Well summer is here and my little town is full of visitors and starting to get very lively.
It’s the last day of school before the long 3 month summer holiday snd the tradition is that the kids soak themselves with water before going home.
I love the warm weather particularly the breakfast ritual. Going the bar for a pastry and cappuccino to watch Italian life go by. My town has a Saturday market and so there’s lots of action, friends meeting, cheek kissing, hands frantically moving to embellish the conversation….. Love it all.
At around 12.30 things start to quieten here. Local people are conscious of the 1pm lunch deadline and town empties out. The only ones left at the bar are visitors who lunch there and take in the sunshine.
My cappucino cup is empty. I have chatted and met up with some old friends but I am semi-local so I’m anxious to get back home for my pasta
Having lived in rural Italy for nearly 12 years I have learned never to expect the mundane and that every single day will present something unusual.
I am travelling around Thailand at the moment with a friend who lives mostly in London. The differences in our handling of situations are vast. My friend becomes irate at almost every inconvenience, every little set back and has no patience when a local person is trying to tell us something.
I on the other hand listen and look and of course smile. It then becomes much easier to understand what I am being told.
I am used to strange and unexpected things happening in my life (I do live in the country after all!). Things such as our taxi running out of petrol in the middle of Bangkok at 2 in the morning. My friend was furious and stormed off. I just flagged another one down and started again. The taxi drivers here seem to just cover one area of Bangkok (where I am currently) and so don’t know the other parts of the zone. This infuriated my companion here but as I keep saying, this isn’t London, life here is much more exiting!
Customs and general behaviour are obviously different. Religion, culture. It needs to be respected not compared to “back home”. Living in Italy, even such a short distance from my birth country has taught me that things done a different way aren’t wrong, they are just different and one shouldn’t anger because something is done in a different way. Instead, it is an opportunity to find a fascinating insight of into the culture.
Spring is in the air here in Tuscany and life is a buzz..!
Seriously, the moment the sun comes out to visit after winter time, every one is out having a strim.
Here in Italy, well, in the Tuscan countryside, the only way to garden is to use a strimmer. The sun rises and all day long buzzing of keen Italian gardeners cutting back the new growth of the season fills the air, and believe me things can grow really fast here in sunny Tuscany!
The first sign that spring is coming is the appearance of the Mimosa. It is given to ladies on the “Festa della Donna” or International Women’s day. It has tiny yellow fragrant flowers and grows very easily in these parts. Not only is it very common here but it’s also extremely versatile. You can use it to make cakes and drinks. Hmmmm, maybe I’ll let you have a recipe for this in the near future.
We’ve been joining in the spring time gardening fever and have cleared a small piece of land that we have. This land can only be used for planting though and not for animals. We do have another tiny piece that can only be used to tether animals so there’s a great place if the kids start to play up!
Now that we have cleared our land we will wait until the end of April or May time and start our “orto” or veg patch but I won’t be adhering to the local custom of planting certain plants when the moon is at a particular stage in its cycle, that’s far too complicated for us.
We’ll grow the staple tomatoes, both salad and normal, courgettes (zucchini), aubergine, cucumber and peppers. Yummy, can’t wait. There’s nothing more satisfying than just nipping out to the garden to pick a basket full of vegetables and then going back to cook and eat them the same day. Love it.
We have rescued our poor fig tree which was overwhelmed by brambles and elder (sambuco). This plant will be my absolute joy this summer when it should produce two crops of delicious figs. My favourite. I eat the the whole fruit, and very quickly I might add, but Italian friends of mine howl with laughter because they don’t eat the skin. Just the insides but that is a subject for another post in the future.
Volterra is a place I hadn’t visited before so when the opportunity arose to go and see this very medieval hill top town, as usual, I jumped at the chance.
You may have heard of it. It is an important location in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series although most of the important scenes were actually shot in Montepulciano, another place on my must visit and report on list.
After the fabulous views all around this place, I was struck initially about how sensible it was organised. I mean, there is actually a carpark (paid parking) under the town. We had no trouble in parking and it was easy to find our way into the main part, inside the walls.
First impressions, alabaster. There is a lot of alabaster here. There is the Alabaster Museum to visit where there are over 300 pieces of art from the 18th and 19th centuries. There are also more than a few alabaster shops where you can buy some quite classy pieces for the house or just a simple holiday souvenir. You also have the chance to see the alabaster being worked in one of the workshops there.
There is also a museum of torture which greets you with a huge werewolf. You may think is fun to visit as I did, but I found it to be quite heavy going due to the subject matter. It is, however, very well organised and interesting although afterwards, I was more than ready for a tasty glass of wine in one of the chic wine bars that dot the place.
Lunch was in a lovely trattoria down one of the little cobbled side streets, tagliatelle al tartufo washed down with a local glass of white wine and finished off with a slug of espresso.
I visited Volterra in winter time. This place gets pretty crowded in the summer and in winter you get a feel for the real town. There is a traditional Saturday market too. In the the winter it is in the Piazza dei Priori and in the summer in the Vallebuona in front of the Roman theatre. Yes Volterra has a bit of everything. Roman and Etruscan history and remains. It even has a state prison, cleverly disguised as what I thought was some sort of ancient and well-preserved castle. I hurried away when I realised!
What did I like about Volterra in winter? I like the fact that you could feel the medieval ambience there. It is a well organised place but with chic little bars down fascinating streets as well as some cool up-market shops there. You wouldn’t have the same intimacy in the summer when the crowds are pulling you in all directions and the heat can be stifling.
Summer? Yes, actually I can’t wait to go in the summer and see the change, and of course report back.
Are Italian men sexy? Well, I should know, after all I’ve lived here since 2005, AND I have a lot of Italian girlfriends so I think I am well qualified to give you the low down.
I was going to wait a little longer before committing to writing about Italian men since I have such a lot to say, I thought it would be, and it will be, very time consuming. I did feel that I ought to at least start for you may curious people out there and I was almost thrown into writing it when I was feeling angry at my current, if very part-time partner who suggested getting together on New Year’s Eve only to spoil things by saying to me “of course at mid-night, I will have to go outside and phone my other lady friends to wish them a Happy New Year” on my evening? I don’t think so, so I turned him down. Come on you Italian guys, have a little respect please, we ladies are human and we do have feelings.
Back to the subject at hand. Just imagine those sexy, tanned, sultry looking Italian men you see in the ads lounging across a big soft bed and looking, well, sexy. The harsh truth is that they sleep in jersey boxer shorts with either old t-shirts or sweatshirts on the top. Their aim is to keep warm. Heaven help them if they have a shoulder sticking out from under the duvet and it catches cold. You’ll never hear the end of it.
My ex used to get dressed the next morning, still wearing the said boxer shorts but he did, at least change the shirt. He even wore a pair of ladies pj’s (his mother bought them and didn’t understand the English, very girly, motto on them) just to keep warm. Sexy Italian man? I don’t think so.
Yes, they can certainly charm you. Who doesn’t melt at the heavily accented “I’m from Italy” initial chat up line and that oh so charming kiss on the hand but whoa there ladies, he has only one objective, to charm himself into your bedroom, where, according to him, you belong, and he knows it works!
Society here in Italy is very sexist with women being shown in the media as decorative items with no brains required thanks. It is very reminiscent of 1970’s Britain and the Benny Hill show. Ladies flutter and flaunt and only say silly unimportant things. The men are important and they are allowed, by society, to treat women as baubles for their pleasure. I have seen couples discussing how beautiful, or otherwise a woman, young or otherwise, is. The lady half of the couple having to give her, usually generous opinion, without jealousy, in agreement with her other half. Of course, the men themselves are all “handsome” in their own eyes, and very much available to any opportunity that may come their way.
My girlfriends, all had fathers who were serial womanisers, their wives turning a blind eye. They went on to marry men who were serial womanisers too, only they didn’t turn a blind eye and separated. They do not have a single good word to say about Italian males, many preferring to pin their hopes on foreign men who are seen as more trustworthy and reliable.
Are Italian men dangerously reckless and sexy?
No. Everything is bad for you and you shouldn’t do it.
Will they take you on an adventure, to dinner, to anywhere?
No – they will often dine with their male friends and adventures are expensive. All the Italian males I have dated have been a little short in the arm when it comes to reaching into their pockets for their wallet to treat their date like a special person.
Are Italian men fun?
Yes – if you don’t pressure them into committing to you (that takes years) and you try to take each encounter as it comes and don’t, what ever you do, believe what he is telling you about being the most beautiful, fabulous, incredible creature he has ever met. He’s probably just been saying the exact same thing to someone else just half an hour before you met.
End of part 1
Christmas Italian style, I love it. It is still old fashioned, traditional and atmospheric.
I like nothing more than to go into nearby Lucca and wander up and down the narrow cobbled streets looking at the wonderfully warm and Christmassy window displays.
I love it because it doesn’t start too early. No tacky cards on display from August. Nope. Here it starts after All Saints’ Day which is on 1 November.
Whilst there aren’t really any shopping bargains to be had, it is lovely to go into a little, traditional shop and see your purchased goodies carefully wrapped up into the most glorious package usually at no extra charge. The assistant asks “è un regalo?” Is it a present? One nod of the head sees them bringing out richly coloured wrapping paper and ribbons galore for curling into divine, festive ringlets.
I have said so before but I love to take a delicious Italian hot chocolate in winter. It is thick and rich. You eat it with a spoon, there’s no drinking this stuff and you can take it with or without panna (whipped cream).
My current favourite is cioccolato fondente con menta e senza panna, that is dark chocolate with mint and without cream, it is too luxuriously fabulous to describe, and is always finished too soon.
Before Christmas Italians go to friends houses to wish them best seasons withes. The process involves drinking (well it does in my zone) a warm mandarin punch or two and eating a little cake.
The nativity is on display in every Italian home. Some towns have lavish displays. Ours, an old hilltop town, prefers a living nativity where, two days before Christmas, the locals, dress up in historical costume for displays of life in olden times. As you wind your way up and down the tight medieval streets, you can see traditional crafts, sample old local foods and partake of a vin brulée or two whilst hoping to get a glimpse of Mary and Joseph and the “real” donkey as they make their way up to the church on the summit.
Food-wise, nothing is really prepared in advance of Christmas in Italy. I was always used to starting my Christmas cake in October and being well prepared for our festive eating but in Italy, Christmas day food is prepared fresh in the morning. In my 11 years living here, I have spent 7 of them living in an Italian home with an Italian family and Italian traditions.
Christmas lunch menu was usually, crostini, tortellini in brodo followed by lasagne. I used to roast a turkey and serve vegetables but many households have roast pork which is eaten a lot. There is often also another pasta with a sauce before the meat course.
Pudding was usually simple with an up-market panettoni or pandoro and coffee.
Santa or Babbo Natale is fairly new here in Italy. The Christmas tradition here was and still is, La Befana who comes on Epiphany to give the good children toys and the naughty children, coal.