Saturday, 1 October 2022

August in Rome with my mum

 So many things happened since I came back from Italy, not only the sad passing of the Queen, I wrote about in this blog, a piece which has been published in Woking Writers Circle’s website too ( ), but also the new PM, Liz Truss, and the disappointing results of the Italian general election (see a perceptive analysis here: ). Destructive flooding has affected Pakistan and Italy too. I will post my opinions soon but here are some thoughts about my time with my mum during the summer.

In Rome it was hot, sometimes unbearably hot, unbelievably hot, boiling. I thought I was living in an oven when we were outside. Inside we had to shut the windows just after 11 am and could not open them again before 7.30 pm. The air was stuffing, only fans and air conditioning could ease the situation a bit. Sweating tickled all over my body and my clothes were constantly damp. My mind refused to keep awake from time to time especially in the warmest moments of the day. Besides we had to wear face masks on public transports which didn’t help. However, I must say I had a good time with my mum. It wasn’t my ideal holiday but I spent a lot of time with her and had a good rest. It was a forced rest but a luxurious time too. I had plenty of leisure time to read, write and chat with her and her friends. We visited her neighbours and met her friends at the giardinetto, a patch of grass in the shade, sitting on plastic chairs and sipping cold tea in the late evenings. Her friends speak a lot about their families, their past and how much life has changed since they were young. Covid and various illnesses were among the top arguments and sometimes they cracked a joke.

My mum is fine on the whole but I found her slimmer as she was eating less because of the heat. Her carer, Ina, is nice and helpful with her. She does all the cleaning and helped us with the shopping at the supermarket. My mum is a good cook; she makes simple and tasty Italian food but she is becoming a bit lazy lately, so I helped her. We made pomodori col riso (tomatoes stuffed with rice), pasta e fagioli, caprese and frittata with zucchini. She made her special tomato sauce and minestrone. Apart from a bit of cooking I did not have house chores, ironing or washing up to do, so I had a real rest. I helped my mum with some bills at the post office and fixed a problem with a card she had lost. We went shopping together visiting all the nice shops in her area. I bought two new necklaces, a crochet handbag that copies Fendi patterns, beads, key rings and coloured paper at a shop kept by Chinese people where everything is cheaper, and a lot of wool and cotton yarns for my crochet projects.

I made some crochet mandalas (or potholders as my mum calls them) and crochet charms while I was watching TV in the evening. She gave me some good advice about matching colours and what kind of pattern to choose. We watched Il commisario Ricciardi, Miss Marple and In Onda, a programme on Italian politics on La7. I watched the final of the Women’s Euro 2022, of course, enjoyed all of it and cheered when the Lionesses finally won. Their performance was inspirational, a great boost for women’s football and for women’s sports in general. Millions of people followed the match from all over the world celebrating their astonishing victory. I especially liked Alessia Russo’s backheel goal and Beth Mead’s incredible numbers of goals. A great achievement! 

Most of the crochet work I made in Italy was for charity. I gave it to a friend of my mum who organises charity markets for the parish church and also made some more to give to friends. The pieces are very colourful and I must say they were very much appreciated. Before leaving for Italy I put on a sunflower installation on the post box near Tesco in Chobham and am planning a new installation for Halloween. In Italy I also had time to read some books and wrote some art and poetry reviews. Luckily, I solved the internet problem I had had in Italy in the past as my internet data with Vodafone expired very quickly. Now I have a new contract with O2 that gives me much more data so I could browse online

newspapers, connect to social media and check and send emails every day. I painted too, only flowers in watercolours, obsessed with Wisley Gardens I had visited before leaving. I gave a few to friends but kept some of them for the coming exhibitions and fairs. I have an Art Fair at Chobham Village Hall on Saturday the 8th of October which is part of Chobham Festival and on the 26th and 27th of November at The Lightbox. Here are the links:

I will be there with my paintings, crochet, textiles, jewellery, cards and books. Besides my self-published pamphlet, A Winding Road (2011), and my first collection, Negotiating Caponata (2020), I have a new book: Workwear, published by The High Window. It is not officially out yet until the middle of November but I already have some copies. My daughter made the painting for the front cover which I think is brilliant and reflects perfectly the spirit of the poems of the collection. The book launch will be on zoom at a certain point, probably at the end of November. The book will be publicised on The High Window website and on my website as well and there will be a PayPal button to purchase a copy. 

In Rome I managed to visit Casina delle Civette in Villa Torlonia and Casa Balla in via Oslavia, near piazza Mazzini. Villa Torlonia is one of my favourite places in Rome. I go back there again and again also because it is not far from my mum’s place. It is a large park in via Nomentana that belonged to aristocratic families. The different buildings scattered in the park were expanded and refurbished by Giuseppe Valadier and after his death by Giovanni Caretti in the 19th century. It was the residence of Mussolini and his family and when the war ended was occupied by the Allied High Command until 1947. In the 1970s it was bought by the Municipality of Rome and restoration works started. Little by little all the buildings were refurbished and opened to the public. My favourite building is Casina delle Civette (House of the Owls) which was originally a Swiss Hut that the Prince Giovanni Torlonia jr. wanted restored. The name comes from the stained glass windows by Duilio Cambellotti (1914 and 1918) featuring owls. 

The three main designers whose stained glass works adorn the cottage are Paolo Paschetto, Umberto

Botazzi and Duilio Cambellotti. They have different styles but also some shared traits that reflect the kind of media they have in common, that is, stained glass panels or windows. Botazzi’s work has stronger contrasts of dark and light as in ‘I Cigni’ (Swans, 1914) which features a black and a white swan and in the complex piece ‘I Pavoni’ (Peacocks, 1912). ‘La Fata’ (The Fair, 1917) by DuilioCambellotti is my favourite piece both in the use of delicate colours and in the unusual pose of the figure, sitting with a leg upright and looking aside in a mysterious attitude. Paolo Paschetto realised enchanting compositions of flowers, vegetation and geometric shapes. His colours are particularly vivid and the compositions convey a sense of harmony. Here is a useful link to know more on Casina delle Civette: 

Here are also two links to reviews I wrote on exhibitions in Villa Torlonia:

And here is a poem I wrote on the park and its fabulous buildings:

Villa Torlonia revisited

I was not there when the Villa passed from the Pamphilj to the Colonna family 

and then sold to the wealthy Torlonia in 1797.

I was not there when the park was remodelled and the edifices refurbished 

and expanded by Giuseppe Valadier.

I was not there when Giovanni Torlonia converted the Swiss Hut 

into the splendid Casina delle Civette.

I was not there when the Villa was rented to Mussolini 

and when it was the centre of the Allied High Command.

But I was there when it opened to the public in 1978,

the park glorious in the dusk 

its palm trees speaking of ancient times 

when garden parties sang of the flânerie of the privileged 

their leisure and intellectual idleness.

I was there to witness the deterioration of the buildings within fences, 

no access allowed to the interiors, 

like dark caves abandoned to the dancing brambles.

Casino Nobile, Casino dei Principi, 

the faux ruins, the Lemon House and Moorish Conservatory 

reminders of past glories.

But I am here now after the pandemic,

there is lemon and sugar in the air 

renewal glows 

disseminating its prism of light.

Casa Balla was a revelation. It is a large apartment in a block of flats in the Victoria district in Rome. Giacomo Balla, the famous futurist painter, and his family lived there from 1929 until his death in 1958, and his daughters kept the house museum intact until their death in the 1990s. The family transformed their home in a work of art painting and decorating the walls, doors, furniture and fittings. Here is the link to Casa Balla website: 

and to my review on the London Grip: 

To end on a sweet tooth, here are some new recipes I experimented with my mum in Rome:

Biscotti vegani (Vegan biscuits)

You need: 200 g ground hazel nuts, 200 g ground almonds (or mixed nuts), 300 g wholemeal flour, 1 tsp of baking powder, some drops of vanilla essence, ½ tsp of cinnamon, 4 tbsp of sunflower oil, a glass of water, 200 g of demerara sugar. 

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and make small balls. Bake the biscuits on a tray lined with parchment paper for 15-20 minutes at 180  C.

Pistachio bites

You need: 150 g of shelled pistachio, 70 g of ground almonds, 4 tbsp of olive oil, 160 g of self-raising flour, a pinch of salt, 150 g of sugar, one tsp of baking powder, three eggs, grated zest of a lemon, parchment paper. For the glaze you need: 2-3 tbsp of lemon juice, 200 g of icing sugar, some chopped pistachios.

Beat the eggs and sugar and pour in the olive oil. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until you have a smooth dough. Pour the mixture in a rectangular tray lined with parchment paper and bake for half an hour at 180 C. When it is cool prepare the glaze mixing the icing sugar and the lemon juice then scatter the pistachios on top. Finally cut it in squares once the glaze is settled.

Apricot tart

For the dough you need: 100 g of melted butter, 200 g of self-raising flour, 100 g of ground almonds, 100 g of sugar, 2 eggs, some drops of vanilla extracts, some lukewarm milk.

For the filling you need: 900 g of apricots, three tbsp of demerara sugar, 300 g of sour cream, 200 g of yogurt Greek style.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients. Let it rest for half an hour then roll it out and line a greased tart tin cake or a rectangular tin cake. Prepare the filling mixing the yogurt, the sugar and the sour cream. Pour the mixture on the dough then cut the apricots in quarters and decorate the top. Bake for half an hour at 180 C.

Focaccia with zucchini flowers

For the dough you need: 400 g of plain flour, dry yeast, two tbsp of olive oil, ½ tsp of salt, some lukewarm water.

For the filling you need: some zucchini flowers, black pitted olives, pine nuts, olive oil, half an onion.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients and knead it, then let it rest for two hours covered with a wet tea towel in a warm place. Soak the zucchini flowers in water. Prepare the filling cutting the onion finely and fry it slightly in olive oil. Add the zucchini flowers roughly cut and finally the olives and pine nuts. Roll out half of the dough and line a greased rectangular oven tray. Pour the zucchini flower mixture on the dough and cover it with the rest of the dough. Bake for half an hour at 180 C.

Buns with herbs

You need: 400 g of strong flour, dry yeast, 2 tbsp of olive oil, one tsp of salt, two eggs, some lukewarm water. For the filling you need: mixed fresh herbs (e.g., oregano, basil, parsley, till, rosemary), olive oil, two eggs, salt and pepper.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients and knead it, then let it rest for two hours covered with a wet tea towel in a warm place. Roll it out on a piece of parchment paper and spread the herbs on the top. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, add olive oil and two beaten eggs. Roll the dough over and bake for 20-30 minutes at 200 C. Take it out of the oven and cut it in 2’’ slices. Put the buns back in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until ready.

Rich summer tiramisu

You need: savoiardi biscuits, mixed berries, amaretti biscuits, coffee plus liquor (optional), 50 g of grated dark chocolate. For the cream you need: 250 g of mascarpone, 3 eggs, 4 tbsp of sugar.

Prepare the coffee and add the liquor (optional) then let it cool. Prepare the cream beating the yolks of the eggs with the sugar. Beat the egg whites until stiff and blend it in the sugar and egg mixture then add the mascarpone cream. Chop the berries and mix them to the cream (keep some of them to decorate the top). Soak the savoiardi in the coffee and form a layer at the bottom of a rectangular plastic or glass container. Spread some of the cream on the savoiardi layer and sprinkle crushed amaretti on top too. Form another layer of savoiardi and add cream and crushed amaretti. End with a layer of cream and decorate the top with some berries and grated dark chocolate. Chill for a few hours before serving. 

Enjoy 😃

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