Saturday 25 April 2015

Spring in Rome, April 2015 (part 2)

During my week in Rome I also went shopping with my mum, of course, and couldn’t help bringing back new clothes, a pair of shoes, presents for the rest of the family and food. I had only hand luggage this time, hoping to  restrain my shopaholic impulses, and had to cram everything into one small suitcase. My handbag was filled to bursting. There were so many beautiful things I couldn’t afford that I opted for a picture instead. I found a nice vintage shop, Tempi Moderni, in Via del Governo Vecchio. It has unique ties in vivid colours and unusual patterns, ideal for my husband. And I discovered an original clothes shop in Via del Pellegrino, where a friend of mine lives, where I found a blue dress for an affordable price, unbelievable in the centre of Rome.
Piazza Campo de’ Fiori was full of colours, with fruit and vegetable stalls, a great variety of pasta and spices, oils and  peppers: all very Mediterranean. Tourists were everywhere. It was sunny and mild. I was getting into a holiday mood and finally relaxing.

To break my bliss I had a close encounter with the dysfunctional Italian bureaucratic system. Even after seven years, the school where I used to work before moving to England hasn’t completed a form (called PA04) which they need to send to the pension tracing service office to complete my file. The office  urged them several times to send it. I phoned the school again and again over the years. They always said they didn’t know how to fill it in and now they had lost trace of my request. I felt as if I were living in the animated film The Twelve Tasks of Asterix where the protagonist needs to find permit A38 in The Place That Sends You Mad. I should invent a new form, as Asterix did, to feel less powerless. But this is not the way it works in Italy, unfortunately. My sister had a similar problem. For two years officialdom failed to complete a document she needed and sent it from one office on the second floor to another on the fourth floor of the same building till a friend of hers, who was in the union, threatened legal action. In the end they did it in two weeks. I longed to be back in England.

I read two books, The Reunion by Fred Uhlman, a moving, very readable, story of friendship under Nazi regime and Le ali della sfinge, a Montalbano story by Andrea Camilleri. I love the Montalbano TV series. We always watch it at home. The actors are fantastic and the stories are full of local flavour with a pinch of true commitment to better the world, which is uncommon in detective stories. But the book is written in Sicilian dialect, not only the dialogues but also most of the story as it is narrated from Montalbano’s point of view. It was a struggle and a great effort to finish it, though I got used to it towards the end. It may be a good idea to read the next one in English.
Some news from newspapers and magazines:
In Milan an angry, crazy man went into the Law Court with a gun (the metal detector had been removed six months before as it was broken) and killed three people. It was revenge for   being sued for debts. He also managed to escape but was caught after some hours by Carabinieri.
The Vatican has refused to accept the gay French ambassador for the Holy See.
The Church is concerned about the wide gap between the one per cent of people who get richer and richer compared to the rest of the population who financially stagnate.
Sexist advertisements are finally banned. Until now, most of them have the voluptuous parts of the woman’s body  disrespectfully linked to a product, in a sort of soft pornography, a kind of family entertainment to remind women where their place is.
At the stadium in Naples one of the supporters, after singing a song saying ‘siamo partenopei’ (we are Neapolitan) didn’t know the real meaning of ‘partenopei’ (Partenope was an ancient Greek name for Naples referring to a myth). Hearing his comments, a teacher decided to start a blog about art with the title Art for Chavs, written in dialect.
There are several restaurants in Italy and around the world  called ‘Berlusconi Pizza’ and ‘Bunga Bunga Pizzeria’. They may create a proper dish in his honour in the future. You know, history can change facts. 
The day before leaving I had a whole family day at my sister’s. It was a really big dinner with lasagne, roasted rabbit and chicken, several side dishes and three desserts. Wine and prosecco at will. There were two of my cousins I hadn’t seen for ages as well. We had plenty of updating and laughs and beautiful pictures under my sister’s blossoming cherry tree.
New pasta recipes will follow.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Spring in Rome, April 2015 (part 1)

When I left Lancaster the weather was damp and cold. In a typically martyred-housewife attitude, I had also done my usual massive chores before leaving. Consequently, I had  terrible backache. I was unconsciously reproaching myself for having a week off abandoning my husband, who had to look after my autistic daughter Valentina. I had rewarded him by scouring the house.
Boarding the plane was straightforward except for an Italian family of four, at a loss. They tried to slip into the queue at the front entrance of the plane, then moved to the rear entrance and once inside battled the whole way against the crowd as their seats were at the front. I dozed off hoping my back would improve.
In Rome it was cold but sunny. I found my parents in a better mood than at Christmas, though my mother had had some heart problems a month before which didn’t seem a serious matter after some checks. They had planned all my week: supermarket the next day, an exhibition with my mum, shopping in Piazza Bologna, and a day at my sister’s with two cousins I hadn’t seen for a long time. They were overjoyed to see me. To fulfil all the tasks with such a painful backache I had to take pain killers and apply hot patches. Luckily I started to feel better after a few days and could try out new recipes with my mum. I will post them on this blog soon.

The exhibition Il principe dei sogni (Prince of Dreams) was at the beautiful palace of Quirinale where the President of the Italian Republic lives. I had a photo taken with a Corazziere, the tall, impeccable Italian guards who wear a helmet resembling the ancient, tailed Greek type. It was awesome. In the central yard a ceremony was going on. Certainly someone important was visiting the president but we didn’t know whom. I was with my mum and a group of her fellow students who attend an art history course for retired people. Their teacher was the guide. She introduced the tapestry exhibition with great enthusiasm, giving all the information on the restoration and repair of the ancient tapestries and the stories they represent. They narrate the story of Joseph from Genesis and were commissioned by Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1545 for the Sala dei Duecento in Florence. They are made up of twenty pieces which had been split in two in 1870 by the Savoy king to furnish the Quirinale (ten pieces in Florence and ten in Rome), now reunited after a twenty-seven year restoration.

The scenes from the Joseph story were drawn by Bronzino (16 scenes), Pontorno (3 scenes) and Salviati (1 scene). It was a great enterprise at the time because there wasn’t a tapestry tradition in Florence so two Flemish masters were hired to train skilled Italian workers. The aim was to establish the art of tapestry in Florence as well as complete the range of arts present in the city where great works of architecture, sculpture and painting were already produced. The exhibition was placed directly in the Corazzieri Hall, which has a rich golden ceiling with the Savoy coat of arms (a cross in a blue background) and the symbols of Pope Paul V, the eagle and the dragon.
Apparently Joseph was chosen as he represents the good, generous hero and a self-made man similar to Cosimo I and the Medici family. Like the new, rich middle class rising in Florence during the Renaissance, Joseph was shrewd, powerful and, like all heroes, pure and unselfish. An example to observe.

The tapestries are about twenty feet tall, covering more than two thousand square feet. They are richly coloured with marked chiaroscuro. The drawings reveal a great capacity for telling one of the most popular Bible stories in a clear, dramatic way, suggesting and showing at the same time, dividing the episodes in major and minor scenes, setting them in the background or foreground according to their importance. They are beautifully organized. The perfectly shaped bodies of the protagonists, completely absorbed in their actions, communicate the passion of their emotions to the viewer. Honestly, I never used to pay much attention to tapestries when I visited museums in the past, but I will from now on.

Sunday 5 April 2015

Sbrisolona or crumble cake

This is a typical cake from the north of Italy (Lombardia and Veneto). As my husband comes from Veneto, its taste reminds him of his childhood, a Proustian syndrome he seems to enjoy every time I make it.

Sbrisolona is a folk word that comes from the verb ‘sbriciolare’(to crumble). Of course the word is highly evocative.
The origins are rustic. Labourers used to make it with the ingredients they had at hand: lard, corn flour and hazelnuts, instead of the butter, white flour and almonds used in today’s version. Here is my ‘modern’ recipe.
You need: 150 g of chopped blanched almonds, 200 g of sugar, 200 g of butter,  one egg and two yolks, 400 g of flour, a pinch of salt, 30 g of  spirits (optional), one tsp of baking powder and half a glass of milk.
Mix 180 g of soft butter, cut into pieces, with 120 g of chopped almonds, sugar and flour. Add the egg and the yolks, the baking powder and the milk. Using a blender or your hands  rub in the mixture. Line a round tin with baking paper, pour the mixture into it, sprinkle flakes of butter (20 g), some chopped almonds (30 g), and one tbsp of sugar. Bake for 40-45 minutes at 150° C.

It may bring back childhood memories....

Saturday 4 April 2015

Ed Miliband in Lancaster

Since I posted my last blog on Lancashire Life website a few things have happened. Being the last month of the general election campaign, the most important event is that Ed Miliband was in Lancaster yesterday.
The appointment was at 2 pm at the railway station, Friends’ house side. I was there at ten to two but they were already saying he would be late. We were comfortable in the station entrance – it’s always well heated.

He was coming by train, somebody said. I thought he was just going to wave at us from a train window and maybe say some hasty supportive words before the train would start off again. But then they said he was stuck in traffic, in Morecambe. So he was in a bus, or a car.
At a quarter to three they said he might arrive at platform three so we all moved there. We must have been about a hundred people or more, with red and yellow Vote Labours boards, red badges pinned to lapels and coats and flags saying ‘A better plan, a better future’. All very well behaved, I must say. A chubby tall policeman was walking around nearby unconcerned.
I chatted constantly with my friend Janet, who I met at the Labour Hall where we are organizing volunteering and canvassing for this last hot month of the campaign. We were wondering if Ed would look tall and slim as in TV or if he would be a disappointing shorter and fatter person. The screen can change people a lot, we said, make-up and all the other tricks can make you look different. And pictures on magazines and newspapers are notoriously readjusted. We were curious.
At three thirty we were still on platform three starting to feel the cold, humid breeze, not freezing yet, but wondering how long it would take. Then the official announcement: he would not come to Lancaster but he would be in Morecambe shortly, we could catch a train and go to Morecambe station. Nobody was willing to do it except Janet and I. Half of the people waiting there left.
While we were on the way to buy our tickets to Morecambe, one of the students who was part of the team dashed past us saying there was a change. Two tall men in suit on platform three were saying Ed Miliband was coming in about forty minutes, and would we like a drink or a snack in the meantime? Janet and I had a hot drink and waited overexcited.
The two men in suit went back and forth to hand people bottles, cups and crisps (they were part of Ed’s team). More people arrived with union flags, we were joking about how long he would stay with us, maybe just waving as I had thought at first.
We waited a bit more with our flags, boards and smiles ready. And then he arrived. He is tall and slim. He spent time with us, spoke to us, took photos with us, shook hands and was very very nice. Genuine is the right word. I took photos but I was too shy to ask to have a photo with him. Next time.
And now that I finally have my new blog I am going to start again posting once a week, usually during the weekend, except for holidays. I am also going to re-post my old articles under topic titles like ‘travel journal summer 2013’ or ‘aubergine recipes’, ‘cakes’, etc. My blog link is  or you can find the link on my website
An Easter cake recipe will follow soon.