Ten Things about Italy

We moved towards the last leg of the trip, leaving Italy to return to French soil in the shape of Corsica-one hour from and in sight of Sardinia. I began to reflect on the things I’d learned about Italy from having spent a longer and more comprehensive block of time in the country [albeit mainly in the south]. Here, in no particular order are some of them:

  • If you want a coffee in Italy, forget about Starbucks and Costa. It will be no use asking for a cortado, a machiatto, a cappucino or a flat white. These are coffees that sound Italian, that someone in marketing has thought up. You may get a latte [although to my mind you may just as well get a cup of hot milk, but in any bar you can have an espresso [beloved by most Italians]-a tiny shot or an Americano-a tiny shot with extra hot water. I achieved my preferred coffee by asking for Americano with ‘piccolo latte’.
  • Despite the Walls ice cream ad, asking for a cornetto will get you a croissant. The custard ones are wonderful.
  • It is well known that Italian drivers are amongst the worst, most aggressive and dangerous in the world.Sicilian drivers are the worst in Italy. The cities of Messina, Catania and Palermo boast the worst of the worst. Intersections in Palermo are akin to some demonic, vehicule version of the Hokey-Cokey, with everyone rushing into the middle, hooting, shouting and gesticulating. Traffic lights are entirely superfluous.
  • Service stations and some cafes have a most eccentric and baffling system for purchasing coffees and snacks whereby a ticket must be got from a cashier in advance of items being prepared. So confused were we the first time that we gave up altogether.
  • Whilst we sweltered in T-shirts and shorts in the fierce May sun the locals went about their business swathed in multiple layers of puffa jackets, body warmers and scarves. I imagine we seemed insane to their chilly selves.
  • Despite the likes of Versace etc Italians slob around as style-less as the rest of us. On the ferry to Sardinia there was a distressing array of bri-nylon track suits. The women are welded to their cosmetics, rarely to be seen without a full face of make-up and the men are fond of their hair, often sporting outrageous styles. Thy are also as weight challenged as anybody else.
  • To chomp your way through a typical Italian menu you would have to be Billy Bunter. There is a bewildering number of courses, the second of which is a full plate of pasta. Best advice is to skip the pasta course.
  • It seems a cliche but Italians are correct to be proud of their gelati. Italian ice cream really is the best. The coffee cone I had in Venice was the most delicious ice cream ever.
  • The contrasts are extreme. In the East of Sicily, where package tourists congregate the roads are akin to the Etna volcanic landscape, the fly tippers have carte blanche and the drivers are suicidal maniacs. The West is a pristine, smooth, quiet haven. In Palermo there are beautiful, renovated piazzas with clean, restored basilicas, cathedrals and monuments. Step away down a narrow alley and you will be instantly into a third world ghetto of open sewers, garbage, feral dogs and dodgy characters.
  • Italian is a most beautiful, musical language about which I intend to devote an entire post in due course…
Advertisements

Not Keeping Up

In July 2013 I wrote a post titled ’To Keep up or not to Keep up’ about the tricky business of making yourself presentable and the relationship between age and length of time taken on this activity.

So how is this developing now that two years have elapsed? I must confess, reader that interesting developments are taking place which indicate to me that ageing is truly underway. Why do I think this? Is it because the length of time has elongated further? Is it because failing eyesight disguises many of the defects I previously sought to conceal? No. It is chiefly because I am ceasing to be bothered.

                Allow me to explain. If you consider appearance versus comfort to be on some kind of sliding scale, then as you become older you are more interested in comfort than appearance. This is where ‘couldn’t care less’ begins to kick in, for example:

  • Footwear. Never having been a fan of ‘stiletto’ type heels the search for acceptable occasion shoes continues to be a problem. In everyday life I resort to any kind of flat shoe that will accommodate the soft gel pads I am obliged to wear in order not to be crippled by mere walking.
  • De-hairing. I am both increasingly short-sighted and clumsy. Leg shaving in the shower is a haphazard and often gory affair, the results of which are less alluring than the au natural, hirsute look.
  • Clothing. The sliding scale is graphically illustrated here. Close-fitting, skimpy and diaphanous, once slung on with casual abandon gave way to wider straps, loose and opaque then sleeves and roomy. Bikini became swimsuit became avoid-the-water.
  • Make-up. I have never been prone to leaping out of bed in the mornings and setting to with a bag full of cosmetics, preferring the ‘scrub-up-ok’ approach of saving make up for outings of the evening kind. Once we are underway in our camper van on an extended trip I rarely glance into a mirror. I can heartily recommend going for weeks without looking at yourself-it is totally refreshing and relaxing.
  • Hair. Aha! Hair is possibly the one area where I’ve continued to hang on to any shred of concern over appearance. I still cling to the illusion that I have colour in my locks, to the point where I actually have no clue as to how grey I’ve become. I’ve made the concession to become blonde-ish. The overall effect is of ‘mouse’. When I turned 60 I posed the idea of succumbing to grey to Husband, who rubbished the idea [although he sports his own grey topping-an example of distinguished for men versus frumpy for women].

It remains to be seen how ‘couldn’t-care-less’ progresses. What next? Forget hair-brushing? Give up on the need for a daily shower? Stick to nightwear? [I must qualify this by mentioning that I don’t own any nightwear at present]. Stay in bed? Ah yes-of course-death…

Grey-What Does it do for You?

Grey. It’s the colour of the moment.
For one thing, I have just swapped the vibrant, colourful exuberance of the Caribbean for the dull, sombre, grey skies above the UK. It made me wonder what immigrants from hot, sunny climates must make of their first sight of our island country. For grey weather, which we are prey to for long periods of our year renders everything else grey. Trees, vegetation, buildings and people-we are all grey; never mind that we are a ‘green and pleasant land’. It is not at all evident at present.
For another thing, the odious ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, that best-selling novel which was a sensation, made its lucky ‘writer’ into an immediate millionaire, spawned a brood of follow-ups plus copycat novels and should have been consigned, at best, to the Mills and Boon section of book shops and libraries has been released as a movie. The timing, of course is cynically devised to coincide with Valentine’s Day; the advertising and the accompanying merchandise in your face at every turn. The book, and it its turn the film are said to appeal to mature women. One study, by Michigan State University found that readers were more likely to be in abusive relationships or have drinking or drug problems. A cynic might suggest here that the university was somehow involved in the marketing of the book.
In other areas the ‘grey’ theme continues as, on returning from a holiday, once I have recovered and regained the ability to stand upright to peer into the mirror the inevitable grey roots of hair are apparent, surging through the remaining vestiges of colour as usual. At times like this I envy those who’ve had the courage to ditch the pretence. I almost followed suit two years ago as my 60th approached but was deterred by Husband, who may just have been right on that occasion. Making radical changes to your appearance is not best effected at such a momentous lifetime event.
From time to time the fashion industry conducts a serious campaign to seduce us to buy a lot of grey clothes. It does always work for me-I like grey, especially deep, charcoal grey although as I’ve grown older I’ve begun to realise that the relationship I have with it is not evenly balanced. Grey may not actually be so fond of me.
At the end of the last of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy a significant number of the main characters drift off in pale ships to somewhere called the ‘Grey Havens’. I’ve always wondered what the Grey Havens was. Was it a euphemism for death? After all some of the characters [eg the elves] had traded their immortality to save the world. Poor Frodo, forever injured by a blow from a ring-wraith was also compelled to repair to this mysterious location. Perhaps Tolkien knew something we don’t. Perhaps we all end up there, condemned forever to the grey. Who knows?

Hair today and wrong tomorrow

                Although she measured about 1 metre and a half in any dimension my grandmother was a formidable woman. She was forthright, unlikely to hold back on any pronouncement lurking in her head, without troubling over the outcome of such utterances. Despite her morbid obesity and lack of mobility she remained vigorous and lucid to the end of her 99 years and 10 months, continuing to bestow the benefit of her judgements and critiques to anyone who fell into the circle of her radar. After the last time I visited her she rang me, ostensibly to thank me for the visit, but in reality she had vital advice to impart upon the subject of my hair.

                “I had to ring you to tell you about your hair,” she said. “I thought it looked awful. Don’t you have it arranged?”

                There was more. There was a diatribe about colour, style, suitability for age and so on. I thanked her for her advice. I felt strangely calm and unaffected by the criticism, whilst appreciating the terminology-‘arranged’, I thought was a quaint and wonderful word to use. But she was right.

                The fact is I do have my hair ‘arranged’ whenever I visit the salon-roughly every 6 weeks or so. The ‘arrangement’ lasts approximately 12 hours, after which it returns to its former state. This state is akin to frayed string, or a recently harvested field of wheat, where the rough hewn stalks of chaff stick up like ancient, chewed bones.

                I love the salon. I love the wait, when I can wallow in the seldom enjoyed indulgence of ‘Hello’ magazine and wonder who all the slebs are. I love getting shampooed, made tea and consulted over my dishevelled locks. The cut and the dry never takes long enough for me, as it turns me to mush, rendering me incapable of coherent answers as to what I might be doing at the weekend. The final flourish, the mirror showing me the back view and the brushing off of the stray hairs is all part of the pleasure. I am always delighted with the result [the stylist has been dealing with my hair for several years]. This feeling of joy lasts until the next morning, by which time the frayed string will have re-emerged.

                I have never mastered the art of blow drying, where the act of a slow pull of a brush with one hand and simultaneous blowing with the other produces a sleek, shiny cap. I either get the rounded brush stuck in my hair [having to resort to scissors on occasions] or am unable to engage it altogether, so that I end up looking like shock-headed Peter.

                But I am as I am-outdoor/garden/camping sort of woman, and we camping type women tend not towards supermodel grooming. Might decide to be a man next time round.