Monday, 26 July 2010

Message in a bottle (of milk)

When a date appears as the expiry date for dairy products you know it's getting close.

That's how I came to realise that my time in Italy is drawing to a close as we walked around the supermarket the day before yesterday.

I had wanted to keep some kind of regular blog of this trip but it just hasn't been possible due to me having scarce opportunities to access the internet, and these rare opportunities I have used to contact friends and family.

In fact, as I type, I am using the public Wi-Fi connection of Pietrasanta, which can only be accessed from the piazza (town square) where I am sat, as I do every night, keeping an eye on Umberto while he plays. I have been in this town permanently from the middle of the month, before which we were only here on weekends; spending weekdays in Rovigo, where Umberto's parents work.

While I write this, I am sat on the church steps on yet another beautiful, mild evening. A woman prepares herself next to me with face paint, ready to perform her bubble-blowing spectacolo to the people in the piazza; a performance which, as a regular to the town over the last month, I have already seen.

The piazza from which I type.

The beach at Forte dei Marmi is absolutely beautiful. Aside from rubbing shoulders with professional footballers and other Italian elites, tranquillity and relaxation can also be found here. For example, today while Umberto was off playing with a friend, I put down my copy of The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and closed my eyes. The sun blazed down, warming my face and body while the sound of endless frothy turquoise waves massaging the dusting of fine golden sand on the coast lulled me into a blissful trance where it felt wonderful to be alive.

So this trip hasn't all been struggling to look after a kid. My Italian has really come on too I feel.

However I find myself now, in these final days, nostalgically longing for home, for my friends, my family; for unequivocally English things such as trips to the pub and cups of tea.

This makes it tempting to try and make this last week go as quickly as possible however I am doing my best to savour my remaining time here, before I am thrust back under a veil of rain in a land who's hidden treasures I have long known and lived with; far from this land of which I have barely scratched the surface.

But that's all for now,
I'm a busy bee.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

My Month In Italy - The Basics

Right. I've been staying with this Italian family for five days now. My original intention to keep a travel blog of my stay here has proved difficult as I am only able to access the internet at the place where I am currently sat: the legal offices of the couple with whom I am staying (they are lawyers).

The wireless has decided to be a prick and hate my laptop, meaning I have been unable to upload any of my photos or get on to Skype due to the fact that this is Alessia's computer. I may add pictures to this post later or feature them in subsequent blogs if I have any success with my laptop. If there are any grammatical errors, I blame the Italian keyboard.

Right so I'll keep it concise because, frankly, to mention everything I have done over the last 5 days would waste a lot of time which I should be making the most of.

The Family

Alessia and Michele - The adults of the family; both Lawyers. They have a passion for art, especially the modern and interesting sort, and their houses are decorated accordingly.
Umberto - Their 6 year old son.


This is the town where the family have their permanent house in which they live all year round. Rovigo is a modest little town in the Veneto province of North East Italy; the same province in which the city of Venize is found. Their house is quite simply amazing, with art everywhere and interesting furniture. I wish I could upload pictures of it but hopefully I will get my laptop working soon. If not, I'm sure you can wait a month.
During the day here, Umberto is at Animazione, a kind of summer school for kids of his age. While he is there and the parents are at work I have the day to myself, giving me lots of time to explore; such as yesterday when I went to visit Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region of the country. I collect Umberto at around 5.30 PM and we then go home where I look after him until his parents get home at around 7.00 PM. His parents want me to teach him a bit of English when it's just me and him together.

Pietrasanta/Forte dei Marmi
Pietrasanta is the small town in Tuscany where we go to stay on the weekends. It is a city known for its art and due to being located near abundant sources of marble, features lots of the gorgeous white rock in its architecture. In fact, Michelangelo even stayed in the town at one point, in a building which is now a bar; fittingly named Bar di Michelangelo.
During the day we head to the beach at Forte dei Marmi. On the beach there is a swimming pool resort with a bar where we often sit and swim when we are not on the beach itself. This place is for the elite sectors of Italian society and some of the people I have had pointed out to me there are the president of Inter Milan and the Italian national footballer, Andrea Pirlo; who I have so far seen everyday I have been there. When we get back from the beach, some time after 7.00 PM, if Alessia and Michele want to go out, their Italian babysitter Patrizia comes over. Me, Umberto and Patrizia then have some dinner, either in the apartment or at a restaurant, and then me and Patrizia sit in the Piazza keeping an eye on Umberto while he plays with the other kids. On Saturday nights there are performances in the piazza, the only act I have seen so far being a man juggling fire on a giant unicycle.

Well that's all I really have time to write now. As I've said, I don't want to be wasting my days stuck in on the computer. Tonight, in Rovigo, there is the weekly event of Notte Rosa (Pink Night) where the shops stay open until late and there are shows in the piazzas.

Next time I blog, I will write up the positives and negatives so far of being here, trying to keep it to a concise and general nature like this, rather than rambling on about specific stories which will take ages to tell. If I get my laptop up and running then I'll be able blog in a bit more detail, WITH PICTURES!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Sicily 2010 - The rest

Due to the fact that I am jetting off to Italy again tomorrow to spend a month with an Italian family, I feel that I am unable to blog the rest of my recent trip to Sicily in the day by day fashion that I set out in the last post. Instead I will skilfully condense the rest of the trip into this one post. So here are the highlights of our stay with Alessio in Catania.

So I last left off where me and Lucy were shattered after our day in Palermo. The morning after our well-earned sleep, me, her and Alessio went to San Giovanni beach, formed from cooled lava from nearby Mt. Etna. As a result of its volcanic geological formation, the sand on the beach is black, as are the rocks.

That afternoon, we went to watch England beat Slovenia in a betting shop. Then later than night we went on our first Catania night out, starting off drinking in Piazza Teatro, a big square full of bars. Alessio and his friends were introducing us to Sicilian drinks such as Rum e Pera, a drink made up of two shots, one of rum which is drank first and one of pear juice which is drank to wash down the rum. Another awesome shot was the torcia which is a strong shot with a slice of orange on top of it. Sugar is then poured onto this orange with a flammable liquid. Torcia means torch, a name for which the reason quickly became apparent when the barmaid then set fire to the sugar on the orange causing it to caramelise. You then bite the orange and down the shot.

After this Sicilian drinking lesson we headed to Moon Beach, an awesome nightclub on a beach.

Another day, we watched the Italian world cup match where they were eliminated by Slovakia at Alessio's university in the auditorium. I found it very atmospheric being surrounded by Italians with their hand gestures out in full force, accompanied by yells of "Dai cazzo!" as they watched their team lose.

For our last night in Catania, we partook in the Italian tradition of passeggiata, a late night stroll. However, our passeggiata took us back to Piazza Teatro (below) for a second schooling in the wonders of Sicilian drinking.


Alessio's friends were all so generous, buying me drinks, and none of them spoke any English so it gave me and Lucy lots of opportunities to practice our Italian. Among Alessio's group of friends was a guy called Fabio. From the day Alessio's friends saw me and Fabio together, the fact that we bear a striking physical esemblance to each other became a running joke among the whole group, so much to the point that, by the end of the trip, I was addressing him as fratello (brother).

In all, my five days in Sicily gave me a real taste of the island, its people and the way it feels inexplicably different to mainland Italy. I met some wonderful people there through Alessio and can't wait to return there one day and see them again.

As of tomorrow I'm back in Italy to stay with a family there. I'm really not sure what to expect and am currently feeling a cocktail of excitement and nerves due to the whole stepping into the unknown. No doubt my next blog will be while I'm there.