, as she is paying the agency I am working for a fair whack and I am only subbing the lessons I have to bite my tongue and treat her with kid gloves like it seems everyone else does. (You know when you arrive somewhere and are told by her subordinates that this woman is "quite a character" you are in trouble.)

More soon.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Diet disaster

I have been trying to shed those post-christmas extra pounds ever since well, christmas, and failing miserably. The problem is my new line of work. It frequently takes me out onto the streeets and leads me nose-first into the enticing perfumed bounds of delicious treats. Whether they are sweet, savoury, creamy, crunchy, fruity, warm, hot or cold I have absolutely NO willpower when it comes to Italian snacking treats.

The first danger hurdle comes a little before lunchtime when I walk past a pizzeria al taglio (this is bound to happen as they are on practically every street) and smell the bready, cheesy yeasty smells wafting out. I decide that I definitely can't wait that whole half hour that's left before lunch, run in before my conscience tells me not to and order a slice of pizza bianca, a heavenly-when-still-warm concotion of pizza base, oil and salt. Here's a photo, though it can't do it justice:

I'm doing fine and my stomach is pleasantly full mid-afternoon when walking between lessons when I smell that warm sugar and cream smell that can only mean one thing...a pasticceria. And, if I'm feeling weak (most of the time), in I hop to order my fav mid-afternoon sugary treat, an occhio di bue ("eye of an ox"). The best ones are so overloaded with icing sugar that you spill it all down your front and then notice only 10 minutes after leaving, when you will frantically try to brush it off whilst feeling your mouth watering all over again with the memory of the delicious pastry. Here's another pic:

Finally, the day is almost over and my poor stomach thinks it's going to get a rest. Oh no! No you don't! Not if we're going to pass through Piazza Sempione on the way home and have to wait for the bus. Because why would we want to wait for the bus in the cold, at night, with the drunks and misfits, o stomach, when we could take refuge in the bright-lighted, coffee-scented night bar and get a fresh cornetto con nutella and cappuccino. Words cannot describe the genius of the cornetto so I won't try. I only want to say that I regret all the wasted years of my life eating boring po-faced savoury croissants never knowing there were these amazing butter and sugar concotions filled with heart-attack inducing creams and custards:

This is the ultimate Roman way to end your night if you've had a late one. If you're feeling particulalry weak of conscience you could even orchestrate a reprise just a few hours later at breakfast time.

Just make sure you start the diet on Monday...or even this year.

My favourite occhio di bue in Rome is from "I Dolcissimi". Piazza Ragusa, 6. Re di Roma area.

My local cornetto notte joint (and a very good one it is too) is "L'angolo russo". Corso Sempione, 13. Montesacro.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Improvised Surprise

I love singing and since September last year have taken part in a choir here in Rome. I have a great time rehearsing and doing concerts with them even if half the time I don't understand what's going on. I speak good Italian but if you put 25 very opinionated Italians who are passionate about the same thing in a small room and you get controlled chaos. I have learnt to sit there and smile serenely, waiting for the music to start while all aroud me arguments and mini-debates break out, the director shouts and people take the odd call on their phones.

This may not be like the uptight, disciplined Church of England-style choir that I grew up with but as long as you try and go with the flow it can be damn fun. The other evening I went to see a performance of some local Alpine choirs with a few other members of the group. Afterwards we went for the obligitary Roman slapdish pizza. After we had eaten the suggestions started...I had been to dinner with them before so knew their habit of striking up a song in 4-part harmony when the bill came to the delight (or extreme annoyance) of the other punters. However this time it was suggested we move outside as the already grumpy waiters were looking more sour-faced by the minute and putting chairs on tables.

So we wandered to the nearest piazza in the heart of Rome's student-land, San Lorenzo, and began to sing. Oblivious to the damp cold, the strange looks and lack of all the proper components of the choir we stood in a tight little circle and sang. Gradually we warmed up and the circle widened and let in new drunken friends or admirers, or people with requests. We must have stayed there for an hour or two simply experiencing the joy if singing in harmony together, not really caring if anyone was listening or not (although if we did get a few drunken cheers all the better). Eventually we decided it was time to hit the road and wandered back to our respective cars singing "Goodnight, well it's time to go".

It was a truly wonderful experience, and totally unique. I love the fact that my fellow singers are so passionate about song that they forgo having an early night or sitting in a bar and drinking for the experience of sharing music with friends and, if they choose open their ears to some great music, perfect strangers!

To listen to some excerpts from the choir head to

Friday, February 5, 2010

Trying to change gear

Do you ever feel that you never really left your angst years behind? Or maybe that you forgot about them for a few blissful years of freedom only for them to return stealthily in the night somewhere between your graduation ceremony and the day you recieved your first job application rejection?

I for one am convinced that the twenties are the new teens. I know, I know, it's not really a new idea; it's one that only dawned on me whilst listening to the Friends theme tune after not hearing it since my teens. Back then (in the late 1990s) I worshiped at the altar of Phoebe, Joey and co. and wished fervently from my damp bedroom in the south of England that I could share their glamorous lives and anxieties. My friends and I would sing the theme tune at break time- "so no-one told you life was gonna be this way, your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA" and then choose which of the Friends guys we would like to snog.

Now those lyrics resonate all too much and, ironically, I aspire to a simpler, more adolescent angst instead of this twentysomething monster horrible version.

Instead of worrying about not having the right brand of school shoes I'm now kept awake at night by such weighty issues as, When will I stop comparing myself with my peers? Develop a proper career plan? Pay off my overdraft? Decide which country to live in? Stop being afraid of shop assistants? Decide what to do about my love life? Stop reading gossip magazines and start reading proper newspapers?

Oh god, just writing all this makes me feel depressed. Right I'm off to comfort eat some Nutella and listen to a bit of "why me?" music. At least some things never change.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

Most of the time I've lived here I've worked as an English teacher. At the beginning I taught privately (this chapter of my life deserves a post all of it's own; my inexperience and some rather odd pupils made for an entertaining if not sustainable first stab at teaching). Then I taught for two years on and off in two different private schools. Unfortunately work in the schools is more "off" than "on" due to the nature of the extremely long (unpaid) holidays. I decided to save up a bit of money and try to build up my own private student list, which is what I'm doing now. In theory.

I have had a lot requests but not too many genuine prospective students up until now.
Let's start with the yummy mummys. These are the mums who usually live in rich areas of Rome and want a young mothertongue girl (becuase they think that she will be inexperienced/naive=cheap) to come and play with their little Luca or Ilaria in their bedroom speaking in English in the hope that they will magically absorb the language. I was that naive mothertongue girl two years ago and I can tell you that darling Alessandro refused not only to speak a word of English but also most of the time to aknowledge my presence. After two hours kneeling on the carpet talking to myself (and what colour's this lego piece? Red! Yes, red! Say Red Alessandro. RED, GOD DAMN YOU!!!) I would creak to my feet take my centesimi and run, praying that before the next lesson I'd have found another job. A fair amount of these requests have come through. Even though I advertise myself as a teacher, the mums often ask me to "teach English while playing with him/her" thinking that if they make it sound more like babysitting you will ask them for less money. Needless to say my "teaching english whilst playing" days are over.

Then there was the request from a man who asked me if I would go to the park with him and have a lesson whilst strolling round the park....could have been totally innocent but I'd prefer not to find out!

And the women who email me for information, and there I am gearing up with all my information for business english lessons and they then reveal they are emailing on behalf of their grown-up sons. Really!

Oh, and let's not forget those who have left their manners at the front door and email me a message saying something like "Hello i am looking for a old are you,where are you from?how long do you stay in italy.let me know.giorgia.

Honestly with entertainment like this who needs a job?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hairdresser Heaven

Can I just confess something? I HATE going to the hairdresser. Really, I hate it. I hate the stupid chatter and the "relaxing" head massage (don't know about you but I never feel relaxed when a stranger is rubbing my scalp whilst my head is being forced back unceremoniuosly into a sink), and most of all I hate having to look at myself in the mirror for up to (and sometimes over) an hour and having to face up to the fact that I have an undeniably round face. Honestly, there is absolutely NO hint of cheekbone. (But I prefer not to dwell on it if not in hairdresser's chair if it's all the same to you).

So imagine my profound depression as people from all corners of my life began to comment on my hair...I hadn't been to the hairdresser's for almost a year and it was getting quite noticable. I have no regular hairdresser here in Rome which makes it worse- if there were a pushy receptionist making me my next appointment as I sloped out after a cut then it'd be out of my hands. But I'd found my experiences here so far uniformly terrible I hadn't made repeat appointments.

Until now! I was taking a walk in the Vittorio Emmanuele area trying to avoid looking at my hair in shop windows when I walked past a Chinese hairdresser and a rare bout of motivation inspired me to open the door.

"Er, hello, do you have an appointment for today?" I asked.

"No appointment. Appointment now. Go to shampoo!" Barked a chinese man at me.

Right! Decision taken out of my hands! I go to shampoo.

"Go to him" directs shampoo boy after brief shampoo.

Go to cool-looking guy with asymmetric-type cut that you see in gel adverts and leather jacket.

"Cut?" he asks

"Yes" I reply

"Layers?" he asks

"Okay!" I reply

And that is the end of our conversation. I sit in blissful silence for a half hour and trust him to give me a good cut (he has asymmetrical 'do so must know what he is doing, reasoned).

He gives me a good cut! And as if the experience couldn't get any better I was charged only 12 Euro!

I may still have a round face, but if I could make an appointment for next time I would!

You too can get a stress-free haircut from an achingly cool Chinese boy at: Via Carlo Alberto 39B. Vittorio Emanuele area.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Some of you may know me from a previous blog incarnation "Sour Grapes in Italy" in which I blogged (moaned) about having a broken leg. Then I ran out of steam, was put back on my feet and the blog trailed off into cyber-lonliness until I retrieved and destroyed it some time later. And I didn't even say goodbye! I apologise, but am now happy to put aside that miserable chapter of my life and commence with a new, more positive blog. I tried to think of a positive catchy grape expressions to continue the grape theme but nothing gave me grape inspiration (ha ha) so for now I have this rather "blah" title until I am struck by grape genius. Maybe a glass of wine will help.....