Saturday 28 September 2019

In Rome with my Mum

Watching the Italian news on television was depressing on the whole with final uplifting moments. On 20th August they announced that the Italian government was collapsing in a ‘crisi di governo’ (government crisis) that seemed inevitable. The Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte resigned and the two parties of the coalition, Lega and Cinque Stelle (Five Stars), clashed on everything. It was a bad time for Italy. The leader of Lega (a right wing party), Matteo Salvini, asked for new elections. The Five Stars movement seemed at a loss. Their coalition lasted only fifteen months arguing on economy, immigration and TAV (a high speed train that should connect Turin with Lyon). They called each other traitors in a political war where the only stable referent seemed to be the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella. However, in a few days, conditions for a new possible coalition took shape. It was composed of the Five Stars movement plus PD, the left Democratic Party with Nicola Zingaretti (the brother of Luca Zingaretti, the actor playing Salvo Montalbano on television) as the leader. The exit polls expected a 60% to the right parties in case of new elections but the President did not seem to accept the idea of voting again. So the leaders of the two parties had meetings, Conte pulled back but then they offered him a second chance to form a Five Stars-PD government and he accepted. 

In ten days they agreed to some sort of shared program, President Trump twitted: ‘Well done Italy!’ and they proceeded in allocating the different ministries and departments. Salvini was furious, of course, claiming that it was not a democratic government, that is, it was not chosen by the majority of Italian people, who chose the right parties in March 2018 elections. However, it is a coalition, and a good portion of Italian people voted for them as well. The PD lost votes in the last election but it is recovering some votes according to the most recent exit polls. I wonder what will happen of the Five Stars movement after these two experiences, first with Lega, a right wing party, and now with PD, a left party. They claim they are a centre party, but I feel they are inconsistent and flimsy, they only provoke and don’t have a real program. Salvini and the right parties, now confined to the opposition, were frantic. They commented that it was all a conspiracy between Five Stars and PD to push Lega in a government crisis and take the power. Five Stars and PD said that Lega attempted a blitzkrieg (lightning war) in Hitler style, but failed. At the moment, the new coalition came off the best; we’ll see in six-eight months what is going to happen. All the parties declared that what they were doing was for the sake of the country, of course. The Pope blessed the new government, the stock exchange had a positive closing and the EU welcomed Conte-bis government.

In this political turmoil the issue of global warming seemed to have little impact on the Italian public. Their leader Greta Thunberg was welcomed by the Pope and spoke at the Senate last April but the problems of immigration, unemployment and economic issues are on the fore in the Italian context. There is also a pun going on in the social networks where Greta is called ‘Gretina’, which sounds like ‘cretina’ (cretin or idiot) in Italian. This is quite disrespectful for this popular leader and the importance of the cause, which is so urgent nowadays with all the worries about plastic, air and soil pollution. However, the way the Italians see the problem also gives an idea of what are the concerns in the peninsula.

The news from the UK were discouraging as well. Boris Johnson was on the screen all the time shouting his ultimatums to the Parliament going tougher and tougher. I didn’t vote for Brexit, not because I think the EU is ideal for the UK, but because I was thinking about the mess that would follow. And it did happen, unfortunately. I must say I felt slightly worried. I wonder if there is a way to grasp a deal or they have to go for a ‘no deal’, or another referendum, which I believe wouldn’t change anything. I am still confident they will reach a reasonable conclusion.

In Rome I mainly followed my mum’s routines helping her in some outings and things she needed to sort out like paying bills at the post office, ear cleaning, shopping, eye check up, ordering new glasses and visiting friends. We went to an exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci’s machines built according to his drawings and projects from Codex Atlanticus. I wrote an article on Leonardo including also two exhibitions I visited in London ( Leonardo: A life in drawing at Buckingham Palace and Leonardo da Vinci: A mind in motion at the British Library) and another one in Rome at the Veggy Food&Art restaurant Il Margutta ( ). The article was published in The Blue Nib, here is the link:

My mum enjoyed the exhibition but travelling to the centre of Rome by bus and the ten minutes walk to the Portuguese Institute, where the exhibition was displayed, was too much for her. She felt tired and her back ached. Luckily, there was a nice ice cream parlour near piazza Campo Marzio just a few minutes walk from the venue with soft chairs and air conditioning. It is called GROM, ‘the ice cream as it used to be made’ ( ), made with natural ingredients without food colours or artificial flavouring. They have different kinds of flavours compared to other homemade ice creams, such as liquorice, caramel with pink salt, coffee from Guatemala and chocolate from Ecuador. Sometimes they mix two flavours like pear and melon or raspberry and peach. They also sell gluten free ice creams, jams, biscuits and spreadable creams. The taste is creamier and less strong compared to Sicilian ice creams, for example. We enjoyed their delicate taste on such a hot day.

I also visited a small exhibition, only one room, at Casa del Cinema in Villa Borghese: ‘Sensuability’, about love relationships between disabled people. The motto was: ‘La prima volta siamo tutti disabili’ (the first time we are all disabled). It featured several drawings and sort of comic strips or graphic novel extracts about love stories between disabled people, some of them were humorous, other romantic or erotic. An interesting idea to point out.

In Rome most shops were closed during my stay because of the summer holidays so we did our shopping at market stands where light bright summer dresses were on sale. For groceries only supermarkets were open. Before leaving I bought a great deal of Italian products risking to exceed my luggage allowance, as I usually do. I’m used to buying too much, attracted by biscuits and soup mixtures I can’t find in the UK or cost double. I should discipline myself and be a more sensible buyer, or add another luggage when I come back to the UK. In the centre, all shops were open because of the tourists. I found some interesting articles at a ceramic shop, ‘La Stelletta’ (little star), in via della Stelletta. The products are made by people with Down syndrome and sold at reasonable prices. They have nice jewellery, plates, vases, bowls and pictures. The style is simple and delicate but also original, and the products are well crafted. Near Campo de’ Fiori there were stands of African immigrants selling their batik and wooden stuff. I couldn’t help buying a few things adding them to my bulky luggage.

In the afternoon my mum usually met her friends at giardinetto (little garden), a spot of green in the shade at La Collina (the hill), the area where she lives. I joined her group from time to time or stayed at home in front of the fan to work on my thesis. Her friends are the elderly people of the area, mostly women, plus their pets, dogs or cats. They chat about the latest news, share a cup of coffee and cake or biscuits, tell jokes and comments on their families’ and friends’ odd behaviours. I was amazed by their lively attitude and the sexual undertones of their jokes and remarks. My mum enjoys their company very much; she never misses a day.

Sometimes I went to the open air swimming pool at Club Lanciani, just ten minutes walk from my mum’s house. It is a nice place with a gym, a restaurant and tennis courts. The swimming pool was gorgeous, blue and sunny, with suntanned people stretched on deck chairs, beach beds and children splashing around. The water was warm especially in the afternoon, which gave a soothing sensation. I could relax a bit, read Atwood’s novels., have a swim, and rest.

We baked as usual, some new biscuits’ recipes with pistachio and chestnut cream inspired by Canadian peanut butter biscuits recipes and GROM biscuits, which I will post later on this blog. She cooked for me delicious gamberoni (big shrimps) on Fridays and gnocchi alla romana; I made for her leek soup and carrot soup. She is not eating much now and she is becoming increasingly picky about food, probably also due to the hot weather. We had a lot of mozzarella and salads for lunch as well as melon and prosciutto and cold pasta with tomatoes and basil. At night we watched TV till late, old films such as Catch the
Thief and Rebecca by Hitchcock, The Towering Inferno and The Year of the Dragon. We stitched and knitted as well. I completed a poetry embroidery for her and framed it. It features three lines from one of Alda Merini’s poems, ‘Le madri non cercano il paradiso’ (mothers don’t look for heaven) with the figure of a foetus in the middle.

Going back to the English summer, average temperature 20°C, and to reasonable internet connection was a relief. It is good to have a break and I enjoyed spending time with my mum, but home is my comfort zone.

Saturday 14 September 2019

An enthralling summer time

Summer is ending, fading in white scattered clouds and cool winds. I have had a special summer this year, full of events, adventure and sunshine. I travelled to Canada to visit the country of Margaret Atwood, the author I am studying for my PhD. I spent a month in Calgary, Alberta, visiting the city and its surprising surroundings, doing my research at the Central Library and meeting people, mainly the poets and writers of the area. Experiencing Canada, its wide horizons, unpredictable skies, welcoming people and ancient terrain was one of the most exciting adventures of my life. The journey was connected with my research and was important for my studies, but it was also inspiring for my writing and my life. Alberta is considered the West, a place of farming, ranching and oil extraction. I was there for Canada Day on 1st July and attended the Stampede, a fortnight event celebrating cowboy culture and Indigenous heritage. I was invited to poetry readings where I read my poems at open mics and attended literary events and performances. I also subscribed to a gym to carry on with my anti-diabetes exercising program. It was all so interesting that I wish to write about what I understood of this unique country with its versatile culture and multi-ethnic population. I must say I felt at home and the time I spent there was entirely worthwhile.

As soon as I came back to the UK, I had family coming from Italy for my son’s graduation. It was fantastic having my sons, daughter, daughter in law and my parents in law with us for such a happy occasion. I frantically tidied the house up and cleaned before they arrived, then cooked and baked a lot. I made lasagne, cheesecake, tiramisu, home made ice creams, cooked various vegetables and soups, and we tasted the products I had brought from Canada as well. I must say the dishwasher was vital. At the end I was exhausted but overjoyed about the good time we had all together, the long chats, a few outings, the sense of being a family though we live far away from one another.

In the second half of August I went to Rome to spend three weeks with my mum. Her carer, a Moldovan lady, had to go back to her country to see her family and to apply for a new passport. Rome was hot, the air humid and sticky. I spent most of the time at home with a fan blowing twenty inches from my face. The summer clothes I had brought from the UK, mainly cotton skirts and T-shirts, felt heavy and got soaked of sweat in half an hour. I bought thin baggy dresses at market stalls made in India or Bangladesh and had showers twice a day. We did not plan many outings as my mum is 89 now and gets tired very easily but we spent a lot of time together. I could see a few exhibitions and wrote some reviews. I also worked on my thesis intensely and on an article on cannibalism in The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood for a university magazine. To have a bit of fun and some sort of holiday time, I also subscribed to an open swimming pool near my mother’s house at Club Lanciani. It looked like a holiday resort with red umbrellas, blue deck chairs and plenty of sunshine. It was a terrific treat in my super busy summer. I produced a lot of writing, some poetry embroidery, alternating work with bits and pieces of relaxing moments as well as sightseeing. A good balance that recharged my energies and got me ahead in my work at the same time.