It seems it’s back on!

We have been in a bit of a lull, as I may have mentioned before now.

There was a point (I think about April or so of this year) when there was, what I believed was, serious talk about us moving in together.

There are, of course, fundamental differences in opinion upon what is “the perfect flat”. In addition, there are fundamental differences on where is the “perfect area to live”.

To recap, these are “somewhere light and airy” (him) and “somewhere with character” (me). “Somewhere modern” (him) and “somewhere from the 20s or 30s” (me). “An area of Milan that’s cheaper” (him) and “the area I have always lived in Milan” (me). “New furniture” (him) and “don’t mind as long as all my ‘period pieces’ come with me” (me).

See how close we are? ;-)

As I may have mentioned previously, I was an ardent looker for flats that didn’t come through an agency (less money to pay up front). Until, that was, I gave the numbers of a couple of places that I had found and rung, to F for him to follow up and make appointments. When he didn’t do that, I stopped looking.

Recently, in the last few weeks, he has started looking again.

And, this week he came up with one through an agency which he went to see yesterday. It’s a small distance away and, more or less, in the same area. It has good transport links. The important thing (and the thing that means that he has listened to me) is that, as he pointed out, it is in a beautiful, 1920s building. And he explained that it really wasn’t so far from where we live now.

He loves it since it fulfils his requirements of being very light and airy plus it is not a bad price for the size.

Unfortunately, I have to see it in the light (the electricity has been turned off, obviously). To do that, I have to wait until the weekend after next since we are away this weekend.

But he loves it and thinks it would be perfect. He is worried that in a week it will be taken.

My opinion is that he may be right. My secret opinion is that, if he is right, then it will still be there in just over a week, in spite of what he thinks to the contrary. My secret, secret opinion is that, actually, if it is right, I will know as soon as step into the place when all other considerations will fall by the wayside. He doesn’t know of my secret opinions.

Unfortunately, I still have my concerns over this “living together” as I know I have mentioned in a previous post. But there’s no concrete objections or thoughts – just concerns. I’m sure we can work them out but, given that we don’t really discuss important things, the working out of them may take some time. So my concerns remain.


Dishes that Italians didn’t export – probably for good reason

Italians have exported so much of their food successfully that it’s hard to imagine that there are dishes that, I am sure, would never be a hit abroad – certainly not in the UK.

But, there are some.

As I’ve mentioned before, vitello tonnato (thin slices of cooked veal covered with a mayonnaise with tuna) would be one of them. We just don’t really do fish and meat together.

Another was something we had in the canteen at work. Pizzoccheri.

As it happens, I really do like this dish. It’s a bit like “winter comfort food”. It comes from Valtellina (a place/area very close to the Swiss border, in the Alps, north of Milan).

This is true winter food. Something to fill you and warm you from the inside.

But ……… to look at it, with it’s pasta the colour of mud and the look and texture as if someone had made a huge mistake and cooked everything just way too much to make it a cloying, tasteless mess, you’d be forgiven for turning your nose up at it. However, that would, in my opinion, be a mistake.

The pasta is a flat, ribbon-type pasta make from buckwheat. Hence, I guess, its colour and texture. To it are added boiled, diced potatoes and chunks of cabbage or chard and a delicious melting cheese that holds it all together and also makes the eating of it more fun, in that strings of cheese hold onto the rest of your dish as you bring the forkfull up to your mouth.

Pretty, it’s not. Filling, substantial and very tasty, it is.

Somehow, I can’t imagine this ever being a “hit” in the UK. Which is a shame.

I’m not sure that you have this in the South of Italy. Perhaps my readers who live there can tell me?

What do the Tardis and an Antarctic Hut have in common?

Sorry I haven’t been posting but there have been “issues”. It’s still not quite finished yet.

In the meantime, for you delectation, here are a couple of things I’ve been meaning to post.

The first is Google Maps’ inside view of Dr. Who’s Tardis.

The second is Captain Scott’s hut in the Antarctic.

In the first case, you are inside and can “walk around”. Be aware that if you go outside it will “vanish”, of course.

In the second case you can go inside the hut and walk around a bit. You can’t, however, go far from the hut.

Still, I liked them and have been meaning to put them up for ages.

Art – not so black and white

I’ve read a couple of articles recently that made me feel a little uncomfortable but, perhaps, not “normal uncomfortable”.

There have been many times when, for example, societies have burned books. Each time this is done, there’s an outcry. And the outcry is right, after all. I mean, literature is literature and it’s an art. There was also the recent “haul” of Nazi-looted art from some reclusive guy. Paintings that hadn’t been seen (or, in some cases, were unknown) were “recovered” and may, in time, go back to their rightful owners.

But, that latest report is about who owns the art and not about destroying it.

Some years ago, however, the West was shocked to learn that the Taliban were destroying ancient sites – ancient works of art. So, one would think, the West is more enlightened. In the West we would not destroy art just because we didn’t agree with it any more.

It would seem true if you read the article about the fake Madonna and Child that turned out not to be fake.

What an amazing piece of art! Of course it shouldn’t be destroyed.

Should it? But there is a problem with this piece. It is in ivory. That is to say, the tusks from elephants. These days, ivory is (rightly) an “unacceptable material”. So much so that, recently, a lot of it was destroyed. So, what to do with this piece? In theory, it should be destroyed, surely? But it is a valuable piece of historic art and, apparently, beautiful. In the comments section of the first article, there are some suggestions that it should be destroyed. But is that not the same as the burning of books or the destroying of ancient places – just because society, at that moment, think they are wrong in some way? At the time this Madonna was carved, society did not see that it was wrong to use ivory.

It’s not an easy question to answer. And I’m not giving an answer here since there is no correct answer to this paradox.

And then I remembered reading this piece on Saturday where there was some disgust and cries of racism and calls for the offending piece to be covered up. Again, this is art. It may not be to our “tastes” now but does that mean it should be done away with? If it’s in the setting of a primary school, does that make it worse? Or are we projecting our adult consciouses onto children who will see (probably) nothing in the picture?

I collected the Robertson’s Golliwogs when I was a kid. And I’m sorry but, for me, they weren’t a depiction of “black people” but, rather, dolls (or badges or figurines). Cabbage Patch Dolls weren’t real either. Nor were Barbie or Ken even if Barbie and Ken had some resemblance to real people. And whereas I agree that we should not, in general, have golliwogs available now, to cover up a piece of art is a different thing.

At the end of this, do we have the right to determine what art should be seen? Do we have the right to destroy art from a previous society just because it offends our existing morals? Or, if we have that right, does it make us mere Western-Taliban or Nazi-like? Who do we think we are that we can permit this to happen?

It disturbs me that we think we can have the right while, at the same time, condemning other societies for doing the “same thing”. It’s not so simple – not so black and white.

Gravity and a slightly strange friend(ship)

I went to see the film Gravity last night. It wasn’t in 3D but it was in English which was the best I could do.

Even if it wasn’t in 3D, it was fabulous – a gripping-the-seats fabulous, all the way through. Although at one point after about the 3rd or 4th “mishap”, I found myself thinking, “What! Another problem? Give the girl a break!”

It was, of course, better to see in the cinema and, I’m sure, have been better still in 3D.

I went with a friend. Well, I say “a friend” and, yet, not really that close.

A few months ago or so, she contacted me. It was unexpected. We were, really, friends of friends. I had met her a couple of times and even spent on evening at her place for dinner. But it’s not like we had each others phone numbers or lived in the same area of town. When my friend went to live in the USA, I thought that I would never see her again.

That’s not really true. The reality is that I never thought of her at all. That’s how close we were.

In fact, my friend, before going off to the USA, fell out with her and so, wasn’t invited to the wedding. However, when my friend was back over Christmas, it seemed she had “made up” with her.

Anyway, as I say, a month or so ago, she contacted me (I think via Facebook). She wanted to go for an aperitivo (a drink) one evening. I expected her to tell me something but, no, we just had a drink and chatted. And yet I felt something was not quite as it seemed. I mean, we never really “got on”, we don’t really move in the same circles and we have very little in common. So I kept asking myself why had she suddenly got in touch.

Then, suddenly, last week, she suggested we go to see Gravity. OK, so I wanted to see it but, still, it was strange. It’s not like we are bosom buddies or anything. So why?

Of course, it did cross my mind that I was just being a little paranoid. Perhaps she really liked me? Perhaps she thought of me often?

But, even so, the whole thing just didn’t ring true.

And, last night, I think, I got my answer.

She is going to be made redundant. She knew about 6 weeks ago. So, she’s networking and I’m a person who might, at some time, be able to put something her way. I guess. Not that I wouldn’t, of course and not that I mind being “used” in such a way – I would, after all, do the same.

Or maybe this is just me and she’s just being my friend?

But I don’t think so.

Marrone, maroon, catsagna and Chesternut 5

This, being Autumn, in Italy, is the time for chestnuts. I actually quite like chestnuts although F can’t stand them. Ah well.

However, if you buy the candied version, they are called marron glacé – the French name.

So, this morning I’m chatting with my colleague over coffee (you know, the one who has “blonde moments”) and, as she often does, she will be talking about something and then say to me,

“theword, you know what is?”

In this case, the word was castagna. Now, I do know what this means but sometimes I just reply “no”, as I did this morning.

She said, “oh, you know, marron?” This made me laugh. I explained that this was a French word, not English.

She seemed surprised by this. “But, Marron 5?”

This made me laugh more. What she meant was Maroon 5, the group. I had to explain that maroon is not the same as marron. But what really made me laugh is that all this time she has been thinking of Maroon 5 as Chestnut 5!

I said that the word was a colour – a sort of dark red (I always thought a kind of purplish-red although when I looked it up it’s supposed to be a brownish-red, the name having come from the French word for chestnut).

So, all these things turn a kind of full circle – castagna (It) = marrone (It) [both a type of chestnut and a colour] = marron (Fr) [as in marron glacé] = chestnut (Eng) which could = a darker version of maroon (Eng) [colour] = the first part of the name of a group, Maroon 5!

Of course, there is also a friend of F’s who regularly calls castagna “chesternuts” which always makes me smile.

I further explained to my colleague that Maroon 5 was a group name and said that, for example, a famous (in Italy) group from the 70s or 80s was Pooh – which, of course, could be translated as cacca as pooh is an alternative spelling of poo. Of course there is also Winnie-the-Pooh – but I always thought that name had something to do with Christopher Robin’s idea of fun, since children always think bodily functions are funny.

Anyway, while we’re here, let’s have a bit of Maroon 5:

and a little bit of I Pooh [The Shit, if you like] (who, if you’re not Italian, I’ll bet you’ve never heard of!):

2013 Italian Christmas Stamps

They are already out!

I have ordered mine.

The 70 cent one is, as usual, religious.

The 85 cent one (which I need for my cards to the UK) are the non-religious ones.

To be perfectly honest, this year’s stamps aren’t that wonderful, in my opinion. However, since Italy only do the two stamps each year, it will have to do and I really don’t go for the religious stamps at all.

So, to all you Brits sending your cards back “home”, get yourself to a post office and order some.

Arguing about food with Italians. Do I have mad cow disease?

Well, I have been here for a number of years now so I am, I feel, partly qualified.

Obviously, I have not tasted everything this wonderful country has to offer. For example, I learned today that there is such a thing as tomato mostarda – and, what is better, is I am promised some by a colleague :-). Mostarda is usually made with fruit (pear, fig, etc.) and has a special, very slightly mustardy taste.

The reason that I learnt about this is that we were having an argument about food.

Yes, an actual argument which, even if I am English, I didn’t lose, by the way. Even if there is a lot of English food that is really good, people here still think of English food as it was in the 50s, 60s and 70s which, to be honest, was not really great, in general. Then we found things like garlic and our cuisine improved at breakneck speed. However, I digress.

For lunch, in the works canteen, there was, for the main course, goulash with polenta. I do eat polenta but, when I sat down with colleagues at the table and one of them said something out my choice of main course, I couldn’t help but make some snide comment about polenta.

Polenta is, after all, as I pointed out, a “filler” in that it fills you up. What it does not have is taste. Nor, for that matter, a decent consistency. Imagine, if you will, some lumpy, badly mashed potato that has been allowed to get cold and then warmed up – but without any real taste.

I did say that “rough” (i.e. unrefined) polenta is much better in that it does have some taste (and mixed with a good Gorgonzola it is quite remarkable). However, I think “tasteless stodge” would be the best description for polenta.

I’m guessing that this was “poor people” food. You didn’t need to have much or any meat but some sort of sauce to give it taste and then, bingo, you had a filling meal!

The person in front of me couldn’t really disagree but tried. I explained again that it was, basically, a filler.

I then added (as I was in my stride) that Italians, who think they know something about food are, in fact, quite crazy and can’t really talk about “food” in that they have meat with fish – a very popular dish here. A number of years ago I would not have dared to do this. Now, I know what I’m talking about.

He knew what I meant. He said “You mean vitello tonato?” I did indeed. He then tried to say that it wasn’t really like that as it was only a sauce. I replied that it was a fish sauce ….. with meat. He agreed but said that there was only about 10% of tuna and mostly mayonnaise. I retorted with the fact that containing fish and tasting of fish, meant that it was, in fact, a fish sauce – and that insane Italians had it with, of all things, a piece of meat.

He then decided to try a different tack.

“Chutney,” he said.

“Mostarda,” I came back with. I think he knew he was beaten.

He didn’t like mostarda even if his wife comes from the place that makes “the best mostarda in the world”. He promised to get me some.

I Said how much I liked mostarda, especially with cold meats. He then told me about tomato mostarda and promised me some of that.

To be honest, rather than chutney, he could have come back with a lot of things but I’m getting better at this lark and can think up things to come back with.

The problem is that everyone think that Italians = food and English not= food which, of course, is too much of a generalisation and therefore, is always open to attack. In my case, whenever anyone comes out with something like “the English don’t know how to cook”, I have a number of things to hit back with – including vitello tonata and polenta. Italians don’t really equal food after all ;-)

Then again, it’s really all a matter of taste.

Who’s reading this?

The headlines read:

Migrants contribute £25bn to UK economy, study finds


How migrants from outside Europe leave a £100billion hole in the public purse: Amount taken in benefits and services is 14% higher than money put back

They come from different newspapers, of course.

In the detail, compare “Other immigrants [from outside the EU] paid about 2% more than they received.” with “Immigrants from outside Europe have taken £100billion more in benefits and services than they paid back in taxes, a major study revealed yesterday.” Why the difference?

The first statement looks at the 10 years from 2001 to 2011; the second over a 16-year period.

And, “Recent immigrants were 45% less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than people native to the UK and 3% less likely to live in social housing” but “According to the data, migrants are 20 per cent more likely to be claiming work tax credit than Britons. One in seven people claiming the benefit is a non-UK national.”

Hidden towards the end of the article in the second newspaper is “Professor Dustmann and his colleagues said: ‘Immigrants arriving since the early 2000s have made substantial net contributions to public finances, a reality that contrasts starkly with the view often maintained in public debate.'”

Of course, it’s all spun according to the main viewpoint of the newspaper and their readers. Let’s be honest, most people just read the headline and maybe the first two paragraphs – which will confirm what they already believe.

Personally, I’d call it “manipulating the facts”. From both of them.