mercoledì 28 novembre 2007

The best Italian film ever made (in my humble opinion)

Must do better. This is my new motto in the light of criticism from those - OK, one person - who have noticed that I'm not really keeping on top of the blogging thing - and it's true. It would appear that the three elements of my blog title are encroaching on blog itself and blog is letting the side down....

It's been a busy week so far. This morning I arrived at the office in record time, just before nine (despite having overslept and woken up at 8:20 rather than 7:20!), parked my car and headed in, only to open my bag and discover that I had picked up Luca's car keys by mistake. So I had to get back in the car, queue in the traffic going into the city centre to get home and give him the keys before returning to the office an hour late. Great start!

On Sunday evening I introduced Luca to my all-time, number 1, favourite of all favourite Italian films. I love it so much it even makes it into my top ten favourite films ever. It's an Italian classic, and if you haven't seen it, drop what you're doing and rent / buy / steal it NOW... It is Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.
The film is set in a small Sicilian village during the 1940s / 50s, and follows the life of a young boy called Salvatore (otherwise known as Totò) and his relationship with the village cinema, which at a time when foreign travel, entertainment and education were very limited, serves as a single point of reference for the entire village population. The film is very authentic in its depiction of 'the old Sicily', beatifully put together and set to tear-jerking music by the one and only Ennio Morricone. It's impossible to watch this film and not cry at the end - no matter who you are! Even Luca found it emotional, although he claimed it was just because it reminded him of his Sicilian childhood... Well I was brought up in Essex and it still gets to me every time!
If you don't have it already, this is definitely one for the Christmas list...

martedì 20 novembre 2007

Three cheers for Ikea!!

Ikea have recently announced that this year anyone who buys a real Christmas tree from any of its stores in Italy will be provided with a living tree and instructions on how to keep it alive. After Christmas, you can then return the live tree and you will receive a voucher for its original cost to spend in store. The tree will then form part of a new butterfly farm, to be built in a national park in the province of Udine. This initiative has been launched in collaboration with Friends of the Earth and the Comune di Bordano. The original press release and other information can be found in the links below.
What can I say? If you live in Italy, get your tree from Ikea.... and tell your friends!!!

martedì 13 novembre 2007


I work for one of Italy's most historic, influential and successful organisations. Today I discovered that as part of 'company policy' for all but senior management, if you badge in on your arrival in the morning even 1 minute late, you are automatically docked half an hour from your overtime. The same deal if you arrive a minute late from lunch. Apart from the fact that the badge culture is unacceptable in itself if you ask me - unless you're working in a chicken-stuffing factory in the 1970s - in any case, my protestations to the Human Resources department were met with "I know, it's a pain in the ass; it happens to us too...". I asked where this 'policy' comes from and who makes such decisions and all I got was a classic shrug, followed by "It's just always been this way..."
I hear from my American colleagues that us 'English / North American' employees are considered to be the 'rompi-palle' ( ball busters ) of the organisation because we always complain about little mistakes on our payslips and question things that most of the Italians just accept. GOOD!!

domenica 11 novembre 2007

The lunatics of Lulù

One thing that I have always felt is missing in Milan is a simple, relaxed place to drink tea and eat cake in a cosy as opposed to trendy environment. A little bit of chintz once in a while never hurt anyone... So anyway, out and about with a friend yesterday we're at a bit of a loose end when she remembers a really cute little tearoom called La cucina di Lulù, where they do a mean hot chocolate and have more choice of cake than your grandma's house on a Sunday. Despite the fact that it means a bit of a trek across the city, we decide it's worth it so we jump in the car and 25 minutes - and much road rage - later there we are. What do we find? "Closed". Noooooooo I can actually see all of the cakes lined up on the counter and my stomach is already rumbling. Upon closer inspection, K notices a sign on the door stating that they open at 6. "What's the time?". "5:30". "Damn it". What to do? It's cold and the nearest shop sells sheets and towels. So we decide to go for a wander, and in our cake-staved state end up drooling over a stupidly-expensive designer shoe shop, picking out our fantasy favourites for imagined occasions... At 6 o'clock on the dot, we are outside the cafè, expecting some kind old lady to come along with the keys, open up and put the kettle on the stove just for us. 18:05, 18:10... We start observing the comings and goings of the neighboring gym, the groups of girls tottering in in their stilettos and heavy make-up (??!!), the "hip" young guys in their designer gym gear, and a middle-aged couple having a blazing row about his 'appreciation' of afore-mentioned females. 18:15, 18:20... Getting really annoyed by now... 18:25...At this point, we decide we've had enough and just as we're starting to move away, I notice a light on towards the back and so I knock on the door. A chef appears, turns the key, pulls the door open slightly, and lets go of it so it slams in my face. Errr, ok... Not sure what to do, I put my head around the door and say "Excuse me, are you open?" "Six thirty" is the response I get as Mr Rude Chef Man turns his back and starts to walk back to the kitchen. "Oh, it's just that on the door it says that you open at 6" I protest. "Does it? Well it's six thirty" he snaps as he disappears, slamming the kitchen door behind him and leaving us in the dark. I'm sorry? What? Say what?? Needless to say, our desire for tea and cake made a sharp exit, as did we. Being used to a lack of customer care, and the general rudeness that seems to be a part of everyday life here is one thing, but this was beyond the limit. The plan is to go back this afternoon and 'have a word' with whoever is responsible for the place. I doubt it will make any difference, but at least we'll feel better - more so if the tea and cake really is as good as they say it is.

giovedì 8 novembre 2007

The land of contradictions...

I've been thinking recently just how much Italy is a land of contradictions - or certainly Milan is a city of contradictions. This is a city where people take home the minimum wage, yet dress from head to toe in Dolce & Gabbana and carry genuine Louis Vuitton handbags. It is where people live in small, overcrowded apartments, yet drive brand new BMWs / Mercedes / Ducati motobikes. It is where you can spend 100 euros per person on a gourmet meal in a smart restaurant, yet find that the bathroom is a hole in the ground over which you have to squat. In Milan, people pay 4000 euros per month to live in apartments on streets where not a single one of the buildings has escaped the work of the local graffitti artist, and where the pavements are smeared with dogs' muck and discarded chewing gum. This is a land celebrated for its artisitic and musical heritage, yet your average Italian will not set foot in a theatre or concert hall from one year to the next. Here everyone spends their lives worrying about "bella figura" i.e. looking good infront of others, yet they're quite happy to cut you up at the traffic lights, slam their hand on the horn, and stick a finger up at you in the rear view mirror as they pass. Stranger still, they have low cost red wine that practically runs out of the taps yet they don't tend to get blind drunk, and the women are slim and gorgeous yet I've never seen so much food in my life. It appears we're no longer in Kansas, Toto....

mercoledì 7 novembre 2007


In the local newspaper today, it was reported that there are 800 premature deaths each year in Milan as a direct result of air pollution. The city council's latest idea to help combat the problem is the introduction of a congestion charge, along the lines of the system adopted by London, to discourage drivers from using their cars in the city centre. Whilst in principle, I like the idea and am totally in agreement that something needs to be done, in practice I ask myself how such a revolutionary plan will be executed and maintained in a city where even the most basic rules and regulations go ignored (and the ignoring goes unpunished) on a daily basis. If it takes the city administration anything up to 6 months to process a residency request, and even a year to provide a Permesso di Soggiorno, where the hell are they going to find the necessary resources to manage such a system? Plus, when the congestion charge was introduced in London, the city council spent months planning and implementing a whole new road system, adapted the traffic lights, and tripled the public transport links within the centre. It is not uncommon to wait half an hour for a bus to pass, even right in the centre of Milan, or to find that your route has been spontaneously cancelled for a reason known only to whoever did it.
Milan simply has too many cars. The city is densely populated, with the majority of its residents living vertically - in blocks of apartments whose inhabitants were never meant to have 1, 2 or even 3 cars per family. When much of modern-day Milan was constructed ( or rather re-built ) in the post-war years, who could ever have imagined that 50 years on the motorcar would have become a cultural necessity, rather than a luxury reserved for the special few? When I look at my street - cars parked on every available pavement space, the grass verge, the zebra crossing... - I wonder where it's all going to end. As a driver myself I am well aware that I am contributing to the problem - actually Luca and I both have our own cars - indispensable during the day when we both travel for work, but which I wish we could fold up and put in our pockets when we get home at night and begin the daily ritual of 5-times-round-the-block-to-find-a-damn-spot.
Perhaps the 'powers that be' could do a little more to get the worst polluters off the roads - I don't know how many times a day I find myself choking in the wake of some rusty old heap which lost its road-worthiness long ago.

Ultimately, whilst I think an initiative such as the congestion charge can work well in a city such as London, which is equipped both financially and culturally, I am not convinced that it will go down so well over here. Aside from the fact that saving the planet doesn't seem to be all that high on many people's agendas, the Italian and his car go together like horse and carriage. I can't imagine the very many young "fighetti" ("cool people") dumping their sports cars and getting the number 54 bus to the Armani Caffè on a Friday night. And when it comes to 'finding a way around the problem', Italians are world experts... We'll see.

martedì 6 novembre 2007

And again....

Having enjoyed a whole month of good health, here I am again in my dressing gown, ibuprofen to hand, feeling very sorry for myself indeed. I did some research today on the internet (didn't feel much like working...) on getting a tonsillectomy. I wondered if this might solve the problem as I seem to suffer constantly with swollen glands and throat-related issues, but from what I have read it looks like a fairly horrendous procedure for an adult to undergo. One website even compared the pain of having your tonsils taken out with that of childbirth! I don't see how that can possibly be the case since they use a general anaesthetic and fill you with painkillers for a week afterwards. Ugh, the more I think about it, the worse I feel - I guess I will have to learn to live with a neck like Mike Tyson's, feeling pretty much like I've been hit by him too....

lunedì 5 novembre 2007


Having lost our suitcase on a flight from Milan to Naples in August, we just received a letter from Easyjet stating: "I note from your Baggage Questionnaire that you are pursuing a claim through your private insurer for your losses. As you are unable to claim through both the insurance company and the airline for the same losses, we are unable to assist you further with this matter". Guys, the "private insurance" was some ridiculous plastic wrapping that cost 7 euros , obviously did nothing to prevent our suitcase from being stolen BACK IN AUGUST, and who pay out ONLY IF THE AIRLINE COMPENSATES....... When the Easyjet lost luggage office opens at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning, wherever you are, you will hear the fireworks I promise....

sabato 3 novembre 2007

When in Rome....

The link below takes you to an article written in 2003 for the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper. It has recently sparked a long, heated discussion on an Expat website which I frequent - and both the article and discussion have proved very thought-provoking. First of all I have to say, I agree with much of the author's observations, and am impressed by his courage in putting such strong opinions in the public domain. Some (mainly Italian natives) have found the article to be unneccesary scathing, and whilst I am certain that everywhere in the world - not just Italy - has its lifestyle / culture / economy problems, I believe that many of the issues in this article need to be addressed. What do you think?