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

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.

Words and deeds. Chalk and cheese.

Just like eating food, here, means that people talk about food, so going on holiday leads to people talking about holidays. Not always this one but future ones.

Sunday. Lunch. It was F’s Dad’s birthday and it reminded me that it was only a year ago when I first met ‘the Family’. In fact, this time last year, we went to the same restaurant, the day after his birthday. For his birthday, the whole family went to a fantastic restaurant on the side of a mountain. The Sunday was a lunch at a restaurant at the beach.

We’re back at the same restaurant. This time it is different. This time I know the people and they know me. There is talk – of holidays. F is suggesting that we could go to Sicily next year. There is talk of his sister coming plus brother-in-law and niece. Apparently, I learn, they have a house down in Sicily too!

I’ve never been to Sicily. I have been told it is a wonderful place. I would very much like to go. He asks if I would like to go and I say ‘yes’.

There is talk about the travel down there – plane, boats and road. I think F wants to take the plane from Milan. His brother-in-law is suggesting ferries. The first leg to Naples and the second to Messina. It’s cheaper that way. Each journey will be about 6 hours, apparently.

It is accepted that I will be there. I like it a lot. Even if S gets mentioned quite often, it’s not said in any way to make me feel uncomfortable (which it doesn’t). Anyway, it seems that barring the detail, next year it will be Sicily in a house I didn’t know about!


Of course, words are one thing. Deeds are another.

We’re at Polpetta with An, last night. The talk is of holidays. Her parents have a house in Puglia. F says that we will go there next year. I say it would be lovely. Of course it would. I learn that F hasn’t actually been back to Sicily since he was about 12!!!!!! He says it won’t be a real holiday since it would mean having to go round to relatives all the time. And lots of eating. But, since he hasn’t been there since he was 12, I’m thinking that he doesn’t really know. It’s OK anyway. I know these are words. Words are very different from deeds – at least, to him.

We differ a lot.

I empathise with the Sicily problem although, quite obviously, I don’t see this as a problem. I can empathise because I’ve heard it several times before. So when I say ‘Yes, of course’, I mean ‘Yes, of course, I’ve heard this before’. When I say ‘It’s not really a holiday’, I’m repeating what he has already said to me and not because I actually believe it.

So, this year is set. One week in Carrara followed by one week in Umbria – where we went last year.

Next year is only words. It’s OK. Maybe it will be Sicily or maybe Puglia or maybe just Carrara (He’s mentioned that already as it will be much cheaper). To be honest, I don’t really mind, as long as I’m with him.

Oh yes, and last night it is mentioned that we shall be going to Sardinia in May. Or maybe St Tropez. Or some place in the very south of Spain. It’s his friends 50th birthday and she wants to celebrate big time. I wonder when he knew? I wonder why he’s only told me now? Still, words are only words.

The bulldog that changed into ……… a pig!

Maybe it was the snorting. It happened approximately every five minutes.

At first, as I was sitting there, opposite him, I thought of a bulldog. I thought about this blog and this post and thought that, yes, he was a bulldog. His hair, almost straighter than mine, which is impossible but you get my drift, thinning but there and floppy but not in a Hugh Grant way, with a fringe over his brow like a young boy – which, undoubtedly, at one time, he was! His weight problem had probably been with him since birth – but if he had made any effort to address the problem, he had failed most spectacularly; his glasses certainly did not fit nor suit his wide face; his smile was as false as the latest breast enhancement.

Bulldogs are ugly dogs, for certain. And they have a problem with breathing. They have fat, ugly faces – stocky without any beauty. The snorting was a little like them. The face was a lot like their face! And, when, at the very start, us not giving him exactly what he was there for (even though it had already been stated in advance that we were going to be doing something else), the anger in him came to the fore and there was a red face and shouting and blustering and threatening. And that’s when I thought that he reminded me of a bulldog.

We went out, our customer and I (for it was someone from the customer of the customer of our customer). I advised that, I would, really, throw the man out of the company. He made some calls.

During the rest of the meeting the bulldog rarely spoke. I was informed later that this was because ‘he had been spoken to’. It was during this time that the snorting came to the fore and, for me, dominated the meeting. I wondered if he actually had any friends. I wondered if he did have any friends, why they had not, out of the kindness of their hearts, advised him that this snorting business was not only distracting but quite horrible; and disruptive!

The snorting got me thinking of him as some sort of pig! And then, in front of my eyes he changed to this:


After the main part of the meeting, I went and got him the document he had been requesting. However, he wanted to see one filled in. OK, I said, but this would be archived. I will find the last one (from 4 years ago). When I presented him with it, he asked for an explanation. The document had been stamped by the relevant authorised person within the company.

‘How do we know who did this stamp?’. Not an unreasonable question. I went to get a print out of our Quality manual.

I presented the relevant document showing the name and the details.

In Swedish, he queried to another man that how could they know that this person actually used the stamp. Hmmm. This is a man who obviously wants to travel back in time to see this happen. I wonder if a video of the man actually doing this would have sufficed? I doubt it.

Later, when I refused to have something put in the minutes, I explained that, in spite of the evidence we had provided and the quality certifications we had obtained, some to the highest levels for our industry, this man had refused to believe the documentation – that he thought we were not telling the truth.

In the end he was looking for a way to ensure that we were not to standard – or, rather, had a single flaw that he could pounce on to show that we were not competent.

He was a bully; a rude, objectionable, bully.

And so, I wrote a letter today, after discussing it with my MD, obviously, barring him from coming here. As I explained to her this morning, if it were my company, this is what I would do – after all, it’s not fair on the people here and no one should be subjected to bullying by an ignorant, incompetent, pig!

Five minutes away and yet ………

“I’m going to stay at yours tonight because I will miss you so much”

That would have been nice.  Instead, the reason given was that “I won’t see the babies”!

“But you will”, I protest.

“Yes, I know but I won’t be there with them at night”

“But you can stay, you know?”, I reply.

“Yes but you have visitors and it will be difficult”

Of course, I’m not upset that he wants to be with the dogs.  It pleases me a lot that he likes them so much but, you know, it would have been nice if he had said that he would miss me too.  I’m not really complaining though, it just crossed my mind.

Italians are funny when it comes to hospitality and staying with other people.  We (people from the UK) are definitely more relaxed about it all.  He seems to worry that he can’t stay at mine whilst Best Mate is here.  I have explained it’s OK but to no avail.

I only wonder if I will miss him so much that one night I have to go and stay with him?  Of course, as the dogs will be clean and with short hair, they could come with me – but then I would leave Best Mate alone and, so, I probably won’t.  So, 5 nights without him and yet he will be just 5 minutes down the road.  Hmmmph!

The meaning of X; why do I put myself in these situations?

When I was a kid, we used to write cards (birthday cards and the like) to grandparents, sisters, brothers, etc.  Always it ended with ‘Lots of love X’.  If you were really generous it would be even more ‘x’s.

I had always assumed, like one does, that everyone did this.  Here, quite often, people end with ‘baci’.

More recently, I have stopped using baci but have been putting ‘x’.  It seems that things are not (and it has taken me about 45 years to find this out) quite as I thought and that not everyone uses an x in place of baci.

Not only don’t they use it but they don’t recognise it!  Who knew?

So last night, on the phone, I was asked why the ‘x’ and was it like a signature or something.  So I explained and, in the process, learnt yet another thing that separates us from the Italians, culturally.

So, catching up with friends, as I was last night.  Telling them of the guys and why I was dropping some of them and why others were working (maybe….early days yet).  Now, I spoke to Best Mate the other night.  Told her about the sweet guy.  She was fine.  Another friend was fine…..one friend was not….

It got me to thinking, this is my problem really.  I put myself in situations that other people find hard to take.  But, and here is where the real problem lies, it is my opinion that it is their problem and not mine.  I don’t do the compromise very well.

And so, should I take up with the sweet guy, then I am sure to lose some friends along the way; people who remain ignorant; people who, because it does not seem to have touched them, still think of HIV as something that is a gay plague and that it is the fault of the person who has it and that it can be transferred just by touching, or something equally preposterous!

That’s a shame because, other than this one thing, they are nice people – but I know that I won’t compromise on it.  And that bit is my problem too.

In the meantime, my date for tomorrow (Gordon) returned to Milan from a weekend away.  He is feeling tired.  Hmmm.  This could be the prelude to bailing out for tomorrow night………shame because I found that I had missed our chats online.  Still, it will all be for the best, whatever.  Also, my piano player from Pavia is saying that Sunday will be difficult.  Hmmm.

Still, I still have Varese on Friday night.  And, tonight, hopefully I will see my friend A who I have not seen for a little while…..which will be nice.

Let’s talk about Net; It’s hardly working; Still, ‘no’ won’t come out of my mouth


You have to sing the title to the tune of “Let’s talk about sex!”, if you see what I mean. At least, that was what was going through my head as I thought of the title.

Firstly, sorry to those of you who couldn’t read my blog yesterday. There was going to be a post but at about 9.30 a.m. or so our time, my blog went off-line. There then followed a slightly bizarre exchange of comments between me and the hosters of this site – 000webhost.

It started off OK. Instead of saying that the website was down, which is what I usually do, because I knew it was something to do with the database, I went for that instead.

They replied that I would have to upgrade if I wanted help with scripts. I didn’t as that wasn’t the problem. But then I had to go into more lengthy explanations as to why it was down.

Eventually, at about 3 in the afternoon they came back with “it will be fixed very shortly”.

By the time I got home and got my creaky, old laptop up and running, it had been about 3 hours. I rated this as a reasonable time to start asking again.

I got the reply that “it can take up to two hours”. Now I know that this is hosted somewhere where English is not a first language and it is completely free, so I feel I have to cut them a bit of slack. And, having taught English as a Second Language, I am aware of the way that something can be miss-said. So, I didn’t go mad but thought that, perhaps, what they really meant was that it might take up to another 2 hours. I responded to clarify my thinking.

It seems I was right. But the reply was a typical, non-mother-tongue-English speaker, using the word hardly instead of hard. It happens a lot here too. The response included the line “Our head admin is hardly working on it”. It makes me laugh every time. At work or with friends I do, gently, correct them. For those of you who are Italian it should read “Our head admin are working hard on it” or, even better, “Our head admin are working very hard on it”; hardly being very little – almost nothing and hard being very much.

So, this is being written at home and I may get it up there tonight but, probably, it will be tomorrow (i.e. Saturday).

So, I apologise for being off-line but that’s life and the hosting people are, overall, one of the best free hosters I’ve come across. I am toying with the idea of paying for it and moving more sites there but I will wait a little longer.

In other news, you’ve probably read about the British arm of Google/You Tube cutting off the supply to premium British content over the wrangling about how much they pay the artists. Now, in my opinion, there are pros and cons for both sides. However, the Music Industry need to get real. If you can’t find it on You Tube, because it’s been blocked, the obvious place to go is one of the more illegal download places – and then the Music Industry lose the money all together. It all seems a bit crazy to me. A little like the Luddites from the past. I realise that someone has to work out a new model but burying your head in the sand is just not the way.

And, as I suspected, I was asked something else – not the same as before (and that question may, even, still be open) – but very, very similar. Of course, I could not refuse but it makes me very, very nervous. And, of course, if I get let down again, this time, it will make things much more difficult in the future but, at least, I shall be more likely to say ‘no’, I guess.

Well, if it all goes horribly wrong then I shall, no doubt, lose my new flat and then I am likely to be very angry. However, all things being equal, I sign up a week on Tuesday and move in on the 15th of next month. I can’t wait! It will be home, at last, in a country that should feel home (and does, when I’m away from it), rather than a place of transience.

Tonight (or last night as you read this) we are off to FfI’s for a supper and drinks. It should be nice.

Update: Up early this morning. Worried about the question asked. The things that need to be done. There’s a lot of reliance on me; a lot of trust that I need to have but is, sadly, lacking. And yet, still I can’t say “no”. Damn!

The Rose Sellers of Milan

From the comments on the previous post, I felt it was time I spoke about the rose sellers on Milan’s streets.

Italy, as you probably know, has very porous borders and illegal immigration is a big problem, here. This, in spite of the fact, that, as a throw-back (or so I believe) from the fascist era, everyone is required to carry identity documents with them at all times and show to any policeman, if requested – and we have a lot of policemen around and about.

Still, it seems that illegal immigrants are everywhere. Of course, having got here, they have to support themselves in some way. It seems that many people from eastern Europe become restaurant waiters or openly beg in the streets; people from the Philippines/Indonesia areas become cleaners/nurses; people from Africa sell bags/belts/CDs on the street; the Chinese work in China town or as cooks in restaurants and, people from the Indian sub-continent sell jewellery on the street or roses.

And it’s the last category that I want to talk about. They come out, generally at night, as that is when most people are out dining for pleasure. They carry a bunch of roses – about 10 to 15, long stemmed in a single colour (red, pink, blue) and they sometimes sport an instamatic camera.

They are, from what I can tell, given an area to work. I don’t know whether they buy the roses or are given them. Either way, they must have to sell a certain number or they have no money/get beaten/something else. They are persistent. As smoking is, generally, not allowed in restaurants and many people here still seem to smoke, it is common practice for small groups of people to leave the restaurant during the meal to get their nicotine fix. These are the people first approached by the rose sellers. The rose sellers proffer their roses by pushing them right under the potential punters nose. Usually the man but sometimes the woman. They don’t move. A ‘No, grazie’ doesn’t seem to put them off. In fact, they are quite happy to stay there, smiling and, if they have the camera round their neck, proffering the camera to explain that they can take a picture of you with the rose. They are likely to proffer the rose more than once and often will not depart until you show signs of obvious irritation or, even, anger.

Some restaurants let them enter and some restaurants don’t. For the ones that don’t, they will, sometimes, risk the wrath of the owner by going in anyway before being chased out.

Obviously, the best places are the more touristy areas. I guess these places are saved for the best ‘agents’.

So the real question is – should you buy a rose or not? If, by buying the rose, you are perpetuating this problem, shouldn’t you NOT buy a rose? I know someone that will always give them the €2 (or whatever the amount is) and not take the rose. Some time ago, I made the decision never to buy and I never do but I do feel a little guilty, knowing that they have to earn some money somehow. And I do feel somewhat sorry for them. It’s hard enough being a legal immigrant somewhere without having the illegality of it all to the problem AND having to work watching the rich people (comparatively speaking) enjoy an evening out – and all you want is to sell them a rose for a couple of Euro.

Incidentally, I often see them holding the bunch upside down under the many drinking fountains to keep them looking fresh. Be assured that these roses will be lucky to last the night let alone any longer. And, for goodness sake, don’t do what a friend once did – buy the whole bunch for his wife. This enraged the restaurant owner who, probably, wasn’t happy with them hanging around in the first place.