Wedding nightmares.

Wedding Nightmares

Just over 37 years ago, I was Best Man at my best schoolmate’s wedding.

It has given my nightmares ever since.

I was young. I didn’t understand and, by then, I was no longer speaking to my parents so I couldn’t turn to them for advice.

I honestly don’t remember the whole day. I only remember (slightly) one part of the day. The part where I had to give a speech. When I say that I remember, that’s not entirely true. I don’t remember what I actually said. All I remember is that it was awful. Possibly the worst speech ever uttered by anyone in the whole world, ever!

And for most of my life, every time I saw a wedding, whether in real life or on screen, the awfulness of that wedding and, in particular, that speech, came flooding back.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, A got married. He wanted me to be a witness (they don’t really have the Best Man thing here). As for when I was Best Man, I was really honoured to be asked.

Then he told me he wanted me to do a speech. I didn’t really believe it would happen, to be honest. In Italy, speeches are not a thing. They just don’t do them. Here, a wedding is the service (in church or the local council place) followed by a meal (which often lasts for hours and has about 6 million different courses). Then everyone goes home/to their rooms (if in a hotel).

But, A being A, wanted a speech from me. He was concerned that many people would not understand because it would be in English and asked if F could translate it. Instead (but only as a just in case because I really believed it wouldn’t happen – both the wedding and the speech thing), I prepared a speech in Italian. F was supposed to look over it to correct the translation but we didn’t have time before the wedding.

So, we arrive at the church. F sits at the back correcting and editing (slashing loads of stuff out because it was too long, he said) whilst the service commences.

The church
(see the church! At the top of the very windy road, just below the famous statue at Maratea – God, it was scary!)

Then we all get in cars to head back to the reception which is at the hotel we are staying at, far away from Milan, at a place called Maratea, on the Italian coast, south of Naples.

hotel with private beach
(this is the hotel, near Maratea, with its own, private, beach! The subject of another post)

We have the aperitivo. I don’t have much because I know there’s a main meal to come. Then we go in for the main meal. In the UK, we normally have the speeches after the meal. A wanted them before. M, one of his other witnesses and, possibly, his best friend, gives a speech. Then it’s my turn. He gives me the microphone but the waiters are serving the first course – so it doesn’t happen. Later it does. I (try to) speak in Italian since that is how it is written but I’m sure it was terrible – and yet, it wasn’t like 37 years ago. It didn’t embarrass me at all. Firstly because it was all written out and secondly because I made such an effort, I guess.

So, maybe now I can get over the 37-year-old disaster and be proud that I did something good?

A picture of the famous statue with the town below

One book down

Oh, I should say that I thought I wouldn’t be able to post but, obviously, I can.

So, here we are, day 2. Last night, again at F’s parents, there was a rabbit stew thing. It was lovely. And dangerous. Dangerous because, if I were to continue to eat like that every day, I would become very fat. Luckily, F arrives this evening.

They are making foods they think I will like. And they are not wrong. It will change from tonight when F is there. It will be all vegetable stuff with occasional fish dishes. But it’s OK. F’s their son, after all.

It seems the weather has changed for the better. At least, here. Today is hotter than yesterday and, after this morning, not a cloud to be seen. I am under the umbrella having got a little sunburnt yesterday in three places – my top, right thigh (not enough suncream) and the top of both my feet (no suncream – I didn’t think I’d need it there)!

Anyway, I’ve finished Maddaddam. Very good, as all Atwood’s books.

Now, following Lola’s suggestion, I’ve started The Bat by Jo Nesbo. Good job I’ve brought plenty of books though – the first finished in less than 2 days!

I eat my lettuce, cheese and mayonnaise sandwich, sprinkled liberally with the black pepper I keep here just for this occasion. It’s the taste of summer for me. I lie in the sun for a while but it’s really too damned hot. Not that I’m complaining. Tomorrow will be different, with F here. The same but different.

Nicoletta (we share the umbrella with her and her husband) hardly stopped talking to me this morning and, although I understand her mostly, it takes so much energy to listen and speak only in Italian. Again, with F here, that will be better and I can switch off a bit.

The beach fills up and is noisier. Anyway, it’s nearly time to go. The dogs need their afternoon walk, I need a bath and then I pick F up from the station and then, once again, to his parents for dinner.

The Visit

It was like attending a very important job interview.

My hands were sweating and it was difficult to concentrate on anything much.

I arrived at least 10 minutes early, as you do. At first, the receptionist thought that I was trying to make an appointment but when she gave me some date in the future, I realised. I couldn’t even really understand her – my little Italian had deserted me somewhere in my mashed-up brain.

The seats in the waiting room were the usual plastic chairs, arranged around the walls, a single coffee table in the centre of the room with some reading stuff which I didn’t read. The receptionist informed me that she wasn’t here yet. Hmmm.

I tried to play a game on my phone but I just couldn’t concentrate. About on time, she arrived and I was told to go in.

Of course, on principle, I don’t ask “permesso”, since I had made the appointment and so she was expecting me and had been informed that I was there and had already asked the receptionist to show me through. So, why ask permission to enter? It never makes any sense to me. By all means, do it if you are not expected or have not been invited or have not already let someone in to your building (so you know they’re there.)

Anyway, she was really nice. Asking me questions that, most of the time, I didn’t know the answer to or had some idea but couldn’t be sure. But that was fine.

Then I asked my questions and, more or less everything was OK. I only asked about 3 questions, so not too harrowing for me.

However, as expected, there are more visits to come. Which is a pain.

And I was in a bit of pain but I didn’t let it show. I “did my back in a bit” when brushing Piero on Sunday. My own fault. Still, I didn’t want her to see I was in pain.

And, so, on to the next visit!

And I survived, which is good :-)

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!):

In amor, vince chi fugge!


It’s a saying, here, in Italy although, having spent a little while to get the correct translation, I found that it is from Henri Matisse, the French painter/artist. So, in spite of my original thought that it was one of these strange Italian sayings, it turns out not to be so.

A rough translation would be:

In love, the one who runs away is the winner

I was asked if I agreed with it. Of course, that entirely depends on what you mean by “run away”. If it means “playing a little hard to get”, then yes, within reason, I agree.

If you mean to escape to somewhere else then that depends on a) the type of love and b) what the future would have been.

Still, it’s something I’d never heard before and I thought I would share it with you.

But if it’s meaning is the first I mentioned then, yes, I would have to agree, since that is how I “played” it with F and it seems to have worked out OK so far :-)

And you? What do you think?

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.

Mantova Festivaletturatura

Mostly written on 9th September.

Mantova! I’m so happy to be back here.

Everyone says I look so happy. This is true – and not only for being back this year. Even last night, B said that I looked happy. It’s how life should be.

I’m sitting at Grifone Bianco, having lunch. The antipasto was a rather tasty Leek and Cheese Pie.

My Italian is still not that good and sometimes I confuse things. I thought I had chosen a veal pie for my secondo. What came was three, rather large balls of veal tartare. Luckily, I eat everything so it doesn’t phase me – other than it was slightly unexpected. It was, in fact, the most fantastic tartare I’ve ever had. After the meal was over (I was the last diner to leave), the woman behind the counter said that she was sorry she hadn’t recognised me before. It was nice that she had recognised me at all – it being a couple of years since I had last been there!

I only wish that F could be here with me. It’s warm and muggy; the sun hidden behind clouds – moisture hangs heavily in the air.

I got here much later than I had planned. I forgot to set the alarm and so we woke up at 9. 9, I tell you! I didn’t wake up that late when we were on holiday! I guess I needed the sleep. I guess that even more because I have developed a sty – and I’ve always believed they were a result of a lack of sleep. Or, maybe, that’s an old wives’ tale from my mother or grandmother. I don’t know any more. It’s what I believe anyway and so that makes it true, even if it isn’t.

I was asked about V both last night and when I arrived here. It’s to be expected, I suppose.

I’m ashamed to say that, last night, at least, I told all that I had heard. I gossiped with gusto. It was the first person I had done this with. It was the first person who I had seen since I had heard the gossip and who had known us as a couple.

I wanted to stop but I couldn’t. Today, on the other hand, I kept it simple and kept most of the information to myself. It’s better like that.

I asked about editing. I would give up my job and my English teaching if I could earn enough with that. Maybe this was the job I was actually destined for?

Anyway, it’s something I can do even if we move to the other side of the world – but that’s a different post. I’m afraid I don’t tell you everything, especially if it’s only an idea and more especially if it’s not even my idea but one that’s reliant on other people who I don’t really know very well – actually almost not at all!

It’s a late lunch I’m having, having only got here, to Mantova, at 1.30 and to the restaurant at about 2.30.

After lunch, I wander a bit. Mantova is one of those places that you really should visit. It’s a pretty town, surrounded by lakes. The problem with the lakes is that, when it’s really hot like this, it’s also humid – more, even, than Milan.

I go to a talk with Tim Parks, a writer who has lived in Italy (somewhere in or close to Milan, from what I understand) since the early eighties. He speaks Italian very well. I understand a lot. I even understand some of his jokes. This is good, really. It’s during his event that I realise that Mantova is more humid than Milan. He seems a funny guy and enjoys his time on stage. I leave when the questions from the audience start as I have to get back.

I take my leave of the staff. I wish I were able to stay. Maybe I can organise it for next year as this one has been too hectic.

But I’m so happy that I came. If you get the chance you should go to the Festivaletteratura. The atmosphere is great and the weather is (usually) very good. For me it’s another of those things that extends the summer.

To next year! And thanks to M and S and all the other staff who always make me feel so welcome.