Surprise! This one’s about food (maybe unsurprisingly.)

Italy still has the power to surprise me, even after all these years.

In this case it’s food (again).

So, for the last 5 years or so, I’ve been going down to the Tuscan coast a fair bit, especially in the summer. Of course, we have often eaten at someone’s home – real Italian home-cooked food. And, more often than not, it is delicious. There are things that F likes a lot and, as it’s his family, he gets what he really likes. I’ve never really paid much attention to it other than to like it and eat it. There are things I like less than others, of course.

For example, for breakfast, I usually have a pastry which has apple in it. F usually has the rice one. We don’t seem to see them in Milan but, to be honest, I never thought much of it. They are flat pastries, similar, in a way, to Eccles Cakes (i.e. a kind of flaky pastry thing) – but mine is filled with apple and his with some rice filling (although I’ve had it and there aren’t any bits of rice as you’d expect.)

So, this weekend just gone, we had visitors. One of his close friends from school/college and her boyfriend. Originally, they were coming to go to Expo (which, incidentally finishes on Saturday) but they couldn’t get up until Saturday afternoon so, instead, we went for a walk in the Porto Nuova area (the new area of Milan) and then on Sunday went to the Castle to see some exhibitions/museum things they have there.

The strange thing was that they were coming to stay one night (and not even 24 hours) and yet his friend (she is An2) was bringing the food for Saturday night. It all felt a bit wrong. She is, however, a wonderful cook and every summer we go to her place for an evening meal at least a couple of times. She always makes stuff that F really likes and there is always too much food.

Still, it all seemed wrong that they, as visitors, should be bringing the food.

We were going to be having lasagne and torta di riso.

So, on Friday, I mentioned to someone at work that they were doing this and got a blank expression when I mentioned the torta di riso. I had always assumed that every Italian would know about this. Basically, it’s a little like egg custard tart (which I love anyway and, as an aside, was one of my choices from the bakery when we had treats on a Friday when I was a kid) but, instead of a pastry base, it has a layer of rice on the bottom.

I tried to explain it (but it’s difficult if egg custard tart is not a point of reference.) But I then learnt that the food I’ve been getting in Carrara is local to Carrara! I don’t know why I’ve never really thought of it before. I mean, I had the apple and rice pastries which, to be honest, should have given me a clue since I’ve never seen them anywhere else!

So, I asked F about it. He explained that, yes, torta di riso was quite local. Even in Sarzana, a few miles away, they make torta di riso in a completely different way and, certainly, with many less eggs!

But, even the lasagne was different. Lasagne is known throughout Italy and the world but this is “open” lasagne (called lasagne sfordellate) and is basically small squares of pasta with a meat and tomato sauce. The pasta isn’t arranged in any way, it’s just like having spaghetti bolognese but using, square bits of pasta instead.

I remember having it a couple of times down there and I remember thinking, at the time, that it was strange that they called it lasagne (especially strange since lasagne also includes bechamel sauce, which this doesn’t have.)

As usual, the stuff she did was out of this world. The lasagne sfordellate was divine, the meat seasoned with herbs and spices and cooked in the tomato sauce.

The torta di riso was also divine, as usual. I learnt some things. 1. They use eggs (and I mean A LOT of eggs) when they do this tart with egg custard and rice. In this case, she had used 14 eggs! 2. It is baked in the oven (at 180°C) for 3 hours. Yes, THREE hours! And, on Sunday, was the day that I realised that the apple pastry and the rice pastry is not universal in Italy as she wanted the rice on and, of course, we couldn’t get it here (or, rather, we don’t know where one could be found.)

Of course, even in the UK, we have slight regional differences. For example, tripe is something I would only expect to find in the North West of the UK. But we’re talking a few things. Here, in Italy, there are so many things that are specific to a region.

So, here are some pictures, only one of which is the actual thing we had. The picture of the torta di riso is from someone’s blog where they only used 12 eggs, so, obviously, inferior ;-)

Egg custard tarts (although you can have a big one too)
Egg custard tarts

Torta di riso (I’ve never seen individual ones)
Torta di riso

Lasagne sfordellate with An2 as the model. Bless here. She’s promised to do me lamb with roasted potatoes when we go down again. Can’t wait!
Lasagne sfordellate

I have to say that I appreciate these foods we get in Carrara much more now. I understand the joke about the number of eggs better. I now know how much trouble they go to to create these dishes. Now F has the recipe for torta di riso so I expect one to be coming soon ………

Shit happens

Shit Happens

He’s been back just over a week but it seems like F O R E V E R!

I’m not really complaining, of course, but it seems I’ve rarely have a good night’s sleep since he’s been back. Such is life.

Last night wasn’t too bad except that I woke up some time around 3 a.m. and, amongst the many thoughts that crowd my brain and keep me awake, was this blog. Can you believe that?

It started off by me thinking about my brother. We haven’t “been in touch” for about a year. He stopped emailing since I explained that F’s dad was dying and that everything was a bit “up in the air” and then, even though I’ve sent an email (or two), – nothing.

I’m not particularly bothered by it one way or another but I do wonder why. And this led to the blog.

After all the trouble I went to to move it, for some reason which I don’t really understand, I’ve let it slip a bit. It’s not like I don’t have anything to say, it’s more like I don’t want to write it all down, which is strange for me. As I’ve explained before, I tend to use it as some kind of therapy and yet, right now, it doesn’t seem to work as well as it did before. Or something.

I still have the same doubts and fears about the most stupid of things but I either don’t want to write about it or can’t be bothered.

And, without regular posts, of course, blogs become a bit defunct.

And then there’s the blogs that I have listed that have suddenly become “private”. I have emailed the guy for one of them, Man of Roma, and he said he’d email me after the summer but then he didn’t. And, if you can’t see the blog, you can’t see what’s going on. Or, maybe he’s not posting? In any event, you can’t tell if there’s anything happening in his life (not that it was really about his life, as such.)

So, here I am, after the middle-of-the-night thoughts, posting something to explain why I’m not posting much. If you see what I mean.

I do have some shit going on, of course, as usual but nothing I can write about since I do need to try and sort it in my head and find a “way round” the problem (which is all to do with the effiing bureaucracy here) but let’s see what I can do first.

And, then there’s other stuff. But it’s not like any of it is exactly life-threatening, so it will keep. And it’s not like my life is terrible, as opposed to friends who are ill or dying or struggling with life in general.

And, anyway, shit just happens, right?

Days yet to come

It is possible, of course, that this is the earliest ever …. for me.

Yesterday, I ordered the first Christmas present for F. And, today another! So that’s two presents down.

But that’s not why I’m writing today.

I’m writing because I’m quite concerned. I am concerned that, in our desire to be correctly politically correct, we are forgetting some basic truths.

One that IS important is about rape, for example.

Let’s get one thing straight, in a perfect world, anyone should be able to walk down the street wearing what they want; to get drunk without fear of being raped, etc. The message (generally to men) shouldn’t have to be “Don’t Rape”” because, to be frank, it shouldn’t be necessary.

Unfortunately, this is NOT an ideal world. The message that should go out more should be “Don’t Rape” and with that message should be the education about what is rape and what is consent. But, in the same way that we tell people not to steal and not to drink & drive, there are some people who don’t seem to understand and, therefore, still do it.

Of course, we should try to educate them and get them to understand that what they are doing is wrong. But, sometimes, it is too late for they have already committed rape. And there are people out there who will, in the next few day, week, months, years, commit rape.

So, how is it possible to stop this without resorting to Minority Report-style policing? If we are unable to stop some men from thinking it’s OK to rape some women, what can we do to help? If you cannot stop the perpetrator, what else can we do? The only thing left is to address the victims. What can they do to help stop this? Well, for example, wearing a skirt which barely covers your arse, doesn’t help, surely. Drunkenly weaving about the street may also not help. Neither of these things will, necessarily, save you but it might just help a bit.

And, yet, were I to say those things out of context, they would certainly be taken the wrong way.

And so, I feel a little bit sorry for Matt Damon. Unfortunately, there IS discrimination against gay people, in spite of any legislation you may care to pass. In the same way, there is discrimination against women. But he was correct in saying that the best thing to do in his business, is to keep silent (about being gay – it’s a bit more difficult to be silent about being a woman, if you ARE one.) Again, don’t get me wrong. It shouldn’t be necessary. In an ideal world, who you go to bed with shouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to the work you attract as an actor. But it is. Certain people can “get away with it” but certain people cannot and, if you’re at the start of your career, don’t go coming out, was his message.

And now, some people are saying he’s wrong and homophobic. See, I don’t see it that way. He was stating a fact about the world as it is, not the perfect world that it should be.

On the other hand, if no one came out, ever, than things would never change. So we should applaud those who do it for they are the trailblazers for young people coming up. They are brave and they have, almost certainly, sacrificed their career and possibly millions of dollars by simply saying that they are gay.

It IS a changing world but I don’t think it’s right to jump down the throats of those people who are saying something that applies to the real, here-and-now world that we inhabit.

One day, I hope within my lifetime, a girl/woman will be safe to walk down the street and not get raped – even if she is wearing nothing at all, should she wish. And, one day, no one will be secretly penalised for not being “normal”.

But that day is yet to come.

p.s. The song, from one of my favourite artists, 2Pac, called Better Dayz came up when I was looking for a picture to post at the top of the post. So, instead, you got the song :-)

Time Warp

The whine by my ear and my futile attempt to bat it away wakes me up.

I look at the clock. It’s about 3. I thought it was later. I wished it were later.

I tuck myself into the bed. The bugger can’t get me now.

But, it’s far too hot. I just can’t sleep. I keep my eyes closed but I get hotter. I worry that, once again, I can’t bloody sleep. Of course, in addition, I have this fear that I’ll go to sleep and become so hot that I’ll automatically put my arms outside the bed and then the little bastard mosquito will get me. Minutes go by.

I hear the clocks strike 4. Surely, it can’t be four? I didn’t think I’d been to sleep and yet the hour seems to have passed too quickly.

I can’t get to sleep. I can’t stand the heat of the covers but I daren’t put my arms out. I just have to fit in one of the little tablets (or, rather two – one each side of the bed) so that the mosquito will go away or die. I get up. I fit the tablet things into the little holders and plug them in.

But then I have to wash my hands. This is really not helping. As long as I don’t wake up enough, I can get back to sleep but fitting the tablets, washing my hands and then going to the kitchen for a quick drink will probably make me too awake.

I try to get back to sleep. Already it’s half past four. Next it’s 5. It still seems I haven’t been asleep and yet half an hour seems to have raced by like 10 minutes!

But, now it’s nearly time for the alarm. I lie in bed, awake, like it seems I have been since around 3, my eyes closed, waiting for the alarm.

The alarm goes off. I put it on snooze for 5 minutes thinking that I may be able to snooze for 5 minutes and knowing that I’ll never be able to snooze for 5 minutes. It’s just wishful thinking. A minute before the alarm goes off again, I get up.

It is warm in the flat, even if almost all the windows are open with the shutters not quite down, so that the dogs can go out onto the balconies, where the normally sleep. I had put a pair of socks out the night before, thinking it would be a tad cold in the morning but it seems not. But, should I risk it or not?

Of course, my powers of deduction and rational, logical thinking are not good when I am still asleep. But, what the hell, it really is quite warm in the flat. I put on my short-sleeved shirt and my sandals (without socks, of course) and take the dogs out.

Even when we’re in the lift, I realise that I may have made a mistake. Whereas it’s not cold, this is 5.30 in the morning and it’s September – there’s a definite chill in the air.

We go outside. It’s too late to go back now. the dogs simply wouldn’t understand. I’ll survive.

The roads seem unusually busy. More like 7 or 8 o’clock than 5.30. I check some traffic lights that I can see in the distance. My mind struggles to compute that, if the orange lights are blinking then it has to be – what time? Well, before 6 for sure. At 6, they go back to normal operation.

But, as we reach the main road there’s a tram that’s quite full of people. How come, at this time in the morning?, I question. It seems strange.

Nothing about the night or this morning feels quite right. It’s as if there’s been some sort of time warp.

Without you.

It’s quiet. I open the door and I’m greeted by silence.

I feel free. I don’t have to rush. I can take my time. It’s great.

I don’t speak to anyone. There is too much silence. I rattle around in the place and it’s suddenly huge.

I can relax. When I come back from going out, I can just go to bed.

I am lonely. Even if we do our usual call. He is there, with them and I am here, alone.

It’s conflicting. It’s only for one week. He’s taking an extra week’s holiday as, after that, he’ll start going away a lot. So the dogs have stayed with him. So I am in Milan on my own which is both wonderful and awful. It is really nice not to have to rush to take the dogs out when I come home and, in the evening, when I’m tired and just want to go to bed.

But I miss them. I miss the fact that there’s always someone (thing) that’s so pleased to see me, someone who wants attention, someone that I have to look after. It’s very rare (in fact, it’s always been very rare) that I’m at home, on my own, without the dogs. In fact, I can’t remember a time since ….. well, probably some time in the UK, so at least over 10 years.

I’m trying to make the most of it – next week will be back to normal.

But, in the end, I miss not having them there, being in the bloody way, always wanting something.

I don’t think I could live without dogs.

And, so I give you this:

Yes, I know it’s not really relevant but it is a wonderful song, isn’t it?

Hello. Goodbye.

He texts me to say that the dogs were exhausted (destroyed, as he says) when he left for work.

He had taken them out for a walk and he lets them play, even in the extreme temperatures that we’ve been having (up to 36° with a “feel like” of the low 40s). But he had taken them out early, so it wasn’t so hot (still, it was 30° at 7.30).

He said they were so exhausted that they didn’t even say hello to him before he left for work.

Italians have a bit of a problem with “hello” and “goodbye” since they don’t differentiate. Salutare, ciao, salve, etc. are used for both hello and goodbye. They don’t really quite get (I’m SURE Chiara does ;-) ) when is the right time to use “hello” or “goodbye”.

As a default “hello” is used.

I try and explain, in a reply text that he should have said “goodbye” and not “hello” as “hello” is used when first meeting/seeing someone and “goodbye” is used when leaving.

However, F is a stubborn barsteward sometimes. He replied that he understood but that, if the dogs don’t see him for 2 seconds it is like the first time they have met. Which is, of course, kind of true.

And it made me laugh. And that’s why I love him.

I replied that he is the only person that will argue with me if I try to correct bad English – and I don’t often do it with him!

But the argument did have a point, as those of you with dogs will know.

The video of Hello Goodbye by The Beatles was the obvious choice :-)

Primark IS coming to Milan

I’ve seen it mentioned several times but it seems it’s true.

Primark will be coming to Milan (and Rome and Venice) within the next 12 months.

It will be interesting to see how they fare here but, given the number of people looking for Primark in Milan – evidenced by the number of hits I get on this blog where, until this post, I’ve explained (several times) that Primark doesn’t exist here, it will be popular.

The full story (or a story of Primark stores abroad) is shown here.

It had always seemed strange that they weren’t here but they explain that Italy would be “difficult”, which I can imagine is true.

But, YAY!

Life threads – so frail?

This was a draft post from March of this year. I don’t know why it wasn’t posted and, maybe I meant to say more. But I think it stands anyway. So, here it is.

As my regular readers know, a lot of the stuff I post is stuff in my head which bears no resemblance to what I actually do or say nor to what people who don’t read this blog think that I’m thinking. Nor, sometimes, to reality.

For the stuff in my head is intangible and floats and changes depending on the crap that I may be thinking about at the time.

And so, this morning, I wake up with that feeling of dread. Again.

There’s no reason for it. Or, rather, there are reasons but they aren’t real … yet and, quite possibly will never be real. They are, of course, my “nightmares” of the waking hours – as opposed to my nightmares when I am asleep, of which I’ve had plenty just over the last few days. Not the same. All different.

So, this feeling of dread. It’s as if something bad is just about to happen. Like I’m on a knife-edge of a reality where everything starts to go horribly wrong. And, yet, nothing has gone wrong so far.

But the feeling persists. Maybe it’s the recent incidents involving V? After all, the fall from who he was to what he is now (as far as I can tell) spans less than 6 years. Can a normal, ordinary life have so short a thread that is can become unwound in such a short time? Well, yes, of course. And I’ve known that for such a long time too. I remember teaching a guy on a programme called Restart – a government funded programme to get unemployed people into work.

This guy told me how he’s had a good job, wife kids, house, etc. And within a couple of years lost it all simply by being made redundant. He’s been a roadsweeper at one point and told me of having people spit at him. He was a decent guy who wanted to work but then, all those years ago, by the time you were over 50 you were considered “past it” (I was about 25 at the time and I was teaching people how to rewrite their CV, write letters, etc.)

And, of course, from that point it’s not far to be one of those people without a home, no prospect of any type of job and sleeping on the street.

Identity. Crisis?

Another draft post. Certainly not finished but I as can’t remember what I was trying to say, I’ll just leave it as it is.

From about November 2014.

Identity is quite a strange thing, isn’t it?

And by that, I mean to say, the way that you identify yourself and the way that you project that identity is strange. Of course, it’s “flexible”, as it depends on the situation you’re in or the way that you feel.

If you were asked to list the things by which you identify yourself and in the order which typically classifies that identity, how would you do? I mean, starting at the beginning, what is the one thing that absolutely, critically, makes you “you”?

You might say, “Engineer” or “Retired” or “Teacher” or something like that. But, in reality, this does not make you “you” since there are many other people who could claim the same thing and, in any case, surely what you “do” is not really that significant.

You might wonder what the hell got me to thinking about this? Well, it was yesterday or the day before, when I was thinking that, actually, I don’t feel very much like a “gay” person and I didn’t want to “be” one. Please don’t misinterpret that. It wasn’t that I suddenly wanted to be “straight”, just that I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into that category. I didn’t want to feel like I had to “dress up” to that image.

And that got me to thinking that, in fact, in general, I don’t follow that line. Being gay is actually not really me at all. Being gay is just a single aspect of me that means I view men as “sexual” partners rather than women (and, I should add – not all men – in fact, few men – just in case you got the wrong idea!). It doesn’t really explain/determine many other aspects of me.

For example, I like the colour blue. It’s my favourite colour. Many of my clothes have some blue involved. I choose many “blue” things over other things that are not blue. Yet we don’t try to define people by what colour is their favourite colour. And, why not? Because it makes not a jot of difference to us …………….