Just like Christmas?

I arrived home on Friday evening, having picked F up from the airport, to find a stack of goodies that had come in the post.

First there was an eBook reader that I had bought at a discount. This is to stop what happened during the summer where I was left for almost a week without a book. In future, I shall have books wherever I am (in theory). It’s taken me most of the weekend to set it up but now I have one book already on and I shall look for more in the coming weeks.

There were also a number of (real) books that I had ordered. Having finished Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, I am now ready for the next one which is a choice between:
The Tenth Chamber – Glenn Cooper, the third in the series;
The Weekend – Peter Cameron, who I saw this year at the Mantova Festivaletteratura;
The Haunting Of Hill House – Shirley Jackson;
Maddaddam – Margaret Atwood, the third in the series.

I also received a calendar for next year. This, you might think, is not so special except that the first photograph (for January) was taken by Best Mate’s eldest daughter, so rather special.

The weather is quite crap now. It’s much cooler and we had a lot of rain overnight although, in spite of the forecast, it hasn’t been raining all day.

All made up for by the fact that Friday night almost seemed like Christmas :-)

G*y Best Friend?

Nearly all my best friends (although I only have one “Best Mate”) tend to be straight females. Some are straight males. Absolutely none are gay males.

So I’m disappointed to see that Tesco seem to have pulled the chance for me to have a gay best friend of my own! :'(

Read all about it here and tell me who wouldn’t want an gay male blow-up doll? Hahahahahaha

Being at home; Opinions

Well, it looks like last weekend was the last time in Carrara until next spring/summer :-(

This weekend, if the weather forecast had been good, we were going to go down but the forecast strongly suggests that it will rain all day on Sunday so we’ve decided not to go. Instead it will be our first weekend in Milan for ages.

To be honest, I am quite looking forward to it. There are things that I haven’t done at home that, in theory, I can do this weekend. Bits of sorting out, etc.

I say “in theory” because, normally this would be true except that this weekend, F has someone staying at his flat and so he will be with me, in my flat, ALL weekend. It may not stop me doing everything but it will be a hindrance. Also, I won’t be able to start watching things I have been “saving up”. Things that I wouldn’t watch with him (i.e. films in English; films of a genre that I know he doesn’t like, etc.)

Among these things is Game of Thrones. Someone told me that, having watched the first episode, they were hooked and told me to watch the first one and I would understand. So I did. And I don’t. However, that hasn’t stopped me watching the second and third episodes. And I shall be watching the rest of the first series but after that, I’m not sure.

You see, I’m not convinced that it is really good. So, why am I watching it still, you may ask? Well, because I have hardly watched anything “English” since the spring – discounting short clips or YouTube videos and, after such a long time (a little like the books this summer, I guess) I’m kinda thirsty for hearing the English spoken word and so, almost anything goes.

So, I’m not sure if it’s my thirst for English driving my desire or if it’s really good. I know that, were I still in England, I would have watched the (first) series but here, as it’s more difficult for me to watch English stuff, I tend to be more discerning since it takes time to get hold of stuff and it costs.

Of course, when I say “discerning” this is not strictly true. I did, over the last few weeks watch the series called Episodes. Again this was a recommendation. It was OK. It’s a sitcom. Sitcoms are OK. They are not WOW!

I suppose that what I’m saying is that, in the UK, I would plonk myself in front of the TV and watch something. Anything. Every evening. Flicking through the channels until settling on something even if it was only the least-worst thing on at that moment. Some things were, of course, genuinely good. A couple of things that spring to mind are Fawlty Towers and The Sopranos. I did get Broadchurch (TV series) and, have to say that I really did enjoy that.

I realise that I’m a long way behind with Game of Thrones but, for me, that’s OK. Since I don’t have to wait for a whole week until the next episode, I can catch up not having “other programs” in the way.

Anyway, my suggesting that Game of Thrones may not be the most-wonderful-thing-to-have-hit-the-small-screen-since-the-last-most-wonderful-thing may cause some people to be upset. And can I say that I’m genuinely sorry about that. But it is, I would like to say, only MY OPINION.

In the same way that, in my opinion, authors who are gay and write about gay things don’t write good books. Of course, I haven’t read every gay author so I may be wrong. it is from my experience. The gay books by gay authors that I HAVE read aren’t really all they’re cracked up to be. I’m not saying they’re not good writers. It’s just that the books don’t say anything to me – they don’t bear any relationship to the reality of my life and, so, are unreal. I know, I know. When I can read books that are obviously fiction (SF, for example) – but those books aren’t pretending to be about real life. Books about gay people, for me, should have some elements that I can relate to. So far, they don’t. And so, in my limited experience, gay books written by gay authors are “no good”.

Which leads me onto the current story about some almost unknown author who has, apparently, made an inference that books by women, homosexuals and Chinese people are not good.

Except, he didn’t really say that. What he said was (and I paraphrase) that he hasn’t read many books by these authors that he feels passionate enough about to teach them and that, the only books he can be passionate enough about to teach are, in the main, by white, middle-class, middle-aged men.

Now there’s a whole storm brewed up here and on Twitter about him.

Which is a shame as he was asked for his opinion and he gave it. Whereas I may or may not like the man in person, his choice of reading material for his courses are entirely his concern. He may, in the opinion of many it seems, be a self-righteous prick and worse but I’m guessing he’s good at his job and, out of the hundreds of thousands or, maybe, hundreds of millions, of books to choose, he has chosen particular ones. to be pilloried for stating his opinion is a bit much. But this is the world we have created for ourselves, I guess.

Anyway, a good weekend to all and see you on the other side :-D

I don’t think I’ll ever understand Italians :'(

Many people here take “half a coffee”.

They can’t drink a “whole one” as it’s too much. The machine we have means you have a capsule and, by pressing a button, YOU determine how much liquid goes into the cup. In general, this is a mouthful (this is not the UK or the USA). This is an espresso.

However, instead of just stopping the water soon after it’s started, they choose to do a normal espresso and then pour half of it into another cup (and then give it to me).

But I suppose we (from the UK and USA at least) are used to drinking a coffee rather than just having a taste of coffee, like the Italians. Still this half-coffee thing doesn’t really make sense to me.

Nor so does mustard. Not that they have mustard here. They have senape which is a vinegar flavoured, thick sauce. No hint of “hot”. Today I had some deep fried, doughnut-style-non-sweet-dough, wrapping some cheese and onion mix for lunch. And the cook, bless her, added senape. Now, mustard goes with meat and only pork (and ham) and beef at that. It doesn’t go with cheese and onion. Even if it isn’t really mustard. So I didn’t eat it.

I suppose it’s much like veal with a fish sauce. That doesn’t go either and makes me feel quite sick just to think about it!

Italians! Great food (in general) but really, really, really weird as well.

I don’t really belong

I don’t think I’ll ever be something other than a foreigner in a foreign land.

I mean, I’ll never be totally relaxed. I came to this realisation whilst driving the dogs to the pineta on Sunday morning. I reached the traffic lights and, as I sat there, waiting for the lights to turn green, it struck me again that it’s not the place I am “from”. To the right is a place that looks a little like a timber yard – except that it sells marble. To the left is what look like a run-down workshop – except that it is a place where marble is carved into headstones and statues. The weather is warm and there is not a cloud in the sky and yet it’s towards the end of September and I am dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. This is not deepest Herefordshire.

It’s not such a bad thing – it’s just that it is, in a way, a little bit frightening. I don’t know that you will understand that and I’m not sure that I do either. Still, there it is.

The night before I had been with the family. This was the close family. This was F’s Mum’s birthday dinner. So F’s Mum and Dad, his sister (with husband and niece), twin brother (and girlfriend) and him (with me). There’s no strangeness from his family towards me at all. I am accepted completely and surrounded by his family and, in some way, feel part of it.

We went to Ristorante Venanzio in the small town of Colonnata, near Carrara which is situated deep in the mountains and surrounded by the marble quarries, famous for their white marble. It’s also famous for it’s Lardo di Colonnato, which I love.

Normally, when we go to Carrara for the weekend, we arrive sometime on Friday night and, usually, we drop the dogs at home and then go to Bati Bati for a pizza. I always have the pizza with Lardo, asparagus and aubergine (egg plant to Americans). It is one of the very best pizzas I’ve ever had. And, even now, writing about it, my mouth is salivating (really)!

However, at Venanzio, we had Lardo as antipasto (along with a load of other, very nice, things) which was “to die for”. So tasty. F’s brother told me that they have a special source for it and you won’t find it for sale anywhere else, even in the small village of Colonnata. We had a selection of pasta dishes (my favourite being Lasagnetta with sausage sauce) and then, I had lamb. Unfortunately, like most of Italy, the lamb was only so-so. Not a replacement for La Brace. However, I tasted F’s rabbit with lardo. It was slices of a rolled rabbit joint with lardo and herbs filling it. It was incredible.

Service was excellent (but we were the first there). Sweet was a cake (as it was F’s Mum’s birthday) which was very nice.

It wasn’t so expensive – about €40 each, including wine (4 bottles), a glass of sweet desert wine with the cake and a digestivo. Would definitely go again, the only downside being getting there (or, rather, getting back). The only way is via a narrow switchback road from Carrara – so you really MUST NOT drink and drive!

Anyway, you should go there for the Lardo!

Sunday was a day on the beach and it was one of the best days on the beach. Now, being the end of the season, half the umbrellas have been taken away so there’s much more room and, of course, a lot less people. Now, at this time in September, you can sit in the sun all day without becoming too hot – the breeze is cooling, the sun not so fierce. And so we do.

F talks about coming down next weekend, if the weather is good. It will be the last weekend – the beach closes at the end of September, the café is doing some sort of buffet spread on the Sunday. F suggests we might take a few hours off on Monday so we can stay down Sunday night. Let’s see how the weather is.

But, even here, on the beach, I have the same kind of feeling as I had in the car. It’s not really my place. Even if I feel relaxed and read (I finished “Bring Up The Bodies” – Hilary Mantel, which was great, btw), I almost don’t really belong.

“I’ll be back”

Thank goodness for that! Berlusconi has made the equivalent of a Queen’s Speech and told us that, not only is he starting a new party but he is also going to stay in politics, for the good of Italy, whatever happens in the Senate vote.

By “whatever happens in the Senate vote”, I mean “when they kick him out of parliament for (finally) being convicted of something”.

By “the good of Italy”, I mean “for the good of Berlusconi”.

By “stay in politics”, I mean “influence said party because he has so much money and control of major media”.

By “starting a new party”, I mean “revamping the existing Berlusconi-for-everything party and making it a Berlusconi-for-everything party with a name from the past (so that will be just changing the name, then)”.

By “Queen’s Speech”, I mean “self-opinionated load of diarrhoea”.

By “Thank goodness for that”, I mean “OMG”.

It would be “I’ll be back” except, in this case it’s more of “I’m NEVER going to go away”.

Still, it always good to have something that’s stable (as in always there) in politics. And for that, you can count on him.

Where is our Charles Dickens?

Whilst I was on holiday, as I’ve mentioned, I read many books, including one of Dickens’.

Dickens was very much a social commentator of his time. Many of his books show the greed of his fellow man, the cruelty and, more often than not, the social injustice that we understand was prevalent in Victorian times. If you were rich, you were fine but God damn you if you were poor. If you were poor, you relied on handouts, were thrown in jail for becoming bankrupt (even if it was through no fault of your own) and, as a last resort, there was always the poorhouse.

There was no such thing as “social security”, since there was no security. Some rich people gave money to help the poorhouse but most did not. The people running the poorhouse would not think twice about starving the poor they were supposed to be looking after – “Please sir, may I have some more?”

His idea was to give a nudge to society, a wake up call, to change things.

And they changed. Particularly during the 50s, many things were introduced to change people’s lives for the better. We had a National Health system, there was help when you became unemployed, no one had to be homeless. There was a safety net. We no longer have poorhouses and people are not so desperate that they had to rely on handouts.

Erm, well, now it seems that in the UK (and elsewhere, including here), we seem to be proceeding towards a Victorian era again. Social security benefits are often referred to as Benefit handouts (with no sense of irony) by the DailyHateMail. Food banks exist. I mean to say, food banks EXIST! How is that possible? How, some centuries after Oliver Twist asked for a little more tasteless gruel, did people become unable to feed themselves but instead have to go to places to be handed food just to stop themselves from starving?

People like Tiny Tim are again alive and, erm, not well. In fact, once they get to working age they are, more often than not, considered to be “fit to work” and so get their “benefit handouts” stopped to “encourage them” to find work.

There will always be people who will “crack” the system to gain more at the expense of others. People who will cheat the system. The focus, for some, is the so-called “benefit scroungers” but, surely, the tax avoiders/dodgers are the ones from which the most money will come, if you’re really serious about improving the lot of the country in general?

Dickens was a great political commentator allowing people to read his stories and find within them the necessary moral statements. Of course, not everyone would read his stories. After all they made uncomfortable reading. I mean, children starving – not a nice thing to read about, is it?

What we need now is another Charles Dickens. A Charles Dickens of our time. Instead of the White Knight or Robin Hood, where is our Charles Dickens when you need him?

This is the Endy ……. and other Italian/English things.

I don’t and can’t get upset about it.

F’s Mum has a problem with my name and it’s become a bit of a joke within the family. Even though she has been corrected a number of times, she still calls me Wendy. It makes me laugh and I thought it was only her but it seems not.

M, as I mentioned in a previous post, booked tables in the two restaurants for me. As she booked the table, in both cases, she told them that it was Andy with a “y” (ipsilon), just to be clear.

For Griffone, the table was, indeed, reserved. There was a handwritten note on the table with my name. Except it wasn’t quite my name – it was, in fact, written as Endy.

It made me smile.

On the differences between the language, Italians (those who know something of English) realise that adding “ly” to an adjective creates an adverb. So quick becomes quickly, horrible becomes horribly, etc.

Except, of course, for exceptions. One of these exceptions is “hard”, especially used in situations where you mean “a lot” – like work.

It makes me laugh to read “I was working hardly” when what they mean is “I was working hard” :-) But it’s not really their fault – the rule is well and truly broken for this word.

And, of course, there are those words that we use that have more than one meaning – except that, the meanings don’t always coincide – making them, somewhat, “false friends”. If you say that someone is/seems miserable you mean (quite clearly) that they are/seem unhappy, sad, etc.

Unfortunately, miserabile, in Italian, when used to describe a person, is something like low-life or wretch. Not quite the same thing.

Second Floor?

“It’s on the first floor,” he says.

He gives some instructions but I only listen to the first bit – “turn right out of the lift”

My room is 257. Strange that. Usually, rooms on the first floor start with a “1”. But I don’t really pay heed.

I turn left and follow the signs. I’m in a hurry. There’s a beer with my name on it. It’s Mantova. It’s what I do here.

After twisting and turning through the maze of corridors that seemed to go on forever, I see the sign for some rooms in the two-hundreds pointing up some stairs.

The room IS on the second floor after all. And now I remember him saying something about “stairs”.

I reach the second floor and see why. There are a handful of rooms on this “dead-end” floor. The only way back out is down those stairs to the first floor!

It felt like it had taken me about 20 minutes to get here.

Of course, subsequent journeys to my room were quicker – seemed quicker. But it’s always that way. When you don’t know the way the journey doubles or triples in time and distance but once you know the way, then it’s OK.

Anyway, “second floor” made me think of this. Enjoy

Suzanne Vega – Luka

Invisible flights.

F is due back from Greece today and I’m picking him up from the airport.

There’s just one problem. The flight (almost) doesn’t exist!

In fact, I had so much trouble finding any reference to it that I began to wonder if he had all the details wrong.

I knew which airport he would be flying from so, as normal, I checked, on Flightstats, the arrival airport looking for a flight from Greece. Not only wasn’t there one but there weren’t any late-arriving flights at all!

So, I try the other way, looking at the departing airport for a flight to the arrival airport. No flights to and from the airports.

Since I didn’t have the actual flight details, I texted him for them. He gave me the flight number and the departure and arrival times. I looked up the flight number on Flightstats. Maybe he had got the flight number wrong? The flight didn’t exist. I tried on the arrival airport site. The flight didn’t exist. I tried on the departure airport site. The flight didn’t exist.

I wanted to text back to say that the flight didn’t exist but I didn’t.

I looked up the flight number on Google. Nothing. I tried with and without spaces. Still nothing.

I found out the letters at the front of the code were for Ryanair. I tried their site. The flight didn’t exist. I tried to select the airports and find the flight. I had nearly given up.

I looked at the timetables. The timetables didn’t go through to tonight. But you can search. I tried Origin (departure airport) and Destination. There were, apparently, no flights today!

I tried the flight number without a space. Flight not found!

I tried the flight number with a space. The flight is there, at the times that F gave.

But this is the ONLY place I can find it. Flightstats doesn’t recognise it, the airports don’t recognise it and, mostly, the airline itself doesn’t recognise it! It seems very, very strange to me.