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?

I’ll miss you too

I'll miss you too.jpg

“I will miss you.”

Things rarely said become more effective when said.

“And I’ll miss the bambini.”

Well, of course, but that gets said more often.

We’re now into day 3 of at least 16 days. At least 16 because, as yet, we don’t know (or, rather, I don’t know and he may or may not know … yet) if he’ll be required to stay in London for a day or two when he gets back there.

I followed the flight. Most of the flight was over Russia. Russia is a very big country which, although I knew that, following the flight and hours and hours of flying over terrain without towns and hardly any names to rivers and lakes (or seas), I appreciated it more.

Apparently he slept little and watched four films. The flight was over 11 hours. He is seven hours or so in front. As I write, it’s about 6.30 p.m. for him and not even lunchtime for me.

Of course, I’ve been busy. His cousin’s son and his girlfriend came to see Expo and stayed with us. Except he was only there for the Thursday night when they arrived. They stayed until Sunday. So, really, they stayed with me and not us. It was OK. They were at Expo all day Friday and then all day and into the evening on Saturday.

On Sunday, after breakfast, I tried to tell them how to go to the new Porta Nuova area but it was difficult to explain with my bad Italian so I offered to take them. I did my usual walk from there down Corso Como, Corso Garibaldi and into Brera – then we took a tram to the centre of Milan and I left them there. I think they were grateful.

F just phoned me. He has to phone when he can which is not that often since he doesn’t want to run up a huge telephone bill. It’s OK. These snatches of conversation are better than nothing.

I will be quite busy over the next few weeks – also because he’s not here – and that will make the time go really fast. Plus I have a load of films to watch so it’s not all bad. It just gets a bit exhausting – getting up earlier to take the dogs out, doing everything that needs doing, etc. But it’s OK.

He is working too and won’t get so much time to go and visit the cities he will be in. It won’t really be a walk in the park for him.

But, I will be so happy when he’s back and, from his comment, so will he.

And, as I replied to him – “I’ll miss you too.”

Same thing, different country.

“Not one of them is Italian!”

“None of them?”

It seems not. Except the “foreman” or someone like that. Or, at least, he speaks Italian.

I ask what they are. I am told Romanian. Ah yes, of course.

There are lots of tut-tutting and shaking of heads. What is the world coming to?

I say that this is similar to the UK. A lot of builders are Polish or Romanian (I have read).

Except that, as an immigrant myself, I don’t tut-tut nor shake my head. I also know that there are many Italians who would rather not do this type of work – carrying heavy windows up the stairs, balancing precariously on the ledge where the old window was whilst fitting the new window. And, anyway, these people will be cheaper, I’m sure.

It’s not a job that I’d like to do and quite possibly, I would be crap at it anyway.

My old hairdresser was Romanian. I doubt if he could have gone round fitting windows either. A waitress (until the end of the month when she goes to be an air hostess) in one of the local restaurants that we like is Romanian. Romanians are everywhere and in all sorts of service jobs. It doesn’t make them bad people.

Still, the reaction from the Italians is much the same as I’ve seen from the British.

I am saddened by it.

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.

Portovenere photos

So, we had the day in Portovenere, which was truly lovely.

And, as there were three of us, many photos were taken. I give you some of the best:

As we were walking towards the harbour after just parking the car, A2 took this one of us.

The view of the town across the harbour.  F and I

Lovely, isn’t it.

After breakfast, we walked up towards the church (the one in the background):

We're walking up here to go to a beach

I thought we were going to see the church but not so, it turns out. Just before the church is a wall with a “window” and archway. Through the archway and this is where we’re going:

Not what I'd call a beach at all!

So, in my view, not really a beach but just rocks. Still, a pretty cove and the water was lovely – completely clear. We stayed there for a few hours. Here we are, sunbathing on the rocks:

Sunbathing at Poets' Cove

We leave and A2 decides she wants a picture or two of me sitting in the “window”, overlooking the cove we’ve just been at:

She has an eye for capturing a good photo (but then she did Art College with F)

After that, we walked into town for lunch overlooking the harbour but one last picture before we leave the church is of me overlooking the harbour:

Behind me is the harbour

And, then, we obviously stopped taking pictures, which is a shame because it’s a very pretty town.

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 :-)

Mice, men and plans.

Mice, men and plans.

“Maybe we can leave early?”

I have work, so it can’t be really early. But, as in less than two weeks, I shall be staying at work a little later (rather than go home before picking up Best Mate), I could leave half an hour earlier.

So, in order to be at home as quickly as possible today (Friday), last night, I went to buy cigarettes rather than, as I usually do, on Friday. And I bought that long-life milk to take down with me. That would mean that the only thing I would have to do on Friday night, on my way home, was fill up with petrol.

But, the best laid plans ….. etc., etc.

Of course, it was first mentioned, a few days ago.

“They can’t deliver the new furniture until Saturday.”

This is for the shop. Since he’s responsible for the layout, it’s important that he’s there. It was due to come this week, during the week but for some reason, can’t be done until Saturday. I ask if he has to stay and he says “no” but I’m not convinced. His boss has also told him he doesn’t have to be there. But I know he’ll feel responsible.

So last night, I met him and some of his colleagues for a drink. He tells me two things. 1. His brother (and girlfriend) will be staying at the house from next week (his girlfriend’s house got flooded and is being “worked on”) and, 2. he has to stay in Milan for Saturday.

Whereas I’m not really surprised, I’m disappointed (and very disappointed for him) on two fronts. First that his brother will “mess up” the tidy, super-clean house that he spent about a week doing, ready for our holiday and secondly that he can’t come down this weekend.

He’s quite angry and frustrated. With his brother and with the furniture thing.

I shall still go down tonight but it’s not really so important to leave early. My heart’s not in it. Without him it’s really not the same. But I’m going down because it will be so hot over the weekend and going down is so much better for the dogs, poor things. But, I think this year, we’ve actually travelled together only once. And, even if he annoys the hell out of me (switching off the air conditioning from time to time and not wanting me to smoke when I want and lots of “be careful”s or sharp intake of breaths because he thinks I’m not driving slow enough, etc.) I much prefer that he’s with me. In fact, I much prefer that he’s with me most of the time and this year he hasn’t been.

And, then, maybe, the weekend after, his brother will still be there so probably we won’t go down, which is a shame, mostly for him.

But let’s see. He wants to buy out his brother from the house. If his brother won’t give up his half, he says he will push to sell the house and then buy one of his own.

He’s angry and frustrated, I’m just disappointed. My plans were for nothing.

Express Train

There are just 2 weekends to go and then it’s almost our holiday. I say “our” meaning mine, since F won’t be with me the first week.

Instead, Best Mate will be.

I am just so ready for this holiday. The problem is that I know that the holiday will also pass like an express train so, although I can’t wait for it to come, I also don’t want it to come, if you see what I mean. For as soon as it starts, it will seem to end.

There is also the weather. As usual, it is incredibly hot. It is July and this is normal. The problem is that last year, the end of July also triggered a significant change in the weather, for the worse. I’m hoping this year is not the case.

People are, as usual, complaining that it’s too hot – although the temperatures are only in the mid-thirties °C (although the temperature felt is closer to the forties.) The rain which my forecast keeps promising is due in the next 10 days (for about the last three weeks) has failed to materialise – but today does seem as if it might rain.

Over the next couple of weekends, we’re going to try out a few restaurants nearby, so that I have places to take Best Mate who will be with me for just over a week. Obviously, we have some – Bati Bati (lardo and asparagus pizza), Venezia (fish), La Brace (meat) – but we need more. I have also thought that, maybe, one night we do a barbecue in the garden. We’ll see how it goes. I’m very easy-going about it all tbh.

So, only 17 days to go until I pick BM up from the airport and start my hols! Yeah!!

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!