Wednesday, 30 April 2014


My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.

Zanzara, a word to strike dread in my heart when I hear it. Translated to Mosquito, anyone who has lived or travelled in Italy will know of these little beasties. Of course you get them all over the world, especially in hotter damp countries but I never used to have a problem with them in Italy till a few years ago. I don't know what happened but they started to like the taste of my blood which they never did before. Maybe I'm not eating enough garlic, one of the repellents said to work against their horrid stinging of you. Maybe I should just rub cloves of garlic all over my body, though nicer smelling citronella is better. To try to keep them away burn citronella candles or rub yourself with citronella wipes. There are several ways to keep them away including vibrational electronic gadgets which work to greater and lesser degrees but the best way to keep them off you is to keep a fly swatter near you at all times, or even better a fly zapper which resembles a bat but is battery powered and kills mosquitoes with a 'zip!' sound when hit. That'll do them!

They seem to be getting bigger the bites growing with them, and they don't half sting. Do not scratch it if you get bitten, you'll only make it worse, but apart from the sting they itch!! Horrid things. They are more prevalent near water, so if you are near the sea be prepared once the sun goes down, close all doors and windows and shutters once it starts getting dark as they home in on the light. Have plenty of cooling aids if you are prone to getting bitten, and try to get a suntan as they prefer whiter skin, probably as it shows up more in the dark.

Some parts of Italy are worse than others for Zanzare, Liguria is said to be very bad for them having mal aria (bad air) there in the past, though cleaned up now. In fact mal aria (bad air) is how the word malaria came about. You are fairly unlikely to get malaria in Italy, though with climate change it apparently is making a come back but too small to worry about, so I believe at the moment. I was going to add a picture of a Zanzara close up but though it might be too scary for some readers, I certainly didn't like it and just wanted to swat it, even though I'll happily rescue spiders and woodlice from my house These creatures carry my vengeance with them, which anyone who has regularly been stung by them leaving big red marks and itching will understand, I'm sure.

Not such a nice Z to end on the Challenge with, I'm afraid. I shall be persusing other blogs to see their Zs and see if they may be a little more cheerful. Well done everyone - we've done it!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Yakkety Yak

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.

Italians do like chiacchierare, or chatting. They chat all the time, at home leaving home when they bump into neighbours, while walking to the shops in the shops, when bumping into friends after leaving the shops, going for their evening passeggiata (walk), with shop keepers bar owners, bank staff whoever they see, really. I don't mean discussing things of impotance, just general chit chat. This is part of the reason they know everyone in the vicinity of the area they live. Not only do they know them they know all about them. Gossip. To them gossip is just part of life, it's what would be called nosiness in other countries but there it's accepted that what you do in the morning will be known by the local pizzeria owner by evening. Life is lived outdoors as much as possible and secrets are hard to keep.

This poses a problem for some, including teenagers wanting to do something their parents (and Aunts, Uncles, Grandparent) may disapprove of, holding hands with the wrong boy or girl will be back to the parents in no time. It does help with keeping people on the straight and narrow, it also causes some conflict but no-one gets cross about the actual way the news travelled.

Once something is known it will be talked about. If that news was not what people approve of they will let that person know. Someone has decided to leave their job for another and someone else thinks they should have stayed they will tell them - not your business is something else not done here. It is their business, so they believe. Everyone feels they have the right to tell people how to behave, tell them if they think what they do is wrong, including things to do with appearance so if that dress makes someone's bum look too big they will be told, no need to ask.

This is frightening and a nuisance for non Italians moving over to Italy, expats need to develop a thick skin. They can't understand how Italians can be so rude, so nosy, so gossipy. It takes a little while but thy start to realise that it's all part of they way things are. No offence should be taken nothing is meant maliciously, people just like to talk about things, anything and everything. But food is still the main topic of conversation so if you are there and want to take the flak off yourself just mention you've bought some new vegetable and what's the best way to cook it and all attention will move to everyone telling you the best way to cook it is their own way.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Xavier Soup

Photo from here
There are many feast days in Italy, associated with the many Saints. People will either celebrate with big Festas, with smaller feasts with friends and family, or sometimes just at home with their family eating a meal in the usual way but with the designated food for that particular day.

One of these meals is Xavier Soup, also spelled Xaver Suppe. It's the meal for the celebration of St Francis Xaviour (1506-1552) an aristocrat from Spain who became a prolific missionary travelling to places previously never visited by the Catholic faith, such as India, Japan and Borneo. He also co-founded the Society of Jesus. His feast day is December 3rd, and this soup is meant to be eaten on that day.

Copied from Catholic Cuisine which in turn came from Cooking with the Saints.

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper, white
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tablespoon parsley, chopped (for dough)
  • 12 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tablespoon chervil, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoon parsley, chopped (for soup)


Over low heat work the flour, cream, butter and Parmesan cheese to a solid dough. Work in the salt, pepper, nutmeg, eggs and egg yolks and parsley. Put the mixture into a piping bag with a big nozzle and pipe pea-sized balls onto a buttered tray. Let stand for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime heat some salted water until it boils, then drop in all the "dough peas". Cook for 5 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon and add to the warm chicken stock. Season soup to taste and add the chervil and 2 tablespoons parsley.

Serves 10 to 12 people.

Today, the 28th April, the feast Day is for St Gianna Beretta Molla. Tomorrow, 29th April, is for St Catherine of Sienna. Neither having a dedicated food for their feast days, actually, so if you have any ideas for celebratory food for them do let me know.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Woeful Corruption

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.

There is a dark side to Italy, unfortunately. The politics are fair enough but the politicians not always so, as mentioned in a previous post the ex Prime Minister was one of the most infamous with his private and public life coming under scrutiny. He came to power by being voted in yet there are many rumours he paid money to help with this. Plus he owns a lot of media, some of the main TV channels and newspapers which were biased in favour of him. This is partly the problem with his long service in this position. One reason he was voted in was that he was a multi billionaire so the general public hoped there would be no need of corruption by him. Sadly it's been proved he evaded tax payments, changed laws causing it to be unlawful to imprison Prime Ministers (in other words, himself) and committed perjury eg in regards to a 17 yr old prostitute who'd been at one of his Bunga Bunga parties, where he told police that she was the granddaughter of the Egyptian leader.

Of course the other dark side to Italy are the groups who break laws, extort, threaten, even kill. The main one everyone knows of is the Mafia, also known as the Cosa Nostra. They are mainly but not exclusively situated in Sicily. Starting up in the late 1800's they now make most of their money through prostitution, drug trafficking and loan sharking. They still offer protection to people mainly shops and businesses if they get money (to protect against themselves). They have now also found a new way to terrorize people and make themselves more money, by controlling food, they have a strong hold on certain tomatoes for instance and make money that way. My aunt is from a village in Sicily which still has no running water, the reason being that the Mafia control a local spring, they force the water company to not put down pipes to being in ta water for free causing the people who live there to bu their own bottled water - this is the 21st century so it's hard to believe.

I want to let you know that this is changing, people are fighting back. Many shops carry a sign to show they don't pay the protection money encouraging others to do the same, there are groups against Mafia, the police are capturing more and more of them. One group against them is Women Against Mafia who are just that, a growing group of women coming together and staging demonstrations.

There are other organisations, the Camorra in Naples and the 'Ndrangheta of the south of Italy in Calabria are two of the others. The 'Ndrangheti specialize in kidnapping people for ransoms, and people trafficking usually women for the sex trade. Both organisations deal in drugs and money laundering. The Camorra also are believed to bribe or terrorize politicians into doing what they want them to do.

Reading this back, it's not so much a dark side as a black one, or at least very bleak. Italy has many coruptions, even the general public themselves often see rules and agree with them but may bend them a little to suit themselves. It's not that they are bad - not like the organised crime syndicates anyway - but more that this is how it is done, I think it's how they get through, how they can put the bad sides behind them. But, I've said it before, things are changing. Things are getting better, that's why the picture I have added is one of the public demonstrating in Rome against corruption.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Vino d'Italia

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.

Do you like wine? If so, chances are you may be fond a a tipple from an Italian variety. It's been grown there for nearly 2000 years, with the Roman Empire prohibiting other  countries under their rule to make it, so it naturally flourished.

In Italy it's still common to dilute a glass of wine with some water, though with the better wines this doesn't happen so often. Children start drinking it at a younger age with it very watered down, it's mainly only drunk while eating a meal which also helps dilute the alcoholic affect. In fact you don't often see a drunken Italian, it's just not the done thing, this is partially attributed to the allowance of children being allowed to drink it to help demystify it, though I think the culture of a country also has a large part to play in this as it's not always been my experience of what I've seen in the UK, unfortunately.

There are several appellations ranging from Vini, the most basic, to Reserva which is wine which has been aged for some time. My family used to make their own wine and some branches of my family still do. When I was young they even still did the crushing by feet which I did join in with. Our wine wasn't called a decent glass of wine unless it had the odd wine fly floating in it - yuk! Definitely not a Reserva.

There are 20 regions with different types of wine, some being frizzante, sparkling. A couple of the nearest to my family are the Frascati, a nice white sparkling wine good for Summer in the garden, and Veletri, a good robust Rosso, red, wine. Good wines of other areas are the Barolo, a very nice red, Pinot Grigio, which is fairly popular, Chianti and Sangiovese. Moscato d'Asti is a sweet wine to be drunk only while eating a sweet or pudding or it tastes nasty, but miraculously tasting wonderful while eating something equally sweet.

It's lovely driving through the countryside and seeing the vineyards stretching out with bunches of grapes hanging over the sides of fences as you pass. The vineyards will make the most amazing wines, people do like French wine, America make decent wine now, South African wines gets good reviews but do try an Italian if you haven't already, maybe pair it with a good Italian cheese.

 Did you know that the red colour of red wines comes from adding the skins of red, purple or black grapes? I'm not actually much of a wine drinker, now preferring to use it in cooking where it leaves a nice flavour and no alcohol. Do you drink wine? Do you prefer to have it with a meal in the evening or perhaps during an afternoon picnic?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Unification of Italy

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.
Italy as it is now

Italy used to be a place made up of different states and not the unified country it is today. There were the Papal States where the Pope lived, the Republic of Florence, the Kingdom of Naples, Republic of Venice, Duchy of Milan and several others. There would be wars and disputes between them, attempts at taking over  other states and also other countries altogether would try to take them over too, especially the Papal States in the middle. Slowly a national identity was born, and by the late 1700's early 1800's people were starting to call themselves Italian though from the state they had been born into. The Northern areas were most against a unifying country as were the Austrian Empire who may have been influential in this thinking. 

Between the states wanting to unify there were disagreements as to how it would work and who would be the ultimate controllers of a one body. Two men in particular spurred things on, Mazzini and Garibaldi (he of the current biscuits). Over the years several insurrections occurred and then a war mid 1800's quickly followed by another. All in all it took many many years to finally end all struggles with the final decision of a unified Italy being 1871.
Italy pre-unification

There is a famous quote in Italy which goes 'We have made Italy, now we must make Italians', this refers to the way of thinking of Italian peoples even today where the area they live comes before the fact they are from Italy, someone from Tuscany will say he is Tuscan before he is Italian for instance. Life is more or less the same, though food and music may be different and perhaps a few other local traditions. It seems unifying a country takes a long time to overcome an historical local way of thinking. Still there are disputes between areas, the North are not so fond of the South as they believe all their hard earned money is sent there where there is not much work nor wealth. They dislike Rome as this is where the politicians make their decisions on where the money will go. Slowly slowly but hopefully soon enough it will unify in minds as well as country.

 Italy as a whole makes the shape of a boot kicking a football, I wonder if this is part of the reason of their prowess in 'The Beautiful Game' of soccer. Surely this must help with eradicating differences, after all sport is a unifier all of it's own, isn't it?

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Tarantella

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.


This is a dance mainly danced in the South of Italy, generally during traditional festivals or weddings. The name comes from a type of poisonous spider whose bite was believed to cause people to move convulsively. This in turn was used as a form of medication back in the middle ages, if someone had a bite wound doing this dance was meant to remove any venom. It may have had it's roots from further back in Roman times and is still actually used today to remove depression and similar mental health ailments, the belief going that the fast music and movements will drive it out somehow. Research has begun to see how much efficacy there actually is in this.

There are different versions, either being used for courtship or as a simulated sword fight between two men. When danced at a ceremony such as a wedding all guests often join in and it's just a fun dance for entertainment.

Another dance where lots of people join in is the Hulli Gulli which was American but seems to have reached Italy back in the sixties and is still very popular now. You see it at weddings, dances on the beach and all over. It generally is danced to the tune of The Watusi, a song which will undoubtedly get your toes tapping, hum it anywhere in Italy and someone will sing along and probably start up the dance. It's a type of line dance, some people get it right every time but often people will be out of time but no-one minds, a fun dance for everyone of every generation. Click on the link below to watch The Hully Gully being danced to The Watusi, and see if you can find any recommended YouTubes for The Tarentella being danced by brides and grooms and their guests at a wedding.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Sagra and SPQR

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.

A Sagra are festivals held in towns, each town will have it's own local one. Each one will celebrate one particular thing which could be anything but usually some type of food or maybe wine. They started originally as some kind of religious celebration but over the years this gradually changed so they mark a type of food grown locally or made there or perhaps some kind of tradition the local residents follow. There is a Sagra held in the north of the country in Trento, in March, which is a tradition Sagra going back to the ancient Roman times. The local people walk up the nearby hills and shout out Trato Marzo then follows 3 days of tricks and joking around with a large bonfire to warm yourselves by.

The Sagra pesce and patate (fish and potatoes) is held in Lucca in July with accompanying dancing and children's area for playing.

 Anzio also have a fish Sagra, in July, with lots of beautiful and noisy fireworks let off over the sea by many boats, fishermen's and other local boats, at midnight with the whole town standing on the promenade watching after dancing in the piazza.

La Madonna della 'Stella' a Pallagiano, October in Taranto starts with Mass followed by a pagan festival with tagliatelle with tomato sauce served on tractors.

Other Sagras are in San Severino Marche which celebrates the chick pea, a funghi (mushroom) Sagra in Cusano Mutri for all recipes containing mushroom and wine Sagras such as the one in Verdicchio in August. Some of the wine festivals have not only wine on all stalls but also coming out from the fountains instead of water. There are even Sagras celebrating omelettes or fried stuffed olives. There must be one to your taste somewhere surely.

SPQR stand for Senatus Populusque Romanus and literally translates as 'The Senate and People of Rome'. It was used by the senate of the ancient Roman times to denote anything which was theirs and is still used as the emblem of modern day municipality of Rome and is seen everywhere. I just wanted to add this in as I see it so often when visiting family in Italy so has a sort of good feel of familiarity to me. It's on coins, documents, monuments and especially on drain covers, so next time your in Rome have a look down at your feet to see this SPQR emblazoning a drain cover set in the ground protecting you from falling in.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Romans, or rather What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.


The Romans, as mentioned in a previous post, did appropriate or rather steal lots of land in and around Europe. They did take taxes from the peoples of those countries, turn some into slaves and generally ruled the natives of those countries in the way the Romans wanted which was not necessarily the way it had been previously done or that was appreciated. So, yes, not good. But on the other hand, as the clip from the film The Life of Brian (one of my favourites as it happens) shows, they did give things back. 

The ones listed in the film are medicine, 
Roads -famed for their long and very straight roads which are still in place in many cases, 
Aquaducts - bringing water to the towns, 
Sanitation - not too dissimilar to what we have today including latrines with a sewage system to take waste away,  
Irrigation - making channels from rivers
Education - this was in part taken from the Greek ways of doing it but passed further abroad by the Romans. The methodology and curriculum came from them, as well as starting at an early age and putting pupils into tiers or bands
Health - related to keeping clean and the sanitation systems, public baths - they also had baths in some private homes, 
Peace - they were good on peace keeping, maybe through force but still...
and of course wine making.

Other things they did for us were bringing in the calender used today which gives us 365 days, names of the months and leap years,
Certain types of material used in building such as cement, glass and even bricks,
Plumbing - they made pipes to bring and remove water out of lead. The word plumber comes from the Latin of plumbum.

So the Roman's did do quite a lot for us, as is shown by the legacy they have left. If you've never seen it do watch the clip from The Life of Brian.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Quirinal Palace

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.
Source of photo from here
The Palazzo del Quirinale is a large building situated on the Quirinal Hill. It has been used for housing Popes and Kings of Italy, now it's used for the official residence of the President of Italy. Don't mistake the President with the Prime Minister of Italy as they have different functions, the president is not like the President f the United States of America, rather he is the one to keep in order the rules and regulations of Italy and and to watch over and try to keep order over the Prime Minister. The President now is Napolitano who is widely respected, and has been in this office for two terms despite is age.

Napolitano has had a tough job as the Prime Minister he had to try to curb was Silvio Berlusconi. Although Berlusconi is well liked he is also well disliked, his private life being far more prominent than his public works more often than not. He is believed to have been corrupt, using Italian laws to protect himself from prison, even making new laws up to do this, tax evasion, lied to the police, and of course his infamous Bunga Bunga parties where laws were broken quite brazenly by the former Prime Minister and his friends. Can you tell I'm not one of those impressed by him?

The Palazzo del Quirinale itself is beautiful with frescos, moulded ceilings, an entrance designed by Bernini and was originally built in 1583. Situated on the Quirinale Hill to stay away from the unhealthy air of Rome itself at the time but also giving it wonderful view of the surrounding city over to the Vatican. Outside once a day is the Changing of the Guards.

Italy used to be made up of several different states which were unified in 1871, I'll write about this later in the A-Z Challenge, this is when Rome became the capital of Italy and the Quirinale the palace of the KIng. Bit of a claim to fame here - helping against the unification was one of my ancestors who was a brigante, a bandit, and the soldiers of the revolutionaries were after him, so to protect his family the king kept my ancestor's family in the Quirinale where they lived for a time. The brigantes were royalists (or maybe they were just paid better by them). Personally I've never been in the Quirinale myself, I must take one of the official tours one day, and see what my ancestors might have seen, of course they might have just been kept in the servants quarters, but I can dream, can't I?

Friday, 18 April 2014

Pizza Piazza

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.

Pizaa Pizza. When I was little and living in Italy this is a phrase I used often, apparently. It basically meant I wanted to go to the piazza for a slice of pizza, something that it seems the majority of Italians do every warm evening. Going for una passeggiata to the Piazza is a national constitution, you could say they are going for a constitutional (sorry bad joke). A piazza is just a square usually somewhere in the middle of a town, for larger towns there are more than one piazza, even smaller towns can have more than one but there is usually a lager main one that is visited more. They can be sleepy and quiet except for the voices of people meeting up or they can be loud with bands playing on erected stands. Sometimes there is a little market, and often shops still open till late evening where people browse or buy food, clothes, pans anything and everything, it's cooler so easier to shop at this time of day very often. In Anzio the pizza is right next to the harbour so you can walk along the promenade alongside the beach to the harbour to see the fishermen's boats and then into the pizza.

 Bars and cafes are popular with people sitting drinking a glass of wine or birra (beer) though water is far more prevalent. Sit and have a granita and caffe or stand at a bar and have a hit of espresso. Personally I love a coffee granita, or sometimes a lemon one, it's just finely crushed ice with flavours added. People standing in gelaterias wating for there turn to buy a gelato is a customary sight.

But the main thing to be eaten in a piazza is a pizza. There are stalls and pizzerias to buy them in, I don't mean a pizzeria type restaurant where you sit down and order a whole one but the type where you buy a slice. You can sometimes sit down just inside or outside on a few tables set out for the purpose or find a bench elsewhere or more often walk around eating it. To eat them they are handed to you as a slice, folded over like a piece of paper and wrapped with paper around half of it where you can hold it. The grease does seep though a bit so you need tissues to wipe up after, baby wipes are handy for this too I've found. Lots of pizza toppings to choose from, margherita (tomato) funghi (mushroom), rocket, slices of courgette and my favourite one of sliced roast potatoes with rosemary, mmm mmm, drooling at the thought of one now. Also you can buy pizza bianca which is pizza dough with salt basically, or filled ones with beata (chard). There is no, repeat no, pineapple anywhere to be found near a pizza in Italy. Oh, and don't forget the suppli. I used to love going for my pizza piazza as a child hence my phrase, and still love it now.

Do you have a favourite topping for pizza? Where would like to stroll for the evening?

Thursday, 17 April 2014

'O' and 'A' Endings

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.

Like several other languages Italian uses masculine and feminine to denote all nouns. Everything is either male or female. Most nouns, therefore end in either O or A including most names though there are exceptions. The word for home is la casa so this means it is feminine, perhaps from the idea from times past that it was a woman's job to keep the home for the family. The word for book is masculine, il libro. Plurals depend on the gender of the words, masculine O words end generally with I, feminine generally with E, so the previous words become le case and i libri.

People's names follow this rule do women's names could be Carmela, Francesca and Claudia, men's would be Carmelo, Francesco and Claudio. A couple of exceptions are Luca and Andrea, both men's names ending in A.

Verbs also take on gender, this is in regard to the noun or person it relates to. A lovely day is una bella giornata, so bella ends in A as the word 'day' is feminine, the clever brother is il fratello intelligente, note intelligente does not end in O.

People learning Italian often find the hardest part to get right is the verbs but also remembering the correct gender can be difficult. It can make a sentence mean something completely different by getting the last letter wrong, for instance you may say you want to go over there to to the bank to get some money but say il banco instead of la banca and people get confused thinking you are walking over to a bench to get it, is there some left on it by accident? To say close the door you say chiude la porta, but if you say chiude il porto you are then actually telling someone to close the harbour. Luckily Italians are very willing to let it go or gently correct you without embarrassing you, they are happy if you just try.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Nero and other Romans

I'm not going to go in-depth here in this topic or this post would be the longest ever written. It's just to explain a teensy bit of Italian history.

Roman Empire
Named Nero by the soldiers protecting him while young as it meant Little Boots Nero was born into the Caesar family on his mother's side. There had been many leaders from the Caesars, some better than others but most known for cruelty as well as their achievements. Nero came into power after one of the worst for cruelty, Caligula who did some horrible acts many to his own family, as did a lot of the others. But on the other hand they did manage to conquer much of what is now modern Europe. The Roman Empire took it efficiently and often quickly, their army was so good that some of the techniques used then are still being used now. Making changes to the governments, buildings and roads as they went. Lots of their legacy's are still here, many long straight roads now follow the same lines they made 2000 years ago.

Julius Caesar is the one everyone first thinks of when we think of Roman leaders. Apparently he was born through a cesarean, the word coming from his name. He ruled strongly and well, famously having a love affair with Cleopatra, she with the nose (sorry, had to add that bit, they say had her nose been slightly smaller the world would have been different). Actually on the subject of noses and Romans the Roman nose is slightly hooked or crooked, it's distinctive, something that you can often distinguish an Italian from a non Italian, I have it myself.

Other, non Caesar leaders were Hadrian who built the long wall in North England to keep out those pesky Picts from Scotland who painted themselves blue and put up a good fight against being taken over. Marcus Aurelius who was a Good Leader and also a Philosopher. Commodus, who was called cowardly and weak as a leader. And Nerva, a short lived but wise leader.

Back to Nero, he had a holiday home, or holiday palace, in Anzio, then named Antium. This is where he is said to have played the fiddle while Rome burned, the Great Fire of Rome destroyed much of the city and rumours put it that Nero started it so he could build a new palace on the land. There is no way to establish how or why the fire really started. Anzio has  new statue of Nero which is erected looking over the sea, his palace there is all in ruins and not much left much of it being under the sea where he now looks over. My Gandmother's home is built on top of it and  I have tried to establish exactly where it would be placed and think I know, now.


My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.

The people of Italy are very big on hypochondria. They take health very seriously. This is all well and good, sensible even. Eat fresh food with plenty of vitamins, a little exercise, this is all fine. But don't break into a sweat as you'll get a sore throat? Don't drink coffee at the wrong time of day or you'll upset your stomach? Don't let children run around too fast or climb trees as they may hurt themselves?

It's all a little too serious for most non Italians. If you have a tummy ache it's probably something minor, something you ate which will pass, but to an Italian you must go to see your doctor, it's probably a kidney complaint or something equally serious.  Feeling a bit light headed,  they wouldn't put it down to maybe feeling a little tired it must mean your blood levels have dropped and again your doctor must be seen to get some pills to level it out again. They will take extra care not to get into danger, children do get a tough time as so many normal activities are vetoed in case of injury. People take lots of days off work and bosses bite their tongues as it's just so widespread. 

Doctors must be quite overworked with minor ailments coming in. But then, all Italians are doctors themselves as they all diagnose illnesses with as many differences of opinion as they have over food recipes, mentioned in a previous blog post. They are all experts, or so they believe, in knowing what is wrong with you. But they do know more about the body than the average non Italian.

Do not mention to an Italian you have a headache or you will be berated for leaving your window open at the wrong time, or not wearing a scarf while out and about even if it's far too hot. This is down to the very strange and only typical to Italy, problem of the Colpo d'Aria. I have capitalized that one as it's the most prevalent of problems. It translates to 'Hit by Air', literally hit. Italians all, and I mean all, believe that air from even a waft of a breeze can cause all sorts illnesses, headaches being the main and first of them, but also indigestion, nausea, stomach cramps and more. It's very dangerous to have Colpo d'Aria as it can lead to much more serious problems and you can even die from it. Do not sit anywhere near a draft, do not open your car window no matter how hot, and it also explains why they don't have air conditioning in their homes in 40 degree heat and would rather wilt, drying off any of that dangerous sweat as soon as it appears, of course.

Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Et Al

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.
La Pieta by Michelangelo. Kept behind a toughened glass screen after being attacked by someone with a hammer.
Art in Italy is well known for it's beauty and splendor. It's everywhere, you can't walk for twenty minutes without passing some statue, painting or other work. Not all of it is famous but works from well known artists are literally everywhere,  in every town there will be something or worth to see.

One of the most well known of these artists is Leonardo da Vinci who painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper as well as other paintings and sculptures. Michelangelo of course is most well known for his painting of he Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, but also sculpted La Pieta also in the Vatican. Bernini's paintings and statues are all over Rome, but he also made many of the beautiful fountains around Rome, too, as well as much of the Baroque architechture, in fact you could say Rome is his workshop as so much of it is down to him. A lot of the works of most of the artists from times gone by are religious, this is due to the  Catholic Church commissioning a lot of it as this body had the wealth to pay, so as you move around Italy you will see many bible stories re-created.
Detail of a Bernini fountain in Rome

More older artists with their work around towns and cities to see are paintings in the church of Madonna Dell'Orto in Venice by Tintoretto and other artists, San Zaccaria which church houses the San Zaccaria Altarpiece by Bellini in Venice, and Florence Cathedral the architect of the dome being Brunelleschi, paintings by Uccello, Di Michelino and others, Florence also contains the Bell Tower by Giotto.

The previous are works by well known artists but there are works all around by less known but not less well done works which are very much worth seeing. It brightens your day to walk around somewhere, turn a corner and see some lovely statue, or see into a corner some splendid  piece of architecture. Of course there are also the Roman ruins, these seem to be just dropped or left in the most odd of places, a bit of old wall a broken statue, Rome tube station with part of its structure not modern and futuristic but actual 2000 year old Roman walls.
Detail of Tintoretto's The Presentation of the Virgin,
 in the church of Madonna Dell'Orto
There is The Assumption of the Virgin by Titian, found in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari  in Venice, Statue of St John the Baptist by Donatello in  the Duomo di Sienna, and Caravaggio's The Crucifixion of St Peter in Rome in Santa Maria del Poppolo.

Just wander round and take in the sights, you won't be disappointed. Just don't mistake one of those busking statues for the real thing, some of those men and women make for very convincing statues.
Giotto's Campanile in Florence

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Kilos, Metres and the Euro

The metric system is used in Italy. Kilos and metres. Here in the UK we've had metric for a long time and are used to it now, though we still use Imperial quite a lot. This can make for confusion when I visit over there, for instance when in a car looking at the speedometer it can be a little frightening for a few seconds when thinking 'whoops, we're going 120 miles per hour when really it's 120 kilometers per hour meaning it's only 74 mph.

Equally it can be disheartening looking at your kilogram weight when used to metric, 9 stone shows up as 57 kilos. Actually, it's far more sensible and seems to me to be more precise than Imperil, it's just odd when you don't use it day to day.

Italy went Euro in 2002. This made for a more efficient method of money. Instead of thousands of lira to buy anything it's now only a few euro. A bag of pasta could cost (equivalent to today's prices) 1,200 lira, now it would cost approximate 1 1/2 euros. Things would go into the millions instead of the thousands they do now. Imagine a house costing millions and millions of lira, frightening. It took a while for a lot of Italians to adapt to the the change but they did eventually, though there has been a call to change it back recently.

 The 1 euro coin is made of two alloy metals, it also has an outer ring of a gold colour and an inner of silver making it to my mind, very pretty. Here's a photo of the famous Leonardo Da Vinci design so you can see it. Are there any coins elsewhere that appeal to you in any way?

Friday, 11 April 2014

No J for Italy

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.

Italy has no letter J. In fact there are only 21 letters as opposed to our 26. I'm not sure how they would manage an A-Z Challenge, maybe they's need to do one in February and fiddle about with it a bit.

There are also no K W X or Y letters. The H pronounced as acca is always silent An Italian learning English has trouble sounding this letter out and often makes mistakes mixing it up, like  when my father will say 'I H'am 'ot instead of I am hot.

Other differences are pronouncing C as Ch and Ch as C. Double letters are both sounded out by pronouncing the first of the doubles and then the second seamlessly, to the untrained ear you may not hear them both.Certain other differences are when G and L are put together in a word as this is pronounced as 'lee' with many mispronunciations by English speakers with some words, for instance tagliatelle is meant to be pronounced ta lee atell ay and not tag lee a tell ee.

Tomorrow is K, I haven't yet decided on this letter but it won't be from any word in the Italian language as there won't be one, so if anyone has any ideas do let me know, please.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Inter Milan, Juventus and other Football

Last night I realised I had no I idea for the A-Z Challenge and was about to fall asleep when I mentioned it to The Chauffeur. What can I talk about beginning with I about my series of Italy, I bemoaned. He immediately said Inter Milan, helped no doubt by having watched a match by them last night. He even brought up the coming World Cup. Hooray for The Chauffeur, I now have an I.

So, it has to be said that one thing Italians are good at is football. They are fantastic in fact. Soccer to any Americans reading this, not sure if soccer is more popular in  Canada, maybe someone could put me right on this. The main home games are called Seria A and is watched by millions and talked about the next day after every match, generally very heatedly. A couple of the best local teams are Inter Milan and Juventus who both usually vie for the top of the league tables and from where a lot of the players in the Italy football team are pulled. Some of the best players over the years being Buffon, Ronaldo, Zanetti, Schillaci, Tardelli and Vialli. 

Juventus is based in Turin who also have a team named Torino. I have family who live there who follow Torino the lesser of the teams in regards to their achievements. Lazio has two teams, Lazio and Roma and again my family there follow Roma which is usually also the underdog, not sure what this says about my family? I do believe Roma is doing pretty well at the moment. 

This year is the time of the football World Cup which I am very much looking forward to. As said previously Italy is good at Football and has won the World Cup 4 times, more than almost every other nation, only Brazil doing better. The first match this year for Italy is against England, where I live. Who do I support? I'm worried about England losing to them, I actually want Italy to win but living here means it's going ot be difficult the next day seeing everyone's sad faces, though I might be being presumptous.

I've been in Italy when there was a World Cup, when they win no matter how late at night it is people jump in their cars and drive round the streets blaring their horns for hours. When they lose no-one speaks the next day, glum faces all round, everyone gets into the emotions, adults, children, grandparents no matter the age. When they win the Cup everyone is out all night, at the Piazza, making noise dancing hugging. Wonder how it'll pan out this year. 

Are you watching, who will you be hoping to win?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Happy Italians

Silly title but they are in the most part. It might have something to do with the sunshine of which there is plenty including over Winter. The sunlight hits the pituitary gland sending endorphins round your body to stimulate happy emotions, or something like that anyway. Anyway the average Italian is a happy bunny and always seems cheerful. 

Living outside as much as they do seeing people they know all over the place must also play it's part. Italians don't move as much as some nationalities and if they do they tend to stay in the same area so they are generally near family and friends they grew up with. 

Instead of sitting indoors watching TV they go out to meetup with them or just stroll round and take in the sights around them. Scientific studies say this type of behaviour keeps people calmer and more grounded. Electronic devices, although on the increase, are much less used, it's more about the closeness factor to other people than talking to them remotely. 

Slow living in general plays it's part, nothing too hurried or rushed meaning less stress. I do think that taking time out to just enjoy life can help, sometimes there's just too much to do but if necessary schedule time to play a game of cards with friends. Do you do this already, does it help to make things happier for you?

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Gelato and Grattachecca

My A-Z Challenge series is about Italy, it's lifestyle, the country and other miscellaneous things in regard to it.

Who doesn't love a gelato? So much nicer than the usual icecream we buy here in the UK. There are hundreds of flavours. Some of the gelaterias make their own speciality flavours, some are pretty unusual or perhaps crazy such as  Pear and Rhubarb, Ginger and Cinnamon, White Chocolate and Basil and also Ricotta Almond and Fig. I haven't tried any of those but will have a look out for them and have a taste. More usual flavours are Cioccolato, Nocciola, Mela and fragola (chocolate, nut, apple and strawberry).

You can buy it in a tub or on a cone and have two or three flavours, no less as that would be odd. With or without  panna which is the whipped cream piled on top. My absolute favourite gelato of 3 flavours is Pistachio, Crema and Caffe eaten from a cone, fairly quickly before it melts. I must have Panna as to me it's not a gelato otherwise.

A grattachecca on the other hand is not ice cream but flavoured ice. The vendour who usually works from a stall scrapes ices from a large block of ice, gratachecca actually means 'to scrape'. It's put into a tall glass and again, two or three flavours added these are syrups from bottles which you tell the vendor to add. You drink this through a straw. I tend to go for menta and orzo (mint and barley). This is really more of a specialty of the Lazio region not usually seen elsewhere. The bottles of syrup can be bought form shops so we always get one or two to bring home to make out own while not in Italy.

What's your favourite flavour ice cream? Have you tried a grattachecca?

Monday, 7 April 2014

Food, or more accurately Eating Habits, of Italy

Can't have a theme of Italy without talking about their favourite of all topics - food. They buy it, cook it and eat it just like everyone else. But in between is all the rest of their Italianess.

They buy it - usually fresh and as they need it every day from local shops. Cook it - after discussing with each shop keeper and all other customers about the best recipe, lots of disagreements and secrets of how their grandmother or aunt or cousin would have done it flying around. Eat it - and talk about it, discuss how it was cooked and press each other to eat more, all round the table with the rest of the family, eating so much they often need to sleep it off afterwards.

Breakfast is short, sometimes cereal but more likely to be either dry toast like biscuits or bread and nutella or just hot chocolate. Adults don't actually often have breakfast, just the children with the adults grabbing a caffe on the way to work.

Lunch is long, children will sometimes have it at school, sometimes go home, most workers go home for it. Several courses, a starter which is either pasta or a rice dish, followed by meat then vegetables, then fruit. Sometimes cheese or cake. Bread is on the table at all times. Contrary to belief pasta is not meant to be a main course.

Tea is leftovers more often than not, or maybe cheese and salami, olives and sliced tomatoes drizzled with oil. Usually quite a small portion, lunch was the main meal.

It used to be said that the Italian diet was healthy and it is, but these days Italians have started going down the unhealthy route with the dreaded McDonalds springing up here and there. But meals are mainly made up of what was bought from the local shop or mercato with their piled high vegetable stalls. When they entertain then it gets big, lots of courses all freshly made, I've been to functions where there are 20 or 30 courses spread over several hours with dancing in between, at least you get to make space for the next course. Even going to dinner at someone's home you get a lot of dishes. Dessert is more often than not bought in, though, cake from the best pasticceria very often.

Different regions have different specialities, for instance people of Tuscany are known as bean eaters as they use it a lot. In Anzio where my family live they eat a lot of fish as it's right on the sea with a lot of fishermen bring fresh fish in every day but my grandmother who came from further inland in Lazio would mainly only cook food of her region including lots of meat, or peas cooked with pancetta and never fish, she stuck to her 'own' food which is very typical of people here.

If you are going take an empty stomach with you as it will be easily filled up while you're over there. What do you eat where you live?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Ennio Morricone and the Spaghetti Western

Anyone who has ever watched one of the so called the Spaghetti Western films will immediately know the familiar music which was often composed by Ennio Morricone. The first few bars of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is instantly recognizable. His music is haunting, suspenseful with the touch of Mexican which is needed as most of these films are set around the Mexican border. Maned Spaghetti Westerns due to the themes of an American western and also because they were directed and mostly made by Italians, Sergio Leone being one of the biggest known directors. The original name was Italian Style Western. They were actually often filmed in Spain or other countries, but some were made in  Italy. I know about some being filmed in Italy as my father had a bit part in one of them, as well as most of the young men of the town who all jumped at the chance, not only to earn a few Lira but also to be in a film - guess people wanted their 15 minutes of fame even back then. I think they must have enjoyed dressing up as cowboys too.

These films were cheaply made, dubbed very badly into English, plots which resembled each other, but weren't they compelling? Such violence, not usually my thing but the humour put into them made it watchable. All underscored by the most amazing, well, score.  Ennio Morricone used unusual instruments to set the films off, things like whips and gunshots which perfectly set the tone of the films up. There usually isn't a lot of narrative in these films as they're much more visual with lots of close ups, Morricone's sharp whistles and other strange instruments helping you to feel the emotions which aren't being spoken in the film. If it weren't for the music the films would have been much less watchable. I even have an old album of Spaghetti Western music.

The YouTube video above is from Once Upon a Time in The West which has the violence, lots of close ups, the humour which really makes it for me, and that all important haunting music composed by Ennio Morricone, some of the main ingredients of these movies. My Favourite of this genre are 'The Good, The bad and The Ugly' and 'My Name is Nobody' - both incidentally about a man with no name. What was you favourite, or is this film genre not one you like?

Friday, 4 April 2014

Driving and the Crazy Parking

It's not possible to pass on the topic of Italian driving, it's practically a must to discuss it. Everyone knows about the speed they go but other nationalities have fast drivers, it's the rest of it that causes the intake of breath to those unaccustomed to the road use in this country.

If a road has two lanes remember it can be used to make 3 or even 4. If there is no rule to allow for undertaking, well forget it, undertaking/overtaking - as long as you get past, hey? Keep both hands on the wheel at all times? How on earth can an Italian speak? At least one hand will be waving around if not both if there is a passenger in the car. See a friend walking past? That's OK, stop and have a chat for a couple of minutes, or drive alongside them. Sometimes you may see another friend in the car in front - just catch up and drive alongside them, this last does happen but more usually it happens with Vespa drivers. In fact, on the topic of Vespas two seats can translate into 4, perfect for the whole family, and don't forget to nip in and around all other traffic. If you have one too many for the seats, never mind op someone on the handlebars.

Roundabouts, not really understood yet by the average Italian, a fairly new thing brought in which they are till trying to work out. To use a roundabout you wait till there is a space then nip in, drive round to your exit and come out, but many drivers in Italy still stop on the roundabout to let on cars waiting to get on causing a backlog jamming it up. It's happening less but they are still being too generous by allowing waiting cars on instead of driving off first.

It's just utter fearlessness, surprisingly although there are a lot of road accidents you would imagine more of them. What keep the accidents from happening is that people expect these things to happen, they know that someone might pull out in front, or stop suddenly to chat, or come in from the wrong side. The expectations keep them alert at all times so reducing problems. It's the same for crossing the road, many people visiting Italy can be scared at crossing these roads but in actual fact it's so much easier and safer, instead of the pedestrian watching the cars the drivers are watching for people to cross in front of them and can slow down in time to keep them safe. If you want to cross just step out and do it without too much speed or too slowly and you will be fine.

By the way, there was a law passed prohibiting the use of car horns unless necessary so there isn't as much as there used to be, the roads are quieter, but not quiet by any means.

I was going to write about the crazy parking but as my post is getting longer with every word and I came upon a very timely Twitter post on it I will link to an online newspaper article which explains it all. Everything in the article is pretty much commonplace seen every day all over the place, do read it and look at the photos.

Photo from here

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A little bit about the Culture and Lifestyle of Italians

There is way too much to get all of it's Culture down in one post so here are a few of the main ones which define an Italian, at least to my mind.

When I've been to Italy with friends or relatives who arrive there for the first time things they notice first is the loud talking. In fact to their ears it isn't friendly chat, I've been asked on more than one occasion what it is a group of people are arguing about but when I listen in it's never an argument, usually an enjoyable discussion on the best way of cooking some favourite dish, or how best to use up a bag of biata (chard) or similar. Heated discussions are the norm, and the topics are generally in this order: food, family and/or friends, then politics, they do love to talk about politics but have dire political stability. In general all talking is loud! No worries about anyone else can hearing private conversation. Want to call someone over the road? Shout their name out loud and start talking before they even start crossing over, no one will bat a eye.

Every warm evening make sure you go for una passeggiata (a walk) along a local boulevard to the piazza. A big passtime and a top cultural event. Snooze in the afternoon after a long lunch, though both these are traditions are changing, shorter meals and air conditioning in offices help prevent the previous necessary sleep, though air cons are still not much used in homes, still.

Stand close to the person you are talking to, personal space is smaller for Italians than more Northern Europeans or Americans. Same goes for waiting spaces, if you are the only occupant in a large waiting room expect the next person to arrive to sit right next to you and ignore all those other empty seats over there. Touch each other while you speak, and make sure to use your hands to express your meaning. Be careful to use the correct terms when speaking to people, don't be overly familiar to your boss and don't call children by a formal title, and don't mistake masculine for feminine.

Expect to spend 3 times longer in banks and official agencies/offices, and to wait 3 times longer for official processes to go through. Same when you hire builders to deal with work at you home. Time is different there, they take longer to motivate themselves for one thing, another is that official business needs to be done in triplicate with many forms to sign and offices to visit before the simplest thing can be dealt with. Forget queues, what are they in Italy? The old lady behind you will expect you to let her go in front, while everyone behind you will gradually seem to be in front now, it's very subtle, and if you aren't doing the same then you're just showing you aren't a true Italian.