Friday 19 February 2021

Putting down roots

 Here is an article I wrote for my blog in 2009. I moved to the North West of England, Lancaster, from Rome in 2007 and was intrigued by the differences between Italy and the UK. It is interesting to see what were my thoughts at the time and how I got used to the British way in the meantime. Things that seemed unusual ten years ago now are my normal. Navigating between two cultures is enriching, it allows different viewpoints and prompts creativity. 

Filling forms

When I enrolled in a Creative writing course for the first time in Lancaster I had to fill in a form about my ethnic origin. I knew it was only for the sake of statistics but it puzzled me. Which box should I tick? I am not white British. I am not white Irish, that’s for sure. Everybody knows in Italy we are all quite mixed. Our country is in the middle of the Mediterranean; people came from everywhere in the past. We haven’t got such forms because we wouldn’t know what to put in them. Italic origin crossed with Arabian, a sprinkle of Normans and Ostrogoths? I don’t know what is in my blood. I stop on the ‘white and black’ box, then go down to the end of the list. ‘Other white’ or ‘white European’ is the box they expect me to tick. I do, and cheekily add ‘Italian’ when there’s enough space.

Wearing a cross

Coming to England I was pleased to see so many different Christian churches. Finally democracy. In Italy we are monopolized by the Roman Catholic religion. Nothing wrong with that, but I love diversity. I also noticed that some Christians wear a cross, a little golden cross around their necks, especially women. I don’t. Maybe because in Italy it became trendy to wear crosses. Not the traditional ones. But slanting or crooked crosses hanging from a black leather string or a red silk ribbon. It’s hard to imagine Jesus hanging from them.

Ruthless Romans

Weird thing history. In Italy from Primary school we were taught that the Romans were brave, disciplined, honourable chaps. What a shock to find out they were ruthless as well. I thought it was the Barbarians with their long blond braids and horned helmets, who destroyed, ravaged and raped. But the Romans had a penchant for hanging people to crosses, just to prove who was the boss. Such dreadful torture. Once my eldest son, blond haired and blue eyed, came back home from his Italian primary school after a history lesson and told me, “Mum, I am a Barbarian!”

Visiting London

I went to London this Easter. How exciting to see again all the sites I visited when I was a teenager. Strolling in parks, stopping in front of the famous paintings of Paolo Uccello’s Battle and Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Jesus reminded me of a time when I didn’t have a husband and four children. Our Bed & Breakfast was in a big white house near Notting Hill kept by a Polish landlady. All the staff were Polish. At fast food counters and in restaurants I ordered in English to South American, Russian, Ukrainian and Romanian waitresses. At metro stations the clerks were mainly from Middle East or North Africa. Indians or Arabians were shop assistants. Some Black Caribbean here and there. Tourists like us were mainly Italian and Spanish. A few French and German, though. I couldn’t find any English people. Had they all flown abroad leaving their capital city to foreigners?

Italian family

I adore my family. I cook, clean and iron for them. I keep the house tidy. I have great time with them when we are all together. We play a card game, watch a film or I force them into an art gallery or bid them recite ‘I’ll stick to my Mum forever’. When I go back to Italy I have a lovely time. Grandparents wait for us with open arms, prepare their best ravioli and home-made pasta and take us to pizzerias, too. They realise England didn’t spoil us in spite of bad food and bad weather. How much better in Italy where the sun always shines, nobody cares, everything is easier. What if I have a different opinion? I’d be shot.

Being creative

They say Italian people are creative. Of course we are. We know how to manage on our own and invent new ways of doing things. How are you supposed to survive in a country where you never know who is in charge and what the procedures are? You need to invent them and you are supposed to be your own boss, because rules are only slight suggestions. Everybody can change them at any time or interpret them differently. Ambiguity is our strength.


On the ‘Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro’ in Rome, a building dedicated to civilization and work built in the Fascist period, Benito Mussolini, our Fascist dictator from 1922 to the war, wanted an inscription. It says that we are a population of poets, heroes, artists, saints, and navigators. Just think of Dante, Garibaldi, Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo, Saint Francis of Assisi, Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus. I have recently been at a self-help meeting of the Autistic Society. The speaker gave us a lot of information about typical autistic behaviours that cause a lot of problems to parents and carers. And I know because I have an autistic daughter and some of what he said is also my experience. He said that an autistic person cannot understand the concept of queuing. I couldn’t help having a sudden, vivid image of a group of impatient Italians fighting and jostling at a crowded bus stop, or pushing and swearing at a busy Post Office counter. Should Mussolini have added ‘autistic’ to his list?


I love England, I always did. A detached, independent house from the rest of Europe. At the right distance to get involved or let go. With a spacious back garden on the East and West and a fence in the North. And guess what? Yes, I’m buying a house here. And I don’t dislike Italy, so varied, warm, full of past culture and beautiful people. The ideal place for a holiday.

Friday 5 February 2021

Life in Tiers 5: Being creative

 In my everyday life during the second lockdown, getting dressed in the morning is important. I wear loose comfortable clothes  but choose nice tops, sparkling tops during Christmas time and matching earrings. I always wear lipstick, also at home and sometimes make-up and nail polish too, new shades I found at the pharmacy. I do not wear shoes or slippers, only thick socks most of the time as we have a cosy underfloor heating system that is on day and night.

Winter tree

What I am trying to do is looking forward. For example, I start new projects: a crocheted dress for my granddaughter Violetta, an alternative recipe or a fresh drawing technique. This gives me the sense that

life keeps going in spite of the forced stillness. I feel I am moving though in limited areas, producing something that might not be perfect, but who cares? I can have another go or try different things, explore different angles, adjust and rework it. In this spirit I made several drawings on winter scenes from photos friends post on Facebook. I mainly used ink, felt pens and watercolours creating mixed media pieces. They are simple drawings that do not mean to be masterpieces or finished pictures but I enjoyed working on them, feeling the season’s mood. I also worked on short prose pieces and wrote new stories, mainly flash fiction but also several poems in response to prompts from workshops and from interesting poems I found is magazines such as Acumen, Poetry Review and Ambit. My creativity was in full swing at a certain point and I managed to produce much more than what I had planned at the beginning. Here are some examples of my work:

Spanish flu

On the docks of Naples

my great grandmother waits,

about a hundred years ago, she lists in her mind

the ships where her boys, Rosario and Vincenzo, embarked on

in the last three years: The Eagle, Discovery, Rex and Vulcania.

They work as engineers and the news they have sent so far are good.

But the last letter dates back to a year ago and she has no news since then.

She approaches the Marine officer and shows him the letter.

The man has a citron in his hand,

a big ripe one with thick rind.

He is slicing it with a sharp pen knife and gives her a slice.

It is sweet, the rind tastes like bread, limoni di pane.

He unfolds the letter, reads it once, twice, 

points his big index finger to the name of the ship.

His eyes are bigger than the bottom of a pit.

The Vulcania is in quarantine, he says,

three thirds of the crew have died of Spanish flu, the rest are sick.

It attacks the lungs, your face becomes blue,

hair and teeth fall out and nose and ears bleed.

He offers her another slice of lemon,

it is as viscid as blood

her teeth redden,

death is something you can taste.

Random Personal Add

After C.D. Wright

I never sleep with my dress on, I wear cosy pyjama sets, according to the different seasons, short sleeved, long sleeved, cotton night gowns in summer. Some have sayings such as ‘Life is better in pyjamas’, ‘I really need a day between Saturday and Sunday’, ‘I went to bed like this’. My teeth are uneven but healthy, the molars have metal crowns. I rarely have dinner outside the home. I usually prepare my food, avoid sugar and salt if possible because of my diabetes 2 and high blood pressure conditions. Though I take some guilty pleasures from time to time indulging in a tiny piece of cake, a square of dark chocolate or a marshmallow cube. I have a job, I teach at an international school and commute to London three days a week. It’s tiring but money can be useful. Though I won’t bet my life on it or die for it. I need to be careful and check my stress levels at the end of the week, balance my efforts and commitment not to feel overwhelmed by efficiency. The road can be crooked and steep, I need to ease it down. I am gaining weight, it might be the after menopause-effect, the lockdown situation, or both. The moon hasn’t a face for me, though I feel it’s mesmerising when it’s full and the sky is clear, white on black, primordial, prompting howling. I have never won awards for my writings, though I submit my work to competitions regularly. Long long ago I lived in Rome, Italy. It was good but disappointing. The space was tight for women, reduced to mother, mother, wife, housewife, daytime unrewarding jobs, cooking. My grandmothers, Orsola and Conforta, married, had children, worked hard all their lives. Their husbands’ names were Francesco and Napoleone. They had happy marriages of sorts, in their own way. They never split or lived apart, they carried on together until the end, until one of them died, the man. I am here, to tell the truth, entertaining myself as much as I can with my writing, baking, knitting and crocheting; embroidering poems, imagining realities.

new nail polish

I can’t breathe

I can’t breathe can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. Breathe, I can’t. Can’t breathe, I can’t can’t can’t. I, I can’t breathe. I can’t, no, no, I can’t breathe. 

This is : I can’t can’t can’t breathe. This is what I can’t. Breathe I can’t, I can’t.

What I can’t is breathe.

Breathe breathe breathe breathe breathe, or else or else or else.

If I can’t breathe, if I can’t breathe

it will end, I will end because I can’t breathe. I will end end end.

Stop breathing and end because I can’t breathe. 

Breathe, yes breathe, yes.

Yoga classes

We meet at weekends in the park or on zoom since the gyms are closed. A small bunch of five-ten ladies when we are outside, a few occasional men, more numerous on the online sessions. The instructor is passionate about us, she supervises every movement, corrects our postures and suggests alternatives to the most difficult ones. We enjoy the time out when the weather is fine, the thick branches of the oak trees swinging in the wind, the clouds gathering in grey menacing clusters and then scattering in white fluffy bits above our heads. We rotate our bodies, twist, swing legs and arms, one leg in high peeing dog pose and hold, hold our postures, exercise abs and sun salutations. We sit as if peeing on a dirty toilet, hula hoop sassy hips and kneel as if proposing marriage. Our legs point straight or are soft when standing; we take life with ease and mean to go through it, ageing but still active not bothering about bulging bits, varicose veins, big bums and flabby arms. We are stags, dancers and warriors, open our arms wide in goddess position. Together, bright and shining in the summer weather.
Lockdown outfits

Taking part in the Imaginarium workshops organised by Sarah Hymas ( in January and February was a big boost in planning my creative writing work. It allowed me to share my work with the tutor, develop a new project, imagining new ideas and meeting other fellow writers. I could improve my pieces and plan new ones. 

I miss visiting museums, especially the V&A and the Lightbox in Woking where I also volunteer. Only supermarkets are allowed and there isn’t much to browse at Sainsbury’s and Morrisons’s. When I am desperate I visit Poundland and Wilko and invent things I might need to buy. Longacres is a good place to go too, it is open as they sell plants but also food, clothes, books, toys and craft. Or I can shop online, but it is not the same. I like to go out, see and touch things before buying. I like to have contacts and socialise, even at a distance and wearing a mask. One of my best buys was the De Longhi coffee machine. Now I can make my cappuccino every morning, though I am trying to follow a diet, more a yo-yo diet actually that does not seem to bring any real loss of weight. Some people’s new year’s resolution is to give up alcohol in January, my resolution is to give up sweets but we still have so many Italian delicatessen that it is hard. I lose half a kilo one day then eat a biscuit or a square of chocolate and gain a kilo the next. 😕

In the evening we watch TV, mainly detective stories on BBC, ITV and Italian channels. There is a channel on Italian TV, Top Crime, that broadcasts Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple as well as Columbo. On Friday nights we also watch Popaganda Live, hosted by Diego Bianchi on La7 with

Marco Damilano, Francesca Schianchi, Paolo Celata and Zero Calcare. The program is based on politics with a left wing angle and comment on what politicians and people in general post on social networks. They rework or modify video clips with hilarious results. For example, Diego Bianchi used the music of ‘Salamini’ by the Italian playwright, actor and comedian Ettore Petrolini, (Rome, 1886-1936), famous for his caricature sketches, to imitate the Italian Prime Minister’s way of walking, here is the link to the video:  

This triggered my interest in Petrolini. I found that he played revolutionary and anticonformist characters using jokes and double entendres as well as light-hearted nonsense satirising famous people or stereotypes, as Propaganda Live does. He was the son of a blacksmith, self-taught and started his career at age 15, in cafés, dance halls, and barns. His texts and performances inspired many Italian actors, such as Totò, Nino Manfredi, Gigi Proietti, Alberto Sordi and Carlo Verdone. He became very famous by 1900 and worked in South America too, attaining great fame. 

Some of his most famous characters are Gastone, a histrionic snob, the emperor Nero, a parody of Mussolini, and Fortunello, based on the comic character Happy Hooligan (1899); he is considered a Dadaist character moving like a puppet or robot and speaking nonsense. 

From 1903 his wife Ines Colapietro performed with him as a singer and they formed a duo. Coming back to Italy in 1910, he worked at Teatro Jovinelli and with Futurists too. He apparently sympathised with Fascism but in his sketches satirised it at the same time. He died aged 52 in Rome.

Here are some interesting links to his work:

Tanto pe’ canta’











Propaganda Live also comments harshly about Renzi’s shocking behaviour that triggered the crisis of the Italian government. They showed an interview Renzi had with the BBC in 2016 about Brexit and played around with his comments in English, his reaction (shock) and pronunciation of the word ‘because’. ‘Shock because’ became a mantra they repeated in a song and also showed a hilarious video where they took all of the silent moments from the interview. Here are the links:

Renzi’s interview with the BBC 

Propaganda live, silent interview

Propaganda live, song ‘Shock because’

Margaret Atwood
I’d like to go to Canada again in the summer. The Times supplements featured a Trailfinder, ‘Visiting Canada’, which made me long to visit the country of Margaret Atwood. I would like to see more and
meet my Canadian friends again. I have two conferences in Canada in June, which were postponed last year, but they will be done remotely so I don’t need to leave England. I wonder if it will be possible to travel in the summer at all, to plan a holiday without the risk of being stuck in another country indefinitely, as it is happening now with tourists who went to South America. In spite of the vaccination program and the assurances that by the summer most people will be vaccinated, it seems hard to believe that we will be free to go anywhere we like. Planning doesn’t seem like the right word, maybe exploring possibilities, developing hypothesis or envisaging alternatives. Or simply wait and see what happens and decide at the last minute. Maybe just stay at home.