Time travel; Foreign Travel

I feel that we’ve come somewhere foreign. I mean to say, it IS foreign, of course because, as I don’t go back to the UK, everywhere is foreign.

We draw up in front of a 70s-style restaurant. One that’s seen better days. F says this, and he’s right. There are round windows with their surround jutting out, like some sort of binoculars. The whole is painted in some rusty red colour but so that it doesn’t look painted but really looks rusty.

It would be the sort of restaurant that, in the 70s, would have been great to go to – modern, with fantastic (and, by that I mean exotic and never-before-tried) food. But, now, these days, you would give if a miss. If you were wise and cared about eating.

But it’s now just a little decrepit, a little run down, a little bit has-been.

But we’re not coming here to eat. This is just a transit place. We may eat here on our way back. But, actually, inside there are shops and bars and places to buy tickets – for this, as the sign said as we pulled up – is Lemezia International Airport.

I turn to F, as the plane has just landed, and ask why there is no applause, for the plane is full of Italians, maybe I am the only foreigner, and so I would expect clapping for the safe landing. He looks back at me as if I am criticising, which I’m not although I always find it amusing. I am somewhat relieved when, a few seconds later, there is the spontaneous applause starting at the back of the plane and moving forward, like a kind of Mexican wave. Good, we are still in Italy.

We get into the terminal. There are two baggage reclaim carousels. It’s a small airport even if it purports to be “International”. F will wait for the baggage whilst I go and sort out the hire car we have booked.

I go through the automatic doors, and, I act like the usual first-timer to an airport, looking about me, trying to understand; trying to get my bearings. After a few seconds, I am none the wiser and so I start to walk. I see some signs to the car hire places. It takes you outside the airport.

As I step outside, I am, indeed, somewhere foreign. A foreign land. A Mediterranean land. For outside the airport there are those stubby palms. And everywhere is dusty and dry, such as we don’t get in Milan until July and August. And, anyway, it FEELS different.

And then there are the airport dogs. Not like in Milan where they are on leads, coming with people to meet people, their people, people from their pack. These are unleashed and languid and their own pack. Here for scraps. They are big dogs and they know the places to sleep, as dogs do. One is an Alsation cross but a big Alsation. The other is white and indeterminate breeding. It adds to my feeling of foreign.

I see the pillar-sign indicating the car hire offices. It lists, downwards, the names: Avis, Sixt, Hertz, etc. But no Budget. We are with Budget. I consult the “ticket” I had printed out when making the booking.

“The car hire desk is located inside the main terminal”, it says, quite clearly.

I go back inside. I look. The terminal seems too small for a car hire desk to be here amid the few small shops and bars. I walk to a shop selling chocolate and ask, in my terrible Italian, if the Budget car hire desk is here.

She tells me that, No, it isn’t. They are all outside. F joins me and we go back out and follow the signs to the car hire offices that, like most small airports now, are “conveniently located” some walk from the terminal building.

When we get there, Budget is still not on the list outside. I am doubtful about the booking now. “Typical” is already forming in my head but I check the “ticket” once again. No, I did book it from the airport and not the town.

I tell F to wait whilst I go inside to ask. For once, he suggests that he will do it as, should there be any problem, he has the language skills to cope. I let him and a few seconds later he emerges calling me in.

I have booked a Fiat 500 and that’s what we get.

I’ve brought my navigator. We switch it on and type in the address and find what I hope is the right place. It’s near the sea anyhow.

The navigator, as it is wont, takes us, not on the major highways and longer route, but on the smaller (but main, here) roads, over the hills that form the foot of Italy. Or, Calabria, as it is properly called. They have, quite obviously, had a lot less rain so far than Milan but F informs me that it is much greener than expected. Even Calabria have had a crap spring.

The roads, as usual in the more rural areas, don’t seem to be quite understood by the navigator, it telling me to turn right or left when it’s a bend in the road and, sometimes, omitting to inform me to turn right when it thinks the road goes straight on. And so, we get the inevitable, annoying, “recalculating”.

At one point, we have to make a u-turn, which is always annoying. Around 4, half an hour after we expected, we arrive at Baia Dell’Est. The hotel.

It’s like a resort hotel. As we were coming down the hill, towards the coast, I spotted it and pointed it out to F. It has promise. It’s a hotel and restaurant. It’s much like a 70s style place, in my mind. We walk down the path to the reception. Patric comes out and F takes over, as he does everywhere we go – bars, restaurants, etc. It’s one of his “things” – yet still he calls me lazy when he speaks of my Italian (or lack of it).

Patric shows us to our room. Our room is, in fact, a small flat, with a bedroom, bathroom, lounge, kitchen and large terrace. The view is of the sea.

The place could be beautiful. Maybe once, in the 70s, it was beautiful. And modern. Now it is a little jaded and tired. And, maybe a little bit scruffy.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible, nor is it dirty. But it has seen better days. But, then again, it’s costing us €25 per person per night. Yes, our total stay is going to cost €150 – which is only slightly higher than the hire car!

We relax a bit and then decide to go to the supermarket to get provisions. We go back to reception. We ask about dinner tonight in the restaurant. But this is not really a tourist area and the restaurant is closed apart from July and August. They can, however, Patric offers, get us pizza or some other takeaway?

We ask about restaurants nearby. He suggests one. We ask about supermarkets and he gives directions. We were right to hire a car – you need one here.

We drive off. We buy water for F, milk for me and some chocolate for both of us. As we go to pay, K, the guy getting married (for that is why we are here), texts to ask where we are. I tell him and that we’ll be back in 10 minutes.

Patric has told us, already, that, last night, 270 beers were consumed by 30 people. He scratches his head. He doesn’t really understand the English. But, then even the English struggle with that.

The “English”, or some of them, have already started on the beers. We don’t say anything when we leave the hotel but now, as we come back from the supermarket, K is there. So is M, his bride of the next day. She had been there when we left but I wasn’t sure it was her (I met her once in Milan) as I remembered someone shorter and considerably fatter.

We say hello and they thank us for the present (which was money paid directly into their “holiday fund” account).

We go off to the side for a chat and he tells me that he is a bit pissed off as the guests didn’t hire a car and expect him to organise things for them to do – for here, there is really nothing! Poor guy. As if he doesn’t have enough to do without all that crap!

I tell F later. Apparently, English people are, generally, selfish. I bite my tongue a bit. F goes on to say that, obviously, not everyone but that S, his ex, was selfish.

I find it interesting because I would say the same of Italians! But F wouldn’t listen to me anyway. As I write this, I know that the problem isn’t that the English or Italians are selfish (though in slightly different ways) but that people are, it seems, inherently selfish.

We go to the restaurant. It’s ok. The main thing is that you can get a pizza for as little as €3! This is unheard of in Milan. But the food was quite nice.

Then back to the hotel. K, we know, has gone to pick someone up from the airport. I think we should wait for him but, although all (actually, not quite) the people are English, I don’t know anyone. We hang around at the entrance then some people speak to us, asking if we are friends of K or M. She explains that she is K’s mother and introduces us to K’s father – who talks with a strong Irish accent.

Whilst we are talking to them, an old colleague of mine comes over. It is R and G his “girlfriend” is in tow.

We chat with them and a Spanish lady and her sun and drink a beer. All around us, K’s family are getting drunk. I think the beer total will be superseded tonight!

We stay for an hour or two and then go to bed. Tomorrow (today as I write this) there will be the wedding.

The burning question – suppository or not?

I have mentioned, before, that Italians have things like colpo d’aria (fault of the air) and pain in their livers (which cannot feel pain) as some of the (very) strange illnesses.

What I haven’t talked about (because I didn’t know) was that they also seem to have strange ideas about cures.

The colpo d’aria, of course, can easily get to your neck which is why Italians like to keep their necks covered. Wearing a scarf is NOT a fashion statement but a requirement if you are to keep that nasty illness away (although it may well have become a fashion statement now, as well).

I’m sure, for the Italians, we, from the UK, are strange too.

Take suppositories. In the UK, no one would admit to taking them on the basis that the only things they are really good for are jokes.

For example, this:

A guy goes to the doctor and the doctor examines him and gives him a prescription for suppositories.

“Take two of these a day and come back in two weeks”, said the doc.

After two weeks, the guy returns and the doctor says, “Well, how did that medicine I prescribed work for you?”

The guy says, “Doctor, for all the good those damned things did me, I coulda shoved ‘em up my butt!”

or this:

A man with a bad stomach complaint goes to his doctor and asks him what he can do. The doctor replies that the illness is quite serious but can be cured by inserting a suppository up his anal passage. The man agrees, and so the doctor warns him of the pain, tells him to bend over and shoves the thing way up his behind. The doctor then hands him a second dose and tells him to do the same thing in six hours.

So, the man goes home and later that evening tries to get the second suppository inserted, but he finds that he cannot reach himself properly to obtain the required depth. He calls his wife over and tells her what to do. The wife nods, puts one hand on his shoulder to steady him and with the other shoves the medicine home.

Suddenly the man screams, “DAMN!”

“What’s the matter?” asks the wife. “Did I hurt you?”

“No,” replies the man, “but I just realized that when the doctor did that, he had BOTH hands on my shoulders!”

The only things I remember having as remedies as a kid were bread with hot, sweet milk and special kid’s disprin.

Not so here, it seems. (Nor, for that matter in France). Here, apparently, suppositories are the cure-all and are given to kids as soon as they are able to ‘do it themselves’.

I must admit I am quite shocked. I mean I don’t know of anyone in the UK who would use one to, for example, cure a cough. But last night, I was assured, it absolutely totally cures such a thing and is much better than syrup or anything else.

Who knew?

These foreigners, they ARE strange people, aren’t they? ;-)

And, apparently, it burns a bit – hence the title :-D

Of course, if you can’t see the REAL problem(s), what hope is there?

Italy is going through a period of change, right now. One could say, a period of upheaval. Not unlike most countries,I suppose.

We have what is known as a ‘technical’ government. The Prime Minister and the cabinet members have not been elected. They are here, temporarily, to ‘save’ Italy from the same fate as Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Monti (the PM) has been tasked with introducing reforms. The idea is that he will reduce the amount of government debt and reform the labour market to make Italy more competitive.

At the beginning, like Obama in the USA, he was hailed as the saviour of Italy but it’s now all turning a bit sour – just like it is with Obama.

The latest problem for Monti is his determination to reform the all-important Article 18.

Article 18 is a law that provides for any employee who has been sacked to be reinstated to his old job if judges think he was unfairly sacked.

Apparently, most of the time, the judges tend to side with the ex-employee. This is judged as the reason that Italian companies do not sack workers and why people stay in their jobs for EVER, thus depriving young Italians of a chance to get real, full-time jobs – and youth unemployment is very high here.

In order to ease the situation, some years ago, there was a law introduced making it much easier to hire workers on a contractual basis. It was cheaper for the companies and, of course, was intended that they could ‘try out’ a worker before offering them a full-time job.

But it didn’t really work out. Most employers renewed the contract for a couple of years (the limit) and then let the person go and found someone else just as willing (desperate) to work on a 6-month contract basis for a nice, low salary.

Monti (and many other commentators) seem to believe that, by reforming Article 18 and making it much easier to sack workers (who are bad workers, of course), it will free up the job market, providing employment to the youngsters and getting the Italian economy back on track.

Workers are worried that nasty bosses will just sack workers if their face doesn’t fit. Bosses think that the reforms proposed (enacted?) don’t go far enough.

But, in my opinion, they are all totally wrong.

First, it’s not the problem. And reform is not the solution.

The problem is much more complicated than this. The problem is Italian culture and this won’t be changed by the change in Article 18.

in my experience, certain young people get full-time jobs without a problem. They do this because they are from a wealthy or powerful family and their parents ‘call a favour’. In one case, for one guy to whom I used to teach English, his father simply created an Estate Agency and put him in charge. Making money was not really its major concern. Giving his son something to do, was!

Take the company I work for. Many people who work here are related. Cousins, wives, husbands, etc. It’s the way it works. Jobs are ‘found’ for people’s relatives. People ask if ‘you know anywhere that is looking for a xxx’.

Sure, it can be similar in the UK but here it is more so.

But it’s not just that. My first landlady here decided she wanted to ‘change her life’ a bit. She wanted a different kind of job. She was in the chemical industry. She thought she wanted to move into the Energy industry with a focus on renewable energy. In the UK, to change one’s career drastically, like this, is not really a major problem. Here it is virtually impossible.

She spent a year or more getting the qualifications that she needed. Then she found some work. On a temporary contract. The problem here is that people will look at your previous employment and, if it is not exactly relevant, will, quite often, dismiss it. It is very hard to change career. In the end, because it was just too difficult, she went back to the chemical industry. She didn’t have any other choice. And the only reason she was able to do it in the first place was because she had rich parents to support her. She’s mid-30s, btw.

Changing your career is simply not done here. Any skills you have obtained become almost worthless if you try to move out of your field. Getting another job in the same field is difficult enough – getting one out of your field is nigh-on impossible – unless, of course, you have the right connections!

Then there is the financial incentive given to employers to take on people under short-term contracts. They get to pay less tax and NI (National Insurance). Why take on someone full-time when you save money by taking them on a contract basis?

And, in addition, I don’t entirely believe that employers don’t sack people because of Article 18 and the judges, apparently, favouring the employee. I think there is a deep-seated fear of confrontation. Employers don’t want to confront employees. Everyone here wants an easy life.

Even here, in my company, there are numerous instances where employees appear to ‘take the piss’. Sometimes, something is said. But then everything just goes back to the way it was before.

And, remember, I used to employ many people – so I’m not predisposed to come down on one side or the other.

The worst thing about this whole thing is the belief by Monti and many commentators that changing Article 18 will be the magic wand that a) brings young people into employment and b) gives a kick-start to the Italian economy.

It is my opinion that neither of these things will happen with the reform of Article 18. It is a red herring and will change nothing.

Monti and his gang are a group of economists/bankers, etc. Look where they’ve got us so far! It’s like putting the prisoners in charge of the jail.

One day, people will wake up but with the false promises about the labour reforms that Monti is putting in place, this is likely to turn out the same way as Obama in the States. People will be disillusioned but everything will continue just the same. Except that, maybe, Italy will lose something important along the way.

I don’t see a good outcome, unfortunately.

On being short.

There are those days. Nothing can be done. It just happens like this. You just can’t be your normal, happy self.

And today, for me, it is one of those days.

I am a bit short with people. By that, I mean, of course, short-tempered. Not really angry or anything, just like ‘Shut The Fuck Up’ kind of short.

I know why. And, to be honest, F is to blame.

When I have a bad night, which is not often, I am careful not to keep F awake. But F is Italian and, therefore, just like driving, walking, standing talking, riding bikes and just about everything else, there is no thought as to how your actions might just be affecting anyone else. Nothing. Nada. Niente.

And so, during the night I was woken up. Several times. And talked to. Etc., etc.

And now I am quite tired.

And just a little bit irritable.

And, therefore, a little bit short. Which I recognise and feel bad about.

But not bad enough to stop it.


All growed up?

Of course, it could just be me but he does seem different.

A bit quieter. I mean to say, he still has his mad moments, still plays with the toys (always picking out the newest toys – carefully selecting them from the huge basket that, since F has been with us, is almost overflowing – and by ‘selecting’, he really does choose which one, taking a few moments to pick out one of the latest even if they are not on the top), still getting overexcited when F walks through the door, etc., etc.

But definitely a bit quieter. We were at the cafe this morning for breakfast. F had taken him for his morning walk and we met up there. Sure, he was pleased to see me but sat once I had sat. Watched for F as he went in to get breakfast and then remained sitting whilst we ate and drank.

Other dogs now are not necessarily so interesting unless they are female in which case his nose is often pressed right on their behind so that they look like two dogs joined together. Not all females. Just some. A suggests that this is because he is an Italian dog. I think it’s because he is a dog. But I can’t argue with A because that would just annoy me since logic is not his forte, even if he is an engineer – at least when it comes to things Italian.

No, it’s as if he is all grown up.

For me it’s not only his age but also because, now that Rufus has gone, he is not the little puppy anymore.

Or maybe it’s both.

But he has turned out, as I predicted, to be the best dog I’ve ever had. Not quite perfectly behaved all the time but, dammit, near enough and the only things he does wrong now (like his tendency to jump up) are because F encourages him to do it.

Yep, he is all growed up now.

Why trusting the police becomes harder

This was a few days ago and I forgot to post it.

As if the kettling and the tasering and all the other stuff they (the police) now consider is reasonable, isn’t enough.

They lost my trust some time ago but this just goes to confirm my worst fears. One wonders how many other things are ‘let’ go by ordinary people thinking that the police actually know the law and are ‘right’?

Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful.

Another strange Italian idea!

I’ve mentioned before now about the strange things that Italians believe in and how funny I find it.

I was in the process of writing a crap post but, at lunchtime, I was given the opportunity to write about something else.

A colleague, who originates from the South of Italy was asking another colleague about whether the chilli pepper (that he and a lot of Southern Italians sprinkle on most of their food) was bad for you. He was informed that it was not bad for you but black pepper was.

I couldn’t help but laugh. But, I was told that the doctors say this. “Which doctors? Where?”, I asked.

“All doctors, everywhere”, came the reply. I was astounded. I was certain that doctor’s in the UK did not say this and, in fact, that there were health benefits to using black pepper and said so.

“Yes, but you drive on the left”, came one person’s comment – said in jest, I have to add.

However, I had to check. I do know many Italians (including F) who dislike black pepper here. But this was the first time that I had heard of it being bad for your health.

A check on Google both for the health benefits and the possible harm of black pepper confirmed what I thought – although it MAY irritate your stomach, it is (they say) good for your digestive system. Obviously, eating it by the spoonful wouldn’t be advisable but, overall, as I suspected, there is simply nothing wrong with black pepper.

Of course, I am unable to compete with the ‘doctors say’ line from an Italian and have to admit defeat on this one. I will never be able to convince her that she is simply wrong and listening to old wives tales.

What I want to know is, where the hell do they get their ideas from? Anyone know?

We may both be in Europe but it doesn’t mean we’re the same.

Of course, I have long known it. More, I have blogged about it quite often. Usually, it makes me laugh although often that laugh is kept inside of me.

I have talked about it with FfC who now has a child.

It’s the illnesses that Italians get.

A often talks about his liver and how it is suffering. Or should that be how HE is suffering?. Yet, if this article on Italians and their ills is correct, it is impossible for you to ‘feel’ that your liver is bad. Indeed, until I came here, I had never heard of such a thing. I still find it very amusing, more so now that I know it cannot feel unwell.

I always thought the closest thing to ‘colpo d’aria’ was a stiff neck. I was always amazed by how much the Italians took it so seriously. Now, from the article, I understand that it can include illness to your head, ears, eyes, etc and so cannot be just a stiff neck. Again, until I was here, I had never heard of such a thing. Now that I look it up I find a translation that says it is a ‘blast of air’. I can’t even imagine the UK people too worried about a blast of air. After all, one of the things you can guarantee about the UK is the wind!

Let’s not get too pious though. The English (and Scottish and Welsh) DO have illnesses. We used to have a cold, a sore throat, a cough, (all three would be ‘flu), a headache, a stomach (or tummy) ache, etc. Nowadays this has become ‘flu, a migraine, stomach cramps. Of course, originally, a migraine was worse than a headache but since no one else can actually feel what you feel, how can they know that what you have is not a migraine but just a regular, plain, headache? As you can see, this is all invention anyway (although if some of my friends saw this they would argue that I didn’t have a clue, I am sure).

However, I loved this bit, which is so very true:

British mums hold their kids’ jackets so they will not get hot and sweaty while they run around and play. In contrast, the parks here in Italy are filled with pint-sized, quilted Michelin men, zipped up to their noses to stop the air getting in and hitting them.

In fact, the wearing of a scarf round the neck (precisely to stop the blast of air) is, I think, now, a fashion item here. Certainly, you will see people with a scarf round their neck even if they are inside a building or even outside, even if they are not wearing a coat!

Yea, Italians do make me laugh sometimes.

I just seem to be having a bad day – my visit to the post office; Christmas stamps

Dunno just not a good look this morning

You know. Sometimes you just get those days.

I saw the picture and, apart from the hair, it reminded me of the post office worker on Saturday.

I have to say that I really do hate going to the post office. As soon as I found out that I could pay bills via the tobacconist, it cut down my need to go to the post office to almost zero.

However, when you send parcels, it is impossible to avoid them (although I might try something different next time).

And so it was that the birthday present for Best Mate needed to be posted. I found an old jiffy bag and popped everything in it. I sealed it up very well and put the label on. And, Saturday morning, as I was already up early (the car tyres were being changed plus I needed to go to the vets with Rufus), I walked down to the post office.

They used to have a ticketing system – a bit like they have in the supermarkets for the deli counter – but that is gone now. Instead we have a system remarkably like the one in the UK. People queue. This wasn’t how it used to be but it seems to work now.

So I queued for the postal counters. Obviously, there were a lot of people queuing but it was OK – I had time. I got to the counter. The woman behind the counter looked a lot like the picture.

Now, as you know, being English, sometimes it is better to not speak Italian. Sometimes (but not always), I get away with things that I wouldn’t if I spoke Italian.

She tells me that I can’t send it like that.
I ask why not.
She tells me that a) the package is broken (which it isn’t but it does have a strip of something on it and so it’s not perfect) and b) that it’s dirty. By dirty she meant that the package had printing on it. In particular, the bar code used by shops in the UK to process the sale of the jiffy bag. Apparently, from what I could make out, the other post office workers wouldn’t be able to understand that this was part of the envelope and not a bar code they are supposed to use for tracking or sending the parcel!

Although, at that point I nearly laughed (based on the fact that I do find it hard to believe that their postal workers are quite so stupid), I didn’t. Instead I feigned stupidity and ignorance and not being able to understand much of the language. I argued (in my best English) for a bit and also tried the ‘I don’t know what you are saying’ face with silence and just waiting. Sometimes that works a treat. This time, although she got a bit frustrated, she cheated rather than give in to my intransigence.

Ah well, it was worth a try. After about 10 minutes, she managed to find someone else in the ever-increasing queue who translated for me. Apparently, I would just have to go round the corner to purchase a ‘new’ envelope and then I could come back but would not have to wait in the queue.

I went to the shop. I found a bag big enough and paid an extra €1.80. The bag was useless – too thin, not enough padding – were it not for the fact that I just slid my jiffy bag inside.

Then I went back. Of course, having started this pretence of not really understanding Italian, one must keep it up. It’s no good at that point, suddenly spouting Italian like you can really speak it (albeit with a terrible accent).

She wanted to know how it was to go. I said, in my best English ‘to sign for’, miming the signature bit.

I asked, in faltering and badly pronounced Italian, ‘When?’. She said Wednesday or Thursday.

On another postal note, I am almost at the stage of writing Christmas cards. I have ordered stamps, as every year. This is from a colleague who’s mother works in the central post office in Milan. The problem this year is that it seems there are no Christmas stamps!

Having checked previous years, on the post office website, the Christmas stamps are available from about October. This year, there is no issue of Christmas stamps or, at least, no Christmas stamps issue date showing. This is more than a little disappointing. V (the colleague) still thinks there might be some but I have my doubts. We shall see. Such a shame, though, if they aren’t doing them this year. Some, in the past, have been rather lovely.

Stepping back in time………….

You’ve seen the films. Usually American, depicting the High School Prom. The dancing, the essential glitter ball, the live band. Particularly from the 50s or 60s.

The strings of lights from the roof. Maybe, if it’s a dedicated ballroom, it has mirrors round every wall. If it does a dinner dance, the tables are arranged, length outwards from the longest two walls, leaving the central part as the dance floor.

You sit at the tables. Maybe you drink some wine. You have the first course and the band starts playing. Between courses, rather than going out for a cigarette, people start dancing. The cha-cha-cha, waltz, tango, etc., etc.

In those days, this WAS the Saturday night out. Couples went to enjoy time with their friends, eat and dance. All for a very reasonable price.


We have the address. An’s birthday was that day. She had been persuaded by her colleague (whose birthday it was last week), known to us as the Lesbico since she is lesbian, to join her birthday party.

An had an address. It was a street I have walked down so many times and yet, I could not remember any restaurant being there. We met up at An’s flat for a glass of prosecco and walked, together, to the place.

‘It’s a bit trashy but it should be super fun’, she told us. ‘The food is super good’, she added.

It was next door to the police station. ‘It can’t be here’, she said when we got to 2A. ‘But this is 2A’, I said remembering that there was a place offering dancing lessons. Yes, it was here alright. We walk down the steps, following the signs for the entrance.

We walk down some underground corridors. Quite wide, lined with that pale, fake-wood boarding. It was very well lit but strange. We turned left and then right and then left again, going through several sets of doors that had been opened.

We arrived at a bar. It had a few people sitting around. There were no windows but still very bright. But the ‘entrance’ was through the bar. I wondered what type of restaurant this could be.

We walked up a few steps.

We were on a fairly narrow balcony. The balcony had a railing over which was a …. ballroom. You could check your coats in for 50 cents. We walked along the balcony and down some stairs. It felt like we were a long way below ground – but that was probably not the case.

The room was a big rectangle. Round three sides were mirrors so the place did not have a claustrophobic atmosphere. What looked like trestle tables (but with table cloths so I couldn’t say they were) to seat 10 people (or 12 if there were people sitting at the heads of the tables) were arranged along the long-side walls, lengthways out from the wall. This still left a huge area in the centre. They had a small table in the centre on which there was a selection of salumi and some parmesan and a couple of buckets holding ice and wine. And plastic cups!

It struck me that this was similar to the Feste delle Unita things I’ve been to in those country places. This was not something I ever expected to find in the centre of Milan. It was like it was a volunteer thing and yet it most certainly wasn’t.

We all sat down at our tables. M (The Lesbico) had done the seating arangements for the five tables we had. All An’s friends were on one table with a couple of M’s friends to fill the table up – but, very kindly, M had arranged that these people spoke English. However, some of them had cancelled. It looked like there were the 5 of us plus another couple meaning there were four empty places. But these were filled later when people turned up to M’s party who weren’t on the list!

The other thing was that M had told all her friends that the women should wear dresses and the men, DJs. An had only found out that morning. M, we learnt, had also sent out special invitations.

There were probably towards 250 people all told. In the end we learnt that there were at least 3 birthday parties being hosted plus, along the one wall, people who really knew the ropes and seemed to come there often (I’ll explain later).

Just after we sat down, the band were introduced and started playing. They were a good band. Not a group to go and see in concert but tight and well-rehearsed.

There were bottles of wine and water on the tables. They started to deliver the antipasto which was a kind of vegetable lasagne. Not bad. Whilst we were eating that, they cleared the table from the centre. Then people started to get up and dance.

The staff were efficient. After the antipasto was risotto. It was OK (me, not being a big fan of risotto) but a lot of people didn’t really like it. Finally the main course, which was a veal casserole with polenta.

As it was An’s birthday, she had bought a strawberry gateau and that was our sweet.

And, for entertainment there was, of course, the dancing. We were struck by how good some of the dancing was. As we discussed, soon this type of thing will die out since most people of my age and younger don’t know how to do this type of dancing. I have tried (and I’m sure I’ve blogged about it) but failed miserably. My feet just don’t seem to be able to function for this type of thing.

F did get up and dance with this rather strange looking woman – short, no neck, a smile as wide as her head, short, black dress and white pearls (or beads, anyway). She knew all the ‘formation’ dancing that went on and was on a table on the opposite side of the wall to us – which I think was ‘the wall for the regulars’. Fabulous! In fact, she only smiled when she danced with F.

We met a couple on our table who were going to get married next year, although they seemed to have a definite disagreement going on about the honeymoon.

Oh, yes, and there was a tombola (that’s the English tombola not the Italian one). In fact, the woman due to get married (who was Irish but has lived here since the late 90s) won the second price – and overnight bag!

The whole thing (without the tombola tickets) cost us €20 each and it was a great night – so much fun.

I think it wasn’t so much ‘trashy’ as ‘old fashioned’ but so weird to find in the heart of Milan. However, if you have a party to organise, it’s a fabulous idea. I would definitely consider it as it is really a hidden gem.

If you wanted to know, it’s called the Sala Venezia and is at Porta Venezia. The link I’ve put is to a blog that gives more details (in Italian).