Sunday, 14 October 2018

In touch with my family

While I was in Surrey with my mum, the rest of the family was away for the summer. My autistic daughter Valentina lives in a residential school near Doncaster so we go and visit her every three-four weeks. She was in a creative mood this summer. Every time we went she drew for us whatever she wanted to watch or get, like cartoon characters (Futurama and SpongeBob are her favourites), new clothes or special food. She has become so skilful with it that it is her main way of communicating when there is something different she wants from the usual things. She had a go with the swimming pool the staff arranged for her in the garden but didn’t seem happy to go out when we visited. She preferred to stay inside, enjoy our company and change her clothes arranging them in fashionable funky ways.

My other daughter is in Tokyo so my husband and my son went to see her for a few weeks. They were enthusiastic about it. They described Japan as very well organized and tidy. Trains are always on time, there’s no litter in the streets and people never speak loudly, they whisper or keep silent, and bow of course, at a proper distance from one another. They said museums are not so great, but their art is superb. unfortunately mount Fuji is often wrapped in fog, so it is hard to get good pictures, better download them from the internet. They sent me some funny photos with my husband framed as a geisha and my daughter and son smiling in a busy market place. It was hot, they said, and food is good, though some things, like vegetables and fruit, can be very expensive, £10 for some grapes and £3 for an orange.

We had two family gatherings. One in front of the TV watching the Football World Cup in July. Unfortunately, the Italian team was out but we supported different teams in turns according to our whims. I supported England, of course, and hoped till the end it could make it against Croatia, but the Croatians looked so tense and determined to win, sort of shipwreck survivors’ squad, that managed to defeat the well fed and fit English players. Maybe next time. But I was happy England got so far, I think it was a great achievement.

At the end of the summer, my eldest son and daughter in law came to visit us from Leeds for a week. It was wonderful to have them with us for some time, relax together, watch TV, have a long good chat after dinner. They had time to visit London and meet her relatives in the south as well. We went to a new Italian restaurant together, Rosso Mazara (, where we spoiled ourselves with fantastic gamberoni (big prawns), linguini allo scoglio (linguini with seafood), pasta alla norma (you can find the recipe here below), calamari, sardines and delicious bruschetta and arancini.

My mum and I dragged my daughter in law in our charity shops hunting tours. We could pick up a
few bargains ranging from clothes, CDs, haberdashery, china and glass stuff and toys. I found a little doll with a set of clothes and shoes for my daughter Valentina for £2 and wine and sherry glasses I craved for only £1 each. My mum found a lamp for £3 and some vases she is going to bring back to Italy. Then clothes, of course, a long dress with bead decorations I am going to send to my daughter in Japan and beautiful frames for £1 or £2, sort of vintage style, which I prefer to the brand new ones you pay £10 or more for in department stores.

I use frames for many occasions, above all for photos. I need to have family photos everywhere at home: walls, shelves, near my desk, which is the kitchen table, on the fridge, and near the TV. My children are all away from home and though I keep in touch with them by Skype, WhatsApp and by phone, but it is still hard for me not seeing them often, especially my ‘Japanese’ daughter. So I keep them at hand in family pics I update from time to time creating compositions and collages, crowding the house with their smiling presence.

Shopping in charity shops has multiple advantages. First of all, the economic one, you will never spend much money there, I mean hundreds of pounds, and the money will go for a good cause. Besides, you can find something unique, maybe old style that can add a quirky touch to your outfit, and it can be good quality. Then there is the treasure-hunt, surprise aspect, you never know what you’re going to find, the lucky pick hidden under a pile of faded scarves or felted pullovers. You need to be persistent and follow your instinct, something you may not need today might be vital tomorrow. So buy it, you need some distractions. And if you are not going to use it, you can give it as a present. Spoil yourself, it’s just a few pounds. My mum and I always feel better after our charity shop tours.

After our luscious dinner at Rosso Mazara, my mum and I experimented pasta alla norma at home. It is a recipe from Sicily created to pay a tribute to the great opera composer Vincenzo Bellini, who was from Catania. He wrote the score of Norma where the protagonist sings the famous aria (song) Casta Diva (Chaste Goddess. You can listen here to the aria sung by the great opera singer Maria Callas: ) to the moon to ask for protection and intercession. Though the recipe does not recall the unfortunate story of betrayal and self-sacrifice of the Gaul priestess, it is a very tasty dish that mixes typical Mediterranean products. Here is the recipe.

You need: 300 g of penne or fusilli, 2 aubergines, a clove of garlic, 300 g of cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, grated salted ricotta (sort of hard cheese you can find in Italian deli shops), half of a red onion.

Prepare the sauce cutting the tomatoes in half and cooking them in a pan with oil and garlic for half an hour. Add basil and simmer them for another half hour. Peel and cut the aubergines in cubes, fry them in a frying pan with some oil and the onion thinly cut. When ready, mix the aubergines and the tomato sauce in the pan and add the basil. Let it simmer for 15 minutes.

Prepare the pasta and season it with the sauce. Serve with grated salted ricotta on top and enjoy!

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Getting busy in Woking

My mum and I had a packed schedule over the summer. First of all, we became members of Woking leisure centre, attended the gym regularly once or twice a week plus other classes. My mum badly needed exercising to strengthen the muscles of her back hoping for some improvement with her pain. She suffers from back aches due to a twisted spine that is getting worse because of aging. Sometimes even walking is hell for her and she is worried she won’t be able to walk one day. For this reason, she also attended massage and ago puncture sessions in therapy centres and used the tens machine, which gave her a bit of relief. None of these activities solved her problem but were helpful on the whole and are probably contributing to avoid worse consequences.

She enjoyed the gym, especially pedalling, and also the stretch and balance classes where she could meet other elderly people. She didn’t like swimming or exercising in the water as she has developed a sort of uneasiness to water. On my part, I took the chance to start yoga classes again. Apart from a shocking first encounter with acrobatic yoga (I booked the class by mistake without being aware of what it was about, as there was no place left in the ‘normal’ yoga class that day), I adapted well to intermediate yoga sessions I attend twice a week with an excellent teacher. She is not only professionally topnotch and very attentive to all her students, no matter what level, she also intermingles her instructions with funny comments and hilarious explanations to make the exercise more ‘visual’, in some way. Here are some examples:

‘kneel down on one side and then the other as if you’re proposing to one person and then to another one’
‘cross your leg over as if you’re a dog looking for a tree to pee, but you haven’t found it yet’
‘squat like a bitch peeing, then turn your head and look to one side and to the other as if seeing if someone is coming’

‘squat as if peeing on a dirty toilet’

My mum also attended the Italian club at the Maybury centre where she joins other Italian ladies who play bingo and have a cup of tea and a piece of cake together. They also sing old traditional Italian songs and have a good chat together. She met them at the Italian mass as well and we went to the cinema to see Mamma mia, here we go again and Invincible 2 with her best friend. Though my mum doesn’t understand or speak English, she read the story of the films in Italian beforehand and managed to follow the shows pretty well. I love Abba songs so Mamma Mia 2 was just heaven for me. The cast were so exceptional that you could pardon the foregone (and rather improbable) happy ending where all couples magically and forcibly match. I was only a bit puzzled by the absence of the real ‘mother figure’ at the end of the story. I mean the Greek lady who helped Donna to get through her troubles, have the baby and set up the hotel. She was present in Donna’s life and helped her to fulfil her dreams. But the lady disappears at the end. Maybe there is no place for people like her in Hollywood fairy tales. Instead, Donna’s biological mother, Sophie’s grandmother, comes out (nothing to say about Cher’s wonderful performance, though she was rather stiff on stage, maybe due to the tight costume and high heels). She is the one who ignored Donna when she was a girl, didn’t even turn up at her graduation and banished her when she was pregnant (Mamma mia 1). She is a sort of redeemed bad witch; perhaps they meant to stress the power of forgiveness, mandatory when you deal with successful rich people.

I loved Invincible 2 as well, I found it as incredibly good as the first one. I especially liked the new leading role assigned to the wife and the unpredictable transformations and multi-power characteristics of the youngest child of the couple. What I found a bit foregone (again) was the necessity of having an evil figure, a villain in flesh and blood, so to say, eventually. In this case I thought the most natural ending would’ve been to have a sort of hidden or displaced and undefinable power that disturbingly controls people. But the movie was meant for children.

Mum and I managed to go the the New Victoria theatre as well, an easy place to reach as you can park in the shopping centre car park and go up with the lift. We went to see Evita and War Horse two superb performances my mum could enjoy completely in spite of her lack of English. Just putting on a nice dress, going out and having good fun made her happy. We loved the wonderful music, the songs beautifully sung and the impressive choreographies. We were flabbergasted by the horse puppets, so well made and skilfully moved by the puppeteers to the point of conveying the horses’ ‘feelings’.

During the summer we were also busy making things. My mum made me some dresses and skirts from patterns dating back to the 1970s I found at charity shops for 50p. she always says she is not a professional seamstress, which is true, but she is so precise in her work that the final product looks almost perfect. We went mad about Frida Kahlo, influenced by the outstanding exhibition at the V&A, and bought some fabric online. I even decorated a twig heart inspired by her colours and style. Some of the materials my mum used were lucky pics from sales and charity shops I bought for a few pounds, they really fuelled our creativity and kept my mum busy.

The other unmissable thing we did together was cooking, of course. We prepared delicious dishes planning menus in advance, using old and new recipes and relying on my mum’s undeniable cooking expertise, an art shared by most Italian mothers. We made home made ravioli, fettuccine and lasagne; we prepared rice with nettles, caponata, pasta alla norma, tomatoes stuffed with rice, black rice with prawns and various cakes from old and new recipes. This not only occupied our days in an agreeable and definitely useful way, but also encouraged my mum to have a proper meal, as she often has no appetite lately.

Here are some links to recipes I posted in the past:

new recipes my mum and I experimented during the summer will follow on this blog.